At Home In Altona

  • Jack Heppner, Author
  • Retired Educator

Ruth recently reminded me on the morning of April 8th, that it was exactly three years ago that our family helped us move from Steinbach to Altona, Manitoba in 2017. So I decided to take a break from writing book reviews and write a personal, reflective article about what this move has meant for Ruth and me. It is fair to say that we have become quite thoroughly enmeshed in this new community we now call home.

I suspect this may be our last home on our earthly sojourn, except perhaps for a move to an apartment or care home down the road. I kind of think though that our address will continue to be Altona, Manitoba for the rest of our days.

Some of you reading this may not be aware of the fact that we have lived in many places in our fifty years of marriage. We started out teaching near Portage la Prairie for a year, and then moved to Winnipeg where I continued studies. Then it was back to Portage for two years and two different houses. That was followed in 1973 by striking out for South America, with nine months of studying Spanish in Texas and a total of about three years of mission service in rural Bolivia. In 1977 we ended up in Virginia where we lived in four different homes while I pursued studies at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. Back in Manitoba in 1981, we lived in two country homes before joining the staff at Steinbach Bible College (SBC) in 1983. That is when we purchased our first house.

In 1991 I got a year of mission leave from SBC so we could return to Bolivia for a one-year assignment in Santa Cruz. The following year I was on sabbatical at Regent College and we lived in an apartment in Abbotsford, B.C. Then it was back to SBC in Steinbach. In 1998 I began a five-year stint at the EMMC in Winnipeg as Conference Minister and Editor of the Recorder. And now we are in Altona! In all we have lived in 17 different homes or apartments in three countries, including two provinces in Canada and two states in the USA. It is fair to say that each place we have lived in has left its mark on our lives and explains why we sometimes think and act differently from others who have mostly stayed in one location all their lives.

Being in Altona has allowed us to be closer to Ruth’s mother who has needed a lot of extra care and attention over the past three years. Being half an hour away from her in Winkler has made it easier, especially for Ruth, to attend to her needs. She is now finally in Salem Home where she is receiving excellent care and Ruth’s care-giving role has decreased somewhat. Even so, it is good to be able to pop over to connect with her only a short distance away.

Also, the move to Altona has been more of a “home coming” than we had thought it might be. Ruth and I both have roots west of the Red River in what we refer to as “Dit Sied.” I was raised about 18 miles north west of Altona near a small hamlet called Kane. It has been interesting to note that while most people in Steinbach hardly even knew about Kane, anybody you ask in Altona not only knows about Kane but has some kind of connection to people who have lived there. I also attended Elim Bible School here in Altona from 1964 to 66. Ruth grew up further west near Crystal City, but both of her parents grew up near Altona with both sets of grandparents retiring and passing away here. So if we meet someone new in Altona, only a few minutes of dialogue usually will establish some kind of a connection to one or both of our families. Even my great-grandparents on the Heppner side are buried in the center of town in the old Sommerfeld Cemetery.

On another front, we have discovered a wonderful church home at the Seeds of Life Community Church in town, a member of Mennonite Church Manitoba. In many ways this has become our primary community in town. We feel welcomed and valued for who we are and are free to grow spiritually in directions our hearts have been pulling us for a long time. The cell group we are a part of almost feels like family and both of us have found ways of contributing to our shared life together. Adopting this church as our base faith community has meant mostly leaving the orbit of the EMMC which had been the center of our work and identity for the better part of a half century. But we have found that living the last chapters of our lives in a different context has brought with it a fresh wind of the Spirit which keeps on invigorating and challenging us.

Altona has also provided opportunities for us to be involved in the community at large. For Ruth, much of these rotate around the MCC Gift and Thrift Store in town. For the past two years she has headed up the book department at the store, spending three mornings a week sorting, pricing and stocking books for sale. A few months ago she became a member of the MCC Board running the store. For me, my community involvements have mostly related to connections with the Altona Community Action Network (ACAN), of which I am a member. One of the things I do on behalf of ACAN is head up a task force that operates a local community garden. This has brought me into contact with many people in town, both gardeners and others.

So, it is fair to say that after three years of being here, it seems there is really no other place we would rather be than “at home in Altona.”