Tribal Trails TV Turns 35

Envisioning and praying about a television outreach was one thing -- actually beginning one was another (from Issue #499)

Envisioning and praying about a television outreach was one thing — actually beginning one was another

(This article was written in 2007, the year our television ministry celebrated its 25th anniversary)

Tom* slouched in his living room chair flipping through the channels, looking for something to get his mind off his problems. (*name changed)

He paused … because on the screen he recognized a First Nations person like himself – not an actor or celebrity – talking simply about how Jesus Christ has changed his life around. A bit later, over the phone, Tom asked a Tribal Trails worker, “Is what these people are saying really true?”

For God’s Purposes

A century ago who would have dreamed of the many ways God’s people have to share the Gospel today? Television is one. Ungodly TV programming continues its evil influence, but this invention has for several decades been seen by Christians as something more — a tool for God’s purposes.In the 1970s, with the launch of satellite broadcasting, northern Native people began watching TV more. Some of them could tune in to Christian programs, but the Gospel still needed to be proclaimed in a culturally relevant way. NCEM’s leaders began recognizing that a Native Christian TV program could reach many!

How It All Began

Envisioning and praying about a television outreach was one thing — actually beginning one was another. It would take money, equipment and, most importantly, people. Someone needed to put hands and feet to this dream, to dedicate themselves to whatever it would take. The Lord found willing servants in Derrick and Jean Hiscox.

In 1977 Derrick and Jean were sitting in the dining hall at Prairie Bible Institute, having brought their son to high school. A number of NCEM missionaries were on campus that day, too, as a conference was concluding. Across the room Jean recognized Bud and Marge Elford, whom she hadn’t seen since Bible school days in the early 1950s.

Jean reintroduced herself. A minute later Derrick joined them, and in the ensuing conversation the Hiscoxes told how they had returned from service in Brazil and were now in a pastorate and television ministry in Ontario. Bud, an NCEM director, asked Derrick and Jean if they knew anyone who might be interested in getting a Native television ministry started.

Derrick and Jean gave Bud some names. But in the following months it was their own names that came to mind most often!

Underlying Confidence

The Hiscoxes started praying about possible involvement. There were many unknowns … so many details to consider in starting a TV ministry from scratch. They still weren’t sure what God would have them do, but they did have an underlying confidence in God’s guiding hand. They had seen how the Lord effectively used their Portuguese TV outreach in spite of their minimal training and experience.

In 1979 Derrick and Jean officially joined NCEM. But the launching of a Native television program was still only a possibility. The Hiscoxes received a lot of encouragement, but there were a number of realistic concerns, too. Some thought it was too big an undertaking. Where would the production staff come from? Could the Mission produce a program that would meet industry standards? Some thought it might be too difficult finding enough Native believers who were not too shy to be on camera. Perhaps the most often-heard concern was the high financial cost.

Unless God Opens the Door

Of upmost concern to Derrick and Jean these months was the necessary commitment from at least a few Native believers to join them full-time. The Hiscoxes knew they couldn’t do it alone, and so far no one had pledged to help. Derrick and Jean were still residing in Ontario, with Derrick making trips out west by car. In October 1979 Derrick left home on yet another trip and said to Jean, “This is the last time I’ll make this trip. We’ll stay here in our ministry in Ontario unless God opens the door and leads some Native people to join us.”

Derrick was, of course, praying and sharing about the need wherever he could. But he had also felt led of the Lord to wait for Native Christians to take the initiative and say, “God has spoken to me. I want to do this.” On that trip that’s exactly what happened! Three First Nations people individually told him they’d like to help with the TV ministry. When Derrick phoned Jean with that news … well, let’s just say there was some excitement on those phone lines!

In 1981 Derrick and Jean and their teenage children moved to Prince Albert where they began setting up a studio in the basement of the Mission’s office building. The first NCEM-TV staff got down to the work of producing a weekly program. There were scripts to write; there was traveling, interviewing, taping, and editing … there was work! Derrick estimated that, on average, it was taking at least 150 “person-hours” to produce each half-hour Tribal Trails program. Forty new programs were required per year.

Regular broadcasting began in early 1982. Thankfully, the Lord brought more workers, and there were more than enough program guests.

The Big Picture

Tribal Trails is just one of NCEM’s outreaches, but really it’s become more than that. For one thing, the TV ministry works closely with our field missionaries. We know that television can only reach its greatest effectiveness with personal follow-up.

The program has literally opened many doors for personal ministry in Native homes and communities. While people may naturally be suspicious of a stranger in their community or at their door, the missionary who identifies himself with Tribal Trails often finds that he and his message have already been introduced to the people.

One missionary couple told how, when seeking permission from the local Council to live in a northern Saskatchewan community, it wasn’t until they mentioned “Tribal Trails” that they heard, “There’s no more questions; you’re welcome here.”

Come On In

NCEMer Carl Sonnichsen remembers a particular outreach trip to Davis Inlet, Labrador, where he had difficulty finding people who wanted to talk. But when residents heard the words “Tribal Trails” they said, “Come on in.”

It was recognized even before it began that, besides being evangelistic, our TV program could also be an “encourager.” One of our first responses by letter in 1982 came from someone who said that she’d been a Christian for years but didn’t feel that she knew how to witness. When she saw Native people witnessing on Tribal Trails, she gained enough confidence to try herself. That same day her relatives heard about her faith in Christ!

Native believers who tune in find that they are not alone in their faith — that there are an increasing number of other Christians like themselves. That can be a tremendous encouragement especially to those who live in isolated communities where there is little or no Christian fellowship.

More About Tom’s Call

“Is what these people are saying really true?” It was Ralph Dyck, who serves in our Mission Printshop, who took Tom’s phone call.

“I assured him that the Tribal Trails program guests were being truthful,” says Ralph, “and Tom went on to ask some questions about becoming a Christian.

“We talked for awhile and decided that it would be best to meet over coffee later that evening. I picked up Tom at his apartment. What followed was amazing! God had worked in this young man’s heart and he was ready and willing to surrender his life to Christ. He wasn’t walking into this casually.”

Ralph was amazed at how God had convicted Tom of sin in his life, and never had to tell him what things he would have to address. Tom already knew what they were and he was ready for God to change his life.

Ralph has kept in contact with Tom, and stayed with him through some ups and downs. “He still struggles with alcohol, and carries a lot of anger at times,” says Ralph. “But I believe that God is working in his life.”

Through the prayers and support of God’s people, this ministry that began more than 25 years ago will continue to reach out to people like Tom.

Adapted from our Northern Lights magazine (Issue #499). Note: some of the locations and involvements of our missionaries may have changed since the original publishing of this article.