Ministering in a First Nations reserve in Canada has proved to be a two-way street.
Each summer, the Alberta Conference church administration and Burman University in Lacombe, Alberta, Canada team up to give university students the opportunity to work in a variety of roles in Maskwacis, a First Nations community, which is served by the Adventist-managed Mamawi Atosketan Native School (MANS). The work can vary, but conducting a Vacation Bible School that also travels to other First Nations reserves is always part of the assignment. Burman student Arabela Ongyiu shares one of the experiences that illustrate what the church community and First Nations communities can learn from each other. —Editors.
My experience with the Maskwacis youth and community has changed my life forever. Although I attend the Maskwacis church on Saturdays, I never really knew the true meaning of ministry and service until I joined the Summer Youth Team last summer.
From 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., everything we could offer was devoted entirely to the youth. We wracked our brains for math we hadn’t done in years; we played sports that we hadn’t practiced in months; we listened and empathized with youth who needed someone to listen to them. We formed a bond with the youth that made us part of the community.
However, the Summer Youth Team was not only about ministering to others — it was also about being ministered to.
One experience that revolutionized my view of the love of God and the strength of the community took place amidst much suffering and loss. One of the families had just lost a beloved daughter, and the Summer Youth Team was invited to the wake and the funeral. Although most of us had never met the girl, we came to show support to her friends and family.
As they played the slideshow celebrating and remembering the life of the young girl, I was overcome by a deep sense of loss and sorrow, and I stepped outside to cry. I mourned the loss of a bright and beautiful girl who’d had the rest of her future ahead of her. I mourned the parents’ loss of a daughter, the siblings’ loss of a sister, a cousin’s loss of her best friend, and the great loss of a community. I mourned the fact that this is the way it was — that death was seen as the only option to escape pain.
Suddenly, arms wrapped around me and fingers stroked my hair as a warm figure enveloped me in an embrace and cried alongside me. To my surprise and amazement, the woman holding me close and whispering words of comfort was none other than the bereaved mother.
At that moment I recognized the love and strength of that wonderful woman and her community. Although she was hurting so deeply that none could ever comprehend her loss, she still found it within herself to offer comfort to a stranger. God’s love is so great and powerful that it can transcend cultural and age barriers, freely manifesting itself in abundance.
That was the kind of love that I wished to give to the community. My creed for the rest of the summer and for my ministry to those in the Maskwacis reserve is to love them as freely and abundantly as God had loved me through that mother. Many of these children know much about pain, rejection, loss, hurt, and heartache. With the Summer Youth Team, I want to show them love, renewal, hope, acceptance, and abundance.