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)

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sandy Lake and Big Trout Lake, Ontario

It's been a somewhat slow and at times frustrating start to the VBS season thanks to a rather rainy and storming beginning of July here in Red Lake, Ontario.  But on the other hand, The rain brought relief to communities that were threatened by forest fires, such as Easterville, Manitoba west of here.  It's all in the Lord's timing.

This second full week of July brought two VBS teams north; one to Sandy Lake and another to Big Trout Lake, both of them in central northern Ontario.  It also brought a guest for a week, Rev. Charles St-Onge who is a missionary pastor who serves a small ethnically diverse congregation in the Montreal area and the Area Facilitator for Puerto Rico, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands in the Office of International Missions of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod.  He has had a long-time interest in LAMP and wanted to get an up-close-and-personal look at the ministry.

Charles arrived Sunday evening for 5 days with me.  Well, let's just say that the first three days of the week were not suited for flying.  I would wake up early in the morning to check aviation weather, look out the window, and.... sigh.   We had a mix of heavy rain, light hail, fog, low visibility, low cloud cover, and cool temperatures.   But that gave us time to get acquainted and to talk about the respective ministries each of us serves, church workings (e.g. politics, conventions, theology), our families, and life in Canada and the US, (of which Charles holds dual citizenship.)

We finally got our break in the weather on Thursday.  We awoke to fairly clear skies in Red Lake.  The original plan was to head to Big Trout Lake first, spend most of the day there, and then head to Sandy Lake for an evening memorial service, spend the night with the team and community, and then leave the next day.

A check of the weather at Big Trout Lake revealed that the weather we had earlier in the week hadn't cleared out.  Very low ceilings and visibility prevailed.  However, at Sandy Lake, there was an overcast layer, but it would break up and improve as the day went on.   So we flipped our schedule and flew to Sandy Lake.

This trip would also be Charles first flight in a small general aviation aircraft.  I took extra steps to be sure he was comfortable with the airplane during the preflight and after airborne, explaining what I was doing, what the instruments told me, what air traffic control was saying, and any other questions he had about the flight.

Charles enjoying his first flight in a light aircraft!

It was a fairly smooth ride at 9,000 feet with an expansive view of the multitude of lakes in northern Ontario.  Charles said, "If people in Minnesota think they live in a 'land of 10,000 lakes', they haven't seen this!"  Indeed!

About 100 miles north of Red Lake, the clouds started to form an overcast.

We descended into the solid overcast and flew the instrument approach breaking out of the bottom of the clouds 900 feet above the ground and 3 miles from the runway...a text book approach.  We landed, secured the airplane, and walked the 3/4 of a mile to the band office.   We asked where the VBS team was staying and got the address...and a ride!  One of the councilors was there and took us to the teacher house they were using.  Can't beat that kind of friendly hospitality.

After arriving at the house, we were greeted by the team, both experienced and new members.  We had a tasty lunch with them and caught up on the weeks activities so far.  Then it was off to the church to get ready for the 100 or so children that had registered over the course of the week.  I got to meet Zach Kalegamic, the new pastor of the United Church where the VBS was being held.  He was out cutting grass around the church (I'm sure there's a sermon in that somewhere).   After some conversation, we both needed to get to our respective tasks.  So it was back inside as the children gathered and signed in.

The team did what I like to call "divide and conquer".  The two young guys on the team, Peter and Tanner had the recreation time outside.  Faye did the songs.  Joan led the Bible stories, and Christine managed the crafts.   The rest of us assisted where needed.  They rotated three groups of children to keep the numbers manageable. 

Joan Gehrke leading the Bible story

No VBS would be complete without playtime outside.  The rain had stopped and the sky was slowly clearing.  The children could play soccer or do the Tug-of-War that Charles willingly facilitated.

Charles was the master of the Tug-of-War!
The children had a choice of one of two crafts that depicted the Bible story of , Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace.  It's always fun to help the children with their craft project.

The children were working on their "fiery furnace" crafts

I helped Carter finish up his "furnace" with Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego in it.
The time passed very quickly as there were no slack moments.  After the children left, we began the cleanup of the church and fellowship area in preparation for the memorial service that would be that evening.  The team and community does this every year to commemorate the lives of people who have died in the last year.  It included refreshments afterwards.  Unfortunately, Charles and my backed-up and changed-up schedule didn't allow us to stay overnight.  So after a light supper of sandwiches, we headed to the airport for our flight home.

It was a full long day and well worth all the effort.  The team which has been going to Sandy Lake for 10+ years continues to love and nurture the children in the faith of Jesus.  This year, the Canadian contingent (it's a hybrid team of US and Canadian people) is spending an additional week to conduct youth and adult ministry including Bible studies.  It will be interesting to see how this new program works out.

After a good night's rest and checking the weather, we were off to Big Trout Lake.  This is a community that has a rough year last summer.  But with newly elected councilors and a new Chief, the outlook is the best it's been in many years.   So I was excited to hopefully meet with Chief James Cutfeet to find out how things have been going since we last met in the fall.

Our flight was good and after parking the airplane, we hoofed it into the community.  It's not that far of a walk and it was a much nicer and warmer day than the one before.

We went to the Anglican church were the team holds the VBS.  It's quite an affair from 10 AM to 2 PM including lunch.  Ladies from the community put sandwiches together along with Kool Aid, snack bars and my favorite...bannock!  Things were in full swing with lesson and music already over.  Lunch was about to begin which gave me time to talk to Kari Lewis who heads up the team and some of the team members.

The Anglican church where the VBS is held

After lunch, the kids went outside for fun and games while I helped the team prepare for the craft.  They were making slings like David had when he fought Goliath.  The one exception is that they weren't designed to throw stones but...marshmallows!   Charles and I took felt tip markers and wrote on them the gifts of the Spirit.  Have you ever tried to print "self-control" on a marshmallow?  It's not as easy as it seems but we finished the bag.

Then came the moment of truth.  Would the slings work!  For the most part, yes.  It took some practice, but they got to sling them fairly far.  The downside is that the dogs in the community were faster at retrieving them than the children!  

When the marshmallows were gone, it was time for VBS to end and the children headed home.  We then headed back to the church to clean up and pack the VBS supplies up which will be used at the VBS next week at Wapekeka.  Kari will be joined by Jeanne Johnson and her son Jaeger  along with a couple of the older teens from Big Trout Lake.  We got the basement cleaned up for the meal the community was having for the team.  And then it was off to the band office to check emails and texts.

Team members using the WiFi at the band office.
 We went back to the church and the meal was already laid out and ready.  It was quite a spread!  

The food was plentiful and really tasty!

Some of the councilors and Chief James were there.  I got to spend quite a bit of time talking with James.  In the short time he has been Chief, he has already started a feasibility study for a new school, there's a new police station, and the community is now part-owner of Wasaya Airlines, a First Nations owned regional airline.  He is orchestrating a new hanger at the airport and working to update the cargo hauling fleet.  This is the short-term plan to meet the needs of the communities as the plans to build an all-season road are still up in the air.  The 10 year outlook for winter roads is not good (the road was only open for 2 weeks).  So he is one busy man!  And the community atmosphere is night-and-day different and much better than last year.  He is a true blessing to not only Big Trout Lake, but the surrounding communities.

 After the meal, it was time to head back to Red Lake but not before a team picture with Chief James.

The "good" picture of the team
The "silly" picture of the team.
Mike took Charles and me back to the airport.  As I preflighted the airplane, I put Charles to work sweeping the gravel from under the prop which is necessary to protect the prop from stone chips and nicks that can damage it.

Charles was my "sweeper"

He got really good at his new-found job

We had an nice flight back to Red Lake reflecting on the past two days and how amazing God works through the volunteers in these communities.  The love and care that they demonstrate to the children and the connection to the communities are bringing faith in action along with being deeply appreciated.  It also punctuates the continual need for LAMP to keep the ministry to the communities going.

Please pray for...

* The remaining teams as they prepare and travel to the communities.
* The communities that the Holy Spirit opens doors and hearts to receiving the Gospel.
* For Dave Smith, Andrew Anstey, and myself for safety as we fly and drive to the communities.

Until the next time... God bless!