Tom and Donna grew up half a continent apart, but God brought them together from similar backgrounds and interests. Both were raised in Christian homes and the same denomination. Both attended Christian schools and both loved camping.
Donna accepted Jesus as Saviour at an early age with the idea of being a missionary someday planted in her mind by her father. Tom didn’t begin a personal relationship with God until working a summer on a Montana ranch. It was there also that he developed a keen interest in Native people to add to his love of the outdoors.
While Tom settled down to work in his Michigan home town, Donna left her family’s turkey ranch in California to attend Calvin College in Michigan. After briefly meeting in a restaurant, it took Tom two trips to Donna’s church to track her down again.
Ten months later, Dec. 1976, they married and the following April moved to Montana. Tom worked as a carpenter and Donna as a teacher. During those years their three children were born – twin boys and, a year later, a girl.
When God began speaking to them concerning missions, He used their involvement with church planting, missionary biographies, and the late Gospel singer Keith Green’s statement: “If you are not called to stay, you are called to go.” They were familiar with native missions and settled on NCEM after hearing Bud Elford’s messages at a Prairie Bible Institute mission conference.
The Cnossens’ excitement was dampened a bit when, contacting NCEM, they were told they needed Bible school training. As they recall, “We said we could probably take one year. The response was that we needed three. It was then we knew this would be a life-long commitment!”
With training complete, immigration papers and support in place, Tom and Donna began their ministry in northern Quebec, followed by several years in Manitoba, then at Timber Bay Bible Centre (SK), and now at Hobbema (AB) as church planting missionaries.
Tom’s other love is “Higher Challenge” (out tripping camps), which he initiated. For several years Donna served as head cook for the Bible Centre, and together they helped out with the facilities, retreats and summer camps at TBBC as needed.
Their biggest challenge? Sending their children to board in Prince Albert through their high school years.
Their biggest surprise? They say it’s how much they still don’t know, and how much they continue to learn from Native people. They both agree, “We are surprised whenever God uses us — we feel so inadequate. When God gets hold of a life and really brings about change, it is wonderful … a miracle … and proof that God is God and is still very much alive!”