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West Coast Welcomes Back Mission Boats
A tradition that died out is seeing new life. The Mission Boat Society now travels eight weeks in the summer to share the Gospel with seven communities.

Christian volunteers are again travelling by boat to meet the spiritual needs of 22 isolated coastal communities in British Columbia. The tradition had died out in the 1960s when improved air and road service seemed to make the work less urgent. But a group called the B. C. Mission Boat Society has resurrected the tradition over the past five years and has found an enthusiastic reception.

A volunteer shares the Christmas story with two young First Nations girls on the dock of the small village of Gilford, B.C.
Photo courtesy Marcus Huff.

The new start began in a rented boat in 2000 after a member of Bob Koebernick’s congregation at Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Parksville persuaded him of God’s desire for such an outreach.

The Mission Boat Society now uses a boat for eight weeks in the summer and works with seven communities yearround via water taxis, ferries and float plane. Volunteers respond to the needs for children’s and youth programs, vacation Bible school, Bible studies, church services, singalongs and home visits. “Some aspect of teaching had been kept alive,” says new executive director Marcus Huff. “In Klemtu one woman in her 60s had taught Sunday school for years. We focus our resources on communities with struggling churches, trying to work ourselves out of a job.”

Huff, who grew up in Michigan, fell in love with the local people and their culture on his first trip a few years ago. “I was blown away by First Nations culture, the amazingly gorgeous places they lived and the faith demonstrated despite hardships and remoteness.”

Volunteering on the mission boat is a life-changing experience. Just ask Reg Renner, who travelled with his wife and two teens in 2003 to Bella Bella, Klemtu and Ocean Falls. He has returned to Klemtu six times since then and says: “I never cease to be amazed by the warmth and compassion of the communities.

You never know whom you might meet when you step out of the boat.” Rhonda Kelman has volunteered for five summers. She feels so committed to the many friendships she has made in remote communities that she has raised the money to work as an outreach worker for a year.

The Mission Boat Society is a member of the Association of Lutheran Mission Agencies, although it welcomes volunteers from all denominations and offers nondenominational teaching. It is not as large as one of its predecessors, Columbia Coast Mission, which at one time had a fleet of boats attending christenings and weddings and burials as well as pulling teeth and building hospitals. But who knows what God will do?

Originally published in Faith Today, March/April 2009.




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