Seeds in Life Have Brought Us Here

Werner and Joanne De Jong in Ethiopia

Gentlemen in Ethiopia sitting outside having coffee

“Something was stirring within me,” says Werner. “In February 2021 I announced my resignation to the church without knowing where we were going or what we were doing.”

Within a week of resigning, Mennonite Church Canada called with an invitation from Meserete Kristos Seminary for Werner and Joanne De Jong to come back to Ethiopia and teach for the next three years.

"Seeds were planted in me from a very young age." - Werner De Jong

Why would a couple leave their jobs, family and congregation, be stalled from travelling to Ethiopia because of civil war, and endure tedious and frustrating visa and work permit delays while in a pandemic? They recall the many seeds of faith that have led them to this place.

“I think a seed was planted in me from a very young age,” says Werner. He recalls that when he was a child his parents would often host international students in their home in New Brunswick. “As far as I remember, every student that we hosted was from Africa and they always engaged us,” he says. Joanne too recalls her own parents fostering a love and curiosity for other peoples and cultures. Werner developed a love for biographies of missionaries. He could not get enough of these books while in high school. “Something awoke in me when I read the stories of people serving overseas and walking with God in real life and in real faith. From that time on I had a desire to serve overseas,” he says.

Werner and Joanne moved to Alberta in 2006 where Werner pastored Holyrood Mennonite Church, which is an intercultural congregation with many West African people. Trips to Africa greatly affected Werner and Joanne. Through a contest prize, they travelled to Burkina Faso in 2008. They also visited Liberia where many of the people at Holyrood congregation were from. They stayed in people’s homes, delivered gifts to families separated by war and refugee camps, and even found the husband of a woman in their congregation, the two previously lost from each other because of the war.

Soon a conversation began at Holyrood about granting Werner a sabbatical. “I’ve always been interested in teaching at a seminary overseas. It has been a lifelong hope of mine,” says Werner. After much discernment and prayer with the Holyrood elders, Werner and Joanne travelled to Meserete Kristos College in 2018 to teach for a fall semester.

"I think I am a Christian today because of their faith and joy and the way they embraced me." - Joanne De Jong

“When we came back from Africa, we were completely different,” says Joanne, “We understood more of the African culture and the people at Holyrood embraced us even more.” Further seeds were planted in Werner and Joanne: seeds of living in community together; seeds of ministry in an African style; seeds of faith; seeds of care; seeds of love.

“I think I am a Christian today, even though I was a Christian before, because of their faith and joy and the way they embraced me,” Joanne says. “The taught me that miracles are possible and if there isn’t a miracle, you just keep praying until one shows up. They shaped me.”

Werner and Joanne are now in Africa for a three-year term with Mennonite Church Canada. Werner is teaching at Meserete Kristos Seminary, providing opportunity for current teachers to upgrade their own degrees as the college upgrades from a college to a seminary. Joanne builds relationships across the campus, preaches at chapel, mentors students and may teach English in the fall but she is open for God’s direction. You can join in Werner and Joanne’s ministry by joining their Witness Support Network, a network of congregations supporting ministry in Ethiopia.

Students in Ethiopia sitting at table with their teacher