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Family Living in God's Country

July 4, 2015
Photo by Creekgeek via Flickr Under Creative Commons
Cheridan Sanders chats with Andrea Lefebvre mother of 5, about Yukon-living, open-door hospitality and the call to live as a lay missionary.
It takes a special kind of person to venture out and live in the Yukon. With an average temperature of -22 degrees celsius in the winter months and a population of less than 40 000 in the whole territory ( that's less than many small cities further South) the Great Canadian North, for many, is about as close as it gets to living to ‘God’s Country’.
I’d heard of families living in Canada’s North as lay missionaries for years. The idea of it, intrigued me. I’d never really thought of missionaries as being regular families.
My own experience had always been of religious or priests as missionaries. But of course, like all baptized Christians, families are called to go forth into missionary territories, to the North, to the South or right where they are, to proclaim the Good News.
The Holy Family Apostolate is quite new, it was started in 2008 when Bishop Gary Gordon (at the time Bishop of Whitehorse) had the vision of families living in and being present to communities in the North.
The apostolate started out with just five families who gathered at Madonna House in Vancouver where they began a process of discernment and reflecting on the ‘Little Mandate’.
In light of the upcoming World Meeting of Families and the particular challenges that families face today, I caught up with Andrea Lefebvre, mother of 5 to chat about Yukon-living, open-door hospitality and the call to live out her vocation in everyday life.
 - THE CALL -
You’re originally from B.C. -  Tell us about surviving a Yukon winter. How do you deal with the isolation and the long periods of literal darkness?
A good parka and wool socks do a lot for the cold. I’m certainly more tired in the winter with the long periods of darkness but I am blessed to have small children. Their needs are the same no matter whether I’m in BC or here. I have to get up early, make breakfast, get everyone dressed and who knows what might happen next. Whitehorse is a nice sized city and I haven’t found it isolating. There is a great community of people up here.
Did you ever imagine yourself as a missionary?
I certainly have always been in love with God enough to do so. In my younger years I wanted to do great things for God but as I grew in my faith I realized I had to grow with the gifts he had already given me. So I stopped looking elsewhere and tried to embrace my family more. In the midst of that I met my husband, with whom we shared a common love of family life. About two years into marriage, the Holy Family Apostolate began from the vision of Bishop Gary Gordon, who at the time was the Bishop of the Diocese of Whitehorse. He had a vision of families living their vocation and being a presence in the communities in which they reside. Bishop Gary asked Madonna House, which has been a strong presence in Whitehorse for over 60 years now with many years of experience in lay formation, to guide the HFA in its formation. My husband and I are very different in the way we draw closer to God, with the HFA we grow together as a couple and as a family. The Holy Family Apostolate is just what we needed to nurture our growing faith as a family.
- FAMILY LIFE AS WITNESS -
It’s not a common thing to see big families anymore, how do people usually respond when they see you and your wolf pack?
Any number of ways; from positive to dirty looks. There is one woman in town that is in her seventies. When she sees me with all my children, her eyes light up and she loves to tell me about her seven children and all her grandchildren. Some people make all kind of strange comments and this took some getting used to. Like “you’re brave,” “you know how to stop that problem,” “you’re busy” or the most common one is “you’ve got your hands full”. I was quite surprised by the number of comments that I got from strangers when I was pregnant with my third and fourth child. I hadn’t realized that there was so much cultural pressure related to family size. I’ve also come up with my own one liners. To most comments I just say something positive like “It’s great!” To the comment “you’re busy,” I usually say… “Everyone is busy; I’m just busy raising children.”
You spend a lot of time at Mary House, tell us about why you feel it matters and how it has impacted your life.
Mary House has been like my extended family in the Yukon. At first I went there because that is where Bishop Gary directed us to go. They always welcomed me and were gracious to me, my children, or anyone else I brought over. I like to joke to them that they can’t get rid of me and they always say they’d never try.
With time, I have come to really love the writings of Catherine Doherty and I have such a respect and love for the lay consecrated that I have met from Madonna House. They are good people grounded in God living a disciplined life of faith and service. They have taught me how to live more simply and to serve others more simply.
- THE LITTLE MANDATE -
Tell me about the “Little Mandate.”
The Little Mandate” is what Madonna House follows in their spirituality and it is also what we are following as the Holy Family Apostolate. It really covers the depth and breadth of our faith. When we gather for the Holy Family Apostolate we have a written reflection that is based on one line from the “Little Mandate.” With all the information out there these days, it is helpful to have a simple focus.
Tell me what inspires you most about being a lay missionary.
Being a lay missionary seemed to shift my thinking as an ordinary Catholic. Instead of thinking about what the Church is doing for me, I instead turned the thinking more into what I need to do to serve our Church and others. I also identify more closely with the church and its strengths and weaknesses.
You’ve mentioned that you love to welcome people into your home, why is an open door so important to you?
I have felt this is what I am called to. In the vocation of family life, we have a gift of having a community already and a home. So it is in our vocation that we must share this gift and be generous to anyone who may visit.  We like to keep our guest bed clean and ready for whoever might need it.
- YUKON-LIVING -
Give us two qualities that you feel embody Yukoner’s and tell us why they are so important in the North?
Resourceful and adventurous.
Resourcefulness is important because in urban centres you can have anything you want but in more remote or rural places you learn to work with what you have. Whitehorse has most of everything anyone really needs but being more resourceful is helpful. When meeting some of the older Yukoners, I am amazed at how much I could learn from them; they are incredibly resourceful. One man in particular hunts, traps and grows most of his own food. He always plants some extra broccoli and cabbage for me every year and when he gives them to me they are planted in cut out milk cartons. I just love that he uses whatever he has rather than buying something like pots. Having moved up here, my husband has taken up hunting and I’ve had to figure out how to cook Moose, Caribou and Bison.
Everyone up here just seems to be adventurous; this is why it isn’t so isolating. Even when it’s minus 30C, we’ll see other parents attending events with their children as well.
Related:
We featured the Marian Centre in Edmonton, Alberta for The Church Alive series. Watch that story here.

CherdianS1The Producer Diaries
Cheridan Sanders, a Producer at Salt and Light Television, reflects on her experiences as she travels the world telling Catholic’s stories.
 
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