I remember it like it was yesterday. At my commissioning the preacher, an Anglican bishop, centred his sermon on what a brave guy i was to be going to this remote Manitoba community. He spoke about what a tremendous group Church Army, now Threshold Ministries, was to have keen evangelists like me. I didn’t feel very brave or particularly keen as I landed at an airstrip with a single outhouse as it’s terminal. Everyone in town, it seemed, came to see me land, and to this young evangelist their brown eyes were full of scepticism. I remember thinking “I just arrived and they already don’t like me!”. I carried all my considerable luggage to the community and found my one room log cabin, which was to be home for the next three months. I walked around the community, trying hard not to show how strange I found it all. That night I finally fell asleep on the floor next to the oil drum which was my wood stove. I had no idea what the next months would hold.
In the morning I woke to see that I was surrounded by a group of Cree children who were enjoying the novelty of watching a white man sleep. I got up and introduced myself and learned some names and then cooked breakfast for the gang. That morning there were probably 5 – 6 of them but our ‘Breakfast Club” grew over the months. We made fast friends. We played games. I taught them songs and Bible stories. It was the beginning of a grand adventure.
Just after noon, when the dishes were done and the sleepy community was stirring, a couple of teen agers dropped by. These were the brave advance scouts, for what became a regular informal daily youth group. We played games, they teased me unmercifully and I gave as good as I got! There were fewer songs and Bible stories but we ate and laughed and talked together. Talk usually centred around ‘real life issues’. Life on a remote and violent reserve is filled with difficulties which I had not imagined and hopelessness was ubiquitous. I had few solutions (and even less so now) but I did bring one thing with me that proved most useful. I brought a hope that found it’s wellspring in the person Jesus! The conversations, the prayers, and the laughter (our lame substitute for tears) were exhilarating. These times usually included supper together and time on into the evening.
Just after bedtime the next of my guests arrived. The gentlemen of the ‘gas patrol’, these were adults who were paid to ensure gasoline was properly stored and to catch children ‘sniffing’. These guys began to stop by and have coffee with me and check me out. We spent hours in silence those first few visits (Cree people are much more comfortable with silence than I am) but over the weeks we began to speak over important things. They wanted to know my ‘agenda’ and what I wanted out of this. Eventually they seemed satisfied that I was real and then they talked about their lives, their hopes, and their disappointments.
One of my high adventures was a 5 day canoe trip with a Scout Group, which turned into a 10 day trip. I remember the leader of the trip putting the kids ashore while the adults (me included) shot the rapids of the Hayes River. I remember thinking as I was paddling through the white water, “How did I ever get into this? Those kids know so much more about this than me! Why am I doing this? God, help me!”
I made it through those rapids, but I continue to pray similar prayers. I find I am always being called beyond my competency. I have learned to engage people with food and friendship and to trust God with the results. This is what I think it means to be a missionary in the 21st Century West. It has proved to be such a satisfying life. I highly recommend it.