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)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Already Here: the 2016 VBS Season Kicks Off

It’s hard to imagine that another summer VBS season is almost here.  Yet, it’s an exciting time to be able to continue the ministry to the First Nations people of northern Canada sharing the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus.  

One rather pinnacle event that took place ahead of VBS  was my official installation as pastor/pilot with LAMP on Sunday May 22.  With LAMP recently being granted RSO (Recognized Service Organization) status in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, LAMP can now directly call churchworkers.  This has huge positive ramifications for the future of LAMP.  Praise the Lord for his goodness!

So...   This summer, I will be visiting 18 communities As far north as Churchill, Manitoba and as far south as Cat Lake, Ontario, just to name a few.  VBS teams are already deep into their preparations to go.  They are working on their VBS skits, crafts, music, and games along with planning how to pack everything they will need--VBS supplies, personal luggage, and food for the team.  Scheduling flights are in the works as well as hotel stays on their way to and from communities.  It's more work than you can imagine, but it's well worth the effort.   

Each team will be carrying out the work of God’s Kingdom, not just teaching VBS, but becoming part of those communities.  The bonds that each member forms with the children and communities is truly a blessing to observe.  And as I learned this past winter and spring, those bonds are needed and appreciated.  The proof is when you say your "Good bye" and the person asks, "When are you coming back?"  That's when you know that a lasting relationship is building and that God's work will continue in those communities.

Speaking of communities, this year I will be using Red Lake, Ontario as my base of operations instead of Thompson, Manitoba.  With our new missionary pilot, Dave Smith, coming on board, we have realigned our communities for better access.  Red Lake will be closer to the majority of the communities I serve.  What that means is that I can spend more time with the teams and in the communities.  It's also better stewardship of resources like aviation fuel ($7/gallon US) and hours flown on the LAMP aircraft. So it will be a different venue that hopefully will allow me to minister more effectively to the teams and communities.

Of course, this doesn't happen by itself.  It is, first of all, a work of the Holy Spirit.  It is also a work of so many of you who have been such a blessing to me and committed to the ministry of LAMP.  As the summer season begins, I would like to ask for your continued support, especially your prayers  for specific needs   These are…

  • That he Good News of Jesus to be clearly and boldly proclaimed by the teams and me
  •  For strength of God’s Holy Spirit to face spiritual battles
  • For safety while flying to and from communities
  • Rain so that the fire threat will be drastically reduced over the summer
  • For my continued good health
  •  For my family who will be “holding down the fort” during my absence
  • Thanks for the support and encouragement I receive from you

Again, I cannot express my deepest gratitude for the heart so many of you have for LAMP and this vital ministry.  May God’s Word from Phil 1:3-6 be my prayer of thanks to you for your partnership in the Gospel.   “I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 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.”

Peace in Christ,

Pastor D

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Hope for a Community--Shamattawa

How often have you been in a situation when you thought, "Hope for the best...plan for the worst"?  With the current suicide crisis in First Nation communities in Manitoba (Cross Lake), Saskatchewan (La Loche),  and Ontario (Attawapiskat), it's difficult to go into a community that is experiencing such a tragedy and expect to see much hope within the people.

Such was the thought when the VBS team and I were in Cross Lake, Manitoba in March and had heard that the remote community in Shamattawa, Manitoba was going through a similar suicide crisis.  Shamattawa is one of  the 7 communities I serve.  This community has had its share of difficulties in the past including drug and alcohol usage, violence, and suicides.  Last year in February, there were 4 suicides within 2 weeks--2 girls and 2 boys. Because they are so remote and not large, Government help doesn't amount to much or that often.  After experiencing what was going on at Cross Lake, I couldn't let the community of Shamattawa continue without support from LAMP.

As I was waiting for my flight home in Winnipeg, I made a phone call to Dave Schneeberger who leads the VBS team into Shamattawa to find out if he had heard anything from his contacts there.  I also called the LAMP office to let them know of yet another community in crisis.  It would be difficult to go immediately having just returned home from Cross Lake the day before Good Friday.  The next week, would be finishing up planning for a vacation the first week in April, a trip to visit LAMP partners and donors in southern California, and a trip to the LAMP board meeting in Winnipeg--all of them back-to-back trips and planned for months.   So Dave and I made the commitment to go to Shamattawa right after the LAMP board meeting in April.

Because of my travel overseas, Dave made some phone calls and got arrangements for us to stay and visit in the community April 17 through April 19.   The airline schedule dictates when you can travel to these communities and Shamattawa was no different.   The reservations were made and we flew out on Monday April 17 from Winnipeg.

A view of the south end of Shamattawa on our landing approach

A front end loader and straps were needed to pull the Perimeter aircraft out of the mud

We were wondering how our trip was going to turn out especially after a not-so-good start.  After landing, the Perimeter Metro got stuck in soft soil while taxiing to the loading/unloading pad.  We all had to deplane and walk across the muddy tarmac while the airport got a front end loader to pull the plane out.  Apparently, this is a more frequent occurrence during the spring and fall. 

We walked into the small terminal building to be greeted by Roy Miles, one of the community leaders who had been involved in just about every aspect of Shamattawa over his adult life.  He currently is heading up the education affairs office.  First, we stopped by the Band Office and were able to meet with the Chief, Jeff Napoakesik.  He's a relatively young chief, but had the initiative and interest to work to make Shamattawa a better community.  He appreciated our visit and welcomed us.  After that, Roy took Dave and me over to the new school that was just completed this year.  It houses all grades K thru 12 where as the old school comprised of 3 separate buildings.  It is a vast improvement!

The new school is absolutely beautiful and much bigger than the old multi-building school

We were able to meet a couple of key people at the school.  The first was Rylee Gilbert, the vice-principle.  He has been at the school for three years.  In that time, he has built a reputation as a strong leader who cares about the kids there.  The kids look up to him because even though he is firm with them, he's also fair.   Rylee took us to the gym where a youth mentoring group from Winnipeg was finishing up a day of activities.

The mentor group and kids played a variation of freeze tag

The guys and girls played a game where they had to pass a soccer ball to each other using their feet.

It was great to see the AYMP (Aboriginal Youth Mentorship Program) connect with the kids and provide a means for the older kids to mentor the younger ones.  You can read about their visit to Shamattawa here.   They held a feast for the upcoming mentors after the last activity, the sharing circle with the "talking stick".  The stick was passed around the circle and the person with the stick was the only one who could talk.  (Maybe I should get one for at home when all my family is there!).  Everyone was given the opportunity to share their thoughts for the day.

At the feast, Dave met Schaunteya, one of the VBS kids.  She was really glad to see Dave (Her mother had died recently).  It was great to see the connection to the kids Dave and the team has made over the 7 years they've been going to Shamattawa.

We also met Shirley who made the stew for the feast.  She and another teacher, Denise, do a breakfast program for the kids on their own time and often spend their own money for groceries!  It's amazing the heart these women have for the kids.

Shirley and Dennis enjoying the post-feast fellowship

In talking with Denise and Shirley about their breakfast mission, Dave and I volunteered to join the fun...not to mention we would get a ride from the teacher housing we were staying in to the school.  So the next morning, Dave and I met Denise at the bus garage at 7:00 AM for the ride to school.

Denise does the major food prep and runs the home economics kitchen like a fine oiled machine.  She immediately put Dave and me to work slicing apples and oranges.  Then I was put to work scrambling eggs and Dave set the carts up with everything needed to move all the food and dishes to the cafeteria in time for the first busload of kids to arrive.  We also delivered carts with breakfast to the Kindergarten and grade 1 classes.

Pastor/Pilot Dennis scrambling up one of two pans of eggs

Dave with Denise getting all the food ready to go.

The view outside the cafeteria window looking toward the new ball and hockey fields

A view of the cafeteria and stairs to the upper grades (6-12)

The cafeteria...the quiet before the storm of kids arrive.

Setting up to serve breakfast to 120 children.
This particular morning, we had scrambled eggs, leftover pancakes and apple crumble, apple and orange slices, cereal, milk, and juice.  We needed to be set up by 8:15 AM when the first bus arrived.  The children were very good lining up and eating quietly.  It was quite an assembly line that had to move fast!  We only had a half-hour to serve breakfast.  The elders in the community are invited to come and receive breakfast as well.  It's a nice gesture to honor those wise people of the community.

The breakfast has begun as the buses arrive

At 8:50 AM, we had to close up shop so the kids could get to their classes.  But some of the buses arrived afterwards.  Not to worry.  We left the juice and fruit out and had breakfast bars available for the kids to take with them to class.  Afterwards, we rolled the carts back to the home econ room and put the perishable food in the 'frig.

Denise and Shirley had to go to their classes to teach.  Dave and I did K.P. and loaded the dishwashers with the plastic cups, bowls, plates, forks and spoons.  I washed the pots, pans, bowls, and other utensils we used in breakfast prep.  Normally, Denise and Shirley would have to do this during their lunch period.  Talk about dedication!!!  Dave and I told Denise and Shirley we'd be there Wednesday morning.

After Dave and I got the kitchen spick n' span, we started our visits to the classrooms with permission of Rylee.  Dave had brought a backpack full of goodies for the kids.  He had bookmarks made with the VBS theme and dates along with glow-in-the-dark fish necklaces and cross-shaped carabiners. We also had made 200 copies of one of the VBS lessons from the previous that focused on Jesus as the Good Shepherd who cars for them.

These are some of the goodies we passed out
We had generally good reception from the teachers and kids.  A lot of the kids recognized Dave from the years of VBS he has taught.  Dave made the introductions and spoke about the VBS and the reason for our visit--"because we care about you and love you."  Then I used the handout sheet and talked about what a shepherd was and what he did.  I compared a shepherd to Jesus who as our "Good Shepherd" looks after us, protects us from dangerous situations, and loves us so much that he died on the cross for our sins.  I prayed with the class and then Dave and I handed out the gifts.  We did this for all the classes except high school as the children had already left or been dismissed.

We grabbed one of the buses and got a ride back to the teacherage.  The kids again were enamored with my lack of hair on my head.  In fact, I got a new nickname while in Shamattawa--wait for it--here it comes--"Mr. Clean"! 

The kids checking out "Mr Clean's" head 

After we ate lunch, we walked back to school.  Lawrence Einerson was supposed to pick us up, but something must have happened.  As we walked down the road and got closer to the school, we saw 3 pickup trucks, one of them trying to pull another one out of a snow bank!   Apparently Lawrence thought he was driving across the driveway to Rylee's house except it wasn't.  It was the ditch full of snow!   Lawrence got his truck extracted, much to the ribbing of everyone around.

Dennis and Rylee in front of the new school.

Dave and Dennis enjoying the unusually warm weather

When we got back to school, Dave and I picked up where we left off visiting classrooms.  Again, we had a good response from the kids.  Their Number 1 question was, "When are you coming back?"   That's the kind of connection to the community that is priceless!!!  Dave and the team have been a blessing to so many of the children and families.  That was obvious just by watching the interaction between them all.

Dave reconnecting with his VBS kids

The grade 5 class posed for a picture
A group of kids getting ready to head home at the end of the school day.
We rendezvoused withe Rylee at the end of the school day.  He invited us to play in an "Intramural" basketball game after school at 4:00 PM.  On Tuesday and Thursday, the school staff, older students, and sometime the local RCMP guys play together.  Dave an I were a little nervous at the though of playing with high-powered guys as we heard it gets a "little competitive."  Hmmmm.

We went to the gym and saw what looked like a reasonable mix of staff and students.  No RCMP guys.  So maybe we wouldn't get too beat up.  We weren't dressed for the occasion, especially in the shoe department.  Traction became an issue, but we did the best we could.  And as far as getting beat up?  I found out that Dave is the best partner in ministry...but on the court...he is a rabid adversary.  I got mugged a couple of times by Dave but I didn't see him drill the 3 point shots like I was.  :-)  Must be my University of Louisville and Kentucky roots!

Dennis putting up a jumper shot

Dave going in for the defensive rebound
We played from about 4:00 PM to almost 5:30 PM.  We had enough players that the teams could rotate people which was good.  It was a good time to be able to mingle with the teachers and older students.  A couple of the teachers were interested in what LAMP did and I was more than happy to share with them our mission.  They thought it was pretty cool.   Yeah.  Jesus is pretty cool.

Dave and I were warm enough from playing and the temperature outside nice enough to walk the 20 minutes back to our digs.  As is typical, we ran into a group of the VBS kids and their siblings.  They walked with us the entire way back.

Dave the "cool dude" sporting those shades

Dave isn't very well liked by the kids....NOT!

"Mr. Clean" getting head rubs.

Little Mylee took Dennis' hand and did not let go until he was home.
The next morning was a repeat of Tuesday.  Dave and I grabbed the bus with Denise and got to school to start getting breakfast ready.   This morning was going to be scrambled eggs with diced ham, oranges and apples, cereal, and one of my northern favorites...fried Bannock! 
Denise is getting the Bannock going.

Dennis is whipping up the eggs and ham (tho' not "green")

Denise and Shirley ready to serve another school breakfast

Getting ready for day #2 on the breakfast serving line.
The one thing Dave and I found out is that Denise and Shirley have limited cash for the breakfast food and often dip into their own funds to get items they need, especially eggs, milk, and fruit.  So Dave and I made our own contribution to the worthy cause with apples, oranges and money for eggs and milk.  The ladies were very appreciative and it was great to be able to support them in their particular ministry to the children.

When breakfast was over, we said our goodbyes to everyone and then headed back toward our teacherage to get ready for our flight back to Winnipeg.  We made a couple of stops along the way.

The first was at Awasis, the child and family services organization to visit with Mary Ann Miles.  She was not in, but we met the staff that is based in Thompson and rotates in during the week to provide services.

Then we walked on over to the RCMP post to talk with the officers.  We ran into Sandy Miles (our bus driver)  who was at the post picking up his Remington 870 shotgun that is kept in a vault at the post for safe keeping.  He was heading out goose hunting.  I told him he needs to come to Indiana to hunt them because that's where they all migrate to.  We had a nice talk with the officers about the community.  Shamattawa has made a huge turnaround in the last 10 years.  Yeah, there are still issues with chemical, drug abuse, and homelessness but it's improving.  Family issues seem to be the more prevalent problem, especially with alcohol use.   The officers painted a picture of a community that is struggling to be a better place to live.  That's encouraging news.

The old school that was made up of three separate buildings.  It can't compare to the new school!

The teacherage Dave and I were able to use while in Shamattawa
Then we headed past the old school to check out the river.  We had heard that Elk were down by it and hoped to catch a glimpse.   God's River is one of the larger rivers that traverses Manitoba from Churchill to God's Lake.  Back in the day, it was a major York boat transportation artery for moving supplies and furs from communities to trading posts.
God's River that runs past the community.  You can just make out the remains of ice road that crosses the river.

The goose hunters were out with their decoy's hoping for a good day of hunting.

The view of Shamattawa as we were turning south to fly back to Winnipeg.
We went by the teacherage and picked up our luggage and headed toward the airport.  We decided to stop at the band office again to say our good byes.  Chief Jeff wasn't there, but one of the councillors was there.  He also appreciated our presence and work with the children.   We went downstairs looking for Daniel Bluecoat, but he wasn't there.  We did end up talking to Sam who was involved in health and family services.  He was thankful and appreciative of the LAMP VBS and the team that goes there.   It was a testament that even though teams can only spend a little more than a week in a community, their impact over time is great and positive.

We headed over to the Northern Store to grab something for lunch and then headed to the terminal.  As we waited to board the flight back to Winnipeg, we ran into Chief Jeff who was also on our flight.  It was nice to be able to say bye to him and thank him for letting us come to Shamattawa.

Dennis with Chief Jeff
Our trip back to Winnipeg was uneventful (no stuck airplanes--thankfully!).  Dave dropped me off at the hotel and he headed back to Fergus Falls, Minnesota.  The next morning (4 AM! ) I walked to the terminal and got my flight home.  

It had been literally 10 non-stop days of various ministry to donors, to board and staff members, and to the one of the communities LAMP serves.  It was all good and well worth the effort.  Our trip to Shamattawa was a welcome surprise and a silver lining to what has been a dark and horrible winter in many of the First Nations communities.  It's not a perfect place by any stretch of the imagination.  But with the new school, there is a positive attitude that hasn't been there for quite sometime.

As I pondered our trip, I thought of Galatians 6:9 which says, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."

Let us not give up praying for the people of Shamattawa that God will bless their efforts to make their community a better place, and that He would reap a harvest of people through faith in His Son, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, our only hope for life in this world and the next.