As winter sets in on the Blackfeet Reservation in northwest Montana I am reminded of the struggle and adversity it can often bring: the damaging winds, deep snow and absolute bitter cold. The reality is that just to live here requires a lot of steadfastness and resiliency. When you combine thirty-five inches of snowfall with negative 20 degrees followed by 50 mph winds to create zero visibility you are forced to look beyond yourself for help. In the midst of these harsh conditions I keep thinking of the passage in Matthew 24 where Jesus is talking to his disciples about the latter times and His emphasis on the need to “stand firm till the end.”
I think of the harsh challenges and struggles there are in walking with my Blackfeet brothers in Christ here. At times the obstacles so many men face can be quite overwhelming, leaving me feeling very small and inadequate. For the last couple weeks, I’ve been in conversation with a gentleman possibly suffering from mental illness due to drug abuse. I have found it so difficult to communicate with him that I’ve felt totally helpless and discouraged at times. Facing the blizzard of men’s hardships, I began to feel frustrated and tired of everything being so hard. But then the Lord reminds me of whom He is and that I am nothing without Him. Probably one of the most affective things I can do now is to simply remain, to “stand firm till the end,” to continue to make myself available so that who He is can be made known through whom I am. So I choose to remain in the midst of the storm, in the midst of the struggle, knowing that He is faithful and His love for all of us does not waiver with the adversities. “This Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24.14)
- Wes Graham
This past year has been full of many great opportunities for Linda and for me in counseling and in encouraging our First Nations sisters and brothers. The work has taken us to places like Beaver Lake Camp just outside Dryden Ontario, to Fairbanks Alaska, Browning Montana, Vancouver, BC and many other places.
But an experience that stands out to us at this time is about a young First Nations man from Manitoba who came to a conference where we were ministering. This young man Fred (not his real name) had been struggling with many addictions in his life. He just could not seem to gain victory over them, no freedom, just constant struggles. Fred’s long-term addiction had even assigned him some jail time.
Well, Linda happened to be one of the keynote speakers at this conference. In the course of her teaching Fred was moved like he had never been moved before. “Something happened to me when Linda was speaking”, he said. “I saw things and understood things about my past in a way that I have never understood them before.” Fred shared with me later, following the gathering, that while Linda was teaching “a light went on for me in a way like never before.” That’s when he began to reflect on his life in a new way. He was able to relate to Linda’s life story and saw then how he too could heal. His healing journey had taken huge steps forward. I now meet with him and walk with him as often as I’m able. It’s so encouraging to watch as Creator continues to bring healing and growth to this man.
The devastating impact of Residential Schools (Canada) and Boarding Schools (USA), has been front and center in the public view for many years now. The incredible pain and the effects from this era are still being felt throughout Indigenous communities across North America. Just prior to Christmas, Rick and Linda Martin (My People staff) and Jim and Jan Uttley (IP Communications) took part in an event that sought to bring healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation to former survivors of Residential Schools as well as Indigenous people presently experiencing childhood sexual abuse. Rick led worship and Linda was a workshop facilitator. As facilitator, Linda shared about the trauma factors affecting survivors—the effects of betrayal, shame, the sense of powerlessness, and traumatic sexual abuse.
“Survivors need to feel safe and be able to trust,” said Linda. “They need to feel that they are somewhat in control. We need to feel that we have value and then we can value others.” She encouraged those who attended to “tell and retell your story over and over again to a safe person.”
Women and men took part in separate sharing circles following three of the main sessions. “As a survivor of childhood abuse, these circles gave me and other survivors a chance to ‘unburden our souls’—some for the very first time,” stated Jim Uttley. “Raw emotion poured out as some Indigenous elders wept when recounting episodes of brutal abuse by school officials or family members.”
These sessions gave people a chance to deal with unresolved trauma—an experience that severely jars minds and emotions.
The worship band offered opening and closing concerts. “Music has a way of giving hope,” stated one survivor, “soothing hurting spirits, and encouraging us not to give up hope.”
Tim Cofield, my musician friend from Tennessee, called me this summer with an amazing question. I could hardly believe my ears. Something like this had never happened to me before. He told me that someone from Nashville had fifty new Fender guitars to give away and asked if I could help him find a home for them. Fifty new guitars! Unbelievable! I love guitars and I know the beauty they can bring into a life and so did Tim. He wanted to start gifting these guitars in Muskrat Dam, Ontario, which is Linda’s home Cree community.
The idea behind the guitars was to encourage young people to get involved with something inspiring and to bring hope to youth of isolated First Nations communities. There is a lot of pain, turmoil, depression and of course, suicide in so many of these places. Muskrat Dam is no exception. Music is a tool that can help change things. It is a healing tool for the mind and soul. In fact, that is Tim’s story and, in many ways, mine too. Through music and worship we can “push back the darkness and bring in the light and hope of God.”
Of course the organization Linda and I work with, “My People,” under “Indigenous Pathways,” is all about encouraging First Nations young people to embrace who they are, to learn about their own culture and even learn about their own cultural music. Yet, all across the north and in almost all the First Nations communities I have lived in or visited, young people also love the guitar. So many of them have such natural talent, And they learn quickly. But in these isolated places there are no guitar shops and many have little money to buy a guitar even if there was a shop close by.
This guitar story really started about seven years ago. Tim was with me in Muskrat Dam. He was there to do a concert. He inspired everyone with his music and guitar playing. Before he left, though, we came up with the idea to do a music and guitar workshop. We invited anyone who was interested in learning to play guitar to come down to the community hall. We focused on the youth and sure enough about seven or eight came. The problem was we didn’t have guitars. Somehow we ended up getting a few old beat-up guitars together, (plus our own). We then hosted a guitar clinic. We both remembered that one boy, in particular, took great interest that day and later went on to become a gifted guitar player and singer. We are in touch with that young man to this day.
Most of the kids at that time, however, were young boys around ten or eleven. Tim remembered this. So now, with new resources, we thought we should do it again. This time we could actually use brand new Fender guitars. On top of all that we could actually gift as many kids as possible with these beautiful guitars! What an inspiring opportunity! It was not easy getting this all arranged.
Then another wonderful thing happened. That very same week I Emergence, our partner ministry, was doing a Culture Camp in Mish (Mishkeegogamang), a more southern First Nations community. We were able to do a clinic there as well. Mish is just out side of Pickle Lake, Ontario and this is where my friend in ministry, Dan, happened to have his plane and was willing to fly some of us up from there. Another ministry plane flew me up, along with several guitars, from Beaver Lake, Ont. They, too, just happened to be going in Muskrat Dam’s direction. Wasaya airlines also flew up the rest of the guitars at no cost.
Muskrat Dam is very isolated, about 500 miles north of Thunder Bay, Ontario, and so it was no easy task to make this happen. We did not, however, give all the guitars away on this trip. We are now going again this November the 14th, 2017. The chief from Muskrat Dam, Stan Beardy, would like for the donated guitars to go to the school in order to help set up a music program. This is really another story in itself. I’ll do my best to help make this happen.
What a joy to see the faces of those who received guitars! It was not easy to decide how we would gift them. Those who came to our guitar clinics were either given one or had their names put into a draw to get a chance at receiving one of the Fender guitars.
Finally, our heartfelt thanks goes out to the TN Center for Civic Learning and Engagement This is the organization from Tennessee, along with the Fender Guitar Company, that was behind sponsoring these fifty guitars. This is all about inspiring music and to help bring more hope and aspirations to First Nations youth.
- Rick Martin
…because I know One woman who is transforming her family with love. She had the courage to come to Inenimowin Circle and share her story of being sexually abused by her father and spending much of her life addicted to drugs. But her story has changed and now she is walking with Her Creator through His Son, Jesus, and rebuilding trust with her relationships in her family. She is breaking old patterns and not taking “too late” for an answer.
I believe in the Power of Two…
…because two nights a week we sit in safe talking circles with men and women who are processing what it looks like to walk with Jesus in the trials of their everyday lives. They are trying to flesh-it-out so the Creator’s Written Word is reflected in them. They are being supported and learning to understanding the abundant life Jesus offers.
I believe in the Power of Three…
…because I know a young family who has been through much adversity including infertility, child neglect within extended family, custody battles and injustice. They’ve come through all this to be a truly beautiful family, refusing to give up and pouring life into one another and into others in the community.
I believe in the Power of Four…
…because my friend has four children and she is now relating to them in new and different ways. She has confessed her destructive methods of the past, has taken responsibility for her actions, is changing her ways.. She said to them, “I’m not perfect, but I’m changing and perhaps one day I’ll be your hero.” I have seen her respond in life-giving ways to her family. She is breaking the cycle of perpetual hurt, replacing it with unbreakable love.
I believe in the Power of Seven, Eight, Nine…
…because that’s the age of most of the girls in the GEMS group meeting monthly to help them understand their own identity, relationships with others, relationship with their Creator in Jesus, and relationship with creation. This is the perfect age for crazy laughter and fun as well as for building them up right before they’re making life-defining decisions.
I believe in the Power of Ten and more…
….because eight addictions counselors and their two directors came to the Telling the Real Story Workshop and heard the good news that Jesus loves them. The director later took significant staff time to have them share parts of their own stories with other staff in order to help them heal personally and be able to help their clients more effectively.
I believe in the Power of Multiplication…
…because each person invests in one or two others and so on. The impact is exponential.
But it all starts with the Power of One…
… one supporter reading one newsletter in just one moment with one prayer and one loving heart. Thank you!!
- Summer Graham, Browning, Montana