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Resilience in practise: 2017 Distinguished Alumni

Resilience in practise: 2017 Distinguished Alumni 2017's Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients: (left to right) Henry Neufeld, Joanne Thiessen Martens, John Longhurst, and Ken Esau.

A man who has dedicated his life to building positive relationships among Mennonite and Indigenous peoples, an influential media relations specialist, a Biblical Studies professor, and an agricultural researcher are the recipients of CMU's 2017 Distinguished Alumni Awards.

They may come from diverse backgrounds, but all four of these alumni exemplify resilience in their life and work. Each of their stories displays strength, innovation, imagination, and faithfulness.

The Distinguished Alumni Awards celebrate alumni who, through their lives, embody CMU's values and mission of service, leadership, and reconciliation in church and society.

The awards are presented to alumni from CMU and its predecessor colleges: Canadian Mennonite Bible College (CMBC) and Mennonite Brethren Bible College (MBBC Concord College).

CMU President Cheryl Pauls presented the awards at Fall@ CMU (formerly Fall Festival) this past September.

"Alumni stories of faith and vocation measure the truth and the soul of a university," Pauls says. "CMU is honoured by the quality of witness and influence, in church and society, of this year's four Distinguished Alumni Award recipients."

 

Henry Neufeld (CMBC '52) — Henry Neufeld has spent more than six decades building positive relationships among Mennonite and Indigenous peoples.

Born in Moscow, Russia and raised in Leamington, ON, Neufeld studied theology at CMBC.

He and his late wife, Elna, began working as teachers in Indigenous communities in Manitoba in the early 1950s. From 1955 to 1970, they lived and taught 280 km. northeast of Winnipeg in Pauingassi First Nation. After serving two years as pastor at Springstein Mennonite Church in Springstein, MB, Neufeld—who is fluent in Ojibway—began visiting northern communities as a travelling pastor. Since then, he has made more than 600 trips.

After 65 years, Neufeld's work still is not finished. This past spring, at the age of 87, he participated in Mennonite Church Canada's Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights. Participants walked 600 km. from Kitchener to Ottawa in support ofthe adoption and implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

"I know our celebration on Canada Day was for 150 years, but if we look only at the past 150 years, then we are doing a real injustice to Indigenous peoples, because they have been here for 10,000 or more years," Neufeld says.

"Even though our cultures are radically different, our backgrounds are radically different, we need to recognize and respect each other," he adds. "If we respect each other for who we are and what we have to offer, then we can prosper."

Neufeld has five children, 12 grandchildren, and two greatgrandchildren. He attends Springstein Mennonite Church. John

 

John Longhurst (MBBC '79) — John Longhurst is a communicator, marketer, author, editor, columnist, and media relations specialist in Winnipeg.

In his current role as Director of Resources and Public Engagement at Canadian Foodgrains Bank, Longhurst is responsible for the overall communications, marketing, and fundraising efforts of the organization.

Foodgrains is an ecumenical organization, owned by 15 Canadian churches and church-based agencies.

"I find that endlessly fascinating," Longhurst says, "because I get to interact with so many different people with so many different points of view."

Originally from St. Catharines, ON, Longhurst has had an indelible influence in the Mennonite world and beyond throughout his 35-year career. He has overseen marketing and communications work at Mennonite Publishing Network, CMU, Mennonite Economic Development Associates, and Mennonite Central Committee Canada.

Since 2003, Longhurst has written a weekly faith column for the Winnipeg Free Press, and in 2006, he shared his expertise in the book, Making the News: An Essential Guide for Effective Media Relations.

"I was just always curious about why people did the things they did, how things happened, how decisions were made, how the world ticked—endlessly fascinated with it," Longhurst says of why he became a writer. "I wanted to tell stories and kind of interpret the world."

Today, one of Longhurst's greatest joys is mentoring the next generation of communicators.

"I like working with younger staff, helping them find joy and meaning, watching them grapple with a completely different communications world," he says.

Longhurst attends St. Benedict's Table. He and his wife, Christine, have two adult children.

 

Ken Esau (MBBC '83) — Born and raised in Coaldale, AB, Ken Esau was planning to become an engineer before studying at MBBC led him in the direction of becoming a teacher.

Since 1991, Esau has been part of the Biblical Studies faculty at Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford, BC.

At CBC, Esau has taught Marriage & Family, Introduction to Psychology, Modern Western History, World Religions, and courses looking specifically at a number of Old Testament books.

It's his Old Testament survey course, however, that he says has most defined him. Esau has taught the course 90 times.

Formerly a high school teacher, Esau holds undergraduate degrees from the University of Winnipeg and the University of Lethbridge, as well as graduate degrees from the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno, CA and Regent College in Vancouver, BC. Esau is committed to Jesus, Jesus' church, and the Kingdom mission that Christians are invited to participate in.

As a teacher, his first main goal is to encourage young believers to become disciples who are similarly committed to Jesus, the church, and that Kingdom mission.

His second main goal is to encourage students to become life-long learners; passionate people who think critically and are strong communicators.

"There are many others you could have easily named," Esau says of receiving the Distinguished Alumni Award. "It's an honour to be recognized for what is, in many ways, a quiet occupation."

Esau and his wife, Karen, have three adult children. They attend The Life Centre.

 

Joanne Thiessen Martens — (CMBC '96) Joanne Thiessen Martens is an agricultural research technician in the Plant Science Department at the University of Manitoba (U of M) in Winnipeg.

For the past 13 years, Thiessen Martens has worked on ecological and organic agriculture research, including a wide variety of projects like cover crops, integrated crop-livestock systems, soil fertility management for organic farms, and more.

What Thiessen Martens most enjoys about her work is that it involves "all the steps in the knowledge-generation process," from discussing theoretical ideas, to conceptualizing experiments, to conducting those experiments, and analyzing the results.

"We're doing everything from the ideas to the nitty gritty of collecting the samples," she says. Thiessen Martens grew up on an 800-acre mixed farm in Austin, MB.

After finishing a degree in theology at CMBC, Thiessen Martens began studying science at the U of M. She became passionate about agroecology, and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree majoring in the field.

Thiessen Martens and her husband, Myron, spent 2000–2003 serving with Mennonite Central Committee in northeastern Brazil, where she worked with organic and vegetable farmers.

Thiessen Martens has also travelled to Malawi, where she developed curriculum for local farmers.

Additionally, Thiessen Martens co-authored the third edition of the Organic Field Crop Handbook (2016), which is used in university courses around the world. She is also the co-editor of the Canadian Organic Grower magazine.

Thiessen Martens and her husband have two children. They attend Fort Garry Mennonite Fellowship.

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