The Calling of Emily Evans

By: Janette Oke

Author’s Note

Although Emily Evans is totally fictional, the story she tells may well have happened. The Missionary Church was not the only denomination that sent young women out to pioneer new works in the Canadian West. It was not an easy task. There were times when they did not even have horses to help with their traveling. Many lonely and difficult hours were spent walking the dirt roads and paths in order to make calls on all the homes in an area.
But even when a mission worker was blessed with a team and buggy, her lot was not always that much easier, for often the roads were little more than winding trails through the countryside. And sometimes heavy rains or drifting snow made them nearly impassable.
Her accommodations were not that fancy either. Wooden crates stacked one on top of the other could comprise a good share of a room’s furniture. Sometimes the girls boarded with an area family, but most often they were on their own.
The Sunday offerings were the workers’ source of income. Many area farmers were good to share their farm produce, but in those early days on the prairies there was little extra to pass on to another household. The young women suffered the pioneering hardships right along with the families in the community.
In researching material for Emily’s story, I scanned Conference Journals dating back to 1917, which for the Missionary Church was the twelfth annual conference. That would date the first conference as 1905, the year Alberta became a Canadian province. The efforts of the “Sister Workers” were reported along with those of the male ministers’. These reports included evangelistic meetings, tabernacle work, conducting the church services in local mission churches, working in a home established for unwed mothers, and “taking meetings over the needy prairies”—all done by “Approved Ministering Sisters,” as they later were called.
In reports by women in the Journal of 1919, I saw references to the flu epidemic and concern for the returning soldiers of World War I.
The 1920 Journal tells of the committee appointed to decide the “uniform” of the Sister Workers: “ … and that they dress in plain attire becoming to their work and the dignity of their calling, the wearing of low-necked waists [known to us as blouses or shirts] not being allowed, and the skirt must be ample in length and width.” A simple dark bonnet was also a part of their dress.
Incidentally, the committee consisted of three women.
In the 1928 Conference of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ, held in Allentown, Pennsylvania, the presiding elder (later known as district superintendent) from the Canadian West field, Alvin Traub, reported to the conference: “Our preachers and workers are wholehearted and self-sacrificing and are devoted to their work.”
I found twenty-eight names of Sister Workers listed in the early Conference Journals. Perhaps that does not seem like many, but, remember, in the beginning years of their ministry the Missionary Church had only three or four established parishes on these “needy prairies.”
I recognized many of the names as those I had known as a child—missionaries, lady evangelists, college teachers, and wives of pastors.
I personally owe much to those dedicated young women, for one of them, Miss Pearl Reist, began the work in the community where I grew up. My home church, Lemont Memorial, is named in her honor. She married an area farmer, Nels Lemont, and continued as a supporter and ardent worker in the little church long after a minister was found for the congregation.
Another woman, Mrs. Beatrice Hedegaard, was the children’s camp evangelist when I at age ten made my personal decision to commit my life to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Mrs. Alma Hallman, though in her mid-nineties, is still able to care for her own apartment, attend our local church, and chat with good humor and a great deal of insight about the happenings of the church over the many years of her involvement. She showed me her “papers” and her “button” and shared tales about the hardships and dedication of the women who served the Lord and the church in the early years of this century.
Only God knows the full extent of the cost to those who gave totally of themselves. And He alone knows the number of lives their ministry affected through the chain reaction resulting from that service. We do know that from many of these small mission works have come pastors, missionaries, and lay workers.
Most of the Approved Ministering Sisters have now passed on to their heavenly reward, but the product of their selfless ministry remains.

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