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Arctic Missions—Stories of Miracles, Obedience, And A People Walking Out Their Faith
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By Haydn Jensen

Despite recent weather, let's agree that London, Ontario is NOT in the Arctic. And yet, a little part of it on Parkhurst Ave in East London just might be. That's home base for the Arctic Missions Outreach Trust Fund, also known as Arctic Missions. It's also home to Arctic Mission's Director, Rev. David Ellyatt and his wife Joan.

Although "cold" and "Arctic" go together automatically, we should probably add “expensive” to those words as well. When building churches, David estimates the average building cost in the Arctic at over $1,000 per square foot—compare that to London at around $100-$200 per square foot. Tradesman labour rates can be $100 - $130 per hour, plus accommodation and food. Travel is also a pricey matter. Arctic Missions works in communities east and north of Hudson Bay in Nunavut and Nunavik. Even discounted airfare to these areas can range from $3,500 - 7,000 for return fare. A person could fly from Toronto to Australia and back for less.

Even so, David Ellyatt clearly is not bothered by money concerns as he has learned to trust God completely no matter what. He has flown up many times with a one way ticket and no money in his pocket, trusting the Lord to provide a way back. He did. Arctic Missions has been involved in church building projects where there was no money available to pay for key elements in the construction and yet they have seen everything they needed provided either free or almost free.

This complete trust in God has been a part of Arctic Missions from the very beginning. The mission's founder, Rev. John Spillenaar, is an inspiration and model for faithfully obeying God's call no matter what obstacles get in the way. As a young Christian man in 1936, Rev. Spillenaar sensed God calling him to “go north and preach the gospel”. So, without any means of transportation available, he walked north from Toronto to Hearst, ON which was as far north as roads went at the time. That's an almost 1,000 kilometre walk! After planting many churches in that region, he sensed God's call to learn to fly and go still further north. As a pilot he was then able to visit many remote areas and certainly encountered his share of adventure. With a trusting faith and peace he persevered through several crash landings, being stranded in the wilderness for days, mechanical and instrument failures, and also his plane sinking completely under water. An evangelist and church planter, he helped establish new churches wherever he could and guided many people in becoming new Christians—he even performed immersion baptisms in icy Arctic lakes!

David tells of one trip to Clyde River on Baffin Island. Those who were to help them host a church meeting forgot they were coming. Still, there were nine people gathered. Of those, six men gave their hearts to the Lord that night. The team had planned to be there Saturday to Tuesday, but a blizzard came in and they had to stay for the week. He chuckles as he shares, "There turned out to be six weddings that week, though—those six men that got saved were living common law and so each of them had a wedding."

With Spillenaar accomplishing most of the church planting in the early years of the ministry, David Ellyatt's focus when he took over as Director in 2000 was on developing and maturing these churches. The Arctic Missions website lists pastors with churches in 16 different communities over a huge area east and north of Hudson Bay. David wants to work himself out of a job by seeing local Inuit leadership develop to the point where guidance and training from Arctic Missions is no longer needed. Currently, David makes about a half dozen trips to Arctic communities each year for 3 or 4 weeks each trip. His time is split between helping manage church construction jobs, fundraising, and organizing various ministry workshops. These workshops include emotional and spiritual healing, drug and alcohol addiction recovery, church government and foundational teaching for new believers.

All Canadians have learned about the residential schools tragedy and the abuse of many Inuit and Indigenous peoples. Concerning this, David says God has placed key people in leadership in Nunavut and Nunavik. These are leaders who see the wisdom in not paying a settlement out to the people directly. David explains that the victims of the residential schools are very often already dealing with drug and alcohol problems. They could easily kill themselves with the money they would have gotten by buying more drugs and alcohol. Leaders have instead opted to try and develop solutions and support so those people can receive healing and step into their destinies as a people and as individuals. So, a lot of funding for healing worskhops and training centres has come from federal funding because of the residential schools.

David has observed that in Arctic communities there is often a lot of anger towards traditional church. The feeling generally is that religion kills. But, Arctic Missions and the churches it supports have a different message. They are trying to communicate that Christianity isn't about religion—it's about relationship...relationship with our Saviour Jesus Christ and God the Father and also with people. Arctic Missions is an evangelical ministry but doesn't support any one denomination. So, beginning a church plant in an Anglican church building would be completely normal.

According to David, Inuit churches themselves are developing well, with leaders emerging not just as church leaders, but important community leaders. David has conducted services with the founding father of Nunavut as his interpreter. He has seen town mayors serving on worship teams. He has seen the leader of the Nunavut official opposition party serve as a "catcher" in a prayer line (to assist people overcome by the Holy Spirit during a charismatic prayer service). David tells of a church pastor who worked as the school principal. Then she also decided to run as mayor. When David asked her why she decided this, she answered, “We want righteous government. As long as no Christian is putting their name forward to be mayor, I'll put my name forward."

Often a core principal taught to Inuit Christians is obedience to God through tithing as an expression of trust. In one community where pastors were able to teach the Bible over the radio as well as in church services, they had as many non church attenders tithing as those who were attending. In another community where Inuit people receive mining royalties, the price of nickel had shot up suddenly. Because of obedience through tithing, so did collections at Sunday service! Their church collected as much on one Sunday as they usually did in one year. They were able to do some important upgrades to their building and provide seed money to a few church plants as well. David notes that in many of the Inuit communities the only people that own their own homes are often Christians. They tend to be they ones working full time because they have developed a strong work ethic as part of their spiritual maturity.

I wondered about how easily Christian faith mixed with Inuit culture. David shared that actually, there is no trouble with this. Part of Arctic Mission's perspective is to preserve and maintain good things of culture. As one example the concept of community and sharing for Inuit is not just good, but essential to survival. In Acts we see it in chapter 2 where we read how the early church shared their possessions with each other. In Inuit culture, a hunter doesn't hunt for his family; he hunts for his community. The hunter will share the food with the hungriest family in the community first. David continues, "In most Inuit communities you would find it a little uncomfortable. If a guy was walking by your house and needed to use the washroom, he would just go and use the washroom. He wouldn't even knock. If he was hungry he would probably go and raid your refrigerator, and that would be OK. The first time I experienced that I was a house guest and three different people came by. They each came in, went into the kitchen had something to eat, then left. I thought, wow these people have a big family!” So, for Inuit Christians, the act of "walking your faith out" in community comes very easily.

David also shared this amazing story. In Aupaluk a woman named Pastor Maggie pastored a church that held about 60 people in a building that John Spillenear had built. She was called to a nursing station one night in 2001 to counsel a family whose son had just hung himself and was pronounced dead--eyes unresponsive, limbs already fixed, and skin a horrible purple colour. Maggie went in and while walking by the gurney, she sensed the Lord wanted her to pray. So, she laid hands on the corpse and prayed for him in her own tongue and God raised him up back to life. The next Sunday, her church was packed (of course!). The regional government came to her and said, "You need a new church, and we're going to build it for you. How big do you want it?" She asked for a church that would seat 300 people. They argued, "Maggie, you only have 178 people in your community." She agreed, "Yes, but our community is going to grow and I want a church big enough for everybody to come.” After some budget negotiation they did build a church that seats about 250 people (but they gave her 300 chairs!) At the time there was a defunct iron mine near her community. With new mining technology it was later discovered that it had not yet tapped into the main lode of iron that was there. This mine is now in development and they expect her community to become the largest community in Nunavut.

Through stories like Pastor Maggie and others, David Ellyatt makes his ministry perspective clear. He says, “I believe in people one at a time. Arctic Missions doesn't have a big support base but we have enough. We can always always use more. The Lord brings people that we need alongside. We have to walk and believe in that. I don't believe that any of us as individuals or churches can work on our own. We have to be mindful of what the spirit is speaking to us so that we be obedient to what the Lord puts on our heart. Then we will be able to accomplish what He has called us to do.

To learn more and get involved—as a donor or even as a volunteer in a church build perhaps—here's the website: