After a little less than 2 years there were big changes at Southside, that affected us greatly. Stan had resigned and taken a church in the United States. Reg Graves from Brampton came to succeed Stan. Our lives would intertwine when my life as a pastor came to an end. The other big change was that the church could no longer afford to keep me on staff but in the providence of God I was asked to go to Winnipeg to pastor the Fort Garry Church of the Nazarene. It was a church with a very proud heritage but it had fallen on hard times. It had once been the college church but Canadian Nazarene College had made the decision to move to Calgary and eventually, after a merger with Canadian Bible College became Ambrose University. But Fort Garry was devastated. Many of the faculty and staff as well as students attended as the church was easy walking distance. It was left with a building that was far larger than it needed and it needed to find its own identity. It no longer was the college church. The church was in pain because of this identity crisis and I was in pain because my dream was dying. How would we fare?

Just before we left for Winnipeg to find a home, Iona went into the hospital for a routine test that would change our lives forever. It was 1997 and that was the year of the “flood of the century” in Winnipeg. As we flew in, all we could see was this great expanse of water. The military had been called in and the people cheered them wherever they went. As we looked at houses, the first thing we looked for was whether or not the house had been flooded.

We found a beautiful home at the southern edge of St. Vital. We could see the Perimeter Highway through our living room window. It was a brand-new home that was a lot more than we had expected. The church helped us with a down payment. We came home in high spirits but there was a phone message from Iona’s doctor. He wanted to see us immediately. That didn’t sound good. We sat in his office, and he told us that Iona had uterine cancer. He talked about survival rates and small cell cancer that often gravitated to the lungs and brain. I could hardly wait to leave his office. I had to process what we’d been told. We had to decide whether her surgery would take place in Edmonton or after we arrived in Winnipeg. We decided on the latter and prepared to move.

It was June and Tim was in grade 12. He couldn’t come with us, and we didn’t know where he could live till the end of the school year. His high school principal offered to give him a place to live till the end of the school term. We had a last meal together at Swiss Chalet and left Tim in the parking lot with our good friend Winnie and her brother Bernard.

We finished the trip to Winnipeg and stayed with our friends Jo and Joe Madill till our possession date. We had a date for Iona’s surgery, and I took her to St. Boniface hospital. I’m not really a fan of men wearing ponytails. I know that’s being pretty judgmental but it’s just how I felt. Wouldn’t you know it – Iona’s surgeon wore a ponytail. I had to leave the love of my life in the hands of a man who had a ponytail. He told me that the surgery would take a number of hours – it was a hysterectomy – and that I shouldn’t hang around the hospital. I went back to Madills to wait for the phone call. I paced around, jumping every time the phone rang. When it finally did, I spoke to the surgeon. I wanted to hear what he had to say and at the same time I was dreadfully afraid of what he might say. I held my breath. It was all gone. They had removed every cancer cell and Iona would need neither chemo nor radiation treatments. She would have to come back for regular check-ups, but she was cancer free. We were now ready for the challenges of our new pastoral assignment.

When Don Nicholas had been the pastor of the church, he’d managed to sell the building and the church now had a rather healthy bank account. They rented space in a building in an industrial part of the city. It was adequate but not exactly prime real estate.

The church was small and couldn’t afford to pay us a salary that would cover our expenses. I started taking small jobs to try and help out. I began to do funerals for a funeral home when the people didn’t have a church they could reach out to, but they wanted a funeral. I also tried delivering Kentucky Fried Chicken. I sure couldn’t make any money at that. Some have, but I wasn’t one of them. I then accepted a part time position at Hope Mission working in addiction recovery. From there I moved to Forward House, a residential addiction recovery centre and met Joanne Mullis. Her husband Ed had hired me without letting her know about it and she wasn’t very happy about his decision. After working together for a short while, Joanne became my biggest supporter. We were getting by, but the dream was dying. It was hard to stay motivated. Some Sundays I was just mailing it in. I wasn’t really fully there. There were a number of times Iona told me that there was an edge of anger to my preaching that she’s never heard before. Would I still be able to keep the Son in my eyes?

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