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Hopelines Newsletter


Volume 12 | October 2017 | Issue 2

A quarterly publication presenting news and stories of
Living Hope Native Ministries

Summer Teams: God at Work

We are thankful for each of the teams that shared the Gospel with the children of the northern Ontario communities of Pikangikum, Keewaywin, and Weagamow. Seeds were sown!

Keewaywin, by Scott Herbert

Posing on Rock in Keewaywin

This past summer we were blessed with the opportunity to travel to Keewaywin First Nation, ON, to hold Vacation Bible School. Our team from Maple City Chapel, Goshen, IN, consisted of 19 high school students and 4 adults.

We fell in love with the people of Keewaywin, especially the kids. Our visit fell over a time when the chief brought the community together for a revival weekend. We were encouraged and blessed by the leaders of the community as they prayed for each of us and for the rest of our stay in Keewaywin. It was a humbling experience to see the leaders so broken for God.

The Keewaywin kids hung out with us from sunup to sundown, and then some. They are beautiful kids with bright futures. One of the ways we spent time with the kids is providing a Bible school program. This gave us a way to invite kids to come to something structured and hopeful. We quickly built many beautiful relationships, and still keep in contact with many of the children.

In the evenings we spent time with the older youth in the community. The school building was opened for us to play volleyball, basketball and floor hockey. Again this provided a way for us to cross cultures and have fun learning from each other. We showed them how we play American basketball, but they showed us how to play Canadian hockey. As we built friendships in the short time we spent together, our hearts broke for story after story of the things the people in the Keewaywin First Nation people go through. Our eyes were opened to the impact of suicide, drugs, alcohol, and temptations on the community. Spiritual warfare was evident to us during our stay there. We continue to keep them in our prayers and intercede for them.

A volunteer from Maple City Chapel, IN, with a student at Keewaywin

The day we left we received news that one of the kids we talked to the night before tried to commit suicide. Our hearts broke, and many of us felt a feeling of helplessness. We asked the question, “What can we do?” We prayed and asked God to intervene. We want to stand with the community of Keewaywin and believe our Lord Jesus will bring a revival from the young to the old. Jesus will have the final say, and we pray for victory in that community. We prayed and believed it, and will continue to believe it.

Thank you to LHNM for the opportunity that they provide for people to experience another culture and learn from people. There is a huge need for God’s Kingdom to be advanced. The harvest is ripe, but the laborers are few.  We invite you to pray for the First Nations people and ask God to bring more workers to make disciples. Pray for the First Nations youth to take a stand and desire God more than what the world gives.

Weagamow, by Dave Brenneman

Dave and Laverna with crew at Bible camp

For the children in Weagamow (or Round Lake), one of the highlights of the summer is attending the girls and boys camp-something they look forward to all year. We have been blessed to have a group from Cherry Glade Mennonite Church here every year since 2012 to help with the camps, with many camp counselors being here every year. They understand what is needed at camp and step up and do it.

Camp is a lot of work for both the team and the people at Weagamow. But more important is the relationships that have been made over the years. It is wonderful to see those bonds grow and strengthen. It is also encouraging to hear the counselors say they can see real growth in the kids walk with God. It is amazing to see how God uses each one with the gifts He has given to help His kingdom grow.

Folks from the team and from Weagamow said it was one of the best camps yet. Volunteer Courtney Maust said of the girls camp: “I feel like it went better because relationships have been built upon from other years. Not only did the campers know what to expect but I think us counselors were also more prepared. Allowing flexibility helped us to have fun and a relaxing time, and added to the lessons and Bible studies. And of course sleep was the biggest difference. Both the girls and teachers had a full night sleep which gave us all more energy, creating a more enjoyable time together. But ultimately, while we may have tweaked things, it was evident that the Holy Spirit was present guiding and directing us counselors and working in the heart of the girls.”

A team from Cherry Glade, MD, with the children of Weagamow

Hunter Tice said of the boy’s camp: “I have been to Round Lake before but not to camp. From hearing what others were saying, the boys were very cooperative with few behavioral issues. Each of the devotional times was led by a different counselor with each sharing on topics that complimented one another.”

We pray the things talked about and learned at the camps will be forever in their hearts of the campers, and that something they heard will help when times are difficult. We were also pleased with the community’s involvement in the camps. It is encouraging to see the church and community working together for the good of the young people of Round Lake.

Akwachink: A Difficult but Growing Experience

by Andrea Lyndaker

One of the many beautiful lakes on the Akwachink route

Akwachink Leadership School is a physically and emotionally intense college course designed to equip youth with leadership skills and promote character development-all under the guise of a canoe trip. The course is offered through Rosedale Bible College and is hosted by Living Hope Native Ministries in Red Lake, Ontario. Taking place three weeks before fall semester, the first two weeks of Akwachink are spent on an expedition in the bush. The third week consists of classes taught by mission personnel at the LHNM base, and paper writing.

My daddy, Arthur Lyndaker, was the instructor.  Arthur led Akwachink for seventeen years before taking a six year break, when Dion Gingerich took his turn in Sudbury. As a little girl with wild curls and bright eyes, I watched with awe each summer as my daddy, my hero, tromped off into the bush with a small troop of college students in tow. They were the essence of maturity, and I wanted to be just like them when I grew up. The years flew by, and now my older brother Collin and I were with them.

Luke Peachey on a portage

Because of extremely low water levels in the creeks, we spent more time on land portaging during the first week than we did on the water paddling. As Emilie Miller recalled, “For me, the hardest time of each day was the moment when we found the portage and started unloading the packs and dragging the canoes. Each time, I had to work hard on my attitude because I knew that what was coming wouldn’t be easy. I learned that leaning on others helps so much when trying to get through something hard. If just one person is working hard to keep a positive attitude, it can shift the mood of the whole group.”

It was definitely crazy hard, and I think a lot of us were wondering how we could have ever been so dumb as to have paid to work so hard. But then we would finally get to our campsite, and after filling our hungry tummies and resting our tired feet, we would sit around the fire-its comforting warmth surrounding us-and suddenly, everything was okay. In fact, it might have been the best day ever.

During those first two weeks, we rose with the sun, crashed through overgrown portages, paddled down winding creeks and across huge lakes, fished for walleye and lake trout, learned how to use a compass and read maps, repelled, ran rapids, and sang underneath a canopy of stars.

Solo was a point of spiritual renewing for many of us. Erin Yoder shared her experience: “I really enjoyed our twenty-four hour solo. At first I was pretty focused on just setting up my shelter and doing more practical things around my area. As I was building my fire, the sky was bright red and the lake had become gloriously still. Across the lake, I could see three other little fires. I enjoyed being so completely solitary, but to still be unified with the rest of our team. Alone, yet together. Having the time to spend so much time alone with Jesus was amazing. I read a lot of Psalm 119, and was really struck with how in love the psalmist was with scripture. He looked to it for everything: for wisdom, for strength, for joy. It really impressed on me how I should be the same way. Since Akwachink, I have found myself enjoying my time alone with Jesus more than I did before.”

Carissa Lilly, another student who went on Akwachink this year, also summarized her adventures: “Going on the Akwachink expedition was an incredible experience. I went expecting God to work, and He was faithful. I found spiritual renewal and direction about my future while in the bush. We learned a lot about teamwork and communication in addition to leadership and bush skills. The sense of fellowship among our group was great. Being out in the wilderness facing the elements together can make or break your friendships, and it definitely made ours. I entered the group as a complete stranger and left as a friend with every one of them. This is an amazing program. I hope it’s around for many years for others to experience.”

Arthur (L to R) Bryce, Andrea, Lincoln, Jared, Windsor, Collin, Carissa, Emilie, Erin, Rhoda, Luke

Before Akwachink, I never really had the opportunity to bond with other Christian youth. Just like Carissa, I started the trip feeling alone, and wondering how in the world I was going to fit in. But then Jesus knocked my socks off by surrounding me with people who really cared for me, despite my faults and shortcomings.

Saying goodbye to people I had grown to love was so, so hard, but I do not regret the pieces of my heart that I gave away; I know they will all come back to me in full. During our solo on Akwachink, I made the decision to choose to trust Jesus with my future, and He once again invited me to join him in this dance of life. Though I may not know where I am going, I know my heart has been changed, and I’m so very excited to see how God uses these experiences to bring me closer to him.

Youthful Impact

by Merle Nisly
It seems we love to label and categorize people. We’ve given  labels to our age groups-like Boomers, Gen X, Y, and Millennials-presumably to better understand why people think as they do. It seems these affect our expectations of people, and maybe unfairly limit those partnerships we could be developing.

To me, now a bona fide senior citizen, it is fun to watch young people break stereotypes and to make an unpredictable impact in our world. The younger people featured in these stories have shown a kind of energy and purpose that spreads hope and optimism in the face of fear and negativity.

We may do well to avoid labels and generalizations of all people-especially the upcoming generations that we older ones compare to our own. It will be a lot more helpful and encouraging if we can inspire purpose, energy, and skill development that spreads the essence and the glory of the Kingdom we are a part of.

Previous Hopelines Editions:

October 2016

NLAC: Encouragement Through Connection

by Sebai Yaman

Sebai and Bev Yaman Shared about their Ministry at New Hope

My name is Sebai Yaman. I’m an associate pastor with New Hope Fellowship in Thunder Bay. After years of prayer, God recently opened the door for us to move into a larger building in a strategic area of the city for ministry, coinciding with our vision to share the Gospel with First Nations people in Thunder Bay.

We made the move in June, a little nervously, after being in our other building for over a decade. The new location is just a few blocks away from DFC (Dennis Franklin Cromarty), a First Nations high school, and only a five minute walk from a housing complex that houses hundreds of First Nations people. How perfect is God’s plan? Our plans pale in comparison.

As a church, we’ve also been privileged to have become part of the Northern Light Association of Churches (NLAC), and we hosted a gathering of the association in August at our new facility. NLAC is a new association of churches in Northern Ontario, formed in 2013.

Wayne Shenk Spoke out of his Wisdom and Experience
Wayne Shenk Spoke out of his Wisdom and Experience

The member churches largely have similar backgrounds, starting as mission churches planted to reach First Nations communities. Many of these churches have now matured beyond the guidance and support of their original parent churches, and NLAC is a door God has opened for us to all continue to have fellowship and accountability.

It’s especially practical because many of the parent churches that used to support the NLAC churches are a great distance away, even by Northern Ontario standards. Fellowshipping with churches that are closer means we can see each other face to face more frequently and encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today”… (Heb 3:13)

The NLAC member churches are: Sandy Lake Mennonite, The Lighthouse (Sault Ste. Marie), Forestry Fellowship (Red Lake), New Hope Fellowship (Thunder Bay), and Cornerstone Christian Fellowship (Sioux Lookout). The association membership also includes Living Hope Native Ministries, a mission that supports missionary families and churches throughout Northern Ontario. Several other local churches are considering joining as well.

Arthur and Iris Lyndaker Family Providing Music
Arthur and Iris Lyndaker Family Providing Music

We held our second annual association gathering in Thunder Bay from August 12-14. Representatives from all the member groups were in attendance, including the newest member, Cornerstone Christian Fellowship. Representatives came from as far north as Weagamow Lake, and as far east as Sudbury (representing Sudbury First Nations Church, who are considering becoming an NLAC member). The theme for the weekend was fellowship. We enjoyed sharing songs together and lots of delicious food. We heard from representatives who shared their hearts about struggles and successes within their churches.

Missionary families, who are part of the association through Living Hope Native Ministries, told of struggles in their remote communities. Dave and Laverna Brenneman, from Weagamow Lake, reminded the group that as remote missionaries there are countless opportunities to ‘feed’ others spiritually, but being ‘fed’ spiritually themselves is a challenge.

Another missionary, Colleen Estes, in Pikangikum, asked for continued prayer for spiritual awakening in the community and for God to meet her needs as a single missionary. Specifically she asked us to pray for a new furnace for the youth centre, as the old one is on the way out.

Member churches in the cities shared various concerns and encouragements. Wendell Graber, from The Lighthouse church in Sault Ste. Marie, shared how the church has been encouraged by higher attendance. They are currently keeping their eyes open for a larger building to accommodate the growing group. Praise God!

Nate Hochstetler from Sioux Lookout Introducing Cornerstone Christian Fellowship
Nate Hochstetler from Sioux Lookout Introducing Cornerstone Christian Fellowship

Evident in the reports of thanksgiving and difficulty, I could feel the churches growing closer together in unity as we empathized and rejoiced together. What made the weekend even more encouraging, is that this theme of unity was reinforced by our guest speaker, Wayne Shenk. Wayne joined us all the way from Vanderhoof, British Columbia. He travels regularly all over the world, encouraging local fellowships. He expressed that in all his travels, he has seen no more potent enzyme for church growth and success than unity. He said it didn’t matter where he was, West Africa, China or elsewhere, where churches stand in unity, he has seen God’s blessing.

Overall the gathering was so encouraging. It was exciting to see familiar faces and even new ones that the Lord has brought into our midst. NLAC hopes to grow and share mutual encouragement with churches from all over Northern Ontario.

I look forward to next year’s meeting, and to share in many meaningful exchanges with sister churches from NLAC in the meantime. The support from original parent churches may have changed, but God is opening an exciting new door with NLAC: one of unity, and encouragement.

I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. (Revelation 3:8)

“Jesus, Light of the World”

Vacation Bible School at Pikangikum First Nation

By John Niederhaus

Group of VBS Students with their "Love Glasses"
Group of VBS Students with their “Love Glasses”

Leidy’s Church, for the 22nd consecutive year, sent an intergenerational mission team to work on Ontario’s Reserves under the auspices of Living Hope Native Ministries. A crew of 20 made the trek from Pensylvania to Red Lake where they flew the additional 20 minutes to Pikangikum.

An enthusiastic group of children greeted them upon arrival at the teacher’s houses where the team boarded. Providing Bible school classes for pre-school through 6th grade, attendance was as high as 230, but due to some inclement weather-it rained during the week of ministry-the attendance was more often in the 150 to 175 range.

“Jesus: Light of the World” was the theme for the five-day Bible school. By the time the week was over almost all the kids could recite the memory verse: “Before the world began, Jesus was there. Everything was made through Him. In Him was life and that life was the light for all people. And that light shines in the darkness.”

Craft Time! (Making Necklaces)
Craft Time! (Making Necklaces)

The curriculum was divided into lower elementary and upper elementary. Students in the upper elementary were in four groups with each group rotating serially between learning centers for crafts, gospel, Bible story, and games. Students in lower elementary focused on crafts and other busy activity centers. Some of the older girls from Pikangikum helped out with the teaching in the lower elementary section and provided a big boost for all.

Team members were able to attend a church service on Sunday evening, benefiting from the worship and preaching while also having an opportunity to share some of their testimonies. One evening the team hosted a youth night featuring Christian music led by team members and a special message brought by one of the team members. It was an excellent evening of fellowship and mutual ministry.

Several of the team members also did repair work. Colleen had a vehicle that needed some special attention, and it got it! The plumbing system at the Night Light youth center received major attention and is now functioning quite well.

Though one night was designated game night, usually there was a crowd of kids around the team eager to jump rope, kick a hackey-sack, throw a Frisbee, or just hang out.

Everyone especially looks forward to the day when each student and teacher receives a t-shirt with that year’s theme on it. Then everyone tries to get as many signatures as they can from fellow students and teachers on the shirt. Those shirts become treasured possessions full of memories for all the team members and-we trust-for many of the kids as well.

This year’s team had members who had been up to Pik for as many as nine or ten years as well as some who had never been on any sort of mission trip before. Some from Pik who were VBS students years ago now have children who are students. Good friendships have formed over the course of those years, making Bible School all the more meaningful.

Short Term Missions

By Shula Mulenga

Shula MulengaThis year four summer teams partnered with Living Hope Native Ministries. Here are two examples of some of the work that was covered by our Short Term Teams this summer. The Immanuel Leidys Church team has been partnering with LHNM for over 20 years. This summer, this group spent a week in Pikangikum First Nation ministering through a VBS. In addition, they helped Colleen Estes with a few repairs around her house and the local youth centre called the Eagles Nest. The annual Leidys VBS is a highlight for many of the children in Pikangikum. Often kids start asking about Bible School two months before the team arrives. Not only does the team spend time teaching the children, they spend an equal amount of time building relationships with the kids after their day’s work.

Another team, the First Baptist Church Trenton from Oklahoma, traveled to Grassy Narrows First Nation to support the work that Paul and Esther Lee have. This church group has been traveling to Grassy Narrows for several years.

The team was predominantly a work team that helped do some much-needed renovations on the Lees’ home. Apart from that, their work this summer also covered a VBS, door-to-door ministries, and conducting a church service each night. Even with their busy schedule, they found that some of their most valuable times in Grassy Narrows were when they took time to listen and be an encouragement to the Lees.

Even though spending a week partnering with local Christians and missionaries is often too short a time to make a lot of long-term changes, consistent visits help with building trust. We have found that teams that return year after year have an easier time building trusting relationships with the people they are visiting. It’s within such relationships that both the short-term team members and the people they are serving can learn from each other.

We are thankful for those that have partnered with us in the past and those who are looking to come back next year and be a part of Living Hope’s work.

Shula serves LHNM as Administrative Assistant, in Human Resources, and coordinating short term teams.

Cells or Pebbles

By Merle Nisly, LHNM CEO

nisly-merle-2When we believers gather, we celebrate the community of Jesus followers. The creative, spontaneous, and organic life of believers in community is an amazing gift from God. To be connected, to be immersed in fellowship with others in the community is much like the inter-relatedness of the cells in our bodies.

It is of great significance that the scriptures describe the followers of Jesus as organically connected—as if in the same physical body. The Apostle Paul writes, you are the body of Christ. We are not individually whole, not individually reproductive, not individually loving, not individually connected to Jesus.

However, we sometimes act more like a bucket of pebbles than a group of living cells. Yes, a bucket of pebbles may be a beautiful thing-with individual colours and shapes creating patterns and variety. But pebbles don’t depend on one another. Pebbles don’t draw life or share nutrients with each other. When one pebble is removed, there is no real impact on the rest. The body of Christ, the Church, is not much like a bucket of pebbles.

Nothing compares to the rewards of joyfully growing together toward the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. We don’t do that in isolation.

July 2016

Transition in Sudbury


1 Group
Group together before the Swartzentrubers and Gingerichs leave on sabbaticals

In the past 6 months there have been a lot of changes at Sudbury First Nations Church. It began when my parents (Stuart and Delores) and Dion and Krista left for much-needed sabbaticals. During that same time, another core family to our church announced they were moving back up north. This left the rest of us staying here, wondering what the future would look like in Sudbury. From the very beginning we saw God’s hand in all of it. When my parents announced that they would be leaving for sabbatical, they were also able to excitedly announce that Kevin Moore and his wife Norma had agreed to leave their home in Moose Factory to come be our Pastor. We have been praying for a full-time native pastor for years now, and God used this transition to answer that prayer.

2 Rick
Rick Gagne leading on a Sunday morning, with his grandsons, cousins Joseph and Isaac

Although our core group is small now, our fellowship times have grown. In the past few months there have been more spontaneous game nights and other nights of fellowship than I have ever seen. These nights have been great with lots of food and laughter. Since the New Year, we have started a young adults’ group. These have been great nights of fellowship. We have had fun playing games, bowling, and going to eat at different homes during our progressive supper. We have also started what we like to call “Music Night.”After Dion and my dad left, there were not many people who could lead worship. The main reason being that people did not know how to play any instruments to accompany the singing. Some people had commented that they wanted to learn how to play guitar, so Melanie offered to show them a few tips, and we set a time and date. That evening came, and 10 people showed up with guitars ready to learn. Since then Melanie has taught people a few chords and some strumming patterns, and every once in a while we can convince everyone to play a song together for worship on a Sunday morning.

3 Geese
Preparing Geese for Roasting

There have been other times when I have seen people at our church come together in time of need. There was one Monday morning when I received a text saying that a close friend of Mervin Cheechoo’s had passed away on a nearby reserve. The wake was to be held that night. Merv was going to share, and the family was wondering if our church could bring some people to sing. We agreed, knowing it could be a great ministry opportunity since the people at the wake were not Christians. So that evening 8 of us met at a Tim Hortons before heading out to the reserve. We had no time to practice beforehand so Merv had a great idea: a person in each vehicle could play a guitar and then we could “facetime” via phone between the vehicles to practice singing. This was our only option if we wanted any practice as a group, so we all agreed. It was quite the experience and it still makes me laugh when I think of it. That night Merv was able to share his experience and encourage the people to turn to God in their grief. We sang 6 to 8 hymns, and were able to point people to God in their time of grief. Merv had many people going up to him afterwards wanting to know more, so we praised God for that.

Participating in the Coldest Night of the Year walk
Participating in the Coldest Night of the Year walk

Over the past months, MJ Meekis has also started a ministry with the homeless of downtown Sudbury. It started out when she started spending time downtown simply listening to people’s stories. In this time God broke her heart for all the needs of these people. She would come to church and share the stories she heard and the people she met. During the cold winter months, she encouraged the church not to forget the homeless. At one point we collected socks, hats and mitts which could be distributed downtown. We also participated in the Coldest Night of the Year walk, to raise money for the homeless. We got off to a late start fundraising, but within a week we had doubled our goal and raised a little over 1,000 dollars. Since then, MJ has begun crocheting different things like hats and slippers to sell. Then she and another friend use that money to buy things like soap, toothbrushes, etc. to hand out to those who need it. MJ says building relationships is going really well. It really makes a difference when you take the time to listen to those around you. As I look back on the past months, I see God working in our church. We have grown closer as a church body and we are more connected. So I am very thankful for the changes that have taken place and that God is always faithful through all transitions.

Leadership, Energy, Passion

Stuart Swartzentruber

5 Swartzentrube
Swartzentruber Family

We all know that the Church belongs to Jesus, and that He is the one who builds and keeps it. My wife and I are seeing this truth happening in reality this year at Sudbury First Nations Church. We are so encouraged. We have been part of the leadership team of SFNC for the last 24 years. Due to Delores’ chronic neck and head pain, we are taking 2016 away from pastoral responsibilities in Sudbury to try to find help. Sudbury First Nations Church has lost a few families over the last year and we have felt so small and vulnerable. Leaving this past December seemed scary and risky. It has been amazing to see how God has provided the leadership, the energy, and the passion at SFNC. It has been an encouragement and a rebuke to my unbelief, all wrapped up in one. We recently visited Sudbury and were able to get a sense of what God is doing there. Kevin and Norma Moore have moved to Sudbury to pastor the church there. Mervin Cheechoo helps Kevin lead SFNC. Rick Gagnon is also part of the leadership team. They are doing a terrific job and the church body has come together during this time. The one thing I noticed during our visit is the body life that is happening all through the week. The group may be small, but they are supporting and loving one another. I hear of game nights, Bible studies, goose roasts, bowling, and coffees together. These are spontaneous activities many times. The church is really enjoying one another. I see young people and their gifts being utilized in the church. There are opportunities to learn to play instruments and help during the worship time Sunday morning. I see the church pulling together and being a true family. I hear from the leadership a desire not to be in-grown, but to bring in those who do not yet know Jesus. I am sure that there are frustrations and struggles at SFNC these days, but as a former pastor, I have a deep-seated joy and contentment at what I see God doing in and through this church. I am confident that God will continue building His kingdom in the Sudbury area. To Him be all the glory!

Journey from Moosonee to Sudbury

Kevin Moore

Kevin and Norma
Kevin and Norma

Norma and I are from Moosonee, Ontario. We were married on August 6, 1982, and today we have four children, eight grandchildren, two sons-in-law, and one daughter-in-law. We had heard about Jesus most of our lives, but didn’t commit to following Him until August of 1990. Within the first year of our new life in Christ I began to sense God was leading me to attend Bible school. It took us a few years to get there, but in August of 1996 we found ourselves living in Caronport, Saskatchewan, so that I could attend Briercrest Bible College and Seminary. It was while we were there that I began to sense God was calling me into full time ministry. We moved back to Moosonee in 2002, and attended Moosonee Community Church. For the fifteen years we were there I served as a deacon and teaching elder, and Norma served as the church secretary/treasurer. We were involved in leading youth groups, and teaching Sunday school. We also both worked full time. Norma worked in various office jobs. I worked in various positions for Ontario Northland Railway from 1988-96, and 2002-2015.

Kevin preaching at Sudbury First Nations Church
Kevin preaching at Sudbury First Nations Church

In August of 2015 Norma and I decided I would apply to Living Hope Native Ministries to become a missionary. On October 2, 2015 I was accepted as a missionary with Living Hope Native Ministries. During the application process I was invited by Sudbury First Nations Church to come and pastor the church for the year 2016. We had been visiting Sudbury several times a year since 2005, and whenever we were in town we would attend Sudbury First Nations Church. We have always found the people warm and friendly. Pastor’s Stuart Swartzentruber and Mervin Cheechoo would often encourage Norma and I to come and join the work in Sudbury. Others would encourage us to move to Sudbury. In His timing God brought us together, and we consider it a privilege to be part of what He’s doing here in Sudbury. One of our goals while here is to build relationships with our church family and to work on building community. This is one of the things, which struck us about Sudbury First Nations Church from the beginning. They’ve always been about building community and building relationships with one another. You get the sense these people really do love one another, and enjoy spending time together. We don’t want to change that. We want it to continue, and we want to build off of that. We are encouraged by the things we see happening in the church, but we face challenges in Sudbury as a First Nations Church. It’s a question the leadership team has been asking of ourselves: How can we be more effective in reaching other First Nations people?

The Gift of Leadership

Merle Nisly, LHNM CEO

Merle Nisly

In the recent past, it seems everywhere I turn there is a perceived leadership vacuum of some sort. It may be that a position is vacated, and the people who had been led feel untethered. It may be that a new leadership strategy is required, but the leaders in place carry on without noticing that fact. Sometimes it is the result of power struggles, where losing or gaining control leaves the community at a loss. Any individual or community of two or more people feels the need for leadership. Everyone has some intuitive expectation of what is required from leaders. Many have more highly-developed expectations of leaders-partly because we all have ready access to the examples of leadership our culture considers the most successful. We can easily compare our fumbling, local church leaders to the polished and articulate professionals who write the manuals and produce the video series. God has reminded me through recent demonstration of his power that he gives the gift of leadership to whom he will. God also chooses to provide available leadership as a gift to small and larger communities of believers. He does this, many times, without depending on our ability to plan it all out. He just does it. He gives ideas. He stirs hearts. He makes a way. It’s completely amazing, and it can’t always be described in leadership books. Leadership is a gift from God.

March 2016

Can Anyone Feel the Love?

Merle Nisly, LHNM CEO MerleAn indigenous elder once said to me, “I can see you love my people.” That was one of the greatest affirmations I have ever received. Though not every encounter of my ministry life would have inspired the same comment, this was an important experience. It felt important because that is a part of what Jesus said is important. This elder never did make an obvious choice to be a follower of Jesus, and he never felt the need to attend Christian gatherings for worship. Only God knows what difference it made that he observed, or felt, love.

As followers of Jesus, each of us will have daily opportunities to communicate our life message, our life purpose, and our beliefs. Sometimes we don’t really care about how that feels or sounds to the person we are speaking to: we just unload our passionate description of the “truth.” I like to ask myself, “Would I feel loved if I were listening to me?”

The ministry team featured in this issue are people who care deeply about what is communicated and what is felt. These people love “the Lord…with all (their) heart…and (their) neighbours as themselves.” (Luke 10:27-28) Not perfectly, but with integrity. I’m proud to be a part of such a team.

See our ministry staff team here. I thank you for praying for this team, and for the ministries represented by each person. We are all very grateful for your partnership.

Workers Needed

Church Development: In communities where individual believers do not have a local church body to fellowship with, LHNM will train and assist workers to initiate in facilitating and partnering to see local churches emerge.

Youth Ministry leaders: LHNM will partner with local church and community leaders by assigning workers and volunteers to assist with youth ministry needs.

Contact our office for more information.

December 2015

2015 in Review: “Relationships take a long time to develop, and building into people takes a long time.”

We celebrate the goodness of God as we review his actions among us in this past year. His actions, along with ours, are for his glory alone. In God’s grace, our team has been actively serving as partners and helpers in the plan God has for reconciling the world to himself. Truth and Reconciliation, through love: That’s the heart of the life and message of what we call “the good news.”

Following are some personal words shared by those who serve on our team. We hope you are encouraged as you read. We deeply appreciate your prayers and your interest in these ministries.

Wendell and Lila GraberWendell & Lila Graber, Sault Ste. Marie

The Lighthouse church fellowship is the focus of our ministry here in Sault Ste. Marie. Discipling and encouraging believers in their walk with the Lord is a priority for us. We make an effort to do that through small group Bible studies and individual visits during the week.

One of the great blessings in our lives is seeing the Lord at work changing people, drawing them to him and setting them free from sin. Just this past week one of the men shared with excitement how his prayers for victory over a destructive habit were answered. Several others with a new desire to follow Christ and fellowship with believers have come to The Lighthouse this year. We’ve also experienced the first death of someone in the fellowship. Though we miss her, the faith she displayed leaves us with the wonderful hope of seeing her again.

We are also involved with children’s ministry as a way of touching families in our community. Each year we plan a week of summer Bible Club on Garden River. During the school year we go into an elementary school near our home for an hour of Bible Club each week. This summer we also had a backyard Bible Club at our home for children in town. Parents of some of the children attending asked us to consider doing more, and that led to a monthly children’s church in their home.

Dave and Laverna BrennemanDave & Laverna Brenneman, Weagamow Lake

Greetings from Weagamow Lake! This past year has been a year of adjustments and getting to know a new culture and people group while building good relationships.

We have been deeply involved with programs for the children here: Sunday school hour, Junior youth group on Thursday nights, and youth group on Saturday nights. We are also involved with the Boy’s and Girl’s Camp in July and women’s prayer meeting and men’s Bible studies on Monday nights. One way relationships are being built with the children is by opening our home after school each day for children to play games. Many evenings there are as many as 25 different youth and children who come through our doors. During the games, we have been taking breaks to read “Our Daily Bread for Kids.”

As time goes on, these kids are asking more questions of our faith and of God. They are also sharing more of the struggles they are facing. Our faith and commitment continue to grow as we see God moving and working, not only in us, but in and through others. Thank you for your continued prayer for us.

Sebai and Beverly YamanSebai & Beverly Yaman, Thunder Bay

We arrived in Thunder Bay in late May to serve in leadership at New Hope Fellowship Church. I have seen God’s blessing in establishing relationships with other brothers and sisters within the church, and have been privileged to start to mentor some, especially those in the younger demographic. Beverly is actively involved in teaching the women of the church, and I have been blessed to be able to preach on Sunday mornings on several occasions.

We’re seeing God’s heart for people and this church, and are praying for depth in worship and lives fully surrendered to our wonderful God!

Paul and Kim LeePaul Lee & Esther Kim, Grassy Narrows

Hello my brothers and sisters. Due to your help, we are thankful for another good summer. This summer we had teams from Georgia, Missouri, Child Evangelism Fellowship, and a Korean church from Kitchener-Waterloo. These teams came here to share God’s love with the adults and the children of our community.

Again, I would like to say that I am truly thankful for all of the brothers’ and sisters’ hard work and efforts. I ask in the name of the Lord that the people who support and help us will continue to have passionate and loving hearts for the Lord, and will continue to work in expanding God’s kingdom. God knows all of the hard work and efforts that my brothers and sisters had put in while they were here in Grassy Narrows.

Due to the help that we received here from everyone again this year, I am happy to inform you that there seem to be changes and improvements in the local church. I love you, my brothers and sisters and I thank you once again. Shalom.

Stan and Sally BraggStan & Sally Bragg, Saugeen

We continue to reach out to the Saugeen community with our children’s ministry, the youth ministry, and the Gathering Place Community Fellowship. We are pleased to have the help of a First Nation lady, Sabrina. She is a great help in the overwhelming tasks of all that we do. We have about 40 kids that are picked up with our ministry bus on Tuesday nights, with lots of fun and spiritual input. Our youth ministry is made up of the youth that help us in our children’s ministry. We see the need to disciple them and build into their lives.

The Gathering Place continues to draw people from the community that will not darken the door of any other church in the community. We try to eliminate as many barriers as possible so they feel comfortable in coming. For that reason, we meet in the local cultural center where most of the community meetings take place.

Relationships take a long time to develop, and building into people takes a long time. We relate to people caught in alcoholism and drug abuse, as well as some traditional people. Trying to raise up people who will own their identity as a Christ follower is tough. But we rely on the Lord to do only what He can do, praise God.

Colleen EstesColleen Estes, Pikangikum

This year’s ministry in Pikangikum was shortened by 5 months due to an unexpected break—the break of an ankle, that is. However, the Lord used the time to bring rest and restoration after the many losses of the past year and the stresses of daily life. I was able to lead a group of 35 youth to the Warrior Leadership Summit in Missouri, and once again witnessed God moving upon hearts in a powerful way. The discipling of those youth continues on through a weekly Bible study. A group of 25-30 adults, gather on Tuesday nights for an ongoing Freedom From Addictions meeting.

Rob and Sharlene DiltsRob & Sharlene Dilts, Golden Lake

Our year was very busy with many miles traveled and an exciting week of Smoky Trail Native Bible Camp. Fundraising has both its joys and challenges. The travel, the uncertainty, the rejection, all can play havoc with our health, emotions and family life. However, we have found it to also be a huge blessing as it has helped us lean on God more and more each day. We thoroughly enjoy these opportunities to share God’s calling on our lives and ministry.

We directed the Eastern Smoky Trail Native Bible Camp at Camp Mishewah, July 25 to 31. Just before camp started we were still severely short of staff, to the point we thought we might have to cancel the camp. In His provision, we had one of the best camps ever. We were excited to welcome both campers and staff from our community and surrounding area for the first time.

The final campfire of the week was an evening of staff and campers sharing their stories—leading to a camper and a staff member making decisions to follow Jesus.

Dion and Krista GingerichDion and Krista Gingerich, Sudbury

This past year we have continued our ministry involvement with Sudbury First Nations Church. Our main responsibilities included the youth group in our area, as well as serving with the leadership team at the church. Another highlight of the year was leading a group of Bible college students on the two-week Akwachink Leadership School, an outdoor program to develop leadership and group dynamic skills. We are thankful for a good learning experience with a great group of kids.

All of our usual activities have been winding down as we prepare to take a break from ministry. Beginning in January, 2016, we are attending Providence Theological Seminary in Manitoba to further our training for ministry. We hope to return to Sudbury in the summer of 2017.

Stuart and Delores Swartzentruber Stuart & Delores Swartzentruber, Sudbury

In this past year, we have continued to lead and serve at Sudbury First Nations Church. Some of the highlights included times of getting together for one-on-one Bible reading and discipleship. One of these young men was baptized this past fall. Stuart has enjoyed volunteering at the Native Friendship Centre. He helped make and serve breakfasts for their Homeless program. Sudbury First Nations Church’s annual camping was again a wonderful time with beautiful weather.

In the recent months, we have begun making plans to transfer the pastoring role at Sudbury First Nations Church to others. We will be making a change in both our ministry responsibilities and of our location before the end of 2015. We are thrilled at the prospect of a First Nations couple, experienced in church leadership, moving into Sudbury in the near future to lead out at the Sudbury First Nations Church. God has shown his great wisdom and provision, and we trust him to finish that process.

Ken and Sondra FunkKen  & Sondra Funk, Thunder Bay

We are enjoying a fruitful season of ministry in Thunder Bay. New Hope continues to be a place of ministry to many First Nations believers and those seeking answers. The Lord has blessed us with a very capable leadership team, and we have been working at clarifying our vision and direction. Our goal is to live on the cutting edge of our faith.

We have been praying for a pastor to take New Hope into the next season of growth, and the Lord called Sebai and Beverly Yaman to Thunder Bay. They are fitting in well, and have had lots of good pastoral ministry to the church and city. Pray for our city as so many need the new life we have in Jesus Christ.

Arthur and Iris LyndakerArthur and Iris Lyndaker, Poplar Hill

We returned to Poplar in February from a 10-month sabbatical. Since returning we continue to work primarily with children and youth. Wednesday after school finds our home bursting at the seams with an average of 40 children. Kid’s church includes games, bible memory, review, singing, and a lesson time. Thursday after school is Jr youth (ages 12-15) and is similar to Kid’s church but geared for young teens.

This past summer we took 8 youth (ages 15-21) to Warrior leadership Summit. Not only did we have fun and build relationships, but we also heard great biblical teaching, upbeat music, and lots of helpful workshops. Since returning, a small group of youth meets in our home every week for Bible study. We are also involved in community events, and Arthur spends time in the community visiting. Sundays find us leading a small English-speaking cell group in our home.

Shula MulengaShula Mulenga, Pikangikum

Ministry continues to be centered on building relationships with different families in Pikangikum. These friendships have helped me have a better understanding on Pikangikum culture—a vital part of helping people experience Christ-centered change in their lives. It takes time to build trust, but it’s worth it in the end.

Mary Jane MeekisMary Jane Meekis, Sudbury

God has led some very wonderful ladies my way, who are unchurched. My times with them have been rich, but also times of great sadness. I have learned so much from just listening to their stories. I feel very thankful for my time with them.

I also go into the Pregnancy Care Centre once a week, where I volunteer. Teaching classes for the young mothers of the Greater Sudbury Area is new for me. I enjoy meeting moms, who are trying their best to be good moms, even with a great many challenges. Pregnancy Care Centre and Infant Food Bank is where many families come for diapers, formula, clothing, and educational classes.

Occasionally I fill in for Sunday school classes. Each week there are Bible studies, and coffee visits with the ladies.

God is at work in communities across Ontario. Please continue to pray for our staff as they reach out with the good news of the life-changing message of new life in Jesus!

What For?

MerleMerle Nisly, LHNM CEO

I have a question for you: When looking back over this past year, what gives you the greatest sense of satisfaction? There are frustrations. There are failures. There are achievements. There are thrills. But what about satisfaction? What leads to that? If I’m honest with that question, I realize that it’s the times I have been least aware of myself and most aware of others—most aware of Jesus. As someone said, “It’s not about thinking less of myself, it’s about thinking of myself less.” Jesus talked about that perspective, and he said, “You’ll be happier (more blessed) because of what you give away, than because of what you receive.” That’s a life-changing way of seeing the world. It is a good thing to think back over a year just past, and to remember the things that bring the greatest joy. It is a good thing to think about the experiences that were truly satisfying. Those reflections help us set priorities for the future. It’s not a matter of wasting ourselves in doing; it’s about choosing priorities that are satisfying because they truly please our Lord Jesus. On behalf of our staff team, Thank You for caring about the ministry God has given us to do in this part of the world. Your prayers and your care are deeply appreciated. I hope you feel a satisfaction in that.

September 2015

NLAC: A Beginning

Northern Light Association of Churches Gathers for First Annual Assembly

Story by Jewel Showalter, Photos by LaMar Weaver

Ontario First Nations churches from Red Lake, Sudbury, Sault St. Marie, and Thunder Bay gathered on August 14-16, 2015, for what Merle Nisly, chair of the association, called “the first of many gatherings” of churches that have grown from Anabaptist outreach.

Richard and Jewel Showalter, Ohio, served in resource and encouragement

Hosted by the New Hope congregation of Thunder Bay, the conference also included persons representing Living Hope Native Ministries (LHNM) in the First Nations of Poplar Hill, Sandy Lake, Pikangikum, and Weagamow Lake.

Nisly explained that these Canadian First Nation churches have formed this new association because of unique challenges in maintaining relational ties to church and mission groups based in other distant parts of Canada and the USA. These Ontario churches are now registered as their own legal entity with full authority to credential their leaders and function as a denomination.

Participants at New Hope Fellowship for the weekend conference
Participants at New Hope Fellowship for the weekend conference

Weekend activities kicked off Friday evening with a chicken barbeque and fellowship as groups of people began arriving. Richard and Jewel Showalter, mission leaders who serve as consultants and companions of LHNM, attended in resource and friendship for the weekend.

Clarence Meekis led worship during the Sunday morning session
Clarence Meekis led worship during the Sunday morning session

Saturday morning Clarence Meekis, elder at New Hope and board chair of LHNM, led in a moving time of worship. Nisly continued with a description of the historical roots of the NLAC in Mennonite mission efforts in northwestern Ontario and the vision and values of the new association of churches.

Following this, each group introduced themselves and described their church fellowships. Meekis described New Hope as a place to “believe, belong, and become” which is focused on reaching out to the growing First Nations population of Thunder Bay. Ken and Sondra Funk serve as pastoral couple, and Sebai and Beverly Yaman have been called to replace the Funks after a time of mentoring.

Ron and Karen Murano from New Hope enjoyed the weekend
Ron and Karen Murano from New Hope enjoyed the weekend

Kevin Miller, pastor of the Forestry Fellowship of Red Lake, described the past year as a time of focusing on building relationships. Their goal is to meld the European and First Nations cultures in the congregation in a harmonious whole, a vision which was championed by Cello Meekis, former First Nations leader.

Wendell Graber, pastor of the Lighthouse congregation in Sault St. Marie, described them as a small church “doing life together and being Jesus in the community.” Christopher Gravelle, a member of the congregation, shared his testimony of joy in finding a group in which First Nations culture is not subject to assimilation, but is distinctive in its own right.

Fabulous food and fellowship during the conference included a chicken BBQ and picnic
Fabulous food and fellowship during the conference included a chicken BBQ and picnic

Stuart Swartzentruber, pastor of the Sudbury First Nations church, noted the key role of Mervin Cheechoo, widely connected First Nations leader, as an elder in their fellowship. The past year has been a stressful season with personnel changes and personal challenges, but their face to the future is upbeat and optimistic.

Nisly then invited reports by LHNM personnel from other locations in which they serve: Colleen Estes from Pikangikum, David and Laverna Brenneman from Weagamow Lake, and Arthur and Iris Lyndaker from Poplar Hill.

The afternoon was filled with baseball and volleyball games along with an inflatable water slide for the children.

Christopher & Monique Gravelle, Sault Ste. Marie in concert at New Hope
Christopher & Monique Gravelle, Sault Ste. Marie in concert at New Hope

Saturday evening Ron Murano, elder at New Hope, moderated as each of the four congregations presented special music. When Sudbury led in songs with Cree lyrics, the group came alive. Thunder Bay leaders played a rousing guitar and mandolin combo. Sault St. Marie featured a family music group. Red Lake led in congregational worship.

The evening ended with a short meditation by Richard Showalter on the subject of identity in mission. “When God called him at the burning bush Moses objected by saying, ‘who am I that I should go?'” But Showalter noted that God did not answer Moses’ personal identity questions. “He simply told him, ‘I am with you.’ The mission is God’s and that matters more than who we are.”

Sunday morning Ken, pastor at New Hope, led as Sebai and Beverly Yaman were licensed and commissioned as the new pastoral couple at New Hope. As the elders gathered to bless Sebai and Beverly, elder Jim Keesic prayed fervently in Ojibwa.

In his concluding remarks Showalter gave an overview of the rapidly growing global church and spoke of how Peter got out of the boat to walk on the water with Jesus.  “While the mission is God’s he also invites us to take active steps of obedience,” Showalter said.

A Summer of VBS Excitement

Weagamow First Nation VBS

By Eric Beitzel

Eric Beitzel and Daniel Sisler with a group of ballplayers at Weagamow
Eric Beitzel and Daniel Sisler with a group of ballplayers at Weagamow

Another great week of outreach in Weagamow has come and gone. Our mission in Weagamow was basically to show love to the kids-to extend to them the love Christ has given to us. Every year seems to get better and better. We quickly picked up where we left off the previous year, and continued relationships that were made on trips before.

The guys in our group were counselors at a camp for boys aged eight to twelve. It was at boy’s camp that I learned to put to use the promise found in James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

While we were playing dodge-ball, two boys were sitting off to the side. One asked me to come over and they told that another boy was picking on them. I told them I was sorry and that I would watch out for them.

That was enough reassurance for one of the boys, but the other still wanted to go home. I didn’t know what to do, so I started singing “The Butterfly Song” to him. The chorus goes, “You gave me a heart, and You gave me a smile. You gave me Jesus and You made me Your child. And I just thank You, Father for making me, me.”

Lynette Maust and friend Fiona at Weagamow
Lynette Maust and friend Fiona at Weagamow

I told the boy this song is a good reminder that even though people are mean, God still loves us and gives us joy. He told me the song really cheered him up, and he ended up staying for the remainder of the camps.

Our trip to Weagamow this year was very good, and it was tough leaving the kids, but we have a trip next year to look forward to. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for us and Weagamow in the future.

I would like to give a quick shout out to Dave and Laverna Brenneman. They are doing a lot for the people in Weagamow, and it was great to see their willingness to serve and be used by God. Thanks for your hospitality and desire to serve God!

Keewaywin First Nation VBS

By Patricia Weaver and Renee Beachy

Eric Beitzel and Daniel Sisler with a group of ballplayers at Weagamow
Eric Beitzel and Daniel Sisler with a group of ballplayers at Weagamow

Our team from the Morning View Mennonite Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia, youth group arrived at Keewaywin First Nation on the morning of the first Friday in July. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming. Chief Chris Kakegamic and his wife Helen made us feel at home. We put up a tent for classes and did other preparations for the first day of vacation Bible school. And then the children started coming, excited to get to know us. We were excited as well as we met them.

Our first day went well, and more than 20 children showed up. The children enjoyed the lesson, which was a film about Jesus’ life on earth. Later our youth did a skit based on the story. Classes included reading and discussions, singing, and learning memory verses. More than 50 children showed up for afternoon classes, which was exciting. Each child was unique and special in his or her own way.

Game time
Game time

In the evening we played ball games which helped us to get to know the older youth. Snack times included popcorn and juice, and the last day we had ice cream which was a treat.

Our only regret was being in Keewaywin for only one week rather than two. It feels like we were just getting to know the children and they were just beginning to trust us. This was my first youth mission trip and I can truly say it will stay in my heart forever.

Class in Session
Class in Session

Our mission trip to Keewaywin was a delightful experience, and I’m glad that our youth group had the opportunity to teach VBS. We did two sessions a day, which was a blessing for those kids who came to both the morning and afternoon classes. They wanted to learn more about God!

I was impressed the sense of community and the way the children looked out for each other. When one of them got hurt there would soon be a crowd of concerned playmates gathering around and making sure the child was okay. I am so thankful to God for the experience I had at Keewaywin.

Note: Summer mission teams also visited Pikangikum, Sandy Lake, and Grassy Narrows First Nations. We’re thankful for all who volunteered to minister in these communities.

Renewing Relationships

Merle Nisly, LHNM

MerleI’m privileged to visit many different First Nation communities in this area. After living in this area for more than 40 years, I am often asked by community residents about people who have previously served and lived among these same people and communities. Sometimes I know the current whereabouts of those people from the past, and sometimes I don’t. I also try to perceive what is behind the questions and interest. Usually, I perceive a deep appreciation for relationships past-relationships that have faded with time.

It seems everything of value revolves around relationships. Relationships we value require work and time to renew them. I have learned that the indigenous people of this area highly value long-term relationships. When meaningful relationships are cut short, it feels confusing when there is little effort made to renew relationships that are fading with time and distance.

This issue features a number of efforts and events designed to build and renew relationships that bring life and hope. We celebrate these efforts and events. We celebrate the opportunities we have to explore new relationships and to renew older relationships.

New Staff to Pik

Philip and AnnePhilip and Anne Warner have joined LHNM as associates, Anne as a teacher in Pikangikum and Philip in community ministry.


Workers Needed:

Church Development: In communities where individual believers do not have a local church body to fellowship with, LHNM will train and assist workers to initiate in facilitating and partnering to see local churches emerge.

Youth Ministry leaders: LHNM will partner with local church and community leaders by assigning workers and volunteers to assist with youth ministry needs. Contact us for more information.

June 2015

A Weagamow Spring

Story and Photos by LaMar Weaver, LHNM

Spring had truly sprung by mid-May in Weagamow First Nation, even though a bit of ice lingered on the western shore of the lake and the wind was cool. Vehicles kicked up dust on the roads, and many people were out and about enjoying the sunshine.

Round Lake
Round Lake

Weagamow, Oji-Cree for Round Lake, is also known as North Caribou Lake First Nation. This is a reserve of nearly a thousand people located 320 kilometres north of Sioux Lookout. It was approximately a one-hour flight from Red Lake.

Dave and Laverna Brenneman, from the Cherry Glade Mennonite Church in Accident, Maryland, arrived last fall for a three-year term as youth workers. Dave sold a white-washing business in preparation for the move. The Brennemans are the first resident workers that Living Hope Native Ministries has placed in the community.

Laverna picked us up at the airport and apologized for the dirty car. She then took us to their home where we met their son and his wife, who were visiting from Maryland. Their house is situated with the lake and several jack-pine trees in front, and the Native Evangelical Fellow-ship (NEF) Church building behind.

Dave & Laverna return home to find sisters Latisha and Brenda waiting for kid's club.
Dave & Laverna return home to find sisters Latisha and Brenda waiting for kid’s club

Their home is centrally located, so it’s a convenient gathering place for kids in the afternoon. On a typical day, from 6 to 15 younger children show up for games and just hanging out. On that particular evening, plans are for the junior youth to come for a “human Dutch Blitz” game-using huge cards. On other evenings, as many as 16 older youth come to play games, sometimes staying as late as 10:30.

“We love the kids,” Laverna said, “we feel very accepted.” When asked for other reasons she’s living there, Laverna responded with a smile, “the fact that Dave’s here!”

Dave checks McKayla's bike seat
Dave checks McKayla’s bike seat

“I love being useful,” Dave said about his activities, which include fixing bicycles and other handyman repairs. “It’s good connections in the community.” Even while we toured the reserve, Dave bent over a kid’s bike to check the seat. Dave is also thoroughly enjoying photographing birds and adding them to his life-list of 36, thus far.

The Brennemans have many occasions to be involved in the spiritual life of the community as well. The morning we visited, Dave was at the band office, leading in a prayer meeting focused on another community dealing with a young girl’s death. There’s a solidarity amongst First Nations communities: they both celebrate and mourn with each other.

Jo Jo (R) and friend riding on the back of a truck-just one way of getting around town.
Jo Jo (R) and friend riding on the back of a truck-just one way of getting around town

The Weagamow community deals with some ongoing problems: alcohol and prescription drug abuse, illegal drugs, and gas sniffing. There are programs in place to help. Just down the street from the Brennemans is the New Horizons, and close by is a youth drop-in centre with couches and TVs. The Brennemans and the NEFC church strive to present Jesus as the ultimate answer to the community’s challenges.

Dave and Laverna were not totally unfamiliar to Weagamow when they moved to the community. The Brennemans had visited four times before with mission teams from their church. The teams conducted boys and girls camps and vacation Bible schools. Another such team is planning on ministry in Weagamow this summer. “We felt the Lord’s call to return to live here, and connect with the youth,” Dave said.

Suri and her bike on a dusty street of Weagamow.
Suri and her bike on a dusty street of Weagamow.

A local Christian school offers an alternative to the public school. Nearly 50 students attend, and it is staffed with five teachers. “Sometimes we play Bible trivia,” said Laverna, “and the kids from the Christian school definitely know more of the Bible.”

Laverna chats with Charity
Laverna chats with Charity

When asked about the challenges and frustrations, Dave offered, “I struggle with understanding exactly what the kids are saying, what they’re dealing with-although part of the problem is my old ears!” Dave continues, “I see the need for counseling, but I’m not trained. Laverna is better at it.”

The Brennemans connect with the adults as well, building relationships. “We want them to call anytime, not only when there’s a tragedy,” said Dave. “We want to hear what God want us to say to them. We pray that God gives us the words.”

There are also many positive things. “We see God leading in many ways,” said Laverna. “It gives us encouragement to continue.” Of course, a perk of living on a lake in northern Ontario is the fishing. The Brennemans had been out on the boat the evening before, caught some fish, but also hit a rock with the prop.

Maggie Cleaning fish
Maggie Cleaning fish

A tour of the community highlights the stores, school, band office, and community celebration grounds. Dave and Laverna visited their friend Maggie, who was cleaning fish-lots of fish, in her outdoor kitchen. Children are playing on their bikes, youth are enjoying the lakeshore, and many folks go by on quads and in trucks.

The return to the Brenneman’s house finds sisters Latisha and Brenda waiting for another afternoon of fun and games. Indeed, the Brennemans have opened not only their house but their hearts to the people of Weagamow.

Yvonne, a Woman of Prayer

Janelle Williams

Yvonne MillerGrace Yvonne Nafziger Miller was just a “quiet girl from Lancaster County” when he met her, my dad remembered. Second from the youngest in a line of 15 children, my mom grew up as the daughter of a Mennonite pastor/farmer.

As a teenager, Yvonne moved with her sister to North Carolina, Yvonne Miller where they had gone the year before to teach Bible school at a church plant. It was there she met my dad, Marvin. They married and had us 5 daughters.

But this “quiet girl from Lancaster County” was not content to let that be her only identity. While busy raising 5 children, homeschooling, babysitting multiple children, and doing side jobs to earn extra income for the family, she began to have a Holy Discontent. As she pressed into the heart of her Father, the more she began to feel, “there must be more to life than this.”

Throughout my childhood, my one constant memory is getting out of bed in the morning and finding my parents praying and reading the Bible. Their hunger for more of their Father has permeated their lives.

Marvin and Yvonne’s hunger for more, and desire to follow their Father, led them to pack up my sisters and I and go on a journey that eventually led them to the Canadian bush. In 1996 they moved to Stormer Lake, a retreat centre run by Impact North Ministries.

They began their work at Stormer Lake as the “maintenance couple.” They facilitated retreats for church groups, but also hosted many of their own retreats for the Native people in the reserves north of them-Pikangikum, Poplar Hill, and Deer Lake. Over time, this began to shift into counseling and Bible teaching. Couples and families began to come to Stormer Lake for a week or two at a time and received ministry and counseling. Yvonne and Marvin too, began to learn more about counseling tools and techniques that they utilized in their ministry.

My mom loved life. She worked hard, but enjoyed taking breaks too. She was the first to suggest jumping in the lake to cool off after working hard in the sun. She loved being in God’s creation. Almost daily, you could find her taking a walk or snowshoeing through the bush.

And my mom prayed. She interceded continually for her family, for the people that she ministered to, and for the communities around her. She had such a heart for the Native people, and prayed constantly for strongholds to be broken over their communities. She would pray over the Retreat Centre beds as she made them, praying for whoever slept in them next. Throughout my life, if I needed someone to pray, I would ask my mother. I knew she was doing it anyway.

Eventually, the decision was made to close Stormer Lake. Marvin and Yvonne moved to Red Lake for 2 years, while continuing to minister to those around them. In 2011, they joined First Nations Restoration Centre in Keijick Bay in Lac Seul. There they continued their work with the Native people-counselling, kids clubs, and building relationships.

In January 2015, Yvonne was diagnosed with end-stage stomach cancer. In April, she went home to be with her Lord. She finished her life in the same way she had lived it: full, and overflowing. Never losing faith in her Jesus, she continued to praise him. Even in her weakest moments the last week of her life, she asked us to lift up her arms while we were worshipping, because she was too weak to do it herself. She died excited to see Jesus! I know only in heaven will we fully understand the far reaches of the work that she, through her prayers and ministry, established for her family, church, and especially the First Nations people.

Read Janelle’s blog posts at RestoringWholeHealth.com

Honouring and Reconciling

Merle Nisly, LHNM MerleVery recently, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released its final report on the effects of Canada’s history of the residential school era. This report, exceeding 380 pages, is entitled “Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future.” The summary report seeks to describe the general views and goals of the dominant society during this era, and the effects of these political programs and societal values on the indigenous peoples of Canada.

This topic seems to raise the heart-rates of almost everyone who considers it. For most indigenous people, it is from the pent-up feelings of long-ignored outside domination and oppression. For some Canadians it feels like an over-blown reaction to some minor mistakes. For other Canadians, it is a wake-up call to some deep, painful issues and to a level of trauma and relational tension that most didn’t realize exists.

“Honouring the Truth” is a worthy ideal. Some of us supported the residential school enterprise in one way or another. Others of us were the children who lived there and now re-live the effects. The perspectives of those two groups differ. The truth is not the same, exactly, as either perspective. Honouring the truth, however, means I honour your perspective and try to understand how that “truth” impacts your life.

“Reconciling for the Future” is a pipe-dream unless we can genuinely lay aside the drive to defend our own actions and our perspectives. The Bible says that we are given the “ministry of reconciliation.” It seems to me that we are incapable of helping others be reconciled to God if we are not firstly committed to actions and attitudes that lead to a climate of empathy and understanding. That applies to all parties; but I can only change myself in this regard. The individuals of the LHNM ministry team relate, in some way, to this story and this history every day. It is our intent to humbly follow Jesus in every occasion by honouring the truth of another’s perspective, and to be agents of reconciliation by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.