"Good evening and welcome to this musical retelling of the MCC story as we celebrate 50 years of “faith in action here in Saskatchewan. You are in for a musical treat, a genuine faspa – or banquet perhaps – with a great variety of musical expression – all part of MCC’s chorus of work. We will be delighted by musical expression from many sectors of our MCC constituency – from all age groups, and from the various churches in our supporting conferences. We will be treated to instrumental music, and choral singing in four different languages. The variety of tonight’s performers reflects the great diversity of our cultural traditions, our broad membership, and the great variety of our ministries."
That was how Claire Ewert Fisher, Executive Director of MCC Saskatchewan, opened the Music Gala. It was all that she promised. The music conveyed MCC’s stories of relief, development and peace in the name of Christ. The sheer good quality of the music, and the variety was found to be quite satisifying for many, if not all the 250 or so that were present.
The venue was Knox United Church, which is well-known for it's accustic wonders. Musicians and speakers positioned on the steps or platform can generally lift their voices and be heard clearly throughout the sanctuary and balconies - without microphones.
Our first performers of the evening were a group of young women, called Sonrisa (which is Spanish for “smile”). They sang under the direction of Lynne Driedger Enns. Their song Juntos (which is Spanish for “Together”) was in the style of a Spanish folk song. They were accompanied by Darrell Bueckert and Brenda Epp.
Darrell is well known to musical audiences in Saskatoon as Principal Timpanist with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra, also as a Marimba soloist. The marimba, which he played for us, has origins in Africa and Mexico. His first piece was created Guillermo Cuéllar of El Salvador, and the second was Darrell’s unique arrangement for Marimba of Wehrlos und Verlassen, the song of uprooted and vulnerable refugees. Many of us know the refugee experience from our own family’s history, and many are again living through it in places like Ukraine and Syria.
We were delighted to have a group of Karen children sing, who now call Rosthern their home. All of these children were born in refugee camps in Thailand since the Karen people of Burma (now Myanmar) have, for generations, been victims of persecution. MCC was organized in 1920 in response to the needs of fellow Mennonites in war-torn Europe. Some in our audience had family members who were kept alive by MCC feeding kitchens or who were assisted by MCC to come to Canada.
Today MCC supports internally displaced people in the Zaporozhe oblast in Ukraine as they flee our safety and depend on our partners, the Baptist Union church as they respond to the needs of 300 people each day.
MCC also provides refugee assistance as churches in Saskatchewan sponsor people from various zones of conflict to become established in Canada.
The Karen children sang, a Sunday School Medley of short songs in Karen (trans. “Do not hinder the children to come to Jesus”), followed by a song "Don't Be Afraid, My Love is Stronger" by John L Bell, with an additional verse in Karen by Marian Hooge Jones and Ma April.
From our Saskatchewan Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, we had a group of men, most of them from the Forest Grove Community Church (and a few from other churches) directed by Walter Toews and their accompanist, Orla Block. They sang two songs of praise: "Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow," and "God of our Fathers."
These five sisters – Betty, Tina, Eva, Gertie, and Frieda grew up in the Village of Rheinland, north of Saskatoon. They attended the Old Colony Church with their parents. They volunteer in Thrift Shops and support the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. These sisters have been singing together since they were old enough to talk. They love country gospel music and usually sing in English and German, occasionally also in Low German, their mother tongue. This is a living language for many of our people, and we invite you to enjoy their song, Singt ahm leevlig, Singt ahm scheen, trans. “Sing (to God) with gladness, Sing with beauty”. MCC has a Low German program which supports people from Mexico and South America as they become established in Canada.
Emily is one of the many young Mennonites now living in Saskatchewan whose ancestors were assisted through MCC to become established in this province. Emily’s great-grandparents Peter and Katherine Hooge (the 2nd Peter Hooge), and her grandfather, Peter Hooge (the 3rd) were members of the first group of refugees assisted by MCC who arrived in Rosthern in 1923. Emily is now a nursing student at U of S, also an accomplished violinist, who that night is accompanied by her father, yet another Peter Hooge (the 4th). They played the "Méditation from Massenet’s opera Thaïs," which celebrates the decision by Thaïs to leave her life of luxury and to become a servant of God.
A prayer for the many aspects of MCC's work was offered, Also, a blessing was asked on these these gifts given in the name of Christ. AMEN.
We were grateful to Janet Wilson, organist and director of music including choirs and handbells at Grace Westminster United Church and a great friend of MCC, for playing the wonderful organ right there at Knox.
The last musical group on our program placed “bookends” around the history of MCC. The quartet’s first song, "Ich Bete an die Macht der Liebe" is one of the beloved chorales sung by Germanic Mennonites who were refugees in Europe following WW I and the Russian revolution, the first beneficiaries of MCC’s ministries. It is a prayer of longing for the Power of Love to fill our hearts and replace every other longing. The second song, "Prayer of the Children", came out of the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s in which Serbs, Croatians, and Bosnians were killing each other. This song conveys the prayer of the children who were left orphaned, homeless, without any place to call their own, and who just wanted a mom and dad and a place to play. This portrays one of the biggest challenges facing MCC today: to work for peace and justice for all people, especially children.