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The peace we have


Cecilia and Genaro Gonzales stand in front of the Peace Tower  in the International Peace Garden.

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January 8, 2010
-Deborah Froese

Altona, Man. — There are no soldiers on the street corners, no armed guards in front of businesses, and people are not afraid to make direct eye contact when greeting one another. There is little fear of theft or vandalism.

This picture of peaceful living is normal for residents of Altona, Man. – but not for Cecilia and Genaro Gonzalez of  the Monte Santo Mennonite Church in Madrid, Colombia, who visited their sister congregation , Altona Bergthaler Mennonite Church, in October, 2009.

The Gonzalezes noticed that travelling across the “frontier” of Manitoba did not bring them into contact with armed groups or check stops.  And when they passed through Canadian Customs after a Peace Gardens tour, they were not asked to produce identification – even when they were recognized as Colombian visitors from Bogotá.

The Gonzales’ were struck by the serenity in the community.   They credited the church with creating such a peaceful environment by effectively teaching peace.

Dan Kehler, pastor of Altona Bergthaler Mennonite Church is not so sure his church can own the compliment.  “Are we as the church doing a good job of teaching peace in Altona? In Manitoba? In Canada?” he reflects. “My first reaction was no, we are not actively engaging our world with the message of peace.  But as I contemplated the observations made by our guests, my initial response slowly changed.”   

Kehler says his congregation does not actively engage the world with a peace program, but, “… we cannot be considered passive with our peace teaching either. As we encourage our children to become disciples of Jesus, we teach gentleness, kindness, and compassion. We teach them respect for others and tolerance of differences, values which lead to peace in our homes, our families and our community.”

Engaging congregations with scripture through teaching and preaching allows him to embrace an Anabaptist understanding of Jesus’ command to “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44).  “This not only informs us but transforms us as a people of peace,” Kehler says. As one of the larger churches in Altona, he notes that the congregation’s attempts to live out their desire for peace in every aspect of their lives as believers has had an impact on Altona schools, places of employment, social gatherings – the fabric of the entire community.

Kehler credits the Gonzalezes of Colombia with opening his eyes to a new perspective of the peace that exists in Canada. “Perhaps we are more intentional about our peace witness than I initially thought.  Perhaps it has simply become such a way of life that we do not easily recognize it,” Kehler reflects.

“It took guests from a country that does not know peace to open our eyes to the peace that is all around us!  For this gift of understanding and the peace that is ours in Altona and in Canada, I am truly thankful.” 

Monte Santo Mennonite Church in Madrid, Colombia has  sister church relationships with two Canadian Mennonite congregations – Altona Bergthaler Mennonite Church and First Mennonite Church of Kitchener, Ontario – who shared in bringing the Gonzalezes to Canada.