I was going to Alberta, Canada. For a bigger version of this map, click here.
Samford student David Bell and I served as summer missionaries in Alberta, Canada. We joined two young ladies from Washington State (maybe Seattle) and Baton Rouge (an LSU student). Basically, we worked with local churches in mainly rural areas. However, we did stay in the capital city Edmonton for a bit. The towns Fairview, Worsley and Red Deer are places I remember most. Worsley is about as far north of Alberta as you can go. There was a Canadian director of the Mission Board who managed all the logistics and pre-arranged all our home-stays. We stayed for a week or more at a time with church members - some families with several kids, and even one senior couple.
Our primary function was to do all the ins and outs of Vacation Bible School (VBS). And I mean everything! Our tasks included: planning and developing VBS programs and activities; doing some basic landscaping and maintenance of church grounds the week before the start of VBS; canvassing neighborhoods door-to-door to introduce ourselves to parents and invite their kids to VBS; working with pastors and church members who were volunteering to help with VBS; kicking off the start of VBS; coordinating and participating in all the activities for the week; and then conducting the closing ceremonies.
Other times at churches we might give our testimony in front of the church or in small groups. David, an aspiring minister, would almost always be asked to preach a sermon. And there were times we'd be ask to teach a Sunday School class. And for something a bit unusual, in communities where we didn't have a church, we'd set up an abbreviated form of VBS in parks.
Some of my memories:
- The day we arrived in Edmonton, the director who met us at the airport took us to a Red Lobster for a bite. My first bit of culture shock: I discovered that there was no such thing as sweet tea in Canada! The waitress was as amused as I was puzzled!
- At one family's home where stayed, the family had a beautiful farm with horses. We would ride the 4-wheeler all over the property. Another time, one of the family members took us on a lovely hike through the woods - a big portion of Alberta, btw! - to the Peace River. That's where those photos above were taken. Along the way, we made noises and spoke loudly to make sure we wouldn't surprise a mother Grizzly and her cubs. We (I mainly) were always worried about Grizzly attacks!!!
- Dad and Regina (my step-mom) were taking a trip that summer to Alberta in order to see the world famous rodeo, The Calgary Stampede. Although Dad and I talked on the phone a few times, and tried to work out a visit, our missions team had moved farther north to Worsley (NW Alberta) just a day or two before they arrived in Calgary. Logistically, it was not going to work out. Although I never asked Dad, I think the reason he had picked that particular summer for the Stampede was because I was up there. This was a few years before the Internet, and long before cell phones and texting were commonplace. On top of that, my schedule was fixed, and I had no idea had to really get down to Calgary. I probably would have been way to disruptive to my team and commitments, anyway. Looking back, it meant a lot for Dad to attempt to work that out. And, just a couple of years later, he and Regina actually were successful in meeting me in a far-flung place: Los Angeles, CA. They actually visited me for a few days before I flew to Uzbekistan for a year. In fact, they saw me off at the airport. We had a great time.
- I had a very strong Southern accent then. Of course, David did as well. However, our friend from Louisiana had an even more distinctive Southern drawl. It even made us take a second look! On one occasion, at an outdoor event, a man took us over to a large group of his friends so they could simply hear us speak. I was amused by this, and even liked the attention.
- At one particular church there was a pastor who was following in the footsteps of his father, the founder, first pastor and very revered leader of the church for decades. The father had stepped down, and now the son had taken over. At least we thought! The father, however, was clearly still "in the wings." I recall spending time with this son-turned-pastor - at the church and at his home. And it sure seemed (and my friend David concurred) that there was a real lack of joy in this pastor's life - and, by extension, his family's life. Over a Sunday meal at his family home - and remember, we were foreign guests - there was an incredible amount of tension. There wasn't anything subtle about it. The meal couldn't even be enjoyed because the pastor was laying down the rules. The wife and daughter were on pins and needles. I went into a state of anxiety myself!!! I felt sorry for the young daughter, just thinking of her having to grow up in that home. And I had only seen a bit of it! That particular church and that family situation was a "wake up moment" for me. A light switched on: Being a missionary or doing "God's will" does not, by default, equal any kind of happiness and joy. It made me, at that age, a devout Evangelical, and someone who was toying with the idea of one day being a full-time missionary, step back and reflect a bit. Although I remained just as devoted and committed to "the cause" over the next few years, I pivoted, and turned back decisively towards an interest in business (ironically, my major): going into business (or banking), reading more business books, thinking about starting a small business, etc..
- Edmonton Mall was very impressive. The largest mall in the world at the time, and may still be. Just going there and walking around was one of those things we had to do.
- On the world stage, the Summer Olympic Games were taking place. And the much-talked-about Dream Team was dominating. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and the rest. At the home of an elderly couple, where I stayed for an extended period, I had a bit more freedom to do as I wanted. I would work my VBS scheduling and prep work around seeing some of those televised games. Incidentally, with the exception of these games and two movies (Silence of the Lambs was one) we watched at home, it was another summer where TV was either not watched entirely or was very marginalized. I think we went to see one movie at the theater - Unforgiven, starring Clint Eastwood.
- I was gaining a little bit of interest in politics. The coming US presidential election would be my first time to vote. Independent candidate Ross Perot had dropped out of the race, only to later reemerge. On one occasion, driving down some Canadian roads, the news came on and gave an update on Perot's status. I was certainly intrigued by Mr. Perot.
- At one home where we had dinner and maybe stayed a night, there was a young lady who looked Asian to me. She was likely a Native American. And she was a part of the family. She might have been adopted. Not really sure. I didn't know the story, nor had the courage to really ask. I just remember she was very lovely, and I had quickly zeroed in on her. I remember worrying that "the parents" might detect just how fascinated I was with her. I was certainly hoping she could!! Unfortunately for me, being the good Baptist I was, the feelings and urges I had at the time certainly didn't lead to anything. Just frustration!
- Although I didn't mind passing out VBS fliers door-to-door initially, at some point I started thinking it was a bit weird. Two Southern guys from the States knocking on doors and then giving a "pitch" about a VBS?!?!? Even then, I started feeling odd about this. I also didn't like having to worry about dogs coming after me. I worried especially about Pit Bulls!!!!
My biggest regret about my summer in Canada was that I didn't have the interest nor the knowledge - nor the much-needed encouragement from others - to pursue extending my time there by at least a couple of weeks. Certainly, Vancouver, BC wasn't too far away. I had the money. Just came back home. I was young.
a paperweight souvenir I brought home and gave my mother