Winter Mission Trips in the Arctic6 min read

When you think of the ministry that LAMP does, you would probably first envision the smiling faces of children coming to Vacation Bible School. You think of snacks and crafts and giggling and fun. You think of teams traveling from across North America to spread joy and happiness in the beautiful summertime of Northern Canada. And that is how it should be: that image does truly exemplify our mission to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. But there is something very significant about spending time in the North in the dead of winter. Being in the height of coldness and darkness helps you to fully understand, even for just a glimpse, the experience of living in such remote and isolated communities.

One of our teams that brave a winter trip comes from Trinity Lutheran here in Utica, Mich. As team member Ray Pratt explains, “It’s always a joy to see the enthusiasm on the faces of the children when we arrive in the community. The recognition and remembrance of our previous trip brings out the delight and anticipation from these incredible young people. I sometimes wonder if we are really making a difference for Jesus to these fresh lives, but when we get reacquainted, and I see the joy in their eyes, and hear the excitement in their voices, I think that indeed we are showing them that Jesus loves them.”

In the Utica team’s most recent trip this winter, they had affirmations from a community member who said, “You guys are a real bright spot during the winter.” Ten smiling young faces greeted them on their arrival and asked if they could help unload their gear. Indeed, the LAMP team from Trinity Lutheran has had first-hand experience of the joys and challenges of a winter mission trip in a remote arctic location beyond the Canadian Shield.

Winter trips can start with the challenge of weather delays. Even when it is unseasonably warm, there can be fog or haze, but still, severe winter storms can strike unexpectedly. I found this to be true for a recent spiritual retreat that I had an invitation to participate in. I was asked to give words of encouragement and instruction, but it took me three days to travel there. And even when I did arrive, the event had to be postponed for a day. Unfortunately, a 14-year-old girl had committed suicide, and they held her funeral that week, which rightly puts a pause on everything else. Especially since this was the second teen suicide in less than a month, in a village with a population of less than 500. To be sure, the whole community was in mourning as I arrived.

So, my role changed from being just a guest speaker to also offering spiritual support. For example, there was a time of prayer for the community one evening. I was asked to pray for the chief of the community who was in attendance, and he was deeply moved. In my prayer for him, I prayed for all who were grieving from the tragedy that had struck our First Nations friends, and I prayed for God to protect all the little ones on the reserve.

Later, I also prayed for the mother of the daughter who had taken her own life, and she was visibly shaking as I gave words of comfort. Then later still, at a hymn sing, there was a little girl, not more than six, going around sharing her Reese’s Pieces with everyone. And when she stopped next to me, she wanted to draw me a picture. In her picture was a girl in a box, and above the box there was an angel, and next to the box was a heart that was broken in two. It was a drawing of the little girl’s sister, who committed suicide and was now in heaven. The little girl even drew a cross beside her sister as an expression of her faith.

Unfortunately, this is part of the story for everyone who lives in this community. And stories are so important to all the people who live in the North. At one point, during the hymn sing, the attendees wanted to stop for a moment and have the translator help them tell me their individual stories. One by one, I heard stories of trauma and tragedy. I heard of families separated by residential schools, house fires that took the lives of loved ones, those who had frozen from falling in the ice, fatal hunting accidents, and addictions and diseases that resulted in the death of young adults in their families. It was so hard to hear all of these stories, but it truly helped me to appreciate all the more the need for LAMP’s ministry in places just like this.

As much as I tried to sit and listen, and then minister to others, it was I who had been ministered to even more. After hearing of all that tragedy and trauma, trials and tribulations, what stood out the most was the strength of their faith. An elder told me how she responds to the younger members of her family amid events that would test anyone’s faith. She tells them to not be angry at God, and not to blame God for the results of a fallen world. Instead, she spoke of how she lives her life, guided by the words of Christ when He says, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NKJV). Even in the worst of daily tribulations, each and every day, she lives in good cheer. Because on the cross, Christ overcame the world: over sin and death and the devil. She taught me that we can always be of good cheer because of the empty tomb and a risen Savior.

This is why winter trips are challenging to be sure but can also be so very rewarding: to truly share in life and suffering and faith and healing. And for me, it is a reminder of just how significant our work is when we go in the summer to work with the children. To serve in the summer is to see so much joy and happiness, all the fun and laughter, but it is also good to understand why it is so important, and why people are literally begging us to come, and to visit, and to teach the Good News. And of course, no matter what time of the year, what a boost it is for our own faith, to witness the faith of those who have so many afflictions and yet live a life of good cheer!

Photos courtesy of Rev. Dr. Steve Schave

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About the Author

Rev. Dr. Steven Schave is the Executive Director for L.A.M.P. - Lutheran Association of Missionaries and Pilots Inc. (Canada) and LAMP Ministry Inc. (U.S.).

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Jody Bode - April 20, 2024

God bless. your ministry. I remember John and Helen Panning and their stories of ministry with LAMP. I have been praying for LAMP for many years, and now I can pray specifically for you and your team.