Marlene ran fast – AWAY from the church
“I was born in Winnipeg, in 1936,” begins Marlene Kremmer. “My German-speaking grandmother there was a Christian and used to take me to church when I was very young — even in 40-below-zero weather!
Growing up in Prince Rupert
“My family (I had an older brother and a younger sister) moved to Prince Rupert when I was about seven. That was where I started attending a little mission church, and though I didn’t yet become a believer, my desire for the Lord began to grow.
“It was still wartime, and my father was a painter on the boats at the shipyard. After a visit to Vancouver on a vacation one time, he liked it so much that when the war was over and his job ended, we moved down here.
A move to Vancouver
“I then started attending a large church called the Metropolitan Tabernacle, and became a Christian after responding to an altar call during an evangelical crusade there. My parents were afraid I had gotten involved in a cult, and for a long time they wouldn’t allow me to attend the church services, even threatening to sue the pastor if he baptized me!
“I met Albin (Al), my husband-to-be, when I was in my last year at King Edward High School; he wasn’t a Christian then, but after I took him to a grad party at the Blackaby family home, he was impressed by their son Henry, who I had known in Prince Rupert (we had both been involved with the Inter School Christian Fellowship after the Blackabys had also moved down to Vancouver).
“Al was only 17 when he had emigrated from Germany. He’d been attracted by the outdoors life pictured in magazines, and an uncle who lived on a farm in Saskatchewan sponsored him. He soon realized it wasn’t like what he’d been anticipating, but he worked out his time commitment before coming out to B.C. He’d been trained as a bricklayer in Germany; when in Vancouver he got into the cement industry. I was only 19 and he was 21 when we got married.
“I’d always loved acting, and early in our marriage I became involved with the Vancouver Little Theatre group and started acting professionally on TV, while also working part time at BC Tel (now Telus). I got so busy I became a backslider, though Al continued taking our three kids to church. He wasn’t very happy about me being an actress; to him, it was a rather ‘unsavoury’ calling! But when the Sutera Twins had a crusade at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, I went to one of their meetings. After the service they had an afterglow meeting in the basement, and Al dragged me down there.
“Lou Sutera singled me out of the crowd and said ‘Why are you down here?’ (he told me later he’d never done that before). I gave him an insolent reply and was so upset I ran out of the church, full speed, for about a block.
“The pastor came running after me and brought me back to the parking lot to calm me down. The next day he came to our house and prayed with me; that night I went back to the Sutera Twins’ meeting and stood up and gave my testimony. That was when I came back to the Lord.
“For about 25 years Al and I served with what was called the Persecuted Church Fellowship (PCF), which had its beginnings with a Russian-speaking couple at Metropolitan Tabernacle, who had started a radio program. Al got involved in the technical end, while I became one of the main speakers both on the radio and in churches (I remember speaking at Johnston Heights one time, where Audrey and Cecil Green were the PCF representatives). I was a speaker on the radio for over 25 years, on stations in the U.S. and Canada.
Discovering a personal mission field
“While working as a long-distance operator for Telus, I wrote some seminars for operators on how to give good customer service, using Christian principles. Telus liked them so much I got jetted and sea-planed and put up in nice hotels all over the province, giving seminars; later, they loaned me out to other corporations as a public relations specialist. About 14 years ago I signed up with a theatrical agent, doing TV commercials and film work. This became my mission field, and I found many opportunities to share the gospel.
“After we both retired, we decided to try a church closer to home, rather than driving downtown, and visited Johnston Heights. That day there was a call for auditions for a play, so that decided it for me — plus, Al [who passed away eight years ago] really liked the sound preaching.
“It had always been Al’s dream to own a property in the wilderness, and years ago, though it was economically hard, we bought a large property near Lillooet. He built a small log cabin there, and later a bigger one. The Sea to Sky Highway now passes nearby, but in the beginning we had to hike in from Seton Lake, cutting our way through the bush. The Lord has used it in so many ways; we let churches and other people use it. I’ve now passed its ownership on to my son John (who, with wife Jeannie and family, once attended JHC).
“Having recently sold my Surrey home, I’m currently living in Abbotsford with my son and his family. We’re looking for a larger place with a suite for me. Although I’ll miss my Johnston Heights family very much, I felt this to be the Lord’s leading. I still hope to visit often.”
She ran Communist gauntlet to smuggle Bibles
The following is based on an article written by Marlene Kremmer for the Persecuted Church Fellowship (PCF).
“Years ago, I began working as a volunteer with the radio ministry for PCF. I longed to actually visit some of the pastors I was writing and speaking about, to laugh and cry with them, to encourage them. Eventually, God would bless my heart by turning this dream into reality!
“My husband Albin (Al) and I decided to combine a visit to family in Germany with a trip to his birthplace in Romania, which was then being run by Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Even before we left, I felt a compulsion to visit the town of Medias.
“While reading a radio script I had learned about a Baptist church in a town of that same name, whose pastor was under house arrest. Before leaving for Europe, I mentioned to Al, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could be in Medias on a Sunday morning, and fellowship with them?’ He replied, ‘Well, let’s wait and see if it becomes possible.’
Bibles hidden in suitcase
“Taking Al’s mom along with us, we left Germany by car, and headed toward Romania, the ﬁrst border we had to cross being that of (Communist) Hungary. We arrived late at night and had to wait two and a half hours before being processed. I began to wonder what might happen if they discovered the Romanian Bibles scattered throughout my luggage (the reason for the Bibles being hidden in my suitcase and not my husband’s was because he had been born in Romania; we were told that if he was thrown into jail, they might never let him out, whereas being Canadian-born, I would stand a better chance of being released).
“We had heard some disturbing reports about Communist border guards, but I can honestly say that by God’s grace, I felt no fear. The Lord kept bringing the passage to my mind where Joseph spoke to his brothers who had sold him into slavery, saying, ‘You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good,’ which reassured me that no matter what plans evil men might have for me, God would turn it to good.
Facing tough border checks
“When we reached the front of the line, the guards who had been searching everyone’s luggage merely rattled our suitcases and said, ‘You can go.’
“We spent the night in the capital city of Budapest, and the next day drove along its main thoroughfares. I was impressed by the stately architecture, much of which wore a bloom of decay. Spiky red stars soared above many of the buildings; long red banners floated along the streets.
“We had a printed brochure detailing the main tourist attractions, but I noticed there wasn’t a single mention of a place of worship. And the much-lauded ‘Blue’ Danube looked very much like a close relative of our own muddy Fraser!
“That night, in the middle of an ice-cold windstorm, we reached the Romanian border, where we were delayed for about three hours. The guards tried to frighten us by pointing their guns at us, and repeatedly insisting that we get in and out of our car, and show our passports over and over again.
“Every car ahead of us was being meticulously searched. The entire contents of each automobile, including the smallest scrap of paper, had to be laid out on long tables, and then the empty car itself would also be searched.
“As we reached the head of the line, I kept thinking about how the Dutch evangelist Corrie ten Boom had actually seen angels surround her luggage when she was smuggling Bibles into a Communist country. My fervent prayer of ‘Okay, Lord, feel free to send your angels down any time,’ seemed to be going unanswered — and suddenly, it was our turn . . .
“First my husband’s and then my mother-in-law’s suitcases were searched. Then the guard rummaged through everything in my suitcase — but left the Bibles totally untouched, as if they were invisible! I watched in utter amazement — it was the kind of surreal thing you might expect to see happening to some super-spiritual Christian, not yourself!
Fellowship with Romanian saints
“At last we were permitted to enter Romania, and before long found ourselves in my God-ordained rendezvous of Medias. After checking into a hotel, we took to the streets, trying to ﬁnd the whereabouts of the Baptist church I was hoping to visit the following [Sunday] morning. I did not know the church address, only the pastors’ names. Unfortunately, we could not ﬁnd anyone who could speak either English or German, the only languages we could converse in.
“However, I managed to ﬁnd what I thought might be the Romanian word for ‘Baptist’ in the hotel’s phone book, which also listed an address. So early the next morning we drove to the church, to be greeted by a smiling man who almost seemed to be expecting us. In turn, he led us to a German-speaking church member who told us the pastor had been released from house arrest and was preaching that very day!
“We had a glorious time of fellowship, being invited to address the congregation, with the help of an interpreter. We told them, ‘You are not alone; there are others in the outside world who care and who are praying for you.’
“Later we spent some time with the pastors and their dear wives at their home. I was carrying a miniature tape-recorder, which almost looked like camera equipment, and was able make a recording with the pastor, who could speak English, for our radio network. We left Romanian-language Bibles with them, for which they were most appreciative.
“I left a little of my heart behind in Romania, and look forward to the time when the Lord will reunite us!”
Elder Profile: Ian E. [Ted] Staunton
I was born in March 1942 near the city of Lincoln, England. I was the middle child of five, with two older sisters and two younger brothers.
Having something of an artistic bent, I liked making fancy lettering. After graduating from school, I went into the printing industry, the closest I could get to a career to do with art and lettering.
After a five-year apprenticeship of setting metal type by hand, I left the printing trade to attend Leicester College of Art, where I trained full-time for three years to become a typographic designer.
During that time I remember once visiting a black Pentecostal church and raising my hand when an altar call was made; after the service, someone prayed for me, on my
behalf. However, I never returned to that church, and in fact became an agnostic, even commissioning anti-Christian articles for the college newsletter of which I was the editor.
Faith in the wrong ‘rock’
After graduating I worked for two years in the book publishing industry in ‘swinging’ London. My religion at that time was blues and rock music; I attended many concerts, and had a two-LPs-a-week buying habit. However, despite being surrounded by thousands of people, I always felt very much alone. Thankfully, God kept me away from the allure of hallucinogenic drugs, which then as now went hand-in-hand with the music scene. I was never attracted to the idea of losing control of my mind.
In 1970 I decided to emigrate to Canada — alone — and after crossing the Atlantic to Montreal by ship, reached the west coast via bus and train rides. My sister and her husband had emigrated to Vancouver two years previously; they, in turn, had followed the footsteps of an uncle, Frank Hurt, who had settled in Vancouver in the 1950s, and who, as a popular high school principal, would eventually have a Surrey secondary school named in his honour.
Living alone in a basement suite, with a poor-paying first job of running an offset printing press, I had a hard time adjusting to Canadian society. Eventually I began to suffer from depression, becoming troubled by dark thoughts, including suicide. A good family doctor arranged for me to see a psychiatrist, whose support proved most helpful.
Invitation hard to resist
About that same time I met my wife-to-be, Nadine, at a business newspaper at which we both worked. I began talking to her one lunch-time in the office parking lot, and as the conversation turned to serious matters, I half-jokingly posed the question, “What’s life all about anyway?” Her answer was “It’s all about Jesus Christ.” I thought to myself, “Uh-oh, a religious nut.” But when she invited me to supper the following evening with some friends at her place, that sounded pretty good to this non-cooking bachelor!
Young people reading the Bible?
The social evening turned out to be a Bible study, with a group of young people who were actually reading the Bible as if it was relevant to the present day! Being addicted to cigarettes at the time, all I could think about was how to get outside for a smoke, as these were obviously very clean-living, wholesome people, not like the hedonistic rock fans with whom I had often associated.
I knew the inner joy and peace I saw in them was what I had been searching for, and before long I too was going to church. When entering the church, the first thing I saw around the wall were the words “Come unto Me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Those powerful words hit me, and this time, when Jesus knocked on the door of my heart, I personally invited Him into my heart (He will not intrude on any private abode without a personal invitation).
I felt that I was finally on the ‘right’ side of life, by being adopted into God’s family. During my period of rebellion, I had let go of Him, and though I had followed a path leading to the edge of a precipice, He had not let go of me.
Rock and roll music, with its illusionary diversions, became increasingly less important as I began to grow in faith.
Family and church life in Surrey
Nadine and I were married four months after our first meeting, and to alleviate my homesickness, moved back to England. Under the illusion that I could settle there again, I got a job, only to quit after one day . . . we soon returned to Surrey, to find that in our absence, house prices had jumped alarmingly. A house we could have had for $14,000 now cost us $19,000! How would we ever pay it back?
We began attending a small Presbyterian church, where we would stay for 25 years. Being dragooned into the church choir eventually led to membership in the Gentlemen of Fortune barbershop harmony chorus, which helped me overcome stage-fright, a fear which had haunted me from school days.
After arriving at JHC, I was encouraged (dragooned?) by drama director Carol Adams to return to the stage, this time as an actor (after a 50-year hiatus), and since then I have enjoyed the pleasure and privilege of being involved in many JHC drama productions.
Nadine and I had four children over the years, three boys and a girl, who have since provided us with seven grandchildren, five girls and two boys. All are doing well in their various stages of life.
Having joined the board of elders in 2016, my portfolio is seniors and congregational liaison; my mission is to promote harmony within the Johnston Heights Church family.
‘Christian’ dogs faithfully attend church
“I’m originally from Victoria,” says Sue Woodard, “and [husband] Don’s originally from Winnipeg. We met when we worked for a pest control company in Vancouver. We now own two pest control businesses, one here and one on Vancouver Island. We lived on the Island for a while, but mainly we’ve lived here in Surrey.
“We started at Johnston Heights probably about six years ago; before that we belonged to a small community church in Aldergrove, which was closed down because it got too small.
“After some ‘church shopping’ in the neighbourhood, we found Johnston Heights, which felt like home. It’s such a hard thing to find a new church, such a fine balance of friendliness in people, and the quality of leadership, and what you get out of the sermons . . .
“The thing with the dogs? That’s volunteer work, it’s not paid at all. I’ve worked with PADS for just over 11 years. It’s an organization that places service dogs with people that are physically challenged, or hard of hearing.
“Some of our PADS dogs are down in Las Vegas at the moment, visiting hospitals, helping to care for all the trauma victims of that horrific mass shooting. The dogs are trained mostly for clients but some also work in schools and hospitals, including Canuck Place. They’re everywhere!
“I’ve had well over 100 dogs through my house. I started out as a ‘puppy raiser,’ where you get a puppy at eight weeks old and have them for about a year and a half; I raised six dogs that way. I’m now what’s called a ‘puppy sitter,’ working with dogs that are going through advanced training. Beginning at about a year and a half old, they attend the PADS campus in Burnaby from Monday to Friday; I pick them up Friday and take them back on Monday — but sometimes, if a dog is sick, I’ll have it during the week.
“PADS has a very small number of paid staff, but they have a tremendous number of willing volunteers. That keeps the costs way down, so that when a client needs a dog, there’s only a minimal charge, to cover the paperwork involved.
Finding the right place to volunteer
“What led me to PADS? In 2001 our 18 year old daughter Courtenay was killed in a car accident. After that, I was looking for some way of paying tribute to her memory. I tried several worthwhile things, such as volunteering at the Canadian Cancer Clinic, but it just didn’t feel right. Then in 2006 I remembered that probably two months before she died, Courtenay and I had had a heart-to-heart talk, and I had asked her, ‘Where’s your direction? What’s your passion? Tell me what you see for your future,’ and she’d replied, ‘Mom, whatever it takes, I’d like to get a big piece of property so I can have big dogs.’
Family on board
“That was Courtenay, she liked big animals, such as horses. I was never around big dogs my whole life, except for one spaniel that we’d had. So remembering that conversation, I thought about going with the dog training, and prayed about it for a while. Then I talked to Don and our other daughter, Kirsten, and said to them, ‘This is on my heart. What do you think? It’s something we could do as a family.’ And we all decided that it would be something our Courtenay would be happy with. That’s kind of what got me in the door.
“And now we look at it as part of our missions work. When I’m out walking them, the dogs open up conversations. I always take great delight in telling people that I raise Christian dogs! That’s how we get the conversations going. Kinda sneaky, right? But it eases nicely into lovely conversations. It’s a ministry that works for us.
How to let them go
“We usually have more than one dog at a time. Skipper here is leaving tomorrow to go to his client, and we’ll see who comes through the door next. I’m available to PADS trainers for anything they need.
“At the moment there’s about 120 dogs being raised, mainly Labradors. They’ve tried using poodles — they’re very smart, but they’re selfish with their knowledge! Labs have the perfect heart, just the right personality.
“Of course you get totally attached to them, there’s always tears when you let them go. But we raised our children the same way, to get out into the world and make it a better place. When you meet a client that has a dog you’ve helped train, and they say ‘My world is better now,’ you realize it’s one of life’s biggest lessons about giving.
“I have been blessed again by having wonderful relationships with the new owners of my dogs. I sometimes get my dogs back to babysit — I even Skype with one of my dogs in Toronto! I don’t lose dogs, I gain new friends.”