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Cold weather, warm hearts: PWRDF in the Yukon Diocese

July 10, 2017

By Will Postma

Will Postma is the Executive Director of The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund.

Will Postma (right) with Larry Robertson, Bishop of the Yukon Diocese

On a recent trip to the Yukon I was introduced to a food cache – a tiny “cabin” full of food provisions for hunters and travellers, perched high on stilts to keep out of a bear’s reach. This simple yet elegant way to ensure food security is honoured in a stained-glass window at Christ Church Cathedral in Whitehorse. Food security is such an important part of the work of PWRDF that it resonated especially with me.

My mission was to update PWRDF’s constituents across the Yukon on the work of the fund, and to let them know their donations have made an impact. With the help of Betty Davidson, PWRDF’s Diocesan Representative, I was able to visit five of the Diocese’s many parishes. Over the years, the Diocese of Yukon has helped PWRDF make a difference in impoverished parts of the world, such as:

  • More community members in rural areas in Africa sleeping beneath insecticide-treated mosquito nets
  • Women (and men) receiving antenatal care
  • Children getting essential vaccinations at the right time
  • People receiving accurate medical diagnoses
  • Proper treatment for people with HIV and AIDS to best ensure good and lasting health.
Potluck dinner in the basement of St. Christopher’s in Haines Junction, alongside the thrift shop.

I learned a lot, too. Five parishes manage thrift shops in their communities. The one in St. Christopher’s in Haines Junction is in the basement, and there we had a community potluck. The thrift shop in Atlin, B.C. is an annex to St. Martin’s, and has been a long time supporter of PWRDF’s work in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The thrift shops rely on volunteers but they bring people closer together and are a good outreach to the community. Over the years, thrift shops have provided clothes and materials in emergencies and when families run into hard times, says Bishop Larry Robertson. The people of the Yukon can relate to the outreach and work of PWRDF because so many have experienced or know others who have experienced fire, a lack of electricity for extended periods, flooding and the stress of new babies. The Diocese of the Yukon raised more than $47,000 for Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, an effort that also built solidarity with the people of Haiti.

In Mayo, PWRDF Board member Valerie Maier and her husband Charles are ‘ministers of presence’ in a community that is largely Northern Tutchone, the Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation. St. Mary with St. Mark is lovely but the floor is weakened by permafrost melt, as are so many structures in the Yukon. The Anglican Foundation has provided a grant to help put in a stronger floor and foundation – which has meant essentially lifting up the church, moving it off to the side, strengthening the foundation and then re-anchoring the church to its original spot. Services inside the reinforced church have already resumed.

Terry Buckle, former Archbishop of the Yukon Diocese on life in the North and climate change:

In Dawson City, St. Paul’s Church supported PWRDF in its response to the wildfires in Fort McMurray and its contribution to safe water and sanitation in Pikangikum First Nation in northern Ontario. Built with money donated by gold miners in 1902, the church organizes a Shrove Tuesday Pancake supper to raise money for causes such as PWRDF, as well as a women’s shelter and whatever local needs may arise.

In Moosehide, just north of Dawson City where many of the Tr’ondek First Nation went after gold prospectors descended on Dawson at the turn of the 19th century, St. Barnabas Church is still standing, but with an ever-so-weak floor. Georgette McLeod says Tr’ondek hope to see the church restored, for the community to grow more confident, and for settler populations to learn more and to right the wrongs of history, such as of residential schools and overfishing.

Dan Davidson, the editor of the local Klondike Sun says it well: “In St. Paul’s and in all the parishes in the Yukon, we know how important it is to follow Christ’s command to care for others and that the need is sometime local, sometime in Canada, something further afield… it’s important to be involved. We need to try to do all these things, not choose one over another.”

PWRDF Diocesan Representative Betty Davidson (right) talks to a parishioner at Christ Church Cathedral in Whitehorse about PWRDF.

The people of St. Paul’s as well as St. Martin’s got behind the purchase of a solar suitcase from last year’s Gifts for Mission gift guide. The process of working together to select a gift and organize fundraising was an entry point to learn of the needs and opportunities that solar-generated light can bring to health facilities in the most remote parts of Mozambique. The solar suitcases have really “perked up our eyes,” says Bishop Larry. “People in the Yukon know what it’s like to be isolated, where lights go out, in storm without power, 25 degrees below, when it’s dangerous, in times of storm, when generators go down. It makes us realize that the work of PWRDF is such a great thing – an established way of giving for the church, part of who we are.”

At the Church of the Northern Apostles and Christ Church Cathedral in Whitehorse, people asked how we partner with local churches and organizations, how we work ecumenically, how our support is making an impact and how we are increasing support in case of emergencies here in Canada. The Whitehorse churches have organized community barbeques to raise money for local needs and for refugee support – and of which there are an increasing number in the Yukon too.

“People are caring,” says Betty Davidson. “If there is an emergency in Haiti or Nepal or famine in South Sudan, everyone is keen to know where we can send our money. It’s our responsibility, it’s a Christian thing to do.”

WATCH: This five-minute video “Yukon Take it With You” shows some of the churches Will visited and includes interviews with Betty Davidson and Bishop Larry Robertson.