On the evening of March 26 our congregation was blessed to meet and hear first-hand from Colleen Estes about her ministry in Pikangikum, Ontario. A few of us spent some personal discussion time with Colleen before the meal; others found her hopping from table to table for shorter conversations during our soup, bread, and brownies supper; and all of us who attended were able to hear her speak and answer our many questions. For me, Colleen embodies passion and compassion, faith and faithfulness, and humor and hope – all characteristics she needs as she faces what seem to us to be constant tragic and hopeless situations. When she spoke to us about Pikangikum, at first she kept repeating “What do I see? as she listed all the hopeless things, but then she went on again to repeat “What do I see?” and share the hopeful and good side of life on the reserve. I think it may have been hard for us to grasp the hopeful, but those signs are there!
As Abner, Bob Rosenberger, and I had the extra privilege of spending Tuesday evening and Thursday with Colleen at our house and Bob’s house, I was heartened to discover her delightful humor, to hear her laugh, to listen to her stories of fun times and good relationships even as she shared the burdens. Abner commented: “Our interaction with Colleen made it so evident that her whole life was a preparation for the service which she so selflessly does in Pikangikum. And it was very humbling to learn how totally dedicated she is to those with great needs.” It seems to me that Colleen‘s greatest ministry is just “to be,” to walk along side, to offer a safe haven, to embody God’s love.
Jan Collins: When I first met Colleen with a hand shake, I immediately felt a kinship and that she was a true sister in Christ, and it felt like we had been friends for years. Her enthusiasm for life, her faith in God, and her love of the people in Pikangikum was evident throughout the evening. Through her sharing, she gave a graphic and clear picture of the community where she lives and works. I can better understand the deep depression and hopelessness of the people. It brought to mind the horrible way the Europeans stole the livelihood of the Natives hundreds of years ago, occupying the land they called home, and are still controlling them today, leaving a dependent and handicapped community trying to survive. It made me aware of the dire needs of these people that requires miraculous intervention. That is where I come in, where we come in, as a supporting church, to pray for Colleen and these folks, and help with their financial and other needs as presented to us.
Melissa Ayres: What touched me most was the tender heart and respect Colleen has for this group of people. She cares about all of them with an obvious emphasis on the children. I had understood that as Native people they had cultural differences from white people. Hearing that English is a second language was surprising. What a huge hurdle when the majority of your teachers not only don’t know your language (or culture) but aren’t there long enough to learn them! Colleen spoke of children going “away” to school. That also highlighted the differences the people of Pikangikum feel between their lives and those of white people. The need for supporting them in their work to support themselves seems to be the key.
Lynda Knisley: Though the details of her situation are daunting, we sensed that Colleen knows that her contact with individuals is key. If we pictured family structures like our own, children exploring their gifts and passions with parental guidance, Colleen described instead a community in which people of every age seem adrift. The vigorous learning culture we strive for in our classrooms, for example, is constantly disrupted by moose hunts, fishing season, and frequent family disasters. How can it be that education is optional? Colleen said children are free to stay home, play video games and watch TV long into the night. Of course, the escapism and violence these provide is “education” to the max! Colleen often describes the alcoholism and suicide that plague teens in this community. Are these inevitable? What must those turbulent years be like without the security and protection of older adults nearby? These are some of the images we carried away from our Q and A with Colleen before supper. She has “learned how to be content” in her surroundings, like Paul. Every so often, affirmation comes along; proof that her presence in the midst of what she calls “constant grief” renews hope and helps people to thrive.