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Evaluation of Sunchild Mission

This 1st part was written in 2001. An update has been added in 2010.

The Sunchild and O'Chiese Reserves were formed in 1945 and 1950. Numerous family clans were living along the foothills of the Rockies who had never signed treaty with the government. Many of these clans originated from Saskatchewan, and had not signed treaty because of their commitment to retain their age-old culture and religious beliefs, and it was these groups who formed these two Reserves.Around 1950 a group of Mennonites started a mission work here, which was operated until about 1968.

We held our first camp meeting at Sunchild in 1971. Karen & I moved in to start a mission in July of 1975. Our plan then was to stay two years to develop a work which would be turned over to a Native Bible school graduate. When we came here in 1975 we already had a core group of believers from the previous several years of camp meetings, to build the work on. Just a few weeks after we moved in we had our summer camp meeting with tragic results. Two workers committed an offense against the church, which resulted in the permanent loss of every one of the core group of believers, forcing us to start over to develop a congregation. We moved out in December of 1979, going on to the Northern Yukon, and a Native pastor came to take over the work after that. They spent probably less than a year and left. So in June of 1986 we moved back in and started over again.

During all of our time here we have maintained a rigid schedule in which we have hardly ever missed having a scheduled service. At our peak, we had five services every Sunday over a 20 mile area, 17 students in our A.C.E. school, and averaged a Bible Study every other night. In addition we maintained our Outreach work, which extended to the Canadian Arctic and Siberia, including starting a Christian school in Siberia. Also included in this were three special funerals for our own children.

When we first moved into Sunchild, it was truly a different time and generation from what it is now. The roads were very different. We had to use a 4-wheel drive. The community of Rocky Mountain House, 40 miles away, was a lot less developed than it is now, and the churches much smaller also. Many, or most of the people here lived in tents much of the year, many didn't speak English, and the cultural system was very intact and powerful. The people had little identity with the modern 'White' world around them, and many could not read. This period was also an incredibly difficult time for the Native people who were still making a traumatic cultural transition. We were asked to come, by the Chief, who was especially concerned for the youth, in that they were not following their traditional Native religion, and were growing up without any religion. The churches in Rocky Mt. House had little interest, and as far as I remember, no involvement in an outreach to the Reserves at that time, and we believe that it was proper for us, as missionaries from afar to live here and carry on the work.

During this period of our ministry, most lives, and every home has been impacted by the work of this mission, by ourselves and the many others who have come for a day or months, to assist in the ministry. People from all over the world have gotten involved in praying for the people here. The problem has not been in seeing converts, but mostly in seeing the numerous converts to brave their difficulties and stay true to their faith. We are conscious that much of what God is doing is not obvious to human eyes as well. The real strongholds are in the spiritual realm. We understand that much sowing is necessary for a subsequent harvest, and we don't attempt to judge success by numbers alone. If we are faithful to do our part, we can be confident that God is working out His plan and design. We have put ourselves into the work to the burnout stage where we are not effective and can no longer do much of what must be done.

We also believe that with the changes in roads, culture, education, etc., that it is now viable for the local Christian community, 40 miles away, to take the responsibility for the spiritual development of the Reserves here. With a population of a thousand people, there will always be a need for a resident pastor. (Note: In 2010 the combined population of both Sunchild & O'Chiese is close to 3,000.) However we believe the local Alberta Christian community should be the primary financial and backup support for whoever is here. Our support comes from people all over North America, who want their money used in mission fields where there is no local Christian community to take the responsibility. Our purpose now is to return to the Arctic and focus our ministry in those remote areas where we have been maintaining our Outreach work over the years.

I want to emphasize, that after years of observing and praying and ministering here, I believe that now it is crucial for the churches here in Alberta to be deeply involved in ministering to these Reserves. We have been able to get three of the churches in Rocky Mt. House involved in the summer Bible Schools. It is impossible to be a true Bible Christian and not to have a deep concern for those closest to you, who are in darkness without Christ. I believe that these Indian people will not believe from their hearts until they see those who are living closest to them and professing the name of Christ, carrying a burden for them, loving them, and 'coming where they are', to bind their spiritual wounds. As long as a community of professing Christians are living next to them and showing no concern for their souls, I don't believe they will respond as a community to accept the Gospel.

In summary, we feel that the work we have done in the past has been needful and effective. However, with the changes that have taken place, we feel that it is essential and reasonable that the Christian community in Alberta take much of the responsibility now for the Reserves, and this will be the key to seeing people here get established in a Christian relationship with God.

The previous part was written in 2001. The following has been added in 2010. Karen & I seriously needed a break and there was no-one to relieve us, even for a few months. Our family moved to the Arctic and spent 3 years in ministry there. Our efforts were very sucessful but with 3 of our children in High School there was no High School in Old Crow where we lived. High School students had to go to Whitehorse, 500 air miles away. We returned to Alberta and eventually settled in Three Hills at the Prairie Bible College. We resumed the ministy at Sunchild immediately by driving into the Reserve every week. The Bible College provided much help by sending students every week now for the last 5 years to do their required ministry assignments at our mission. We moved back into the Reserve to live full time in 2008.

We still understand the principles outlined above to be true, but in practice they seem to be idealistic. In reality it has been obvious that during the 3 years that we were gone no one took any responsibilty for the Gospel here on the Sunchild-O'Chiese Reserves and there is a serious need for the involvement of Karen and I. We have to do our best not to judge how Christian Churches in Alberta relate to the mission field here and simply trust that as Churches grow in the future so will their burden and vision for the lost grow also. Since returning to Sunchild we have been able to see a serious involvement of the Alberta Christian community. They need for us to be here to provide a connection for them to be involved here in this community. Recently, we counted 65 youth in Sunday School, we have about 100 in VBS each year, and over 20 teens involved in our teen group. After spending most of our lives here, this is our home. There is no place we can go to now to go "back home" in any capacity other than a vistior. This is our home. Rodger & Karen Rinker

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