Annette Brill Bergstresser
Camping staff members follow call to seminary
This year, 10 of the 33 first-year students at AMBS share a common background as staff members at Mennonite camps and retreat centers. Meet one of the 10: Lee Hiebert of Kelowna, B.C., and Winnipeg, Man.
My home church is First Mennonite Church in Kelowna. After moving to Winnipeg I served as associate pastor at Sargent Avenue Mennonite Church while studying at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU).
Education and program of study
I majored in biblical studies and minored in peace and conflict studies at CMU. I have one year left in my work toward a Master of Divinity in Christian faith formation at AMBS. This is my first year on campus in Elkhart.
How did your camp staff experience play a role in bringing you to seminary?
I served for three years (1996–1998) at Camp Valaqua in Water Valley, Alberta—two as a “counsellor in training” and one as a counsellor. I was also a senior counsellor in Manitoba for a few weeks over two years (2011–2012) at two of the Camps with Meaning in Manitoba.
Camp is where I first began to understand the importance of Christian community. It was where, with the guidance of those ministering around me, I first experienced my gifts being discerned. My time at camp was when I realized how important the community that surrounded me really was and that, if I wanted to pursue ministry, I needed to seek out a place that would help to shape me for this purpose. AMBS is one of those places.
Are there any specific stories you could share?
During my time at Valaqua, I remember sitting in the Jackpine as a counsellor during our morning worship on a crazy rainy day. A guy named Phil and Tim Wiebe-Neufeld were guitaring away at the front, and I knew that this was my morning to “share” with the campers. I had no idea what I was getting into. I had tried to prepare something over the past few days, but nothing I came up with felt good enough. When the music and singing stopped and it was my turn to speak, all I could hear was that rain beating down on the roof and my heart racing. I remember walking up to the front with my damp notes in hand and sitting down at the fireplace. And that’s where my memory ends. I have no recollection about what I said, or how ridiculous it was. I don’t know if the campers listened to me or if they even got anything from what I said. What I do know is that it was a first step from me on a road that has led me to become more involved with ministry than I could have possibly imagined.
I’ve shared with many campers, youth and adults since that rainy day and almost every time I’ve felt that same kind of anxiety about how things are going to go. I still don’t feel as though I have any idea about what I’m getting into, but through my experience at camp, and many more experiences like it, I have come to realize that opportunities to share ourselves with others are rare and special events. They are more about who we are, and who we are talking to, than what we actually say.
What are your thoughts about the future?
After I complete my studies at AMBS, my hope is that I will find a position as a pastor somewhere. My thoughts don’t often go very far beyond this, and I find myself dreaming about other forms of ministry that God might have in store for me. For now I am content to know that there is a place God has prepared for me somewhere and that my posture is to be open to whatever it may be.
More student stories
- Read "It only takes a spark: Camping ministry is common thread in AMBS students' experiences", the feature article highlighting various students whose work at Mennonite camps and retreat centers helped spark their call to seminary.
- Read stories from Scott Litwiller, Michael Unruh, Michelle Curtis, Jeff Boehr, Brian O'Leary, Joel Beachy, Ben Bouwman and Renee Reimer.