It’s Sabbath morning in the small town of Hobbema [hoe-BEE-muh] in central Canada. Children arrive ready to enjoy the Sabbath program prepared by church members and volunteers. Then it’s time to sing, tell Bible stories, and share God’s love.
Hobbema is located in one of the largest Native American reserves in Canada. For more than 60 years Adventists have ministered in this community. Its biggest ministry is its 160-student school for Native American children.
The Native Americans in Canada have good reason to distrust the White people, who in generations past tried to force Native Americans to adopt the White settlers’ ways, including their religion. Now many Native Americans find it difficult to accept Christianity, which many see as the White people’s God.
But they hunger for answers to their spiritual questions. They often ask Adventist pastor Peter Ford questions that open doors to present Christ. “We have such good news to share with them!” Pastor Ford says.
Life on the Native American reserve is tough. About half of the population is under the age of 18, and many in the community don’t attend church and have not been introduced to Jesus as a personal friend and Savior. Big-city crime, such as drugs and gang activity, has moved to Hobbema.
The Adventist school’s teachers work hard to influence their students to make wise choices and resist drugs and alcohol. But outside of school many of the children see the other side of life.
When Pastor Ford arrived in Hobbema in 2008, he had a vision to share Jesus with the children, and through them to reach the larger community for Christ. But he needed help—lots of help. Pastor Ford invited students from the nearby Adventist-owned Canadian University College (CUC) to volunteer.
The outreach idea blossomed into a ministry that students from CUC are passionate about. On Sabbath they introduce the children to God through Bible stories, songs, crafts, and other activities.
“I want the children to give God a chance in their lives,” says Sapphire, one of the CUC volunteers.
Jessica, another volunteer, says, “I wanted a more personal relationship with God and a Christian outreach that I could call my own. I’ve found it in Hobbema!”
Elise has discovered that ministry in a community such as Hobbema isn’t a short-term project. “It’s making friends and building relationships for the long-term that will truly lead others to a growing relationship in Jesus,” she says.
The student volunteers seek to provide the children of Hobbema with positive role models that will help them resist the temptation to join gangs or try drugs or alcohol. The university students take the older children and teens skating, rock climbing, and on campouts, encouraging them to make wise choices.
The hard work of the students from CUC and church members such as Bob and Jeannie Spratt, who have worked in the Hobbema area for more than 18 years, is reaping results. Several Native American children began attending the Sabbath School programs on their own. Eventually the mother of some of the children became curious and attended church with her children. She kept coming and encouraged her husband to join her. Today the entire family participates in the weekly worship services.
The little congregation in Hobbema has outgrown their rented building. “We need space to continue the weekly soup kitchen ministry that feeds 60 to 120 people a week,” says Pastor Ford. “The youth and children need room for their programs.”
But raising funds to build a church in Hobbema is difficult when most of the population lives below the poverty level. Pastor Ford isn’t discouraged. “God knows our situation and the need for a building,” he says. “He will show us the way.”
Having a permanent church structure is more than just a convenience. In the Native American culture the lack of a church building sends the message that the church isn’t there to stay. “It’s time to change that perception,” says Pastor Ford.
“We want our friends in Hobbema to hear our message, that Jesus loves them and invites them to spend eternity with Him.”