God at Work in Thunder Bay
This issue of Hopelines is focused on Thunder Bay, with the desire that God will receive glory for the work he is doing in this city. Each story highlights a different angle of God moving and working in Thunder Bay.
By Mary Keesic
“Is this who we are?” New Hope Fellowship wondered before our move from a smaller, aging building on Beresford Street here in Thunder Bay.
The newer brick building on Edward Street was offered to New Hope because of our growing numbers, and because of retired Pastor Ken’s vision for an expanding ministry in the city. The answer to our question has been answered for us clearly with a ‘yes’. We give glory to God, who knew our need for more space and provided beyond our expectations.
The counselling ministry of Pastor Sebai keeps on growing. Couples are making important decisions to follow Jesus by getting married.We also thank God for growing influence and visibility in the city as we receive requests to assist with funerals and memorials for those who will be flown back to their northern communities for burial. Pastor Sebai and others share and sing, bringing comfort to those who are mourning.
New Hope values the widows and single parents that attend. Most are committed believers who faithfully participate in church life and contribute on feast Sundays. Their input is so important, whether they are caring for children and grandchildren, cooking delicious, northern foods to share at feasts, or sharing compassion and counselling.
Every fall season, we look forward to the new students coming to the city. These students bless our fellowship through their enthusiasm and interest in multi-cultural church ministry. A South Korean family recently began attending New Hope. They find the English language challenging, but they are eager to contribute, particularly in the prayer ministry. We are thankful for Jared, a student from the north. He attends New Hope faithfully and is helping with the worship team. We rejoice when we see growth and interest in participation in the work and ministry of the church.
The New Hope Youth Centre on Victoria Street continues to serve the youth of Thunder Bay. We rejoice to bring hope and the light of Jesus to those who are looking for safe places to play games and interact with other youth. The need for dedicated volunteers, both male and female, is an ongoing concern.
Thank you for praying for New Hope Fellowship. We recognize our dependence on a mighty God who is building His kingdom here in Thunder Bay.
William's Prayer: "Lord, I believe, and I thank You that You are saving us all."
In 1989 LHNM staff members, Ken and Sondra Funk, moved to Thunder Bay to begin an urban church planting venture, which eventually became New Hope Fellowship. Currently, Sebai and Beverly Yaman lead the church, which is now a congregation of approximately 75 people.
I’ll never forget those first Sundays that Sebai and I attended New Hope. We were new to Thunder Bay, and heard from someone at Lakehead University that we should check out New Hope. We had just landed in northwestern Ontario for Sebai to finish engineering school at LU. We were three months married, and feeling like fish out of water–Thunder Bay is very different than Victoria, British Columbia–and New Hope was then much what it is now: very welcoming, uncontrolling, laid back and loving. Those first Sundays made a deep impression on us.
Back in 2008, New Hope services had portions both in English and Ojibwe. We were moved to tears hearing the Bible read in Ojibwe. Those words have spiritual power whether you can understand them or not! We heard from marvelous saints like Aquila, Titus, Jim, Ron, Buddy and William, but it is William’s prayers that I remember the most.
William was already mostly deaf, somewhat blind and struggled to get up on the stage. He would grab the guitar and play a few of the best gospel oldies in his language. Every time I heard him share over the years, he had the same prayer. He’d always end by saying, “Lord, I believe, and I thank You that You are saving us all.” I was confused by that prayer. Didn’t God only save those who repent? I don’t think I understood the power of that prayer.
Sebai and I grew up on and around Vancouver Island, British Columbia. We were raised by Christian parents (although Sebai’s Dad was Muslim until the very end of his life), but I understand now that the term “Christian family” doesn’t mean it was healthy. Both sets of parents were separated by the time we were in our teens, and our upbringings were tumultuous. Sebai and I both came to our own faith in Christ at summer camp. The camp where we met was a place that fostered spiritual discipline and healing prayer; we were both changed very much at that place.
To finish Sebai’s school, we wound up in Thunder Bay. New Hope became a place where we felt relevant to the spiritual needs of our country like never before. By the time we left in 2010, we were seriously considering taking over pastoring from Ken Funk, who had been trying to retire. However, we didn’t have peace to stay, so we headed home to BC.
Working an engineering job in BC was very good for a season. It was wonderful to be close to family while having our 2 boys, Boaz and Zaccai, and it was clearly from God’s hand that we were out West when Sebai’s Dad passed from cancer in 2012.
In 2014 I began to feel a call in my heart to return to Thunder Bay to pastor New Hope, and so we asked God for a clear sign. He gave it within 30 minutes, by way of a small travelling gospel band that we stumbled upon right after we prayed. So, in 2015, we packed up our kids and moved back to Thunder Bay.
We’ve been at New Hope for five years now. I don’t think I ever thought that God would change me to the extent that he has through the process. During and after my pregnancy with our daughter Galilee, I fell into a tremendously difficult season of doubt, anger and depression at our situation here. Thunder Bay is a turbulent city, both socially and spiritually. I wrestled with a God who would allow so much brokenness in the First Nations community and elsewhere in the city. I forgot that God is good.
Through counselling, a lot of growth, and favour from the Lord, I am starting to trust God again. I am learning that we are called to an audacious, ridiculous faith in a God who not only can fix everything, but who is actively, fervently busy fixing everything. Of course we must repent to be saved, but He is committed to empowering that process. No one comes unto Him but He draws them. (John 6:44) And it is His nature to pick the most broken, impossible situations so that His power and love is made the most obvious to us and to the world. He picks the foolish things of the world to shame the wise (1 Cor 1:27); earthen vessels to show His power (2 Cor 4:7). God is good!
Let’s pray along with William’s prayer, “Lord, we believe, and we thank you, that you are (actively, busily, mightily) saving us all!”
Encouragement During Hospital Visitations
By Delores Swartzentruber
There are many opportunities to visit people at our local hospital. While most First Nations communities north of Thunder Bay have clinics, they are unable to treat serious illnesses. Many people who are flown to the city for medical purposes have few, if any, family in Thunder Bay. Some may only be here for a week, others for months. As a result, Stuart and I are often asked to do hospital visitation.
We get many calls asking us to pray for the people we visit. Some illnesses are so serious that we are not certain that they will make it through. We have seen answers to prayer, but we have also sat with friends who passed to their Heavenly home.Karen came to the hospital with an extremely bad fungal infection. She fought bravely for three months. We read many Scripture passages with her, sang songs with her, and encouraged her in the hard “whys” that none of us could answer. She dearly loved her Lord, and cried out to Him frequently and loudly enough for the ICU staff to hear her petitions. In the end her body lost the fight, but not her soul. We sang her through the shadow of death and she smiled to the end. She is gloriously free.
Pyvillia was sent here in September because of severe infections. We did not know if she would live through the first night and many nights since. She is no longer in ICU, but is working hard in physio to regain the ability to walk. This past week we cheered her on as she walked slowly from the bed to the doorway. It was the first time in four months that she walked! We, too, have read many verses, and I attempted to sing the Oji-Cree songs that I know. She looked at me and said, “I feel like you are talking to me in my own language.”
It is not easy to be away from home and family when one is ill. It is a privilege to be a part of building God’s Kingdom and encouraging His people in the quiet rooms of the hospital. May God be glorified whether individuals are healed here or as they enter His glory.
North Caribou Lake First Nations, on the shores of Weagamow Lake, is a community of 800 people located 320 km north of Sioux Lookout, Ontario. This opening is ideal for a married couple who could partner with the local churches to connect with the youth and children of the community. Relationships would be built through activities such as after-school programs, youth groups, teaching Sunday school, or hosting summer camps. This assignment is for a minimum of two years.
Thunder Bay is a small but busy city (110,000) with many people coming and going from the northern communities, especially for education and healthcare. This job description will be developed with the candidate from many opportunities including partnership with ministries to Indigenous youth, hospital visitation, and contributing to the local church. Additional opportunities exist in the LHNM office, including IT support and assisting with public relations. This assignment is for a minimum of two years.
The LHNM office has an opening for an individual with skills and interests in graphic design, photography, videography, and public relations. The job description includes the quarterly Hopelines newsletter, the annual calendar, and communication with supporting churches and individuals. Occasional travel to LHNM locations and public relations events would be required. Additionally, opportunities are available to be involved in and contribute to the local church and youth ministries. This assignment is based in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
For more information on any of these opportunities, call Rhonda at 855.367.8199 or contact us online.
LHNM Office at the Right Location for This Time
By Stuart Swartzentruber
For over fifty years, Northern Light Gospel Mission, Impact North Ministries, and Living Hope Native Ministries had their offices and headquarters in Red Lake, ON. In September of 2018 LHNM moved those offices to Thunder Bay, ON. Why? According to Statistics Canada, in 1960 only 12 percent of First Nations individuals lived in Canadian cities. Today that number is close to 60 percent.
In the late 1980s INM started sending workers to urban centres to help develop churches. This was done while continuing to partner with the churches in remote First Nations communities. Thunder Bay was the first location for an urban church, with Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie following over the next few years. When LHNM was formed in 2006, we continued to encourage the growth of the urban churches as well as churches in First Nations communities.
As the only major city in northwestern Ontario, Thunder Bay is a hub for the region. Although the population is only 120,000, it is a medical, educational, and political centre. Because of this, many people from smaller towns and communities are linked to Thunder Bay.
I have been amazed by the connection we feel in the office with the First Nations communities of northwestern Ontario. We have opportunities to connect with people moving here to attend college or university. Frequently we have chances to talk to people visiting Thunder Bay for medical appointments, workshops, or meetings.
Beyond people coming for services, Thunder Bay is home to over 15,000 First Nations individuals. Thunder Bay is a neighbour to the Fort William First Nations. There are close to ten First Nations communities within a three hour drive.
In practical terms, Thunder Bay is accessible and centralized for our staff and board members. LHNM is able to partner with New Hope Fellowship and rent office space from them. Delores and I are privileged to join in the body life of New Hope.
We are grateful for the years LHNM’s office was in Red Lake; it was the right location for that time. We believe that Thunder Bay is a great option for the current office, and are excited to see how the office staff can build partnerships and walk with people inside and outside of the office walls.