It was a sizzling hot July afternoon when I walked up to the door of a well-cared for, one-story bungalow. Perhaps it was the heat, the bees buzzing in the perfectly manicured front yard that was filled with trees and flowering shrubs, that I thought for a moment I was in a lush, tropical country. I wasn’t. I was only a couple of miles from home, and this was Canada, 200 miles north of Seattle for my American friends.
But my musings, that I was maybe in India or Singapore of an earlier era, were inspired by the people who lived in this house. This couple had left much of their hearts in places closer to the equator—places like Africa and South America. But this afternoon I was calling on one of my favourite people in the word, Rosella Pettigrew, and her husband, Ivan. They are retired missionaries these days, but whatever Ivan and Rosella touch, it seems to hold the lingering fragrance of the tropics.
People talk a lot of nonsense these days about a prosperity gospel. Some folks believe that if they give a lot to God, that God has promised to give them a lot of cash in return. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, God does bless us if we give all of ourselves to Him and obey His wishes and instructions. But those promises aren’t always wrapped up with cash. And I know that Ivan and Rosella, in their gorgeous little home, where they take care of house and garden themselves, and live on a modest income, are two of the richest people in the world. But it has nothing to do with their bank account.
I plan on sharing some of Rosella’s story in 4 installments over the next 2 months—what I call, "The making of a missionary". Interspersed will be a couple of reviews on new books coming out, but then it will continue with how this wonderful, spunky lady started out to become a missionary on three continents. This is Rosella's story in her words, only a few names have been changed to protect confidentiality of folks now passed on.
When I read Rosella’s experiences, I’m inspired to live harder, give more, give ALL, for the God I love. That’s the problem with so many of us these days, we think so small. We think of money and ease. But not Rosella . . .
Saskatoon Berries & Train Tickets—by Rosella Pettigrew
Spring 1946. We were going on a tour! Wow! Every year one of the professors of our Bible College asked some students to accompany him on a tour to promote our college as a school trio. Jeanne, Esther, and I, as well as a married couple had been chosen to go on this Eastern Canadian musical tour. We had just graduated—which our parents had attended—and we remained in Regina to practice and work part time for a couple of months.
We had no clue as to what our future would hold. Where do we go from here? This tour was the first step. After all, God had a plan for our lives. He’d said so in Jeremiah 29:11,’For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. He would guide us. And He did, in unexpected ways.
A request came from a church worker on a Saskatchewan Native reserve who wanted our church to send someone to help her share God’s word with the people. Would we go? Of course we would. Our tour didn’t take place for another 2 months. “Miss Brown” had worked on this particular native Indian reserve for a number of years; sadly, she didn’t know how to lead people to Christ. So this had been her motive to ask for help.
On the reserve we had meetings with music, singing songs, and a sharing of our faith in Christ every night for the week. While we were with Miss Brown, 15 people came forward to believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Many came during the day to ask questions and to gain an understanding of who Jesus is, and to learn of how much He loved them. We prayed, taught and rejoiced with them.
And Miss Brown? She was happy for the people, but she told us that there was something in her past that would ruin her reputation if she confessed it—which she would love to do if she committed her life to Christ. So why was she a ‘church worker’ on a reserve, we asked. Miss Brown had a great hunger to know God, but the price was too high, she claimed. Although it was obvious she wanted what we had—a vibrant personal relationship with God and His son. We three girls left the reserve with mixed feelings. We rejoiced with the new believers, but were sad for her. We heard later that Miss Brown resigned and left the reserve.
But something happened while we were there on the reserve. One day we received a phone call from Regina to say that the plans had changed and we would not be going on tour. The married couple scheduled for this tour weren’t able to go which meant we weren’t either. A different team had been chosen. Now what? We had no money. No jobs. But God hadn’t deserted us. We returned to Regina. Esther decided to go home to Saskatoon for a while until we knew what God wanted us to do next. I remember a friend coming to the college where we stayed to give us some money which met our immediate financial need.
It was only a week later that we were asked to go to another Native Indian reserve out in Saskatchewan. Bible school students had ministered there from time to time, sharing the message of Christ. Would we three girls be willing to spend the summer there? We took inventory of our situation—we had no income nor were we promised any. We didn’t have a car, besides being many miles from the nearest grocery store. How would we get there? And when we were on this large reserve, how would we get around? Good questions.
But we stepped out in faith, and said, “Yes, we’ll go.”
One evening two older ladies in the church offered to take the three of us out to the reserve. Church people donated canned and non-perishable food, dishes, and utensils, bedding for a double bed. And off we went, each of us with one suitcase of clothes. At the reserve we were told we’d be living in the room at the end of the Community Hall. We marched down the hall and discovered our room contained one double bed and a mattress, one small table, 3 chairs and a stove. The oven was wired shut, and a there was a cupboard of sorts to hold our supplies. That was it. There was no door between that room and the hall where meetings were held, so we requested a door. The room had been used as a chicken coop, and thankfully had been cleaned occasionally. We asked Bill, a member of the reserve, and his wife and 3 young daughters—who were believers in Christ—for a bucket and rags. In the meantime, our friends left for Regina, but said they would be back.
We scrubbed and cleaned and all three of us fell into the double bed about 2 am—two lying one way, one the other. Good thing none of us were overweight. We had read Psalm 91 and prayed together, for rest and protection. The hall missed some windows. We felt vulnerable but knew God would care for us.
About an hour later, Jeanne and Esther shook me awake. I was the one who laid the opposite way. “Rose, wake up, there is someone in the hall.”
I listened and then said, “shh, it’s only a mouse. Start breathing.”
They’d both been holding their breath and seemed to be more afraid when I said, it was a mouse. They were city born and bred, while I had lived part of my life on a farm. We were too tired to stay awake, but the next day I got rid of the mice while Jeanne and Esther stood on the table or benches yelling instructions.
We decided to start out by visiting the people in their homes, and walked miles every day. Before long, residents of the reserve asked for Bible studies. Soon we had a study every night of the week with about 20 people present, not always the same ones. Those farther away came in a wagon drawn by horses. What a privilege it was to teach the Word of God and reach out to these people with the love of Christ.
Bill and his family were our only neighbours, and we loved and appreciated them. Their life was not easy either. We shared the outhouse with them and we spent a lot of time there because the well water was alkalized which gave us diarrhoea.
During Bible college, one of the student’s assignments included prison ministries. One of the prisoners who had put his faith in Christ was Eddy "Windchild", whose parents lived on the reserve and attended our Bible Studies. While we were on the reserve, Eddy and a few others came to some of the meetings. This made a big impact on all who heard Eddy when they saw what God had done in his life. He was so changed, and as a result quite a few decided to follow Jesus. His parents were so happy to see the change in Eddy’s life.
Eventually our food supplies began to dwindle and then all but disappeared no matter how carefully we planned our meals. We knew where Saskatoon berries grew and ate those. Sometimes we were invited out. And we prayed. I reminded the Lord of His promise of in Phil 4:19 ‘And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.’ After three days when we felt really hungry, friends from Regina came unexpectedly with a carload of food. And we praised God for answered prayer.
Earlier in the summer we had made a promise to participate in a camp in Northern Saskatchewan. In order to do this, we needed to go to Saskatoon where we’d meet a missionary friend, Ernie Harrison, to go on to Prince Albert. We were offered a car trip to Saskatoon, another one of God’s provisions, and stayed with Esther’s parents. We had very little money but we each needed to get a decent dress for camp services. So we shopped and found three dresses, the same in color and our sizes on sale which all but depleted our funds.
We thought we were going to Prince Albert by car, so when we learned we’d be going by train, our first reaction was panic. Then we reminded ourselves of all the times God had met our needs and surely He knew what we needed now. We were in another test, and all we could do was pray, and tell no one.
The day for departure came. Ernie arrived at Esther’s home ready to accompany us.Our suitcases were packed and waiting at the door. But we had no money. We had been on our knees before we left our room, and just committed our ways to Him. As we were saying goodbye to Esther’s parents, the doorbell rang.
And who was at the door, but the couple with whom we were originally supposed to go on tour with, representing our Bible College. Talk about a surprise. But we shouldn’t have been, because they were the answer to our prayers. The Lord had impressed on their hearts that they needed to give us a certain amount of money. Earlier, they had inquired in Regina as to our whereabouts and arrived in Saskatoon in God’s perfect timing. How about that encouragement in faith? God’s timing is always right. The money covered our train tickets and lunch, and a lot to spare.
Needless to say, family camp was a wonderful time of fellowship, in song, in the Word, in ministering to people and in spiritual uplifting. We were learning that no matter how much we gave to God, we could never outgive Him. We could trust Him to take care of every detail in our lives---direction, food, clothing . . . protection.
Were these learning experiences laying a path for our future?