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)

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Sachigo Lake Saga

After my first summer spent in northern Manitoba and Ontario as a pastor/pilot, I discovered that being with the people of these First Nations communities kind of gets in your blood.  No.  “Kind of” is not accurate.  It DOES get into your blood!   Since then, I have been looking for opportunities to return to the communities as they arose.   One of those opportunities presented itself last fall and came to fruition this January.   But first, the backstory...

It all began with a fall trip to Red Lake, Ontario to visit a few communities.  One of those was Sachigo Lake.  It is located in northwest Ontario near the Manitoba border and about halfway between the Minnesota border and Hudson Bay.   It is accessible by either air or in the winter on the winter road…as in “Ice Road Truckers.”   

On that visit, I was able to meet with a few of the key members of the community including Rev. Solomon Beardy, his son, Alvin, and Ron Tait.   The main purpose for getting together was to find out what ways LAMP could help the communities beyond Vacation Bible School.   One item that jumped out during the conversation was the need for parenting skills which are lacking for a number of reasons, foremost being children taken from the community and raised in “residential schools”.  

The environment was not good for raising children as the schools tried to indoctrinate the First Nation children into the “White Man’s” ways of culture, including language.  These children were in a dormitory style atmosphere with very little affection shown and obviously no family influences.   So when these children returned to their communities, they didn’t have any idea what family love, unity, and devotion were.   Then when it came to raising their own children, they had no model by which to base raising their own children,  Hence the need for parenting skills.  If you'd like to read more about the residential schools and their impact on the First Nations people, you can go HERE

With the need identified, and after a few emails with Alvin, the goal of conducting a parenting class at Sachigo Lake became a priority.  The best time for the community would be January, which may sound strange especially with winter weather.  

Alvin directs workshops and clinics at The Healing Center in Sachigo.  It's a facility that is dedicated to helping people who have addictions of various types.  The most prevalent is substance abuse, and usually it's prescription drugs.   With the isolation, unemployment, and other challenges facing First Nations people, it's a common occurrence.  Thankfully, the community at Sachigo has taken a proactive approach with Alvin's forward-looking vision for the community a huge part in the process.   We settled on the dates and the plan was firmly in place to go conduct the workshop.

I spent the next 4 weeks working feverishly at getting good solid appropriate information together not just for how to parent, but also child development, and communication skills which are key to family dynamics and health.  My lovely and brilliant wife, Teri, was instrumental in the child development section.  She has her Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education and is the President of St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf in Indianapolis.  (You can go HERE to learn more).  It would have been nice for her to have come with me, but things would have been difficult to arrange with her responsibilities.  So I was going to have to go "solo."

The day to leave came quicker than I would have liked, and I was using every spare minute on the flights and airports to hone the presentation.  By the time I got to the Perimeter Airline terminal in Winnipeg for the final leg of the trip, it was "ready or not...here I come."   

The flight arrived about 30 minutes late.  I had a virtual welcoming committee meeting me at the airport including the community police officer, Alvin, and Solomon.   Alvin took me to the motel which was part of a larger building that housed a small restaurant, laundromat, post office, and band offices.  

The room was very nice and comfortable.  There was a lounge and kitchen too with coffee pot, microwave oven, and refrigerator for the residents to use.

I grabbed a meal next door and then got settled in for the night.  I was pretty exhausted from the trip since my flight out of Indy was at 7:00 AM.   I slept like a rock and awoke to the sound of my iPhone alarm ringing.  Friday morning, after I got ready and ate breakfast, Alvin came by and picked me up to head over to the Healing Center.

I knew from talking with Alvin a few days before I left that the plans changed from our original 2 groups to just 1 group.  It was a newer group of clients who were just 2 weeks into their program which runs about 8 weeks.  That was OK, especially since this was going to be a pilot program and a smaller group would probably work best.  The other major reason for the change was the "Honoring Our Elders" Gospel Jamboree that was scheduled over the weekend.  That's OK.  Things would work out fine.

The Healing Center has a really nice facility with a large waiting room, kitchen, and a beautiful conference room with a wonderful view of the forest.  




I got set up and was ready to meet the new intake clients.  These are brave young people who are not only tackling their addiction, but also wanting to improve their lives and the lives of their families.  It was interesting that there were slightly more guys than gals.   Solomon, as a community Elder was also present with his wife to observe.   

We spent the morning talking about what parenting is including roles, styles, and division of authority--all of it Biblically based.   After lunch, we moved on to child development which presented stages of development, "Roots & Wings", boundaries, and teaching behaviors.  It was definitely a full day and everyone responded positively that this workshop is what was needed, especially Alvin and Solomon.   

It wasn't that far from the center to the motel.  So I told Alvin I'd walk back.  I loved walking around the community and enjoying the crisp air and crunching snow beneath my feet not to mention how relaxing a walk can be.  It reminded me of my days living in northern Michigan near the Straights of Mackinac in Cheboygan.  Winter can be a wonderful season, especially in a place where you can enjoy outdoor activities, not to mention avoiding the Yo-Yo temperatures constantly going up and down above and below freezing that Indiana has.

I walked back to the motel to grab some supper and to spend the evening doing some more editing of the PowerPoint and reorganizing and clarifying information that was needed to move on to the next morning's session--communications.   I worked until my brain decided to call it quits and hit the sack.

I headed back to the center Saturday morning for day 2 of the workshop.   Across the road from the Healing Center is the elementary school that goes through grade 8. Secondary education (i.e. High School) takes place either via on-line courses at another building or the children will have to go to a Aboriginal High School in Sioux Lookout.  It's a challenge for these young people to be away from family while at school.  It's a situation that none of us State-side have to deal with our own children...another blessing we all take for granted.

 As I walked up to the entrance of the Healing Center, by new "friends" who seemed to follow me around on my walks were there waiting to greet me.  Of course, you can't pet just one of them without all of them wanting some attention.

I went inside and set up shop again.  We had a lot to cover this morning and dived in when everyone arrived.  This session did a quick recap of the previous day and then explored assertive speaking and active listening skills, the types and styles of communication, conflict resolution, stress in the family, and how to forgive one another.  

Noon arrived in lightning speed along with the end of the workshop.  The workshop evaluations were helpful for me to plan the next step of providing Alvin with information to use in parent support groups.  I would work on that Monday and Tuesday.  But for now, it was time to head to the Gospel Jamboree that started at 1:00 PM at the community resource center.

This is the community Resource Center where the jamboree was held
I was one of the first to arrive and could tell this was a huge event for the community.  In fact, the entire Jamboree was broadcast not just over the local radio station, but streamed on-line, and through a radio station at Sioux Lookout, Ontario!   There were also people from surrounding communities of Sandy Lake and K.I. (Big Trout Lake) in attendance.    The children had made all kinds of pictures and posters that were hanging all around to welcome and honor the community Elders.

There were a number of people who sang Gospel songs and hymns with the band from Sandy Lake.  Here's a quick video of one of the songs...

 Interspersed through the afternoon were speakers who spoke of the Elders and how important they were and how much they mean to the community.  They are considered the wise and caring people for the community.  Whenever there is a need, an Elder is usually there to offer their help.  

At the end of the afternoon session of the Jamboree, all the Elders lined up and formed a receiving line so that all the people of the community could greet and thank them for their service.  The respect for the Elders was quite impressive and moving...something we all could use to learn and appreciate in our own culture and society.

After the receiving line ended, there was a community meal that was served.  Oh my goodness!  There was venison stew, roasted moose, bannock, and wild blueberry sauce among a host of other dishes.  When the meal was over, everyone went home for a couple of hours and then returned at 7:00 PM for the evening session that went until Midnight!   

For the evening Jamboree, Solomon pressed me into service along with the other pastors for prayer and Scripture reading.  It was truly humbling to be brought in and accepted by the community.  One of the pastors from Sandy Lake preached the message for the evening.   Afterwards, the pastors offered prayers for the people who had specific needs that ranged from needing peace after the death of a loved one to healing from diabetes.   As Midnight approached, and the Jamboree ended, another meal was served!  I knew I would leave Sachigo weighing more than when I arrived.  My weakness was the bannock (baked round flatbread) dipped in the stew broth.  Yum. I walked back to the motel and got to bed around 1:00 AM.  It was one long day!  

The next morning, I walked down to the south end of the community to attend Solomon's church where he is the pastor.  It's a rather typical community church with a cemetery next door.  You still can find churches with cemeteries in the US, but mostly in rural farming communities.


Solomon arrived along with his wife and worship assistant.   The worship was familiar as it followed the Anglican liturgy which is similar to Lutheran worship.  The hymnal had both Cree and English so that you could sing in your own language.  Alvin and his wife were there along with several other people.   Solomon never ceased to amaze me as he played the keyboard for the hymns and did an admirable job.  He obviously wears a number of different hats in the church and community!

After worship was over, there was about an hour before the Jamboree got going again at 1:00 PM.  I took a little detour on my walk to see more of the community.   Across the street from the cemetery was the community Early Childhood Development Center.   They provide support for young mothers and their children.


I went back to the motel and grabbed a bite to eat.  Then it was time to head back to the Jamboree.  It was pretty much a repeat of Saturday with one exception.  The Elders were asked to gather in the front of the hall.   They were then honored with gifts of appreciation and prayers of thanks.

The Elders were all gathered so that the community could give them gifts to honor them.
Like Saturday, a meal was served at 5:00 PM and then everyone gathered for the closing evening session.  Again, it was a repeat of the night before with another exception.  The community gave gifts to the people who came from the other communities to participate.  Then I was surprised to be called forward by Chief Titus Tait.   I was given a gift as well...a handmade winter hat made by one of the Elders...84 year old Rebecca Beardy (She is in the left-front row above with the purple coat).     I guess they figured it would be a good gift for a bald guy!   I was overwhelmed by the community's acceptance and care. 

Chief Titus Tait, me, and Rev. Solomon Beardy at the Gospel Jamboree
At the end of the evening, things wound down and another light meal was served of sandwiches, "dirty rice", and homemade pizza.  With a full belly (again!) I walked back to the motel for a good night's rest.

Monday morning came and I walked over to the Healing Center to get to work on following up with information requested on the evaluations.   That took all day getting the research done.  The next day would be organizing it and getting the information to Alvin.  Monday evening was quiet for me with no planned activities to attend.  However, it was time to get packed for the flight back to Winnipeg Tuesday afternoon and to make sure I had everything for Alvin that he needed.

Tuesday morning brought a bright and crystal clear blue sky to the area.  I finished up the materials for Alvin and transferred it to a thumb drive.   Then we had lunch together with a handful of the clients, the director of the center, Alvin, and me.  I was totally unprepared for a presentation that Alvin and Evangeline planned.  In appreciation for my work, I was given a beautiful pair of handmade mittens!   Wow! 

Alvin, Evangeline, and me holding my gift before I left to head home
Before I headed back to the motel to get my things ready to go, I took one last walk around the community.  One thing that is noticeable is the position of the sun at mid-day.  Since Sachigo Lake is north of the 53rd parallel, the days are shorter than what we're used to "down south".  

This is as high as the sun gets during the day in winter!
The other thing I wanted to do was find where the winter road came in to Sachigo.   I found it on the east side of the community.  It had only been opened for 7 days and then only to pickup trucks and light vehicles.  Semi trucks were still not allowed on it.  People in the community were already planning trips to Sioux Lookout to buy supplies and whatever else they would need that could save them money by getting it themselves.  Again, access to things is something we all take for granted in the land of roads, highways, and shopping malls.

This is the beginning of the winter road out of Sachigo Lake to Sioux Lookout.
This is me standing on the winter road sporting my new hat that was a gift from the community.
As I walked back to the motel, I knew that Sachigo Lake and the people in this community would have a special place in my heart.   The time to leave came all too quickly.  Alvin picked me up and took me to the airport to get the flight back to Winnipeg and then back to the US.   We said our goodbyes and are already looking forward to when I can return to the community to continue the process of ministering to the parents and caregivers of the children of Sachigo Lake.  After all, that's what LAMP is all about..."taking the Light of Christ to the ends of the earth."

Things I learned...

1. My plans were not necessarily God's plans...but His worked so much better!
2. We are all God's children who struggle through life in various and similar ways.
3. Our dependence is not based within ourselves but on Christ working in us.

Let us pray:

Lord, our heavenly Father, you have loved us beyond time and our own understanding.  Thank you for sending your Son, Jesus, into this world to bear the burden of our sins so that we will have a life forever in your presence.  Be with the community of Sachigo Lake.  Bless their pastors and elders with the wisdom and strength that only your Word and Spirit can provide.  Heal broken hearts and the addictions of your children there.  Draw this community close to you so that they may be a beacon of Light pointing others to the grace of Your Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ.   Amen.