This week at one of our morning ‘Bible Study and Prayer’ times, we were reading the prelude to the Passover story. After reading about the Plague of Flies I found myself waxing nostalgic about times in the North. I remember being on a baseball team in Northern Ontario each player slathered with Muskol or McCurdy’s, with our pants tucked in our socks and our own personal swarm of blackflies. When we would get the third out we would congregate at our bench and the buzzing swarms would join into a dense cloud.
My most memorable encounter with blackflies occurred on my first canoe trip. This was my first ministry experience after I was commissioned. A group of 5 ‘leaders’ ( I was one, but my participation stretched the meaning of leader) and 20 kids set off in canoes. We were heading for York Factory at the mouth of the Hays River. This was the original site of this community and still the area where they had hunting rights. Angus the chief guide assured me it would be a two day trip up and one day back (this is how long it would take him by himself!). We were paddling up and motoring back.
Just after the July first Celebrations we set off in a snow storm. I was wearing a parka and paddled all that day in the cold and snow praying for warmer weather. The next day the sun broke through and brought the summer’s warmth with it and had my first taste of real blackflies, or rather they had their first real taste of me! Apparently I offered them a pink skinned delicacy. They would bypass other paddlers to take huge chunks out of me! I tried valiantly to be stoic in the face of their feast but my discomfort did not go unnoticed. After a good long time of being amused finally Angus pulled our entourage to shore. He and his cohort Joe quickly built a teepee and started a fire with green wood, inside. I was commanded to stand in this structure and stay as long as I could. Minutes later I emerged, no longer pink but black as soot except for the streaks of white where my tears had run. “Do not wash!” I was told and I did not! This spoiled the blackflies festivities and I am convinced saved my life!
As I recall this river trip I realise that it was formative for me and my ministry. We were dropping off gas filled drums as we progressed, so that we could motor back. This meant that a portage was not practical, so when we arrived at white water the children were put off to walk while we adults shot the rapids. I was certain that I was putting ashore much better canoeists than myself and was more than a bit apprehensive but Angus had complete confidence in me. “Just follow me!” he grunted and set off. My life vest did not fit over my parka so I was kneeling on it. I was certain if I capsized my parka would act like an anchor but I too pushed off. Somehow I missed most of the rocks and arrived safely at the other side with my barrel of gas.
Since that time I know that Jesus has said to me “Follow me!” as together we faced new and daunting challenges. I learned on the river to trust myself to his leadership but I have also learned to exercise a bit of caution. I have learned painfully that I am not indestructible.
As it turns out Angus’ estimate was a bit off. The trip took a week! We soon ran out of supplies. Angus and Joe had not planned for this eventuality but were not alarmed. They knew that God would provide. One of the young boys had a K-tel pocket fisherman and we ate fresh jackfish for the remainder of our trip.
I gave all sorts of fireside devotions on that trip but at the end one of the adult leaders asked me how she could become a follower of Jesus because she saw a difference in me and how I handled the adversities of the trip. The lessons on the river bore fruit in both our lives!
Life is still a journey on the river and we don’t know when we will arrive at our destination. There are lessons to learn and challenges to face! This is the way to fruitful life!