Commentary

I was a LAMP volunteer

Kent Kaiser with a young Canadian he worked with last summer.

Kent Kaiser with a young Canadian he worked with last summer.

Twin Citian spent his summer vacation teaching in Canada.

Last spring I signed up to go on a two-week Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod World Mission-sponsored trip to teach Vacation Bible School in western Africa. Just weeks before I was to depart, I learned the trip was cancelled due to a financial crunch and reorganization at LCMS World Mission.

It was already June, so I decided to try to find a service opportunity for summer 2004. The work of Lutheran Association of Missionaries and Pilots, Canada, had interested me for years. Much to my surprise, when I called to inquire about next summer, LAMP-Canada’s response was, “Are you available this summer?”

I gladly signed up to help with a week-long Vacation Bible School in Grand Rapids, Manitoba, Canada. I assumed all LAMP locations required fly-ins (missionary pilots, right?), but discovered this site was a drive-in opportunity.

Grand Rapids, a town of about 1,000, is four hours north of Winnipeg. That’s an 11-hour drive from my home in St. Paul, Minnesota. It’s an incredible drive — a straight, flat highway through a vast, beautiful wild region.

The lead teacher for the week was Marilyn Swain of Winnipeg. I assisted, along with Judy Beck, an employee from LAMP-Canada’s Ed-monton headquarters. I was in charge of leading the games for the week. I’d brought a truckload of sporting equipment, and was ready for dodge ball, water balloon tosses, crab ball and ultimate Frisbee.

LAMP-Canada teams travel to sites by invitation of local pastors and residents. Upon our arrival in Grand Rapids, we met Fred Neff, the Mennonite pastor who had invited us, and his wife Stella, a Cree Indian and a Grand Rapids native. We also met Doug Highway, the pastor of the Anglican congregation where we would conduct the VBS. He is also a Cree Indian.

While our VBS team was entirely Lutheran, it was clear our mission would be to impart basic Christian ideas to the children. That was precisely the need in Grand Rapids. Local Sunday school programs have failed because local residents feel ill-equipped to teach or are unwilling to commit the time. Moreover, church at-tendance is very poor. Con-sequently, our VBS instruction was the only Christian education some of the children received all year.

We served about 90 children during the week. Average daily attendance was 60. The composition of our VBS teaching team was a bit out of the ordinary for LAMP Canada. Most of the organization’s volunteers are American and build their own teams. In this case, I was the only American among several Canadians.

Through crafts, songs, puppet shows, lessons, games and snack time, the kids were immersed in Christian fellowship for several hours each day. On the last evening, we had a “banquet” (picnic), service, program and games for the kids and their parents.

Although the aboriginal people were converted to Christianity centuries ago, some are trying to inject “traditional rituals” into the culture, mixing pagan religion with Christianity, or trying to displace Christianity altogether. After an old burial ground was discovered, and a large cross was placed to demarcate it, Pastor Neff came to visit and found evidence of animist religion (a buffalo skull) and other idolatrous symbols nailed to the cross. (They’re still in place.)

On the way home, I reflected on my experience. The Lord had shown me there was a need to serve much closer to home than Africa. We often recognize mission needs halfway around the world more readily than those within a day’s drive from home.

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For more information about LAMP-Canada, go to www. lampministry.org, or call 1-800-307-4036.

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Kaiser, communications director for the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office, is a member of Trinity Lutheran of Lake Johanna, Arden Hills, Minnesota.