When Joanna married David Bouck in 1995, she had already served with NCEM for eight years in Prince Albert and Winnipeg. Having grown up on a farm, the isolation of northern Canada does not bother her. She describes the people as very friendly and welcoming, and says she feels quite at home, though she admits, “Maybe it’s partly because this is the only home David and I have had together.”
With one-way airfare from Montreal costing approximately $1400, traveling in and out often isn’t an option. The Boucks count only on yearly visits from field directors and pilots. They have, however, flown out each summer for a few weeks.
December’s darkness is hard on Joanna. “My first December here I was shocked when the sun set at 2 p.m.” Mix in the extreme cold and it becomes a good month to hibernate! Although far from family, Christmas is “okay” with lots of community games during that week to take part in. When she does feel the need for some “down south” encouragement, there is always the phone and e-mail.
Joanna started teaching Creation to Christ (Firm Foundations curriculum) two days a week to children K to Grade 4 at the local school. At least that was the plan. A late start and the loss of some teaching days put her behind in her goal.
Besides visiting the ladies, Joanna helps with weekly Bible studies that David teaches. Teaching the truth of the Word of God is often a huge challenge in most northern communities. Frustration and disappointment take their toll. The biggest difficulty for the Boucks is the false teaching that comes in from outside the community.
People go to the meetings out of curiosity and after the emotionalism dies down, confusion sets in. Joanna believes that discernment is very much needed and says, “We are thankful that some are exercising it.” In spite of setbacks in their ministry, she is encouraged. “The greatest blessing is to see faces light up when people understand the truths of the Bible for the first time, or in a deeper way.”
Missionary moms are always on call. The pressures of balancing family demands and personal quiet-times with urgent ministry needs, along with cultural differences, can be daunting.
Ulli and George Hertwig have served with NCEM since 1983. Three of their four children were born during their five years in the Northwest Territories. That gave Ulli much in common with most of the women.
“Having babies made it easy to start conversations and gave us good language learning material,” Ulli relates. “Native moms taught me how to make a baby swing and beaded baby moccasins. They liked that we took our babies everywhere – family and hunting camps, boating and ski-dooing, wood-hauling, visiting – and I gained a better understanding of other mothers and their children.”
While the children are a definite asset to their ministry, there were also challenges. Ulli’s pregnancies took their toll physically. “I found it very hard to go on our outreach trips, to set up and cook for our special seasonal feasts, or even to visit. Regular activities, visitors and Sunday services in our home all resumed as soon as I got home with each new baby, giving us very little private family time.
Sometimes the drunkenness and violence encountered by missionaries can affect their children. Ulli says that these frightening experiences caused one son to have panic attacks. Also, she notes that in the more isolated places, MKs often miss out on fun activities found in larger centres, as well as regular visits with grandparents and other relatives.
Their fourth child was born in 1990, around the time the Hertwigs moved to serve in Alberta. Until 1997 Ulli home-schooled – a choice that some other missionary parents also have made – and the children took part in all aspects of their parents’ ministry. They later attended Christian and public schools. Although they didn’t always accompany their parents on ministry visits, Ulli says, “They still showed a real interest in and concern for Native people and our ministry to them.”
Over the years Ulli has also been involved in counselling, discipling believers, and lots of camp work alongside George, mainly cooking and supply support. “Our children loved to join in and were a great help with counselling, praying and just being friends. “People have told me,” she says, “that our kids provided a great role model for their children.”
Children do eventually leave home, freeing up moms for more concentrated ministry opportunities. Cathy Hill has faithfully served alongside her husband, Carroll, and raised their children while ministering on reserves in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick. From 1988-1995 she served as NCEM’s Candidate-Secretary and Office Manager.
“Carroll and I worked together as a team and he took his turn at watching the children to free me for ministry,” reflects Cathy. “It’s a partnership and I think every couple should sit down and plan what they can do to enhance the other’s ministry, and still not neglect the children … I feel that any mother can have a fruitful ministry both in and outside the home if she has a husband who does what he can to help make it possible. She needs to use her spiritual gifts — which I’m sure are different from her husband’s — to do that which he might not be able to do.”
With the responsibilities of raising children and Mission administration behind her, Cathy found an exciting and fulfilling ministry to the ladies on their station in Manitoba (and now in New Brunswick).
In Manitoba each Wednesday night up to a dozen ladies met for Bible study. “This has been one of the most rewarding ministries I’ve ever had,” she says. “It is such a pleasure to teach these ladies and grow in our Christian walk together.”
With many new converts there , Cathy had an active phone and counselling ministry. She also taught a children’s Sunday school class and helped with the Friday night youth group.
The seed planted by other missionaries over the years made their community a great place to minister. “We saw a hunger for the Word there and it was exciting to teach those who want to learn. It was not unusual to hear someone say, ‘I don’t know where I would be today if you and Pastor Hill had not come.’ Those are encouraging words!”
Is there a down side for Cathy? “The only difficulty about ministering there,” she says, “is that we were so far from our children and grandchildren.”
Ardys Winger is another empty-nester. She has served with her husband, Gary, since 1983 in northern Saskatchewan and northern Quebec, and then as Central-Field Directors. Although they live in Prince Albert, they were more often visiting missionaries somewhere in Saskatchewan, Manitoba or northwestern Ontario. When at home, they stayed in touch with the workers by phone and e-mail.
“I really enjoyed visiting the ladies, helping in the kitchen and with their children, going for walks, or going with them as they visit the village women,” says Ardys. “When they needed a listening ear, ask questions, or request prayer for specific needs … I tried to encourage them. Many times I could identify with their joys and struggles, as I recall my years as a missionary wife and mother. I often pray for them as we travel.”
Ardys has a special interest in MKs. “Our children had the privilege of growing up in another culture with its unique challenges and opportunities. It was interesting to see how God used the joys and struggles to work in their lives – and ours. God is giving me the desire to pray more for our MKs and for missionary families, as they seek to live for Christ.”
For Ardys, encouragement is a two-way street. “I was asked to share at a Bible study on one visit where I met some new believers. It was exciting to see so many eager to study God’s Word, pray together, and share how God was working in their lives. I thank God for the privilege of serving Him and the missionaries, and for what He taught me through these experiences, and through study of His Word.”
If missionary moms and wives can relate better to the family issues of Native women, is being single in ministry a disadvantage? “It depends on the needs of the people,” says Vikki Lukasewich who, along with her ministry partner Doris Erickson, have been with NCEM since 1981.
The two became close friends as roommates during three years of Bible school and found themselves teamed up for five weeks of summer ministry after graduation. “It is true I am single,” explains Vikki, “but not alone. God has blessed me with Doris – a unique friend and co-worker. We can pray together and share ideas, workload, fun times, and expenses.”
Vikki also feels that being effective in ministry has more to do with relating one-on-one and taking the time to really listen. “Being single helps me to be dependent on the Lord — Philippians 4:10 is a great encouragement.”
Vikki and Doris worked their first seven years in the Yukon. For Vikki, it was an adjustment to move from a structured task-oriented job in Edmonton to semi-isolated villages where she was basically in charge of her own day. It was a challenge to work among people who wondered why she was there and when she was going to leave.
In 1988 Vikki and Doris faced a big change in ministry. They moved to BC, to a city of 65,000 with 17 nearby reserves. Sunday evening services, and Bible studies and visitation keeps them busy. It is hard making inroads to the Native community because so many are involved in Native religion and caught up in addictions.
However, Vikki says, “We have a small group of believers that are committed to the Lord, whose prayer and desire is to witness.” Having worked in both village and urban areas, Vikki believes it is easier – and more personal – getting to really know people in a village. “We may feel isolated because we are away from things,” she explains, “but in the city it is more an isolation of individuals.
“It is in this setting that our hope and prayer is to meet people, build relationships with a desire and opportunity to lead them to Christ.”