After Andrew Langaert won two cash prizes in last winter’s Race to 2025 adventure fundraising event, he had some decisions to make.
The 23-year-old Newmarket, Ont. resident won a $2,000 individual prize towards a short-term mission trip with Wycliffe, after his three teammates nominated him for the draw.
Then Andrew’s teammates elected to share their portions of a $2,000 group prize with him. But when it came time to decide what to do with the prize money, the McMaster University engineering student didn’t see a good match for his interests and abilities.
“I always wanted to do native ministry,” says Andrew, “but Wycliffe had all these other organized trips that sounded like they’d be great—good opportunities to learn and to serve—but they weren’t really what I wanted to do long term.”
So instead, Wycliffe Canada staffer Sarah Barnes began exploring internships in a First Nations language project. A few months later, Bill and Norma Jean Jancewicz [yan-SEH-vitch] invited Andrew to help out in the Naskapi language project near Schefferville, Que.
“I want to do native ministry in the north,” says Andrew, “so I thought this sounded perfect.”
A Heart for the Hinterland
Andrew has been interested in Canada’s First Nations for as long as he can remember. And although he struggled with shyness while growing up, it didn’t hold him back from serving others or leaving his “comfort zone.”
In his teens, Andrew spent a week with his church youth group on the Sagamok reserve near Sudbury, Ont., helping run a Vacation Bible School for Ojibwa children.
“I was the youngest person who had ever gone on this annual trip to a reserve,” says Andrew. “It was my first exposure to any native group, because there weren’t many near where I lived, where I grew up. And seeing the social problems on that reserve, I had a lot of compassion for all the things that were happening.”
For Andrew, the idea of spending a month in northeastern Quebec among the Naskapis seemed intriguing.
“I’ve always had a fascination with the north; I don’t know why, but I’ve had this fascination since I was a kid. I love the outdoors. I always try to do a few backcountry trips every summer, and the Naskapis have lived in the bush for generations.”
Last August, Andrew left Sept-Iles, Que. by train, travelling 13 hours through terrain that included forests, lakes and muskeg to reach the mining community of Schefferville. Lodging with Bill and Norma Jean in their Schefferville home, Andrew drove with Bill and/or Norma Jean almost daily to the Naskapi reserve at Kawawachikamach—or “Kawawa”—some 15 km away over winding gravel roads. Knowing that four weeks would pass quickly, he had a few modest goals in mind.
“Not having a linguistic background, I was just expecting to help out wherever I could,” says Andrew. In Schefferville, that included helping Bill to replace a hot water heater in their home and chopping firewood. At the translation office in Kawawa, he helped out where needed, cleaning floors or doing office work.
“Bill and Norma Jean are very busy,” Andrew says, “so I was glad to be able to help in those ways.” At the same time, he worked on learning some Naskapi words and building relationships. He was even able to help out in an election, when the people of Kawawa voted in a new chief and council.
“Helping with the election was a good way to meet more people,” says Andrew, "and see the way people in the community interact as a whole."
Andrew has since returned to his engineering studies at McMaster—but he has some specific ministry goals in mind.
“Doing my engineering degree, more than anything else, was a way to potentially be able to support myself doing ministry in a remote community.”
The way Andrew sees it, he would then need to get his engineering licence, and possibly attend seminary to prepare for long-term ministry in the north. Serving in the Naskapi language project has stirred him to consider some training in linguistics, too.
“I really like what Wycliffe does with linguistic ministry, and I enjoy linguistics too, so I might look into some kind of degree along those lines.”
Looking back at his month in Kawawa, Andrew says he had the chance to see and better understand some of the challenges, joys and practical everyday work involved in native ministry. A highlight of his time there was participating in some reading sessions held in the Naskapi development office.
“The staff would sit together in the meeting room and read Bible passages in Naskapi. They were using materials produced as part of the translation project, reading God’s Word, and improving their literacy skills all at once.”
Although his time in Kawawa was short, Andrew feels the internship provided some valuable cross-cultural experience as well as some good insights into missionary life in northern Canada.
“I really enjoyed seeing the culture and I gained a better understanding of the struggles these communities face,” says Andrew. “I learned that Bible translation is a huge task that can take a very long time to finish. I learned that the work can often be mundane, but I also saw that the completed work meant a great deal to the Naskapi people.
“It was great to hear . . . how people are growing in their faith and how lives are being changed. The internship has confirmed for me that I want to continue my involvement with ministry in First Nations communities . . . and to consider future involvement in Bible translation.”
Like what you’re reading? Then don’t miss an issue. Subscribe to be notified when the next issue is published.