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Listening for God’s call
May 22, 2009
Winnipeg — Despite the fact that many her age would settle into a quiet life of retirement, Helen Dueck isn’t closing any doors. Instead, she’s listening for God’s call.
From January 3 to April 7, 2009, Dueck’s attentiveness drew her to Mexico with Mennonite Church Canada Witness. On a short-term assignment at Steinreich Bible School, she offered instruction in the subjects of prayer, missions, and women in the Kingdom of God, and had the opportunity to see six students graduate.
The assignment may have been short-term, but for Dueck and her students – who came from across North and South America – the sense of purpose was farther reaching. “There was a feeling among us that we were there to build a church, to build the Kingdom of God with forgiveness, restoration [and] hope,” Dueck says. She reports that students were moved to learn about the Mennonite/Anabaptist" presence in the world and expressed a desire to be a part of it.
Steinreich students – 245 in all – represented traditional old colony Mennonite and more evangelical perspectives. They spoke four languages – German, Plautdietsch or Low German, Spanish and English. In most cases, Dueck prepared lessons in English and German to meet student needs, although for her prayer class, she also worked in Spanish.
Mission class took Dueck and her students to Cuauhtemoc, a city of about 100,000 people. There they met with Dueck’s former student, Isaak Bergen, who planted and now leads the Colonia Reforma congregation. They participated in various church programs designed to meet local needs, including a noon lunch program which currently feeds up to 100 children, five days a week.
Steinreich’s student council promoted a garbage clean-up in Rubio, a neighbouring Mexican town, and provided work crews to assist with tasks like gardening and housework. On two occasions, students gave up their noon meal so that they could contribute food to the children’s lunch program.
During an afternoon spent discussing women’s issues with “old colony” women, Dueck discovered that many of them sported dyed hair under their black head coverings. When she asked about the difference between hair colour and nail polish – which is not acceptable in some of their circles – the women simply smiled.
Dueck’s time in Mexico was not without trial. The needs of the children attending the lunch program were great. “Isaak told us that only about 10% of the children come from functional families,” she reports. “The fathers have gone away to work, some of the mothers are prostitutes and there are young children dealing drugs.”
In addition, Dueck experienced one week that she describes as “devastating.” A young male student was tragically killed in a car accident. On another occasion, two girls were seriously injured during an assault that occurred when they ventured away from the campus without permission. As a close-knit community, everyone at Steinreich suffered from these incidents, but they also supported each other through prayer, counselling and fellowship.
The injured girls chose to leave the Bible school, but one of them expressed a firm desire to return next year.
“That said a lot to me about the way we responded,” Dueck says.
This was not Dueck’s first experience with mission work. She and her late husband, Henry Dueck, served in Latin America for 23 years with the Commission on Overseas Mission (COM), the predecessor of MC Canada Witness. They also spent two winters teaching at Steinreich.
In a report to her home congregation, Douglas Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, Dueck wrote; “I am deeply grateful to my Lord and to you, my home church, for the opportunity to work alongside of our sisters and brothers in Mexico. Now I’m happy to be at home again.”