A happy Haitian childhood for John Hanson
My mom and dad first met on a train in the early 1940s, when both were headed to the Missionary Medical School in Toronto. Both had the intention of becoming missionaries to China (many would-be missionaries went to the medical school to get some basic training, as it would be an essential asset in many third-world countries). Theirs wasn’t an immediate romance; that would blossom later, but she noted in a letter home to her mom that she’d met ‘a guy with big hands.’
My dad’s father was a farmer in Alberta, who maintained his own equipment. When my dad was about six years old a big piece of machinery broke down and new piston-rings had to be put in the motor; rather than remove the heads it was decided to do the job from below. Being small enough to get his hands into the available space, my dad was conscripted. I think that’s how his hands got so big, from constant mechanical work. He would not necessarily use a wrench if he could tighten things with his fingers. He wasn’t very big, maybe 145 pounds, but he was super-strong.
Mom got accepted to go to China, but dad was rejected, so after they were married they chose to go to Haiti instead. China remained a closed door, it never did open up.
They were sent out in the late 1940s by an organization called the Unevangelized Fields Mission. I was three years old when we left; my brother David was a year older than I.
My folks first did a year of language study in Saint Mark, a small town north of Port-au-Prince, the capital. Mom was probably the best at learning French (the official language), though everyone there speaks Creole.
We lived with another missionary family for a short time, but Dad wasn’t 100 per cent excited about their cooking, et cetera. However, we survived, and eventually moved to La Point, where the Mission had a hospital, and then Mom and Dad started an orphanage about a mile away.
Captivating Natural Beauty
It was an idyllic spot, with a beautiful view of the ocean. There was an island across a seven-mile-wide channel, called La Tortue, with sailboats going back and forth, it was so pretty. Our house had no electricity; we had Coleman lamps that we had to put a little alcohol in a small mote around the tube that preheated the kerosene before the lamp would light. Outside toilets, no running water. There was a water cistern at the orphanage, with a turtle in it to keep it clear of frogs. We did all our cooking outside on a bed of charcoal, but later on we got a propane stove and a kerosene fridge.
My folks were pretty poor; they had adequate support, but not like some of the other missionaries. One would come back every three years with a new vehicle, and one year he even brought back a vehicle for us! It was a Jeep, with power take-off and a lift on the back, and a 265-lb. weight on the front. You could even use it to plough with, like a tractor.
My dad made a sort of a standing challenge to anyone, ‘If anyone can do what I can do with the weight, I’ll pay him some money.’ The kids in the orphanage saw a huge guy walk by, and shouted, ‘Hey, come and make some money.’ This guy was a rower, his upper body was massive, and he took up the challenge.
Dad picks up this weight, carries it across the yard, drops it and says ‘Okay, bring it back.’ The guy managed to pick it up, but he couldn’t take a step forward! But then, by lowering it down to his knees, he was able to stagger back across the yard with it, so dad gave him five bucks. Then dad picks up the weight and walks up a flight of stairs and threw it down, just to prove how much stronger he was!
Dad was good at welding and construction. He did a fair amount of work at the nearby hospital, where they had some electricity by way of a diesel generator, which my dad looked after. He’d go and fire it up every night, and then they’d have electricity for three or four hours..
Growing up so near the orphanage, all the kids there were my friends. We played together a lot. I remember us making kites from bamboo, with their tails made of dried banana stalk. We made our own string, a mile long, from the fibres of sisal plants. Lovely breezes came off the ocean, you could just tie the kite up and let it fly all day long. But people would try to steal the string, if it broke, you had to pull it in quick or somebody would grab it, and there’d be a tug-of-war!
We used to hunt for land crabs in the lowlands near the beach, using slingshots. If you walked along casually, they’d pop up and watch you. You’d freeze and carefully take a shot, and then you’d have to run and catch them quick before they escaped back down into their holes. We’d shoot birds and take them home to eat; you could always dig up sweet potatoes or pick plantains. We fed ourselves quite a bit that way; later on, we got into spear-fishing and skin-diving.
A Pilgrim Progresses to Saving Faith
I became a Christian at a fairly young age. Mom used to read to us kids all the time, and one of the books she read was The Pilgrim’s Progress. It’s a powerful story. Faithful and Christian end up in Vanity Fair, and Faithful gets martyred and is taken up to heaven. I said to my mom, ‘I’d like to do that, I want to go to heaven.’ She prayed with me and that’s when I became a Christian.
My dad would preach regularly in church in nearby Saint Louis de Nord, while at the same time trying to start new churches in different outlying areas; almost all the population followed a mix of Catholicism and voodoo. He’d ride a mule out to some of these places. Coming home, it would get so totally dark he just had to trust the animal to find the way.
Most of the river crossings were done without bridges. When he came to a river of any depth, Dad would stop the car and take the fan belt off so that it wouldn’t throw water over the engine, because the distributor would get wet and then you’d be stuck. So oftentimes he’d be driving with his feet underwater, on the pedals. Any bridge would soon get washed out, especially ones over the bigger rivers, because of hurricanes (‘Hazel’ was one that caused a lot of deaths).
A lot of missionary kids I met did not have good memories of childhood, many having being sent to boarding schools at a very young age, but my experience of it was awesome. I enjoyed an incredibly close relationship with my dad. I often helped him with mechanical work. We would sometimes work until late at night, me holding a lamp and passing him tools, keeping track of what he was doing, and we’d be talking back and forth.
As far as keeping in touch with the outside world went, we had neither TV or radio; my folks picked up bits of news from other people. Dad maintained the vehicle of a colonel in the army, and I remember helping him and hearing the car radio playing. One song I recall was, “Don’t Take Your Guns To Town, Bill; Leave Your Guns At Home, Son.”
Our schooling was done by correspondence out of Alberta, with Mom overseeing it. We did our studies in a screened-off portion of the verandah, to keep the mosquitoes at bay.
When I was around 10 years of age, the missionary that had brought us the car gave me a Heathkit radio. I put it together, but I couldn’t get it to work. In fact, nobody could, so we sent it back to Heathkit to get it fixed, but that little incident turned me toward a future interest in electronics.
Back to Canada for Schooling
I left Haiti when I was 14, taking my Grade 8 studies in Pambrun, Saskatchewan, while my folks were on furlough for a year, visiting supporters and family. I and my sister lived with my grandparents that year, where my grandma was a voice and piano teacher at Millar College of the Bible. My parents went back to Haiti after I started grade 9, and I did not see them again for six years, until I lived with them again in Three Hills for my Junior year at Prairie High School and Prairie Bible Institute (PBI), in Three Hills, Alberta, where I lived in a dorm.
After graduating from PBI, I thought of going into missionary work, but instead I decided to study electronics at BCIT. I had met Doris Leng at PBI, but we waited a year after Bible school to get married because her folks were still serving as missionaries in Colombia.
Right after my graduation from PBI, I ended up getting a job in Blue River at a shake and shingle mill. I was an eight-foot chain cut-off saw operator, with the responsibility of having to decide the length to cut, which would determine whether the product would be shakes or shingles.
Winter was coming, and with slowdowns happening because of lack of logs, I went to Prince George where Doris was working at the Royal Bank. I got a job at Intercontinental Pulp and Paper and we got married a year later in Vancouver when Doris’ parents returned from Colombia. I started at BCIT and Doris worked at the Royal Bank to put me through, though I worked summers.
After graduating from BCIT I got a job with BC Tel. I had to start at the bottom, but my BCIT training allowed me to make quick progress.
When we were first married we lived in a small basement suite in Vancouver, on Charles Street. A couple we had known from PBI were managing a 24-suite apartment building just off Main Street; when they quit we took over their situation. Doris hadn’t returned to work after the birth of our first child. She was good at doing the books, and keeping track of everybody’s rental payments, so for a couple of years we enjoyed free rent. I continued to work at BC Tel, spending the rest of my time vacuuming hallways and doing garbage duty.
A Family Move to Alberta
Right at the end of those two years, BC Tel got a big contract in Medicine Hat to put in a #1EAX Telephone Switch in the telephone central office, and I was chosen to go. That was about six weeks after our second child, Shonnette, was born. We put everything we thought we needed into a little trailer and towed it to Medicine Hat, where we rented an apartment. We had absolutely nothing for furniture. The first thing I did on the job, when we were unpacking the wooden crates, was to say ‘Okay, this will make a couch. All we have to do is put a piece of foam rubber on it.’ We had a folding table for our dining room.
Doris had mentioned something to somebody at the church we were attending, and we were given four folding chairs. Another little box we got, we put some blankets in and that was the baby’s crib. We slept on a mattress on the floor, and that was it. I did six months there, putting in a lot of overtime and weekend work as well, and by the time we got back to B.C. we had saved enough money for a down payment on a house. That’s when we moved out to Surrey.
Doris and I went back to Haiti for a visit just after my folks had left, when our son Kendall was two years old. Their little Volkswagen car hadn’t yet been sold, and the mission gave us permission us to use it. We stayed with the principal of the American school in the city, whose family had a vacation spot in the bay where Columbus had first landed. We spent a week there.
Then he took us to where I had grown up, but the river was flooding at the time because of torrential rainfall, so he couldn’t go all the way, but he took us as far as he could. He made arrangements for another missionary to come and pick us up on the other side, with a horse and cart, but we had to walk a mile through knee-deep water before we got to the other side, and by then it was almost shoulder-height.
While I had been studying at BCIT we had attended Bethel Evangelical Free Church in Vancouver, where we got to know [JHC members] Orin and Betty Thomassen. Then we had gone to Bethany Baptist, just off Main Street, and from there, in 1976, we started attending Johnston Heights.
I worked for 12 years in central office installations. Eventually I applied for and got a ‘tech’ position in staff engineering at ‘The Boot’ building in Burnaby at Kingsway and Boundary Road, about the time Doris got cancer. Three years later I got a job in outside plant engineering and moved to Sullivan Station on 64th Avenue in Surrey, about five minutes’ walk from my home, but it was right at the time that Doris’ cancer returned, and she was given only a few months to live. We had three kids by then; Brennan, the youngest, was 12, Shonnette, my daughter was 15, and our son, Kendall, was about 17. Doris passed away in December 1990.
My Dad passed away in 2002, at the age of 85. My mom, over 100 years old now, lives in Three Hills, Alberta.
I remarried in August 1991 to Ellie Sudermann, and we have been happily married for 26 years. – T.S.
A Fall to Earth Led to a Spiritual Encounter
MY NAME is Steven Majid; I’m 29 years old. I was born and raised in Surrey. My dad’s side of the family is from Iraq, and my mom’s side is from Austria, so it was two very conflicting worlds at home growing up. My parents split up almost ten years ago. I have one younger brother who’s eight years younger than me.
Although he doesn’t really follow it at all, my dad was raised in a gnostic sect called the Mandaeans, who are a small group of Middle Eastern people who profess to be followers of John the Baptist. To them he was the greatest prophet ever. They believe that Jesus was a prophet, but nothing more than that. They believe in God, but to them he’s an impersonal, unknowable super-power.
Growing up, I attended Newton Elementary School, and then Princess Margaret Secondary. School was a weird time for me, I didn’t have a lot of friends. I just did my thing, along with people who would hang out with me.
A Life About Bigger and Better ‘Stuff’
After high school I attended Kwantlen University. I had wanted to be a psychiatrist, and had planned on taking a psychology course, but after the first class I was completely turned off, and went into business instead. However, I soon got bored with that, and dropped out at the end of the year.
My aunt got me a job at Safeway as a cashier, which I only stuck with for a month; soon after I got a job at Canadian Tire, and then I found another job as a cabinet-maker. I left that because they didn’t pay me enough. All this was before I became a Christian; all I thought about was getting more money, and acquiring bigger and better things.
I left that job to go and work for Toyota, to earn almost twice what I had been making, but I soon realized money was not the answer. I hated working there. But the Lord provided me with the car that I have now because of that job.
Then I found a job at National Air Technologies, a place that cleans out air vents. My job was to rappel down high-rise buildings on the outside, sort of like a window-washer (the highest building I ever worked on was 38 stories). I worked really hard at that job, and eventually I got the position that I wanted as a team leader, at a high rate of pay. My very first task was to train a new partner while doing my own job at the same time.
We had two high-rise buildings in White Rock, across the street from each other, that needed to be worked on; they were owned by the same strata. They were right down the street from the hospital (and there’s a reason I mention that). I was cleaning one building while my trainee was working on the other.
I had gone up on the roof, where the roof anchors were, and threw my ropes down over the side, but they got hung up on a second floor balcony, and got all piled up. So I had to get down to that balcony and throw the ropes down to the ground from there. But before I did that I realized I wasn’t carrying the safety clips to properly secure my ropes, so I just tied them loosely by hand, thinking I’d come back and secure them later.
However, I got distracted by other things and completely forgot about returning to the roof, so when I got to the second-storey balcony I threw the ropes over. I could see the truck right there, so I thought, “I’ll just rappel down,” not remembering that my ropes weren’t properly secured. I hooked on, jumped over the balcony and free-fell two stories onto the solid ground, which was as hard as concrete. I broke both my feet and three vertebrae in my back.
Active Life Screeches to a Halt
I fell over onto my side, thinking my lungs had gotten punctured by my ribs, because I couldn’t breathe; my feet were on fire. I was writhing in pain, and my work partner came running over. He asked, “What’s going on?” I said “I’m dying.” He said, “No, you’re not dying.”
Because neither of us had any First Aid training, we did the worst thing possible. He helped me get up and into our work truck, and we drove to the hospital down the street. I had to spend a few hours just waiting to be admitted; because we hadn’t called an ambulance, it wasn’t considered an “emergency.” I was there for eight hours after that, getting X-rays and so on. They put my feet in air-casts, gave me crutches and Tylenol 3s and told me to go home. I was living alone in a below-ground-level basement suite at the time, so I had to drive myself home, then struggle across the street and somehow get down the stairs to my place.
At this point my life stopped dead in its tracks. I couldn’t walk, or shower, or do anything. I had been all about the bigger and better things in life, more money and ‘stuff’; now all I could do was sleep or sit in front of my computer or the TV. One day, as I was sitting at my computer, time literally froze for a second, and the thought went through my head: “If you have all this time on your hands, why don’t you try to get to know the God of the Bible?” (previously, as a five-year old, my Grandpa had led me to the Lord, but I had never walked with Him. Now I realize it was the Holy Spirit speaking to me).
I had no idea, I just assumed it was simply a thought, and said to myself, “Yeah, why not? I’ve got all this time on my hands, what else am I gonna do?” So I just started reading the Bible and praying more fervently.
Tears of Forgiveness
My mom’s parents, who are Christians, had given me a book titled Chicken Soup for the Soul, a series of stories about faith. One of the stories exactly mirrored the terrible relationship I had with my dad. By the end of the story, I came to realize the Lord was asking me to forgive my dad for everything he’d done. I was crying when I said, “God, you’re asking me to forgive him?”
So I prayed the same words as the lady in the story had used: “I surrender to the power of your Holy Spirit.” And in that moment, boom! I met Jesus. I was filled by the Holy Spirit. It felt as if a weight had been transferred off me; all the garbage in my life came out of my soul, and I felt this light, and love. I was speechless. I remember sitting on my bed, crying tears of joy.
The next day when I woke up I went to read my Bible and the words were literally jumping off the page at me; when I went to pray, it was like having a conversation, He was right there. There have been ups and downs ever since, but He’s been very faithful, and has been awesome at guiding me.
Getting Back on Track
Before moving out to live in Chilliwack, I occasionally attended First Avenue Christian Assembly, mostly to see my grandparents. I wasn’t interested in church as such, but in January 2011 I heard someone gave a sermon on baptism, and I started to wonder if God was wanting me to get baptized. And then when I got home there was a text message from my cousin saying “Hey, I’m getting baptized on February 6. Do you want to join me?” So I said, “Sure.” We met with the youth pastor, who was doing the baptizing, and my cousin and I got baptized together at that church.
After a while I went to live in Chilliwack to live with my uncle and aunt, who are both Christians. The time I spent with them was like an incubation period. I went to school for a year at the University of the Fraser Valley, for business, and got my business certificate. I also worked at UFV for a year and a half, then in construction for six months. Then I went to Bible school for two years, before moving back to Surrey this past summer, to live with my brother and my dad — a miracle in itself!
Grandparents Saved at Johnston Heights Church
I first heard about Johnston Heights Church from my grandparents (Karl and Barbara Bloch), who had attended here about 50 years ago, when it was just a chapel; they had actually got saved there. My grandfather had always talked about Johnston Heights, and I’d always be driving by it. I came to a service at JHC once, instead of going to the church in Chilliwack. I remember that the message was given by Dr. Lyle Schrag, which was very good, and I had sat by David and Patsy Clemens, who were extremely warm and welcoming, but then I had to go back to Chilliwack to go to school.
When I came back to Surrey last summer I was thinking, “Which church should I go to? A Pentecostal one?” I kept praying about it, but the Lord kept telling me to go to Johnston Heights, so I started attending at the beginning of May. The songs and sermons and everything were exactly lined up in place with what God was speaking to me about. I thought, “This is good. This is where I need to be.”
I started attending on Sunday mornings, but because I often have to work on Sundays (as a customer service representative at U-Haul — which I see as my mission field because so many people coming there are at their wits’ end), as soon as Sunday evening services started, I began attending that.
I’m involved in the evening church service as a greeter and on the prayer team, which consists of two people, Elizabeth Van Zanten and myself. We sit and wait for people to come and ask for prayer.
Getting Increasingly Involved
When I first started attending Johnson Heights, Kevin Green got up on stage and said, “I need help with the Vacation Bible School.” The Lord spoke to my heart and said, “I want you to do this.” So I connected with him right after the service and said, “I know you have no idea who I am, but can I help?” and he said, “Sure.” And so Kevin’s son Brandon and I were the games supervisors. I loved that. Kids are awesome!
After that, God was pushing me to get more involved, saying “Don’t just be a bystander, get connected.” So I sought out a life group, and then I became an usher, and then Dorothy Schroeder approached me and said, “Would you consider being in the Christmas production?” And I said, “Oh, you guys do a Christmas production? Okay.” But then later she said something about singing, and I said, “Does every person have to sing?” and she said, “Yes,” so I said “Then I can’t do it. I can’t sing.”
But then someone contacted me soon after to ask if I would be part of the backstage crew, and I said, “Sure, I can do that.” Because of my work schedule I almost backed out, but then I thought, “No, I’ve made a commitment, I have to do it.” I’m so glad I did, it was amazing. I connected with people I never would have otherwise. God is good! – T.S.