God Has Provided: And How

With our Mission's 60-year history, a myriad of missionary stories could be retold. However, we believe this anniversary issue is the perfect occasion to do something else! (from Issue #496)

With our Mission’s 60-year history, a myriad of missionary stories could be retold. However, we believe this 60th anniversary issue is the perfect occasion to do something else!

Anniversaries naturally prompt us to think about beginnings, and to recount what has happened in the meantime.

In NCEM we can’t properly celebrate our 60th year without recalling the faith, sacrifice and determination of our founding missionary leaders, Stan & Evelyn Collie and Art & Martha Tarry. They stepped out for the Lord to reach an isolated and overlooked nation at a time when “missions” meant going overseas. Risking misunderstanding and failure, they launched a new work.

By God’s grace the intervening years saw the ministry expand from northwestern Saskatchewan across to Native communities in virtually every province and territory in the world’s second largest country. The in between years have also seen the launch of media outreaches (most notably Tribal Trails television and the JESUS Movie in Native languages), and ongoing partnership with the developing Native Church.

Through difficulties, setbacks and victories, NCEM’s ministry has carried on now for six decades.

Making It Possible

With a 60-year history, a myriad of missionary stories could be retold on these pages. However, we believe this Northern Lights anniversary issue is the perfect occasion to do something else — to focus not so much on our ourselves and our work, but on those who have helped make this work possible: our prayer and financial supporters.

After all, if it wasn’t for them (you!), would we have anything to write?

Our 2006 Northern Lights Winter issue included extra prayer requests from our missionaries. As a result we have received an extra number of notes and letters from our readers saying, “We pray for you.” We appreciate that so much. Prayer is our lifeline.

And we appreciate very much that many of these same people also support us financially. Practically speaking, we wouldn’t have been able to carry on our ministries these 60 years without these monetary gifts — that’s what we missionaries use to buy our groceries, pay our housing and other living costs, supply ministry resources and cover traveling expenses.

Yes, funds are necessary, but there’s so much more than money involved in this giving process! To the individual missionary it is more about a special partnership with people who have become his/her encouragement and prayer support in life and ministry.

Besides support for individual workers, many of you have also given to our “General” (our General Fund, that is), and to our “Minute-Man” projects. Only eternity will reveal what difference your gifts, small and large, will have made. These funds and projects may sometimes seem impersonal and faceless, but are crucial to the ongoing ministry of NCEM.

A Faith Mission

A missionary and his money … are soon parted (or so it seems). But before that happens, something amazing takes place!

Every year, for 60 years, the Lord has blessed NCEM by sending new workers. Candidates have applied and arrived. Each has sensed God personally directing him/her to join the work. They come trusting Him to supply their needs. And He does!

NCEM identifies itself as a “faith” mission. (That isn’t to imply that some other missions don’t have faith … or that NCEMers always have the faith we should!) The term has generally come to mean that the mission is not structurally funded by a denomination, church conference, or any other organization. A faith mission is, simply put, one that trusts God to supply financial needs through prayer.

How has the “faith” principle been applied within NCEM over the years? Does “just trusting God” mean the same to the NCEM missionary in 2006 as it did to Stan and Evelyn Collie, who first went North in 1939 with no church behind them and no promised support?

Cofounders, Art and Martha Tarry, weren’t thinking “dollars” when they set out. “I hadn’t even thought about financial support until it wasn’t long before we were to leave,” said Art. “I believed that God was calling us and if He was calling us He was going to take care of us.”

Supply at the Start

After the Mission’s fledgling beginnings in 1946 with nine charter members, gifts from churches and friends “in the south” began to trickle in.

At one of the Board’s first meetings it was decided that, “The maximum monthly allowance be $30 for each adult worker, plus $10 for each child, with a maximum of $40 for children; to be supplemented by a cost of living bonus in zones where living expenses are higher than at Buffalo Narrows.”

Of course there was no guaranteed pay for the workers. The following excerpt is from the Labourers Together monthly newsletter in November 1950, written by Secretary-Treasurer, Art Tarry:

“Just last night I was speaking to Art Wellwood at La Loche on the phone on a few business matters and I found that the hardest thing for me to tell him was that there was no allowance whatever this month.

“You will note that the percentage this month is nil. Beloved, we are remembering you in prayer at this time, particularly for your financial needs. I certainly appreciate the attitude Art took when I told him. He said, ‘Well, the Lord knows what is best for us. We hardly know how we will get along but the Lord does not allow any burden to come along greater than we can bear.’ ”

In 1952 the workers’ monthly allowance was raised to $40 per missionary but, for the most part, it wouldn’t make a difference because only a portion of that amount was coming in.

In 1957 it was decided that the monthly allowances would no longer be pooled and paid from the Mission’s General Fund. Missionaries would begin “raising their own support.” Part of the reasoning behind the policy change was that there would be more active faith taking place when the workers were “praying it in” for themselves.

A personalized support system was begun which continues to the present. Allowance rates are published and, from time to time, are adjusted to keep pace with the cost of living. Allowances are dependent upon designated funds received and cannot exceed the established rate. The General Fund does not make up shortfalls.

Salary rates are set that will enable the missionary to live … and to minister, for that, too, costs money. To keep missionaries relating well to those they minister to, it is a level neither far above nor below the average income in the Native community.

Underpaid Missionaries?

Financially, missionaries are often put in a special category, says a leading authority on world missions. “It’s alright if they’re underpaid,” many may think, “… they’re missionaries.”

Whether that idea is common or not, it can’t be denied that many in NCEM in the past carried on with significant salary shortages. Some carry on today with very limited incomes. (Their faith and determination is admirable, but we wish they could be serving free of the resulting concerns and restrictions of low support.)

Missionaries have found, though, that payment is not necessarily measured in dollars — true rewards are counted in a much more valuable currency. One missionary describes it this way: “When you hear someone say, ‘If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t know the Lord today,’ then you know you’re not underpaid!”

The “General”

While our individual workers exercise faith for their own financial needs, the Mission has also been totally dependent on God’s provision corporately.

At times the General Fund has come under much stress. Administrative costs such as travel, printing and postage would soar, due to economic inflation. Different than most missions, for many years NCEM was not deducting any amount at all from workers’ support income to cover these costs.

There were no administrative deductions from workers’ salaries … but there were many reminders to the missionaries of the benefits they received from the General Fund!

In 1986, for instance, the General Fund had paid out over $63,000 for the employer’s share in Employment Insurance and Canada Pension Plan. Many workers had all along been voluntarily giving to the General Fund, but in 1990 the “3% Program” was begun — the amount that all workers would return to the General Fund (in 2009 it’s now “5%”), especially to help cover the administrative costs directly related to employment regulations.

While our missionaries may choose how straightforwardly they make their personal needs known, the Mission itself has made very few general appeals for funds. Very few times have the needs of the General Fund been mentioned to the supporting public, though the Fund is essential to the continuation of the work.

Except for a few occasions in the first decades, when property and equipment were purchased “on time,” never has the Mission borrowed funds from outside sources. If the Mission doesn’t have it, we don’t spend it.

Praying & Waiting

It is God who has supplied over the years, but it has not been without prayer and waiting.

At one point in the mid-1980s the General Fund was $20,000 “in the red.” “We wanted to get [out] by the end of December and I prayed and prayed about it,” recalls then Secretary-Treasurer, Bill Dyck.

Bill tells about reading a book from Wycliffe Bible Translators, and how they had trusted God for a huge need … millions of dollars. “I remember I read that book one evening … and I couldn’t sleep. I knelt down by my couch in the living room and said, ‘Lord, you did it there. Why can’t you do it for us?’ ”

Bill remembers praying and pleading for a long time that night until he got a sudden sense of peace. “The Lord assured me that the $20,000 would come,” he says. And even though December 31st was fast approaching, and he was plagued by all kinds of doubts and fears in the following days, he kept believing that that amount would come.

“It was right on December 24th in the morning,” recalls Bill. “I was at the office opening mail … and all of a sudden I yelled out, ‘Praise the Lord! We got it!’ ” A cheque for exactly $20,000 had been sent by a Saskatchewan businessman.

Givers on Call

The story of how God has supplied these 60 years would not be complete without saying more about our “Minute-Man” givers.

If God loves cheerful givers (and 2 Corinthians says He does), then He must really love our Minute-Men. Our Mission representatives say those who identify themselves as NCEM Minute-Men are among the happiest people they meet!

They are people who covenant to help with our timely ministry needs (“Calls” are limited to three per year). In 1994, for example, when the facilities at Timber Bay (SK) came up for sale, together our Minute-Men raised over $105,000 to help purchase it. (Timber Bay Bible Centre served as an effective NCEM ministry for a number of years, and was turned over to the local Native church in 2009.)

Along with purchasing needed equipment, Minute-Man gifts also make possible aviation outreach trips, allowing personal ministry visits in isolated areas.

Touched & Humbled

Yes, anniversaries prompt us to consider our beginnings and what has taken place in between. Anniversaries also cause us to contemplate the future.

Our Mission’s first workers went north “just trusting God.” Our first administration operated and expanded “just trusting God.” As we face new challenges in reaching Canada’s First Peoples for Christ, that’s how we’re still serving.

God is the One who supplies, and it seems most often He uses His people. We are touched and humbled by the continual gifts from many dear saints to the work. We are not unaware that a gift represents a portion of one’s life, sometimes coming at a sacrifice.

Adapted from our Northern Lights magazine (Issue #496). Note: some of the locations and involvements of our missionaries may have changed since the original publishing of this article.