The Salvation Army is partnering with First Nations communities in British Columbia, Ontario and Manitoba BY KRISTIN FRYER, STAFF WRITER
Raising Up Leaders in Northern B.C. IT’S A BRIGHT Saturday afternoon in September at Gitwinksihlkw Corps, B.C., where a carnival is in full swing. There’s a bean-bag toss, a hockey shoot-out, balloon animals, face painting and more. Children scurry from booth to booth, playing games and earning points, eager to collect their prize at the end. Behind the booths are four young Salvationists from the Youth Action Corps (YAC), a group of leaders-in-training from northern British Columbia. The YAC program, now in its third year, takes a maximum of five youths aged 14-17 each year and gives them opportunities to engage in hands-on ministry and learn practical leadership skills. “Our goal is that these youths will graduate from the program feeling more confident in their leadership abilities, and will then get more involved in their corps or join the staff at summer camp,” explains Erica Azak, assistant regional youth co-ordinator for northern British Columbia, who organizes the YAC. The program consists of four weekends spread out over the year. The first, held in January, is a training weekend, which teaches the basics of youth ministry, from public speaking to planning games and working with different age groups. The remaining three weekends involve practical ministry, supervised by Azak and local corps officers. In 2012, the YAC spent their second weekend leading junior youth councils at Camp Mountainview in Houston, B.C. Before the councils, the youths helped Azak plan the weekend and then assisted with activities throughout, leading songs, games and craft times, as well as praying with children during prayer times. The third weekend brought the YAC to Gitwinksihlkw, a small First Nations village on Nisga’a territory, approximately 100 kilometres northwest of Terrace, B.C. Word got around that a team was coming before the YAC even arrived. “When we got there on Friday night, about 40 people were waiting for us at the church,” says Azak, noting that people came from several surrounding First Nations villages. The team put on some games for the local youths, but they spent most of the evening just hanging out and getting to know the people there. The next day, after the team put on a carnival, they were invited to a stone-moving feast in the Gingolx First Nations village, about 90 minutes west of Gitwinksihlkw. In Nisga’a tradition, a stone-moving feast is held by a family one year after a loved one has passed away to thank the community for supporting them through their time of mourning. 20 I February 2013 I Salvationist
The 2012 Youth Action Corps: from left, Sam Lui, Kessa Wilkinson, Emily Auckland and Hannah McMillan
“I had never been to anything like that before,” says Kessa Wilkinson, a member of the YAC from Prince George, B.C. “To see the dancing, hear the chanting and eat the traditional food was really special.” “The YAC was introduced by the local corps officers, Captains Oliver and Deborah McNeil, and people spoke to them afterward and thanked them for doing youth work in their communities,” says Azak. “And one of the chiefs presented a gift to one of our team members.” The team spent their final weekend in November in the Upper Skeena Circuit, which includes corps in Hazelton, Sike-dakh and Gitsequkla, B.C. The team ran a winter-themed children’s event in Sik-e-dakh on Saturday afternoon, which included crafts, games and music. Major Karen Hoeft, area program and youth ministries co-ordinator, taught the children to sing Love the Lord Your God with sign language, which the children performed that evening at a worship service. All of these experiences of working with children in First Nations villages made a deep impression on Emily Auckland, who is part First Nations herself. “The villages were homey and I felt really comfortable there,” she says. “I especially enjoyed doing the kids’ carnival in Gitwinksihlkw—seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces and knowing that they were having fun.” Now that they have finished the program, both Auckland and Wilkinson plan to become more involved in ministry— Auckland with her corps’ Sunday school in Terrace, and Wilkinson as a camp counsellor. The four, who have become close friends, stay in touch through a Facebook group. Azak says that the YAC’s emphasis on team-building resonates with the First Nations people they encounter in northern British Columbia. “They see that we are community-minded, and so they’re happy to have us come in because they know that we encourage the same values that they teach their children,” she says.