“Canada! These men are the future missionaries to Canada!” We had just entered a room in our church filled with young men who were interested in ministry. By my side was Frank Drown, our guest, visiting to address the group about his time serving as a missionary in Ecuador. Little did I know, when Frank spoke those words in 2006, what God was going to do in our church and in my life. Those words were more than just a dream of one man; they became marching orders. Let me tell you a story.
It began in 2005. My wife and I went to see the movie The End of the Spear, recounting the story of Operation Auca in which five American missionaries developed a plan to bring the gospel to the Waodani people of Ecuador. The film tells the story of the missionaries who were speared by members of this tribe. After watching the film, I thought to myself, “Why not show this to our church and have Frank Drown come and speak about his experiences?” Frank had been in Ecuador and was the missionary who was allowed free passage to collect the bodies of those speared on the beach. His memoir Mission to the Head Hunters tells of his time pioneering the gospel in this region. Frank is a family friend so I gave him a call and he said he would love to come. In the spring of 2006, we showed the movie and then hosted a special evening where Frank spoke to the people of the church about the event.
Since it’s not every day a veteran pioneer missionary comes to town, I wanted to make sure that Frank could connect with as many people as possible. One of the venues where I asked Frank to share was our Pastor Training Academy (PTA). Our PTA program is designed to help train young men who desire to serve God in vocational ministry. My intention was for the men to hear about the work that was done in Ecuador and to learn a little more about what it was like to serve in such a tough and dangerous place. When Frank saw a group of young men desirous for ministry he said to me, “Steve, these are future missionaries to Canada!” Frank then explained to everyone around the table what he was doing in Canada. He had discovered many communities of what he deemed “lovely and wonderful people” with whom he wanted to spend the rest of his life sharing Jesus. Many of these communities are fly-in only communities. They are populated mostly by the First Nations Aboriginals. While working on developing a Christian camp in Canada, Frank discovered these communities and he jumped into action.
These communities are spread over thousands of miles and are very difficult to reach. Since Frank could not get to every village, he thought radio was a good place to start. It took years to get things in motion, but eventually the radio station came online. The call letters are CJTL, which stands for “Christ Jesus The Lord.”
When Frank saw the young men in our training program he became excited. He saw potential missionaries. The radio station was not up and running when he came to our church, but he was sure that once it was, it would be a good tool in place which could serve missionaries on the ground.
Over the next several years Frank contacted me many times, sending me notes, making sure the mission did not get lost. When I felt overwhelmed, Frank would say, “God always puts us in situations where we do not have the power to do anything so that we would walk by faith.” His challenge was to “pray for problems that you cannot solve so that when God solves them, you would walk by faith.”
In 2010, I had the privilege of meeting David Sitton, the founder of To Every Tribe. I asked him to come to our church and meet with our PTA group and when he came, I asked him about some of his missionary heroes. Upon hearing that Frank Drown was one of his heroes, I told David about the challenge from Frank to send missionaries to Canada and asked for his help. David said to me, “It would be an honor to take a baton from Frank Drown, but you will have to stay on point. If Frank challenged you to do this then you must do it!” At that moment I felt a sense of excitement to have a mission agency there to help.
Something else happened in 2010 that moved this story along. I had the privilege of meeting Ron Keres and Matt Klockenga. They both were finishing their schooling at Northern Illinois University and both shared a desire to be missionaries to unreached people groups. Ron was engaged to Jen and Matt to Ashley and both of their prospective wives desired to give their lives to pioneer church planting. God gave me the opportunity to meet with Ron and Matt and to have them join our PTA group. As we spent time together, they shared their heart for the unreached people groups of the world and I tossed out the idea of them going to a First Nations community. When people think of unreached groups, Canada is not usually the first place on the list. So it took some time for them to warm up to the idea. Yet, over the next few years they began to see the great opportunity there is in this region of the world. In 2012, the Keres and Klockenga families went to To Every Tribe’s Center for Pioneer Church Planting to train to be pioneer church planters. My wife and I had the joy of connecting with these two couples for a year before they left for their training, talking about ministry, family, child-raising, team building, and church planting. It was a wonderful time to see how these couples worked through issues and laid a foundation for their future ministry.
In a six year span the Lord had provided a challenge to our church to send people to Canada, a mission agency that would help with the logistics, and two missionary couples who were willing to consider going. Was it possible that Frank’s challenge to send missionaries to Canada could really work? Pieces were slowly coming together, but we were still missing a very key piece – where would these missionaries go?
In April of 2012, I was sitting in my office getting a bit frustrated with the progress of things. We were six years into this work and still had no contact with a location to send missionaries. I remember praying, “God, I need someone to help me.
Would you please send us someone who knows this area, who can be a man of peace to help us?” In May of 2012, the Lord sent Kevin Jesmer to our church. I had met Kevin in the fall of 2011, but did not really get to know him until he began attending our church. We got together and I asked him if he had any advice for me as we were seeking to send missionaries to this region of the world. Kevin, who is from Canada, said that you need to know people and if you do not know people then the doors will remain closed. Then, Kevin said the words that just about blew me off my chair, “I know people in that region – I can make some calls.” From that point Kevin began making contacts. God opened the door in one day. Through Kevin’s tenacious pioneering skills we were able to make contact with people and form relationships that God used to move this mission forward.
Over the next year, key contacts were made and in June of 2013 we were able to make our first exploratory trip to the region. Kevin, Ron, Jen, Matt, and I drove from Illinois to Sioux Lookout, Ontario and connected with key people who would provide the infrastructure to be able to discern where these missionaries would be sent.
Before we left on the trip, I called Frank and told him what we were doing. He gave me some advice: “Listen first, talk second. If you do not listen to the people, you will never know how to love them. Serve with humility, and remember that without Jesus the people have no hope. They are beautiful people, with a rich heritage—but they need Jesus. Pray for them, watch over yourself so you do not become judgmental or bitter. The gospel cannot be preached from a bitter and resentful heart.”
From June of 2013 to today, there have been miracles upon miracles. As I sit at my computer and type this my eyes are filling with tears as I consider all that God has done to show His faithfulness in His time. In February of 2014, God opened the door for us to be able to send the team to Cat Lake, a small First Nations community in northwest Ontario. We are in awe of this great gift. The Lord has guided us every step of the way. He has done things in His time, but this way He gets all the glory.
We are not starting this work, and we will probably not finish this work. We took a baton from a man whose life was committed to the mission. It will be our job to pass it on to the next generation until Christ returns. Given the task ahead of us, God was faithful to put us in the path of a mentor; a man who never lost his love of sharing the good news of the gospel; a man who exhorted us to never stop praying, never stop loving, and never stop telling people about the great news of Jesus Christ. What a great foundation. May we be faithful to carry out this mission.
*This article originally appeared in To Every Tribe’s June 2015 edition of Ekballo Magazine.