I am in Yellowknife in the Northwest Territory of Canada – possibly one of the most extreme landscapes in North America. Everything is covered with snow. The highest temperature has been around -5 degrees Fahrenheit. I walked two and a half blocks to run an errand and my beard froze (a new experience). We traveled an “ice road” across a huge lake. The locals keep talking about how it is such a nice and warm day. I guess there is a difference between -40 degrees and-5 degrees. I’m not sure I want to find out!
It’s cold, but not everywhere. We are working with the Inuit people who have traveled from the outlying areas to be in Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territory. It was not an easy journey as the territory makes up 1.5 million square miles and all of them paid more to come here than we did to come from Orlando. They came hungry to learn about youth ministry, and more so about being a faithful follower of Jesus.
Several times in the two, three hour sessions we’ve held I was moved to tears by their authentic, humble, and determined desire to serve Jesus. They have come in their brokenness to offer what they have in gratitude to the Lord who has rescued them from darkness and death and brought them to light and life.
Travis, a 30-something electrician apprentice with four children does not feel called to youth ministry, but his wife Bertha does, so he is here to support her. In one of our conversations he wanted to know about what a “calling” felt like. He is not sure where Jesus wants him to invest his life, but he has said yes to Christ and there is no doubt he will go where he is sent. Travis’s wife smiled as she listened to our conversation. She wants to be skilled in the things of God. Ministry still holds much mystery for her, but she is peeling back the layers. Each “pull” is a new discovery of the depths of Almighty God.
Wendy is a sweet young girl with dancing eyes of wonder. She writes down everything we say and then comes back with amazing comments and questions. She is trying to teach us the Inuit way of communicating “yes and no”. Yes is raising your eyebrows, no is wrinkling your nose and almost closing your eyes. She made some bad choices when she was 15. She has now entered grace and accepted God’s love in Christ and is on a new path of faithfulness and righteousness.
I could tell you of Nick, who is a “cut-up” yet knows he is called to lead people to Christ. Daniel is stepping into a deeper healing of his life and hungers for God’s word and truth. Sandy humbles me with his kindness, but more so his deep and steady faith. Jessica is joyous, already a gifted leader who wants to know and do more. Cecelia has emerged from depression, being lifted up by Jesus who is now blossoming into a new creation.
We have this resurrection account from Luke’s Gospel. Two disciples of Jesus were walking on the road to Emmaus and though they did not know it at first they encountered the risen Lord! Jesus taught them about the mission of the Messiah to redeem the world from sin. When He broke bread with them at the evening meal, their eyes were opened. Then Jesus disappeared. They responded…
They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?’ And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Luke 24:32–35 ESV)
The more I travel, the more I discover people are the same. There is brokenness, deep wounds, grief and sadness, poverty of spirit. Life can be hard and cold just like the frozen tundra of the arctic. And yet, the story does not end there; Thanks be to God! Amidst our brokenness is the opportunity to sense the wonder, the purpose, the very presence of God. There is a deep warmth fueled by hope, faith, and love when people discover the Love of God. Just like those early disciples on the road to Emmaus, may our eyes be opened. May our hearts be set on fire for God and bring a warmth that can turn cold winter days into Spring bursting forth with new life.
This is the joy of the Gospel. Keith Green had a song, “My Eyes Are Dry,” a prayer to Almighty God that speaks to me of this transition that moves me into the fire of God’s presence…
My eyes are dry. My faith is old.
My heart is hard. My prayers are cold.
And I know how I ought to be,
alive to you and dead to me.
Oh what can be done for an old heart like mine,
to soften it up with oil and wine?
The oil is You, Your Spirit of love,
please wash me anew in the wine of Your blood.”
P.S. Here’s a montage video of our time so far in Yellowknife.