Our Professional Associates

Unique Opportunities to Serve (from Issue #532)

Vern & Cynthia Armstrong

Vern & Cynthia Armstrong

The Mounties in Watson Lake, Yukon, refer to the jail as “Cynthia’s Bed & Breakfast.”

“It’s because I’m very concerned that prisoners are well cared for … within rules of course,” says Cynthia Armstrong.

Most of NCEM’s members are career missionaries, each with a team of prayer and financial supporters, enabling them to serve full-time.

Carl Epp at work at the mine.

Carl Epp at work at the mine.

We also have about 20 others, including Cynthia and her husband, Vern, who we call “professional associates.” They don’t receive financial support through NCEM, but have other employment.

Their jobs include: carpenter, teacher, airline agent, nurse, truck driver, store clerk, pilot, bus driver, and more. They may assist our full-time missionaries, but it’s also through their secular employment that they are building God’s Kingdom among First Nations.

Their ministry opportunities are unique!

Sharing the Reason

As an associate missionary, Vern had completed several construction projects for NCEM. Then 12 years ago the Armstrongs moved to the Yukon for Cynthia’s job as a Home Care Nurse. They’ve also assisted with Bible camp and local church work, but it’s especially through employment that they’ve seen unique doors for ministry.

Many of Cynthia’s nursing clients were First Nations elders. “I don’t know if you call it ‘friendship evangelism,’” she says, “but I got to know them and their families, and there were opportunities to share the Lord. Some places tell you not to share your ‘religion’ during work, but no one said that I couldn’t share the reason for joy in my life!

“Lots of those people have now passed on,” Cynthia adds, “but who knew that my ‘nursing’ was paving the way for the job I have now?”

Four years ago she heard of the need for a jail guard at the RCMP detachment. “Babysitting” inebriated people was not a job that people were lining up for, so she thought, “It will help the Mounties, and maybe I can reach out to these people.”

She soon discovered that the “clientele” were actually sons, daughters and grandkids of the elders she had cared for. “Many of the prisoners recognized me as the ‘nurse who looked after mom,’ ” says Cynthia. “I was a familiar face and someone they knew who cared about them.

“You cannot imagine the opportunities to share Christ when a person is sitting in a locked room with nothing to do but think!” she says. “A Plexiglas window allows me to view the prisoner and there is a slot in the solid door to put food through. Many times I stand and silently pray as they lay on the floor … I pray that they will meet the Lord.

“I have sat on the floor, opened the little food door and talked with them. Many share openly about struggles. They ask questions, they cry, and I have held their hands through that little slot and prayed with them. Some are not open to the Gospel; some are just open to a cup of coffee and conversation. But some ask for a hug afterwards, and some even invite me to their house for tea sometime.”

Cynthia offers Christian literature and later, when she meets them around town, she reminds them that Jesus loves them. She has continued contact with a woman who accepted a Bible and an invitation to ladies’ meetings.

The Mounties tell Cynthia that some of the regulars ask, “Can my nurse guard me?” She says she’s also found a ministry with the officers. “The care they see me giving to the prisoners has led to in-depth discussions about Jesus.”

Coffee Break at the Mine

Carl Epp also finds ministry opportunities through his employment. He’s a carpenter at McArthur River in northern Saskatchewan, site of the world’s largest high-grade uranium mine (shown below).

Naomi & Carl Epp

Naomi & Carl Epp

Carl bunks at the mine, one week in, one week out. That gives him plenty of time with his coworkers. “I have prayer and Bible study with some,” he says, “and one-on-one sharing.”

Coffee breaks sometimes give good opportunity. Recently a worker, who was perhaps tired of listening to the other men, asked Carl to tell a story.

Carl told them about his teen years, how he had given his life to Jesus earlier, but how difficult it was being teased and bullied at school. He never fought back, but would just go home and share his struggle with Jesus and ask Him for help.

“Then came Grade 11,” Carl told them, “when I joined the football team. One practice the coach put me on defense, and my opponent was a buddy of the bullies. I must have impressed them because I wasn’t bullied again! I saw it as God’s way of helping me without having to fight back.”

MineAfter Carl told this story a coworker asked him questions about his relationship with Christ. And there have been more opportunities as a result of that coffee break.

Opportunities for ministry don’t stop at the mine. The Epps live in the northern Metis community of Pinehouse Lake (SK). They might not call it church planting right now, but they’re trusting that their witness will bear fruit. They have a Sunday school ministry – in fact, over 200 kids have attended over the years.

Among other outreaches, Naomi teaches high school to three local teens in their home. Carl finds that Pinehouse men who won’t come to their home will talk to him at the mine. People are changing the way they view them, say the Epps. Hearts and homes are opening up.

Airwaves & Airways

Along with time with his family, Phil Peters uses time off from his job for First Nations ministry. Most of it is with CIAM, a media outreach launching FM radio stations in northern BC, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.

Rhonda & Phil Peters

Rhonda & Phil Peters

These days Phil is working on the CIAM web site, which he can do from their home near Westerose (AB). Even more fulfilling, he says, is partnering with First Nations broadcasters by providing technical support and training. He shows them recording techniques and how to deal with technical problems. Native radio preachers such as Parry Stelter, in Edmonton, gain from Phil’s knowledge and encouragement.

Phil sees the connection of radio to church planting. Missionaries like Arlyn & Ann van Enns, in Ft. Chipewyan (AB), value the evangelistic and Bible teaching programs aired in their community.

Phil Peters at work.

Phil Peters at work.

Rhonda is a homemaker and mother to their four children, but also involved in a ministry that teaches quilting skills to women while telling God’s Story using GoodSeed resources. She’s been part of sessions in central Alberta at women’s shelters, correctional centres, halls, churches and community centres.

The Peters’ income is from Phil’s job as a first officer with Canadian North Airlines. He flies Boeing 737 aircraft, usually a combination of freight and up to 136 passengers to places like Yellowknife, Norman Wells, Inuvik, Rankin Inlet, Cambridge Bay, Aluktuk and Iqualuit, in NWT and Nunavut.

“It’s mostly a lifestyle ministry,” says Phil, as he mingles with fellow Airline employees, many of them Aboriginal. A company benefit Phil loves to share are the complimentary flights to anywhere his company flies. NCEM missionaries have taken advantage of these, and Phil hopes to see more doing so.

Taking Every Opportunity

As an associate NCEM pilot, Gary (& Wanda) Brown makes time for at least two aviation outreaches each year. One is a Native family camp at Ponask Lake, northwestern Ontario. Gary flies over 50 hours shuttling families and groceries to the isolated campground. It’s his joy to help make possible this annual gathering for Bible teaching and fellowship.

The other outreach takes place each winter as Steinbach Bible College students are flown into a few northern Manitoba communities. Gary spends 8-10 days with the students. Together they assist Native fellowships with children’s and youth outreaches and home visits.

Garden Hill has been one of those places. “Pastor Arnold Flett tells us which homes to visit,” says Gary, “and this past winter we saw a number of people come to the Lord.”
At Oxford House they assist Pastor Silas Sinclair. “I really have a heart for these communities,” says Gary, who regularly phones Silas throughout the year to encourage him. Next year the teams have also been invited to Red Sucker Lake.

Gary also does some commercial flying, but mostly it’s his company, TRG Construction, that keeps him busy. Along with his employees he does house construction and renovations within 100 miles of Prince Albert.

Gary Brown (l) in northern Ontario. The late Jack Barkman (r) initiated the Ponask Lake Family Camp.

Gary Brown (l) in northern Ontario. The late Jack Barkman (r) initiated the Ponask Lake Family Camp.

On the job site and with building suppliers, Gary isn’t shy about his faith. He knows there are comments about that “blankety-blank preacher,” he says, “but later some of those same guys will come to me if they have a prayer request, or need advice.”

Recently a lumber store employee came up to Gary and said, “You’re a minister, right?” He told Gary that he hadn’t been to church for a long time, but he needed to talk about his life.

“I’m not even sure who told him about me,” says Gary, “but there are many opportunities if you take them. I take every opportunity.”

When visiting northern communities for commercial reasons, Gary notices the difference, as compared to flying in as a missionary. “I can talk about things of the Lord right away,” he’s noticed. “If they think I’m a ‘minister,’ then not so much. But if I’m considered just a carpenter or a pilot, I’m more on their level.”

Sometimes, when flying doctors into northern settlements, Gary gets asked to talk to patients – these doctors know when the problem is a spiritual one, not just physical, he says.

Not Standing Alone

They may not need financial support but, just like our full-time missionaries, our professional associates need prayer.

Cynthia Armstrong knows that her husband, Vern, is a vital part of her ministry at the RCMP detachment. “He prays for me, and he prays for the prisoners. He supports me in my outreach.”

The rest of our associates, too, need to know that they’re not standing alone for Christ in the places He has called them.

More Professional Associates

These NCEM associate families also share their insights:

Francis & Angela Amprako

Francis & Angela Amprako

Francis & Angela Amprako are school teachers in Ft. Liard, NWT. For them ministry goes on everyday in many informal ways … “on the streets, in homes, at school, everywhere as the Lord enables us,” they say. The Amprakos give leadership to a local fellowship started by previous NCEM missionaries. “We may be among the first ever workers for the Lord’s work here from another continent!” they add.

Michelle & Eric Sinclair

Michelle & Eric Sinclair

Eric & Michelle Sinclair live in Kenora (ON), where Eric is an associate pastor. The Sinclairs moved there a couple years ago to be closer to Eric’s home reserve. They also keep in touch with everyday people through their jobs, Eric part-time at Canadian Tire. He says he’s mocked by some coworkers for being a pastor, but he’s also met people who’ve appreciated seeing him on Tribal Trails TV. Previously Eric worked in a mechanic shop. “That gave me opportunity to hear some of the things that the men have lived through,” he says, “and opportunities to share a little more of my faith in Jesus.”

Our NCEM associate members also include …

Les & Betty Carter live right beside Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation (Canwood, SK). For employment Les drives a truck in the logging industry, and Betty works as a store clerk.

Jim & Laureen Pattison live in Prince Albert where Laureen works in the Salvation Army Thrift Store and assists at Headquarters. Jim does occasional computer work for the Mission.

Jim & Lois Stauffer live in Whati, NWT, where Lois is an airline agent and Jim teaches adult education. Jim also handles our Western-Field bookkeeping and is on NCEM’s Governing Board.

(from Issue #532). Note: some of the locations and involvements of our missionaries may have changed since the original publishing of this article.