Yellowknife Seventh-day Adventist Church, Canada, pastor of the
I want to be baptized,” Ron said.
“Great!” I responded. “Where is your home church?”
“I don’t have a home church. There’s not an Adventist church where I live,” he said.
This got me curious. “Where do you live?”
“In Fort Smith, Northwest Territories. I’ve been following the Adventist message for a couple years. There’s a group of other Sabbath-keepers that meet with me every Sabbath, but I’m the only Adventist.”
I tried to hide my surprise … and the mental wheels started turning in my head. Here was a guy who lived where the closest Adventist church was a six-hour drive away. In my experience of more than five years as a Bible worker and then a pastor in Edmonton, Alberta, I’d never met someone with these challenges.
During the next couple of weeks, I wondered how the Adventist church could share the gospelin such a vast expanse such as the Northwest Territories — 33 communities and 11 languages spread across more than 1 million square kilometers (390,000 square miles) of territory.
Several months later, after a move to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, to serve as pastor of the Adventist church there, I started Bible studies with Ron by phone. Recently I sent him a DVD about Bible prophecy. As his family was watching the movie, his mother commented, "This is exactly like my dream." She related that years ago she had had a dream about last-day events, and now she was seeing those same images replayed in this DVD. She declared, “This is truth.”
Curiousity asks: How many more men and women in this expansive wilderness are calling out to God, searching for truth? How many more hearts has God been preparing, and those people are still waiting for an Adventist missionary to enter their community? How many children and young people are looking for purpose and meaning in their isolated communities?
In his book Voyage of the Arctic Arrow, C.S. Cooper tells the story of a retired Adventist couple who built a boat and traveled up Canada’s Mackenzie River for three months in the early 1960s. Cooper describes their experiences and challenges as they shared Christ and distributed literature along the Mackenzie River delta. In the last chapter, Cooper poses a challenge that up to this point has never been fully answered: “Who will follow up the work?”
In 1962, spiritual seeds were planted in the Northwest Territories, but there has never been tilling or the harvest. Who indeed will follow up on the work in the north? God has been working. Our job is merely to find out where God is working in 33 communities and then actively follow up what He is already doing.
Matthew 24:14 says, “The gospel will be preached unto all the world and then the end will come.” How about Tuktoyaktuk? Does the gospel have to go to Tuk, as the locals call it, before the end will come? How about Sachs Harbour? Does the gospel commission of “every nation, kindred tongue and people” include Sachs Harbour? When the apostle John saw the three angels’ messages going into all the world, did he include Hay River and Norman Wells?
If the answer is yes, then that means we have work to do. For the work will not be finished unless we enter Paulatuk, Colville Lake, and every one of the 33 communities of the Northwest Territories.
On a practial note, there are many threats to the indigenous communities of the Northwest Territories. There is a food insecurity that comes from the high cost of transporting food, and often the food that does reach remote communities is not nutritious enough at an affordable quantity. In many rural communities, hunting and fishing are integral parts of their food support. Presently many caribou herds are in decline.
Even more significant, “for over 100 years Aboriginal children were taken from their parents and sent to government-supported, church-run, residential schools, where they suffered sexual, mental, and physical abuse, shame, and deprivation,” according to a Canadian government report. “The system was designed to destroy Aboriginal culture. The effects of the residential school systems are intergenerational and profound affecting the lives many Aboriginal northerners. Although there are many signs of hope and recovery, many current social, health and education challenges remain.”
While blessed with rich natural settings, many children of small northern communities lack the recreational and after-school learning opportunities that are available to their peers living in larger centers.
There are a lot of foster kids in these rural communities. Many of the problems seen in inner cities are prevalent in rural Northwest Territories communities, including many young pregnancies.
The Roman Catholic Church has been working in the North for more than 150 years. Most of the indigenous populations claim to be Catholic, and they have integrated Catholic traditions into their traditional ways. To be indigenous also means that they are spiritual, and also that the land is an integral part of their very being. A vital part of missionary work in the North needs to be the ability to contextualize the gospel in a way that people will be able to understand.
I believe that the Seventh-day Adventist Church has a God-given role to play to the ends of the Earth — but missionaries have previously arrived here with attitudes of colonial superiority. If the Seventh-day Adventist Church is to be useful in the North, it will come as equals to Northern peoples and through collaboration and camaraderie create something new.
Somewhere in the Northwest Territories a divine appointment is under way.
“So why don’t you cut hair on Saturday?” asked one of Lindy’s customers.
“Well, Saturday is the day I go to church,” she said.
“Why on Saturday?” the customer said.
Lindy went on to explain the importance of the Sabbath from the Bible. Her customer showed interest as the conversation progressed through what happens when people die and about the judgment.
Lindy’s customer shared that she and a small group of friends are the only Protestants in the small community of Gameti, and they were persecuted because of their belief system. As their conversation continued, Lindy thought, “This woman sounds like a Seventh-day Adventist, and yet she has never met another Adventist.”
Lindy is a hairdresser in Yellowknife, but this day she was a missionary, sharing hope and wholeness of the gospel.
We have started Bible studies with her customer.
Another Yellowknife church member was asked by a female co-worker why she left work early on Fridays in November and December. After a biblical explanation was given, the coworker asked if Adventists find it important not require others to work on Sabbath. The co-worker went on to explain that her Mennonite background taught her to avoid dining in restaurants after church services because others would be forced to do the work of preparing food that they didn’t want to prepare themselves.
Every day, God has divine appointments for each of us. There are many people thinking deeply about spiritual matters. God has called each one to make ourselves available as His missionary.
I wonder whether there are other Northern communities where God is working. No matter how important Yellowknife is to the North as a center of influence, it is only one part of the Northwest Territories. There are 32 other communities that need our life-giving Christian message.
In another remote community in the Northwest Territories I was asked, "Do you have holy water?”
“No, I’m sorry I don’t.”
“You are the pastor. You have to have holy water.”
“I’m sorry I don’t have holy water.”
“I love the Lord and Jesus and Mary,” my questioner persisted, showing me the prayer card to his favorite saint. “Please don’t put me off.”
“Our church doesn’t do holy water, but may I pray with you?”
“I need holy water to carry around in my pocket.”
I prayed with him, then I gave him a hug. The smell of alcohol permeated him.
Then he looked into my face and said, “Thank you, that is just what I needed.”
Sharing our faith is simply being willing to listen and follow God’s spirit as He leads. Colossians 4:3 reminds us that we need to “pray that God will open up a door.” If we are looking, God will open that door. And if we continue to ask for open doors, God will answer that prayer every time.
In Acts 16, Paul is taking care of his business, doing the best he can to serve God in his missionary travels. He believed he was following God. Then he had a dream that reset the course of his adventures. “During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’” (Acts 16:9, NIV). Paul reset his plans and allowed God to lead him in a different direction.
In my mind I see men with sealskin mitts calling out, “Come over to Sachs Harbour.” Children wearing moose-hide mukluks are inviting, “Come to Echo Bay.” A woman wearing caribou clothing pleads, “Come over to Lutselk'e. Come and share hope and wholeness with us.”
Who will answer these calls?
When we read the Old Testament, we realize that Ruth had a lot on her mind. She was struggling with the loss of her husband, along with trying to comfort her mother-in-law who was grieving not only the loss of her own husband but of her only children, her two sons. Then Ruth had to consider her dilema: Am I going to continue to be faithful to my mother-in- law, even though technically my commitment ended at “till death do us part.” But there was more than an obligation there, there was a relationship. And because of that relationship she chose to step out in faith.
Did Ruth ever suspect that one phrase would have so much power? “Don't ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16, NLT).
Did she ever realize that that one choice would affect her mother-in-law’s entire nation? That through her lineage would come David, Solomon, and eventually the Messiah himself? She only knew that she needed to be faithful in the decision before her, and that was to go “unto the ends of the earth.” She took the first step, then the next step appeared, and before long she was on a path she may have never chosen, but it was one that was God ordained.
What step is God calling you to take? Is God calling you to pray for His spirit to continue to be poured out to the North? Has God put a burden on your heart to go as a missionary “unto the ends” of the earth?
To repeat C.S. Cooper’s question: “Who will follow up the work?”
Jonathan Geraci is the pastor of the Yellowknife Seventh-day Adventist Church in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada. E-mail him at [email protected].