Sunday, April 22, 2007

Jasper Ski Trip (Minus the Skis)…

Finally, here are the aforepromised photos of my Jasper ski trip, Family Day Long Weekend, Feb. 16-19 2007 (yes, this is a statutory holiday in Alberta… how else can you tell that Alberta is the last holdout of good’ole family values, as alluded to in my Dec. 24 entry).

The annual excursion is jointly organized by people from Capilano Christian Assembly (the mother church of Southview where I “break bread”) and Lendrum Mennonite-Brethren. Our group of 40-odd had all to ourselves the entire Athabasca Youth Hostel, surrounded by some of the most pristine mountainous scenery and countless miles of cross-country ski trails. Most people packed it all in. My own agenda meanwhile was simple: to have no agenda (how can you tell I’m one of those mildly-contradictory non-denominational types). I brought nothing but some books, a sleeping bag, and the clothes on my back. I didn’t end up skiing at all, but sprawled out in front of the chalet fireplace for much of the weekend. Other than that, I hung out in Jasper for a day, and took a small hike. And what a deal: the entire trip – sleeps, drives and eats – barely cost me $80 (I love taking trips with Mennonites)!

The locals…

Robert and Diane, trip organizers...

Robert and Diane are involved with a number of ministries, and are a super dynamic couple. In the short time I’ve known them, they’re the kind of people that make me say, “I want to be like that when I grow up.”

All geared up for the long haul...

Next to me is Naomi, an OM missionary who gave me the name "Tree Killer"

The intimate gathering…

The teacher…

I always manage to take my work with me: giving a lesson on making smores in the great indoors.

On this note, my wish to bring a smile to kids’ faces and resourcefulness in doing so nearly got me in trouble with the enviro-cops. Being a “hey-der-from-Tunder-Bay-poika” who grew up on an 11 acre rural lot, I didn’t think anything about ripping twigs out of the ground to make marshmallow roasting sticks. That is, until I saw the look of sheer horror from Diane and others used to frequenting national parks. In keeping with the traditions of those occupying these lands from ages present and past, Naomi bestowed upon me the honourable name of “Tree-Killer”. But I have made good to use the land’s provision responsibly – I took the sticks home to have ready for next year’s event!

Apart from my archaic use of Mother Earth, probably my only regret was not managing to find a Poo-Poo Moose keychain in any of the fine souvenir shops in Jasper. I’ve wanted one ever since my sister and I spotted one in Banff back in November (our delight at such caused Mom to curtly abandon us). There instead, I got a carabiner mug and I’ve been kicking myself ever since. As I kept an eye out for a Poo-Poo Moose in Jasper, I guess I let the cat out of the bag to those accompanying me. Lyla, for my benefit, in her calm and professional manner asked a shop cashier “do you carry a Poo-Poo Moose?” (to which I myself nearly dropped a few pellets).

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hutterites: In 45 minutes, I was on the other side of the world…

... and imagine my surprise when I got called to substitute-teach at a one-room school on a Hutterite colony. First of all, it was March Break in Edmonton’s schools. Second of all, I found out that Hutterite schools are also run by the public school boards (although I guess the shock should have been diffused by the fact that many school boards in the Edmonton area run many alternative and religious schools).

It was probably the most enjoyable teaching day I have ever had. I don’t want to be a sappy emo, but my heart nearly melted when I saw all the little black hats and jackets neatly hung up by the door. I arrived during the German class they have first thing in the morning, and a number of boys were kneeling at the front, to which I thought “boy, they’re pretty pious in German class.” It turns out they were there because of mischief, and the German teacher/ minister of the colony is apparently much stricter than I am. You should see the old-school leather whip he keeps in the teacher’s desk! The teacher aides who showed it to me told me how one day the class was so out of control, that they called the German teacher to come in from the fields. The moment he stepped in the room, the students were instantly in their desks, quietly looking forward, albeit with quivering lips.

As it is, I had no such trouble with the kids. They were like angels. The teacher-aides said it’s because I’m kind of a novelty to them, being the first time they saw me and all. Apparently they can give their subs a run for their money after they get used to them. But my day at the colony was amazing, as the pictures here below can tell….

Team Plautdietschland practicing for the 2010 FIFA World Cup…

How can you tell these kids have no TV?

And no, I’m not in the middle of telling them about Ozzy Ozbourne. You probably can’t see the skipping rope, and in the second one, I’m in the middle of doing a cross-over.

It Takes A Painted Village…
To the class I read “My Painted House,” a picture book written from the perspective of a child telling the reader about their brightly-painted village and life in Africa. There were pictures of painted walls with all kinds of patterns, and so the kids were given an assignment to draw a design for a painted wall. Here is an impromptu sketch I drew to model for the kids. I explained that it symbolized my visit to their community, and the similarities and differences between my world and theirs. What do you see in my wall?

A Hutterite boy and girl drawing their designs for a “painted wall.” (Hmm, I wonder if they will be used to adorn any of the gray buildings in the colony?)

“Grandpa, what was it like teaching in a one-room school?” Well, as you can see in this picture…

Can you tell I got a real kick ringing the bell? How many teachers get to experience this???

Storytime before hometime.

At one point during the day, a little girl looked up at me and asked “Is your brother a Hutterite?” I was extremely puzzled by the question, and wondered if it was my new haircut or something. But when I was home, it dawned on me: in the morning when I introduced myself, I said: “As you can see, I’m not a Hutterite, but I consider Jakob Hutter to be my brother because of his faith in Jesus Christ, and his belief that the true church consisted of all the people who put their trust in him.” Well, I’ll have to teach these kids how to speak Christianese next time I come. I would jump at the chance to go back, even if they can be as naughty as the teacher aides report.

I kind of felt like a male version of the main characters in Chocolat and Babette’s Feast, as I splashed into the scene of a simple classroom whose kids seemed mesmerized (and maybe corrupted, some might say) by the flavour I brought that is normally inconsequential.

But I was probably the most affected. I find myself missing them alot. Life out there seems so rich in a simple and uncomplicated way. I’m not under any illusion, mind you, and as the teacher aides could surely attest, the Hutterites are just as much in need of a saviour as I am. But still, as I groan under the burden of Cain’s city, the visit to the colony felt like coming up from the deeps and breathing a huge gasp of air. Notwithstanding the conviction that God calls his people to engage with and shine the light in the world-at-large, the Hutterite life sure looks pretty inviting.