“Don’t dig up in fear what you planted in faith.”
Diamond willow in the right hands can be carved and polished into objects of rich and fascinating beauty—walking sticks, candle sticks, furniture of all sorts. Those who enjoy working with wood especially appreciate the dramatic contrasting colours, the unique whorls, the honey-mellow grain.
But this beauty in the diamond willow is a deformity, cankers or sores that form because of an infection in the wood.
We all know, whether we like it or not, that so much of what comes out good and right in this life is the result of suffering. Beauty from ashes, character strengthened in the fire. Books aplenty, website collections of stimulating quotations, the messages of inspirational speakers and leaders, are replete with maxims for life and examples of those who are most admirable because they have made something good out of suffering or loss. Franklin Roosevelt. Terry Fox. Bethany Hamilton. Helen Berhane. Michele Cushatt.
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls. The most massive characters are seared with scars.”
I was introduced to diamond willow on a trip through Canada’s taiga—the harshly beautiful land of our northern interior around the Arctic Circle—by Bera Ledua, a missionary fervently committed to taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to Canada’s most isolated, neglected, and vulnerable, the children and families of our Aboriginal people. At the time, the General Director of the mission was Arthur Dixon. I worked for him as editor of The Shantyman, our evangelistic publication that went out bimonthly as a witnessing tool and encouragement to our missionaries, supporters, and to many subscribers across North America and around the world.
We were at Eagle’s Nest Bible Camp, one of several properties owned by the Shantymen’s Christian Association, an organization founded in the early 1900s by men who took the gospel to the most wild, remote, and rugged places in this vast and lonely land.
Under Arthur’s leadership, the mission had three field directors and dozens of missionaries, and operated several summer camps for these at-risk children.
The camps have been closed by the new leadership of the SCA.
But God’s work goes on. With people like Bera Ledua and others, who have the strength and commitment and faith and passion to take up the formidable challenges and obstacles placed in their way.
Elisabeth Elliot, speaking of the time when she and four other wives (widows, though they didn’t know it yet) waited for news of their missing husbands who had been speared to death in the Ecuadorian jungle, said she learned from this overwhelming, impossible experience of loss and bewilderment:
“When you don’t know what to do next, just do the thing in front of you.”
That’s what Bera Ledua and others are doing.
They have formed a new registered charitable foundation, NorthWind Family Ministries, and they have negotiated to purchase the camp land known as Eagle’s Cove, near Thunder Bay, Ontario, from SCA.
The price demanded by SCA is $500,000. NorthWind Family Ministries have been given a deadline of May 31, 2017, to raise the money.
They are also praying for an additional $50,000 for startup costs.
There are people, loyal supporters, volunteers, missionaries, who have given tirelessly and generously to ministry here for years. They have seen, in the words of Rudyard Kipling, the things they gave their lives to broken, and they are stooping to build them up again—not with Kipling’s “worn out tools”, but with the prayers and—let’s be straightforward here—the dollars, of those faithful Christians who will rise to the challenge of rebuilding, and building a ministry of greater scope and hopefulness than ever envisaged before.
What is NorthWind Family Ministries?
“NorthWind desires to welcome Canadian Aboriginal families, hurting from emotional wounds and trauma, into a safe environment where they can find hope in Christ and experience whole-life discipleship. NorthWind has the opportunity to purchase the property known as Eagles Cove. It is 178 acres with 5,000 feet of lakefront. The property includes two large residences, a shop, garage, and four cabins. There are activity areas and equipment for paintball, archery, rock climbing, and crafts. There are six canoes, and two aluminum boats. This property is ideally set up for year-round ministry. NorthWind plans to use the property to provide three-week onsite crisis counselling and discipleship for families who are struggling; retreats for students; and summer camps for children, teens and families.”
The Shantymen camps have a long and fruitful heritage. This is from a letter sent by a grateful father and camp counsellor, Frank Dyck, to the director of one of the camps started by Arthur Dixon (Hilbre Bible Camp):
“On the second night of camp after the lights were out, I told the Bible story of Lazarus and the rich man. Afterwards, I asked, “Are there any guys here who aren’t Christians?” Tyson said he wasn’t. So did four other boys. I asked, “Do you want to be?” and they said yes, so we put the lights back on. With my co-counsellor we explained the way of salvation and prayed with the boys. The Lord truly did a work in our cabin that night.
Tyson was back in my cabin the following year. We prayed again, but this time for assurance of his salvation. On Thursday of that week, Tyson’s parents came to take him to the Morris Stampede, but Tyson said he would rather stay at camp. (You didn’t know it, Tyson, but you made my week.)
In February 1993 we learned that Tyson had galloping leukaemia. Over the next eight months I visited him in hospital. On October 14, Tyson’s mother phoned to say Tyson wanted to talk to me. When I called the hospital the first thing Tyson said was that he was dying. I asked him if he was afraid, and he said no.
On November 10, I attended Tyson’s funeral at Fairford. It was a healing and comforting service for the family. God has done a marvellous work among His people there.
You people who pray, give, and work under the Shantymen will one day receive your reward as good and faithful servants.
Last summer I wondered why, at sixty-three years of age, I am still going to camp with all those young people who work there. A week later I got my answer, in a letter from ten year old Chris, who wrote to say: “Last week was the best week of my life because you were my counsellor.”
NorthWind Family Ministries is set up to receive donations or promissory notes.
Please visit their website to find out more about their work and vision: https://www.northwindfm.org
And please consider making an investment (tax deducible, of course) in the future of at-risk families, of children like yours and mine who need to know the freedom, the joy, the hope, that are found only in the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel of truth.
We all know another old saying: “Charity begins at home.” Canada, the United States, these countries may be our homes now, but they were the native lands of our Aboriginal people before us.
Much of their vulnerability, their fragility, is the result of our neglect.
Here through partnering with NorthWind Family Ministries we have a wonderful opportunity to adjust the balance. To give back the lives we owe to our great Creator God.
And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
That day at the Arctic Circle, Bera cut me some diamond willow, and Arthur Dixon, a deft hand in woodworking, carved out of it a couple of walking sticks that I have used and admired ever since. They are a constant reminder that most often strength and beauty are spawned in the battle, amidst attacks and adversity.
Bera Ledua, in his latest letter of encouragement and request for support, writes:
“Studying Walter Brueggeman’s writings, I was equally struck by this statement, ‘Where there is interventions on behalf of the powerless, the holy, covenanting God is at work.’ We see God working, evidenced by transformed lives. He invites us to join in and intervene on behalf of the powerless.
Thunder Bay is in the throes of grieving the loss of two youth. Both went missing on the same weekend. Both bodies were found in the waterways of Thunder Bay.
As we come alongside a people that are so wounded, continually facing tragedy after tragedy, we invite you to intervene as partners in this work. We petition for your prayers and support.
May God respond to the cry of the people!
May we willingly choose to be the vessels He uses.
May NorthWind play a role in faciliating a part of that healing!
Thank you all your continued prayer, support and encouragement. You have overwhelmed us with your care!”
“Come and see what God has done:
he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man.”
Thanks for listening.