Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.”  (Psalm 55:22 ESV)

Happy New Year and Happy Epiphany!

Before Christmas, I walked into our local grocery/retail store. The feeling of warmth greeted me through the sights, sounds and smells of cinnamon pine cones (kinda of a weird combo if you ask me), merchandise on display everywhere and the local middle school band playing Christmas carols. I could have stayed there all afternoon basking in the warmth and Christmas cheer as I sipped my eggnog latte, but I needed to get home to make my famous Chex mix.

Yesterday, about the same time of day, I was at that same store but had the opposite experience. It felt cold (even though it was likely the same temperature as usual). There were no pleasant smells, the store looked empty, and I can’t even recall if they were playing their canned music. Worse yet, they were out of eggnog lattes!

For the first time in months, I went home and took a nap. You might have guessed that I’m starting to feel the holiday blues or seasonal affective disorder. I suggest you re-read my blog from a year ago as I talked about this very subject and provided some good tips. I encourage you to always be aware and present for other people.

Depression and suicide hit harder at this time of year with the First Nation (Indigenous) communities in the North. For the past few weeks, both my wife and I have been encouraging a First Nations youth that often messages us that she’s depressed. Sadly, there have been two recent suicide deaths in First Nation communities in northern B.C. and several in other communities where LAMP serves. Thankfully, my experience with SAD has given me the ability to minister and empathize with others going through similar struggles.

There is good news in the Hope that we have in Jesus! He is deeply sympathetic to our struggles and can do something about our situation. No matter what we’re experiencing or what we are feeling, Jesus has been there.  He knew loneliness, suffered great pain and even grieved, but he showed great faith in God’s character and promises.   Some of these promises which are sure and steadfast (James 1:5, 1 Cor. 10:13, John 10:28-29, Hebrews 13:5, Phil. 1:6, Luke 12:40) we can celebrate with certainty, but more importantly, we are promised certainty in the God of our circumstances. And that is an anchor for our souls.

Please pray. Know that God hears your prayers, that He will comfort and strengthen us during our times of trial.  Pray for others that struggle, that they might come to a deeper understanding of the Hope that only Jesus can offer. Finally, pray that that the Holy Spirit would work in and through each one of us, that we can be there for someone else who is struggling.

In a few weeks (January 22nd - 29th), I plan to make my winter trip up north (a little earlier than normal) to encourage those who are struggling with depression and to organize the spring fling trips scheduled for March. None of this would be possible without the help of generous donors like you to not only help with my travel cost but the other missionaries and those who will be traveling with me this spring. Please pray for safe travels for me (don’t care to drive in snow) and that God would provide me with His strength and the Spirit of wisdom to encourage and assure others of His love.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Several years ago, I was setting up for my church’s 7th Annual Living Nativity. There’s quite a bit of prep work involved which includes recruitment of actors, hostesses, musicians, and servers. Given all the Christmas activities with my family and church, I was very busy. And who isn’t busy this time of year? Between shopping, baking, parties, and special events there’s a lot to do! Growing up in a pastor’s family, this was an even busier time of the year. Yet, if i’m not busy it doesn’t feel right.

A few years ago, at that Nativity I had a “Martha moment” when I saw things from a different perspective. For a quick recap, here is the scripture I’m referring to:

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  (Luke 10:38-42)

On the opening night of the Living Nativity, after making sure all the actors were in their stations, including the chickens, ducks, goats, and sheep, I made my way to the front door to see the crowd of people waiting to go through. But, there was no crowd.  Just a small gathering of five or six people.

I was disappointed. I was hoping for more people. Although I had made an extra effort in advertising, for the next hour no one besides the five to six people showed up. I started to do what often is natural for me to do in these situations, I began to worry -- worry that no one new would come through, worry that others won’t think this was a worthy effort, worry that people participating won't want to come back.

Then I stopped and watched. Children, youth and parents were dressed up in Bible Christmas costumes to tell the message of Jesus’ birth. People had donated cookies for others to enjoy. Musicians from our church were singing Christmas songs together. Everyone was smiling as they talked with one another. The children were picking up the chickens and gently petting them. Smaller kids ran around the sets laughing as they chased each other.

At that moment, I realized they weren’t worried about low numbers. Families, musicians and other members of my church were coming together to be part of that story in teaching one another about Jesus. In education this is the most effect way to learn. In addition to that, Christmas memories were being created.

I found and put on parts of a villager’s costume and joined the children and adults in the area of Bethlehem town where Mary and Joseph would walk through to the stable. I smiled and talked with parents and anyone that came through to hear the true Christmas story.

During what is often a stressful and worrisome time of the year, may we stop being busy for the wrong reasons, have a “Martha moment” and see our part in God’s story as we share that with one another.  Let’s pray that God will help us to share that true reason to celebrate Christmas with someone who needs to hear it. As always, please keep the Indigenous people up north in your prayers, that they too would hear the Christmas message.

For unto you is born day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:11

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

          So far in my short career with LAMP every trip that I’ve taken north has been a little different. This pass fall was a little different for several reasons. First, I had a chance to fish with my friend Ray in Kitamaat. Ray is in his 80’s and loves to fish. Ray also just had a knee replacement about five week before our fishing trip. I don’t know a lot about knee replacements but I’m guessing five weeks is a little early to fish but nothing was going slow him down. What made this fishing trip “different” was the weather was nice! Weather in Kitimat is normally rainy, and coming from Portland it rains a lot in Kitamaat.
        My visits to the different communities I found half my contacts were gone for different reasons. Normally this time of year, people tend to settle in for the fall. But for whatever reason people were out. So I manage to visit with different people. I visited with on of the principles at the local high school. Walking the halls with the principle, I recognized several faces of the high schoolers from the different communities that LAMP serves. After visiting at the high school, I left to visit Gitanyow and meet with the new health worker. I was excited to see and hear all the things she was doing with the kids in Gitanyow. The gym was open most nights during the week, allowing kids and older youth a place to run around. The younger kids played earlier in the gym and after they left, the older kids took over the gym. It was also good to see her not just watching from the bleachers but she would also monitored their behaviors. Even though she lived in Kitwanga, she knew most of the kids and this backgrounds. She had heard of LAMP from the other communities but not much about our time in Gitanyow. I mentioned that we would be back in the spring and that we looked forward to working with her.
          The next day I met with teacher Jane who teaches second grade at the school in Old Hazelton. On Monday evenings during the school year, she teaches Gitsanimx to adults in the community. I picked up a couple books she had written and then helped her setup a web camera so that I could start to learn Gitsanimx. I would be part of the bluebirds, the beginner group and the eagles are for the more advance students. To be honest I’m a bluebird still in the egg, Gitsanimx is very hard to learn, 
Now normally I head home after my trips but again, this was a little different. I wasn’t going home just yet but I went to visit a church in Pembroke, Manitoba. Like most of you I had no idea where Pembroke was but think of where New York is located, go to the coast and head north and just to the west of Canada’s capital, Ottawa you will find Pembroke. The church St.John Lutheran is part of the English district of the Missouri Synod church. For many year’s St.John has faithfully supported LAMP and I was asked to share with them my work in British Columbia. Where St.John was located, was in an older part of Pembroke with very old brick houses. The church itself was very old and everything reminded me of Hickory North Carolina where I was born and where my father served for the first seven years of his career. The people of St.John were very friendly and it was a real treat to worship with them and lead the children’s message with a puppet skit. In between Sunday school and the worship service, an older gentleman asked if I knew of a Jeffery Kranich. As you can tell by the name, there aren’t too many people with the last name of Kranich especially in the Lutheran circle. Yes! There is only on Jeff Kranich who happens to a DCE I look up to and was the leader of a camp I attended in high school. I learned that Jeff started his career at the church, coming from Concordia in Portland, Oregon. Jeff was in Pembroke for a few years before returning and continuing to serve as a DCE in the Northwest district.
        Once I was home it was a quick turnaround for the board meetings and staff retreat in Edmonton. I was also able to visit with two church's that send teams for the summer. I presented at another Lutheran Church, the group from Barrhead where one of the team leader's husband drove a 1996 Dodge diesel. I was also able to have dinner with most of their team and catch up with them. Their church also donated over a hundred quilts and knitted blankets to take up north.

I came home to elk hunt with my two younger kids before leaving to visit with two churches looking to send teams this summer. Pray that plans come together for both these churches and that God will provide more to help bring the gospel message to people in first nation communities.

As the season of Advent is upon us, I ask you to join me in prayer as we thank God for sending His son Jesus and we look forward to when Christ returns again. Pray that up north and around us hear the true meaning of Christmas.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

As fall is well under way, I pause and reflect on my summer. My summer reminds me of a time in my first grade. My teacher invited me to read with the advanced reading group. I felt so good about myself that day. That’s the same feeling I had this summer.

In comparison to last year when people did not know me, and I wasn’t sure how to support the VBS teams, this year I was welcomed and conversations picked up where we left off the last time we met.  This was especially evident when a team switched their menu around so I could have Mrs. Becky’s famous Mexican food because I was not going to be with them all week!

This summer, again, God worked amazingly through the teams and people that help make LAMP’s ministry possible in B.C. The numbers of kids were up, and the new addition of a team brought LAMP back to the Kincolith community.

The first week of VBS was busy. The Christ Lutheran Yuma team came a day before Canada Day (July 1st).  We participated in some of the communities’ activities by singing VBS songs during the breakfast in the park. Some of the young guys ran the fun run up the hill, and then we attended worship at St.Peter’s Anglican church in Old Hazelton. The next day, I assisted with their first day of VBS before leaving for Kitamaat Village to join the team from Bethel Lutheran in Sherwood Park.

The next two days, I spent with three energetic ladies and the vicar’s wife from Redeemer Lutheran in the town of Kitimat. This was our first year using the recreation center which provided more space and room for the kids to run in the gym. My time with them was short as I needed to fly home to speak at the Oregon LWML convention.

For weeks, I had prepared my speech, and for several days worked on my PowerPoint for this convention. Not that I’ve had a bad experience, but there are two groups of women that I fear -- preschool moms and LWML women -- a reverent fear and note to self to never mess with either! So I went in prepared, dressed in my best and used all the manners taught by my mother and outdoor school.

 I attended the Friday evening worship where President Rev. Dr. Paul A. Linnemann led the service. During his sermon he asked a question, one that you answer in your head, but out of nowhere a lady in the back gave an answer which made everyone laugh and to which President Linnemann responded.

As the weekend went by, I soon discovered that this group of LWML women were more casual than I had originally thought, yet very serious about mission work. My presentation went very well, and I later found out that LAMP would receive a $6500 grant! Praise be to God and thank-you.

While home for an extra day, I gathered more supplies and spent time with the family. Then I flew back to Terrace to meet with a brand new team from Surrey, B.C. This was their first mission trip to Kincolith.

I love my job and the different groups and communities I work with. When someone says they might be too old to attend a mission trip, I share about the group of women in their sixties and seventies who travel for two days to serve in their community. They even have programs that run late into the evening.

When people mention they are not sure they can relate to kids or youth, I share about the Kincolith team. Nearly half of the group struggled to speak English, but that didn’t stop them. The kids had a great time, and the team was already talking about what they want to do next year! Praise be to God.

 On Friday of that week, I had to leave the Surrey team early to be with my home church in Gitanyow. Late in the evening, the team from Christ the Vine arrived. We spent the next day visiting Salmon glacier in Alaska before getting ready for a very busy week. My wife and I taught the Bible lesson. Afternoons consisted of sport camps, and the evenings were filled with different activities for different age groups and people.

One activity that we added and were pleased with was the women’s evening tea and devotions. Christ the Vine and the Surrey B.C. teams borrowed this idea from another team.  Both events were well attended. All three teams have discovered that women from the village share more about what is going on in their lives when it’s only women present.
The week flew by and before I knew it, my family was heading home, and I was heading back to Hazelton to be with the group from Barrhead. On the Sunday night, the team arrived late. Lise’s husband came for the first time, and we immediately hit it off because he drove up in a 1996 Dodge 12 valve turbo diesel. Whoa. As the week progressed, the temperature rose to nearly 35 degrees Celcius (about 95 degrees Fahrenheit)-- it was hot! But, the warm weather didn’t slow the group down.
 In addition to the VBS program, they ran evening programs, which were mostly outside. Several of the nights, I was able to help lead them with music during the devotion times.
That time I was invited to read with the advance readers in first grade, the teacher and I knew to, that I wasn’t reading for that level of reading. Likewise with mission work, on my own I am not very successful but God works through me despite my in inadequacies. I am truly blessed to be serving through LAMP with a very important and much-needed ministry. There are many more stories from the summer. Depending on where you live (naturally), I’d love to have a beverage and share more with you. Call me! I look forward to hearing from you.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Shortly before leaving in June for my summer trip to northern B.C., I received word that a young woman (originally from Gitsegukla but living in Vancouver) had unexpectedly passed away at the young age of 31.  She was related to the Hyzim family from Gitanyow. The memorial service and feast wouldn’t be until mid to late July, which meant I would be able to attend. Although I had never been to a feast before, a few people advised me to bring a bowl with a lid, a jar with a lid, a spoon, a bag, and an extra bag or something to carry everything in; more on that later.

On the day of the memorial service and feast, I arrived at 1:40 p.m. at the school gym. It was already hot outside. Around 2:20 p.m. the service began. At the front of the gym was a stage with a small praise band for music. Most of the family entered following the coffin of the young woman. There was singing, sharing of stories, and prayer, followed by more singing. Then everyone left for the graveyard. 
I followed but stayed near the back. Even though I had never met the young woman or knew much about her family, it was hard to be there, to hear their cries, the sobs and family members saying goodbye as they lowered her coffin into the ground.

At four p.m., an announcement was made that the feast would begin at six. Unsure where else to go, I returned to the gym and found people rearranging it for the feast. As a former D.C.E, I am experienced in setting up tables and chairs in churches, so I put those skills to use while waiting.
Six o’clock arrived, and people slowly started to come in. One of the three elders running the feast sat me at the ‘fish table’. The fish table is reserved for those who do not belong to any of the local clans. After an hour, there was a song to start the feast, and several members of the deceased young woman's family began to serve soup. 
Scanning the room, I noticed I was one of two non-First Nations people in attendance. The other non-First Nations person, who sat next to me, lived in the area and had children who had married First Nations people.

When my soup bowl was filled, I was told it would remain full as long as they were passing out soup. So I ate it very slowly. I began to talk with those around me and found out the person across from me was the young woman’s fiance from Vancouver. He shared stories of his work as a commercial roofer and how he and his girlfriend would give candy to their visiting brother’s kids to fill them with sugar before sending them home.

After the soup had been served, next came gifts for which I had brought a small bag for. I was given a loaf of bread, several cans of soda, apples, bananas, fry bread (yum!), candy, dish towel, coffee mug, and more. These items, donated to the feast from the community, were all handed out from table to table. My bag was too small to carry everything so the young man I had been talking to went and got a box for me!

After everyone received these items, next came larger gifts for different individuals at each clan/table group. I’m not sure how it was decided, but people were given various items such as an acoustic guitar, toaster oven, blankets, computer speakers, and more. Most of the items were new, some were gently used. (You might have noticed this is longer than usual, but there is a point to this lengthy newsletter/blog.)

The feast was very long and slow. There wasn’t an urgency to get through things, and everyone was very patient. Once the food and gifts were all handed out, next came a collecting of money. I was expecting a small box or bowl to be passed around. Instead, each person who wanted to contribute came forward, then their name(s) and the amount was announced.

So, I went up with a twenty dollar bill as did most people. When I got to the front of the line, my friend Calvin (the announcer who is from Gitanyow) smiled at me and said, “Nathan Schmidt, LAMP VBS, $20.” This went on for awhile until a group gathered around a person with a notebook and calculator. Some money was put into envelopes while other bills were put into different boxes. The final amount was announced for the total collection. Although I don’t remember the amount, it was a lot.

After the expenses were paid, the rest of the money was redistributed to those who attended the feast. First, each head of a clan was given a larger amount of money. Next, certain individuals and two other people went to each table to hand out the money. When they came to me, I said, “Please keep it.”

The person handing out the money looked at me and replied with a stern voice, “No, you must take it.” Thankfully, the other person helping gave a smile to me as if to say, we understand that you are not used to our customs. I was given a twenty dollar bill!

After all the money was distributed, next came speeches spoken mainly in Gitxsanimx. Some of the elders gave their speech in English after they spoke in Gitxsanimx. This was the longest part of the night, and many people were slowly leaving. (It’s been a long time since I’ve sat that still for that long.)  By now it was around midnight, and the gym was very warm from the evening heat. I was the only one left at the ‘fish table’! (If you are still reading, here is where things get even more interesting. Many wonderful things happened this summer, which I will share more about later; however, this is a major highlight!)

I decided I would start to quietly pack up. As I moved my box off the floor, Calvin came up to me and whispered in my ear, “Don’t go yet. I would like you to close us in prayer.” Like a deer in headlights, I responded, “Yes, I can do that.” Nervous, I began to think of what to say.

After the last speech was given, Calvin said, “Thank-you to those that stayed to hear the speeches. They are important, and many people have left before hearing them all. I would like to invite my friend, Nathan Schmidt, to close us in prayer. He works with LAMP and brings people into the villages to teach VBS.” Then Calvin whispered to me to say a little more about LAMP.

So I explained what LAMP is and that I don’t get to fly a plane. I shared about how we are bringing in teams to teach children and youth about Jesus and how much God loves them. I thanked them for sharing their culture with me and the teams that came this summer and how much we appreciate learning more about their customs. Then I prayed.

Now I normally close my prayers with “and all God’s children say...” and then the kids say ‘amen’ with me. So I decided I would do the same with the adults, not knowing what response I would get.  At the end of my prayer, I said “and all God’s people said…” and EVERYONE in the gym said “AMEN!” with me!

I went back to the place where I was staying in B.C., overcome by what had happened and humbled that God was working through me. What an amazing night! God is good! Amen.