Meet Eleanor Wiebe. Eleanor lives in Steinbach, Manitoba, loves growing flowers, playing the organ, and, most of all, her family. She has five children; all are married and live in Steinbach with 18 grandkids between them. Eleanor is a member of the Steinbach Mennonite Brethren Church.
Eleanor has been teaching English as a second language for many years. Just before retiring from her career as an ER nurse, she completed a TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) certificate from Providence Bible College and, shortly after, began teaching English through government-sponsored programs. Here, she saw the need that would lead her to start a new ministry.
“I noticed that there were people who came with visitor visas, student visas and work visas that could not access the free government classes.” Eleanor learned that in order to qualify for the government classes, one had to be a permanent resident of Canada. This process takes time, but for many, waiting to learn English would delay finding employment and accessing needed services.
“So in 2017. I began teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) for people who could not access the government classes.” Eleanor connected with Eastman Immigrant Services, and just like that, the class began and quickly filled up as word of mouth spread about the free classes offered at Steinbach MB Church.
As the only trained teacher, Eleanor plans the course and directs a group of volunteers who help her teach the class. During the first few years, Steinbach MB Church was able to provide child care for parents attending classes, but the covid-19 pandemic put an end to that service when the classes went online.
Kelby Friesen, Community Life Pastor, heard about the Spirit of MDS (Mennonite Disaster Service) grant and did a little digging to see if it would fit the program well. The goal of the MDS Canada Spirit of MDS Fund is to support the efforts of local congregations in Canada to be the hands and feet of Jesus in their communities.
Up until then, the class used a single whiteboard and made do with the supplies available at the church, but sometimes, when the classes were big, they would need to spill out into a larger space. New whiteboards and supplies were needed.
“I was chatting with Kelsey Friesen this winter,” Kelby explains, “who worked for the Mennonite Disaster Services, and we got chatting about this grant, and that’s when the class idea popped up into my head. So I approached Eleanore to ask what the need would be if there were any. She said immediately that she needed whiteboards and specifically the rolling ones, because, like she said, her class has been up to 26 students. Although we do have a dedicated classroom downstairs, there were so many people that they were spilling out into our main fellowship hall downstairs. So we needed these whiteboards in order to make kind of mobile classrooms to set up at different tables.”
They applied for the grant and received $3000 to purchase these supplies.
The students attending Eleanor’s class are a diverse group of people. “It’s a good mix. My youngest student is 15 years old, and my oldest one is 78. And there’s 25 different countries that I could remember represented over the years.”
These countries are Russia. Ukraine. Israel. Kazakhstan. India. Korea. Vietnam. China. Congo. Burkina Faso. Somalia. Germany. France. Iran. Iraq. Lebanon. Syria. Indonesia. Mexico. El Salvador. Paraguay. Brazil. Argentina. Chile and Colombia.
When asked if any particular stories stand out from her time teaching at SMBC, she quickly responded…
“Yes, there’s one. Her name is Shinta. She’s from Indonesia. From Bali. She came to Canada four years ago as a visitor. She came with her sister, and she was sponsored or housed by a family here in Steinbach. She came to class and knew very little English.
Today she has a job. She managed to go from a visitor visa to her student visa. She got a driver’s license and bought a car last week. Someone who went from almost nothing and works and works and works.”
Eleanor continues to connect with Shinta and hopes that by living out her faith, she will come to know Jesus.
Although Eleanor is still going strong, she is aware that she will not always be able to offer this ministry. Her hope and prayer is that someone will come along and take up the torch. So please pray with her that the right person will come along at the right time.
“We as a church, we kind of just feel a little bit privileged that we get to kind of go along for the ride,” Kelby says in reflection. “It’s an amazing thing and so cool to see how many cultures pass through our doors on a regular basis. Not a lot of them would show up on a Sunday morning, but they’re entering our building. They’re finding a safe haven to learn English. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Grants are available to churches to help them assist people in the community who are experiencing a crisis or other needs, such as home repairs, food or other needed resources, along with ministry and service projects in a community or other creative ideas.