Although Village Missions focuses on sending married couples or single men to pastor rural and small-town churches, the history of VM includes some remarkable single women. One of them is a Canadian named Chris Schuman. In 1968, she received an assignment from Reverend Duff, the founder and director of Village Missions: “Chris, we want you to go to Canada and, as the Lord leads, to open up the rural, the village, the town and the suburban areas where He would have us place missionary pastors and their families to minister.”
What a daunting assignment! But Reverend Duff had chosen the right person.
God Leads Chris to Village Missions
Chris Schuman graduated from Millar College of the Bible in Saskatchewan in 1963. She worked in Alaska as a nurse for a short time. Then she applied to Gospel Missionary Union and traveled to their headquarters in Missouri. After some discussion, GMU suggested that she consider home missions instead. This is when she first heard of Village Missions.
In a letter to family and friends, Chris wrote:
I asked where the [Village Missions] headquarters were located. "Kansas City, Missouri,” was the response. Kansas City? Why, that was only forty‑five miles away! Someone quietly added, "But they do not take women at this time." But an inner voice clearly said, "This is NO coincidence." And as if to erase that negative thought, a strange peace enveloped me, and leaving the room, I thanked them for their help. I was, as I said, filled with peace. My search for God's place for me was nearing fulfillment.
Phoning them, the first question I asked was, "Does Village Missions accept women?"
After a long pause, the receptionist answered, "Why, we are particularly praying for women at this time!" Again I marveled at His perfect timing.
Yes, I was at peace, and when they invited me to come and stay, I did not hesitate. As I packed my bags and left the Gospel Missionary Union headquarters, the burden of uncertainty lifted from me. This was further borne out as I walked into the doors of that lovely center. I knew my search for God's will for me was at an end!
Chris became a “field representative” for Stonecroft Rural Missions, a branch of the work that sent teams of girls to investigate rural areas and small towns and pave the way for Village Missionary couples. Her first assignment was in Oregon. This is how she described her role in the same letter:
As Field Representatives, we investigate areas as potential Village Missions fields; have organizational meetings; often stay and help the community prepare the parsonage for the couple; substitute for the pastors in times of illness or vacation; and hold the new fields until such time as Village Missions has a suitable couple for them.
We have sweet fellowship in humble homes as well as homes that are blessed by material wealth. We share the hospitality of some who as yet are only interested in God's work. Our daily testimony is of great importance, and we need the Lord's help to adjust to every situation.
I truly praise the Lord that He has enabled me to adjust to living out of a suitcase, living in different homes, eating different foods at different hours, sleeping in strange beds and adjusting to different climates. He has proven ‘His Grace is sufficient,’ for which I do praise Him. I certainly found this true in my first assignment substituting for the missionary in both the morning and evening services at Boardman, OR.
Chris served as a field representative in Oregon, Montana and Idaho for about three years.
Mr. Duff must have recognized that she was a woman of strong faith, trustworthy and tenacious. In 1968 he entrusted to her the responsibility of pioneering Village Missions’ work in Canada.
Chris Sets Out on a New Venture Undaunted
Chris was excited about the challenge that Reverend Duff gave her, but she had some valuable lessons to learn as she embarked on her new venture. She wrote:
I took my farewell of Avery, Idaho, and my friends there. I was closing a chapter in my ministry and was heading home to the Prairie Plains, to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Yes, home for a new and an exciting venture. As I wound down the twisting mountainous road I felt as if I were on the wings of the wind. Slowly the landscape changed and the horizon widened, and soon the familiar sights of the Prairie landscape, the Prairie elevators, and side-by-side farms came into view.
…Arriving at the border crossing I stopped, parked my car before entering Canada and dedicated myself to this new ministry. Looking back I am amazed that the sheer enormous weight of the work did not daunt me. I simply felt thrilled at the opportunity and after all, felt that the Lord was in charge, and it was not my responsibility. A lesson that would have to be relearned to keep me faithfully at my task.
Arriving home to the glad greetings of my family, my first few days were busily spent in unpacking and settling back into my home, which was to be the headquarters for the Canadian work. Then it was time to begin. There were so many directions in which I could go, but where was I supposed to begin? North, south, east, or west?
…Northern Saskatchewan, I knew, had needy areas, and I would explore them. But it turned out to be two lonely fruitless weeks; I hadn’t found one listening ear. I felt compelled to review my commission given by Mr. Duff: “Chris, go to Canada and go as the Lord leads.” Suddenly, clearly, the words of Proverbs etched themselves on my mind, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your path.” (Prov. 3:5-6)
I relaxed, reassured that there was someone else in charge. I confidently headed home, resolving that from now on I would allow myself to be directed by the Lord’s leading. The onus was not on me; the work was the Lord’s.
God Directs Chris’s Path
Next Chris headed for Northern British Columbia.
It was such a lovely, exhilarating day, and I was thoroughly enjoying my drive into Dawson Creek, my very first visit there. All visitors seem to gravitate to the picturesque site of the Mile Zero sign the beginning of the Alaska Highway. I was no exception. Camera in hand I began recording my visit to this historic site.
Mile Zero, a new beginning, I mused, for in reality I was only in the early stages of my work. Mile Zero – how very appropriate! A lady, camera slung over her shoulders, obviously a tourist too, gave me a friendly greeting asking who I was and what the purpose of my visit was.
Neither of us suspected that this was anything but a chance encounter, nor were we prepared for the turn that our conversation would take. Always glad for an opportunity to acquaint people about Village Missions. I introduced myself and explained that I was doing a survey of the potential needs in Canada for the ministry of Village Missions which I went on to explain was a part of the Stonecroft Ministries.
I wasn't at all prepared for her excited interruption. I didn't have an opportunity to enlarge on what I was going to say for she burst out, "Stonecroft! Stonecroft! Why, I belong to a prayer group" and mentioning a town in Pennsylvania USA, she said excitedly, "We pray for its ministries!"
Amazed at the coincidence, we chatted excitedly for quite a while. I hated to part, but I knew I needed to be on my way. But what a comfort her words were to me. "I'm going right home, and we are going to pray for you." Not for one moment did either of us suppose that this was a mere chance encounter. We exchanged names and addresses, thrilled by this planned encounter, and we reluctantly parted.
"Mile Zero," I reminisced. Zero. "For without Me you can do nothing." These were the Savior’s words. [I was at] the beginning of a new assignment which would be without success if I attempted to do it on my own. But on the other side of the coin, that lovely promise that I can “do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
Coincidence? No, a planned meeting so that the Lord might engrave on my mind indelibly, to ensure that I understood and remembered, "WITHOUT ME YOU CAN DO NOTHING." I had just received the first lesson at the very beginning of my survey. When going where I thought there were needs, I had gone at my own direction. It was then I remembered ruefully the Lord giving me the scripture, “LEAN NOT ON YOUR OWN UNDERSTANDING. IN ALL YOUR WAYS ACKNOWLEDGE HIM AND HE WILL DIRECT YOUR PATH.”
This principle guided Chris through the coming years as she explored many rural areas of Canada and found places for the first Village Missionaries in Canada. In the next post of this series, we’ll learn about one of the first fields she opened and discover just how tenacious she could be!
Read on: to learn more about Chris Schuman and her impact on rural ministry, check out "Courage and Commitment in Rural Ministry." This post describes how Chris helped to start Peace Mission Chapel in Progress, BC.