The Hobbit 3 – The battle of five armies… the insatiable lust of greed

•February 27, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I recently viewed the third installment of Peter Jackson’s interpretation of Tolkien’s work. It is entitled “The Hobbit: The battle of five armies”. I am one of those that loves the work of J.R.R Tolkien.  I was challenged in my soul as I watched this finale. I found myself trying to correlate and coalesce meaning, feelings and intuition.  I was impacted by the insatiable nature and ravenous lust that greed awakens in human beings. I often make connections by engaging the genre of poetry to mine the depths of ideas. The following is my discovery in that story:

 

 

THE DRAGON

By Todd Rutkowski

 

 

Dragon hoards lure the

Treasure seeker

Within us

 

Precious gems, gold and silver

Seduce and prey on the primitive

Longings

In human nature

 

The scent of riches awakens lust

Power and prestige shake off

Slumber

At the first light of hoards

 

Yet the dragon, we fear

Restrains our lust

His power greater than

Gold

 

Dragon’s our enemy? Or friend

In disguise

 

Endless treasure a weight too great

To bear

Best left in the protection of 

Dragons

 

 

Songs of Justice… just released in partnership with IJM

•February 20, 2015 • 1 Comment

More than 27 million people worldwide are held in slavery today. 600,000 – 800,000 of them are trafficked across international borders every year, according to the U.S. Department of State.  Historically in Human Rights and Justice movements, the banner for freedom, liberty and dignity has been first carried by the singers and songwriters. As they proclaim that no one is free until everyone is free. IJM (International Justice Mission) is a Human Rights organization that rescues victims of violence and sexual exploration around the world.  Recently a group of international artists, many of them friends, partnered with IJM to write an album on songs of justice.  Released just last week, you can see the making of the album below or hear samples of the songs (for free) and purchase the songs for a $10 donation through IJMs website.  The artists all donated their time and craft to this project.  All monies go to helping IJM rescue victims of violence.

Home… and the Lord’s Table

•January 8, 2015 • 1 Comment

The longing for “home” and “belonging” is universal. We belong in families, communities, clubs and cultures. It is human to long for a tribe, and to be tribal makes us human. We love to belong and we love to feel at home. Home is that place of acceptance and full embrace, with no passing of judgement on our belonging. Yet, the best of families, the most fulfilling of communities and the most fruitful cultures cannot completely satisfy the universal ache for belonging and for home. They cannot because that longing is spiritual in nature. That longing finds its ultimate home in God.

What is referred to as the Lord’s Table, Communion or the Eucharist is an experience in our spiritual life rhythms. The breaking of the bread and the taking of the cup are acts of remembering that we now belong and have a home. That act reminds us of the spiritual nature of the universal longing to belong and find home and makes way for its meeting. It is at that table that we belong and find our deepest ache for belonging met. It is in the story of the Jesus table that we realize we were once outsiders but are now welcomed in on everything (Eph 2:7 -22). It is at that table that we find the real meaning of belonging and home. This poem was penned out of such a quest. This poem was written out the realization of the spiritual nature of belonging and home.

THE JESUS TABLE

It is so close, yet out of my control
Query of belonging speaks most
What will we make of it many ask?
Shared life, yet I still reach for my mask

I have been to the table
But not alone
With the many a shared life
I find I belong

I am not alone I settle inside
We are not alone we don’t have to hide
It is His table to which we are invited
At His table our demons end fighting

Is it not my identity that requires resolve?
For the table I sit at stayed it all
When I forget who I am and flounder in my way
I look to the table for it is there I may

For I belong at the table
There is a place set for me
Shared life is provided
My inclusion is its motif

Subtle whispers escape my heart
Who can come to this table and take part?
This stranger beside me, my brokenness may see
Must I first contain the outcast in me?

I fear this table I love to touch
Belonging to those I know not as much
I eat at this table carefree and secure
When I do, I can receive what was given so pure

Todd Rutkowski

What can happen in 163 days?

•December 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment

163 days is close to 6 months.  Could you imagine calling and inviting a community to fast and pray for 163 days…? and that they would actually join you and do it? Silas, the pastor of the Namchi Vineyard, was once a political rebel and one of the leaders of a resistance group in the 1980s in the district of Darjeeling in Northeast India. Kalimpong is a hub area in the district of Darjeeling. Ben Isaacs, a now fellow Vineyard pastor in Siliguri, India, grew up in Kalimpong and recalls the terror this uprising, led by the resistance group, created for his family and that area. He remembers bombings, riots, gun shots, terror and fear for weeks and years.  He recalls as a young boy, a moment where Silas stood outside their family home, machine gun in hand, stoking the uprising with terror and fear.  It was a few years later that Silas had his own encounter with a living Jesus, when he was captured and thrown in the mud pit; left to be drowned and shot to death. He wasn’t shot and didn’t drown but that story is for another day.

Silas, now a Vineyard pastor and part of the Leadership Team of the Himalayan Vineyard region, had felt God invited his church community to purchase a piece of land to create a home in the center of the city of Namchi, India in the State of Sikkim. Sikkim is one of the 29 states in India and was its own country until 1975 when it joined India. The piece of land they first had identified was caught up in the middle of a husband and wife battle.  He wanted sell and she did not.  While they began to pursue other parcels of land the Chief Minister of the State, a practising Hindu, was planning to put into law that all non – Hindu or non – Buddhist temples could only have up to 15 people in a meeting space. This law, in consideration, would set them back substantially, if it went into rule. They identified another piece of land that would suit their needs. However, the church had no funds in waiting towards this purchase. They simply had a sense that God wanted them to have a home. They first contacted their partner church in Canada, the Cornerstone Vineyard in Winkler, Manitoba to see if they could help with giving them $40,000 Canadian towards the land.  That was the cost initially. The Cornerstone Vineyard had a unfolding God story of their own at that time. The City of Winkler, Manitoba had approached them about trading their land to the city to build a new Fire hall on it.  In exchange, the City would give the Cornerstone Vineyard their old land, the old Fire hall and $400,000 in cash.  They said yes. The Cornerstone Vineyard received the request for the $40,000 from Namchi about the same time they had received the $400,000 from the city.  As they prayed in Manitoba, it seemed God was inviting them to give their 10% tithe to the Namchi Vineyard for their land.  By the time they received the money from Canada in India the price of the land had gone up significantly.  If they put the $40,000 down on the land they would now need an additional $80,000 within 6 months or they would lose the land and the money they put down.  Welcome to India! India does not function with mortgages or credit.  Land is purchased with bags of cash or with cash sums over a short period of time. There is no ability to pay off land over years or through interest loans.  Silas, felt God invited them to say yes, though he knew the risk was great and land prices were rising quickly.

I remember when Silas came to meet with Nathan Rieger and I in Bangalore, India in November, 2013 and told us the story to this point.  He had, I believe, until February, 2014 to come up with the rest of the money or they would lose the land and the money. Silas asked us if we could rally the Canadian Vineyards to help him come up with the remaining $60,000 needed.  Nathan and I spent time talking to Silas about considering other parcels of land, other options to get a mortgage or credit and pay for it over time, like we do with land in Canada.  Silas, in his disarming way, smiled, laughed and though he heard us, it seemed he knew that wasn’t God’s answer for them. The Vineyard conference in Bangalore ended and we all went our separate ways.  Silas and Noel Isaacs, leader of the Vineyard in the Himalayas, had many exchanges over the phone after that time.  They would weep together, pray together and sometimes just have long silences on the phone as they didn’t know what to do.

The Vineyard communities in Himalayas prayed and joined their faith to God’s invitation for the Namchi Vineyard during this time.  From among their own pockets, over those days of prayer and fasting, they gathered $20,000 Canadian towards the remaining $80,000 needed for the land. But February, 2014 came and went and they had no answer.  The owner gave them one final extension.  With 30 days left until the final extension was up, the Namchi Vineyard had half of the money they needed. They prayed and fasted for almost 133 days by then but the answer they were waiting for, $60,000, had not yet come. Would it? Had they been presumptuous and foolish?  Had they heard God? The owner of the land gave them until the end of April, 2014.  If they did not have all the money by then they would lose the land and the $60,000 invested to date.

During that time, the 5 year elections for the state of Sikkim were in process.  The Chief Minister (what we call a Premier in Canada) and his party were up for re-election of the state.  The Chief Minister, who’s government headquarters was in Gangtok, was on the campaign trail during those months.  Earlier that year, Silas had organized a gathering of pastors in Namchi, and during that time gained stature in the community. Though Silas didn’t lead one of the biggest or more known churches, he and the Vineyard community had received recognition for their grassroots work in the city.  The Chief Minister, a practising Hindu, invited Silas to come pray for him to win the election.  The Chief Minister and his party had ruled for 4 terms, 20 years, but their re-election seemed unlikely this time. Silas accepted the invite and came and prayed for the Minister with 3 friends.  In Kingdom fashion God had a word for the Minister, and Silas chose to pray in such a way that he shared that word in his prayer. The Minister visibly moved by the prayer, thanked Silas.  As Silas departed the minister asked him about his need for the church property.  Silas told him they needed $60,000 more to keep the land and that they were believing God would provide.  The two went their way after that exchange.

The elections occurred on April 12th, 2014 in the state of Sikkim and the Chief Minister and his party were re-established in power to lead the State again.  Silas had not seen or heard from the Minister since he prayed from him that day almost a month earlier. Silas didn’t expect to hear from either now.  He was the Chief Minister again.  With a week before the deadline for the land and the faith of the community growing weary after nearly 163 days of fasting and prayer, Silas received a unexpected phone call from the Chief Minister’s office. The Chief Minister had wanted Silas to come to an event and meet with him afterwards. Silas went to the event and there was a line-up of people waiting to talk with the Minister.  Silas caught the eye of the Minister, who motioned for him to wait around.  Silas awkwardly waited, unsure for what.  When he saw the Minister, he was asked how he was doing and how the process for the land was going.  Silas updated the Minister with their continued waiting. The Minister then asked Silas to wait a minute as he left the room for a second.  He returned moments later with a duffle bag of cash (remember its India) and said that he wanted to give this money to Silas and the Vineyard church as a gift to buy their land. This is the same Chief Minister who wanted to put into law that non – Hindu’s and non – Buddhists couldn’t have more than 15 people at a church gathering.  Silas is of course was stunned and shocked. He didn’t see this coming from the Chief Minister.

The Minister turned to Silas, after handing him the duffle bag, and asked him why the Vineyard people don’t like him.  The Minister responded to his own question by saying, “Tell them I am a good guy”.  Though unorthodox and somewhat odd, Silas believed, because of their prayer, the gift of money was from God and accepted it.  He then carried the large duffle bag of cash to his vehicle.  When Silas arrived home and counted the money there was the equivalent of $60,000 Canadian in Indian rupees in the duffle bag.  Silas quickly phoned Noel on his cellphone to tell him what happened only moments earlier.  Upon hearing the story, Noel and his wife Dona, fell to the floor in their home in Kalimpong weeping, knowing God had provided. With days left they paid off the land and the Namachi Vineyard had a home and a heck of a story to tell. Who knew what 163 days of prayer and fasting could do!?! Apparently God did!!!

Todd Rutkowski

Silas and AndyHRV team

Momos, Monks and the Magic of God’s kingdom at work

•December 6, 2014 • Leave a Comment

As we waited at the home of Ben & Rachana Isaacs, the escort vehicle arrived to transport us all for dinner.  I am not sure if I have ever been picked up in an escort vehicle for dinner before, never mind for dinner in Silguri, India. After swerving our way through traffic, rickshaws, tuk tuks, cows and people on the streets of Siliguri, we eventually arrived at the former Deputy Minister of the State of Sikkim and his wife Gem’s home. The Deputy’s first wife, Tula (Big) mommy as they called her, was also there to greet us, along with Gem, the minister and their 2 teenage daughters.  Gem, at least that is what all her friends call her, is the daughter of a Buddhist monk. It was her idea to invite us for dinner, before her big day of celebration the following day. The family had prepared a meal in their home and as we arrived they garnished us with ceremonial scarfs to welcome us to India.  We were taken aback and stunned, as no one really had prepared us for where we were going for dinner that night, never mind how we would get there.  The minister was a kind man and spent much of the evening communicating with us through his broken English and us through charade gestures, as we spoke zero Nepali.  Lots of smiles were exchanged.

 

The State of Sikkim, situated in the Himalayas, is bordered by Bhutan on the east and Nepal on the west. Sikkim was its own country connected culturally and in language to Nepal, until 1975 when it joined India.  The minister had been in politics for 20 years and his party had ruled the State of Sikkim for two decades.  He, no longer an elected official, works in management of his recent re-elected party and has a 2nd home in Siliguri, where his wife and daughters live while he commutes each week to Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim.  That evening, as we shared momos together (a Nepali dish), the minister let us know that he had given his wife Gem, “permission” to be baptized into the Christian faith at the next day’s baptism.  He himself a Hindu, was willing to support her choice and wanted to let us know that he would be present at the baptism, as well as the Sunday’s service at the Vineyard.  In fact, he had given the Vineyard money that week to pay for the entire meal to feed the community after the baptism service down by the river.  After we ate momos together that evening, sitting in the living room eating until our stomachs content, we asked Gem to share her story with us.  She told us about growing up as the daughter of a Buddhist monk and how she hated Jesus as a child and teen. She told us of how “Tula mommy” had introduced her to Jesus years earlier but how she had walked away from that relationship with God.  Then a few months earlier, Gem had been invited by a friend to come to the Vineyard and as she walked into the room she felt these invisible arms of love wrap around her and God inviting her home. She knew it was Jesus.  She joined the community, stepped into God’s invitation and wanted to seal her faith with baptism.  After we heard her story we prepared ourselves to leave for home when we realized culturally we had missed what was going on…. The momos were just the appetizer.  After Gem shared her story, we as guests were all invited to the dinner table and served a huge meal (after a huge meal of momos) where the minister, Gem, Tula mommy, their 2 daughters and servants all served us and watched us eat.  It was humbling, oddly moving and wonderfully touching as we ate at their table being served by them.  We soon learned that in Indian culture you talk first and eat a meal later, the opposite of our experience of hosting in the west.  We also learned in India, or at least that part of India, your guests sit at your table and you serve them not eat with them. We went home with our hearts and tummy’s full of life and hope that night.

The next day was a Saturday. Late that morning we met together at the church and 70 to 80 of us jumped on a rented bus as two escort vehicles for the minister and his family followed us. We headed a hour outside of the city to the river for baptism. The ride was filled with joy, as the fully loaded bus sang their hearts out in Indian song the whole way. We arrived at our destination, sort of.  A rugged dirt road, off the main road, led to the river… so we thought.  After winding our way along the river banks through boulders and gravel we realized our destination, the river’s edge, would be reached only on foot.  We parked the bus and like a band of nomads crossing the desert, we made our way up hills, over rocks and sand dunes to the river’s edge carrying everything in arm.  With great joy we sang, shared and entered into the sacred experience of baptism for 4 individuals that day, one of them being Gem.  Joy was in the air, a historical moment was taking place and we gratefully were present to witness it.  It is not always easy to see what God is doing around us as we live it in everyday and lose perspective to His unfolding narrative, but it is much easier to see what God is doing in places outside our daily routine. Often it can be as plain as the nose on our face.  We were thrilled to join in this unfolding story with Ben & Rachana and the vineyard team there in Siliguri and eat momos, sing Indian songs and wear cool “green” scarfs… although Ben assured us the “yellow” scarf he received was more special.

Todd Rutkowski

momos

More Than a Store… December, 2014

•December 6, 2014 • Leave a Comment

More Than A Store…

•November 27, 2013 • Leave a Comment

It’s that time of year when for much of the North American population, shopping begins in earnest in preparation for the Christmas season. Giving gifts in honour of Christ’s birth is a long standing tradition, but the management at Epic Roofing & Exteriors Ltd and Red Dot Restoration (Epic & Red Dot) is sensitive to the fact that wild consumerism does not honour Christ’s humble birth or his service to the poor.

Although we recycle shingles as part of our efforts to be environmentally conscious, we also want to help others in need. In order to encourage employees to shop in a way that respects the earth and enables people to escape the oppression of sex trafficking and abject poverty, our management team has started what we call “More Than a Store”, now in its second year.

For two days in December our employees will have the opportunity to shop at our main location for quality fair trade goods and products that have been sourced from companies and organizations devoted to helping skilled people in other parts of the world escape oppression and poverty.

But the company doesn’t just provide access to great products, it provides employees with an incentive!

Todd Rutkowski

opium, coffee beans and baptism

•November 14, 2013 • 2 Comments

Image

His grandfather moved from Southern China to the Highlands of Northern Thailand to grow opium, hoping to capture a piece of the lucrative opium trade between Great Britain and China. Two generations cultivated this nutrient rich soil carefully tending the opium plants as they emerged from the soil. Once the opium poppy’s bloomed the opium tears, the dried latex in the poppy, were extracted from these former seeds, and processed to make heroin. Heroin addiction become an epidemic in 19th century China.

After working this profitable land for a lifetime the land was passed from grandfather and father to grandson.  After an encounter with Jesus the grandson, of this well-established family history, had a new dream, and new vision for the land.  A dream to redeem this well toiled land and grow a legal product, organic coffee beans. Desiring to create single origin relationships to those coffee beans the grandson began his search.  He wanted to plant seeds of justice in the soil of injustice.

After several years of redeeming the land two stories collided in this once mother of opium highlands.

Jeff, a vineyard pastor, who had just opened a coffee shop in Rayong, Thailand, 2 hours south of Bangkok on the sea, was on the search for the right fit for his coffee dream.  Single origin coffee beans from the rich nutrient soil of northern Thailand with a farmer he could trust was his dream.  A farmer that believed in turning injustice into justice.  A farmer than believed that what he grew is as important as how he grew it.

The two met each other and the rest is history.

Jeff & Awe, now 18 months into their coffee roasting and coffee shop journey have been astounded by what God has done.  As a family they opened their coffee shop, Yindee coffee, in Rayong with the hopes of providing a place for the community to gather and connect.  In a 96% Buddhist culture and a 1% Christian culture, attending a church to search for spiritual meaning is not on the radar for most.  However, attending a store front shop to have a cup of coffee just might be.  Jeff went on a journey to learn the art of roasting and has not only perfected the art of coffee roasting with innovative products from these single origin beans but he has now trained 4 other coffee shop owners in Thailand and is providing them with his product.

The design of the coffee shop itself is very intentional.  Various styles of furniture are separated into smaller circles of relationship throughout the coffees shop.  The furniture is not uniform, is mismatched and deliberately imperfect.  A trait that alone creates conversation. An addition was added to the coffee shop to make room for a band to play and more seating to be added.

Image

While Jeff continues to keep his main job as an engineer for now, he said this story is the perfect fit for him, his family and the vineyard community.  Did I mention the vineyard community now gathers in the coffee shop for worship and sharing on Sundays… and a cup of coffee of course.  When Jeff is not working as an engineer, roasting coffee beans or training other roasters he can be found having a cup of coffee with the clients who come to enjoy Yindee coffee shop.  Conversations are easy, spiritual conversations are even easier.  The vineyard community baptized 4 people a few weeks ago and 2 more baptism are on the way. Each of those people encountered the story of Jesus over a cup of coffee in Yindee coffee shop.  In a 96% Buddhist culture, a cup of coffee appears to be one of the ways to Jesus.

A story that starts with the opium trade and the inherent invitation to addiction stumbles into redeeming the seeds of injustice and ultimately finding its full redemption in the waters of baptism.  Isn’t that just like God?

Todd Rutkowski

Practicing being Present

•March 18, 2013 • 1 Comment

From very early on the people of God were called to active missional engagement with those who were very much unlike themselves.

Whether it was God’s call to Abraham with the backdrop of the Table of Nations in Genesis 10, Yahweh’s missional instructions to Jonah, or our current mandate to make Jesus known, we are always pushed to engage with those who think differently, live differently, and have different values than we do; anything else is simply Christian fellowship.

As culture continues to shift and change we are forced to consider new ways of contextualizing the Good News. By far, one of the most strategic ways of doing this is by practicing being present.

It was another evening when dancers gathered.

A certain atmosphere was present, one that just seemed mediocre at best. It was this evening, however, where I learned again of the need to be present especially in a place where there was a collision of stories.

For it is only by being present can we ever hope to be written into someone’s story.

I leaned up against a large post in the club. I was relaxed, actually tired, and just stood enjoying the sound of good Blues music. It was crowded but not as crowded as it had been on other nights. I was, though, keenly aware of whom was dancing with whom, the whispers turning into paragraphs that were being written, and the tacky one-liners often written by those who lacked the prose of a good narrative. Nevertheless, I really wasn’t in the reading mood.

There I was, however, just practicing being present.

She was an average looking woman but seemed to know what she wanted. She approached me with a sense of determination and forthrightness that one would actually expect at an accident scene.

It was almost as if her body language screamed, “What did you just do!”, as if I pulled out in front of her and smashed the side of her car.

“Hi, my name is Lisa. My friends over there told me you’re a pastor?”

“I am,” was all I said, aware that it was time to listen to the accident details.

“I can’t believe you’re here, in a place like this. I’ve never met a pastor in a bar before. What is the name of your church? What kind of church is it?”

I explained, actually, I yelled with the hopes being heard over the pulsating of the bass and drums. I spoke about how our church was different, what our vision was, and what we sensed God was building. It all sounded great to me.

Who wouldn’t want to come to this!

“I was a Christian at one time. I moved here from Edmonton a couple of years ago. I was in a church that focused almost solely on spiritual warfare and I got so burned. I have been so hurt by leaders… by pastors.”

Then, I threw out my one liner that had, until this day, always worked, “I would love the opportunity to have coffee one day and hear a bit more of your story.” Wrong one liner, for sure.

“No, I don’t think so,” was all she replied.

My invitation was genuine and I knew that any decent conversation had to be held in a place with slightly less noise.

She didn’t trust me.

She didn’t trust me because I was a Christian and because I was a pastor. Really, I represented the very collision(s) she had hoped to forget yet, she approached me and something propelled her forward, to re-live those not so distant memories.

But, what was I supposed to say, now?

“I’m sorry, Lisa. I am very sorry. On behalf of the church and on behalf of the leaders that hurt you, I’m sorry. Forgive us.”

A blank stare was her response. I continued, “My sense, though, is that you may have given up on the church but you have not given up on Jesus.”

“Yes!”, she exclaimed, “That’s it!” That is where the conversation seemed to end.

There was some more cordial chitchat and I remember giving her our church website address. There was no blues bar conversion, tears, or further encounters with Lisa again. We did, if I remember correctly, exchange a light embrace or a warm handshake, but that was it.

I think back to that night often and to the many other nights just like it, where there seemed to be a weaving of stories, God moments as they have been so apply named. Honestly, I struggle at times with the relevance of situations like this, though.

We have been immersed in a culture of being results focused and mentored by systems and strategies that define for us an inaccurate lens through which we view success and failure. We now look for opportunities to “see stuff happen” and to present when kingdom fruit forms to feed and nourish. Contentment shrivels when faced with multiple opportunities to “simply” plant seeds because we don’t see the growth that we expect.

What if what propels us forward was to practice being present, and to look for opportunities to actively participate with Him in the forgotten and avoided places?

Could we handle being “retrained?” Could the places of the “mediocre” really become places of the “extraordinary?”

Could the profane, secular spaces of our time come truly alive by simply being a people who practice being present, waiting patiently for the very moment the Author begins to write new stories?

Daniel Snell
Nelsen, B.C.

‘loving your enemies’…real time, real life!

•December 14, 2012 • 1 Comment

We often hear the words “love your enemies” spoken in christian circles like it is something we share as a common experience. As a christian leader for over 25 years I have seen little evidence of our ability to ‘love our enemies’ on our own…the truth is without the power and grace of God few, if any, of us have the capacity to truly love those who have hurt, betrayed or abandoned us.

We can, on own our strength, maybe crawl our way to forgiveness but our guard remains up and our trust ravaged…To actually ‘love our enemies’ in real-time is one of the ways we truly know we have encountered the living God.

As I was speaking to a community in Vancouver, a couple of months ago, I shared with the group the story of a woman in Denver that a pastor friend had met in a local park. When this woman found out my friend was a pastor she responded with an emotionally charged question…

“Am I going to hell because I am a Lesbian?

This wild story is the back drop to the story I want to share with you here. The details of that story can be found on the blueporch blog under the title “Where is Jesus in this story?”

At the end of the gathering after I shared this story, a woman in her late-twenties came up to me (I had met her before) and said to me “ When you told that story of that women, my story started to make sense to me. I understand more clearly what Jesus was doing in me now.” She asked me if she could tell me her story.

“Yes,” I would be honoured to hear it. She proceeded to share.

“I was brought up in a Holdeman Mennonite community”, she said.

If you know anything about the Holdeman’s (which I knew very little) they are cultish in nature and excommunication is a common practise (shunning) for showing disapproval and the loss of salvation. Excommunication is the only way you can leave the Holdeman’s. When someone is excommunicated they are “shunned” and the family and community follow what they call a ‘biblical’ practise of not eating with them, shaking hands or being business partners.

This young women then began to tell me the story of her life in the Holdeman community.

She said to me , “ I was raped by an elder of the Holdeman community when I was an older teenager, while married to a young man of the Holdeman community.”

She indicated to me that she held this secret for a period of time, until she finally had the courage to tell the pastor about what had happened, believing it was the right thing to do and safe to share with him. (I am not sure what she told her husband). The pastor surprisingly turned on her and had her excommunicated from the community for committing adultery. She was horrified and in shock at the injustice, on top of the injustice, that was now happening to her.

Her husband stayed in the Holdeman community and she was excommunicated from the marriage, as well her immediate family. She lived with rage and anger for several years. Her family continues to “shun” her to this day, although they are now making steps towards what could put them in jeopardy with the Holdeman community.

She is allowed to see her immediate family but she cannot share a family meal with them or be involved financially in anyway with them. (Her family owns a lot of land).

To deal with the pain she had become an out- of – control alcoholic.

She would see the pastor, that excommunicated her, in public places in the city, from time to time, over the last 5 years and would be enraged at the sight of him. She was more angry at the pastor than at the man who raped her in the end.

Just over 2 years ago she encountered Jesus in a whole new way and began letting the seeds of grace grow in her heart. She has been free from addiction to alcohol for 18 months now and has done much soul work. She has a new husband, a one year old child and is pregnant with a 2nd child. I met her daughter and new husband that morning.

“My trade is a chef”, she told me. “I communicate love and kindness through cooking”.

Recently she had been hearing rumors that there were issues in the Holdeman community over the very pastor that excommunicated her. She then heard just weeks ago that this pastor and his wife had been excommunicated from the Holdeman community.

She thought her response to such news would be joy and a sense of justice, but it was not. She was sad, she was moved to compassion for this man, her enemy who had committed injustice against her. Her response surprised her. An idea churned in her heart that compelled her to act. She acted on what was stirring in her and spent the evening cooking an extravagant meal.

“That’s how I show love”, she said to me. “By cooking a meal”.

In the middle of the night she secretly took the meal and placed it on the porch of the home of this excommunicated pastor and his wife. She looked at me stunned at her herself and her actions.

She, like me, was recognizing something bigger had been happening inside of her.

“They didn’t know I was there and I don’t know their response would be, but I know that is what I had to do.”

After listening to her, I stood there in awe for a moment, myself, until I found my words. “ The seeds of grace you had never known as a Holdeman Mennonite have been deposited in you by the life of God in Jesus that is now in you. These seeds are beginning to grow and expand through you to bring life of others.” (even your enemies). I said to her.

I gave her and her husband a big hug as we departed. I left amazed at the love of God at work in a heart.

Todd Rutkowski