We live in a dark world...a world that suffers the affects of sin and evil. Yet this is the world God send his Son, Jesus Christ who is the light of the world bringing us deliverance from the darkness of sin and evil. But Jesus also gives us his Word to light our path, to guide us, and to take to the far reaches of the earth. As His word says, "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." Isaiah 9:2 (NIV)

Monday, October 24, 2016

Sachigo Lake, Bearskin Lake, & Weagamow Lake, Ontario and Churchill, Manitoba

It was down to the last couple of weeks in August and then the summer VBS season would be over.  It comes so quickly and goes by just even faster.

At the end of my last exciting episode, I had left the team in good hands at Muskrat Dam and was heading to Sachigo Lake, Ontario.   Upon our arrival, we were met at the airport by Rev. Solomon Beardy who took us to the teacher house where the team was staying.  This would be an overnight stay to spend more time with the team and in the community.  It was a luxury to be able to do this since normally we have to head into other communities to meet with VBS teams.

It was really nice to be able to have a much more relaxed schedule with the team.  I got to know them better and we were able to have a number of discussions especially about how their experience compared to other VBS teams.  I also had a couple of one-on-one conversations that allowed me to encourage and support those individuals.  It was great to connect to the children and parents on an evening walk after dinner.  That's a major role the teams have--to build their relationships with the communities which allows them to share the Gospel of Jesus openly.

Yes, that's me "using my head" again to make connections with the children

As we sat around late Saturday evening, the team prepared a few songs that they would sing as part of the worship service on Sunday.   Then we headed to bed (or in my case, the sleeping bag).

The team working out lyrics for the Sunday music

Sunday morning found a couple of the women already at work making breakfast for the crew.  After breakfast, the team got ready to head to the church for worship.   That is a special time in so many ways.  The team shares the message of Jesus through their music.  Pastor Brad shares the message through his sermon.   The people in the community come to listen and learn about their Savior.  But the best part is that everyone there is one in Christ--forgiven sinners who have received God's grace and mercy.   After worship, Rev. Beardy thanks the team for being there with tears of appreciation in his eyes.   Chief Titus Tait also spoke and thanked the team for coming to Sachigo Lake.   It was nice to see the Chief again and have a chance to talk briefly with him.

The team singing during worship

Rev. Solomon Beardy addressing the church after worship
Chief Titus Tait thanking the team for coming to Sachigo Lake

Team members talking with Chief Tait and Rev. Beardy after worship.

We headed back to the teacher house for a quick lunch and to gather VBS supplies.  Then it was back to the church for the afternoon VBS session.  The team was quickly set up and ready to go which was a good thing as children started to arrive.  The children can't seem to get enough VBS!  It's another opportunity for them to hear, see, feel, and learn about Jesus and his love for them.
 
The puppet show that tells the Bible story is always a hit with the children.

It was approaching mid-afternoon and time for us to head back to Red Lake.   Rev. Beardy once again provided us with a ride back to the airport.  As we said our "good bye", he asked what he normally asks me; "When are you coming back?"   In a way, a piece of me never leaves Sachigo Lake.  But I look forward to returning hopefully this winter to do another family and parenting workshop.

Three days later found us in Bearskin Lake, Ontario meeting up with the team there.  Rev. Mary Ann Beardy met us at the airport and gave us a ride to the church.  This team does not only one, but TWO VBS sessions a day!   The morning session is for the younger children and the afternoon session is for the older children.  The VBS sessions also coincide with the literacy camp that is conducted at the same time.  So while the young ones are at VBS, the older ones are at the literacy camp and vice-versa.  We arrived shortly after the morning session was underway.


Since some of the younger children come back with their older siblings, the team presents the Bible story two different ways.  In the morning it's a puppet skit...


But in the afternoon, it's a character skit...



Craft time is always a favorite of the children.  The team, like all of them, integrate the Bible story into the day's craft to reinforce the story.


Along with craft time is recreation time.  The children played a number of inside games to occupy their time in between activities.


On of the craft activities was to take strips of paper and write down sins that the children were aware of.  Then these strips were put together in a chain and hung on a cross to represent that Jesus, by His death on the cross broke us free the chains of sin.


It seems that everywhere I go, I witness teams of volunteers who demonstrate the love of Jesus to the children and community they serve and it was not any different at Bearskin Lake.   The day of VBS came and went quickly.   Mary Ann soon arrived at the church to take up back to the airport for our flight back to Red Lake.

Rev's Genny Kam and Mary Ann Beardy (Left) with the rest of the VBS Team.
Now there was only one more trip to make in Ontario for the summer to Weagamow Lake.   It would also be one of the most "interesting" trips so far.

Our departure from Red Lake was normal along with the flight up north to Weagamow Lake airport.  Our only concern was the notice issued for high bird activity.  We saw none of it probably because of the flights that were landing ahead of us.  Everything was textbook on the approach and initial touchdown.  But then I noticed that the airplane was not responding as quickly with my rudder pedal input.  As we slowed down, and the front of the plane oscillated left and right, I knew what happened.  The nose tire was flat!  I carefully taxied us to the ramp and shut the plane down.  When we got out to take a look, my suspicion was confirmed.   Another flat tire.


Oh well.  "The Lord must have a plan in all this," I thought.   We'll have to figure out what our options would be.  But first, it was time to meet up with the team.  We got to their teacher housing unit as they were getting ready for brunch.  There were a couple of new team members this year and the rest returning.   After eating, the team was preparing to take their supplies to the community center for their first day of VBS.

I went to work to help the team get set up by putting the theme for the week, "God's Mighty Power", on the white board along with the Bible verse for day 1.  Each day's verse and focus would be added as the week went on.


The children arrived and the team went to work.  Teaching the children the songs is fun, especially if there are plenty of motions to go along with them.


A couple of different craft activities kept the children busy, again reinforcing the theme for the day.


Of course, with Jesus as our superhero for day 1, you have to make a superhero mask!  The children had quite a time decorating their mask.


There is story time to teach the children the lesson for the day as well.  With only 2 hours of VBS, it's important to keep reinforcing the lesson in as many ways as possible.  You can never get too much of the Good News of Jesus!


The first day of VBS flew by quickly.  We decided to head to the airport to evaluate the flat tire and figure out what to do.  Hopefully, it would only need a patch.  But after removing the tire and then the tube from inside, it would need much more than that!





The tube was damaged beyond repair due to taxiing the plane on the flat.  Fortunately, there was a Northstar Airline pilot who recognized the plane and me from last summer.  He got us the phone numbers for the aviation supply company in Sioux Lookout and the number to the airline dispatch.  We got the new tire and tube on order and it would arrive on the next morning's flight.  However, that also meant we would be spending the night with the team.

We headed back to the teacher house to let everyone on the team know what was up.  Thankfully, Gary Kakekayash, our community contact (who also owns and operates Weagamow Air Charter) came to the rescue with a couple of mattresses.  So we were good to go--or maybe I should say good to stay for the night.

After supper, we headed back to the community center for the evening program.  For that evening, it would be to teach information technology to those adults who were becoming exposed to it via iPads and smartphones.  One of the tech savvy team members had it all planned out.  The rest of us would watch the children who came with the adults.  With the community center next to the lake, that would be an easy task.
 

The time came to wrap things up for the day and to head back home for the evening.  The snacks were broken out and the conversations abounded about how the first day went and what adjustments could be made to make it better.  We also had a number of discussions regarding doctrine, theology, and how that all works in the communities and in our own lives.  With two pastors in the room, you can guarantee the conversation would eventually get to that, right?

We finally relented and turned in for the night.  In the morning, we had breakfast and our conversation continued until it was time to head to the airport to get the new tire and tube, install it on the airplane, and head back to Red Lake.   That was our plan.  The Lord had a different one.

The morning flight was cancelled but we were told it would be on the afternoon flight that gets in around 4:30 PM.  That would still leave us time to get the plane repaired and fly back to Red Lake.

So the team got Andrew and me for yet another day of VBS.   It was a repeat of the first day with even more children coming.  Our count was up near 40 children!  It was another day of being able to share Jesus and His mighty power to save us from our sins.

When VBS ended and we got things cleaned up, we made our way to the airport where the tire and tube had arrived on the afternoon flight.  Within 30 minutes, I had the tire and tube on the airplane and all was well.   Sort of.  The  weather was fine at Weagamow.  However there was a front with thunderstorms moving toward Red Lake that would beat us there.  We decided that it would be best to try in the morning when the weather should be clear.

We went back to the teacher house and had dinner and then headed over to the beach for the kids night.  The water looked tempting but with no swim suit, it was best to keep my cloths on and hang out on the beach.  I was able to chat with some of the elders who drove by to check on how things were going, especially Rev. Jake and his wife Edith who is being treated for cancer.  All in all, it was a good evening.


We headed home and then to bed after another full day.   In to morning, the weather was foggy but clearing.  We would be good to go around 9 AM.   However, the team at that point tried to convince us to stay for the rest of the week!  It was really nice to have such an extended time with the team and the community.  It just emphasizes the need for LAMP to continue to carry the message of Jesus to the remote communities of the North and to do it more often than for one week out of the year.

Upon our return to Red Lake, Andrew and I headed back to the apartment where Andrew packed up and was heading out to Winnipeg where the plane would be parked and routine maintenance done for our fall trip.  That would save 7 plus hours of flying expenses as well taking the plane back to the Edmonton area and then returning a few weeks later.

So what about flying to Churchill?  With it being located on Hudson Bay, and the weather being unpredictable, I decided to fly commercially out of Winnipeg.  But to do that, I also needed to pack up everything, get the apartment cleaned up and keys returned and then drive to Winnipeg.   Thursday was clean and pack day.  Friday was key return and drive to Winnipeg day.   This would also be another overnight trip to spend more time with the new team.  It would also be a first-time visit for both of us.

Saturday morning at 4:30 AM came too soon.  I wanted to make sure I got through security in time for the 7:00 AM flight to Churchill as sometime it can take an hour to get through even early in the morning.   As boarding time came, I was expecting our airplane would be the typical ATR twin-engine turboprop, especially considering that's what Calm Air usually flies.  I was surprised to see a First Air Boeing 737... and one configured like this one.  Passengers boarded through the rear door.  The front of the plane was for skids of cargo. 


After arriving in Churchill, I met up with Gord and Kim Gibley who were on the flight with me.  Pastor Hannah, our main contact, and her friend Louise were waiting for us in the terminal.  After gathering all of the Gibley's supplies we headed to the hotel to check in and then to church to drop off the VBS supplies.

Churchill is a unique community as it is part First Nations (Dene) and part Anglo in population.  It has gone through some trying times economically, especially since the largest deep sea inland port in Canada was closed down just weeks before our arrival.

The now closed deep sea port

At one time, Churchill was a thriving port and research center for rocket development.  That has all disappeared.  However, there is an arctic research center where university students and professors study the various areas of sub-arctic marine, plant, and animal life.

The remains of a rocket launch site
The Churchill Research Center
The population has also dwindled down less than 700 people as well.  Access is by air or train.  There is no winter road to Churchill!  It's also in the latitude that places it in the sub-arctic region of the planet.  That means it's not a warm place to live and there's tundra everywhere.  It also is the home to Polar bears and Beluga whales!  Yet it's not much different than many isolated communities in the north.  The Gospel still needs to be proclaimed!


Louise and Hannah took us on a tour of Churchill and surrounding areas.  It gave us all a better feel for the community and some of the issues they deal with.   It's a familiar story from the north.  Isolation.  Expensive cost of living.  Discouragement.  The feeling that they have been forgotten by the "outside world".   They need hope...the hope that only the Good News of Jesus can bring.

I was able to spend a fair amount of time with Gord and Kim.  Kim is an educator by training and profession and would be a natural at teaching VBS.  Gord is a book broker and a really good amateur magician, not to mention his avocation for photography.  They have a heart for the mission.  That is evident as they also committed to going to Churchill and conducting VBS for the next 5 years.  That's an incredible blessing to the children and community as they build relationships and are able to minister to them.  

The next day, I attended Pastor Hannah's church, St. Paul,  and spoke to the congregation about LAMP and the importance of the ministry, especially sharing the message of Jesus.   This church building itself has a long and interesting history.  The building was moved three times, one of them to Churchill!  It actually has a metal frame structure which allowed those moves.  On the last move, the foundation included a basement which is where the VBS would be held.



The Lady Franklin Window
The church basement where VBS would be held.  Note the banners on the wall that are still there from previous LAMP sponsored VBS's
After church, Hannah and Louise took us to a camp with several other First Nation people for a cookout. It was a great time of conversation, listening, and learning  about not only the people there, but about life in Churchill. On the way back to Churchill, I got dropped off at the airport for my flight back to Winnipeg.



On my flight back to Winnipeg and my subsequent drive home from there, I pondered the past months of community and VBS team visits, the people I reconnected with, the new one's I met, the many people I was able to minister to, and the situations I observed.   Here are my takeaways...

Number One:  The need for the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the communities is critical, especially for communities that do not have a strong church or pastoral presence.  LAMP VBS teams are an integral part of that mission. 

Number Two:  Ongoing spiritual support to the leaders of the northern communities is equally critical.  Many of them have no regular support system.  Regular contact with them, by both the VBS team member and me, is a much needed ministry, especially by praying for them and encouraging them in their lives.

Number Three:  None of this can continue without the help of those of you reading this blog post.  The ministry of LAMP needs your support.  First of all, we need your prayers that the Lord will bless our work now and in the future.  We need workers in the field, both missionary staff and volunteers, to be able to take the Gospel to these northern communities.  We also need your financial support to not just continue what LAMP is doing, but to expand the ministry to provide year-around support to the communities we serve and to other communities that are requesting LAMP's presence.

God's Word always gives us not only hope, but encouragement to continue the great and needed task of taking Christ to the nations.   2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 says, "Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. 2 And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. 4 We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance."

Until the next time.

Peace in Christ,
Dennis



Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Cross Lake, Little Grand Rapids, Wunnumin Lake, and Muskrat Dam

It's hard to describe the time slipping away so quickly on the last 4 weeks of the VBS season, let alone how it got to be the end of September.  It must be what a Navy pilot experiences when taking off from an aircraft carrier--a catapult launch going from 0 to 165 MPH in 2 seconds!   It's over in what seems like the flash of an eye.

As of the beginning of August, I was half-way through the team visits.  Eight teams and communities were still on the schedule with it getting a little pinched the first week with 4 visits planned in 6 days.  

My first visit was not officially in August even though the team from Billings, Montana would be at Cross Lake, Manitoba that first week of August.   If you recall from last spring, this was a community in the midst of a suicide crisis.  Nine members of the VBS team and I went there to minister to the kids and community however the Lord would lead us.   I would be interested to see how things were going since our visit.  They arrived on Saturday evening July 30th and would leave to go home August 6.

Since the team does such a phenomenal job of conducting the VBS, there was not much I could contribute to helping them.   However, I did want to spend time with the team along with some of the key leaders in the community before they left the community on Monday.

Sunday morning July 31 had fairly good weather for flying.  I needed to make a stop at Island Lake to refuel so I'd have enough to get back to Red Lake non-stop.   My plan was to arrive around 11 AM to spend some time with the team before we attended worship together.

I was picked up at the airport by Myron, one of the guys on the team.  I went to Mikisew School where the team camped out for the week and did the VBS.   I got there just in time to snag some brunch.  They literally had everything they would need for the week with them at the school. The cafeteria is their main common area for the team to hang out.  It's also their dining room, game room, prayer room, and planning room.

 

This team is so large (35+) that they bring their own dedicated "chefs" to make all their meals for the week.  The planning and menu are quite a task.  But the team has been doing this for a few years now and does an expert job of it.

Paul (left) and B.J. (right) getting ready to make stuffed pork loin for Sunday dinner

For a team this size, their commitment and energy are evident.  There is a wide range of ages and even generations of team members.  Families.  Young singles.  Seniors.  And they work so well together for the purpose of sharing the Gospel of Jesus to children who need to hear that they are forgiven for their sins through the death of Jesus on the cross.


Some of the team members were hanging out in the cafeteria after Sunday worship

It was great to reconnect with those who had come the previous year and with those who were there in the spring during the suicide epidemic.  Most of us attended church that afternoon while a handful of team members went to the local radio station to talk about the VBS and inviting the children to come.

Afterwards, we went back to the school and hung out while B.J. and Paul prepared dinner for us.  It was a few hours of time well-spent.    I got to have one-on-one conversations with team members who were dealing with ways to effectively minister to some of the kids they had become close friends with.  Some of those kids had contemplated suicide or were going through some tough situations at home or personally.  This is where the compassion of the team members along with sharing God's Word give the children and their families a sense of comfort, hope, and guidance in their lives.  I wouldn't have been able to do this if I was there during a day of VBS.  The Lord knew exactly what He was doing with my schedule change.  God's Word and prayer are always a noble privilege to share with believers to strengthen them in their faith and service.

I was also able to meet with Connie McIvor, the principle of the elementary school.  She has been a rock of faith for that school.  It's always a joy to talk and pray with Connie whose dedication is indescribable.


The plan was to spend the night with the team, but the weather forecast forced my hand with a strong storm line moving east.  A window opened up for me to fly back to Red Lake around 7:00 PM.   Before I left, I wanted to thank the team for their dedication to the children of Cross Lake and pray with the them.  


Afterward, Connie dropped me off at the airport and off I went.  Thankfully the Lord cleared the skies ahead and I got home before the weather turned for the worse.

Circumnavigating some of the cloud build-ups on the way to Red Lake


The next day, the weather moved in and kept me on the ground.  That didn't mean it wasn't an exciting day.  The texts started coming early in the morning with updates for the next several hours.  Early evening I got the culmination of the days texts.  My youngest daughter and son-in-law welcomed their first child into the world!  Arliss Edward Shelman.  I only wish I could be there, but alas I would have to wait to hold that little bundle of joy until I got back home.

My newest grandchild wearing the toque I got him in Dryden, Ontario

So after the first day of August excitement in my family and with clearing skies, I was able to fly up to Little Grand Rapids, Manitoba.  It's a brief 40 minute flight but also into one of the shortest runways up north.  It was quite windy after the front went through but within the capability of the airplane (and pilot!).   This community is unique from the standpoint that the main grocery store is located on the land the airport is situated.  So to go to the grocery store, you either take a boat in the summer or snow machine in the winter.



I was able to get a ride from a young couple in the community to the main dock.  It was a very rough, choppy, and somewhat wet ride with the wind and waves. After getting to shore, I started walking toward the church where the team of 4 was conducting VBS.  I didn't get too far down the road before Father Rheal saw me, stopped, and gave me a ride.  We had talked many times on the phone but had never met.  He said, "There aren't too many white men wearing a Jesus shirt in the community.  I figured it was you!"   We had a good laugh over that.

At the church rectory, I connected with Janine and Lois whom I had met last year.  They had two young women with them, Shannon and Brittany, to help this year. 


We had a nice lunch with fresh greens from Father Rheal's garden.  We all got (re)acquainted and talked about how the first day of VBS went and how the team was doing.   Afterwards, it was time to go to the church to set up for the VBS.

As is typical, the children showed up 10 minutes early and rearing to go!  This would be the 11th season for the team going to Little Grand Rapids.  They were familiar with their routine and have seen quite a few of the children grow up over the years that started coming to VBS when they were little.

Shannon had the children's attention as she shared the Bible story for the day
I enjoy seeing the creativity of each team in how they conduct their day--the Bible story, crafts, music, recreation.  All of it is done with the focus on the children and sharing Jesus' love.

The children were making angels for their craft.  (3 men in the fiery furnace + an angel)

VBS ended and the children reluctantly started to head home.   The team retreated to the rectory and relaxed a little bit before supper.  It was a good way to debrief and talk about the blessings and challenges of VBS and to brainstorm ways to handle some of the situations that arise.  With fairly nice weather, a couple of the team members changed into their swimsuits and headed for the dock to swim with the kids.  Since I was without swimwear, Father Rheal took me next door to hook me up with a boat ride back to the dock.


The boat ride back was about the same returning to the dock by the store and airport except dryer.  I flew back to Red Lake and arrived before twilight.  The next day would be another community.

With another good day to fly, we headed north to Wunnumin Lake, Ontario.  We got picked up on our walk from the airport to the community by Rev. Joey Bluecoat who is our main contact for VBS coordination.  He took us to the church where the team not only stayed, but conducted the VBS in the basement.  After lunch, we helped get the area prepared for the start of VBS.   As the kids streamed in, they had a coloring sheet that was an illustration of the Bible story of the day. 


"God Is So Good" in both English and Cree
 Then the Bible story was told with a brief introduction, followed by the puppet show.


And of course, VBS wouldn't be complete without the craft.  The kids were given strips of construction paper.  They wrote the sins they commit on them and then they were put together as a chain to hang on a cross to signify that Jesus as freed them from the bonds of their sins.


Singing songs is always a great way to teach the children about Jesus.  The team came prepared with quite a repertoire of prerecorded songs for the children to sing.  They really enjoyed the motions for the words.  They would also be able to easily remember these great songs.  Take a look...


How awesome it is to see the children so excited to sing about their Lord Jesus!

VBS cam to and end and the kids left.  That was my queue to pick up a broom and start cleaning up the floor.  (Remember, the team lived here too.)   After cleanup, we sat and chatted about all kinds of topics to unwind, especially the need for a bigger place for VBS since it was growing each year.  That's a great problem to have!!!

Joey stopped by and we had dinner before heading back to the airport for our flight home.

The VBS team with Joey Bluecoat


It might be another day and anther VBS in another community, but it's also another day to witness the love and commitment these dedicated team members have, not only to the children, but to faithfully sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.

We had a couple of "down" days so that the schedule could catch up to us...or is that the other way around?   Anyway...  

Saturday, August 6 would be busy.  The first part of the day would be flying to Muskrat Dam to meet a brand new VBS team that was going there for the first time.   I want to meet with the new teams to help get them settled into the community, introduce them around, and make sure all the arrangements are in place for the week.

We arrived about a half hour before their flight from Sioux Lookout.  Deputy Chief Roy Fiddler was at the airport to meet me and the team.  I also ran into Kyle, one of the local police officers I met last summer.  

Kyle and Roy at the school

The team arrived and we got them and their stuff loaded into Kyle's police truck and Roy's car. Well... almost all of their stuff.  One tote with their cooking utensils wasn't on the flight due to room and weight restrictions.  It would arrive the next day. 

The team would use the school for their accommodations and to conduct VBS.  They were well prepared and had a luxury that some teams don't have--WiFi!   As the team was moving their stuff around, I heard a guitar and a voice from a distance.  Being a guitar player myself, I went looking for the source of the music.  I found Roy with a team member's guitar singing "God With Us" by MercyMe...


It was a real blessing to hear and see Roy sing with such passion.  Sometimes God uses others to minister to me.  Roy left shortly after his concert to scrounged up some pots and pans for the team to use in the interim. 

The team put a simple lunch together.  Afterwards, Roy returned with some kitchen hardware and was ready to take Andrew and me back to the airport.


The team was in good hands and I expected to hear good things coming from Muskrat Dam.  At the airport, we said goodbye to Roy and thanked him for everything he had done to make the team feel at home.

Our flight out of Muskrat Dam would not take us back to Red Lake but 30 minutes away to Sachigo Lake where we would spend the night with the VBS team from Winnipeg.   But that's another saga.

As I look back on the past few weeks, God's Word provided through the apostle Paul in Philippians 1:3-6  speak well of my thoughts and prayers for these VBS teams.   "I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,  being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

<><
Dennis