Ministry of Presence

Serving as the Team Supervisor for Team 4 is a privilege for many reasons. However, their ministry to Indigenous youth has many unique challenges which make it difficult to supervise them from a distance. While the team is in Northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan, actually immersed in the culture and learning from the people, I try and guide them from Ottawa. At the end of February, the Lord gave me an opportunity to close the distance.

My co-supervisor and I spent 5 days in a small Northern town called Saint Theresa Point in Manitoba. It didn't take long for us to realize how different the culture is in the North. Things were more relaxed and simple. It seemed like nothing could shake up their peace. I wondered why and my answer came from a gentleman I met after Sunday mass.

After mass, we stood at the doors greeting people as they left. I watched as a few of the team members got pulled aside by members of the community to chat. The team had told me before that the people in the communities would often share with them about their lives, struggles and all. It was beautiful to see it rather than just hear about it. Then I received a chance to experience it.

Simon* had a big smile on his face and started cracking jokes with us. He seemed to have a spark about him that was infectious. I started a conversation with him asking him about his plans for that Sunday. He started by telling me he was going back home to take care of his ten grandkids. After that, he told me that he had to take care of them because one of his daughters had committed suicide while the other was struggling with a heroin addiction. Simon went on to tell me that his wife couldn't help him because she was on bedrest in a hospital in Winnipeg. He had to make a choice between moving to Winnipeg with his wife of thirty years or living with his ten grandchildren. Although it was the hardest choice of his life, he chose to protect and raise his grandchildren.

Simon told me all of this... and we had just met! I was shocked by how naturally he trusted and shared his story. I had heard so many second-hand stories and now I was hearing one first-hand. Listening to Simon made me realize how significant and necessary this mission is.

That's what this team's ministry is all about. They're Christ's presence to everyone they meet. If people want to share their story, they listen. If people want to be prayed with, they pray with them. If they just want to play cards, drink tea, and laugh, the team does that. The first step in any ministry is having a ministry of presence. Before you can teach or proclaim anything, you first have to be where you are. You have to be with who you're with. I so often find my head with what I'm going to cook tonight, or with that jerk who cut me off in traffic. In the North, you can't afford to get sidetracked by a wandering mind. If you're not present, you might miss something beautiful.

After Simon had finished his story, he paused for about thirty seconds. I had no idea how to respond, so I prayed for him silently and watched as he looked around the church. His eyes stopped on the crucifix before they returned to me. Simon looked at me with that spark from before and said, "And that's why I come here." I finally realized that the peace that these people have is often founded on a deep trust in Jesus. He thanked me again and then walked away.

In the time of one conversation, my eyes were opened to how beautifully Christ could use me as long as I was willing to slow down and be where I was. This is just one of the many stories from NET's mission in the Archdiocese of Keewatin-Le Pas. The team hears stories like this almost every day and in return, the people feel heard and loved. Simon is just one man in that 430,000 square kilometre diocese. My hope is that everybody there has a chance to encounter Christ, who is always present and ready to listen.

Josh Bruce, Team Supervisor

*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.