Winnipeg – Part 2

Winnipeg was a tough time for us. Now that doesn’t mean that it was all bad and that there weren’t really good bits as well. When we first arrived, we knew that Laura wasn’t very happy with the move. She had just begun fitting in in Edmonton. The church in Winnipeg had very few girls her age. We decided that we needed to help her out, so we bought a dog. Missy was a poodle/Maltese cross. She was a fluffy bundle of energy and excitement. She became a Houdini, escaping from her backyard compound, but she always came back.

We became part of a small group of pastors and former pastors, meeting almost every Sunday night for a few laughs and a little refreshment. Barry always had something to explain to us on the back of a napkin. Doug, on the other hand, always had a joke that went on forever and didn’t really seem to have a point. We spent many Sunday nights at Perkins, enjoying each other’s company. Even found time to play a little golf. Shot the best round of my life on a rather rainy day. Played with Bill Isaac and shot a round of 76 – the only time I ever shot anything under 90 in my life. Got to enjoy the parks and The Forks – where the Red, Seine and Assiniboine rivers met. In 1999 Iona and I volunteered at the PanAm Games. For the first and only time, we went to a field hockey game. It’s really difficult to watch a game that you don’t understand and don’t know the rules for.

I had my first contact with a group of Mennonites. Our rented space was totally inadequate, so we began to look to purchase. We looked at a number of options, but none seemed to meet our needs. The St. Vital Evangelical Mennonite Church had outgrown their building right across the street from the St. Vital Mall and were looking to sell. I phoned their pastor, Al Friesen, and asked if the building was still for sale. Yes, it was, he told me, but they had a firm offer from a business and were probably going to sell it to them. If we made a reasonable offer, they would consider it. We made an offer, which was about $10,000 less than the offer they had received. Al met with his board, and they felt that God wanted a church on that corner and even though our offer was lower, they accepted it.

My friend Doug Woods was the director of Siloam Mission, and he talked me into volunteering on Thursday evenings. I would preach a short message and then help distribute food to the people who had come. I learned a valuable lesson as I served – everybody has a story. We were about the only mission that welcomed sniffers – people who used inhalants. I would look at them and say to myself “I’m sure their mothers never held them in their arms and dreamed that one day they would end up on the streets of Winnipeg, homeless addicts.” What brought them there? What helped in writing the script of their lives? That, along with work at Forward House, gave me a completely different view of addictions.

A group of men from Forward House began to attend our church. They would drive down in a van and have a quick smoke before the worship service and as soon as I pronounced the benediction they would hustle back to the van for another smoke before returning for a little conversation. We even had a few conversions and baptisms.

Our son Jeff had gone to Taiwan where he was teaching school children how to speak English. A young woman he had gone to university with in Calgary was also in Taiwan, and they began to date. They made the decision to come home for Christmas in 2001 and get married. They asked me to perform the wedding ceremony. We met and fell in love with Becky and on Christmas day they were married. The ceremony took place in Becky’s parents’ home in Cambridge, Ontario. The song they played before the beginning of the ceremony was Dusty Springfield’s “Son of A Preacher Man.” And our family grew by one.

Despite these positives, the dream was dying. I had little to offer the people. One Sunday my friend Doug Woods told me I should preach from my passion. My passion? I had no passion! I just wanted to survive one more Sunday. I didn’t know how much longer I could last, but I needed to earn a living and I didn’t know any other way to do it. There were many days that the words of Psalm 13:1 rang in my mind “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” I felt forgotten and abandoned by God. I became convinced that the church in Rimbey had voted us out because the church wasn’t growing. I began to dread Sunday mornings because I would count the number of people in the pews. On a higher attendance Sunday, I would relax a bit, but if the attendance was down at all, I would begin to worry. Would I be asked to leave again? So many of my waking hours were consumed with worry about our attendance.

Iona had started working at the Canadian Bible Society bookstore and I met their district director Roger Robert. He and I played golf together and generally enjoyed getting to know each other. As I approached my emotional bottom, he told me that the District Director in Saskatoon had resigned, and the district needed a new director. I sent in my résumé and received an invitation to fly to Saskatoon for an interview. Roger wrote me a letter of recommendation as did my old friend Reg Graves. To make a long story very short, I was offered the position and in July of 2002 we bought a house in Saskatoon, and I moved into a new position. I needed a major healing and that is exactly what God had in mind for me as I tried to keep the Son in my eyes.

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