There I was. A cold Sunday morning in January. Sitting on the far end of the bench, up against the west wall in the Bergfeld church. This area northeast of Altona, Manitoba was known as Rudnerweide school district, and was the birthing ground of the Rudnerweide Gemeinde, which later became the Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference.
While we were waiting for the service to begin, the worship team played gospel songs and old hymns that were familiar to the 83-year old walls of the sanctuary. My thoughts took me to early days of this little church when Rev. Cornelius Stoesz, Bishop Wilhelm Falk and others preached and the Bergfeld choir would sing, and missionaries told stories of their experiences in other parts of the world. I never experienced those events, but my parents often talked about those days and the imprint those times had on their lives.
Being in the sanctuary with such rich history was inspiring and humbling. So many important decisions were made in that sanctuary. People heard the gospel and made their decision to be a Jesus follower. Young people dedicated their lives to missions and to teach and preach wherever God called. The congregation through the decades, has held on to the passion of missions and preparing, sending and supporting people to share the gospel around the world.
That Sunday morning the worship leader, Denis Stoesz, the grandson to Rev. Cornelius G. Stoesz, told the story of his grandfather’s conversion and call to ministry. Cornelius Stoesz was elected to be a minister of the Rudnerweider Gemeinde. He was so convicted with the weight of that responsibility, that he took to his bed and remained there for three days. The spiritual battle ended when he submitted his life to Jesus. Struggle was replaced with freedom, passion and conviction to preach the gospel. He was ordained as a minister of the gospel and continued to preach as long as his health allowed.
It felt like the voices from the past were breathing words of encouragement into the sanctuary. Pastor James Friesen was ordained that cold morning January 12, 2020. Ordained. Set apart. A public recognition of accountability to God and to the EMMC. The packed sanctuary shared in the prayers, heard the words of affirmation and support and sang songs of praise as they celebrated this special event.
The building project expanded the facility to provide more Sunday school classroom and teaching areas (see page 19). The sanctuary was left untouched. Yes, they ‘could’ use more space on a Sunday morning, but as several congregants indicated, the building was meant to grow, disciple, and send people out to share the gospel – not to keep them comfortable within the walls of the sanctuary.
Many people have passed through the doors of the Bergfeld church over the decades. Many of them have been encouraged, mentored and sent by the Bergfeld congregation to minister in the local area, in another province, overseas and right in their own congregation. Our EMMC has grown because those early years of courageous and committed believers who were convinced that the world should hear about the love of Jesus, instilled that passion in those who identified with the congregation. Missions was in their blood back in 1937, and it continues today. Missions and being on mission every day and in every way has become the legacy of the Bergfeld EMM Church. God continues to use His people.
For more historical information about the EMMC, read “Search for Renewal: The Story of the Rudnerweider/EMMC” by Jack Heppner. Copies of the book are available at EMMC Home Office, Winnipeg.