Wake Up Call

Tags: Exploring Missions, SEND North, Story

As a member care couple in SEND North, my wife and I frequently travel to villages to visit our people scattered across the 60/70 window in Alaska and Northwest Canada.  For us, each visit is a real eye-opener, as life is far different from Anchorage where we live.  Recently we were asked to fill in for a SEND North family for several months as they went on Home Service.  The family has so many ministries going in that village, that we (and a just-out-of-college daughter who stayed behind) could only try to keep some of them going until they returned. 

Our time there was beyond eye-opening, it was a big wakeup call on one hand and a great encouragement on the other.  Because the family’s ministries are typical of SEND North families, we’ll call the family F.  And because the attitudes of the residents of the village where we served are typical of many villages, we’ll call the village V.

We woke up to a difficult reality; those representing Christ in Northern villages still have a horrible reputation to overcome. We met several residents who were still bitter about the way that they or their relatives had been treated in church-run boarding or residential schools, though there had long been a public elementary and junior high school in V.  Some told us that V is near what was one of the worst residential schools in the nation.  Certainly, not all of the boarding schools in the North were nightmares, but neither was this one the only bad one. 

The inexcusable physical and sexual abuse, neglect, and cover-ups were made worse in that these schools were usually operating in Jesus’ Name.  In addition, the young children were forced away from their families, and according to many accounts were robbed of their culture, language, and traditions. One particularly bad memory from that time is that the young students were forced to speak English only and beaten when they spoke their own language.  As well, there is abundant evidence of some courageous and compassionate missionaries who left their homes in the south only to proclaim the hope of the Gospel and the love of God.  But the wounds of the people are deep and the horrible reputation persists, even passed on from generation to generation. As a result, the name missionary is so charged with negative baggage in some areas that our SEND North workers identify instead as Christ-followers or Christian workers to emphasize the distinction.

So where is the encouragement in this sad reality? I was encouraged that the many ministries of our team offer healing from those traumas in many ways.  For example, this family operates an afterschool program in Jesus’ Name that offers kids a safe and supervised place to hang out with friends.  Their house is known in the community to be a safe refuge, where kids can go when their own homes are not safe.  Instead of removing children in crisis from their relatives in V, the Fs take children at risk into their own home temporarily and return them when their relatives are ready to take them again.  We met several young adults who had fond memories of living temporarily with F family.   It was a joy to see the F daughter speak to a three-year-old under her care in the local language instead of English, making sure he heard and understood it. 

What encouraged me the most was that the ministries that the F family do in village V lift high the Name of Jesus, and that their neighbors now associate that Name with love and care in action, especially to the children in V.  It is a joy to do what we can to keep families like the Fs keep serving their villages like V.  Though there are many obstacles to ministry in the North, the love of God is undeniable in the way the Fs operate, and that love heals the deepest wounds.