I can't believe how much joy I derive from the gentle birds, the gentle rabbit and the twitching squirrel.
The stories continue....
After fleeing Pauingassi in disgrace there was no time to even plan the next steps. We stepped off the plane in Pine Falls with no where to go. We literally had no home - so we escaped to the safest place we knew which was back to the Fraser Valley to stay the summer with Wilma’s parents.
There is always seasonal work in the valley so we joined Pat, Wilma’s younger sister working the valley fields and nurseries hoeing, weeding and picking fruit. It was exactly what we all needed. Pat was going through her own crisis, so as far as I know the two of them had a very precious spiritual bonding experience that summer.
I, on the other hand, worked alone and loved every minute of it. You see, plants don’t yell at you, curse you or try to put pressure on you to borrow money! They exuded peace and patience!
After settling into our new routine, my wife and I came to the conclusion that pastoral education at MBBC had not worked for us, but neither had the missionary experiment at Paunigassi! Perhaps it was time to explore my gifting again, this time my art talent.
Then at the end of summer when we were starting to get restless, Wilma's older sister said that they had friends wondering if we would like to house-sit an apartment right down-town Banff! How can you say no to something like that?
We again packed up our little blue Datsun and drove to Banff, settling into a beautiful apartment in that beautiful town of Banff nestled at the foot of those beautiful mountains. It was truly over the top - beautiful. I remember walking up and down those streets feeling we were on an extended vacation.
Coincidentally this was also the home of the prestigious Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity! After a brief discussion with Wilma, who was always encouraging anything artistic, I decided to apply and wrote the entrance exam which apparently I passed with flying colors. The school was so impressed with me. Their reaction and feedback confirmed that I did have a recognizable and impressive talent in art. They invited me to become a student for the following year! Pressure!
It was wonderful to hear the accolades which somehow healed my artist soul.
But I hesitated...
On the surface it seemed like such an obvious decision and would be ridiculous not to take it. It was a linchpin kind of decision! If there ever was a fork in the road decision this one was. I'm not even sure I could think through all the implications of this life altering decision, I just knew it would change everything.
It was a clear invitation to get into the art world. It was so obvious -- and yet -- why did I feel no peace?
In the end I decided against it. I would not apply.
Wilma who always wanted me to explore my artistic gifting, sputtered a bit in shock but still supported me in my choice.
So we loaded up our little blue Datsun again and drove to the next big city, Calgary, and found a place to rent easily (because we weren’t being fussy) and then I found a job as a milk man.
The place we rented was an old dilapidated, filthy, two-story house with two washrooms, a guest room and laundry room. We cleaned and painted and transformed it into a home. The finishing touch was when I painted a mural of an autumn scene on the feature wall in our dining room. I also had a room downstairs that I made into a makeshift studio. We were such hippies back then.
Once settled we started to attend Highland Mennonite Brethren church and immediately joined an adult Sunday School class – eager to make new connections.
We knew something was wrong with us when during a Sunday School class, the leader opened up a discussion on poverty. The consensus of the class was that poverty was an international problem to be solved by missionaries of the third world countries.
When Wilma and I suggested that there could be poverty in our own country, referencing our own Pauingassi story, we were shut down quickly.
We left the class shaking – visibly distraught. We wanted to abandon church forever - smash something - we were surprised at the vehemence of our anger.
Then we paused - where had these strong feelings come from?
We hadn’t even admitted it to ourselves the residual impact Pauingassi had on our inner lives. Trauma!
We had seen children sniffing gas: children running through the village unattended, barefoot and hungry. We had seen the adults drinking too much, unable to pay their store bill, and given their living conditions – never would be able to. We had seen the packs of abandoned dogs roaming the village dirt paths and the paw prints of wolves. We had seen evidence of outrageous government mismanagement of funds and infrastructure. We had even experienced hatred and violence against the store and myself. We had seen violence in the community against each other as well.
And we had been helpless in the face of it. We had gone there with artistic ambitions - yes - but we had also thought that we had the answers for everyone. Instead we had left defeated.
When we debriefed this with a friend, they asked us if we had ever considered “missionary burn out.” No – we hadn’t – that was for missionaries that went overseas.
Yet we had the classic symptoms. We had “compassion fatigue.” We realized we didn’t have what it took anymore to help the way we would have liked. We found ourselves beginning to be dismissive to the very people we came to serve. We started to blame them for their misfortunes. We had huge feelings of resentment and failure. Classic burnout!
I found myself once again having to forgive. I had to forgive the community for acting out their frustrations and taking it out on the store. I had to take the time to uncover my own issues and forgive myself for failing. I had to forgive all the trauma pieces.... George.
It seemed after every chapter in my life - I was learning how to forgive again.... Would I have to forgive myself for not studying art - I didn't know. Why was my life so hard?
I also let go of my ideals, and had to learn that I wasn't here on earth to eliminate poverty and suffering - these we will always have with us.
We saw the perfect example of this in the missionary to Pauingassi, Jake Funk and his wife. They weren't there to impose change on the community but to love on them and contribute by lessening the suffering where possible.
In the following weeks as we were processing all of this, Wilma realized she was pregnant again - another "pleasant" birth control misadventure.
On August 15, 1975, we welcomed Odia Renee Derksen into our family who embodied a sense of a new beginnings. She even appeared in a movie being filmed in the foothills of Alberta – about Mennonites. She was a star before she could walk.
Watching Candace, as the older sibling look after Odia, we knew that God had given us the two most perfect children.
By this time it felt as if I was lurching from one mistake to the next, would I fail my children as well?
“"I choose gentleness.
Nothing is won by force.
I choose to be gentle.”
Nothing is won by force.
I choose to be gentle.”