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Mission North
Arctic storms, signs and wonders, children's lives changed. That's what's happening in the Arctic, but mission trips headed there are few. There may be reasons why that’s so.

The small propeller plane shook from blasts of icy wind that pummelled it on the tiny runway. With unrelenting force blinding snow whipped past the cockpit window horizontally. Inside the plane a group of 12 huddled in apprehension, shivering as Arctic gusts burst through the open cockpit door. Stinging pellets collided with the occupants. They had been waiting two hours for the pilot’s decision. “Right now I have zero visibility,” he said, “but when I get a crack, I’m taking her up. Choose for yourselves if you want to go.”

Wally Boonstra (centre, facing camera) and the team from Grindstone Valley Bible Church in Waterdown, upon arrival in the Northern Ontario Oji-Cree Community of Muskrat Dam.

“I’ll go!” volunteered Johnny Oovaut, mayor of Quaqtac, the small Inuit settlement in Canada’s Far North.

Suddenly the plane roared against the head-winds and was airborne in a whirlwind of white.

“They live a life trusting God for their daily existence,” muses Russ Moyer. He and his wife Mave and the leadership team of Eagle Worldwide Ministries (EWM) based in Hamilton, Ontario, were on that plane heading home from a ten-day mission trip to the Arctic.

Wally Boonstra, a member of Grindstone Church, Waterdown, Ontario, and his team had a similar experience on a trip to Muskrat Dam, 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, among the Oji-Cree (Ojibwa/Cree) First Nations people. “They’re single runways designed to face into the wind,” he explains. “If the winds change, it’s a real adventure. One year after a big ice storm, I really thought the plane was going down.”

Not too many Canadians head North on mission. “Most are called to warm climates,” laughs Boonstra. But there may be other reasons why Canadian Christians don’t choose the North as a short-term mission destination. “It’s expensive!” he says. “You can send a group to the Dominican and build a church for less than taking a team to Northern Canada.” The trip to Quaqtac cost EWM’s team $3,500 per person. A ticket to Muskrat Dam is just under $2,000. Boonstra also believes there is a lack of knowledge among Christians concerning the need. “As far as the Gospel is concerned, the need is pressing,” he says.

Mave and Russ Moyer of Hamilton’s Eagle Worldwide Ministries worship in the Inuit community of Quaqtaq, on the shores of Ungava Bay.

Moyer is deeply concerned about this need. He believes complacency is also at fault among Canadian Christians. “We go on mission to other countries, but not in Canada. We need to sow into Arctic missions. It’s a people group among us. A nation within a nation. We need labourers – people who want to impart into them and empower them to take their natural place and reach their vast potential.”

EWM chose an Arctic mission in response to an invitation to participate in two Arctic conferences in October 2007. The Arctic wasn’t Moyer’s first choice. A former U.S. businessman, he came to Canada as a missionary, but didn’t “have a heart for the Arctic.” Prior to the invitation, “The Lord gave me some revelations and dreams about the Inuit people,” he says. The timing was right.  

Neither did the Grindstone church team choose the Far North as a mission destination. Eighteen of them headed there the first time to play hockey. “It was -45°. Frigid cold! They took us ice fishing.” The group had fun and decided to return the following year. “That year it was +4° with no ice. We decided to do something for kids,” says Boonstra, and they were hooked.

Since then the group has returned four times, always on Muskrat Dam’s February Gospel Jamboree weekend, a music-fest fly-in involving surrounding communities. They focus on work with children. They also minister in practical ways to villagers, and build relationships. Boonstra now goes because he likes it and has a vision.

Members of the Grindstone team meet with Stan Beardy (centre), Grand Chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which extends through Northern Ontario from Moosenee to the Manitoba border. Chief Beardy, a resident of Muskrat Dam, highlighted some of the needs of northern Natives, including the lack of jobs and the high suicide rate.

EWM’s team has made four trips to the Arctic. Theirs is a ministry focus to help “ignite revival among the nations” and to “equip and empower them for ministry with the gifts of the Spirit.”

EWM’s trips have been very fruitful. “During one of our visits nearly 100 young people received Jesus as Lord and Savior,” reports Moyer. We’ve had many salvations, rededications, baptisms in the Holy Spirit, deliverances, and other signs, wonders and miracles.” In spite of the powerful move of God, Moyer believes one of the most significant things happening among the Inuit recently is the establishment of apostolic leadership and government. “Many are taking their rightful place, both as spiritual and natural leaders in their communities,” he says. “Leaders are being equipped and empowered to minister themselves to their own communities.”

That’s Boonstra’s desire for Muskrat Dam.

Muskrat Dam is without a pastor. “Our hope is that from within the community a strong church leader can be raised up. That’s why we’re working with the children. We minister to kids up to grade six hoping that from among them a leader might come.” It isn’t as far-fetched an idea as it may seem.

In the Muskrat Dam area teens seem closed to the Gospel, says Boonstra, but not in surrounding areas. Neighbouring communities appear to be in revival and these revivals are led by young people.

Before the Gospel Jamboree begins, teens from other communities prayer-walk 30 kilometres through the night across the frozen lake to join in. When they reach land they form a circle with leaders and pray for healing among the young people. “Twice we’ve walked the last two kilometres with them,” says Boonstra. “This year some teens from Muskrat Dam walked with us. That’s a first. I think we are making a difference.”

Pastor Patty Thorpe from the Eagle’s Nest in Ancaster, with some of the children of Quaqtaq.

Outreach to children is a priority to both teams. The meetings at the 2007 Salluit Davidic Worship conference were “charged with God’s presence. It was a new experience for the people,” says EWM team member and pastor of Ancaster’s Eagle’s Nest, Patty Thorpe. “They weren’t familiar with the manifest presence of God.”

“During our turn on the platform, Russ offered ministry time for all those with broken hearts. Children responded by the dozens. Touched by God’s Spirit, they wept at the altar and received emotional healing. Even the very young were lining up at the altar one group after another. All the way across the front of the church they lay or sat on the floor crying and praying.” Eventually, says Thorpe, the youth pastor from Rankin Inlet challenged the adults, “The kids are repenting more to God than you guys.” He led the adults in a prayer of repentance toward the youth. Whole families came to the altar crying and embracing one another.

 “There are a lot of social issues, but spiritual issues lie at their root,” says Moyer.

There is a significant need for children’s and youth workers. Cultural changes have profoundly affected the young. “The older generation remembers the days of hunting and nomadic life, but the young are exposed to Western culture via television and music,” says Thorpe. Children don’t know in which culture to live. “They have access to computers, TV, and all the gagets that kids have down here – ipods, brand name clothing, the best hockey equipment.” observes Boonstra. Young people regret losing their way of life, but they don’t want to go back to igloos and a lack of life’s basics. The result is a generation characterized by hopelessness, purposeless and depression. Suicide is endemic.

Upon their return from Muskrat Dam last year Boonstra received a poignant email from Roy Fiddler; deputy chief of Muskrat Dam:

“good evening, wally… always a pleasure to have you people with us…come back anytime….you are truly a blessing to our community and more so to our children…I thank God for your group…please pray for our community…we just learned at noon hour that one of our young men committed suicide here in the community…community is in a state of shock right now…even for myself…I can’t really do much, not yet….I’m getting calls for the work that needs to be done….a very sad time as we lose another cousin…please pray for us…thank you.”

Enthusiastic Inuit youth take part in worship in Quaqtaq.

“The youth need job skills, mentoring, and training in leadership. They need to discover purpose, but most of all, they need to discover God,” says Moyer.

Churches can assist with Northern mission through prayer, funding and contributions of equipment. Opportunities for ministry exist at every level. “Building relationships,” says Boonstra, “is foremost for problems to be addressed and resolved.” He quotes Tony Campolo’s wisdom: “Low key and long term.” Regardless of the type of ministry, “It’s important to be invited by the leadership,” says Thorpe. “The people have experienced a great deal of control and exploitation, and to be invited is better for establishing relationship.”

The Grindstone team has been training Sunday school teachers, and hopes to return at the beginning of 2010 to work with the children. In October 2009 the EWM team ministered at Quaqtaq’s healing and training centre, at another prophetic conference and a youth inner healing conference.

“God has opened a unique door of ministry to the people of the North. It’s up to us to impact them effectively,” says Russ Moyer. “They’re true gatekeepers of the North. They have a great love for our country. Very little in our society compares to the courageous life of the men and women of Canada’s North.” 

Daina Doucet is a writer and editor based in Hamilton, Ontario. She edits the website, Christianity.ca for The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.

Originally published in Beacon, July/August 2009. Updated, January 2010.

 

 
 
 
 

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