Andrew - intern in Naskapi - Quebec!
Hi everyone! I wanted to share with you Andrew Laengert's experiences. He is a Wycliffe Canada intern, serving in Schefferville, Quebec among the Naskapi language project. Early in August, my colleague Rachel Elyas and I were able to do some orientation training with him. He gave me permission to post his newsletter - please pray for him and come along his journey of learning about the power of language and Scripture in a First Nations community here in Canada! CHECK THIS OUT!
(photo from our internship training! :)
Here’s an update about what I’m doing on the Naskapi reserve in Northern Quebec. Some of you asked to hear about what I’m doing, otherwise I’m guessing :) . I’ve been in Schefferville, Quebec for a few days now. I arrived on Thursday night, after three days of driving and a 14 hour train ride. A little background: I’m staying with a missionary couple, Bill and Norma Jean Jancewicz, who have been here since 1988. Bill is a Bible translator affiliated with Wycliffe Bible Translators. He works out of the development office at the Naskapi native reserve near town. Norma Jean works at the school on the reserve. I came up here to learn about missionary work on native reserves in Canada, and to help in whatever ways I can. I’ll be here for about four weeks. A little extra history for those interested: Schefferville is a mining town, way off the road network. There are two native reserves nearby, one is a Montagnais (Innu) reserve right beside town and the other is the Naskapi reserve called Kawawachikamach (roughly “cow-ah-wah-chee-kah-mach”) about 15 km away by gravel road. This is the only Naskapi settlement anywhere. They are somewhat closely related to other groups, such as the Cree, but are still in many ways a distinct group linguistically and culturally. The Naskapi lived north of here, following the caribou herds, until around the 1950’s. There are two pictures here. One is on the tundra and the other is overlooking Schefferville.
Things have been a little slow getting started, but there’s a lot of learning to do. We spent the first morning at the office cleaning the place. A lot of people leave for the Summer and the office was left in rough shape. I’ve seen a bit of the rest of the reserve. Things are in good shape for the most part and there’s a lot of new housing that’s been built recently. The reserve has its own radio station, school, (very small, and very expensive) grocery store, church and fire hall. They also have a big, modern baseball diamond with fences and lighting but apparently it only gets used a few times a year. The story is that some outsiders were sent in to decide how the reserve should spend some of the money it was getting. These guys decided that they needed a baseball diamond, though from what I hear the only sport anyone here cares about whatsoever is hockey. There’s a big sign up in a gravel pit that says an arena is going to be built on the clearing. I hear the sign has been there for almost a decade.
I’ve started learning the Naskapi language. Haven’t made it too far yet, we’ll see how I do in the rest of my month here. “Hello” is “Waachiyaa” (sounds like “what’chya doin’?”), but that one doesn’t get used much. The culture is very different from ours. They usually only say hello if they haven’t seen each other in a long time. It has nothing to do with unfriendliness. In general, the Naskapi are quite friendly. Another interesting note along those lines is that their typical phone greeting is “who is this?” (“awaan uu”).
My first Sunday here was a really cool experience. We attended the Anglican church on the reserve, which happens to be the largest Anglican church in Quebec. I’m told it can be anywhere from 5 people to 200 people on a Sunday. All of the materials that they use have been created as part of the Wycliffe project here. The Old Testament in Naskapi is still a work in progress but they have the New Testament, a hymnal, and a book of prayer all in Naskapi. Until the translation project started here, the only materials they had access to were in English or in other native languages (mostly Cree). The first language the children learn is Naskapi, and that’s what the people speak with each other. The children learn English as a second language in school, and French as a third, but having these materials in Naskapi gives them materials they can understand better than anything they had before and that they can connect with culturally. There’s still much work to be done. Literacy, even in the Naskapi language is low so an integral part of the project is to teach literacy and develop materials for teaching children to read and write in Naskapi. The hymns are fascinating to hear. They’re translated from English hymns that were sung from the early 1900’s and on. Some of the originals are pretty obscure. The text is translated and they keep the same tune, sort of. They’re sung a cappella with the phrasing all changed. The result sounds only vaguely like the original, and sounds much more like something culturally Naskapi. It’s great to see a culture trying to make their faith their own (in a biblical way). There are other things going on as part of the translation project that accomplish that particular goal more effectively than the hymns. I’ll save that for another email.
We spent Sunday afternoon picking blueberries on a hill overlooking town. People here call it being “up on the tundra”, for obvious reasons. The scenery is amazing. Norma Jean was telling me that she looked up at the hill from their kitchen once and saw what looked like the whole hill moving. It turned out to be the caribou herd moving along the top. They say you can go stand among them and they won’t run away, unless someone shoots at them.
I’ve learned that a lot of the work here is simply to show Christ’s love to those who live and work here; and to show them that their culture has value. The Naskapi value their own culture, but by taking the time and expense to create high quality materials and to teach from them, we can encourage the Naskapi and help them to see that their culture is valued from the outside too. Not just valued, but worth maintaining and enriching for the glory of God. If people can see themselves as something more than a colonized culture that has been abused and misunderstood then they can have hope, in Christ, and come out of the social issues that plague so many native communities: the alcoholism, abuse, and suicide. Something like Isaiah 55: 10-13 and Isaiah 56:1,3. Parts of this can be done in very practical ways like cleaning an office on the reserve, and in lasting ways like creating a high quality set of books that are Naskapi both in language and content.
It would be very much appreciated if you were to pray for:
-My time here (That I would be helpful in the work being done here, learn well, make connections with people, and maybe discern whether or not God is calling me to a similar kind of ministry at some point)
-The Naskapi people (For more people to move toward a deep faith in Christ (Hebrews 5:12-14), and to understand more fully God’s love for them; and for motivation to learn literacy skills)
-Bill and Norma Jean as they live and work here
-The translation project