The Power of Small Things
By Mark Doerksen
I come from Mennonite heritage, and my library contains some books on Mennonite history, including the arrival of many Mennonites in Manitoba in the years 1874, ‘75, and ‘76. Apparently, my descendants are from the 1874 batch. In re-reading some of the history of the denomination I grew up in, I came across a paragraph that mentioned some of the trials of those first Mennonites to Canada, and given that I’m writing from Winnipeg, you might not be surprised to find out that mosquitoes are mentioned regularly as a trial. The historical authors thought it important to describe their scenario in this way, “Even in their tents, sleep was almost impossible because of the mosquito plague.” People continue to joke about mosquitoes being the provincial bird of Manitoba to this day.
You may find it odd that I’m writing about mosquitoes at this time of year, but I bring up this subject because of something that I heard at a seminar put on by West Vancouver Baptist. Margaret Cottle is a physician, and she was making a presentation on Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD). She has a lot of concern about the matter, and at minimum, she certainly wants Canadians to pump the brakes on where things are headed. I found the seminar informative, concerning, and helpful—all at the same time. As she neared the end of her presentation, she made a few remarks about “the good news,” remarks that I have been thinking about quite a bit. She said, “When things get darker, Christians get to shine.” She also said that presence is always better than perfection when caring for someone. And finally, she said, “Never underestimate the small things. Imagine a mosquito in a dark room.” Her metaphor was great for me, as I know firsthand the effectiveness of those little creatures, especially when one is trying to get some sleep. Her point, of course, is that the more we connect with people, even in small ways, the less inclined they will be to loneliness and despair.
This publication is known as Making Connections, and as such, I wish to reiterate how important the concept of the “small things” is in our wider family of churches and in our congregations. We may think it’s a small thing to pray for sister churches in our Sunday services, but I’m not sure that it is. We may think it’s a small thing to encourage our pastor to be a part of a local ministerial cluster group, but I’m not sure that it is. And at a local level, we may think it’s a small thing to phone someone we haven’t seen at church for a while, but I’m not sure that it actually is. We may think it’s a small thing to send a card to a senior because we’ve passed them at church and haven’t had the chance to chat in the church lobby for a while, but I’m not sure that it actually is. You may think it’s a small thing to show up at the piano recital in support of a child you teach in your Sunday school class, but I’m not sure that it actually is.
I write this, then, as an encouragement for us to allow the “provincial bird of Manitoba” to inspire us to follow through on the small things. Let’s listen to the small voice inside us that prompts us to the good. Let’s be tenacious about connecting with each other, checking in on others, and in so doing, encouraging them.
Reflecting on Some Baptist Distinctives
By Mark Doerksen
In November, many CBWC churches participate in something called a CBWC Sunday. It’s a chance for churches to hear about some of the resources that are available through the denomination, and for the CBWC to thank churches for their ministries. On the first Sunday of November, I was able to be with the folks at our Prince Albert church, and was privileged to witness a baptism. The pastor asked several questions, and the candidate announced, “I believe Jesus is Lord!” It’s so good to witness these events in our churches and to hear such words spoken, especially given the culture of which we are a part.
I still think baptisms are miracle stories, stories of God working in people’s lives, and of God working in local congregations. Many are happening in our Iranian church in BC, which is incredible, but each baptism is significant. Of course, as Baptists, we can also look back on our trajectory of faith to discover how much of a risk it was to baptize non-infants, and to moor ourselves in that tradition as we continue to express faith as Baptists.
That Sunday I also had the chance to speak about Thomas Helwys, one of the initial leaders of the Baptist movement. In the early 1600’s, about the time of King James I, Thomas Helwys and John Smyth wished to start a new movement, and moved from the UK to Amsterdam to do so. Eventually, that relationship soured, but Helwys’ writings from that time remind us of how radical his beliefs were. In his attempts to return to New Testament practices, he came to believe that baptism must happen upon a person’s confession of faith, a position quite far removed from the Anglican position of his time. He also wrote much about the separation of church and state, and about religious liberty. It was not, according to Helwys, the king’s business to have spiritual authority over a person. In his book entitled The Mystery of Iniquity, he wrote “For a man’s (sic) religion to God is between God and themselves. The king shall not answer for it. Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews, or whatsoever, it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure.”
Interestingly, Helwys knew that the witness of his congregation would take on fuller meaning if it moved back from Amsterdam to the UK. And so, he and his companions did so. Not long afterwards, Helwys was imprisoned, and died in that prison at about the age of 40. His foundational work, however, continues as Baptists globally are influenced by his writings and theological ideas.
I find stories about baptism encouraging, and I find historical emphases and stories encouraging too, at least most of the time. We have much to be thankful for as we celebrate being an association of churches and embody Baptist ecclesiology and history, looking back on how God has worked and continues to work amongst us. Certainly, there are heavy situations around the globe at the moment, yet I trust you see God at work in your life, in your church, and in our association of churches.