Chris Schuman had no qualms about knocking on stranger’s doors, following unfamiliar side roads or turning “chance encounters” into opportunities.
She was a Stonecroft Rural Missions field representative with a special assignment from Rev. Duff to pioneer the work of Village Missions in Canada. In August 1968, she set out to visit a suggested potential field in British Columbia. Her route took her through Dawson Creek, and she decided to stop and introduce herself to the Mennonite pastor there. After she explained her purpose, he told her about a couple who attended his church but lived and worked in a rural community called Progress. He gave her the Brauns’ address and encouraged her to visit them.
As she approached Progress, Chris chose to take a side road to explore the area.
Just ahead, a lady on horseback slowed down allowing me to pass. Something, she later told me, she very rarely did. I indicated to her that I wanted to talk, and she brought her horse to a halt. She asked what brought me there. This is the type of opportunity I wanted, and it allowed me to share about Village Missions and its ministries.
“Oh, it would be so nice to have a Sunday School here.”
To which I quickly replied, “This isn’t just for children, but for the whole family.”
To my surprise and delight, she said, “In that case, why don’t you come over to my parents’ place tonight. I’ll invite a few people to make your visit worthwhile.” Then she gave me detailed directions.
Next Chris found the Brauns’ home, knocked on their door and introduced herself. They invited her to supper, and after hearing about her assignment, welcomed her to stay with them after her impromptu meeting. She did – that night and many times over the coming years.
Soon Chris reported that she knew of only one Christian couple in Progress but that eight families said they would support efforts to establish a church. In April 1969, Reverend Duff received a letter requesting a “minister of the gospel” for Progress.
Making Progress in Progress
Investigating potential Village Missions fields was one of a field representative’s tasks. Others included helping the community prepare a parsonage and holding a new field until VM had a suitable missionary couple to fill it. Chris did all of these in Progress.
In a June letter to Mr. Duff, Chris described the house that the group in Progress had selected for a parsonage:
“They have settled on a three-room house, which needs some finishing work. It should be very cozy. It has electricity, a phone line, a good heater, an electric stove and is fully furnished. But no running water or bathroom. But Mr. Duff, there are only two indoor toilets in the area. The repairs consist of placing the house on a cement frame and insulating and finishing the walls inside.”
Chris was clearly an optimist. No doubt she believed the importance of VM’s work surpassed physical comforts and convenience.
Little did she know that this “cozy three-room house” would become her home!
VM had setbacks and difficulties in appointing a missionary couple to Progress, so in August 1969, Chris moved to Progress with the blessing of Mr. Duff.
With the assistance of the Brauns and several families, she started a community church in the “down at the heels” community hall. The first Sunday, twelve adults and 20 children came to Sunday School, and 30 adults and children were in the worship service. Mr. Braun taught the adult Sunday School and led the singing. In a sense, these were evangelistic events because most of the participants did not know the gospel or God’s Word.
During the week, Chris continued knocking on strangers’ doors to meet more people and invite them to church. Soon she started a Bible study with one of her neighbors.
She wrote about the dirt road to her house that rain turned into thick mud and about grizzlies and black bears in the area. “When the road is impassable, I have to walk in through the oat field. I do so with measured steps and slowly and deliberately I quote the twenty-third Psalm until I am safely at my door.” But she wrote more about the people – their enterprising ways, sacrificial generosity and commitment to establishing their community church. “It is a privilege to serve these precious people for the Lord,” she told Mr. Duff.
By early October, she wrote:
“Our adult Bible study averages from eight to twelve besides which I have four separate Bible studies going at the moment. Folks are buying Bibles. …But what pleases me most is that people are applying the Word to their lives, and I can see a growth in this short time besides those turning to the Lord.”
In October, Chris described the process of naming the church. “At first, we found it difficult to come up with something suitable, so we asked the children to help. That Sunday, a very excited nine-year-old whispered her choice to me: Happy Heart Church.” After a brainstorming session on Canadian Thanksgiving Sunday, the church folk chose the name Peace Mission Chapel.
Peace Mission Chapel’s First Missionary Couple
Near the end of the year, Chris received this news in a letter from Mr. and Mrs. Duff:
“Chris, you have no idea how much we admire you and cherish your testimony in that community, so far away and so remote and yet so needy! There is a couple who have labored with us for many years, Mr. and Mrs. Castle Thompson, who are very interested in Canada and who have felt a ‘pull’ in that direction for some time.”
In June 1970, Castle and Joanne Thompson and their three children moved from the U.S. to Progress. The church had found a different parsonage, but it was inadequate. It was only by the grace of God and the determination of the Thompson family that the work moved forward and the living conditions slowly improved.
Remember the woman on horseback whom Chris met on her first visit to Progress? Her father and mother opened their hearts to the Lord during the Thompsons’ ministry. “My encounter with their daughter was not a ‘chance encounter’ but a Divine Appointment,” Chris wrote.
Today Peace Mission Chapel is the longest-served current Village Missions church in Canada. It is the only church within a 30-kilometer radius and draws people from the surrounding communities and as far as Dawson Creek. Read more about it here.
If you've been enjoying this series, come back to check for the third installment: "How Did You Find Us?"