By Joanna Jakovac
Who would have thought pulling weeds in a graveyard is mission work? I mean, when you think of mission work, you think of traveling to different countries to help the poor or do Global Evangelism or something. You don’t think about traveling for twenty hours to northern British Columbia, past glaciers and moose and black bears, to a tiny town of 300 people in the middle of nowhere.
But there I was, scraping moss off gravestones with my gymnastics team from Deer Lake School. There were 70 of us, including the band. We had traveled to the far north so we could do gymnastics and band performances for schools in the area and do community service for those who needed it.
We wanted to show God’s love in a practical way. So we divided up into groups based on skill levels and got to work. We were building picnic tables for the local park, painting fences at the ballpark, cleaning up the cemetery, painting fire hydrants, and scraping moss off a huge “Welcome to Stewart, BC” sign and repainting it. We wanted to make a difference in the community.
We sure looked different! We were the coolest-looking people in town. Our outfits were made out of black garbage bags and plastic painter gloves with splotches of red paint all over. We were dressed this way to protect our clothes because we were painting the fire hydrants red. Unfortunately we forgot that mosquitoes are attracted to black. Even though my mom told us not to hit mosquitoes with paintbrushes, some of us forgot. That explained the red spots all over our outfits!
The work was hard, but fun. Some of the older boys helped our gymnastics coach build picnic tables. The municipal workers were very impressed. They said it would take them days, but we got it done in less than one day. They said the same about painting the fire hydrants. As a group we swarmed the hydrant. Everyone wanted a piece of the action–cleaning, scraping, and painting. Soon the whole thing was done.
When it came to scraping moss off the Stewart highway sign, when we finally finished, we had a pile of moss two feet high! Another group cleaned a campground. They had to pick up the litter, weed, mow the entire campground, and clean around the creek. That took a lot of time, and the mosquitoes were nasty. Cleaning the cemetery was probably the hardest work. We had to cut back wild roses, clear the pathways to the tombstones, and dig up the rocks that lined the pathways. The mosquitoes were really, really bad there because of the surrounding woodlands.
Our goal wasn’t only to do nice things for the town, but to connect with the people in the town. That’s why we always tried to be polite and smile and say “hi” to people. When we worked at painting the big highway sign, we decided to wave at all the truckers going by to the local gold mines and logging camps. At first they just looked at us strangely. Later in the day, they started waving back. Then we came up with the idea to give them a hand signal to honk. Soon truckers were waving and honking at us. By the last day, everybody was honking, and we were feeling pretty good.
By the time we did a performance at the local school, most of the community people knew about us. After all, they had seen us walking around in garbage bags and waving at everyone who passed along the highway. It’s not a sight you’d forget. Almost one third of the town showed up to watch our gymnastics and band performance. In the program we tried to tell a story about the struggle between good and evil, and in the end we were down on our knees praising God. We used Christian music while we performed basic tumbling rolls, cartwheels, vaulting, and pyramids.
The people of Stewart were very grateful for all that we city kids had done. They invited us to a barbecue along the ocean. They hosted all 70 of us!
Before we left the town, we had one last job to do. The local Adventist school had a lot of bush behind the playground. We had to clear a twenty-foot space between the woods and the playground so the local bears didn’t get too close and harass the children. That’s something we usually didn’t have to deal with at our city school!
I think that we really made an impact on that little town. Since then three of the kids from Stewart, with their parents, have moved down to the Vancouver area. They say that people still talk about the kids who drove 20 hours to weed an overgrown cemetery. I guess it doesn’t take that much to be a missionary. You don’t have to go to a foreign country. You can serve God in your own city or town. So what can you do for your community?