Relationships Renewed Through Resumed Visits
“They had plans to leave today,” David Kanakakeesic explains to the gathering, “but I want to thank them for staying for another service tonight.”
With that NCEM associate Cliff Bird is welcomed to the platform to preach. His ministry partner/pilot, Gary Brown, sits among the folks gathered at Weagamow Evangelical Fellowship.
If you’re a Northern Lights reader from earlier years, Weagamow (Round Lake) will sound familiar. So will Garden Hill (Island Lake), Red Sucker Lake, Gods Narrows, Gods River, Sachigo, and Shamattawa.
These are communities in northeast Manitoba and northwest Ontario where NCEM missionaries served beginning in the 1950s. The Lord blessed their efforts and in some of these places significant numbers were saved, leaders trained and churches established, joining the Native Evangelical Fellowship (NEFC).
Even though these churches have been organizationally independent of NCEM for many years, there’s still a special connection with our Mission. The oldest believers remember visits from NCEM cofounder Stan Collie and Native evangelist, Tommy Francis (who later cofounded NEFC). In fact these two men led some of them to the Lord.
So if you’re in the area, and you’re with NCEM, you’ll get asked about the well-being of retired pilot/field director, Ed Hickey, about Bible Education facilitators, Joe & Helen Pope, and about other missionaries they remember.
We shouldn’t be surprised they’re still asking. While church planting involves transition of responsibility and leadership, there’s another dynamic to consider: Native people’s understanding of relationships — real relationships are more permanent.
Unfortunately, for various reasons, our Mission hasn’t spent as much time with our Christian brothers and sisters in these parts the last decade or two. We’re happy to report, though, that our relationship is being renewed through visits initiated by associate missionary/pilot Gary Brown in the last year or so. With their open invitation, we hope to resume regular team trips, at least twice yearly.
So what about these recent visits, and our plans for more? What are we hoping to accomplish?
“Encouragement is number one,” says Gary, who is familiar with these communities, having flown missionaries and Native evangelists throughout the region in years past. “They want us to come for the simple reason that it encourages them. You might not fully appreciate that unless you’re a believer living in a remote community.”
Bible teaching is a part of each trip, and so is evangelism. These communities may have churches, but there are still many unsaved. The churches seem to be particularly challenged in reaching even their own youth.
And speaking of youth, though it didn’t extend as far east as Weagamow, a trip by road in late winter (just prior to this writing) included six teens/young adults, most of them missionary kids. “What a blessing!” says Gary. “We adults came home revitalized by their enthusiasm. The long winter ice roads seemed to fly by with all the singing, praying, Scripture and laughing.”
Cliff Bird, NCEM associate member, isn’t surprised that these nonNative youth are made very welcome. Even if they’re unfamiliar with local culture, their humility and love for others will speak volumes, he says. On this trip the MKs visited Oxford House, Norway House, and The Pas, three communities with NCEM missionaries, but with great potential for more youth outreach.
Another hope for these trips is to get more Native Christians coming along, and not necessarily NCEMers. Besides the communities with churches, there are also places like Muskrat Dam (ON) that have only in recent years been open to visits from evangelicals.
What are the challenges in these visits and how can we pray?
“There’s potential for more youth teams,” says Gary, “but we need team leaders.” Flying a large team with our small aircraft is not too practical, but we’ve been invited to many places accessible by winter road.
The believers in these communities face big challenges. We believe NCEM should do what we can … but it’s certainly not one-sided. As the team reported from Sachigo, “We stopped in to encourage Jack Barkman (local believer), and returned encouraged ourselves, knowing we’d met with a man of God!”