The following is an excerpt from The Gospel Under the Northern Lights, a book I’m working on about my experiences as a missionary in Fort Babine, British Columbia. This is from chapter 3. The events described took place in 2001.
In late May we had one of our first big disappointments. For some weeks we had been laying the groundwork for a Bible study. It was to be held on Monday afternoons at the Fellowship Centre. Several people had told me that they would for sure come. So, there I was at 2:00 waiting for people to show up. And I waited. One of the people who’d promised to come even walked right past. It was very strange. After waiting for about 45 minutes, I accepted that this was a bust. I went home and commiserated with my wife. We reflected on what was happening. The temptation there was to go into the village and round people up and more or less coax them to Bible study. But we both agreed that while this might get people in the door, they would probably come for the wrong reasons. We were hoping that people would come to our Bible Study because they actually wanted to study the Bible. Despite what people were telling us, it seemed possible that we weren’t yet at that point.
Nevertheless, there was compensation for such disappointments. Springtime brought out the bears again. Grizzlies and blacks. One memorable sighting took place on my way into the village on an early June evening. The septic field for the village was located about three quarters of the way down the access road. I always thought it was surrounded by barbed wire, but apparently not all the way around because there was a massive grizzly grazing on the grass in the field. He was consumed with his dinner, didn’t even notice me. This allowed me to park on the side of the road and just watch him for a good 10 or 15 minutes. I did that until Ron Aslin came up the road from the village in his old beater of a truck and scared him off. Those kinds of moments were special, doxological even. I mean, how could you not praise God at the sight of one of these beautiful, dangerous creatures? He could tear you to pieces with his teeth and claws, but there he was eating grass like a cow. Impressed? You bet.
We didn’t give up on the Monday afternoon Bible Study. The next Monday morning I went over to the village again and extended direct invitations to eight people. Most of them were noncommittal – nobody there ever came right out and said “No.” However, I did get three people who said that they’d be there. So there I was at 2:00 again, hoping and praying that God would give something different this time around. He answered my prayers, but not in the way that I had hoped for. On this day, his answer was “Not yet.” Nobody showed.
Finally it happened. The week following I decided to try something slightly different with the Bible Study. Instead of letting people know a few hours beforehand, I would try a few minutes. They would still have to come on their own, but the immediacy might be the key to getting people to come. Perhaps they were forgetting or getting distracted by other matters or, especially, relationships. So, I went through the village fifteen minutes beforehand and invited everyone I saw to the Bible Study starting at 2:00. I didn’t have to wait long before I had five people. Only two stayed for the entire time, but I was very pleased to finally be able to connect with some of these people and give some teaching from the Bible. I spoke about the Bible in general, speaking about its nature and authority. The two who stayed, Randy and Mary, seemed to be interested and they interacted with me and asked lots of good questions. Afterwards I asked them for prayer requests and we prayed together and did some singing together. Obviously, I was pumped after that. Sure, the numbers were small, but it was a start.
I had made a common missionary error. I had my ideas of time and events. If an event is taking place at 2:00, I expected people to remember the event, drop what they were doing, and make their way over to the Fellowship Centre. Like with many cultures in the world however, this was an unrealistic expectation of the people of Fort Babine. They were not oriented to the clock, but to relationships. The relationship presenting itself immediately always received the priority. That was why inviting people 15 minutes beforehand was far more effective than inviting them 3 hours before. I wanted them to study the Bible because they loved the Bible (and its Author), but for them, this was about Wes coming to their door and their relationship with him. Now we might look at that and say that there’s something not quite right about that – and it’s true. But how do you begin the process of change? Where do you begin? If you can’t teach them the Bible, how will there be any change?
The following week I tried the same strategy – with a similar result. Two people showed up (different people than the week before) and we had an excellent time of discussing the Scriptures. However, the week after that we were again back to nobody. We chalked that up to the encroaching summer. Because of the good weather, many people were out and about and seldom home during the day. We would try with the Bible Study again in September.