While we were gone (on furlough), northern Alberta had a succession of heavy snows and the roof of our church … caved in. The storekeeper, who was a friend of ours, kept telling the people they had to get the snow off the roof.
“That building’s 40 feet long,’’ he said, “and the snow’s heavy. If you don’t get it off there, it’s going to break in.”
They shrugged indifferently. “That isn’t our church. It belongs to Hill.”
Because [local believers] had little part in paying for the church or working on it, they didn’t feel any obligation to help take care of it. Another nine inches of snow fell and the roof caved in.
I had tried to make them understand that the church wasn’t mine, that it belonged to them but they didn’t see it that way. When we got home I told them I would give them a week to come and help tear it down or fix it or whatever they planned to do with it. If they didn’t come I was going to tear it down and sell the lumber.
I don’t know if they believed me or not, but nobody showed up so I took it down, board by board, pulled out the nails and piled the lumber and shingles. One fellow came and helped me. When the work was done they all came to see me, thinking I was going to give them the lumber they wanted. But that wasn’t my plan.
Having bought the lumber from Bissel Bros. at a cheaper rate, I was able to sell it at normal cost and retrieve the amount that was donated to it. I gave all the money back to those who had donated. Everything worked out very well. Had the church not been ruined by the snow it would always have been “Hill’s church.”
I learned that they had to do the building themselves, and put up a good share of the money themselves if they were to claim the building as their own and take care of it. It took awhile, but now they have their own church and are responsible for its upkeep. They now have their own leaders, for which we thank the Lord.
Carroll & Cathy Hill now serve in New Brunswick. 2011 marks both their 50th wedding anniversary and their 50th year of service with NCEM. “North & Beyond” is published by NCEM and available in our Bookstore.
Most North American Christians do not know that between 1840 and 1890 there were thousands of Indigenous believers in northern Canada.
These believers had the entire Bible in their own language, and they had regular morning and evening devotions in their homes. They also tithed their fur catches, game and fish, kept Sundays, and walked on snowshoes up to 250 miles to attend the yearly love feasts … But by the 1920s, there was scarcely a trace of this blessedness remaining …
There were … reasons for the death of the Indigenous church of the 1800s. First was the failure of the missionaries of that day to organize indigenous local churches. This meant that when liberal theology began to permeate the southern denominations, it was only a matter of time until liberal ministers, sent north to be the “praying masters,” froze the life out of the dependent village churches.
(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.