A quarterly publication presenting news and stories of Living Hope Native Ministries, a partnership dedicated to serving the First Nations of Ontario.
Merry Christmas from the Board and Staff of LHNM! May your holiday season be worshipful and meaningful, and may God bless and guide you in 2022.
by Stuart Swartzentruber
All of history is God’s story. The Bible describes that narrative through hundreds of smaller stories. Some profile nations and individuals following God in beautiful, amazing ways. Other stories show the brokenness of creation and the human race in violent and dark contrast. Thousands of years passed as God patiently moved his plan forward.
Jesus entered the scene at the perfect time to reveal God’s plan for all of creation. Jesus lived out a perfect example of sacrifice and submission to his Father. He died to conquer sin, death, and the grave. He rose to prove His sovereignty over all creation, and that the ultimate story is about Him and His kingdom. His story is one of reconciliation of all things to Himself. We are invited to join His body, the Church, and become part of this amazing “God story” with Christ himself living in us.
As Christ’s body, we are called to engage in the ministry of reconciliation. We walk as broken people who are coming back to God—to his kingdom, his ways, and his unity.
God’s idea of unity takes place when we live together in his big story, and stop looking only at our individual stories. We then speak, act, and think in sacrificial ways that reflect the God we follow. Philippians 1 encourages us to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of God’s good news. We stand together as citizens of God’s incredible kingdom, serving Christ by laying down our lives for our friends, neighbours, and our enemies.
The updates in this issue are from the staff of LHNM, who work in different settings and come from many backgrounds. Read these updates, and rejoice that together we all belong to a story that is more expansive than we can imagine. The total fulfillment of this Kingdom is not yet realized, yet that fulfillment is our hope as we work together.
That in every First Nations context the local church would reach its full potential--worshipping in full devotion, attracting the seekers, mobilizing believers, restoring families, changing communities, affecting the world.
Year in Review: 2021
Adjusting to the Changes in Ministry Life
It is a joy to share the following updates with you. Once again, this year-end reflection shows God’s faithfulness as the LHNM team looks back on a year which was still affected by the pandemic—probably more than anyone would have guessed!
Reopening churches and other ministries has been a challenge at times, but God has sustained and encouraged staff as they persevered. Thank you for your partnership through prayer, encouraging words, and finances throughout the year. Our prayer is that we would all remain faithful as we look to the Lord to lead us into the future.
Ken & Sondra Funk
The Funks are semi-retired and live in Nipigon, an hour east of Thunder Bay. They are involved in LHNM as part of the executive team and as overseers for several ministry team members. They also oversee several churches and are active participants in New Hope Fellowship in Thunder Bay. Ken is a board member for both Rosedale International and Teen Challenge. Ken and Sondra are involved in mentoring younger leaders, and continue to have many open doors for counseling and evangelism.
Rob & Joy Weaver
The Weavers are associates in their 8th year serving at Morson Community Bible Fellowship. It was another unusual year due to health restrictions, but they enjoyed Sunday services and Zoom prayer meetings with the congregation. In response to a high number of deaths on the First Nation reserves in recent years, MCBF hosted a GriefShare support group. In the summer months, they enjoyed several outdoor fellowship meals. The Weaver family enjoys building relationships and reaching out to the First Nations people.
Jeff & Mary Kirkpatrick
Moving to Thunder Bay turned out to be quite an adventure for the Kirkpatrick family, involving several months and three different houses. They arrived in the beginning of July and are starting to settle into their new home and routine. Jeff and Mary are making new friendships and reconnecting with some people from previous involvement with LHNM. They love helping out at the office and at New Hope Fellowship.
Merle & Rita Nisly
The Nislys are part-time workers, serving as advisors to the LHNM office team from their home in Red Lake. They also encourage people in personal relationships and respond to requests for teaching, mentoring, and leadership coaching in church settings. Merle has the opportunity to record messages and does some writing. Rita is involved in leading the thrift store operated by their local church.
Wendell & Lila Graber
Some of the stricter Covid measures began lifting over the summer, making church life and ministry less complicated for Wendell and Lila Graber. They are grateful for the unity that has been preserved through the gracious attitudes of The Lighthouse members. One of the highlights this year was when a seeking individual walked into the church after a Sunday morning service, and they were able to give a Bible and answer some faith questions. Forest fires this summer brought evacuees from North Spirit Lake and Wendell and Lila enjoyed making some connections from the past and the northern flavour they brought to the church.
Rob & Sharlene Dilts
“So if you are offering a gift at the Creator’s ceremonial lodge, and there remember that a Tribal Member has something against you, leave your gift and go make things right. Then you can come back and finish the ceremony.” The Gift from Creator (Matthew) Tells the Good Story 5:23-24, FNV
The past year saw a deepening focus on reconciliation in response to the locating of mass unmarked graves at various residential school sites. Obeying our call to engage more in reconciliation we have implemented a Reconciliation Action Plan, developed with last year’s volunteer co-op student, Theresa, and the Youth Ambassadors of Reconciliation Program created by the Christian Reform Church. It was also exciting to partially return to an in–person camp this year in the form of a day camp held at the Pinaaz-i Zibi Maamawi grounds. Through camp, we are able to mentor young people in the importance of faith, ceremony, and service in community and health. The passing of Rob’s sister-in-law, Kelly, at age 39 from brain cancer, brought reconciliation to a very personal level among various members of our family. We are encouraged and blessed by the way the Spirit has been moving in our families and our community.
Despite Covid and its Uncertainties, God has been Good
Arthur & Iris Lyndaker
Arthur is the property manager for LHNM in Red Lake, which involves communication with tenants and the maintenance of buildings and grounds. He and Iris are deeply invested in ministry through the local church with an emphasis on compassionate care. They are also part of the church leadership, small groups, and teaching. They were excited to see some new people join the church recently! Arthur and Iris look for and create opportunities to connect with people in their community. Helping people feel loved, seen, and heard is their passion. Their vision for building a place of discipleship and mentoring is taking shape through the hard work of developing their property and market garden.
Stan & Sally Bragg
Although this year has been full of many challenges, associates Stan and Sally Bragg are so thankful for God’s faithfulness. As all of Ontario finally opened, the community of Saugeen was hit hard with a Covid outbreak. Sadly, the community lost two members during this outbreak, and these losses were compounded by the inability to gather and grieve together. As Stan and Sally look forward, they are keeping their eyes on Jesus and trusting that He will use this time for His purposes. The Braggs anticipate that God will reposition them for such a time as this, and move mightily across First Nations communities to bring healing and true biblical reconciliation. “May we have His heart and be His hands to those He’s given us the privilege to serve.”
Stuart & Delores Swartzentruber
The Swartzentrubers are located in Thunder Bay. “Delores and I continue to lead the LHNM staff team as Executive Director and appreciate the opportunities to connect with staff and with supporting churches. A painful part of 2021 was walking with Indigenous friends as they experienced the news of the finding of unmarked graves at former Indian Residential schools across Canada. We find great joy in peer and mentoring relationships. It has also been exciting to see churches opening back up for in–person gatherings. We love to see people excited about meeting together as Christ's body.”
Eun Sik Lee & Chun Ok Kim
Eun Sik Lee writes from Grassy Narrows, where he and his wife Chun Ok Kim live, “This year will be over in two months. In 2021, I was unable to free myself physically and mentally due to the coronavirus, but I am living my life giving thanks to God every day with a grateful heart. However, from the end of September to the end of October, there were some difficulties due to the use of the church building. By the grace of God, we are able to worship again in the building where we worshiped before. We learned to love each other more in God, and it was an opportunity to know what the church is. The church members and I are working hard to become one with more faith, and become a mature faith and church. I am just thankful for God's grace.”
Sebai & Bev Yaman
The Yamans continue to lead at New Hope Fellowship in Thunder Bay. Life is exciting in this season and church closures and reopenings have stirred up some changes. Many international students and families have been coming through the doors, along with some beautiful new conversions! While they long to keep their identity as a church for First Nations people, Sebai and Bev are excited that God is also sending New Hope the nations. God’s provision was so apparent when the church was able to pay off the entire building mortgage right after a season of online church only. Pray for continued unity at New Hope as they navigate Covid restrictions, and minister to young people.
Jamie & Rhonda Thornton
The Thorntons are staff candidates preparing for ministry in the Georgian Bay area. As they build a support team, they share, “We are excited to be entering a new season of our lives. We look forward to sharing the love of Jesus and walking with our First Nations friends through life’s challenges—seeking divine healing and deliverance, forging deeper relationships in a holistic way, and pursuing the spirit of truth, justice, peace, forgiveness, hope, and reconciliation through the one True way.”
LaMar & Janice Weaver
The Weavers are LHNM associates living and working in Red Lake, ON, where they own and operate The Treasure House store and appreciate the relaxation of Covid retail measures. LaMar produces the Hopelines and the Calendar from the store computer and Janice works part time as an RN at the Red Lake Hospital. They are involved in the ministry of Grace Community Church and enjoy other community connections.
Kevin & Norma Moore
The Moores live in Sudbury, where Kevin and Norma lead Sudbury First Nations Church. “No doubt the past year and a half has been tough on the body life of the church. Sunday services on Facebook and mid-week interaction via Zoom helped, but all would agree it’s not the same as meeting in–person. We’re so thankful we have been able to offer in–person services consistently since early summer, and for the increase in attendance.
A couple of highlights for 2021 are first, Gord and Bev Mills moving to Sudbury and joining the SFNC family. Gord is now co-pastoring with Kevin. Second, since Covid began, we haven’t had any events where we gathered around food. That all changed in September when we had a hotdog roast out behind the church. Despite Covid and its uncertainties, God has been good to SFNC.”
Colleen lives and works in Pikangikum, and is happy to once again have in–person Christian Ed classes in the school. Each week Colleen teaches 30 classes of children in grades 1-8. This year she has helped 25 couples prepare for and host their weddings! There are daily opportunities for Colleen to join the community in both joys and sorrows—from the privilege of being present for a birth to the deep sorrow of funerals of young people.
Living Hope Native Ministries Office
Behind the scenes, the office in Thunder Bay aims to care for the staff of LHNM and connect with supporting individuals and churches. Stuart Swartzentruber (Executive Director), Mary Keesic (Bookkeeper), and Rhonda Slaubaugh (Administrative Assistant) focus on details such as the budget, processing and responding to donations, and sending out communication like the monthly prayer updates. In July, Jeff and Mary Kirkpatrick joined the office staff as part of their job description and are working mostly with communication and technology.