In the far north of Canada, where the midnight sun reigns in the summer and the northern lights in the icy darkness of winter, a «white man» has been living with the Gwich'in for 15 years. They are an indigenous people group. SMG staff member Daniel Bühler has become one of them over these many years. He is allowed to talk about himself and share his faith in Jesus Christ. A report from a remote region of the world that is atypical for mission.
The 600-people village of Fort McPherson lies in the unforgiving but breathtakingly beautiful nature of Canada's Northwest Territories. In winter, it gets as cold as minus 40 degrees. Due to the vast and sheer amount of snow, the population is often enclosed. In winter times they travel by snowmobile - and in summer by boat on the rivers. The houses are built on stilts. Because of permafrost drinking water is delivered and sewage is pumped out. The nearest larger city is about 1,000 kilometres away. In this remote region the indigenous Gwich'in people live and Daniel Bühler among them.
CALL TO THE MISSION
In his youth, Daniel's heart had already beaten for the mission. And, he is fascinated by colder regions and thus the landscape gardener would like to live among the indigenous peoples of North America one day. In 1993 he took part in a summer mission programme in Alaska. During that time, he realized that he also wanted to be there in the dark, cold winter days to help these people and tell them about Jesus Christ. During a Bible school, he was again drawn to Alaska for an internship. But things turned out quite differently and Daniel ended up in northern Canada. A little disappointed at first, he got finally a yes to this place of assignment. If not him, then who? A few years later, Daniel left Switzerland to live among the Gwich'in for an indefinite period of time.
BECAME ONE OF THEM
Many years have passed since. Daniel has moved to the remote North of Canada not to lecture the the people, but to learn from them. He sees his task and calling in working with men, in sharing life in all its facets. This, of course, also includes his faith in Jesus Christ. He invites people to attend the local Anglican Church, but he also visits them. In an average and normal day, Daniel studies the Bible and the local culture in the morning and works with the Gwich'in in the afternoon. He accompanies the men fishing, trapping, hunting, picking berries and helping with construction projects. In the midst of life, Daniel is them a friend and conversation partner. Today, when someone asks who the white man is, they say «the one who tells about Jesus», but also «the Gwich'in Daniel who stays».
HIGH SUICIDE RATE
As one of them, Daniel suffers deeply with the Gwich'in's hardship. The Catholic Church ran many residential schools in Canada. Indigenous children were re-educated, violence and abuse were common. Recently, Pope Francis travelled to Canada and asked for forgiveness. The effects of the sad past are still felt today. While the State of Canada is making amends and providing good public infrastructure, many Gwich'in live on welfare. Alcoholism, depression and violence are common. Among men, it is almost a fact that one will end up in prison once, because only then is someone a real man. And yet, the people are very dependent on each other, and thus have strong emotional ties to each other. The sad fates and high suicide rate are often connected.
DEMANDER PARDON EN TANT QUE BLANC
The Gwich'in need inner healing for the suffering that has happened to them in the past. «It's not just the State or individual institutions that have a responsibility, it's the whole white race that needs to take responsibility and ask for forgiveness», says Daniel, leading by example. He asks the Gwich'in for forgiveness in the name of Jesus Christ and thus gives new hope. In the process, he gets to experience how individual men become free from the snare of alcohol when they come to the local church with interest and open themselves up to the faith. This also leads to a reduction in crime incidents and thus there are fewer quarrels and assaults.
IF NOT ME, THEN WHO?
Despite the difficult and adverse circumstances, the Christian faith is blossoming in the isolated Fort McPherson. Also thanks to Daniel who always puts the focus on hope: The beautiful nature, the lively and helpful Gwich'in who love to laugh and dance. And the men who enquire about his faith. The question «If not me, then who?» encourages Daniel in his ministry among the Gwich'in even after 15 years.