by Betty Koop
“This isn’t the end of the World
…but you can see it from here!”
La Crete, Alberta
I chuckled as I held up the T-shirt with this caption on it. My husband Glen and I were Christmas shopping, and this had caught my eye. As I stood in this store in the community of La Crete, located only 150 miles from the North-West Territories, I reflected on all that had transpired since we had made that 1,400-mile trip to the far north some four months ago.
We had received a call to pastor the La Crete Christian Fellowship (LCCF) early the previous year. Glen had taught at Steinbach Bible College for about 20 years and felt it was time for a change. After much prayer and discussion, we decided to move and take up this new challenge.
Resignations from our jobs, selling the “dream house” Glen had designed and built, and getting our grown children used to the idea of their parents moving so far away were all traumatic signposts on the way to the move.
Finally all was settled. We would leave immediately after the EMC Convention in July. Our goods left for northern Alberta three weeks earlier and we moved in with my hospitable sister and brother-in-law.
At the Convention’s first session Glen’s brother informed us that their mother had been rushed to a city hospital. In the busy emergency room we talked to her briefly, holding her cold hands in ours, feeling helpless in the face of her obvious pain. The shocked family consented to a surgical procedure that was done that afternoon. We went back to the convention with the assurance that all was well. But the Lord took her home later that evening. Our stay in Manitoba was extended so that we could attend the funeral and grieve with our father and family.
The trip North some days later was a quiet time of grieving, as well as of anticipation as we wondered what our new life would be like. The drive seemed endless through miles and miles of open prairie and farmland, forests, and marshes. A ferry took us across the wide, swirling Peace River.
More farmland, interspersed with fragrant woods of spruce and aspen crowded the road. Then La Crete, a town of about 1,000 at that time, popped into view. Agriculture and logging-related businesses, various dealerships, and a few restaurants lined the main street. We had certainly reached a frontier town, which appeared to be self-sufficient, growing and vibrant. There were mobile homes everywhere, although many permanent buildings had been erected and many more were under construction.
In the next few days we moved into the manse—a trailer, naturally! But an unusual one, since it had been set on a basement, providing welcome extra space. Our church people were very much involved with moving in our furniture, helping us unpack, bringing food and generally making us feel welcome.
LCCF had an attendance of around 375 in winter with at least 100 less in summer when many people went “out” for vacation. So the smaller numbers helped us to sort out names and faces, although it was still a bewildering challenge. Everyone knew us and we didn’t know anyone!
Inevitably I felt the emptiness of leaving our children, the loss of a very dear mother-in-law, and the feeling of uselessness since I had “no job” while my husband reveled in his new work and daily challenges. Homesickness set in.
Glen wrote in his journal for Wednesday, 24 July 1996: “Betty is very lonely…tomorrow will be a different day!” Little did he know how “different” the next few days would be!
Since we were so far north, daylight extended well into the night. So, rather late Friday evening we took our tennis racquets to the courts near our home. I am not a good player, but running after the ball and even getting it across the net occasionally was a good workout.
But I tried too hard! While backing up too fast trying to reach the ball, I lost my balance and fell. I put out my hand to break my fall and felt an excruciating pain in my wrist as my body hit the pavement. At the hospital in Fort Vermilion, my badly broken wrist was set and pain became my companion.
But I also had another Companion. As news of my accident spread, our new church family swung into action as they personified the love of Jesus in wonderful ways. It was heart-warming and humbling to welcome the many new friends who dropped by, always with love and usually with food.
They organized bringing suppers four times a week for most of the summer; they brought fresh garden produce and goods for the freezer; they came to help with cleaning and offered to help in any way that was needed. Their prayers and their love carried us.
Glen was preparing talks for the church’s Youth Retreat to be held in three weeks, but helped as needed. He so appreciated the meals that came.
I spent most of the day and a good part of each night in our recliner. The pain seemed worse when lying down, and so I would sit up and try to fall asleep before a painkiller wore off. Bathing and dressing were an ordeal that left me soaked in perspiration.
As we drove out to the Youth Retreat with friends, I looked forward to the change of scene. We moved into our cozy quarters. And, very soon, Glen was busy studying. I decided to go for a walk and relished the beauty of the lake with the loons calling, the lush green beside the trail, and could almost ignore the pain in my wrist.
Returning to camp, I missed seeing a depression in the grass and went down. I was thankful that I had not hit my arm and the cast was intact. My right ankle hurt and I was annoyed that I had sprained it. As soon as the pain subsided, I would get up and hobble back to our cabin.
But I couldn’t!
When we returned home, X-rays revealed that a bone was broken. I listened in unbelief as the doctor said I would need another cast. Because the foot was badly swollen, I was told to ice it for a few days, then return to the hospital.
The phone woke us early on the morning that my leg cast was to be applied. We received the shocking news that my much-loved older brother back in Manitoba had suffered a massive brain hemorrhage and was not expected to survive till evening.
As the second cast was put in place I felt a swirl of emotions: anxiety, helplessness, a deep sense of aloneness, interspersed with a desire to giggle at my awkwardly funny dilemma. But practical reality hit hard when I tried to maneuver from the wheelchair into the car and up the steps into our home.
Since the two casts were on opposite sides of my body, crutches were useless. I was not to put any weight on my injured foot for several days. A wheelchair did not fit into our compact trailer’s floor plan.
In addition to the physical pain, there was a sense of loss and the deep hurt of not being able to be with my family during this time of grief. Pain seemed to envelope me.
A Church Family
But again the church family was there for us. Because I was unable to move from our home, some 30 of them squeezed into our living room for a time of Scripture reading, prayer, singing, and sharing.
When I looked around through my tears, I saw the tears on their faces as they grieved with us, even though they had never met my brother. This was our family! The love present in that room was like feeling the loving arms of Christ around me. I was not alone!
Now, even though the above was almost 21 years ago, it is still a joy to celebrate my mobility. Physiotherapy and exercises did wonders for my wrist and ankle. A patient, understanding husband helped me work through my feelings of uselessness and into a meaningful niche in our ministry. But the greatest joy of all was being part of a church that personified the love of Jesus by their actions in everyday life.
Betty Koop (EFC Steinbach) has served in many roles: as a secretary for many years, as the wife of a college professor and pastor, as a mother and a grandmother. She previously served as a columnist and in the national office as an archives worker.