a lighthouse for the kingdom
If you drive north out of Bemidji along Irvine Avenue for about an hour, through some scenic woods, farmland, swamp, and along the shores of Red Lake, you arrive in the small community of Ponemah. Situated on the long peninsula which divides upper and lower Red lake, the town of Ponemah is geographically isolated and, although quite small, boasts a long historical heritage of traditional Native American culture. The story has it that after a Christian church was planted in the Red Lake community on the south shore, the missionaries paddled their canoes across the water to Ponemah, only to be turned away by the locals, who were not interested in a Christian church in their community.
But for many years, there has been a little church in the heart of town called Wah-Bun Chapel. It has never been large or prosperous. It has even been burned down several times in its history. But it has remained a faithful outpost for the Gospel in Ponemah, and, by God’s grace, it is now seeing an exciting chapter open in its ministry.
Wah-Bun Chapel has had many excellent servants-leaders over the years. Barb Maxwell, for instance, has been serving there faithfully now for about 30 years. Since her husband Bim passed away in 2005, she has coordinated with a variety of pastors, speakers, and volunteers to partner with her in serving the church, whether that be in the form of long-term ministry, or just coming to give the message for a particular Sunday. But for the first time, Ponemah now has a ministry team of vocational leaders through Center for Indian Ministries (CIM).
Last year, there was no long-term pastor or preacher, and Barb was relying on others to come and fill in on a Sunday-by-Sunday basis. As recent seminary graduate, I was looking for some form of regular work with a local church. Working in Ponemah was not what I originally had in mind, but this is where God has led me to serve. To that end, I have just recently joined Oak Hills’ CIM team as a minister to Ponemah.
Very shortly after this, Sam Dodd also joined CIM to work with the youth in Ponemah. This was a huge answer to prayer. Although Wah-Bun Chapel is very small, there are a large number of children and youth from the community who like to come. There have been many great volunteers who have faithfully come to help over the years, but they have often been too shorthanded to be able to really invest in teaching and discipling the youth. Now Sam, whose daughter Hannah has volunteered there for years, has come to invest in full-time youth ministry. He has already been successful in recruiting a large number of student volunteers from OHCC.
There are many difficulties when it comes to ministry in Ponemah, and many reasons why workers there sometimes become discouraged. But our God is bigger than all of these challenges, and He has many strategies for furthering His gospel in the world. We believe that one of these is simply the presence of the local church, where believers worship, grow toward Christlikeness together, and nurture young people toward the truth of God’s Word—all in the context of a watching community. That is what the Wah-Bun Chapel in Ponemah is—a little lighthouse for the Kingdom of God on the shores of Red Lake.