Make me a Blessing

Pastor Jo Grossheim

This is the first of two opportunities you will have to hear about Summer Bible School with On Eagle's Wings. The second will be Sunday, Aug.28th at 9 AM in Fellowship Hall. Both are going to be very different. That Sunday will be "Show and Tell." Marcia Baker and I will have a power point presentation with lots of pictures, we'll have exam-ples of the crafts the children did, stories about our experiences, and we'll even teach you the GIGGLE cheer. We hope you will all join us. The pictures are not only of the village and the children, but also of Lee and Sara Berry and their home in Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories.

As there may be some here this morning that don't have any idea of what I'm talking about, let me just do a quick summary. On Eagle's Wings is an ecumenical organization that provides spiritual care and help to communities in the far north. By far north, I mean the Yukon, the North West Territories and the Canadian territory of Nunavut. To orient you geographically, these areas are bordered on the north by the Artic Ocean and on the south by Canada.

One way that On Eagle's Wings provides spiritual care, is by sending teams to teach Summer Bible School in native villages. This happens during the month of July as that is the only month the weather is somewhat predictable. Weather is an important factor as most villages can only be reached by bush plane. Even so, at least one team this summer flew into a snow storm when approaching their destination.


On Eagle's Wings is especially dear to the heart of us here at Trinity, because the founder and president, Pastor Lee Berry, did his internship here and is remembered with great fondness.

This is the program that Marcia Baker and I participated in last month.

Let me assure you, this is not a trip for one just seeking a new travel experience. It is a 14 hour trip to Yellowknife by commercial airline. Customs officials in Canada are sure eve-ryone is a terrorist. Once in Yellowknife we had a wonderful retreat center where we slept. This is courtesy of the Roman Catholic diocese. Only problem was we had to climb to heaven get to and from the single bathroom. During the climb, one dared not hesitate to admire the view for fear of being eaten alive by mosquitoes and black flies.

In Yellowknife we shopped for all our groceries for the next week and packed them to fit into the small plane. This took some imagination for we didn't know for sure what kind of facilities we would have and we had been warned that we could not have extra weight in the plane. We were already loaded with all the craft supplies for the week. We sacri-ficed personal gear for the sake of the crafts and the food. For example, I wore the same pair of jeans the entire week-morning, noon and night!!

The wonderful part of our time in Yellowknife, both going and returning, was the amaz-ing hospitality of the Berry's. They provided all our meals in their home and offered transportation to anyplace we wanted to go, as well as to and from the retreat center, while meeting all the planes arriving and leaving with volunteers. Remember, we were not the only ones. A total of 25 teams came and went through their home in July. Those teams each had from 2 to 7 members. It was no small number of people being hosted by Lee and Sara.

We were a team of 5-our other team members were Pastor Faye Snyder and two of her parishioners.

On Sunday morning, Pastor Berry flew us to our village of Wha'ti, about a 45 minute flight NW over Slave Lake. Slave Lake is huge, nearly 400 miles across with the bluest water you have ever seen. It provides the main source of food for all the natives who live near it.

Landing in Wha;ti, we were greeted by even more flies and mosquitoes than we had ex-perienced at the retreat center. We were sure the word had gone out that fresh meat was arriving.

The resident Catholic priest had vacated his trailer home for us and in comparison to the possibilities, we lived in luxury. I slept on the couch-not a pull-out, but was happy not to be on the floor or in a tent.

The five of us shared a common anxiety and goal. Could we be a blessing to these chil-dren and to the village as a whole? From the time of our first team meeting a month be-fore departure, our hymn for today had been running through my mind, "Make Me a Blessing." This was not my first time into the native villages of the far north and I am very aware of the harm we white people have done in the past and sometimes continue to cause. We were going with such good intentions but it is easy to make mistakes in a strange culture. These are usually innocent, not meaning any harm, but injurious nonethe-less. Here is an example. We had been warned more than once not to take pictures of any native person without first asking permission. Only two of our five had ever experienced a far north native village, so it was new and exciting.

Within the first two hours of our arrival, one of our team walked up to a mother and her child and took a picture without asking-it was not Marcia!!!! This was an innocent mis-take but those people have been abused and exploited in the past by white people and they resent it. Of course, we did take many pictures of the children and visiting adults during Bible School without permission. However; one of the older children asked me one day what we were going to do with those pictures. She didn't want to be in a so called "side show."

We were shocked to find that some of the children had last names like Moosenose and Beaverhoe. Those were names from early white people making fun of them and the names gradually became family names.

So, we prayed every day before venturing forth that God would use us and make us a blessing. Depending upon when white people were first encountered, we need to undo one to two hundred years of damage. On Eagle's Wings has done a wonderful job of pre-paring the way so that these teams get invited into the villages. However; we learned that there are religious groups that show up without invitation; preaching the gospel of hell and damnation. The natives often shun these people, making Pastor Berry's task difficult. Our prayer to "Make Us a Blessing" was not an empty request.

When we arrived in Yellowknife we were given New Testaments to hand out to the chil-dren, quilts for the elders, and baby quilts and layettes for babies and pregnant mothers. These are provided by churches that support On Eagles Wings. But again, we prayed to be a blessing and not to appear as superior or thinking that they cannot provide for them-selves. Indeed, we could take lessons about survival in that harsh climate.

We wondered if we could be a blessing to the children and we prayed each day that it would be so. There were 88 registered, as well as adults with babies who wandered in and out. Not all were ever there on any one day. In that culture the children are not disci-plined the same as ours. They do not sit still and listen or follow directions in the same manner as our children. Even the Eskimo children with whom I am very familiar are more disciplined by our standards. Daily activities of singing and story telling ended when there were no more children to listen or participate. It was not for us to impose our ways on them, but to attempt to be a blessing, remembering that we never know what kind of seeds we are sowing. The theme for the week was G-I-G-G-L-E; giggle, an acro-nym for God is Good, God Loves Everyone.

So did we succeed? Were we a blessing? Scripture tells us that we may not know what is reaped from the seeds we plant. This was evident from one story told to us by a young native mother. She remembered when she was a little girl and Pastor Faye had come with a team for Summer Bible School. They had been given Bibles and this mother remem-bered crying because she was too young to read. Pastor Faye comforted her by telling her to keep the Bible and that someday she would be able to read it. She still remembers that and does read the Bible. It was the compassion and understanding offered by Pastor Faye that had made the impression.

In the hymn we are about to sing, we ask that out on the highways and byways of life to be made a blessing. It isn't necessary to travel to the far edges of the earth or even outside our own homes to be a blessing to another. I know there are people in this congregation who pray that prayer everyday-that they will help someone during that day. I know be-cause they have told me. What could this world be like if everyone tried to be a blessing to everyone they meet every day?


Read more sermons by Pastor Jo Grossheim