A new hiring and recent support to several outreach initiatives are evidence of increased Adventist efforts to reach the Native population of northern Canada.
Seventh-day Adventists leaders in the province of Ontario recently hired a native pastor, the first in many years. Randy Elliott was appointed to lead the thriving Adventist congregation in Sioux Lookout, a small town located some 1,100 miles (1,760 kilometers) northwest of Toronto.
Elliott, who was born in Ladysmith, British Columbia, in Western Canada, lived his early years on a Native Reserve. Trained as a drug, abuse and trauma counselor, he worked in mental health for nine years and is well equipped to serve in Native communities.
It was not, however, until Elliott’s mother invited him and his girlfriend, Cheryl, to a prophecy seminar that his life took on new meaning.
“We fell in love with the Lord,” Elliott shared in an interview. “We were married and baptized.” He served his local church as an elder for over nine years before being called into pastoral ministry to serve the Gwa'sala -'Nakwaxda'xw Adventist Church in Port Hardy, British Columbia. With his wife working beside him, Elliott spent seven years working with his fellow Native people.
Elliott is happy for the new opportunity to work in the province of Ontario. “Our desire is to continue to work with our Native people in Sioux Lookout,” he said. The Native residents welcomed his arrival in Sioux Lookout. He was gladly received and has already started building on the strong relationships forged between members of the congregation there and the Native people.
Regional Adventists leaders also celebrated Elliott’s arrival, as they hope his service will help to strengthen the thriving Adventist community in the area. “We are very happy that Elliott and his wife, Cheryl, have joined us,” said Mansfield Edwards, president of the Adventist Church in Ontario. “We are committed to working with the First Nations peoples of Ontario.”
Mansfield reminded that another Native congregation, the Six Nations Seventh-day Adventist Church, is the oldest existing Adventist congregation in Ontario and the first Adventist Native church in North America. It was opened in 1897 on Native lands as the Iroquois Seventh-day Adventist Church, not far from the current city of Hamilton. Besides the Sioux Lookout congregation, Adventists have a growing presence in Moosonee, a small town close to St. James Bay, in the northern region of this massive 415,000 square-mile (1,076,000 square-kilometer) province.
“The spiritual search that is taking place is our opportunity to do a great work for God.”
“We firmly believe that many Native people will be among God’s people,” said Edwards. “I ask every church member to keep praying for the Native peoples of…Canada, as we reach out to them with the Christ-centered message of hope and wholeness.”
Even Further North
Several flight hours north of Ontario is Nunavut, which with almost 790,000 square miles (2,040,000 square kilometers) is the largest and northernmost territory in Canada. In Nunavut, which is five times the size of California, live less than 40,000 people spread across less than 30 small communities mostly accessible only by air. For decades, there was no continuous Adventist presence in the area, but in the last few years, the message of the gospel is reaching the hearts of the Inuit, the original inhabitants of the northern Arctic.
In the small northern town of Rankin Inlet, the vision of the local Adventist congregation of becoming a house of prayer for all people was recently tested when three residents—father, son, and uncle—fell through the ice and perished as they traveled on an ice road. “With the residents in mourning, the profile of Adventists in the area increased,” wrote Benton Lowe, a Bible worker in the area. “Members stepped up to comfort and minister to the family and the community in their time of grief.”
Even further north, in the Inuit hamlet of Igloolik (pop. 1,600), church group leaders José and Ghadihela Quezada report that after some issues, the local radio station, where José has a program, is back up and running.
A couple who heard Quezada’s appeal on the radio for people to keep the Bible Sabbath are now attending regularly. “The husband overcame his reticence to attend church, because he is a residential school survivor, but is now happy to be attending,” shared José. The church is known in the community and recently hosted a spaghetti dinner with 50 guests.
In a region with noticeable social challenges, José and Ghadihela have worked hard to support everyone, but especially Igloolik young residents. “With God’s help, we have been able to save several young people from committing suicide in the past few months,” wrote José. The Quezadas keep praying for God to give the youth of Nunavut a future and a hope.
In the territory capital city of Iqaluit, church group leader Bekin Khumalo reports that after years of close to no Adventist presence, the local Adventist congregation is now meeting in a rented facility in a downtown hotel. Besides Sabbath services, the church now offers a prayer meeting on Wednesdays, and a growing Pathfinders/Adventurers Club. “There are now fifteen young people registered in the club,” wrote Khumalo, “most of which come from families which are not Adventist.” He also reported that the Government of Nunavut recently donated 65 flags for the Pathfinders Club.
Meeting in a public building has increased the profile of the church. Forty-five people attended services on a recent Sabbath. A recent performance by the local Adventist choir was so well received, that residents have been calling for TV interviews, and the choir was invited to sing in other Arctic communities.
The work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Canadian Arctic continues to grow. As Herbert Sormin, who pastored a Native congregation for years, summarized a few years ago: “There is a surge among First Nations people to connect with their spiritual heritage, and I believe that God has placed us here for a special mission,” he said. “The spiritual search that is taking place is our opportunity to do a great work for God.”
With reports from Ontario Conference News, and the Canadian Adventist Messenger.