Pastor shares faith with native Canadians

If you want to know God, then you have to get to know his people.

That’s Pastor Ron Shellhamer’s philosophy.

For two weeks, Shellhamer ministered to residents of a Cree Reservation in Stanley Mission, Saskatchewan, Canada, along with a team from the Lutheran Church of the Living Christ, of Madison, Wisconsin. The mission group is part of a larger organization, Lutheran Association of Missionaries and Pilots (LAMP), and provided a vacation bible school for children ages 5 to 15 at Holy Trinity Anglican Church. It was Shellhamer’s third trip to the mission.

“We go with a very basic message. No. 1, we go because there is a sense of calling amongst us all, so there is a spiritual thread that our hearts and minds be open to a leading of God’s spirit that calls us to immerse ourselves in peoples’ lives. And for some of us, that is a radical immersion,” Shellhamer said.

Shellhamer, the former pastor at St. Matthew Lutheran Church, 2233 Linn St., is no stranger to far away lands. He’s traveled to Liberia for the past 12 years, teaching 12th-grade English and junior high math at an interdenominational Christian school.

He believes in providing education and opportunity for people living in despair. At Stanley Mission, the Cree people are isolated from the rest of the world, with the nearest hospital being an hour’s drive away, and experience intense poverty.

Unfortunately, many of the young people on the reservation don’t see a way out, and the cycle of poverty continues. Some even attempt to take their own lives.

One of the values he and his team try to pass on to the Cree population at Stanley Mission is the importance of education. The group encourages young people on the reservation to complete high school and go out into the world.

It’s more about giving people the tools to break a cycle, Shellhamer said, than trying to be a savior.

“We try to plant seeds of hope and sustenance, that life is more than what we see with our physical eyes or experience materially around us in poverty. There is more to life than that, if only we can see ourselves as friends in Christ,” Shellhamer said.

And while they are there to present the gospel to the Cree people, they aim to do so in a way that respects native culture.

“We’re not there to convert people because one of the things in Native Canadian or Native American’s spirituality is to be respectful of their own spirituality. There is the understanding of God as creation. That spiritual thread runs through their lives.

“They’re very much tied to nature and greatly appreciate the gifts of nature, the spirit of the wind and so forth. We’re very, very respectful of that and we try to work with them and stress to them that this is our understanding of the spirit, and as we learn about your understanding of the spirit, our hope is to try to blend that together. So when they talk about spirit, they associate that with the face of Jesus,” he said.

Following his Canadian travels, Shellhamer hopes to return to Liberia for a month this fall.