Piloted by the Gospel
Saved on a missionary ship
by Elsemieke Wishart
When Cindy Wade began working at North America Indigenous Ministries (NAIM) based in Abbotsford, she had no idea that NAIM had a connection to her mother that dated back almost 60 years. It wasn’t until Cindy started reading the book Blessings of Obedience by William W.Lottis, that she read something familiar to her. The book tells how NAIMwas started by a seafaring missionary called Cap Stabbert and his ship called Willis Shank, named after a man who died at age 31 while bringing the Gospel to the indigenous people of North America.
Cindy’s mother, 70-year-old Maryann Burchart remembers when her daughter brought the book home. “…She told me ‘I’m reading this book I think you might know something about this,’ and I remember being flabbergasted, reading about the Willis Shank and all the names that I knew.”
Maryann knew about the ship because as a little girl she lived inShearwater, an isolated town on British Columbia’s rugged west coast, the Willis Shank would drop anchor there. It was the most exciting event for Shearwater’s inhabitants. “I can’t describe the excitement,” said Maryann. “The ship used to come in; we never knew when it would arrive. There was excitement beyond anything...We would hear the music come over the water, Blessed Saviour Pilot Be, and we would just drop what we were doing and run to the wharf.”
The Willis Shank went to all the communities up the coast with the purpose of ministering to the aboriginal people who lived in isolated towns and villages. The ship was equipped with medical and dental services, staffed by doctors and dentists, but the main purpose was to bring the Gospel to the people.
Maryann’s parents ran a Sunday school but had no real fellowship with other believers. “There weren’t other Christians in the community so that gave us a real link.” When the Willis Shank came in, a service was held on the ship that was open to anyone who wanted to take part, and Maryann did just that. “That was where I accepted Christ as my saviour.” She was 10 years old and the moment is indelible in her mind as the moment when she was saved. “Then my dad was baptized by CaptainStabbert in the ocean.” This memory is precious to Maryann especially since her dad passed away from a heart attack when she was only 11.
Shearwater, a former air force base, had a sawmill and, in the summer,gillnetters and trawlers. Maryann’s dad was the accountant at the marine works, and the family lived in Shearwater for three years without ever leaving it.
“Shearwater had no real amenities – a little tiny store but you wouldn’t get fresh milk or anything, that had to come up from Bella Bella, we would have to get a boat and go over and get our groceries,” Maryann recalls.
There were 10 to 12 kids in the whole community, they were taught in a one-room school. When children reached Grade 9 they had to move to Bella Coola to attend high school. Library books were shipped in from Vancouver Public Library. Because it was a former airforce base every house had an air raid shelter in their backyard and the children would play in the old mess hall. “We would lay plywood down and roller-skate as much as we wanted.” There was no electricity, the town was powered by a generator. Maryann loved her life there—the freedom and living by the ocean.
This story comes full circle when, 60 years later, Maryann’s daughter Cindy began working for NAIM. Maryann, who had retired from working at the Surrey School District, enjoyed helping out at the office. “I volunteered at NAIM for two months, from there they asked me if would be willing to work for them.” Maryann worked in the accounting department and filled in for the receptionist when needed, but she recently retired due to health concerns.
"You couldn’t work with better people,” says Maryann. “It’s family. It’sChrist-centred – we all stop and pray if something comes up.”
Maryann remembers the excitement when missionary ship the Willis Shank arrived in Shearwater, and she remembers the song Jesus Saviour Pilot Me; the words ring true as God’s faithfulness is evident. He has been leading Maryann from the time she was a little girl, giving her heart to Jesus on a ship, to 60 years later working for the same ministry that is still faithfully bringing the Gospel to indigenous people in North America.
NAIM supports missionaries who minister the Gospel to First Nations people in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Washington State, New Mexico and Baja Mexico. naim.ca