The Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference descended from the immigration of Mennonites from Russia to Manitoba in the 1870s, These immigrants had been assisted by Ontario Mennonites on their arrival, but there had been little contact since that time.
This specific group resulted from a division within the Sommerfelder Mennonite Church in 1937. The Sommerfeld Mennonites had themselves begun in 1890 as the result of a division within the Bergthal Mennonite Church, one of the large groups in the 1870s migration. A minority of the Bergthal Mennonites accepted English education in their schools, and had interest in higher education and foreign missions. They accepted evangelical theology. The more conservative majority resisted these changes and were named after the village, Sommerfeld, in which their bishop lived.
By 1937 a portion of the Sommerfeld group was also attracted to evangelical theology, Bible schools, and mission outreach. When they were still German-speaking, they called themselves the Rudnerweider Mennonite Church. They were exclusively located in Southern Manitoba
In 1959 they changed their name to the Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference (EMMC). In the 1950s this group was in the midst of a shift from German to English, and its members were gradually moving from Manitoba’s rural areas into towns. In the 1940s they had dealt with various internal theological controversies ranging from Pentecostalism to universalism. They developed into a mainline evangelical denomination.
The EMMC had a shared history with Old Colony Mennonites who had lived in southern Manitoba from the 1870s to the 1920s when the Old Colony had left for Mexico.
The EMMC became interested in reaching out to Old Colony Mennonites returning to Canada beginning in the 1950s because of their desire to see the Old Colony accept the same evangelical salvation understanding they had embraced. EMMC missionaries had served in Mexico under the General Conference Mennonite Church in the 1960s.
Already in 1958 John G. Froese of Manitoba, the EMMC Reiseprediger (traveling minister) serving isolated Mennonites descended from the 1870s immigration, held evangelistic services in the Vineland area and encouraged the EMMC to send a permanent worker to Ontario.
In 1965, the Low German radio program The Gospel Message, began to be broadcast on a Tillsonburg (Ontario) station. John D. Friesen, the radio preacher, visited the Aylmer area in early 1965, leading meetings in homes. That summer he returned with his brother, David D. Friesen, and held services in an old United Church building. David and Helen Friesen returned to Ontario in December 1965 to provide leadership to a new EMMC congregation that had emerged from the earlier meetings. The congregation erected a new building in the summer of 1966 at Sommer’s Corners, a little east of Aylmer. Within five years it expanded to seat up to three hundred persons.
By 1970 three other EMMC congregations started in southern Ontario. Other new churches were established in the 1980s as the Low German Mennonite immigration to Ontario continued.
The EMMC began a Bible School in January 1976 in a former United Church building at Summers Corners under the leadership of EMMC conference minister Ben W. Sawatsky. Sawatsky taught Bible courses while local leaders taught English as a second language and other courses. Daytime courses were mostly in English, while evening courses were in German. Thirty-five students were registered that first term. After the first year it formally took the name Aylmer Bible School.
By 1993 financial difficulties threatened the school as the student population had dropped. Immigrant children who grew up in Canada now completed high school and attended more conventional Bible colleges or public universities. By summer 1997 the EMMC annual conference decided to close the school in spring 1998.
By 2015 three EMMC congregations remained in Ontario — in Aylmer, Leamington and the Chatham area. Although not a large group, they had a significant impact on Ontario Mennonites, especially during the era of the Aylmer Bible School.
To learn more about the Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference in Ontario read In Search of Promised Lands.