St. John's Anglican Church's new pastor recently moved here from Africa and is happy to be transitioning to the northern lifestyle.
Originating from the country of Zambia, Fr. Musonda Abel Ng'andwe always was interested in moving to Canada, having learned all about the country at school as a young boy.
“It was my dream from my tender age that I come to Canada," said Fr. Abel. "I thank God now because my dream has been realized.”
He was raised in a Christian family. His father was a priest and he always was very active in the church, but never thought he would end up in the ministry.
“My father never encouraged me to become a priest," Fr. Abel explained. "He told me I have to go do my studies and get a good job so I may support the family and have a good bright life.”
The year he graduated from high school, his father passed away, making it critical for him to get a decent job as his mother had a disability.
Fr. Abel then decided to join the Zambian Air Force to become a pilot and did “extremely well" in the interview process. In fact, he was preparing to be enrolled into the program but something "extraordinary” happened on the last day before leaving for training.
Fr. Abel said he could not find his identification card in his file and it was one of the documents needed to be admitted into training for the air force. The card had been in his file since the beginning of the interview process, making him very confused as to where it could be.
After searching his home to no avail, he rushed into town to get to the municipal office to ask for an affidavit to be admitted but as he arrived, the office was closed.
He accepted that he would not be admitted into the Zambian Air Force at that time and thought it was perhaps a sign from the Lord, so he returned home to wait for God to tell him what to do next.
Since Fr. Abel's return, the people in his home church began to tell him he is called and they encouraged him to go train as a priest.
He was reluctant to their calls at first but they eventually persuaded him to apply to the theological college in Zambia.
“I was one of the 107 people who applied," he recalled. "They only wanted 16 to go for the final interviews and out of that 16… they'd be left with only six.”
The program is paid for by the school and those accepted are supplied with all that is needed to become a priest.
As it turned out, Fr. Abel was one of 16 selected to continue onto the interview process and on the day of his interview, he received his call from God.
“I was sure God had called me because of what happened,” he explained.
When Fr. Abel went to sleep that night, he had a dream where he saw an opaque figure and heard a voice that said “remove whatever money is in your pocket, throw it away.”
He tried waking himself up but was experiencing sleep paralysis and eventually pushed himself awake into a frantic state of fear and panic.
The same thing happened to Fr. Abel two more times when he went back to sleep. On the third time, he realized it was the Lord calling him, relieving him of his fears.
“I was awake by then . . . I kneeled down and I prayed," he noted. "I said, Lord, I know it is you who is calling me. I accept whatever you want to do for me. Here I am.”
Two weeks later, Fr. Abel received a letter stating he was selected as one of the six applicants who would be trained at the theological college in Zambia.
“I went into training, and I want to tell you God has been with me and guided [me] in every step,” he remarked.
In 2002, Fr. Abel graduated, was ordained as a priest, and sent to work in a mission station's hospital, school, and other facilities. After working there for a while, he then was sent to further his studies in Kenya and came back after two years to continue working as a priest.
From there, Fr. Abel was sent to the U.K. to continue his training and returned back to Zambia but felt a calling to go elsewhere.
“I said to my bishop, I think I need to move on,” he explained.
Fr. Abel's bishop wanted to keep him at the mission station but he felt he was being called to help elsewhere to rebuild abandoned churches and help them grow.
“What I want is to serve God, to help the people of God, to help those who are sick, those who are weak,” he pledged.
Fr. Abel requested that he go to a parish that was struggling and was sent to one in South America that was supposed to be shut down prior to his arrival. The church was located in the country of Guyana and was severely vandalized (anything salvageable inside of it had been stolen).
He arrived in 2012 and for the first three months, he fasted and prayed to God to help him reach the people of the community.
“In the communities, I would go house to house evangelizing, talking to the people, hearing their stories, and I was developing relationships," Fr. Abel enthused. "Through it, most of the people started coming back to church.”
After much hard work and devotion, Fr. Abel said “miracles started happening” and by his second year with the church, they raised enough money to start renovating it.
By the third year, he was able to clear all the congregation's standing debts and the renovations were nearing completion.
“People were so confused they couldn't just believe it," Fr. Abel remarked. "I said you know, when God calls you, he will equip, he will prepare, and he will provide, all that you need is to trust in him.”
Fr. Abel served in Guyana until November of last year, at which time he decided to come to Canada. He admitted it was a difficult decision and leaving the country was not easy as people were crying and pleading for him to stay.
“I don't want to settle here. My heart is in Canada," Fr. Abel told them. "When I was a young boy, I dreamed of going to study in northern Canada so I have to go.”
He has enjoyed his time here so far and hopes to make Fort Frances his permanent home.
“My prayer is to be here for the rest of my life," Fr. Abel said. "I pray someday I may get Canadian citizenship and settle here.”
In Guyana, there are only two seasons: rainy and hot/dry, which was not very comfortable for him. So when he arrived here, he was happy about the weather despite the cold.
The people who make up the town also have made him feel very welcome here and cared for.
“The people are so good," Fr. Abel enthused. "They are so welcoming, they make you feel acceptable and loved.”
Another aspect of the town he enjoys is that it's nearly “crime-free,” so he feels extremely safe here.
“When I first went to Guyana, there is so much crime . . . every day there are some killings,” Fr. Abel explained.
Since arriving here, he has gone to the local hospital to administer holy communion, visit people in their homes, pray with them, and encourage them spiritually.
Fr. Abel also visits Rainycrest, where he hold two services a month.
He has a vision of growing his parish, working with parishioners as a team to evangelize across the district. To help achieve this, he recently held mass at the Anglican Church in Emo, where masses had not been held for more than a year.
“We need to help people in different areas, not only in the spiritual aspect but also making it holistic, in every area of life,” Fr. Abel stressed.
The masses he's held so far have gone well and he's received a great response from those who attended.
Looking ahead, a welcoming and installation church service for Fr. Abel will be held at St. John's Anglican Church here on Sunday, Feb. 24 at 3 p.m.
Members of all churches in the community are invited to come out and celebrate.
Fr. Abel is excited for his new journey here and said he's committed to helping move the church forward.
“I want to give my very best so that together we can move Fort Frances to higher heights,” he enthused.