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IMPaCT 2007 marked by visa headaches


June 8, 2007
- Dan Dyck

Water Valley, Alta. — A special event sponsored by Mennonite Church Canada in collaboration with Mennonite Church Alberta was once again marred by the inability of an invited guest to obtain a visa from the Canadian government.

After weeks of waiting, Vicente Neto Vieira of Brazil was denied a visa at 5 pm on the day he was to travel to Canada. The reason offered by the Canadian embassy was “insufficient evidence” that he would return to Brazil and “lack of resources,” despite the fact that he had a round-trip ticket in his hand, a wife, three children, and a part-time job in Brazil. In addition, Mennonite Church Canada formally guaranteed his financial support and promised his return to Brazil as scheduled. Vieira passed up a full time job offer so he could participate in IMPaCT.

Gladys Siemens, a guest from Brazil, had to provide three months of bank statements, proof of ownership of a home and car, and carry $1000 in cash (acquired via a bank loan) to obtain her visa from the Canadian Embassy. Mariela Enriquez, also from Brazil, received her visa just in time to participate.

The same event in June, 2006, saw visas denied to two Cuban pastors.

IMPaCT – International Mennonite Pastors Coming Together – is a ministry of Mennonite Church Canada Witness designed in response to the denomination’s stated priority to “Become a Global Church.” Its other two priorities are to “Form a people of God” and “Grow Leaders for the Church.”

Janet Plenert, Executive Secretary of MC Canada Witness was clearly frustrated. “This kind of action is clearly interfering with the church’s call to form a people of God and to break down cultural and socio-economic barriers. We cannot be a church for only those with sufficient economic means to satisfy our government.”

Robert J. Suderman, General Secretary of Mennonite Church Canada, raised the issue of visa denial at a recent meeting of the Canadian Council of Churches in Toronto. “There was a sea of nodding heads in the room,” said Suderman, indicating that many other denominations are experiencing the same difficulties and share the same concern.

“Mennonite Church Canada will be taking the lead in consulting with the Canadian Council of Churches to determine how best to approach the Canadian government,” said Plenert.