Gander, Newfoundland has quite a history in aviation and in welcoming strangers. This centrally located community on the island known as “the Rock” has made a name for itself. Air bases were established during and following World War II. By the 1950s, Gander airport was one of the busiest international airports in the world, buoyed by transoceanic traffic. It became especially famous during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 when many international flights were rerouted to Gander. Working under the direction of the Canadian Red Cross, volunteers living in Gander rushed to provide shelter, food, and emotional support for thousands of stranded air travellers. Many churches opened their doors as refuge sites, including the Gander Newfoundland Branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These rescue efforts have been chronicled in a recent Broadway musical play called Come From Away.
Striving to Re-establish a Group of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The Church of Jesus Christ in Gander has also gone through many ups and downs. The Gander Branch was closed in 2010 due to many people moving away. Ricks and Sandra Smith (dear friends of ours) served as a senior mission couple in Gander starting in the fall of 2016. They worked with young sister missionaries in trying to re-establish the Church in this special community. Through their emails they shared with us the struggles and successes of the members and missionaries in trying to regain a foothold of faith.
Sister Gayle Low and I were thrilled in December 2017 to receive our mission call to serve in the Canada Halifax Mission. Because of Elder and Sister Smith’s emails, we immediately thought of trying to help the people in Gander. When we arrived in Halifax in July 2018, one of our first considerations was to create a “group” of the Church in Gander, Newfoundland—the first official organization of the Church in that area since 2010. The sister missionaries and senior couples had taught and baptized some new converts and worked on strengthening returning members. Our application was submitted to the Area Presidency in August 2018 and approved in October. Because of stake conferences and other commitments, the soonest we could go to Gander to organize the group was November 18, 2018.
Pressing Forward According to the Will of Christ
We were invited to attend the Cornerbrook Newfoundland Branch chilli cook-off activity, so we booked a flight from Halifax to Deer Lake (near Cornerbrook) for the afternoon of Friday, November 16. Our plan was to fly from Deer Lake to Gander the next morning, so that I would arrive in time to conduct interviews of potential group leaders on Saturday afternoon. On Thursday, severe weather hit Atlantic Canada with gale force winds and snow. We weren’t sure we were going to be able to make the trip to Newfoundland at all. Our flight was delayed, but we eventually made it to Deer Lake in time for the Cornerbrook activity. Later Friday night, the snowstorm returned with a vengeance, resulting in our flight from Deer Lake to Gander being cancelled. Our vehicle that we had rented the night before was a brand new four-wheel drive SUV that seemed to travel well in the snow. We prayerfully considered the options and felt we should drive the 300 kilometres in spite of the storm. We took comfort in the revelatory counsel of the Prophet Joseph Smith to the elders of the Church, at Kirtland, Ohio: “Wherefore, as ye are the agents, ye are on the Lord’s errand; and whatever ye do according to the will of the Lord is the Lord’s business” (D&C 64:29).
We had to take it slow, averaging about 70 kilometres per hour. For the first two hours, the road was totally snow covered, and not plowed. We were able to follow in some tracks made by another vehicle earlier that morning. The remaining three hours of the trip saw some improvement in the road as the plows were out and traffic increased. We felt peace the whole time, knowing that because we were on the Lord’s errand, and He needed us in Gander, that He would help us get there safely.
We arrived just in time to start my interviews on Saturday afternoon, calling Gordon Thamas as group leader; Ashely (Ace) Paradis as assistant group leader, and Terry Fisher as group physical facilities director. Sunday morning we conducted the business of creating a group of the Church in Gander, which will be dependent on the Cornerbrook Branch. A group of 21 people attended the organizing meeting at the rented Lion’s Club Hall, which included a visitor and a returning member who had not attended Church in 30 years. These wonderful saints have hearts and charitable spirits that are, like the reputation of Gander—legendary.
Feeling the Spirit of Hope
A spirit of renewal and recommitment was manifest to all, and the challenge was issued for the group to become a branch within a year. All other Church members in Newfoundland, from Bay Roberts, St. John’s, and Cornerbrook, also participated via the internet. The whole weekend was a very faith promoting experience for us and for everyone involved. In retrospect, we realized that if had we not flown to Deer Lake on Friday night for the Cornerbrook activity, we would not have been able to arrive in Gander in time to conduct the business on Saturday and Sunday. Our rented vehicle was a perfect “snow vehicle,” allowing us to make the journey from Deer Lake to Gander in the snowstorm. The community famous for airports and service is once again formally organized into a unit in God’s kingdom, and it will again soon become an independent branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!