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Apr20TueThe Army reaches out in Whitehorse, a small town with big-city challenges April 20, 2010 by Ken Ramstead
When Captains Jeff and Shannon Howard were pondering their next ministry move after five and a half years in High River, Alta., they hoped they would be sent to the West Coast, somewhere warm and sunny near the ocean.
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- Territorial News
Instead, they were asked to go to Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon and Canada's driest city, with an average January temperature of -22 C. “I never thought I'd live anywhere close to Whitehorse,” laughs Captain Shannon Howard. “But that's where God wanted us to go. Now that we're here, it just feels right. We wouldn't want to be anywhere else.”
Small Town, Big Problems
While Whitehorse is the largest city in Canada's three northern territories, its population is only 22,898, just twice the size of High River. This presents some unique challenges.
“We're the size of a small town yet we face the same problems—homelessness and alcoholism—as in any big Canadian city,” says Captain Shannon Howard. “In order to function, we need the same facilities.”
To that end, besides the church, the Army in Whitehorse operates Yukon's only shelter as well as its only halfway house. The busy thrift store also boasts the Yukon's sole Christian bookstore.
“During the winter, we were finding that too many people had to fend for themselves outside, especially during the cold winter months,” explains Captain Shannon Howard. “We created a lounge area that is open during the hours that the shelter is closed. It's a place to relax and get people out of the cold.”
The 18-bed halfway house has also evolved to include addictions programming. “We want people to go
through here, move on and live independently,” says Captain Jeff Howard.
“You Can Trust Us”
Of course, at the heart of the ministry is the Army's church. While the congregation is only 20-strong, interest in the community has increased since the Howards' arrival. “We've instituted a Bible study and we're hoping to start up a brass band,” says Captain Shannon Howard. “We've acquired a pianist and a drummer, so we now have the nucleus of a worship team, and we no longer have to rely on CDs. There's a lot of excitement in our services. It's really changed the dynamic of the church.”
Interest in the community heightened when it was learned that the officer couple were looking forward to being posted there. “Whitehorse might not be everybody's dream posting because of the isolation and the long winter,” says Captain Jeff Howard, “so when somebody wants to be there, that tends to go over well with people.”
Despite that, the Howards had to overcome some distrust among the First Nations inhabitants. “I'm a redhead and Jeff is blond, so we don't exactly blend in,” smiles Captain Shannon Howard.
“One woman kept repeating over and over, 'Do you want to love my people? Do you want to love my people? We kept reassuring her, 'Of course, we want to love you. That's what we're here for,' ” Captain Jeff Howard continues. “ 'We're not here to push anything. We're just here to love you through Christ. You can trust us.' And she eventually did!”
Now that they have been accepted by the community, the Howards are excited about their next steps.
“We want to see the church grow, but not just in numbers,” states Captain Shannon Howard. “We want everybody in the pews to feel that they are growing in their faith. And we're seeing that happen! Despite their problems, people have not turned their backs on the Lord.”
Secondly, the couple want the entire ministry team, from the thrift store staff to the shelter workers, to work closely together. “For the church, especially, this gives us an opportunity to become truly involved in the social aspect of our ministry,” continues Captain Shannon Howard. “By doing so, we can really live out Christ in our community and help people in a way they might never have experienced before, all of us together as one whole body of Christ.
“We have our future in front of us at this point. There's nothing standing in our way.”