Seeking to bring the hope of the gospel to indigenous peoples in Northwest Ontario
“It comes with air conditioning,” remarked our new friend who graciously offered us his snowmobile. The cold air pierced our cheeks and breathing it in was what Winterfresh Gum only wished it could be. As the snowmobile gained speed, we reflected on our journey up to this moment. Over the last few months we had been meticulously planning a way to make it to this place. Our prayers began two years ago, but the legacy of prayer for this specific place extends much farther than us. Here we were, two families with our infants, surrounded on either side by 150-foot tall pine trees. Beyond them, snow covered ice stretched as far as the eye could see and slicing through it lay a temporary ice road, the only way out on land. But at the heart of this place lives a First Nations community – precious people, created in the image of God.
Learning of their past etched in our hearts such sorrow and compassion that a knot in my throat grows every time I think of it. The history of these people is an extremely heartbreaking story to tell. Beginning in 1954, an entire generation of children, ages three and up, were sent away to residential schools against the will of their families. The residentials schools were funded by the Canadian government and staffed by various Christian denominations. Unthinkable and utterly horrifying acts occurred in these schools, as children were malnourished, abused in every capacity, and forced to assimilate to the dominant culture.
In 2008, Stephen Harper, Canadian Prime Minister, issued an official apology: “Two primary objectives of the residential schools system were to remove and isolate children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture. These objectives were based on the assumption aboriginal cultures and spiritual beliefs were inferior and unequal. Indeed, some sought, as it was infamously said, ‘to kill the Indian in the child.’ Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country” (www.cbc.ca).
Though the residential schools have all been shut down (most by the mid-1970’s, the last in 1996), lives have been forever changed. Children were reunited with their families after years, in some cases more than a decade, of separation. During that time their culture had been aggressively stripped from them and all that remained were distant memories. Upon returning home many could no longer communicate with parents, as native languages were forbidden in residential schools.
These children are now parents and grandparents themselves. Many struggled, having had no model of family, no frame of reference for marriage. Living through such traumatic abuse, families today in the communities are suffering wounds from the past that have continued to bleed into the present. Sadly, some, living without hope, have taken their lives in suicide. Others have taken to alcohol and prescription drugs to numb the pain.
As far the presence of the gospel in these communities, it has been as adulterated as the culture. Those that first shared the gospel with the children were in many cases the very people that mutilated and perverted the gospel by abusing them. The injustice that has been served to these sweet children is astounding. No apology, no amount of money, given by men can make this right.
And so we bow at the foot of the cross. Carrying nothing in our hands, bringing no strength or righteousness of our own, we cry out to the God who has felt injustice. He has paid the penalty and suffered the wrath for sins He never committed. He can deliver and He has! In fact, Jesus came to seek and save the lost from every tribe, tongue, and nation. By this we know there are elect in these communities that Jesus is seeking to save! In Jesus there is hope, in Jesus there is restoration, and in Jesus there is freedom from sin!
These are the people I can’t get out of my head, these are the people we desire to learn from, listen to and live among. My husband Matt and I and our dear friends Ron and Jen were blessed beyond relief to be welcomed into this community for two weeks this February. In our short time we have seen these precious people reach out to us- they gave us shelter, they provided us transportation, and, most of all, they willingly offered us their friendship.
They desire restoration in their community, the healing that can only come from Jesus, and are asking for missionaries to live among them to offer biblical counseling. For two beautiful weeks we saw God’s grace poured out richly in this place. God’s Word went out, unadulterated, and it was echoed back! What an absolute privilege to see God’s Word breathe life into people that have been so suffocated by Satan.
The time soon came to leave. Peering out the window of the small aircraft before takeoff I thought of the duplex we were given to stay in. I thought about the children across the street and a remark one of them made while we were outside. “We are watching you,” the boy said sternly, gesturing with two fingers at his eyes and then at my husband’s. It made me laugh because we had no curtains in the living room. They were literally watching us. I’m sure it was entertaining. The place began lifting off the ground. I couldn’t stop thinking of the duplex and the boy’s remark. It’s empty. No more missionaries to spy on because there are no more missionaries. My heart hit the floor, and it must have fallen out of the plane, because it has been with these precious people ever since.
This is why my husband and I, along with our teammates Ron and Jen Keres, are praying that Christ would give us the privilege of bringing the hope of the gospel to First Nations communities. Both of our families will spend the next year setting up the infrastructure in Canada and raising additional support so that we can move to the field. If you are interested in partnering with our team please email us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the June 2014 edition of Ekballo magazine.