Hans & Lisa’s Story

“We had never been to Canada before. I cannot believe that I drove 3,000 km and we left everything, including my job, and I didn’t even have a job here yet!”

Hans and Lisa Wiebe* (names have been changed for privacy) remember vividly the night they crossed the border into Canada. “We had driven 9 or 10 hours that day. We were so tired and hadn’t had supper yet.” They arrived at the border around 8:30PM, and it wasn’t until around midnight that they crossed.

They remember a border guard sounding very strict. “It felt like an unwelcome welcoming to Canada,” says Hans. However, one of the border services staff inside did seem friendly. They were asked questions about who was landing and, upon seeing their paperwork, why they didn’t have permanent resident status.

The Wiebes had come to Canada that early March night in 2019 with the intention of staying, not just visiting. “I wanted to get a job and start working,” says Hans. They had not known what all the requirements would be for crossing the border and had not even discussed how long of a permit they would request. “I said two weeks, and he said two months,” says Lisa. The confusion seemed to delay the process.

The Wiebe’s four young children were all under the age of 7 at the time, including an 8-month-old. “The kids were getting wild,” says Hans. The border services member inside invited them to go to a toy room, and the Wiebes felt they could relax a bit there. Finally, the border services staff came with a permit, and their names were on it.

Their first stop once they made it across the border? “Tim Hortons!”

The Wiebes were happy after their long border crossing to be able to stop for a meal at coffee shop chain Tim Hortons.

Hans has Canadian citizenship through his father’s side. His grandfather was born in Saskatchewan, but left as a newborn baby with his family as part of the Mennonite migration to Mexico from Canada in the 1920s. Lisa and the children have Mexican citizenship.

When asked what their reason was for coming to Canada, the Wiebes state that it was mainly financial. In the Mennonite colony where they lived in the State of Chihuahua, the only local school was privately run, and the fees were very expensive. The nearest public school was a half hour drive away, and filling up a tank of gas was a third of their monthly income. Making a living was difficult. Their oldest was in kindergarten, and their second oldest would have been starting the following year. They knew they would not be able to afford school for all their children.

After they arrived in Canada, Hans found work in Canada fairly quickly, first as a framer in construction, and then in sales for a local business. While the pay was better, things were still tight, and the Wiebes came to MCS for help and information on getting child tax benefits running. “My aunt said that MCS usually did a good job to help people,” says Lisa. When the Wiebes came to MCS, they discovered that they knew their Settlement Worker from church, and they felt more connected.

Since then, the Wiebes have also applied for citizenship, and say that having permanent resident status and then citizenship status for their children feels like a long-awaited relief. Lisa is still in the process of obtaining her citizenship. She finds it difficult to find time to study for the Citizenship test, as it’s a full time job taking care of a household with 4 children.

With help from MCS, their friends, family and local church, the Wiebes have settled in. They would still love to go back to Mexico to visit, and remember that it took some time to get used to some parts of life in Canada. “Someone told us that it will take 7 years to settle in,” Hans says. They remember that the flavour of food, and even water, tasted differently in Canada than in Mexico when they first arrived.

The Wiebes are now able to send all of their children who are school-aged to a local private school, and have even been able to save a small emergency fund that they would not have been able to save up for in Mexico. Their children enjoy school in Canada. “They love it!”, Lisa says. Access to the local Healthy Smiles program here in Ontario helped to cover some extensive dental work required for one of their children. Overall, they say, in Canada, they have better food on the table, better income, and life is more affordable.

The Wiebe children enjoy attending school in Canada.

The Wiebes knew some English when they came to Canada, but they still found it very helpful to receive services at MCS. “We would definitely recommend everybody to go to MCS,” say the Wiebes. “Every time we have a question we come here; they know our language and sometimes it’s easier to communicate better in our mother language than anything else.”

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Volunteer Highlight: Linda Thiessen

“The purpose of life isn’t to be happy; it’s to do something meaningful.”

-Linda Thiessen

Back in 2014, Linda Thiessen was a mother of two very young children, and she felt in her heart that she wanted to support and encourage other moms. However, she wasn’t sure what she could do or what it would look like.

Then she was approached by former radio host, Maria Dyck, to see if she wanted to join Radio De Brigj as a volunteer for the Mom 2 Mom program. At the time, only one volunteer, Lily Harder, was helping with this program, and it was a big commitment for just one person. Linda and another young mother, Nancy Letkeman joined as volunteers to help distribute the work.

“Having insecurities myself being a new mom, there was a list of things I wanted to inspire others about,” says Linda. She has enjoyed doing a mix of topics over the last 8 years, sometimes focusing on more challenging topics or the spiritual aspects of motherhood, and sometimes keeping it light with practical content like cleaning “hacks”.

“I wanted to help others; to empower them to have the freedom to parent in a way that is true to themselves and not compare themselves to others. My message for listeners is also to be hopeful of their children’s future. That we can empower our children to learn and grow, even through difficult times.” Linda says there have been times when she had a program topic in mind, but the Holy Spirit would say differently, and then she would follow that guidance to change her topic.

The topics have also changed as her children have grown, and also as listeners would give feedback. Some of Linda’s favourite memories from her time as a volunteer have been at two outreach events the radio has held. One event was in a local park, with listeners invited to bring their whole family. There was a mini-program, as well as raffle items and ice cream that had been donated by local businesses. The other event was held in the MCS thrift store, serving cookies and pie, providing the opportunity for the radio hosts to introduce themselves to the ladies who were shopping and to hear their feedback about the Mom 2 Mom program.

“I think it’s great that MCS offers radio programs in Plautdietsch,” says Linda. While there are many parenting resources available at our fingertips in English these days, it is harder to find them in Low German. The Mom 2 Mom program helps Low German-speaking mothers feel less alone.

Linda has been fluent in Low German her whole life, as she was born in Mexico and moved to Canada when she was 10 years old.  For those who like to play the “Mennonite Game,” Linda’s grandparents were the Dokta Wall from La Silva. Everyone from Mexico knew her dad. Volunteering at De Brigj brings part of her family’s story full circle, as her family has received services through MCS. “My dad had his [Citizenship] papers, but my mom didn’t. MCS staff were so good at helping her connect and getting her Landed [status]. She still has her certificate from her citizenship ceremony that she is so proud of.”

Volunteering with the radio has been just one part of Linda’s busy life. She and her husband, Eddie Thiessen, live in Aylmer with their two children, a boy and a girl, now aged 12 and 10. One of their favourite hobbies is playing baseball and they play on a co-ed baseball team together. Linda works at Kindred Credit Union in Aylmer, and her home church is Straffordville EMC.

Linda encourages other that, “When you do volunteer work, you’re part of a bigger picture, and potentially able to help others.  You get to meet others, hear their walks of life and can be inspired by them too. There is a lot of focus on mental health these days; [I want people to know that] you are healing yourself too, through helping others by volunteering.”

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Thrift Store Retail Hours

The Aylmer Thrift Store has new hours starting Monday, March 7, 2022. Check it out! 🛒 We’ll now be open longer Monday – Thursday. Please note that we will be closing at 5pm on Fridays.

New Retail Hours: Monday – Friday, 10 am – 5 pm; Saturday, 10 am – 4 pm.

Donations Receiving hours will remain the same, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday 10 am – 4 pm. If you have large items or a large load, please arrive by 3:45 pm to allow time for unloading and please give us a call ahead of time, 519-765-1356.

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Ukraine Emergency Response

We are saddened by the events taking place in Ukraine and grieve with all those who are now facing insecurity and loss.

Our partner Mennonite Central Committee – MCC is accepting donations to support its response in Ukraine. We invite contributions directly to MCC through their website: https://donate.mcc.org/cause/ukraine-emergency-response You are also welcome to leave cash or cheque donations at the MCS Aylmer Resource Centre (16 Talbot Street East), which will then be forwarded to MCC.

Read more about MCC’s work and response in Ukraine on their website: Crisis in Ukraine | Mennonite Central Committee Canada (mcccanada.ca)

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Lily’s Story

By MCS Program Director, Anna Bergen

About 20 years ago, a young woman called our Family Education and Support Project of Aylmer (FESPA) office asking about classes for women. Lily* heard about our program and was eager to be registered for classes. It was summertime, which means there were no classes until the fall.

She shared that she and her husband had recently moved to Canada as a newly married couple and she was going stir crazy in their small apartment in downtown Aylmer. Lily came from Mexico, and having lived in a colony, there was always something to do and someone to visit. Suddenly she found herself very alone in a new country while her husband was at work.

As the summer went on, she called a few more times to ensure she was registered and that she had not missed the starting date.

In the fall, she started attending classes where she was able to meet other women who shared her experiences and, like her, were learning how to do life in Canada. Lily was a joy to those around her, always sharing her smile freely with everyone. Although she did not enjoy school, she was determined to keep attending so she could learn to speak English.

When she was expecting her first child, we enrolled her in our Family Support and Mom&Baby Programs to assist her at various appointments, advocating and translating for her. Being a first-time mother she was very grateful for the support from FESPA as she would not have been able to communicate with the doctors on her own. Being our very first participant in the Mom&Baby Program she was also very gracious as we tried to launch this new program. Instead of complaining, she just gratefully accepted what we could offer as we stumbled through that first year together with her, all of us on a new journey. Shortly after her son was born, Lily and her husband were able to purchase a house which was a blessing to them as the apartment they lived in was not suitable for family life.

Lily continued to attend FESPA classes for several years, first bringing only one son and then a couple of years later, her second child. When her oldest son began attending public school she began to transition out of our program and began helping at the school as a parent volunteer. The school principal was overjoyed to see a newcomer willing to volunteer with the school.

I met up with Lily this year and learned that she still lives in the same house they bought when her first child was born, she now has four beautiful children in three different schools, her oldest son graduated from high school last year, and she continues to support the schools where her children attend.

It is a joy to meet people in the community and see how they have re-established their lives because they received welcoming support when they were newcomers.

*Name changed for privacy

Pictured above, FESPA students in class in January 2020.

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Here and Back Again: Communities Helping One Another

By Diana Peters, MCS staff member, as told by Donna Lunn, Harvest Bowl Program Manager

Every year, Elgin County has an influx of Temporary Foreign Workers from a variety of places, including St. Vincent and the Grenadines, to assist local farmers in the planting, nurturing, and harvesting of crops. These Workers are a much-needed boon to an area that has much work and yet not enough local workers to fulfill the need. 

It is with the help of the Temporary Foreign Workers that our local community and area is able to enjoy an abundance of local fresh fruits and vegetables for a good portion of the year, as well as contribute to the general food production in Ontario. 

Caribbean pumpkins, donated to Harvest Bowl by Howe's Family Farm.
Caribbean pumpkins, donated to Harvest Bowl by Howe Family Farms.

Organizations, such as Harvest Bowl*, also benefit, as some of the extra harvest is donated and dehydrated in order to make packages of delicious and nutritious soup. These packages are distributed to places such as the Aylmer Corner Cupboard, and other food banks, for those in our community who are in need. 

Caribbean pumpkin from Howe's Family Farm in the Harvest Bowl dehydrator, diced by Harvest Bowl volunteers.
Caribbean pumpkin from Howe Family Farms in the Harvest Bowl dehydrator, diced by Harvest Bowl volunteers.

This past spring, a volcano eruption brought devastation to many people in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. When our local Howe Family Farms heard of the hardships that the people of St. Vincent were experiencing, including some of their own past farm workers, they decided to take action. They began a collection for essential items, such as dried goods and toiletries, to send to the most in need regions of St. Vincent. The goal was to collect enough for one shipping bin. 

Through the generosity of the community, enough was collected to fill not one but TWO shipping bins! Along with the donations from the community, Harvest Bowl also was able to give back to these workers and their communities by contributing 80 pounds of dried vegetables! Isn’t that amazing? 

 Packages of Harvest Bowl Squash & Potato Soup
Packages of Harvest Bowl Squash & Potato Soup.

When we needed help, they came. And when they needed help, we sent from the abundance that they had helped us produce. 

*Harvest Bowl is a project started by MCS that continues to grow with the goal of becoming completely independent and self-sustaining. Harvest Bowl’s mission is to provide a gleaning service with further processing of vegetables to create packages of dry soup mix for distribution county-wide for those in need.

Learn more about Harvest Bowl on their website, www.harvestbowl.ca.

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Thrift Donations Receiving Hours January 2022

Starting Tuesday, January 4, 2022, donations receiving hours at the Aylmer Thrift Store will be Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, 10 am – 4 pm.

If you have a large donation, please call ahead, 519-765-1356. Please also arrive by 3:45pm to allow time for unloading.

Thank you for dropping off your donations during these designated times only.

If you would like to volunteer with us, please give us a call!

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Local Doctor’s Roundtable Discussion

As an ear to the community, we hear that people have lots of questions about COVID and vaccines and we continue to help find and share information on these topics.

A round table discussion with local doctors on the status of COVID in East Elgin on the radio is now available for listening on-demand as a podcast on our website.

Our Executive Director, Eddy Rempel, hosted this panel, presenting questions about COVID-19 and vaccines to a panel of 3 local physicians:

1. Dr. Jillian Toogood, family physician at East Elgin Family Health Team who often provides care in the area of women’s health;

2. Dr. Douglas MacPherson, an infectious disease specialist at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital who has participated in various projects with the World Health Organization; and

3. Dr. Michael Toth, former head of the Ontario Medical Association, and also a practicing physician in Aylmer for 35 years.

This discussion aired several times earlier this month on De Brigj. The podcast starts with a Low German summary, and the English discussion starts at the 6:15 mark.

If you missed it, listen on-demand on our website: 21-12-06 Dit & Daut – Mennonite Community Services of Southern Ontario (mcson.org)

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