"For many Native kids, the best place to get a listening ear is in a sweaty dressing room after a grueling game of hockey."
Rick Martin, LIM missionary in Manitoba, tried staying away from hockey. With all the counseling needs he and his wife, Linda, address in their ministry, other things seemed more serious. More important.
But, "Somehow, God seems to keep bringing opportunities back to ministry through hockey, and when I follow them He blesses."
Rick knew God was up to something when He brought players from all over Canada and from a number of Indigenous tribes to play at a tournament. More exciting to Rick than his team's ultimate championship was his players' attentiveness to a clear Gospel message. "You could have heard a pin drop," while a Native pastor, and father of a famous hockey professional, shared his own testimony of deliverance from abuse and alcohol through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
"I've seen it over and over again. Sports attract young people and bring them together. More than this, it gives leaders an amazing platform to speak to young people."
It was this experience that encouraged Rick and Linda to begin a hockey camp in Muskrat Dam, Linda's home village. After all, in Canada, hockey is king!
For seventeen years now, Rick and Linda have been travelling and ministering to the people of Muskrat Dam. It started as a long weekend and a mini-VBS and turned into clinics to coach and mentor the children of the community. But the event has morphed into a community-wide event, the Muskrat Dam Jamboree, complete with games, activities, and of course music.
"This is a long-term ministry project," Linda says. "We don't drop in and leave, we take time to sit down and talk to people. We meet them where they are and partake in the things they love, like hockey. We know that the work God is doing won't happen overnight, but we are with God for the long haul, and He is with us.
Hockey, Rick says, has a way of breaking down barriers. When two people love the same sport (or hobby), there is a bond that forms and conversations flow much more easily, and friendships are created.
Oftentimes that's all someone needs to begin healing. They simply need to be heard and to break the silence and secrecy they have built up around themselves. There is physical healing that occurs within the brain when a person tells the story of their trauma, and it opens their life and heart up to others who can help them continue to heal.
Off the ice, Rick and Linda carry out their counseling ministry among the Cree people in much the same way they do all across Canada. While Rick is using his boyhood passion for hockey for His purposes, it's Linda's own personal healing through the power of the Gospel that commands the respect of her fellow Cree.
God has gifted Rick and Linda with exceptional counseling skills and personal experiences to reach those who are struggling with anger, depression, and suicide. They help hurting men, women, and children gain victory over grief and pain through the healing only Jesus can provide.
They work together, each with their unique experiences and skills, to proclaim the Gospel to the Cree people, to disciple them, and to provide the resources and tools for healing.