Fort Smith Pastor retires
25 years of Sunday sermons with the Fort Smith Pentecostal Church

Terry Halifax
Northern News Services

FORT SMITH (Jan 11/99) - Pastor Eva Nichol will deliver her last sermon this Sunday, spanning 25 years with the Fort Smith Pentecostal Church in the North.

Pastor Nichol first came to the North in 1960, to fill in for a pastor in Fort Resolution. The temporary job led to a life of service, adventure and even a few small miracles.

"I came right from the seminary to work with the Baileys at the homeless shelter when they first started in Fort Resolution," she recalled. "They were going on holidays and asked me to fill in for six weeks."

Those six weeks turned into three years in Resolution for Nichol before moving on to Hay River, where she worked in the village for a year. From there, she moved on to Fort Smith, where she's been pastor since 1974.

"When I first got here no one was using the old Baptist church building, so (the Pentecostal church) asked me to come in and be the pastor," she said.

As her congregation flourished, a new church was required. People came from all over the continent to help in the church construction.

"In 1978, we started building the new church," she recalled. "People from the south came to help out with construction; people from Cremona and some from Santa Rosa, California, came to put in the foundation."

"We moved in 1981," she added.

Her next big project was the construction of a cross-cultural bible college in Fort Smith.

"We saw the need for a bible college here," she said. "We felt the native leadership should be raised up in the North."

The college was built on a "series of several small miracles," Nichol remembered. Starting with the philanthropic vision of a Fort MacMurray resident, the Bible college started out as a plan to build a Pastor's residence.

"Billy Nibs felt that he should build us a parsonage for the church," she said. "He got all these business people from Fort MacMurray to donate time and money."

The proposed site for the new college was adjacent the church, on land owned by the federal government. Nichol was told it would be difficult to buy.

The property was later transferred from the federal to the territorial governments, and the sale was approved by the GNWT.

"We knew once we had the property, we knew God was going to give us something special," she smiled.

The church congregation needed to raise $100,000 to build the college and found itself within $2,000 of the goal. Nichol and her congregation prayed for the funds one Sunday and soon had an answer.

"A couple visiting from Edmonton was at my Sunday service and they came back the next day and said, `We can't sleep and we wanted to give you the last $2,000.'"

"I phoned my superintendent right away and he told us to go ahead and start building," she beamed.

With the property and funding secured, Nibs set to work building the only bible college in the Western Arctic.

"He'd fly tradesmen in on the weekend and they'd work all weekend," she said. "Some of them weren't even church people, just a really good group of people to work with."

And work they did. The college was completed in just under four months.

"We started building in August and we were in by November," Nichol said. "It all came together perfectly."

Nichol was also instrumental in starting the Extended Hand, an agency for treatment and aid to the needy.

"The Extended Hand has been such a blessing, because it has been a way to minister to people in town who needed a place to go to get away from drinking and so forth," she said. "This year they also gave out 106 food hampers to needy families at Christmas."

Throughout her years serving the North, Nichol logged thousands of miles travelling to other communities. During one of her frequent trips to another ministry, Nichol's car broke down on a remote piece of highway. After some time, a fellow traveller happened by and soon had the pastor's car running smoothly. When Nichol informed the Samaritan she worked for the church, he asked why she didn't seek a higher power in starting the car.

"He said to me, `Well, why didn't you just pray over this thing,'" she recalled, laughing. "I said, `I did pray, and you were the answer to my prayer.'"

As well as her regular duties with the church, Nichol was also called upon at odd hours to offer advice and help for a wide variety of problems. Once in the wee hours, someone had come to ask her to help search the skies for a UFO they'd seen. After several hours driving around town, it was determined the "UFO" was actually just a short circuit in the water tower light.

Another late-night caller asked how to silence his barking dog. The patient pastor advised the caller to, "let him out."

In 1987, Pastor Nichol has received the Fort Smith Citizen of the Year Award, the 1995 Wise Woman of the Western Arctic Award and she's recently received an honourary Doctorate of Theology from the Living Word Bible College and Seminary of Manitoba.

Although she'll be retiring her place at the Sunday service, Nichol will be kept busy working with the Aboriginal Ministry of Alberta, teaching at the bible college and working as director for the Sub Arctic Mission.

With much work still ahead of her, Nichol is happy for the years she's had at the church.

"I love the church dearly, but it's just time," she said wistfully. "It's been such a pleasure to see people's lives change through Jesus."