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 2, 2017

Prequal: Overnight Visits Continue

It seems as if "prequels" to stories, movies, and plays have become popular.  If you're not familiar with that term, it's basically another story that precedes the current one.  An example would be the Broadway hit, "Wicked" is the prequel to "The Wizard of Oz".   Movie examples would be the Star Wars films.  They started with Episodes IV, V, and VI, but then later released Episodes I, II, and III to give the back story to the original episodes.

So where am I going with this?  Well, it seems in my quest to chronicle the summer VBS season, I suffered a brain burp and managed to leave one entire week out!  And it was the week before the last post.  It was also a busy week of 4 community visits including 2 overnight stays.  It was in some ways, the kickoff to intentionally spend more time in the communities and with the missionary teams.  Hence, this post is a prequel to the last one.  Got it?  Excellent!

So where was I... or where should I have been?

First of all, one special event that took place this week was that my wife, Teri, was able to take a week off from her incredibly busy schedule as Executive Director and President of St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf, an oral deaf school headquartered in Indianapolis.  This would be her first time up north visiting teams and communities, not to mention flying with me (which she does when I'm back home).  She arrived on Saturday in Thunder Bay.  I drove down and picked her up arriving back in Sioux Lookout around 9:00 PM due to a rather bad accident on the Trans-Canada Highway that forced us into a detour.

However, that didn't prevent us from getting to work right away.  With our overnight bags packed we headed out Sunday morning to Norway House, Manitoba.  This is what I call a "divide and conquer" team.  Norway House is quite spread out with a population around 5,000 people.  So the team does 3 simultaneous VBS's at 3 different churches.  Up until this year, I had only met the part of the team that did VBS at the Pentecostal Church.  With the overnight stay, I'd get to be with everyone!  

This trip required a fuel stop at our LAMP fuel cache at Island Lake airport.  The goal was to arrive around the time the team would get there putting us at the airport in the 1:30-2:00 PM time frame.  The flight for the most part was uneventful.  Visibility was poor due to smoke from all the fires out west in British Columbia.  Yes, it drifted that far east.  We also had gusting winds at the surface which put both Steve and my piloting skills to the test.  But all was good and we arrived on time.

Smoky skies as we flew north to Island Lake for fuel and then on to Norway House

We got picked up at the airport and went to the Catholic Church where the team was staying.  The intention was to attend worship that afternoon at one of the local churches.  However, a funeral precluded that from happening.

The Catholic Church where the team stayed and where 1 of the VBS's was held

The old Catholic Church across the parking lot from the new church

The team was in the unpacking and prep mode for Sunday afternoon, especially considering the VBS's all started the next day.  Steve, Teri, and I were pressed into service stuffing ziploc bags with a Bible story booklet, a book marker, and a cross & bead necklace kit.

(L to R) Steve, Teri, and Dennis stuffing VBS giveaway bags

We also got to meet Sister Una who is one of the contacts for the team and the church.  She is quite helpful with a gentle spirit.  She is a joy to work with.  After supper, we worked on more VBS preparations and then we gathered for a devotion.  It was a great time of getting to know each other and to discuss the community and some of the challenges they face as a team and ministering to the large community.  Before we knew it, it was time to hit the hay and get some rest.  There's something peaceful about sleeping in a church sanctuary, but that's where most of the team had set up their beds.

Devotion time after breakfast.
The next day would be another quick start.  We all got together for breakfast and had another devotion to get the day started.  After praying together, it was time to pack up and head to the airport to fly to the next community and team at Shamattawa, Manitoba.

Steve, Teri, and Dennis ready to depart for Shamattawa
Loading up the Lance for the next trip leg to Shamattawa

The Shamattawa team comes from the same church as the Norway House team, Trinity Lutheran at Fergus Falls, Minnesota.  It's a smaller team that flies in from Thompson.  This is also the team I made a winter visit with this past February.

We landed at the airport and walked over to the teacherage unit the team was staying in for the week.  The one huge difference in the community was the construction underway for the new Northern Store building and the new Band office.  The old store and offices burned to the ground in a fire last September.  It was good to see positive growth in this isolated community.

We found the team and did a "walkabout" of the area.  Unfortunately, the band office was closed.  We did run into some young adults who were there for a youth program at the school.  These kind of programs are a great way to help the children stay healthy and occupy their time.

It was approaching lunch time.  So we walked back to the team digs and Leon, one of the team members, fixed us up with some gourmet hash.  After filling our bellies, it was time to get ready for VBS.  The team held it literally out their back door on the large porch area since there were no buildings available due to limited resources.  But this team dealt with the same thing last summer.  So for them, it was no big deal.

The children slowly started to arrive.  Leon got the children occupied with singing as they finished registering for VBS.  He has quite a "groupie" following!

VBS registration in full swing!

The kids were glad to see "Mr. Clean" back!
Leon at his best singing to the children
The first day of VBS was about the 10 plagues.  The children could make a craft with a small bag and select which plague they wanted to decorate the bag with.  VBS was getting cranked up and rolling, but unfortunately, due to weather moving in from the north, we had to cut our visit short to be able to safely make it back to Sioux Lookout with a quick stop for fuel again.

The 10 plague crafts
The Shamattawa team with Teri, Steve, and Dennis
Teri sleeping after a long day of VBS and travel
We made it back safely and grabbed dinner.  Then it was time to relax.  Beside, the next day, the weather front caught up with us and gave us a day to recover from the hectic start of the week.

On Wednesday, we gathered up our things and drove to the airport.  The Lance was loaded up again and off we flew north to Wapekeka.  This is a community that was rocked by the suicide of three 12 year old girls who made a suicide pact earlier in the year.  If there was one thing they needed, especially the children, it was the hope found in Jesus.

The team is unique as it's made up of 5 members of the team that goes to Big Trout Lake.  They travel on the unimproved road between Big Trout and Wapekeka to do a second week of VBS.  They are truly dedicated to both communities.  We met them at the house they usually stay in and did some catching up on the rest of VBS at Big Trout Lake and what they saw differently at Wapekeka.  We had lunch and walked the couple of blocks to the church for VBS.

Kari coloring with one of the children. (Kari designed the artwork!)
More coloring...
Steve telling the children about Jesus with a story card
Jeanne is using the puppets to entertain some of the children.
The children gathered to listen to the Bible story for the day.
The children used ribbons to dance to Christian songs
The Anglican church at Wapekeka
The community was receiving a lot of services from the provincial government in response to the suicides. There was even a Canadian Rangers outfit there to patrol the streets at night to encourage children to stay home and not disappear into the bush to harm themselves.  It's hard to say how much of this will be a help to the community.  This makes the VBS even that much more important to keep God's love and hope present in the community.

The children were dancing to VBS songs using streamers.

The rain forced everyone inside, but the dancing continued.
VBS came to an end along with the nice weather.  We bid farewell to the team and walked to the airport.  Considering all things, such as the weather, travel time, and our course, I called Pastor Brett Hartwig, the team leader for Muskrat Dam.  I asked if they would like to have some company that night.  The door was opened and we left for Muskrat Dam dodging summertime showers.   We had a ride waiting for us in the rain and joined the team that was staying in the elementary school.  It also doubled as their VBS location. 

I had met with this team as they passed through Sioux Lookout on their way north.  Since it was Wednesday, they were more than half-way through their week of VBS.   However, there was a little wrench thrown into the works.  The community was having a huge Family Days celebration that was starting on Thursday.  So... There wouldn't be any VBS the rest of the week.  That, however, presented another opportunity.

The team would be able to spend time with a lot more people from the community, including the relatives of all the children they had at VBS.  That is a rare opportunity and one in which the community can see in action Jesus working through them.

The morning started off early for a couple of the guys on the team were invited out to participate in the fishing derby.  They departed at 6:30 AM with Dwight, one of the local fishermen to participate in the derby which ran from 7:00 AM to Noon.

In the mean time, the rest of us walked down to the community park where there were fires going to start cooking breakfast.  People had brought sausage, bacon, potatoes, eggs, onions, and other goodies.  They were slicing and dicing it all up and putting it into giant fry pans over the open fires.  As food was coming off the fires there was a pause for prayer.  Then the lines formed and the food was dished out with plenty to go around.  Oh.  Did I say there was bannock too?!?!  Yum! 

As breakfast (or more like brunch) was ending, the pans needed to be cleaned for the next round of cooking.  That would entail all the fish that would be coming in from the fishing derby.  To help scrape the bottoms, I used a wadded up piece of aluminum foil, an old trick from camping in the woods.

While waiting for the fishermen (and fisherwomen too) some more guys from the team helped Deputy Chief Roy Fiddler move tables and sound equipment from the school to the park stage for the bands that would be playing over the next few days.

As we finished transporting and setting things up, the boats started arriving.  The boat the guys from the team were in had a pretty nice haul of Pickerel (A.K.A. Walleye).

A net full of fish the guys from the VBS team caught.
All the fish from each boat were weighed.  The boats with the top 3 highest weights won prizes.  The guys came in a very close 4th place missing 3rd by only ounces.  But it didn't matter.  It was all for fun. 

The team's fish were being weighed in

It didn't stop there though.  The guys jumped right in and started filleting all the fish.  They were among good company too as the Deputy Grand Chief of the tribal nation from Thunder Bay was helping as well.  I got to spend some time talking with him and getting a pulse of how things were going and how LAMP was willing and able to assist in any way we can.

I also ran into Joan Winter from Wapekeka.  Her sister is married to Pastor Roy Morris at Muskrat Dam.  It's a small world indeed.  Relatives had come in from other communities to enjoy the festivities.

Pastor/pilot Dennis with Joan Winter
Between brunch and supper, the games began in earnest.   Egg toss.  Water balloon toss.  Soccer.  It was a great time to see everyone come together and enjoy hanging out and being one big community.  The VBS team blended right in helping where they could, talking with the children's families and connecting even more with the community.

The egg toss drew a lot of participants and spectators
As the afternoon rolled on, pans were once again placed on the fire to start frying fish.  Burgers and sausages were on the large grills.  It would be time to eat another meal soon.

Pans frying Pickerel were hot and ready to go.
It was getting late in the afternoon and time for us to reluctantly leave to head back to Sioux Lookout.  It's being in the community on days like today that make it hard to leave.  The people are so welcoming and appreciative of LAMP being part of the community.  They saw that the Gospel isn't just words in the Scriptures, but actions lived out by LAMP volunteers and missionaries.

In spite of feeling sad about leaving, it's a good feeling to hear people ask, "So when are you coming back?"  That is a testament to the Lord working through LAMP to bring spiritual support and care to the communities of northern Canada.

It doesn't get much better than that!

Until the next time....

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Overnight Visits Continue...

The weeks march on as volunteer missionary teams head to their communities.  For myself (and Steve Morley) it was a week of back-to-back overnight visits to the teams this week.  The first up was Garden Hill, Manitoba.  This community is unique as access is by water or winter road.  Island Lake airport is a short 5 minute boat ride away. 

On Sunday morning, we arrived at Island Lake hoping to catch a water taxi and meet up with the team in time for church.  Unfortunately, there were no taxis running anywhere at the airport dock since there were no incoming flights until after Noon.  We walked the half-mile to the Northern Store and thought we might catch a ride there.  Again, the store didn't open until Noon.  However we did finally catch a ride but arrived in Garden Hill too late to attend church.  Bummer.

We met up with the team at the elementary school where they were conducting the VBS and using the school for their accommodations.  The first task after lunch was to get set up for the start of VBS the next day. 

Shane, Matt, and Aaron joyfully work on VBS crafts.
Things were going along just fine until... the lights went out!  The gym was in pretty much total darkness with some residual light coming in from the hallway doors.  Not to worry!  The LAMP LED flashlights that each team member received as a token of appreciation for their hard work came in handy.  (There's a sermon in this about the light of Christ shining in the darkness.)

Letting the light shine on the darkness of VBS craft making.
Thankfully, the power was off for a short time.  The work continued as the first day craft covered the 10 plagues in Exodus.

Lindsay, Julie, and pastor Dennis hard at work making frogs for the 2nd Plague

This was posted in the entrance hallway of the school.  You wouldn't find this in a public school in the U.S. or Canada!
After we finished up working on crafts, we heard that the reason there weren't many kids around was that there was a community festival at the "south beach".  So we struck out to find where it was so we could connect with them.

This is the bridge the kids would jump off of into the lake below (which is not allowed anymore)
A friendly lady saw us and asked us where we were going.  She said, "It's a long, long way.  I'll take you there."  So a group of us piled into the back of her truck and off we went.

She was right!  It was at least a 15 to 20 minute ride one-way.  I can say that my body discovered every bump, rock, dip, and rut on that ride.

A panoramic picture of those of us who went to the south beach (that's rather jumbled because of the rough road)
Once we arrived, we were invited to come up to the stage and sing.  However, we graciously declined.  Some of the team members got a chance to chat with some of the children and the parents. 

We didn't stay very long as our ride was going to leave and return an hour later.  With supper in the works, we elected to ride back to the school.  With the temperatures heating up, the guys decided to take a dip down at one of the boat docks.

Catching Matt in mid-dive.  Island Lake airport is across the shore.
With a full day, we all turned in for the night camping out in various locations of the gym and adjacent rooms.  The next morning we walked to the band office to meet with the chief and council at 10:00 AM.  However, they were not going to arrive until 11 AM.  We continued to walk past the church and cemetery to the north shore.

The United Church where Rev. Don Little is pastor and our main contact
It is a beautiful vista of the area at the north shore.  Pictures can't begin to illustrate the beauty of the area.  Yet among such beauty is the struggle of the communities face with poverty, limited resources, and hopelessness that the Gospel of Jesus brings.

After our community walk, it was time for us to get back to the airport for our flight to Winnumin Lake, Ontario.  We easily got a water taxi since it was a weekday and the scheduled flights were once again landing at Island Lake.

On the open water in a boat taxi back to Island Lake from Garden Hill
With the latest weather briefing and flight plan filed, we pointed the LAMP airplane due east toward Wunnumin Lake.   We were met at the airport by our main contact, Rev. Joey Bluecoat.  He and a friend took us to his church where the team was staying and using for VBS.  We arrived during the last half-hour of VBS where the children were playing games outside.

After VBS was over, I was invited over to Rev. Bluecoat's home.   He introduced me to his wife and youngest daughter who will be a Senior in high school this fall.

Joey also gave me a gift of a wood carving that he said I should varnish so it shines like my head! 😊

He also drove me out to the landfill to see if there were any bears hanging out.  Not to be disappointed, there were a handful there feasting on some of the refuse.  I'm glad we were in his truck (with the windows rolled up too!). 

A black bear was napping after his evening supper at the landfill.

We drove back to the church for a 6:00 PM VBS hot dog supper.  Things got started slowly but eventually the church basement filled right up. It was good to see some of the parents come with their children.  That was another way to connect with the families.

Bobbie was a "newbie" to the team and blended in like a pro, especially in the hot dog production line.
Part of the evening activities was a bead craft the children could design.  Then an iron was used to melt them all together.  The kids seemed to enjoy the unlimited designs they could make.

Pastor/Pilot Dennis was the holder of the hot iron to keep everyone safe.

Yes, that is the outhouse the team used for the week.  They willingly make sacrifices for the sake of ministry to the children and families of Wunnumin Lake.
After a busy evening with the supper and craft, we got the basement cleaned up for another day of VBS the next day.  We all bedded down for the night for a well-deserved rest.  The next morning, we grabbed some oatmeal for breakfast.  Then we walked down to the nurses station where we met one of the nurses.  I talked with her about some of the issues the community is facing and left a copy of the DVD "Through the Pain" which is to help a person contemplating suicide.  She was very glad to have it.  I gave her my contact information in case she had any other questions or needed other resources.   We went to the band office, but found out Chief Rod was out of the community.

Looking at the skies prompted a call to flight service.  We decided to head out immediately since a storm front was headed toward Sioux Lookout.  It would be a race, but we should (and did) beat it by an hour. Joey happened to drive up and took Steve and me back to the church where we loaded up our things and took us to the airport for our flight home. 

The weather moved in and would delay us for a day.  Thursday was also the "changing of the guard" as Steve had to go back to BC (British Columbia) and Keith was flying in within a couple of hours of Steve's departure.

Friday would take us to the other community accessed by water, Little Grand Rapids, Manitoba.   This community is also unique as you go to your grocery store with your boat!  In the winter after the lake freezes, it's by snowmobile.  It brings a whole new meaning to convenience.  We were fortunate that we got a water taxi after a brief 15 minute wait and got dropped off at the dock nearest the Catholic church where the team was staying and conducting VBS.

The team which comes out of the Kitchener, Ontario area had one new member.  The other 3 were veterans at VBS in the community.   Shortly after our arrival, I met with the team leader Janine Cain to discuss a few of the issues with a couple of people in the community that the team had relationships with.  It's another indication of the trust in the teams and the hope in Christ that teams can offer to those in need of it.

We gathered for lunch and then geared up for the children to arrive for VBS.

We sported Canadian flags as part of the VBS recognizing the blessings God has give us.

Jeff, the new team member, prepared name tags for the kids.

Lois was getting items ready for the gift bags each of the children received for the last day of VBS.
The VBS theme for the LAMP curriculum

Janine is leading the Bible story for the day.

Part of recreation time was a water balloon toss.  Needless to say, not many of us were dry afterwards.

The children were enjoying making Jesus buttons.

The children signed and left messages on the banner the team would take back to their home church.

The VBS team and the children of Little Grand Rapids.

(L to R) Janine, Lois, Elaine, Jeff, and Pastor/Pilot Dennis
It was a full day of non-stop VBS activity with lesson, music, craft, play time, and snacks.  The team finished strong and was a blessing to the children and their families.   We also ended up spending time with Father Rheal and a one of the men who was having a difficult time.   Then it was time for us to grab a water taxi and head back to the main land.  The weather was good for the flight back to Sioux Lookout. 

It was a fast and full week of ministry to teams and communities.  The extra time spent with them allowed individual one-on-one conversations to take place that normally would not be possible under a tight one day trip, especially to communities that were far away.   It was a privilege to be an encouragement and supporter in the lives of fellow brothers and sisters in ministry partnership.  I can't imagine a higher calling or honor that the Lord allows me to carry out on His behalf.

Please remember to keep the ministry in your prayers, especially as team members minister to the people in need in the communities they serve.   And also keep the LAMP staff in your prayers in the last part of the VBS season.

Until the next time...
God's blessing to you all.