This year, Power to Change had the joy and privilege of celebrating 50 faithful years of ministry in Canada. At our biennial staff conference this July, staff from across the country gathered together to celebrate God’s faithfulness over the past five decades, learn together and set our eyes with anticipation for what God has in store.
When looking back at over 50 years of ministry, it is tempting to view the past as a highlight reel of all the best moments. Much like we are prone to do on our social media feeds, we put the good on display and let the difficult fade into the background. The unfortunate side of ignoring or forgetting the hard moments in ministry is that we end up missing the beautiful things God does in the midst of our difficulties. Often, God is powerfully at work in the hardest moments. This means that we can take heart that God is doing something special in those moments.
We had the opportunity to catch up with some longtime staff, and hear about how hindsight has given them the eyes to see what God had for them during particularly difficult seasons of ministry. Through their stories, we can see examples of how God has been at work over the last 50 years, and how he can continue to work in similar ways.
When you’re struggling to relate
Laurie Armstrong has been on staff with Power to Change – Students for 37 years. She recalls that throughout the most difficult moments of ministry, her biggest lesson learned was on the idea of teamwork.
“It was during a fairly painful period in my early years in Montreal when I discovered that I loved sharing my faith and interacting with students, and loving Jesus as I love students on campus, but I wasn’t very capable of loving one of my teammates. There was a lot of tension. Daily. We were different people and did things very differently. We valued different things, and had very different personalities. When it came to working together, there was constant underlying tension and disagreement.
A turning point came when both did personality test focused on our roles. As we talked about it, I realized she was really naturally and spiritually gifted to take on one particular role, and I was gifted in a different way. I thought ‘Wow, it’s really good we’re on the same team because she’s strong in this area and I’m terrible at that. And I’m strong at this thing, and she’s terrible at that.’ It finally just clicked for both of us. We looked at each other and said ‘It’s a great thing we’re different, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to help students in the way that we were.’
During that time, I happened to be reading Corinthians and Romans where it talks about the body of Christ. It hit home that this was just another aspect of spiritual giftings. I don’t have to remake my teammate into my image and vice versa. He created us to need each other and he created us to be different yet united in a common bond with our love for Christ. I can embrace and not resist different gifting and diversity between members of my own team, or different cultures, or different generations, or different ministries.”
When you’re worried about the future
Michael Horner has been on staff for about 44 years, and has seen our ministry evolve over time. With all the changes that occur in our culture, our ministry, and in how students view Christianity, it can be overwhelming and discouraging at times. However, Michael learned to trust in the providence of God throughout a rapidly changing culture.
“Even when I’m concerned for our culture and the harm that may come, I can see that God could be allowing these things to happen for a much bigger breakthrough further down the road. We may not be able to know exactly how that’s gonna happen, but He knows. Maybe once in a while we’ll get an inkling, but we can’t expect to be able to figure that out all the time.
God’s got an ultimate plan for what’s happening in our world now that could lead to far more people coming to Christ than we would ever expect. Personally, I can get discouraged, but we need to put our confidence in God’s providence.”
When you don’t have all the answers
Rod Alm is currently a hub director for Athletes in Action, and worked with Power to Change – Students for many years. One of his difficult moments in ministry happened fairly recently when the bus for the Humboldt Broncos crashed, taking the lives of 16 members of the team.
Rod had the opportunity to travel to St. Paul’s hospital to try and minister and pray for two of the victims who were rushed there because the previous hospital had been overwhelmed.
As he was praying for one of the boys who was rolled out of the ICU in a wheelchair and seemed to be recovering, the father and mother of the other boy walked by and sat in the waiting room. The other boy was in much worse condition, and almost unrecognizable. Rod recounts his difficult conversation with the father.
“The father was very angry. When I introduced myself as the chaplain for the university hockey team, I think he was just angry at God and saw me as God’s representative in the waiting room. He vented at me and said ‘You try and tell me what good could ever come from this? If there is a god, what’s his point? Why would he do this? I’m sick and tired of phoning other parents and asking how their boy is doing, and hearing the same three words. He is dead. Now you tell me, what good can come from this?’ I’ve been in ministry for over 40 years and I’ve been in all sorts of situations, but man I was stumped. What do you say? My first response was, ‘Sir, you have every right to feel the way you do.’ I realize that I can’t take this personally. He’s angry at God and God’s certainly big enough to take care of Himself.
I asked the Lord to give me a word. I didn’t want to end up in a theological debate to try and answer the question ‘why?’”
At the time, Rod has been reading a book by Viktor Frankl, an Austrian Jewish psychiatrist who was in a concentration camp during the second World War.
“He realized that the people in the camp that had no purpose or meaning didn’t have the courage or grit to withstand all the abuse and horrible conditions. They’d succumb to disease and would get gassed. Those with meaning and purpose survived, and he determined he’d survive. I said ‘Sir, it’s way too early to answer these questions of why and what’s God doing. Your boy needs you to love him and help him get through this and I’m gonna pray for your boy that God will spare his life,’ and He did. ‘Inevitably your boy is going to have to come to grips with the question: what good can come from this? Even if your boy just decides ‘I’m going to honour my dead teammates by being a good man,’ something good will have come out of this.’ That softened the father.”
Following more meaningful conversations and interactions with people at the Humboldt vigil, Rod hosted a chapel session with hockey players from the University of Regina. Almost everyone on the team had a close connection with the Humboldt Broncos, and they were looking for answers.
“I shared Isaiah 41-42. ‘The spirit of the lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, comfort those who mourn and heal broken hearted. Whoever this is can meet all of our needs. He can comfort our mourning and heal our broken hearts.’ My question is who is he and where is he.
“I just said to the guys, ‘I’d like to tell you about Jesus.’ I shared the gospel message with them. In a crowd like that, there’s always guys who disdain it. They normally look at their watches and think ‘what have I gotten into.’ There was none of that. These guys were so broken-hearted they were locked in, hanging in on every word.”
Shortly after this, Athletes In Action held a brunch and had some speakers come to share about the hope they had in Jesus. As a result of that brunch, 21 athletes indicated that they wanted to come to know Jesus personally. Another 16 athletes indicated that they knew God, but had wandered astray and desired to return to Him. Another five athletes indicated they wanted to pursue athletic ministry in the future.
“We’ve been following up with people, and some great things have happened. But Jesus Christ still comforts those who mourn, heals the broken hearted, gives sight to the blind and releases the captives. This was a very stressful time in ministry that still ended up being a glory to God.”
When you spend 50 years in ministry, there are going to be ups and downs. Though we celebrate the many highlights we’ve experienced as a ministry, we can also celebrate the difficult moments we’ve endured, too. We can celebrate the lowlights with full and hopeful hearts because we know that God is working through them. Through the hindsight of these three stories, we are able to see that God was at work even when it may not have felt that way of the time. God moved through all of our past difficulties as a ministry, and we can be confident that he will continue to move through all that are still to come.
BY PATRICK ERSKINE
Patrick Erskine is the Editor-in-chief for Power to Change – Students. Originally from Toronto where he graduated from the Ryerson School of Journalism, he now lives and works in Guelph, Ontario with his wife and annoying dog. Patrick has a passion for hearing and telling stories that reflect the beauty of the gospel in a broken world. Patrick is often mistaken for a hobbit, and longs to one day return to the Shire.