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Fall 1999 · Vol. 28 No. 2 · pp. 228–43 

This Century's Journey of Evangelism for Canadian Mennonite Brethren

James R. Nikkel

Faithfulness to the great commission by the Canadian Mennonite Brethren over the past hundred years has turned out to be a journey of mission priorities. This essay identifies some of the defining moments and crucial understandings which help explain how the church in Canada, from its beginning in Winkler, Manitoba, in 1888, followed its evangelism priority as it spread to all of Canada. It also identifies various outreach phases and traces some of the influences and priorities that impacted the Canadian evangelism journey over the past century. The first portion notes transition points and decade emphases, while the second describes distant mission involvements, and the third evaluates the main influences of this twentieth-century journey.

One of the great legacies that the Mennonite Brethren have inherited is the clear Anabaptist conviction that the Great Commission applies to all Christians at all times.


Personal Outreach

From the very beginning local churches seemed to have a clear understanding that evangelism was a priority. For the early decades in Canada it was part of the deacons’ role to do community evangelism visitation. 1 Similarly it was expected that ministers would “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). It was a well-known fact that the ministers were passionate about their witness, and people often feared visitations {229} because of their effectiveness in personal evangelism.

Evangelistic work for the first three decades was done by brothers who would devote several weeks or even months of the year to do visitation and often held extended meetings in churches or school houses. A large number were willing to become involved in this type of effort. Often these men would combine evangelism with their work as Bible colporteurs. 2 Bible School teachers would similarly volunteer their time for a number of weeks to work within the churches and villages. This practice of volunteer evangelism by deacons, ministers, and Bible School teachers continued to the end of the 40s. Most of this was done among people of Mennonite background. Evangelism clearly had a strong priority during these early years.

Conference Evangelists

During the 50s and 60s, conference evangelists were appointed and invited to do crusades and to involve the congregation in local evangelism. In Canada the evangelists were J. J. Toews, I. H. Thiessen, H. H. Epp, and Rudy Boschman. 3 Training for evangelism through Campus Crusade also became popular. It seems that the involvement of evangelism by deacons and ministers as an expectation was lost in the second half of the century. The pronounced clarity of evangelism as the primary purpose of the church at the beginning of the twentieth century was somewhat blurred by the end of the twentieth century. The 1995 revision of the Confession of Faith no longer reads that making disciples is “the primary task” of the church, nor that every member is responsible to do so. 4

John A. Toews makes the observation that personal witnessing by the early MBs of God’s saving grace was not the prerogative of a select group but the privilege and responsibility of every member. It was this activity of lay members that led to the rapid expansion of the church. By the second half of the century the emphasis had shifted from simple faith sharing to a gaining of knowledge regarding witnessing technique. 5

The transition from multiple, unpaid ministers during the early decades, to the single paid pastor of the 50s and 60s, to multiple paid staff in the 70s and 80s had an impact on evangelism. Somehow the evangelism priority of the first decades was not as clearly exercised by the paid pastors. 6


City Mission

Among the first missionary efforts of the Canadian Conference was the work in the cities directed by city mission committees. Some of the {230} well-known city missionaries included William Falk, H. S. Rempel, Henry G. Classen, and Erdman Nikkel. The development of city missions was diverse including a ministry to ethnic groups such as Jews and Russians, providing homes for girls, and a compassion ministry to street people. This city mission evangelism phase continued for most of the first half of the century. These various expressions of inner city work showed sensitivity and responsiveness to the poor and disadvantaged. By the end of the 60s virtually all of the city missionaries had been phased out.

Evangelism of Children

From the mid-30s to the mid-60s the major focus was on reaching out to children. Most of the provinces adopted mission names that declared their focus on children’s ministry. Alberta and Saskatchewan both had “Western Children’s Mission” boards and British Columbia (B.C.) called its home mission work the “West Coast Children’s Mission.” Vacation Bible School (VBS) and children’s Bible camps were the primary locus of evangelism.

After a number of decades of enthusiasm for reaching children using Bible School students as teachers, the VBS movement peaked in the early 60s with an annual enrollment of seventy-three hundred children, three hundred student teachers, and some two hundred decisions. 7 The driving conviction was that VBS was the best way of reaching children, who were considered to be a priority since they “were accessible, susceptible to the gospel and pliable.” 8 A number of provinces appointed summer VBS directors to organize and mobilize this unprecedented interest and zeal for summer children’s evangelism. The Bible School students from Winkler and Hepburn were a major summer missionary source for teachers. 9

The primary ways for churches to express their evangelism priority during this time period were through VBS, Christian camping, and the multiplication of mission Sunday Schools. The development of mission Sunday Schools was a natural next step for many churches in their first attempt at outreach beyond the church. It has been noted that the effectiveness of the Canadian Sunday School mission was a significant influence on Mennonite Brethren outreach to children during the mid-century decades. 10

Radio Evangelism

Parallel to the active summer evangelism efforts toward children were a variety of other “at arms length” outreach endeavors. Inspired by the impact of Theodore Epp’s “Back to the Bible Broadcast” and {231} Charles Fuller’s “Old Fashioned Revival Hour,” many churches and Bible Schools began producing radio programs. The format usually included a male quartet or choir and a radio speaker with a call for a letter response. Between 1941 and 1962 twenty-one radio programs were produced by MBs across Canada. 11 The lone survivor of the radio productions is the “Gospel Light Hour,” now named the “Family Network” in Winnipeg. The strong MB music tradition did not translate into a main avenue of evangelism beyond the radio programs during these decades.

Tent Evangelism

While most churches had difficulty evangelizing their non-Mennonite neighbors, they had no difficulty supporting mission efforts beyond the church. Tent evangelism was sponsored by the Conference from 1948 to 1954 with Henry Brucks and Henry Poetker, then students at Mennonite Brethren Bible College (MBBC), as the leaders. Others involved in this tent and loudspeaker ministry were J. D. Friesen, Abe Goerz, Peter Martens, and John Regehr. 12 While the tent campaigns were conducted by MBBC students in Manitoba, the Missionary Prayer Band was directed by students and faculty from Bethany Bible Institute in Saskatchewan. This period of time also included evangelism through hospital and prison visitation, literature distribution, and extensive colportage work. During these mid-century decades the MB churches demonstrated their mission priority through creative forms of outreach.


Mission Churches

There was a growing sense within the Conference that something needed to be done to include more adult evangelism and to more effectively follow up on the many child conversions. The answer to the repeated question of how to incorporate converts into the “Mennonite Brethren Way” was answered temporarily through the establishment of mission churches. The mission church era or “Rand Mission” (meaning distant home mission) period covered some twenty-five years of active mission church planting in remote areas like Winnipegosis, Ashern, Lucky Lake, Pierceland, Harrison Hot Springs, County Line, Terrace, Hamilton, Toronto, Pincher Creek, and Edmonton.


This mission church era is important in that it gave the established churches time to make the language transition and to adjust to the {232} understanding of being an open church. It took a number of policy papers and study commissions in order to pave the way for the acceptance and integration of younger mission churches into the Conference. 13 The concern centered on preservation of Mennonite Brethren doctrines and the question of mixed marriages. Nick Dyck was helpful in charting the course for nonethnic Mennonite Brethren people to become fully accepted in the churches regardless of race or culture. 14 John Redekop’s hypothesis, “that Mennonite Brethren changed fundamentally and apparently permanently during the two decades between 1940 and 1960,” certainly applies to the mission church planting phase. 15


Decade of Enlargement

The overriding question of the Church Growth Era between 1965 and 1985 was how to become a church that can win and incorporate nonethnic Mennonites into the local church. The Canadian churches as well as the U.S. churches were being pushed on this question by the proposed “decade of enlargement” (1965-1975) by Elmo Warkentin and George Konrad. This program was designed to double church attendance in a decade, which would mean a growth rate of 7 percent per year. The end result, however, was that only 2 percent was achieved after ten years. 16 The slogan nevertheless sent a signal that churches were expected to have adult conversion growth from their neighboring communities. This new vision for church growth and continued church planting caught root through J. J. Toews’ personal evangelism and growth clinics, Rudy Boschman’s evangelism crusades, and Henry Brucks’s passion for outreach. 17

Church Growth

The church growth vision was further expanded through the publishing of the Evangelism Canada quarterly digest and the renaming of the Canadian evangelism office as the “Church Growth Evangelism” office during the leadership of James Nikkel. The first issue of the Evangelism Canada digest in 1984 defined the church growth priority as bringing “together the evangelism work of the church and the personal witness efforts of the individual around a common purpose of leading community people to Christ and into the fellowship and ministry of the local church.” 18 By the late 70s and early 80s most churches were actively seeking to evangelize and integrate community people into their churches.

The Canadian churches were significantly influenced by the Church Growth Movement promoted by Fuller Theological Seminary, {233} from which Ben Doerksen, James Nikkel, Ken Dyck, and others had graduated. The popularized methods of Church Growth of this era were friendship and relationship evangelism coupled with church attraction events such as banquets and Christmas musicals as well as weekday ministries like day care, clubs, and women’s events. Worship bands and music groups were used increasingly for outreach attractions and worship evangelism.



“Church planting” has become the buzzword for Canadian evangelical churches, particularly since 1985. Several church planting organizations have emerged in Canada that encourage denominations to plant more churches, such as Church Planting Canada and Vision 2000. A number of colleges and seminaries have begun to offer church planting courses. Many of the Canadian and provincial Church Extension directors are working together with other denominational leaders in training and assessing church planters.

Antioch Plan

A major impetus for Canadian church planting came in 1988 on the occasion of the one hundredth birthday of the first MB church in Canada, located in Winkler, Manitoba. In connection with this celebration the Canadian Board of Evangelism promoted the Antioch church model to encourage a new vision for evangelism and church planting. The Canadian Church Growth Evangelism office also provided a 225-page church planting manual called Antioch Blueprints, authored by James Nikkel. Provinces were encouraged to become more like the Antioch church in their witness, growth, and church planting. A good number of churches made plans to parent daughter churches at this time.

Strategic Planning

The British Columbia Conference, which had less than fifty churches in 1988, picked up the challenge with a goal of having one hundred churches by the year 2000. Since then B.C. has seen some sixty new church plants. 19 The other Canadian provinces have also made good progress in the past decade. One of the new Canadian initiatives of the 90s in church planting is the “Key Cities Initiatives” program. Calgary was the first city to benefit from this plan which seeks to plant ten churches in five years with the help of the Canadian Board of Evangelism. In 1985 and 1988 the Canadian Conference also sponsored “Disciple Making” {234} conferences as a catalyst for church growth/church planting. In recent years the Mennonite Brethren Herald has provided the Encounter magazine insert to be used as an evangelism handout to the community.

Multilanguage churches have also been part of the rapid growth of the past two decades. The largest groups of language-specific churches are the Chinese churches in Vancouver and the French churches in Quebec. In total, Canadian MBs worship in more than twenty different languages on a given Sunday, with British Columbia alone ministering to fifteen different culture groups.

Churches Planting Churches

A clear trend by the mid-90s has been the shift toward churches planting churches. This has been particularly evident among the Chinese churches in Vancouver, with leadership from David Chan and David Poon. The Kelowna, B.C., area churches have also been involved in planting several daughter churches since the mid-90s. Similar mother-daughter church plants are now underway in Waterloo, Saskatoon, and Calgary.

This trend of churches taking responsibility for planting daughter churches, rather than having the provincial conferences taking sole responsibility, has been slow to catch on among MBs in Canada. There are several denominations in Canada that are considerably ahead of Mennonite Brethren in seeing “Churches Planting Churches” merge as a movement. The B.C. Church Extension Board has made this approach, known as “Project 2000,” their millennium priority and has appointed Ed Goerzen as the part-time facilitator of the project.

Church planting continues to be the most effective way of evangelism in Canada. A 1998 survey of British Columbia MB church plant attendance showed that, on average, one in six attenders made commitments to Christ and one in fifteen people requested baptism. These church planting results are encouraging and affirm the church planting priority.


The interest and passion for distant mission/evangelism for Canadian MB churches has been fairly constant through the twentieth century. The direct involvement in mission ventures through prayer, finances, and field visits has been a high priority.

After a number of years of vaguely defined duties for the Canada Inland Mission (CIM), it became the agency for church planting in Quebec and the Maritimes. The original assignment in 1949 for CIM to work {235} among culture specific groups like the Russians, Jews, Japanese, and Native Canadians was changed into a Quebec and the Maritimes church planting priority under the leadership of CIM chairman Henry Warkentine. 20


In 1961 Ernest and Lydia Dyck, who were evacuated from the Belgian Congo, started the Quebec church planting work. Other Congo missionaries that came to Quebec were the Ben Klassens, Henry Derksens, and Clyde Shannons. The Quebec team soon grew to include the Ben Dycks, Rene Hainauts, and Danny Wolfes. 21 The church planting movement took on new momentum in 1970 when Henry Brucks introduced the beginning of a French Bible School, the Institute biblique Laval (IBL), with Ernest Dyck as the first director of the school. Significant to the success of IBL was Martha Wall’s appointment, which continues to this day.

The quiet revolution of the 60s, along with the Sermons from Science pavilion of Expo 67 in Montreal, helped to open a new era of church planting. The church planting growth came from business people and from university students who were disillusioned by the declining and demanding Roman Catholic Church. Churches that were planted in the late 60s and 70s were St. Jerome, Ste. Therese, St. Laurant, St. Agathe, St. Eustache, Ste. Rose, St. Donat, and Quebec City. The Quebec churches united as an association and joined the Canadian MB Conference in 1984 with some six hundred members. 22 The only English church started in Quebec was the Victory Fellowship Church in Waterloo, Quebec, which closed its doors in the mid-80s. The Canadian churches responded enthusiastically to the French church planting program under the umbrella of the Canadian Board of Evangelism. By the end of the 80s church planting had virtually come to a halt in Quebec.

Atlantic Provinces

The first church in the Maritimes—in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia—was the result of a Christian Service unit sponsored by MBMS in the late 60s. The CIM—now called the “Canadian Board of Evangelism”—set a goal in the early 80s to have an organized MB Maritime Conference of seven to ten churches in the Atlantic Provinces by the year 2000. To date there are five churches and one more in the planning stages with foundational conference structures well underway. The Maritime Mennonite Brethren also had significant relationships with “MAP,” the Mennonites in Atlantic Provinces network. 23 Support from the Canadian churches for {236} church planting among English-speaking Maritimers did not have the same level of enthusiasm that there was for the work among the French-speaking Canadians of Quebec.

Youth Mission International

The original format of Youth Mission International (YMI), then known as Youth Mission 100, was directed by Ed Willems in 1988 as part of the celebration of one hundred years of MB church life in Canada. This youth mission program, designed by James Nikkel and launched by the Canadian Board of Evangelism, was expanded into an international program in 1989 by Randy Friesen, the first full-time director of YMI. The sponsoring umbrella for YMI changed from the Canadian Board of Evangelism to a joint sponsorship by Canada and U.S., and finally to the Mennonite Brethren Missions and Services International (MBMSI) umbrella at the 1999 General Conference. This program in its short eleven-year lifespan has had an enormous influence among Canadian post-high school youth. YMI has grown to include the Trek training program, directed by Steve Klassen, which continues to recruit and inspire college and university students to broader mission involvements.

Mennonite Brethren Missions and Services International

In the first half of this century, the churches gave a high priority to what was known as foreign missions. It was easier and more practical to give to missions and to send missionaries than it was to do mission at home where language and culture were still a local outreach barrier. The records indicate that Mennonite Brethren missionaries have been actively serving under both MB organizations and interdenominational agencies. Margaret Epp in her history of Bethany Bible Institute makes the observation that the “40s and 50s of Bethany’s history appear to sparkle with missionary purpose, life and movement.” 24

It is not within the purpose of this essay to expand on overseas mission endeavors, but it is significant to note that the Mennonite Brethren in Canada have always given a high priority to the support of MBMSI. Canada has provided a long list of career missionaries who provided inspirational furlough reports on their effective mission experiences.

J. B. Toews, in his article, “Biblical Foundations of Mission,” summarizes well the mindset of Canadian Mennonite Brethren when he says, “The mission of evangelism emerges as the imperative and primary task of the New Testament Church.” 25 It is this priority that has resulted in the formation of seventeen national MB conferences worldwide. Canadian MB Churches have had MBMSI on their priority list for prayer and {237} financial support throughout this century.

Church Partnership Evangelism

This program was conceived in the late 80s by businessman entrepreneur Peter Loewen of the King Road MB Church in Abbotsford, B.C. It was first run as a local church Mission Committee program involving groups of people who would spend two weeks in various countries sharing, door to door, their personal testimonies which were translated into the language of the people. After a number of years of operation the program formed linkages with MBMSI in the mid-90s. Church Partnership Evangelism (CPE) also provides an annual mission experience for the senior students of Bethany Bible Institute. This program has had great appeal to early retirees and lay people who are eager to have a cross-cultural mission experience.

Parachurch Involvements

Mennonite Brethren in Canada have also shown their commitment to evangelism through active involvements outside the MB Church and conferences. MB leaders have had primary leadership positions in Canadian parachurch organizations: Dave Redekop with the Christian Business Men’s Committee International, Henry Braun with Gideons International, John Redekop with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, Leonard Neufeld with Campus Crusade, James Nikkel with Vision 2000 Canada, and Ray Klassen with the Navigators. There have also been many MB women involved in evangelism through Friendship Bible Coffees, Christian Women’s Club, Women Alive, and other outreach ventures beyond the Conference.

Mennonite Brethren have been strong participants through the decades in the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the nation’s official evangelical voice. The churches have been active in cross-denominational mission ventures, such as the “I Found It” campaign, the “Why Magazine” city distributions, area interchurch crusades, and, more recently, the “Power to Change” media outreach.

Most of the Canadian interdenominational faith missions and schools are known to have considerable Mennonite Brethren involvement. Margaret Epp reports that Norman Grubb found in his interdenominational mission travels that some 25 percent of the missionaries he encountered were from Mennonite background, which would include Mennonite Brethren. 26 In Canada the MBs have had an enormous influence for their size. Proportionately, the 220 Canadian MB churches make up 2.5 percent of the larger body of nine thousand evangelical churches in Canada. {238} 27


Legacy of Evangelism Priority

One of the great legacies that the Mennonite Brethren have inherited is the clear Anabaptist priority of mission and evangelism. J. A. Toews in many of his writings credits the Anabaptists and their evangelism priority for paving the way for the missionary movement of William Carey and ultimately for the development of the MB Church. The Anabaptists held the conviction that the Great Commission applied to all Christians at all times. They were among the first to make the Commission binding upon all church members. 28

Toews questions in a Voice article, “Are We Failing in Our Primary Task?” The Lord assigned to his followers before his ascension that the primary task of the church is evangelism. Toews agrees with Spurgeon “that the salvation of souls is our chief business.” 29

The 1975 Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith clearly articulates the church’s priority as follows:

We believe that the command to make disciples of all nations is the primary task of the church. Every member has the responsibility to be a witness to Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit and to call men to be reconciled to God.

In the 1995 revised Confession of Faith, this priority statement was reworded to read,

We believe the good news of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ is for all people. Christ commands the church to make disciples of all nations by calling people to repent, and by baptizing and teaching them to obey Jesus. . . . The Holy Spirit empowers every Christian to witness to God’s salvation. . . . 30

Both versions express the great commission mandate of Christ to which MBs have sought to give priority throughout the twentieth century.

Strong Leadership

Even though the MB polity is congregational, it has room for strong leadership. Mennonite Brethren have over the century produced great theologians, teachers, preachers, pastors, missionaries, evangelists, and educators. MB leaders must be credited for much of the growth experienced by the Canadian Mennonite Brethren in the twentieth century. {239} They have also had a significant place among the evangelical influencers of our nation and have been frequent speakers outside of the Conference. J. H. Quiring, in a 1964 Voice article on leaders, summarizes well the prevailing view on leadership when he says, “We need strong leadership that can be trusted and that will be encouraged to lead.” 31

Training Schools

The many Bible Schools in the first half of the century, then MBBC (now Concord College), and later the seminary in Fresno had a great influence on the mission of the church. These schools provided much of the missionary force and pastoral leadership. A high percentage of the church’s lay people also took some Bible training and provided excellent outreach leadership within the churches.

Young People

In the first half of the century while many of the parents were struggling to learn the English language, the young people volunteered for ministry and mission assignments. Hundreds of young people were involved in VBS, camps, Mission Sunday schools, and radio broadcasts. It was the youth of the churches that were able to bridge the language and culture gaps.

Professional People

The entrance of MBs into the diversity of professional life has greatly influenced the denomination. The positive leadership contributions and expertise such persons have provided beyond the church also brought credibility back to the churches. The generosity of business and professional people in helping to support special causes through leadership and financial contributions has been most valuable to the mission of the church.

Flagship Churches

The influence and leadership of large MB churches have had a pacesetting effect for the denomination. Larger Canadian churches like Willingdon, Northview, Forest Grove, Central Heights, Waterloo, and the Meeting Place have in many instances led the way in overcoming obstacles to growth and in winning the respect of other denominations and community officials. In the past decades MB flagship churches included Clearbrook, Winkler, Yarrow, Scott Street, Portage Avenue, Kitchener, and Culloden. Smaller and midsized churches within the Conference have often been encouraged by the model of outreach of the larger churches. {240}

Impact Movements

Canadian MBs have a history of being open to positive influences from beyond the Conference. The charismatic movement of the 70s has significantly influenced the music in the churches and has pushed for a greater understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit. The Church Growth Movement of the 80s has encouraged a more intentional and passionate approach to outreach. The most recent impact on MB churches has been the seeker focus coming from Bill Hybel’s church, and the seeker-sensitive model of Rick Warren from Saddleback. Earlier in the century, as was already mentioned earlier in this essay, MBs followed the Canadian Sunday School Mission into children’s work, were influenced by Three Hills and Briercrest regarding Bible School training, and observed the effectiveness of radio ministry from Epp and Fuller. Other significant influences for the Canadian churches have come through Campus Crusade, the Navigators, and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Most recently the MBs have joined the Church Planting Canada goal of seeking to establish one evangelical church for every two thousand unreached people. 32


The Twentieth Century Wars

The aftermath of the World Wars during this century has left the Christian churches in a position of serious compromise. J. A. Toews categorically concludes that “the world wars have raised an almost insurmountable barrier for the missionary efforts of a church which has compromised her call and calling.” 33 It is certainly difficult to harmonize an effort to proclaim the church’s message of love, peace, and brotherhood while at the same time participating in the production, testing, and deployment of the H-bomb.

At the local church level many MB congregations suffered some level of wartime persecution which impacted their witness. People who were seen as speaking the language of the enemy during the war years did not always fare well within their English-speaking communities. Several MB churches in Canada were burned to the ground because of the church’s Germanic background. Furthermore, alternative service by Mennonites was often seen as being disloyal to one’s country. The fact that some of the eight thousand Mennonite conscientious objectors who sought alternative service did not always live up to their confessed position, further fragmented the church’s relationship to its outreach community. 34

Impact of Immigration

The first waves of immigration facilitated the inception of many {241} Mennonite Brethren churches with very little evangelism. This pattern of starting churches without an expectation of evangelism set a precedent that later became an obstacle to evangelism-motivated church planting. The later mid-century immigrations had a decided impact on the church’s ability to reach out. The more than twelve thousand immigrants that came between 1947 and 1965 significantly detracted the church from going about its primary purpose of evangelism, since the church’s attention was again turned back to language and culture issues. 35

Impact of Name and Ethnicity

John Redekop has effectively argued in his book, A People Apart, that our ethnicity and name have impacted our evangelism ability. Redekop is right that the name Mennonite Brethren is not understood for its historical significance and as such has become an outreach liability. 36 On the surface it is not an attractive name to new people. It comes across as describing a people group that are ethnically bound and culturally exclusive. Most MB churches in Canada that are concerned about reaching beyond their ethnic backgrounds have therefore dropped the name “Mennonite Brethren” from their church titles.

Homogeneity Concerns

The fact that the Mennonites tended to live in close communities or clusters did not help their outreach. Leaders expressed caution about the dangers of the world, particularly the university world, given their separation and isolation orientation. Editorials during the mid-century, which included themes like, “The Mennonite Brethren Way,” “What Makes Us Distinct,” or “The Church in Danger,” demonstrated the church’s struggle with integration. 37

The “Church in Danger” series by prominent conference leaders covered subjects of concern, such as materialism, rapid assimilation, cultural change, educational achievement, professionalism, occupational mobility, and neglect of evangelism. 38 Of particular concern was the fear that Mennonite university students would become submerged in the “sea of secular society.” 39 Such resistance to becoming an integrated and open church was no longer an issue by the later part of the century.

Canadian Secularization

The rapid secularization trend in Canada, particularly in the second half of the century, made overt evangelism most unpopular. The Canadian values of freedom, personal rights, and tolerance have had an intimidating effect on Christian witness. Donald Posterski suggests that Christians need {242} to accept, appreciate, care, love, pray, and engage the postmodern mindset and not retreat from it. 40 Unfortunately, many Christians “have caved into the privatising of faith and have left society to run as it chooses,” to use Brian Stiller’s terms. 41 The Canadian landscape of cultural and religious pluralism is also taking its toll on Mennonite Brethren evangelism effectiveness. The Christian church for the most part has lost its public influence in Canada, which basically means that the church now finds itself in an environment much like that of the first-century book of Acts.

The Anabaptist historic priorities of mission and evangelism have remained strong throughout the twentieth century for the Canadian Mennonite Brethren. Even though there have been many challenges to this evangelism priority over the decades, it has remained the church’s main reason for existence.


  1. John A. Toews, A History of the Mennonite Brethren Church: Pilgrims and Pioneers, ed. A. J. Klassen (Fresno, CA: Board of Christian Literature, 1975), 314.
  2. Ibid., 316.
  3. Ibid., 369.
  4. Confession of Faith of the General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, Article 7, 1975. See note 30, below.
  5. Toews, 370.
  6. John P. Schmidt, “Pilgrims in Paradise: Sixty Years of Growth in the Mennonite Brethren Church in B.C.,” (doct. diss., 1991), 370.
  7. Peter Penner, No Longer at Arms Length (Winnipeg, MB, and Hillsboro, KS: Kindred, 1987), 50.
  8. Ibid., 50.
  9. Margaret Epp, Proclaim Jubilee (Hepburn, SK: Bethany Bible Institute, 1976), 50.
  10. Penner, 50.
  11. Ibid., 46.
  12. Ibid., 60.
  13. Ibid., 83
  14. Ibid., 89.
  15. John H. Redekop, “Decades of Transition: North American Mennonite Brethren in Politics,” in Bridging Troubled Waters, ed. Paul Toews (Winnipeg, MB, and Hillsboro, KS: Kindred, 1995), 19.
  16. Penner, 98.
  17. Toews, 319. {243}
  18. James Nikkel, “Why This New Paper,” Evangelism Canada 1:1 (1984): 1.
  19. Geoff Neufeld, British Columbia Church Extension Convention Report, May 30, 1999.
  20. Penner, 41.
  21. Ibid., 104.
  22. Ibid., 113.
  23. Ibid., 114.
  24. Epp, 91.
  25. J. B. Toews, “The Theology of Mission in Acts,” in The Church in Mission, ed. A. J. Klassen (Hillsboro, KS: Mennonite Brethren Publishing House, 1967), 11.
  26. Epp, 93.
  27. Murray Moerman, Outreach Canada Interview, July, 1999.
  28. John A. Toews, People of the Way (Winnipeg, MB: Christian, 1981), 216.
  29. John A. Toews, “Are We Failing in Our Primary Task?” The Voice 1:2 (1952): 11.
  30. Confession of Faith, Article 7, 1975, and Article 7, 1995 respectively.
  31. J. H. Quiring, “Do We Create an Elite Among Our Ministers?” The Voice 13:5 (1964): 6.
  32. Murray Moerman, Transforming Our Nation (Richmond, BC: Church Leadership Library, 1998), 131.
  33. J. A. Toews, “The Weapons of the Church for World Conquest,” The Voice 6:1 (1957): 3.
  34. Penner, 28.
  35. Ibid., 40.
  36. John H. Redekop, A People Apart (Winnipeg, MB, and Hillsboro, KS: Kindred, 1987), 161.
  37. Penner, 40.
  38. Ibid., 41.
  39. Ibid., 38.
  40. Donald C. Posterski, Reinventing Evangelism (Markham, ON: InterVarsity, 1989), 174-75.
  41. Brian Stiller, From the Tower of Babel to Parliament Hill (Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 1997), 167.
James R. Nikkel is Director of Church Extension for British Columbia Mennonite Brethren. He was previously president of Bethany Bible Institute, Hepburn, Saskatchewan, and currently is Adjunct Lecturer of Church Planting at Briercrest Seminary, also in Saskatchewan.

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