SIGNIFICANT EFFECTS … SEEMINGLY INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS
In the spring of 1980 my wife, Ginny, and I joined NCEM. Our first assignment was to direct Pine Ridge Bible Camp, near Beauval in northwestern Saskatchewan.
We loved our ministry there. However, as we took the training for new missionaries, we became convinced of the importance of language learning, so in 1981 we moved to Stony Rapids – a fly-in village (at the time) near Saskatchewan’s northern border – to begin learning the Denesuline language.
While we were in Stony, *Debbie, a young lady from Patuanak (SK) had moved there. Ginny visited her a couple of times, but eventually Debbie left because she found it very lonely due to the isolation.
In June 1985 we were seeking God’s direction about where to move next, and some friends took us to Patuanak to introduce us to some of their friends.
As we chatted, *Doris, a lady we had just met, asked Ginny, “Are you the one who visited Debbie in Stony Rapids?” Surprised, Ginny replied, “Yes.” Doris just about hugged her, saying that Debbie was her daughter, and she was very grateful for what Ginny had done.
A WARM RECEPTION
Because of the warm reception we were given at Patuanak, we returned several times over the summer and became excited about the possibility of moving there. On one of our visits I mentioned to Doris that we had previously lived at Pine Ridge Bible Camp, which is about 115 km (70 miles) from Patuanak.
She said, “What? There is a Bible camp that close to Patuanak? How long has it been there?” I told her that 1972 was the first summer, and she said, “It’s been there that long? How come we didn’t know about it?” I didn’t know how to answer her.
Unexpectedly, in late August, the Mission asked us to move to La Loche (SK). On our first trip to La Loche in the first week of September, we stopped overnight in **Patuanak to inform our new friends that we would not be moving there.
It was a very rainy day as we were getting ready to leave Patuanak. Ginny asked me to stop by the store to buy a cake mix for our daughter’s birthday. As I stood in the cashier lineup, the man in front of me turned around to look at me. I said to him, “Hojr” (which means “It’s bad weather”). Surprised, he asked, “What are you, some kind of blue-eyed Indian?” I smiled and said, “Maybe.”
I told *George that we had been visiting his community and had stayed with Doris and her husband the night before. He said, “That’s my sister! So I guess you’re part of my family now!” Now it was my turn to be surprised. (As missionaries we had got used to being referred to as “devils,” so to be called family was unexpected!)
As we stopped to visit in Patuanak over the next seven years, I had many nice visits with George. One time he took me with him to show me his trout farm. I always enjoyed being with him.
In 1992 I was asked to become the Mission’s bookkeeper, so we moved to Prince Albert and our visits to Patuanak became much less frequent.
Since 1999 I have been directing Teen Camp each year at Pine Ridge. By 2010 George’s granddaughter *Carrie was old enough for that camp. One time George came along with Carrie’s mom to pick her up. When I saw him, I was glad to renew our friendship. He enjoyed coming to see the natural beauty around PRBC, so I got to see him several times over the next few years.
Since moving from Pine Ridge in 1981, three times we had begun plans to move back, but God did not allow it for one reason or another. However, in March 2015 the Lord very unexpectedly opened up this door for us.
By this time Carrie was a PRBC summer staff member. When her mom brought her to camp that summer, George came along again. He had been battling cancer, and as I visited with him it was obvious that his health was deteriorating.
A SIGNIFICANT STATEMENT
He was hospitalized that September, and I went to visit him. About two weeks after that he passed away. To our surprise, the family asked Ginny and me to sing “How Great Thou Art” in Denesuline at his funeral. Another surprise was that I was listed as one of his special friends on the funeral program that was handed out.
Later I was told that, on his deathbed, George told Carrie to “keep going to PRBC.” (In their culture, for a respected elder like George to make a statement like that on his deathbed was very significant.) In 2016 Carrie was at Pine Ridge for five of the six weeks of camp, and 23 children and teens from the Patuanak Band came as campers!
Reflecting on all this, it is amazing to see how God used seemingly insignificant events in village ministry 30 years ago to have very significant effects in our ministry at Pine Ridge now. In 2016 over one-tenth of our campers came from a community that had previously not been included.
We eagerly look forward to see what else God is going to do in the surrounding communities through the ministry of Pine Ridge Bible Camp.
*Names changed. **Though God used the community of Patuanak in the founding of our Mission, there has never been an NCEM missionary live there.