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, May 28, 2017

3, 5, and 1,700

Did the title of this post raise an eyebrow?  Maybe spark a little curiosity?  It's a numerical representation of the first week up north going into communities for visits before the volunteer missionary teams start heading into their respective communities.  So here's the breakdown of the numbers...

3 Days (consecutively)
5 Communities (not counting two stops at our fuel reserves)
1,700 miles (as the airplane flies)

Yup.  In 3 days, we made it to 5 communities and covered 1,700 miles in the air.

I arrived in Sioux Lookout Sunday afternoon, May 21,  with Keith Krueger, a long-time LAMP volunteer, who is going to be riding "shotgun" with me in the LAMP airplane for part of this summer season.  The weather on the way was rainy and windy almost the entire way from Indianapolis.  We got to the fishing camp and the cabin that will be called home.  It's a small but comfy place right on North Vermilion Lake.

Monday was a holiday here in Canada (Victoria Day).  We decided to go to the airport and check out the airplane that Andrew, LAMP's aviation director, brought here from the Edmonton area a couple of weeks ago.  Before we went however, Keith connected with another fellow pilot he knew here from years ago.

Keith with his old friend Glenn
We all ended up going out to the airport together to research where we could park the plane and car for the least expensive cost.   Through Keith's friend, Glenn, we were not only able to secure parking for both vehicles but get it for FREE for the summer!  In addition to that, the aviation service will also provide maintenance for the plane as well!  Talk about a triple blessing.

After getting back to the cabin, I followed up with my contacts in some of the communities I serve.  I also started looking at the weather over this vast area.  The next two days in Manitoba were going to be really nice.  So with the green light on the weather and our visits arranged, we were ready to hit the friendly skies of northern Ontario and Manitoba on Tuesday.

Our first stop was Red Sucker Lake, Manitoba.  This was the community which John and Sue Folger went to with me in March for the family and parenting workshop.  It would be a quick stop to drop off VBS supplies and large-print Bibles for one of the pastor's there.

Sean Harper with his SUV full of VBS supplies and Bibles.
Sean Harper met us at the airport.  We loaded up his SUV with our boxes and totes, got a quick update on how things were, and then headed off to our next stop that was somewhat crucial at Island Lake, Manitoba.

Why crucial?

It's where LAMP keeps a 1,000 gallon aviation gas fuel reserve or "cache" as we call it.   We needed to be sure that the pump was operational, that no one had broken into the container and took fuel, and that the lines were all purged and clean so we would not have contaminated fuel.  If the pump didn't work or fuel had been "borrowed", it would not only affect the rest of our trip, but the rest of the summer.
Stopping for fuel at Island Lake airport in Manitoba
Thankfully, everything was A-OK.  We gassed up the airplane and off we went to our next stop at Cross Lake, Manitoba.

I was not able to go with the team in January and wanted to connect with two of LAMP's advocates for the team and community.  Connie McIvor, principal of the elementary/junior high school, met us at the airport.  We went to her house after stopping at Tim Horton's for a coffee.  She shared her recent trip to British Colombia for a job interview at a school there.  Thankfully (and somewhat selfishly on my part) she chose to stay in Cross Lake.  Her strong faith in the Lord had helped bring more stability to the school and staff.  It also gives her the strength to deal with some of the difficult situations there.  After finishing up with Connie, who needed to get back to the school, she took us to Dion Halcrow's house.  We prayed with Connie before she left and encouraged her to be "strong and courageous" in her position at the school.

School Principal Connie McIvor and Pastor/Pilot Dennis
It was good to see Dion and his family who had gone out to Trinity Lutheran Church in February for a LAMP weekend.   Dion gave us an update on some of the issues he was dealing with, especially when it came to trying to encourage the children to make wise decisions and not let peer pressure steer them in the wrong direction.   We talked about ministry and how technology has affected the young people, not only in Cross Lake, but in so many communities including back home in the U.S.

The Halcrow family with Keith and Dennis
We were there long enough that we got an invitation to stay for supper.  It's a blessing to "break bread" with other Christians who fight the good fight of faith in Jesus.  Before we headed back to the airport, we all gathered together for prayer.  Then it was on to our next stop, Thompson, Manitoba.

Thompson has a fond spot in my heart as that's where I spent my first summer with LAMP.  We elected to fly the short 40 minute flight there instead of going all the way back to Sioux Lookout and then flying all the way back to Shamattawa.  That would have been an extra 6+ hours of flying compared to 1:20 from Thompson to Shamattawa and then back home.

The next morning, the clouds and visibility were still holding on.  But with an approaching warm front, the winds were starting to kick up.  Thankfully the winds were blowing mostly down the runway length at Shamattawa with not much of a crosswind.   We secured the airplane and then took the short walk into the community.

The remote community of Shamattawa has struggled in so many areas of northern life.  A recent warehouse fire destroyed the materials to build 6 houses that were brought in on the winter road.  There had been a death of a young man in his 20's a couple of weeks ago, and the day before we arrived, the death of a 2 year old in his sleep.  The community is still living with their grocery store in the old school gym.  The new store can't be built on the proposed site due to unstable soil.  So the ground is being build up and compacted at the original location where it burned last fall.

The warehouse that caught fire and burned the supplies for 6 houses.
We first stopped at the band office and fortunately was able to meet with Chief Jeff Napoakesic and a couple of the band Councillors.  We got an update on things in the community and some of the challenges they are having, especially with the new building that will house the new Northernstore, band office, post office, bank and a Tim Hortons Express.  We prayed together asking the Lord for wisdom and guidance for the leaders of the community and for Shamattawa as a whole.   Chief Jeff said to me, "Come back anytime you want!"  Afterwards, we hoofed it down to the school. 

The preschool through high school at Shamattawa
After dropping our shoes at the door, the office was our next stop to see Rylee Gilbert, the Vice Principal, who has been so helpful with the missionary team.  He knew we were coming and carved out a chunk of time for us to sit and talk.  Rylee shared that so much has been going on with the school board, staff, and community, including the recent deaths.  There are some potential changes coming that sould be better for the school and staff that Rylee is hoping will occur.  I assured him that he is being held up in prayer for guidance and strength.  Our time had to come to a quick end since the children were being dismissed for lunch.  We thanks Rylee for his time and dedication.  Then I headed down the hall to see which teachers were still around.

One of the teachers we worked with last year during our last 2 winter trip was Denise Robinson.  She ran the breakfast program last year.  This year, she headed up the basketball program and took the team to Churchill, Manitoba for a tournament.  She also has mad-skills in the kitchen!  Our visit surprised her pleasantly.  It was good to at least touch base (Oh...that's baseball.  Sorry) to see how things went in Churchill and her school year as it was coming to an end.

Denise Richards, a teacher and sports program organizer with Dennis
There was one more contact to make before flying back to Sioux Lookout and that was Roy Miles, the education director for the school.  On the way, I ran in to James and Jack, twin brothers who also taught at the school.  It was a brief "Hi" but they were glad to see me.   Picking up the pace, we turned the corner and arrived at Roy's house.  He was home for lunch along with his children.  There wasn't a lot of time since he had to get everyone fed, but he assured me that arrangements would come together for the VBS team this summer.   I thanked him for everything he does for LAMP and then started our walk back to the airport.

The flight back required another stop at Island Lake for fuel which we did in a quick 15 minutes.  On the way there, we got a nice glimpse of Red Sucker Lake.  It looked quite peaceful.  Little did we know that 4 hours later, a fire in the bush would spread rapidly forcing the evacuation of half the community!  As of this writing 3 days later, the fire is still not under control.  Hopefully with the rain that is passing through this weekend and early next week, it will help quench the fires.  Anyway...I digress.

We landed and got our tanks topped off.  With our flight plan in place from Island Lake to Sioux Lookout, we pointed the nose south and headed home for the end of a busy day.

The weather in Ontario was still good the next day although the winds from the day before followed us from Manitoba.  On our agenda was a stop at Muskrat Dam and Cat Lake.

We weren't on the ground but 5 minutes and Gary Kakekayash pulled up to the Lance.  We had brought with us some supplies for Gary and a quilt for one of the elders who is also pastor at the Anglican church there and a supporter and promoter of the LAMP VBS.   We drove over and spent time with Rev. Jake and his wife Harriet.  Gary was our translator since both Jake and Harriet are Cree speaking only.  The community (e.g. the children) are getting very excited about the VBS coming this summer.  Before we departed, we all prayed together for Jake and the ministry he carries out and for the community as well. 

Then it was back to the airport for our next leg to Cat Lake.  One interesting side note was that Gary and Keith knew each other through their aviation connections from years ago.  It's a small world, even in northern Canada, eh?

Keith and Gary reunited at Weagamow Lake airport.
The wind was blowing almost straight down the runway which was good.  However, the headwinds aloft were ferocious, not to mention quite bumpy with signs of the next front approaching from the southwest.  But that's part of flying this time of the year.

Our landing at Cat Lake was fairly uneventful even with the crosswind.  After the 15 minute walk into the community, or first stop was at the band office.  I was glad that the deputy chief, Ellen Wesley was in.  We went to an office and spent some time talking about her concerns for the community.  Paramount is the growth of native spirituality.  She doesn't mind at all the encouragement of Anishinaabe ways of life regarding hunting, fishing, and using the land to provide for the necessities of life.  However, she is afraid that people will gravitate toward native spirituality instead of Christianity.  She mentioned that a bear skin was hung on the conference room as a sign of protection.  She countered that by bringing her Bible into the office.  She obviously isn't afraid to express her faith in Jesus.  LAMP has a long and well established presence in the community thanks to sainted pastor/pilot Steve Dreher who used to fly in from Red Lake to conduct bible studies and worship services.  Ellen mentioned how Steve's ministry was so important to the community and appreciates LAMP's continued presence.   We prayed with Ellen for strength of faith and for the Lord to protect the community from false and harmful beliefs. I thanked Ellen for her dedication to the community and then headed off to her sister-in-law's house.

Upon our arrive, we discovered that both Edith and Charles Wesley had left to go to Winnipeg to be with family who had given birth to a son, but was suffering with grave health issues.  So we walked along the shore to the dock and beach area to enjoy the scenery and rest from our walking the community before our meeting with the Larch family.

Relaxing and resting at the main dock at Cat Lake.
We met with Jonathan and Katie Larsh at their apartment.  They have been missionaries at Cat Lake for 5 years.  Jon runs a Christian day school there.  This year, the enrollment has more than doubled which is great.  It means more children are being exposed to the Gospel of Jesus.   During our discussion, we also talked about the influx of native spirituality growing.   They have the same concerns as Ellen.  We also talked about  future ministry and how they are waiting for where the Lord was leading them in the future.

The Larch family with a couple of the children from the community included.
Jon, Katie, and their 4 children will be leaving Cat Lake for the summer in early June after the school year ends when they head home and visit their missionary partners who support them.   Another missionary couple will be in Cat Lake (the retired church pastor) through the end of July.  The VBS team will be arriving after them so that there is ministry presence there during August, even if it is only for a week.  The plan is to have a worship service at the church as well.

Once again, we gathered together and prayed for the Larch and the ministry they serve asking for strength, guidance, and wisdom in the future.  We parted company and walked back to the airport for the 45 minute flight back to Sioux Lookout, bumpy air and all!

So as you can see,  it was a full 3 days of ministry to communities in the north.  I have another week left to get to a couple more communities, weather and schedules withstanding.  Then I'll have a couple of weeks back home before returning in late June to continue community visits before the VBS teams start coming in the first full week in July.

As this busy season of ministry gets going, please pray...

* For spiritual wisdom and insight as the teams prepare to go to their communities.
* For safe travel for the teams and LAMP missionaries on the ground and in the air
* For the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of the children and the communities to strengthen their
   faith in Jesus.
* For good health for the teams and missionaries.

Until the next time...

God bless.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Expanding Ministry - Part 2

Well, as you can guess, I didn't include visits to Sachigo Lake, Ontario or Red Sucker Lake, Manitoba in Part 1 since it was getting a little long winded.  Imagine that from a pastor!  So, if you haven't read about the ministry trips to Cross Lake or Shamattawa, Manitoba, then you may want to start there first before continuing here.  It's just a suggestion.

Back to the expanding ministry of LAMP...

Two weeks after my visit to Shamattawa, I was headed to Sachigo Lake, Ontario for my second Family and Parenting workshop at the healing center.  Last year was the first workshop I conducted in a northern community.  It was received well enough that they requested a second one this year.   Due to the regional airline schedule and that I was going there from a LAMP weekend in Billings, Montana at Trinity Lutheran Church (the Cross Lake, Manitoba team's church), it was going to be a quick "in-and-out" trip.

The first day of the workshop went well.  I had a smaller group of 4 people, but they were really engaged, asked a lot of questions, and had great dialog.   The second day of the workshop didn't go exactly according to plan.  I chalked it up to the Lord's plan again.

The healing center had run out of fuel oil for the furnace.  The person who was supposed to take me from the hotel to the center was tied up with 3 tanker trucks that were fresh off the winter road and trying to orchestrate getting a fuel oil truck to the center.   That left me stranded at the hotel, even though I could have walked the mile and a half to the healing center.  However, with a temperature of -5F and a wind chill of -27F, it was safer for me to wait.  But that opened up another opportunity to meet Stan Tait, the operator of the hotel, the gas station, and manager of finances for the community.  It was really a blessing to hear his story and to be able to affirm and support him in his faith walk.  Not only that, I now have another friend up north.

With the fuel oil delivered, my ride took me to the center and the second day of the workshop commenced.  We managed to finish up everything and have some more great discussions.  Evangeline who is director of the center was asking about when I could come back.  So it looks like this ministry to families and parents is growing and necessary for not just Sachigo Lake, but a number of northern communities.   I would have liked to stay longer and track down some of the people I know, but my flight was leaving that late afternoon and I headed to the airport.  It is truly humbling to see how the Lord is working through LAMP to not just bring the Gospel to communities but to support and encourage believers in these communities in their faith in Christ.

The third week in March, I met up with John and Sue Folger in Winnipeg to travel to Red Sucker Lake, Manitoba.  John and Sue have been going there literally for decades and have deep connections to the community.  Beside connecting with the people there, I was going to conduct another family and parenting workshop.

We arrived in the afternoon and were greeted by Sean Harper who is the youth pastor for his church and assists with programs at the family enhancement center where the workshop would be held.   Sean took us to the cabin we were going to be staying in.  It was really nice and homey (sic).

John getting comfy in the cabin

After we dropped our baggage and supplies off at the cabin, we headed over to the Northern Store to stock up the kitchen with food for the next couple of days.  That visit took the better part of an hour as we kept running into people who recognized John and Sue (and occasionally me).  It turned into a real social event and reunion of sorts.  It's astounding that the people there were so glad to see John and Sue, a real testament to the ministry they have carried out at Red Sucker Lake.

We left the store and headed back to the cabin for supper.  I wanted to check out the location of the workshop.  Sean met me there and we got the lay of the land for the workshop and the area for the children to play during the workshop.   As I was finishing up, John showed up with a member of the community to take me to the nurse's station.

Apparently, there was a friend of his who was in respiratory distress and was being treated for cancer.  He was going to be flown out on a medivac plane.  I was asked as a pastor to go and have prayer with him.  His family and friends gathered around Marlo's bed as I prayed for comfort, peace, and relief from his respiratory issues.  You just never know when the Lord will press you into service for his people.

John and I went back to the cabin afterwards ending a rather full day of activity.

Our first full day there was a cold and windy one with the morning temperature hovering around -11F.  But the skies were crystal clear.

A crisp and cool sunrise at Red Sucker Lake on my morning walk

After breakfast, we began our morning trek around the community.  The first stop was the school where the VBS is held in the summer.  John and Sue connected with some of the staff.  We also dropped off a bunch of  "The Bully" booklets for the teachers to pass out.

Sue Folger catching up with the staff at the school office

Then we visited the Northern Store again (they have a Tim Horton's Express there) and met more people.  I talked with the store manager, Nathan, and got a better understanding of some of the challenges of running a store in a remote community and the balancing act of trying to provide for the people's needs and, at the same time, trying to keep the store profitable.

By now it was lunch time.  We headed back to the cabin and ate.  In the afternoon, I stayed at the cabin reworking the presentation to fit into two evening sessions of two hours long.  John and Sue headed out to spend time visiting with more friends, including Rev. Susan Evans, pastor of one of the churches.

Mid-afternoon, I met up with Sean again.  We headed back to the Northern Store to pick up door prizes and snacks for the workshop participants.   Afterward, we went to the family enhancement center to set up for the evening. 

Sean dropped be off at the cabin where John and Sue had returned from their afternoon visits.  We ate dinner and then walked over to the center to get ready for the workshop.  Sean had arranged for "taxi" service for those people without vehicles and for babysitters. 

The gathering around the snacks after the workshop.

The first night went well, even though participation was light.  The people attending were young parents with young children.  We had some good discussion including how to deal with a whiny 4-year old.  The children, of course, were once again enamored with my "Mr. Clean" look.

One of the children checking out "Mr. Clean's" head

After the workshop, we hung around the center while everyone snacked on the food and drinks.  By the time we got done and everyone headed home, it was well past 11 PM.  We got back to the cabin and I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

The next day was almost a repeat of the day before.  I did some more preparation, especially to provide additional information based on our discussion the night before.   Sean made copies for me to hand out, we got the snacks set up, and were ready to go for session two.

The second evening's attendance was doubled.  I did a quick overview of what we covered the night before (Parenting, child development) and then forged ahead with communications, conflict resolution, stress, and forgiveness in the family.  Again, there were questions and discussion to help these parents in their vocation raising their children.

Sean printed up the course certificates and we had a small "graduation" ceremony followed by the drawing for the door prizes.  Everyone  was excited to get their certificates and the door prize drawing was filled with excitement and a little humor along the way.  The workshop was definitely a hit and well worth the effort by everyone.

The "graduates" of the family and parenting workshop.

I got to give away a likeness of myself...a gallon of "Mr. Clean"!

A happy door prize winner!
 It was another night where we finished up and got back home just before midnight. We all slept like logs.

The next morning after breakfast, we met with Sean and the staff at the Family Enhancement Center.  We listened to them describe some of the challenges the community is facing like the increase in drug traffic and alcohol, especially during the winter road season where it's easier to smuggle it in.  The effects on the community, especially parents, children, and families is heart-wrenching.  The family and parenting workshop is a tool to help them and the staff and Sean would like it to become a regular event in the community.  Before we departed the center to head to the airport, we prayed together for the community and for the Lord Jesus to bless and protect them from the Evil One.

(L to R) Dennis, Sue & John Folger, Sean Harper

We headed to the airport for our flight.  We said our goodbyes to Sean and are already looking forward to the summer trip back to Red Sucker Lake.  It's a special place with special people who love the Lord and want to see the faith spread and grow there.

LAMP is so grateful for teams and team members like John and Sue who are willing to make the commitment to the communities that they serve, especially the growing "off-season" trips in the winter.  It's such an honor and privilege to be invited into communities, to be welcomed like family, and to be able to share the love of Jesus through teaching, praying, and overall ministering to them.

This is a blossoming part of LAMP's ministry to the First Nations people of northern Canada.  Our expanding presence in the communities is needed so badly to support the believers and those who have yet to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  Through your continued support--your prayers--your financial gifts will make this possible.

As the teams and I prepare to head north for the summer VBS season, please remember to pray for...
  •  Safe travel for the teams and that the LAMP aircraft operate without incident.
  •  Open hearts in the communities, especially as new teams minister to them for the first time.
  • God’s Word to encourage communities in their faith in Jesus Christ.
  • Good health for me with a busy schedule of 16 communities and teams this summer. 
May God’s Word from Philippians 1:3-6 be my prayer to you for your continued support of LAMP and me.   “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 be with you!