I’m thankful for…

With the Thanksgiving season (and mid-term season) upon us, I decided to take a stroll through campus and do some impromptu interviews. I wanted to start some conversations that would stir up some warm and fuzzy feelings to contrast the stress of studying and blustery weather I saw through my window. And after chatting with some lovely people and compiling the answers, I’d say it was a successful mission. The question?

What are you thankful for, here at CMU?

“I’m thankful for Folio’s coffee” – Sadie McTavish

“I’m thankful that my learning has been lively because it has been lived” – Marnie Klassen

“I’m thankful for how close the profs are to the students. There’s tons of space made for profs and students to connect” – Daniel McIntyre-Ridd

“I’m thankful for my apartment and my roommate who loves me” – Kate Friesen

“I’m thankful for the basketball team and the community and friendships it provides me with” – Andrew Hutton

“I’m thankful for the free flu-shot clinic! You just walk on in and it only takes five minutes!” – Claudia Dueck

“I’m thankful that CMU has a volleyball team!” – Matthew Sawatzky

“I’m thankful for the very large windows in Marpeck that I can look through, and the friends who I see walk down the stairs” – Markus Stahl

“I’m thankful for the sense of belonging, comradery, and fun I get from being in choir” – Madeleine Friesen

“I’m thankful that I’m part of a small enough class that it’s possible to designate someone to bring a snack for everyone at every lecture” – Rhett Neufeld

“I’m thankful for really great interactions with my profs. They know how to have fun and joke around, while also teaching you a lot of new information” – Nicholas Harder

“I’m thankful for the bridge between south campus and Marpeck for keeping me warm and dry during this snowy weather” – Courtney Kuhl

“I’m thankful for all of my friends and my professors, and their genuine happiness and caring attitudes” – Nicolas Willms

And me? I’m thankful that I’m part of a community where I can take a short stroll through this beautiful campus, and be greeted by classmates and friends alike who are willing to answer my whimsical questions. Their smiles and stories are plentiful, and the inspiration they give me is endless.

CMU, I am thankful for YOU!

– Chloe Friesen, 3rd Year Communications and Media Student

Hilarity, Belonging, and Mission: An Interview with Two Summer Camp Staff Members

Ah, the summers of my childhood. Bike rides to the ice-cream place down the block, afternoons at the local pool, and best of all, summer camp.

For many CMU students, summer camp isn’t only a memory of summers past, it’s an everyday summer adventure as they make up the staff of camps far and wide! I interviewed two summer camp staffers (Marnie Klassen and Johanna Klassen) who recently worked with Camps With Meaning. We talked about past camp experiences, the word “average”, and how their CMU and camp experiences flow into one another.

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Hey friends! Tell me a little about yourselves and your camp/CMU roles.

Johanna: My name is Johanna Klassen. I’m 19, and I worked as a Senior Counsellor this summer, at both Camp Assiniboia and Camp Koinonia. I’m currently in my second year of music studies at CMU, with the goal to pursue education.

Marnie: My name is Marnie Klassen. I’m in my 4th year at CMU, and spent the summer as the Bible Instructor at Camp Assiniboia, one of Mennonite Church Manitoba’s two summer camps. I’m studying Social Theology.

Did you go to summer camp as a child? Did that influence your decision to work at camp at all?

Johanna: Growing up I went to Camps with Meaning from as early an age as possible. I went to Camp Assiniboia when I was a younger child, and as got older I began going to Camp Koinonia because I wanted a camp experience that included more camping experiences, including canoe trips out on Max Lake and beyond.

Marnie: I only started going to camp as a pre-teen. At that time, my older siblings were both camp staff and my mom was on the board of the camp we were involved with, so in some ways I was more of a staff kid than just a camper. The sense of ebbing and flowing community really struck me and I was hooked. I knew I wanted to be part of something that combined hilarity with a deep sense of belonging and mission.

Why did you decide to work at camp?

Johanna: The main reason I began working at camp was because of the wonderful, inspiring, faith-forming weeks I had as a camper, and I wanted to make that a reality for youth in the future. I was encouraged by my counsellors the year before I could volunteer in the Day Camp Program at Camp Assiniboia, and I had a multitude of friends that also were planning to work at camp—I knew it would be a fun way to spend the summer! Now my friends have grown into a supportive community which has been shaped at camp, and I am lucky to be a part of it not only during the summer but also throughout the year, which is a big reason why I keep going back.

Marnie: This summer I ended up at Camp Assiniboia largely because I wanted to laugh more. As with most people my age, I’m learning a lot about myself and the world and came to a point where I realized I needed to take myself less seriously. So I went to camp to laugh more!

Johanna, middle, with CMU friends

Tell me a bit about an average day at camp.

Johanna: I don’t believe I had an ‘average day’ this summer, as I worked only one week with each age, every week with a different schedule. But, usually: I attend morning prayer, sit down to eat at least five times throughout the day, sometimes cook supper at campout, sleep outside under the stars, song-lead during Bible time, lead Camp Skills (including fire-building and natural tea making), run around with kiddos, and swap stories about God with campers and staff alike in the evening.

Marnie: A day in my role this summer could be compared to an obstacle course. You think you know what’s coming, there’s a ton of variety, and inevitably you end up being surprised by something. We started the day with morning prayer, breakfast, and staff meeting/devos, before Bible, which was my biggest part of the day. I was teaching about Community, based on Colossians 3:12-14, and we did tons of fun activities. Afternoons looked like filling in wherever needed, making sure that program was running and staff were getting their time off. In the evenings I facilitated Fireside, a time of worship and faith story sharing. I usually finished off the night either with some office work or a leadership meeting. Long, fulfilling days.

Wow! I definitely shouldn’t have used the word “average”. So what motivates you to work in such a high-energy environment all summer?

Johanna: Knowing that even though it doesn’t always feel like it, what I’m doing has a positive impact on someone. I know this because I experience it every day at camp myself, this coming from someone else. Spending quality time with people who raise important questions, are not afraid to be silly, willing to listen. Understanding the beauty of creation and community so well that I can feel it in my bones.

Marnie: It’s a wonderful thing to be part of faith embodiment. Every conversation is a chance to honor someone’s story or encourage someone. Yes, it’s exhausting. But it also matters. The energy of the staff and the delight of the campers is very fueling.

Marnie (right) at Camp Assiniboia

Did you see any of your CMU classes, learning, or experiences come into play while you worked at camp?

Johanna: More generally, my first year at CMU taught me to ask questions, and to be resilient in the midst of stress and confusion. More specifically, in the spring I had a camper who was quite anxious, and stuck to one staff member throughout the day. She wanted to sing in the talent show, but was nervous about where she would stand, what it would be like and the music itself. I suggested we practice, and because I had taken Music Skills, I was able to accompany the camp songs on piano more easily and sing with her. This made me feel like I could do something to ease her anxiety, and CMU gave me some of those tools.

Marnie: I certainly drew on my learning from Pastoral Care and Counseling as I spent a lot of time this summer in conversation with younger staff, helping them make sense of their stories. It was a huge honor to be trusted with those stories, and I think I was able to do that in part because of that class, as well as others that have touched on things like narrative theology.

Are there any stories or moments that immediately come to mind when you think about this summer?

Johanna: Every time I try to think of a moment to share, this one always pops up in my mind: one camper really stood out to me this year made me laugh more than any other, and also asked me the most thought-provoking questions. One evening before bed in a cabin full of seven-year-olds, she was sitting on her bunk, engrossed in the task of quietly putting on bug spray and sunscreen. When asked why? she replied, “I just like to.” I kept coming back to this situation realizing that sometimes, we do things even though they don’t make sense, just because we like to. And every time I think about it, I earnestly laugh out loud. On our walk in the forest to our campsite, she held my hand and asked, “why do the mosquitoes have such a nice home?” in moments of chaos and quiet, she was able to put a smile on my face, and remind me how much wonder is in the world.

Marnie: This summer was my first time working with adults with disabilities, and I learned oh so much. I learned about grace and communication and kindness and absurd and hopeful laughter and love. I will never forget listening to Roam by the B-52’s seven times and dancing with one camper as she prepared to go to bed. I’ve seldom known grace in such a way as that.

These stories are so wonderful and heartwarming. Thank you two for sharing your stories and experiences with me!

Chloe Friesen is 3rd Year Communications and Media Student

“So, You’re All Mennonite, Right?” A Reflection

“So, you’re all Mennonite, right?”

I should’ve began counting how many times I’ve been asked this question the first time I heard it. The number would be laughably high.

Most often, I receive the question in response to me stating that I go to Canadian Mennonite University. They hear the word “Mennonite” paired with the word “university” and their eyes narrow, the wheels in their brain spinning. The person I’m talking to has most definitely never visited campus; they don’t know what we all know.

If you head to the “Fast Facts About CMU” page on the CMU website, you get a quick rundown of what’s going on here on campus regarding faith backgrounds.

  • 44% of students are from diverse Ecumenical traditions
  • 37% of students come to CMU from Mennonite or Anabaptist related backgrounds
  • 19% of students disclose no faith or church background.

Wait a minute… we’re not ALL Mennonites? I laugh as I’m writing this, because I am Mennonite and I have met plenty of other Mennonites during the past few years, but I have also met the most culturally and religiously diverse student body that I have ever been a part of.

Last week in my Theology and Art class, we went around the classroom stating what our faith backgrounds were, just to get a sense of the different angles we would be approaching the art and readings we were about to dive into.

I began writing down what I heard, the “so you’re all Mennonite, right?” question surfacing in my mind. Here’s the list I gathered:

We're all different...

 “Pentecostal”

“Agnostic”

“Evangelical”

“Christian”

“Muslim”

“I’m still figuring things out”

“Not religious”

“Roman Catholic”

“Swiss Baptist”

“Buddhist”

“Mennonite Brethren”

“Mennonite General Conference”

“Anglican”

“Protestant”

“Ethiopian Orthodox”

The diversity of the list was interesting, sure, but what interested me more was the confidence in which these words were being said. No one felt like they were “wrong” or “an outsider”, and there was no perceivable judgement coming from the professor or the class. If anything, there was an feeling of gratitude emanating. If you’re a student or staff member here at CMU, you’ll recognize this feeling.

We all had this amazing opportunity to gather together twice a week, to have conversations about art and theology, and we were already being blessed with such rich conversations because of the religious diversity within our classroom. We were all different, and that was good.

I truly believe that CMU is a place for everyone, not just Mennonites. Yes, the university is built upon a foundation of important Mennonite values (check out the Mennonites and CMU page on the website for more info), but we’re a stronger institution when we recognize our differences. And students, professors, and staff all know it! My education has only benefitted from my conversations with and the contributions of everyone here.

So, are we all Mennonite? Definitely not. Am I thankful for that? Yes.

Chloe Friesen, 3rd Year Communications and Media Student

“When I Grow Up”: Life as a Mature Student at CMU | Guest blogger: Jan Otto

Today, like many other students, I attended my first class of the fall semester. I felt excited, a little nervous, and more than just a little sad to see the end of summer. What makes my summer a little different from many of you is that I celebrated two things that most won’t celebrate for some years to come. First, I celebrated the marriage of my son. Second, I celebrated a birthday that puts me in the ranks of those who get to order off the special menu; the one at the other spectrum of the kids’ menu!

As a mature student, my school life isn’t much different than the rest of the students here at CMU. But outside of school, life for mature students is generally very different. Most of us have homes to look after, some have kids, and some are looking after aging parents (that’s my story). In addition to being a “mature” student (I use quotes because I’m not so mature sometimes), I am single. That means that there is no one at home doing laundry, cooking, cleaning, paying the bills, or doing the shopping. Yup, I do it all! There is no one out working to provide financial support either, so I rely on student loans. Some of you also rely on student loans, so you know how much (or how little) I am provided to live on. I can’t make ends meet on student loans, so I also work part-time, and just so that I don’t have to live on rice and skim milk, I host international students with the University of Winnipeg’s English Language Program.

So, let’s see…going to classes, reading, writing, reading, other homework, and more reading, meeting with groups for assignments, going to work, grocery shopping, laundry, cooking, cleaning, paying bills, providing for ELP students, making time for my parents and for my kids (who are older than many of you)…yup, I must be insane.

So, why do I do it? Well, when I was in my twenties, I went to university to become a teacher. But I was a rebel. I didn’t agree with so much of what I was being taught that I felt led to quit. Then came marriage and children. I’d always wanted to be a mom so that’s what I did. When my kids started school, I went to work for my church’s national office doing human resource work. I always told my friend that one day I would be a counsellor. I didn’t know how that would happen because I was, at the time, a single parent and I made a good salary with benefits. I thought I would have to go to school part-time, but that didn’t seem to work out for me.

After a few unexpected and significant changes, I found myself without a job in 2017. Soon after the initial shock, I realised that this could be my opportunity to go back to school and fulfill my dream of becoming a counsellor. The only thing was that I had to figure out how to finance the endeavour. Along with student loans, my part-time job, some pension money (yes, I will have to work for the rest of my life), some scholarship money and bursaries available through the donations of some very generous people, the funding is happening. My dream is coming true…when I grow up, I’m going to be a counsellor.

I have to say that I truly believe that this has been God’s plan for me. For a long time, I have had the honor of helping people with difficulties in their lives after surviving many of my own. God has given me a heart and a talent for this. He has provided the opportunity for me to return to school (disguised as job loss), set finances in place and has given me the endurance to run this crazy race.

Jan Otto is a third-year counselling studies student

Let’s Talk About Talking: Radical Dialogue at CMU

Welcome to CMU. The land of Blundstones, angry geese, using the word “community” as many times as possible, and endless conversation.

Let’s talk about just that: talking. The art of conversation here at CMU, radical dialogue, how important it is, and how much we value learning from each other, no matter our differences. The people that sit beside you in class, pass in the hallways, and sit with in the cafeteria, are all going to help shape your education here at CMU. They’re kinda like your professors, just without the PhDs.

Like I said before, CMU is a place of endless conversation. And it’s the conversations that I have had in the past two years that have filled in the gaps and rounded out the edges of my degree. Talking is important.

Your professors are a good place to start.

They are going to ignite little fires of curiosity within you, I guarantee it. You’re going to have questions, ideas, worries, inspirations, and your professors want to hear about them all! I’m not kidding! I have walked into countless profs offices to see their faces LIGHT UP when I come to sit and chat, and sometimes/a lot of times, it’s not related to a paper I’m writing or an upcoming test I have. It’s what’s going on inside my head, it’s about that little flame. And your profs want to help stoke that fire.

Your classmates are another great place to start up conversations. These will happen before class, during class, in the dining hall, at Marpeck Commons, in the dorms, at the bus stop, in the gym, I’ve had some good bathroom chats about Biblical Literature and that is not a word of a lie. Sometimes, these classmates won’t even be in the same class as you. I’ve had great conversations with friends who are taking philosophy classes, when I’ve never taken one in my life, and we’re talking about a communications topic from one of my classes, and we’re both enriching each others understanding of classes we don’t own the textbook for.

But here’s the thing—these conversations aren’t always going to be sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes, you’re going to like pineapple on your pizza and the person you’re talking to won’t. This doesn’t mean they are wrong. Sometimes your prof will introduce you to an entirely new pizza that you’re not sure you’re comfortable with, or maybe even a calzone. This doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Sometimes you’ll meet someone who’s never even had pizza. This doesn’t mean they’re wrong. And this is the part where the “radical” in “radical dialogue” comes in. And this is also, where LISTENING comes in.

If there’s one lesson that’s hit me the hardest while studying and living here at CMU, it’s this. THE WORDS I WILL LEARN THE MOST FROM WILL NOT BE MY OWN. The opinions and knowledge and experiences that I have are going to be wonderfully different than everyone else’s. And this is GOOD. Imagine if the keyboard on your laptop only had one letter. Let’s say H. You’re gonna know that letter really well, and that’s great. But all you’re going to be able to type is “Hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”.

If you really want to write, and think, and learn, you’re going to need so many more letters, so many more opinions and angles and pushback. So in the midst of these conversations you’ll be having, remember to listen. To really listen. Not just hear and wait for your turn to speak again. Listen and learn, respectfully.

I’m not saying that you should only listen and not speak, no no no. You also need to speak and share your unique perspectives so that others can learn from you. I’m talking to you self-professed “shy-kids”. We need you. You’re the best listeners so you’re obviously the smartest people in the room *wink wink*.

Thirdly, after we’re done talking, and we’re done listening, it’s time to engage. When I think about really engaging in radical dialogue, I think about my first year. I took an International Development course called “Voluntary Simplicity”. A classmate and good pal of mine got to talking during snack one evening about what we had learned in class, which led to us watching a documentary about fast-fashion and the clothing industry, which led us to making a pact that we would both refuse to buy any new clothes for an entire year. Just as an experiment. And we did it! Successfully! We talked about it with each other, with our professor, with our friends and family. It was like stepping into our textbook and frolicking amongst the words and ideas we’d been learning.

One of the best parts of CMU is the ability to have these conversations. The small class sizes, yet beautifully diverse student body has enriched and filled and blessed each and every class I’ve taken. At the beginning, it took a little work to let go of my biases and step out of my comfort zone. To shake hands with a new friend who doesn’t like pineapple on their pizza. But believe me, this radical dialogue you will engage in here at CMU is what will shape you for the better and help you to see the world with more compassion and empathy than ever before.

Chloe Friesen, 3rd Year Communications and Media Student

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