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Young at heart teacher makes difference


Julie Bender (right), Mennonite Church Canada Witness worker, introduced her Chinese English students to Western culture with a mock North American wedding. The exercise produced unanticipated results.

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October 10, 2006
-by Krista Allen and Dan Dyck

Syracuse, Ind. - Julie Bender is a bit old, but young at heart. At least that’s what her English students say.

In 2004 Julie moved to China with her husband Philip, to pursue a ministry assignment with Mennonite Church Canada Witness. Firmly believing that God navigates people’s lives through the longings of their hearts, Julie felt comforted in her placement.

But her first year required major adjustments. Sub-standard living conditions – at least compared to Canada – and a newcomer’s wariness about her new role were a struggle. “I had also left behind some things in Ontario that I really loved. I was involved in some community ministries, I had a job I really loved, and so I left my heart back in Ontario,” says Julie.

Anxious, Julie questioned what it meant to be doing ministry in China. She questioned how God was engaging her heart in this new place. She struggled with the task of regaining her passion as she worked among the Chinese people and in a new culture.

Near the end of the school year, Julie put on a mock North American wedding for her English class as an introduction of western customs to her Chinese students and the unconditional commitment of love promised in traditional wedding vows. Every detail, right down to mosquito netting for a veil, was carefully planned and executed. The class ended with a party, complete with snacks. The response she received from her students was very reassuring.

“One thing I’ve learned from you, Julie, is that whatever you do you should put your whole heart into it,” one of her students confided later. It was only a demonstration in a classroom, but the mock wedding was a sacred moment she will treasure forever.

Although “a bit old,” her young heart received just the reassurance that was needed. God’s plan for her became a little clearer.

Julie Bender is married to Philip Bender. They both teach English to university students. Julie also offers pastoral care to North American English teachers. They are supported by Mennonite Church Canada Witness, Mennonite Mission Network, and are enabled by China Educational Exchange.