Stage 1: Preparing

In this and our next four issues of Northern Lights, more about our 5-stage action plan ... one stage at a time (from Issue #517)

Brent With GlobeEstablishing indigenous churches is central in NCEM’s reason to exist. But there’s much that happens even before our missionaries arrive on the field.

Here a few of our missionaries share their thoughts about what we could call “Stage 1.”

Where Missions Begins

It happened over 50 years ago, but missionary Gilbert Bekkatla clearly remembers his experience at the little personal “shrine” he’d built near the church. It was later as an adult that he became a true Christ follower, but God had made Himself real to young Gilbert that day.

Gilbert’s story is unique, as is each of ours. What’s similar is that a missionary’s work really begins with his/her encounter with Christ. From there spiritual maturity must follow, including a growing compassion for those who don’t know the Lord.

Gilbert remembers witnessing to a fellow carpenter one day. The young man replied, “I can’t go to heaven. I’m illegitimate.” This fellow’s lack of understanding and hope broke Gilbert’s heart, and motivated him towards missions.

For Gilbert, marriage was also a big factor in his missionary calling and preparation. In fact, he says his wife, Laura, dreamed that he would one day be a spiritual leader to his own Dene people.

Vocation may also have a role in preparing a missionary, say Gary & Ardys Winger. Previously employed as a pilot, they’d lived in the North. “Though we didn’t recognize the purpose at the time,” they say, “it began a desire to share our lives with First Nations.”

Pat Elford is also amazed at God’s sovereignty. In order to graduate from Bible college, she was told she needed an extra credit (supposedly her high school credits were short one). “A linguistics course was recommended – not something I would have chosen,” says Pat, “but down the road God had a task for me, teaching language skills to new missionaries with my husband, Roan.” (Later, at graduation, Pat had one extra credit!)

The Senders

In NCEM we believe that, along with the Lord Himself, the church is the missionary’s sender. Most church budgets cannot fully cover a missionary’s expenses, so individual supporters also get involved. But our best prepared missionaries are those who have learned to serve in their home churches.

Also, in general, we’ve required Bible college training for candidates. Our Mission’s work is based on God’s desire for the nations, as revealed in Scripture, so a grounding in God’s Word is essential.

Several of our workers tell of Bible college teachers who motivated them to missions. Pat Elford recalls a former missionary to Sudan. “His life and missionary stories inspired me,” says Pat.

The Wingers tell of the role Bible college had in their lives. “We were exposed to cross-cultural missions around the world,” they say. “God’s call to serve with NCEM came during those years. As married students, Prairie Bible Institute also influenced the lives of our children.”

Others in NCEM remember favorite quotes of their Bible college teachers, many years later. Rollie Hodgman remembers Jon Bonk saying, “Generally, you have to first win people to yourself before you can win them to Christ.”

But when you’re excited about getting to the mission field, Bible college might seem like a long detour. That’s what Allan Giesbrecht thought. “I was already 28 years old and concerned about how long it would take,” says Allan. “I remember well the counsel given by an older godly man, advising me that I should be more concerned about the quality of training than the duration.”

Allan’s wife, Esther, adds, “Our years of preparation were a special time, teaching us so much about what it means to put our trust in God. We also gained friendships and experiences that have helped us through many difficult times.”

Specialized Readiness

Besides Bible school, NCEM realized near the start that specialized cross-cultural training was necessary. For many years it was provided by an inter-mission program known as “MDP,” and now in cooperation with New Tribes training centres in Ontario and Missouri.

Andrew Siebert is a second generation NCEMer, with experience living on a reserve, living at KBI as a staff kid, and living in a KBI dorm for three years as a student. “I figured I knew a lot about First Nations,” he says. “When I attended MDP I realized I had a lot more to learn!”

The Wingers add, “We saw the importance of learning language and culture … though language learning was much easier for our children than for us!”

For missionaries already on the field, NCEM recently began hosting several one-week “worldview” training sessions.

Rachel Witherow, who serves with her husband Blaine in TV ministry, remembers good missions classes in Bible college. “But what I learn well comes through personal interaction with people from other cultures,” she says, “and it’s now reinforced by these courses.”

Other missionaries mention important things they’re learning in the current Worldview courses: “Changing the ‘externals’ without changing the ‘internals’ is only a short term change!”; “What influenced me to Christ might not be the same thing that will impact someone from another culture”; and, “This is an ongoing learning process.”

Agency & Adequacy

Sometime in Stage 1 the preparing missionary will choose an agency.

While searching for a place to serve, Brent Wahlstrom tells of writing to an organization that linked people with missions … and receiving no response at all! He’s thankful for how, in a roundabout way, the Lord led him to NCEM, and to meeting his future wife, Wanda.

With more work to be done than there are workers, missions must be pro-active in recruiting (and in writing back to people like Brent). We understand that, for the inquirer, it’s a very big decision. All of us in NCEM have been there, and we know the need for a developing trust in the mission agency.

Then, with training and financial/prayer support team sufficiently in place, the ministry assignment begins!

In many cases, the location has already been visited. Gilbert & Laura Bekkatla recall visiting Tadoule Lake (MB) before moving their family there. They didn’t have unrealistic dreams, says Gilbert. “I knew by then that there would be a lot of expectations from local people.”

Our missionaries could say much more about Stage 1. More than one said that, even after all the preparing, they still felt inadequate … and probably always will.

Arlyn van Enns, who served with his wife, Annette, in northern Alberta, recalls coming to the end of Stage 1. Overwhelmed with his upcoming assignment, and all that had transpired to bring him to that place, he concluded his prayer letter with: “Much has been given. Much, undoubtedly, will be required.”

Which is why we in NCEM need to depend on the Lord for His empowering, and need your prayerful support.

(adapted from Northern Lights issue #517). Note: some of the locations and involvements of our missionaries may have changed since the original publishing of this article.