Western Children's Mission
The Western Children’s Mission (WCM) was an outgrowth of the Bethany Prayer League of the Mennonite Brethren Bethany Bible School, Hepburn, Saskatchewan. It had its beginnings in the 1932-1933 school year, when the faculty and a number of the students at the schoolgathered every Monday evening for special prayer on behalf of the large homesteading and Doukhobor districts in the northern Canadian Prairie Provinces which had few churches. Thirteen young people from Bethany volunteered to go into these areas. A committee of five was chosen to be responsible for the work. The most prominent workers in those early years were Jacob H. Epp, Frank F. Froese, George W. Peters, and John B. Toews. Summer vacation Bible schools were conducted in twelve outlying district schools. Bible classes and evangelistic services were held, many homes were visited, and hundreds of tracts were distributed. The Mission was an evangelistic agency to reach un-churched children, operating in the three western Canadian provinces. Its objectives were also to reach adults in the district by means of personal work, evangelistic meetings, Bible classes, and the distribution of sound Christian literature; to conduct Sunday schools and evangelistic meetings, to organize prayer groups, and Christian fellowship groups for the edification of the Christians and the salvation of souls; and to introduce, wherever possible, a Bible Memory Contest and a free correspondence course of Bible studies. The mission was supported through free-will offerings.
The Mission was established and incorporated in 1937 in Saskatchewan, in 1940 in Alberta, and in 1941 in British Columbia by an interdenominational group. This group included members of the Mennonite Brethren Church in Saskatchewan. In 1939 G. W. Peters was elected president, J. H. Epp became the field director, and Alvena Kruger (Epp’s future wife) was field secretary of the Western Children’s Mission, Rosthern District. There was no promise of salary, only that whatever monies came in would be divided equally. In 1940 Ben Kroeker became the field director. The first permanent full-time committee was chosen and work on full-time stations was begun. A printing press was purchased. In 1941 the radio ministry was started. In 1943 the Hepburn headquarters were purchased. In 1944 Sand Beach Bible Camp was opened and the Evangelical Book Shop was started.
The Mission attracted hundreds of young enthusiastic mission workers who received only minimum sustenance yet were exuberant, tolerant of hardship and tireless as home missionaries. Workers travelled in pairs. They held teaching sessions for three hours in the morning that included an opening devotional, singing of choruses, a Bible lesson with a memory verse and crafts. A mid-morning break with outside games of various kinds was enjoyed by all.
The missionaries spent the afternoon making home calls, witnessing and doing personal work as opportunities for it arose. They distributed gospel tracts and invited parents to the closing event on Friday night of the second week. At that time the children presented highlights of what they had learned and memorized and the crafts they had made. An evangelistic message was given by one of the workers or a speaker invited for the occasion.
Records and a mailing list of those who came to faith were maintained, with follow up literature circulated to converts. Continuing contact with converts was maintained by evangelistic teams who visited during the winter months. Eventually the Western Children's Mission organized local bodies of believers into mission churches. At its height the Mission supported 40 full time workers.
In 1946 the mission was taken over by the Saskatchewan Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches. The Saskatchewan MB Conference met separately from the Northern District Conference for the first time in 1946. At that convention the delegates decided that the Rosthern District and the Herbert District would jointly administer the Western Children’s Mission. A five-member executive committee was to direct the work, three members chosen by the conference delegates, and one member chosen by each district. Jacob Epp (president) and Frank F. Froese (secretary), who had administered the mission in past years, remained on the committee. A full-time director was to be chosen as the third committee member. Also in 1946, a constitution and a budget were accepted.
In 1952 the Western Children’s Mission was broken up into three provincial agencies. The West Coast Children's Mission functioned in British Columbia; the Randmission under the Alberta Mennonite Brethren Conference continued the work in Alberta; and the Saskatchewan activities came under the Saskatchewan MB Conference with headquarters at Hepburn, Saskatchewan.
The mission church stations of the WCM in 1954 were: Blaine Lake, Carrot River, Foam Lake, Hague Ferry, Lucky Lake, Meadow Lake, Mildred, Pierceland, Regina, Saskatoon, Swift Current, and West Bank Camp. Over time some formed stable MB congregations that thrived and others closed. The mission also administered two Bible camps, Summer Vacation Bible School, a bimonthly paper began in 1942 called The Challenger, and a Bible memory contest. The Mission even sent the A. A. Dyck family to Colombia, South America as missionaries.
Work at the stations consisted of regular Sunday schools, Sunday morning worship services, Sunday evening services, mid-week prayer meetings and Bible studies, young people’s meetings and in some places choir practice and children’s meetings.
The WCM vision was to have youth make a faith conversion. However, their converts were mostly from a non-Mennonite background, usually did not know German and did not integrate well with established Mennonite Brethren congregations. Several steps were proposed to organize these new believers before they could be formed as Mennonite Brethren congregations. The sequence of steps was: baptism; the formation of a Mennonite Brethren mission station; supervision and moulding by a home mission worker; progress towards independence (including financial independence) and ultimate full membership in the conference. The congregation needed to conform to Mennonite Brethren polity, and to accept the Confession of Faith.
At the Provincial Conference of the Mennonite Brethren Churches of Saskatchewan in 1953, the question was raised about a name change for the Western Children’s Mission since the mission was working only in Saskatchewan, not primarily with children, and now belonged to the MB Conference. Because the work of the Western Children’s Mission (WCM) was much like other mission work in Saskatchewan, it was suggested that WCM should be under the same umbrella as other provincial mission work. WCM and the City Mission merged into one work under the name of Mennonite Brethren Mission of Saskatchewan.
Dirks, Sylvester. The days that were ordained for me. Abbotsford, B.C. 2004: 9-11 describe in some detail how the participants directed their work in the early years of 1938-41.
Penner, Peter. No longer at arms length: Mennonite Brethren Church planting in Canada. Winnipeg, Manitoba: Kindred Press, 1987.
"Western Children's Mission - Hepburn, SK." Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies, Winnipeg, Manitoba. Web. 2 August 2011. http://www.mbconf.ca/home/products_and_services/resources/published_genealogies/mb_provincial_conferences_and_church_congregation_records/saskatchewan_archives/western_childrens_mission__hepburn_sk/.
Yearbook of the Saskatchewan Conference of MB Churches, 1954, p. 3.
Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies, Winnipeg, MB: Volumes 901-902.
Mennonite Encyclopedia Article, Vol. 4, p. 932.
Western Children's Mission was established and incorporated ca. 1935 by an interdenominational group, including members of the Mennonite Brethren (MB) Church in Saskatchewan, as an evangelistic agency to reach un-churched children, operating in the three western Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. In 1952 the Western Children's Mission was broken up into three provincial agencies. The West Coast Children's Mission took over the work in British Columbia; the Randmission, which was taken over by the Mennonite Brethren (MB) Alberta Conference, continued the work in Alberta; and the Saskatchewan work was taken over by the MB Conference of that province under the name Mennonite Brethren Mission of Saskatchewan, with headquarters at Hepburn, Saskatchewan. -- J. S. Adrian.
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MLA style: Wiebe, Victor G. "Western Children's Mission." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. August 2012. Web. 18 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/western_childrens_mission.
APA style: Wiebe, Victor G. (August 2012). Western Children's Mission. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 18 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/western_childrens_mission.