The Wind Blows in Manitoba
In the past two thousand years, the wind of the Spirit has blown over the earth, touching individuals, changing lives, and stirring up the enemy. Many different ethnos or people groups have felt the effects of that wind. At times, it comes in the most unexpected places, such as the obscure village of Oakville, Manitoba.
Oakville lies about one hours drive west of Winnipeg, in the middle of nowhere, literally. But in actuality, this village is in the geographic heart of scores of colonies of Hutterian Brethren or Hutterites. The Hutterite people originated in Austria during the late 1500s. Along with their Anabaptist contemporaries, they opposed the corruption and falsehood they saw in the state church of the day. Their beliefs were similar to the Mennonites, the Swiss Brethren, and many other Anabaptists. However, they believed Acts 2:44 to be a command, and therefore lived in colonies, or communities with all things common. Pooling their resources, they ate, lived, and worked together for the good of the group as a whole. Years later, due to persecution in Russia and Eastern Europe, they fled to the U.S. and Canada, where they settled in the vast farmlands of the Dakotas, Minnesota, Montana, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.
As the decades, and even centuries rolled by, the focus shifted more and more from salvation through faith in Christ to communal living: Whosoever lives in community shall be saved. Gradually they came to find their security in the ordnung (their traditions and rules) and their leaders. Their faith evolved into a prosperous economic and cultural system. Huge tracts of land were purchased and turned into colony farms. Their numbers increased through generations of large families. But spiritually, the vital truths of walking in Christ and the gospel were overshadowed by emphasis on communal living.
Particularly in Manitoba, a hunger developed among the people for greater spiritual reality. In the 1980s the charismatic movement had a significant impact throughout the colonies. Many thought they had found the answer to a dying church. So they left the colonies. However, most of those who left ended up in a worldly lifestyle in the larger cities. This discredited the work, and many settled back down to normal colony life again.
As time passed in the colonies, some Hutterites were still disillusioned, and the longing, searching hearts would not be quieted long. Torn by the lack of spirituality among their own leaders and the shallow lives of many nominal Christians outside of the colony, they yearned for more. They wanted peace and meaning in their souls and a life that backed it up. They wanted to see a focus on outreach, purity in the church body, and spiritual leaders. They longed for more than a comfortable life on a prospering colony farm. God used the tape ministry during this time to fan the smoldering coals back into a flame again.
During the mid and late 1990s, the Spirit of God began urging several brothers from Charity Christian Fellowship in Pennsylvania to answer these calls. Brother Mose Stoltzfus had been preaching and ministering among the Hutterites in the Dakotas and Minnesota, but always felt drawn to southern Manitoba. The focus turned to Manitoba, and several brothers from Charity and Ephrata Christian Fellowship made visits to various colonies in Manitoba. In the mean time, Brother David Robertson from British Columbia moved to southern Manitoba with the purpose of ministering to the Hutterite peoples. He and his family prayed, gave away tapes and literature, and visited with open, hungry hearts. They spent about a year sowing seeds in these ways. After much prayer, these brethren decided to have a week of tent meetings to encourage the hungry and to preach the Gospel to the lost.
Dave and his family began to invite people to the meetings, though only one Hutterite agreed to come. Fear bound the hearts of the people. All knew and felt the resistance of the colony leaders and preachers. Yet the phone calls and letters we received were desperate, and we knew the gospel must not be bound or restricted.
So the first week of August found a tent being erected in Oakville, Manitoba. Many curious Hutterites drove by—some interested, some antagonistic. The first few evenings went fairly well, yet a spirit of fear pervaded, holding people back from any kind of public response or commitment.
On Wednesday, several key Hutterite leaders called for a meeting with Mose and Dave. They expressed their opposition to the work. The atmosphere was tense as the two conflicting views were presented. In the end, one of the Hutterite preachers turned to the brothers and asked, Could we [leaders] attend the meetings? Mose answered that the gospel is to be preached openly to all, and that they would be welcome. In the heavenlies, God was listening and decided to glorify His Son in the midst of the Hutterite people. Something beautiful was about to happen.
The following evening was Thursday. Brother Zac Poonen from India arrived from the States, where he had been preaching. He shared a powerful message contrasting the old covenant with the new. An altar call was again given, though everyone had told us, You will never see a Hutterite at an altar. We sang a few verses, and the saints of God prayed, both in Oakville and at home in Pennsylvania. One of our own church people responded, and then to everyones astonishment, one Hutterite stood, went to the altar, and began to weep. As we sang, the Spirit of God moved in and broke the spirit of fear that was upon them, and dozens of Hutterites went forward. They knew the cost, as their preachers and elders stood in the back watching. Many of them had known the truth for years but had hidden in the shadows. Now they were leaving behind everything they had ever known and making a public commitment to Christ. There was hardly a dry eye in the tent that evening, and you could sense the Spirit of God hovering near. Heaven rejoiced that night as years of tradition and religion began to melt.
After the service, a number of our people were invited into several colonies to stay the night. Lights burned until the wee hours of the morning as we shared of Christ, the gospel, and the new covenant together.
After this breakthrough in the heavenlies, we had days of heaven on earth. The atmosphere in the meetings grew more sweet and powerful each day. God used brother Zac to speak so clearly to the needs of the Hutterites; you would have thought he was from Canada instead of India. Attendance increased and the opposition slowly backed away, realizing they were powerless to do anything at this point.
There were several individuals requesting baptism, so a Sunday afternoon baptismal service was planned. By Sunday many more had come desiring to seal their faith in believers baptism. Between four and five hundred people gathered at a lake in Portage la Prairie. Thirty-two people went into the waters, announcing their allegiance to Christ no matter what the cost. Again there was weeping and rejoicing, and the sweet presence of God witnessing to the obedience of those brave souls. For some, it meant immediate excommunication from their churches, homes, and many of their earthly possessions.
Sunday evening all were challenged from Gods word to go out and live what they believed. Hard choices lay ahead. Many of them are young people who face devastating separations from family and friends. Some walk away from a wealthy colony with only a few dollars in their pocket and no home, car, or job. But they walk with the Spirit of Him that bloweth withersoever it listeth.
The gospel continues to go out in Manitoba through Hutterites-turned-evangelists and cassette tapes. A small church is being birthed in Oakville. Follow-up trips are being made by brothers from Pennsylvania and other places to disciple and assist these young believers, as well as to continue to reach out to other seeking hearts.
And this may be only the beginning. Already the calls are coming in from colonies in Alberta, South Dakota, and other places. The Spirit blows, and the fires ignite! Let us follow the fire.
We earnestly covet your prayers and support in this thrust of the gospel. Pray for the grace of God upon the young church. Pray for born-again Hutterites still in the colonies as they decide where to move. Pray for many still in the valley of decision. We also desire to assist those who need financial help in starting a home outside of a colony. If you desire to help in some way with the work among the Hutterites, please contact the Charity Gospel Tape Ministry at 1-800-227-7902.
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