It has been said that life is a highway. Sometimes that highway leads you out of the country, across oceans and completely out of your comfort zone.
This is the case for Darnell and Christina Barkman and their young children, Cody, two, and newborn Makai.
The Barkmans, who attend Emmanuel Mennonite Church, Abbotsford, will be spending about six years in the Philippines preaching the gospel of peace as Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers. They were to leave on June 7 for Manila, where they plan on planting a Mennonite church in Fort Bonafacio—a.k.a. the Global City— a highly urbanized part of the capital.
The idea to spend a considerable amount of time in the Philippines in order to plant a church came about when the Barkmans spent a year there with MC Canada as interns. They talked about their peace and shalom theology with some wealthy members at a Bible study there, and when these people were impressed with it and wanted to learn more, the idea sprang up to plant a church.
“The idea came to plant a church in the heart of the country where decision makers and policy makers live,” says Christina. “Hopefully, the church will spread across the country.”
The Barkmans, both in their late 20s, will be working with the Integrated Mennonite Church of the Philippines, which is made up of several small Mennonite churches. They will work to help find a unifying purpose among the churches and to help resolve conflicts in a country plagued by land disputes for the past 400 years.
Daniel and Joji Pantoja are Witness workers in Davao City, in the poorer, southern part of the country, so, with the two families working together, the Barkmans hope for some real change to happen for the war-torn country. “We need all levels of society working towards peace for change to happen,” Christina says.
Steve and Janet Plenert know what it is like to live overseas with young children. In their early 20s, they moved to the Democratic Republic of Congo, what was then called Zaire, when they were expecting their first-born daughter, Gabrielle. They spent four years there before they moved to Brazil, where they lived for another six years. They had two more daughters, Natasha and Katrina, during this time.
The Plenerts worked for the General Conference of Mennonites, one of the predecessors of MC Canada, as administration workers and leadership trainers. For their family, it was a “very positive, life-giving experience,” says Steve, now the director of Mennonite Central Committee’s peace program. “For us as a couple and a family, we had the opportunity to learn other languages, to learn interesting things about how others saw faith and experienced faith and church.”
From one family that has been there to another that is about to embark on a similar experience, Steve says, “I think taking your children at this young age is probably the best thing you can do, because in all cultures children are one of the very best ways of breaking down barriers. . . . One of the messages you’re sending is saying that ‘your culture is a good place to bring our children,’ and people respect that.”
“That is one of the best initial ways of expressing the gospel of love and peace,” he adds.
He also thinks that spending considerable time learning the language and culture is time well spent. Both he and Janet, now Region V director of Mennonite Disaster Service, would absolutely do another overseas term.
For their middle child, Natasha, 22, though, the time they spent overseas was very difficult, but it also shaped her worldview. While her experience “made for a lot of upheaval and instability,” she says, “my time overseas was very formative, but also something I took completely for granted, because I never knew anything else. It gave me a lot of opportunities that I would not have had otherwise, and provided me with a very wide worldview.” Despite the difficulties, she says she would consider doing another overseas term, but not as a career or something long-term.