Stumbling Heavenward: The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man, Peter Rempel


304 pages
Contains Illustrations, Index
ISBN 0-920534-27-9





Reviewed by P.J. Kemp

P.J. Kemp was a journalist living in Brigham, Quebec.


This is a biography of a man called Peter Rempel, who runs a home for delinquents in Alberta. We follow Peter’s life from birth through difficult teen years in a strict Mennonite community, to his stint as pastor and finally as creator of and father figure at the Youth Orientation Units, where he is reported to treat the boys with fairness, compassion, and a liberal dose of discipline.

It should be noted that Rempel is not a sympathetic figure for the most part, occasioning a question as to why Stumbling Heavenward waswritten. Often Rempel comes across as odious, domineering, and harsh; nowadays people get locked up for doing to their families what he did to his. When one of his delinquent charges asks Rempel why he so often absents himself from his cushy domestic life to spend time with the YOU clients, Rempel sanctimoniously answers that Jesus did it first. Presumably, Jesus did not leave behind a wife and several children, to whom affection and moral support would have been the first priority, not just a fading afterthought. Eerily like his YOU clients, Rempel tends to dismiss his several failings with his family by explaining that since he can’t help it, it can’t be held against him and so he won’t waste time either feeling guilty about it or trying to change.

On the other hand, both author Bender and Rempel himself must have realized there was the likelihood of alienating readers by exposing these very unattractive qualities. They take the chance of showing Rempel is no Savior, no bigger-than-life hero or cult leader; just a man deeply marked by a hidebound, harsh, and backward religious upbringing, who, because of an affinity for rebellious youth, has managed to make some kind of success at turning lazy, selfish lads into more acceptable human beings.

Stumbling Heavenward is a good antidote for people who are always trying to latch onto perfect heroes; this book shows there is no such thing — just people with deep problems bumbling along in an attempt to help other people with problems.


Bender, Urie, A., “Stumbling Heavenward: The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man, Peter Rempel,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 25, 2024,