“The eyes of all look to you in hope.” Psalm 145:15 (NIV)
“They will blossom like flowers.” Hosea 14:5 (GW)
Where does hope bloom? My time at the Loon Lake First Nations Reserve in Canada last summer brought an unexpected answer to this question. While serving in InterAct’s EnGage! internship program, I experienced firsthand how desperately hope is needed to restore the fallow ground suicide is leaving among First Nations people—particularly youth.
Two weeks after our team’s arrival at Loon Lake, we were rapidly connecting with the youth. Yet in our hearts we wanted to make an impact beyond just being fun or safe people to hang out with. We were looking to plant seeds of hope that would continue to grow. During internship training, we heard about the difficult issues First Nations kids face daily, including the prevalence of suicide in their communities. We weren’t certain how these statistics would affect our ministry. Then one call completely changed the trajectory of our summer.
One Wednesday night, we were preparing to leave Bible study when a phone rang. A church member answered. Her smile quickly faded and her eyes glistened with all too familiar tears. We waited in silence as she talked in a low tone and held our breath as she ended the call and looked up at us. “They just found the body of a young girl. It looks like she took her own life.” The room was filled with a heaviness that was almost tangible and right away we began to pray together. What we’d learned in training started to become real in a new way.
The day following that call, our team met with community members to help make preparations for the funeral week. Follow up with youth surfaced as a prominent need for us to address. One man spoke about suicide among the youth. With lips set in a grim line he remarked,
“Wherever there is one, two more will follow.”
The urgency and pain of that statement made it clear to us that our time with the kids needed to offer true and lasting hope.
After a time of prayer, asking the Lord how best to reach the kids with His transforming Word, our team planned a youth event for the evening after the funeral. That night, ten youths from the community arrived at our house. Once games were played and marshmallows roasted in the backyard, we all gathered around the fire and Megan*, one of the girls from our team, began to share. “Several years ago, there was a season in my life of confusion, pain and shame that left me empty and hopeless. I withdrew from the people I loved and hid my true emotions. I didn’t know how to escape the dark place I was in until a friend told me about Jesus. When I decided to trust Him to be my guide, I finally felt free… free to be happy and have hope again.”
Concerned glances were cast between the team as Megan spoke over the noise of kid’s laughter and distracting side conversations. Appearances would indicate these youth hadn’t cared or listened. Even so, when it was over we encouraged the kids to pull us aside if any of them wanted to talk further. At first they all went back to playing games, but as the evening progressed, their focus changed, and each of us on the team were approached by different kids. They began revealing stories of how suicide had impacted their lives and families. Several asked questions and wanted to know more about the hope that is found in Christ.
That night our team bonded with the youth in a new way. There was a depth of relationship we reached because of it. Seeing how hungry the kids were for God’s message of hope, I was struck by a realization that has stayed with me since. It was in the despair of tragedy and emptiness of loss that those kids began to open up and respond to the hope that Jesus offers. The Lord showed me that it is often the easy life, the comfortable one, that forgets to search for more. But it is the person wrought with pain who is daily reminded that life is not as it should be.
It is our call as those who have hope to go into the places where suffering is great—for it is the hardness of life that breaks open the ground where seeds of hope can be planted. And it is in the midst of suffering that hope blooms.
Loon Lake Update
"Saskatchewan First Nations declares state of crisis over recent suicides including 10-year-old-girl.”
Shortly after Ravin’s time at Loon Lake, this headline ran on CTV (Canadian specialty news channel)
Dick and Ruth Browning, serve among the Cree people in the Native Fellowship of Loon Lake, Saskatchewan, located on the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation Reserve. A recent update from them stated, “in the last five months, there have been three suicides, one murder, and five other funerals. That is a lot to process for this small community of 1300-1500 people. Yet, as Ravin observed, ‘It is in the-midst of pain that hope is most desired.’ Believers in the community have experienced a significant increase in the opportunities they’ve had to share their faith with others through this time of crisis.”
The Brownings went on to add that they and other church members are continuing their outreach, meeting with the youth once-a-week. They’re connecting with the kids by teaching fun and valuable life skills while shining the light of Jesus to this vulnerable population. Sessions have included basic life skills such as first aid, making pizza from scratch, and building a fire and cooking over it. Leaders have also started a study on dating, since it is a norm for kids on the reserve to find a girl or guy they like and move in together, often as young as fourteen to sixteen years old. The Brownings hope to see that standard change.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it ? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” ~ Isaiah 43:19 (NIV) ~
Please pray for Loon Lake and other hurting individuals and communities surrounded by the dark tide of suicide.
Pray for workers on all fields to be protected, strengthened, and equipped to plant the seeds of hope in Christ amidst those lost in this darkness.
My appeal letter mailed in November 2019 had a caption, “In the time it takes you to read this letter, suicide will end the lives of eight people worldwide.” Communities served by our missionaries are increasingly paralyzed by suicides and accidental deaths among their young people. Almost weekly, we are hearing of added tragedy.
In this issue of InterACTION, Ravin McKelvy and the EnGage! team experienced long-term missionary life in microcosm. First, they built relationships that led to trust. This led to opportunities to minister biblical truth that reached the heart. They loved, listened and then led hurting and grieving young people to hope in Christ. This is the cornerstone of missionary work across our fields of ministry. For decades, missionaries like Dick and Ruth Browning have tirelessly walked people through tragedies by offering solutions found in God’s Word.
As believers, we have the opportunity to speak into a host of lives stumbling through life weighed down by pain, loss and regret. We come with the life changing message of forgiveness of sin and the prospect of eternal joy in the presence of a loving Father! We bring hope! Pray for the Lord of the Harvest to send many new laborers into His Harvest with this life changing message! To increase your impact and join us in this ministry, click on our website button below. Thank you for your part in bringing Good News to people overwhelmed with life without Christ.