The Pastor at the Top of the World

First it was the shamans, masters of spirits, each malevolent and benign. Then it was Hans Egede, the Danish-Norwegian missionary who strode ashore West Greenland 300 years in the past this 12 months to determine the nation’s first Lutheran mission.

Now it is an progressive pastor from Elkton, Maryland, who has based the nation’s first Baptist church in the west coast Greenland metropolis of Ilulissat.

Barely a quarter-mile from the armadas of cruise-ship-sized icebergs in the harbor, the Ilulissani Baptistit Oqaluffiat (Ilulissat Baptist Church) is a modest, darkish grey constructing on a sloping hill close to a Chinese restaurant. Scripture quotes together with seal skins are affixed to the partitions of a cheery eating space inside. In a rustic that is more and more seen on the world scene as a result of of the immense quantity of uncommon earth minerals tucked into its panorama, Chris Shull, 42, has staked a non secular declare.

“Our mission field,” he stated, “is the coolest place on Earth.”

It’s additionally one of the prettiest. The city, inhabitants 4,670, is parked subsequent to the world’s quickest calving glacier that dumps 11 cubic miles of icebergs every year into the Ilulissat Icefjord from Greenland’s fast-melting ice sheet. It is local weather change in dwell motion and a draw for 1000’s of vacationers every year.

Most of them may by no means know of the Baptist church, regardless that it is down the road from the Knud Rasmussen Museum, an enormous draw for guests eager to view the birthplace of the well-known Arctic explorer. Shull is glad to point out guests round the church, which has a roomy reception space subsequent to a separate room for Sunday providers. The latter has rows of maroon-cushioned chairs subsequent to very large home windows looking on the city and the encircling harbor.

Chris, Carole Shull Baptists Greenland
Baptists Carole and Chris Shull in the West Greenland metropolis of Ilulissat.
Photo by Julia Duin

After a four-month U.S. sabbatical this summer time, Shull’s seven-member household arrived again in Ilulissat final month to hopefully stage their first baptism (this needs to be executed in a tank; the harbor water is about 35 to 37 levels Fahrenheit); attain out to different cities through a hoped-for new boat; have interaction the native spiritualists (“Shamanism is big here. Everyone I know has ghost stories,” he stated); and construct some model recognition round the identify Baptist.

Shull, a stocky man with darkish hair, a mustache and a sparse beard, felt drawn to be a missionary to Greenland beginning when he was 19, and in 2000 he and his spouse, Carole, now 44, spent their honeymoon in Nuuk, the capital.

“I asked God to send me somewhere where there weren’t too many Baptist missionaries,” he stated. “I knew God had called me before we even went.”

The place that drew him most was Ilulissat, the world showplace for world warming. As the major metropolis on the huge, iceberg-choked Disko Bay, which is surrounded by a quantity of smaller cities, Ilulissat was the strategic alternative to achieve the most individuals. (Larger cities, similar to Nuuk and Sisimiut, are extra remoted.)

Getting there was a yearslong course of that concerned 22 months in Iceland and an opportunity assembly with a Danish official who helped organize their transfer to Greenland in April 2007, with the proviso that they relocate inside a six-week window. Carole was eight months pregnant.

“When we first arrived, there was no one waiting for us at the airport,” Shull stated in a promotional video. “There were no believers, no veteran missionaries, no one. We had no long-term housing, nor could we speak the languages,” though he’d studied Danish in Iceland.

“We had 3 children under the age of 6, and my wife was expecting our fourth child in a month. We knew no one. We were alone. It was just us and God. When all you have is God, then you find that he is all you need.”

The household squeezed right into a one-bedroom house and, for his or her first six years, obtained round city by foot, as vehicles had been costly. Fourteen years later, they’ve a 2,000-square-foot church, a house with plumbing, a automotive that matches their whole household, a ship, a youngsters’s ministry that attracts 20 youngsters plus a number of adults on Wednesday nights, a jail ministry at an area minimum-security facility and Sunday providers that draw as much as 17 adults.

The jail, a low-lying brilliant purple constructing down the road, brings in individuals from round the nation, and it felt like an excellent mission area to Shull when he first began visiting in 2012. “We’ve been praying about a way to reach young people,” he wrote supporters, “and now God has given us a ‘captive’ audience!”

He preaches in Greenlandic, which took him 4 years to grasp. Greenlandic, a polysynthetic language that strings collectively roots and suffixes in lengthy phrases, is notoriously troublesome to study.

“The people attracted to us are the poorer people, the people with more problems,” he wrote on his weblog final June. “Which is fine—we want to help them. We see past the façade to the brokenness and alcohol…. The people have a Bible in their language, but they don’t know how to read it. They’ve never heard the stories of Jonah and the whale or David and Goliath. It is fun to tell them, but we have had to start from scratch.”

On paper, most of the inhabitants belongs to the Lutheran Church of Greenland, which Shull calls a “dead religion” that permits toddler baptism, which is anathema to Baptists. (The new Lutheran bishop, Paneeraq Siegstad Munk, turned down a request for an interview.)

Shull comes from the Independent Baptists, a Christian group that makes up 2.5 p.c of the U.S. inhabitants, or some 8.2 million individuals, in response to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. They are fundamentalist Christians who imagine in baptism by immersion and refuse to hitch any organized Baptist group. The late Reverend Jerry Falwell, who started as an Independent Baptist earlier than switching to the Southern Baptist Convention in 1996, was the most well-known member of this group.

It was this free community of church buildings that Shull concentrated his fundraising efforts on in a marathon dash this summer time round the U.S. Shull’s dwelling church is Pleasantville Baptist in New Castle, Delaware, and his sponsoring group, All Points Baptist Mission in New Philadelphia, Ohio, focuses on missions to Arctic nations.

Their assist is now as much as about 50 church buildings, he stated, as choices from the Greenlanders themselves are minuscule. Shull goes to the place they’re, whether or not it’s enjoying Greenlandic baseball (“After 13 years, we’re still trying to figure out the rules…6 bases, 5 people on one base, no foul balls!” he wrote final 12 months) or ice fishing, canine sledding, or searching musk ox, caribou and reindeer with the locals.

He hopes to promote his present 32-foot Bayliner for a much bigger boat the place the components are regionally out there. With the present boat, spare components are abroad. “If something goes wrong, it’s three months before we get a part, and you can’t have a ministry like that,” he stated. He longs to make use of it to distribute tracts in waterfront cities like Aasiaat and Qasigiannguit alongside the bay’s southern edge.

“Being American opens doors,” he stated, as persons are inquisitive about American tradition.

“The big thing is getting to know people and care about them. All the people who’ve come to church, we’ve already spent many hours with them. I probably know half the town. One lady we gave a tract to, she called me a year later and said she had a ‘ticket’ and could she come to church.” The lady needed to be baptized.

The couple is matter-of-fact about the difficulties of getting a foothold in a group the place individuals might attend the Lutheran Church for giant occasions like confirmations however have extraordinarily messy and troublesome non-public lives.

“People will come to church, but it’s hard to get them to change their lives, not go out and party and get drunk,” he stated. “Alcohol has destroyed peoples’ lives. Lots of hashish gets boated in.”

Plus, he stated, “there are more divorces than marriages in Greenland. We have one family with five kids—all with different fathers.”

“The intact families tend to be more educated,” his spouse stated. “Kids aren’t told no.”

Suicide in Greenland, the place the charges are some of the world’s highest, is a continuing menace, he stated, together with damaged households: youngsters who do not know their mother and father or have moved from one foster dwelling after one other. Others have mother and father, notably fathers, who dedicated suicide. Others have had abortions.

“One boy calls Carole and I ‘Mom’ & ‘Dad’ and asked us to adopt him,” Shull wrote in a single of his Facebook posts. “You cannot imagine some of the things these poor children endure at a young age.”

Fourteen years into their sojourn, most of the household has acquired twin U.S.-Danish citizenship. Their eldest son, Chip, 20, teaches English at an area faculty, and their eldest daughter, Anna, 18, works half time at a fish manufacturing facility. For years, their father has been asking different missionaries to hitch him, and for a time James and Cheryl Wright from South Dakota got here to dwell in Ilulissat.

According to a letter James Wright posted online this previous spring (and which has since been eliminated), he and Shull “had major disagreements” on a number of fronts.

“My current outreach and involvement are limited and restricted to the point that I feel I am not needed,” Wright wrote partially. “It was never my intention to just sit under another man’s ministry. We are extremely disappointed that our stay was short lived, and my heart is saddened knowing that I cannot make this work.”

Asked about the Wrights, Shull cited cultural and language difficulties.

“They never adjusted to the culture or the people,” he stated. “The native people can tell that you don’t like [them]…. But they were helping us. It was unexpected; they told us they were leaving, but there was nothing we could do.”

He’s awaiting the arrival of one other missionary couple, Gage and Aleah Gilbert of Harrison, Tennessee, who intend to work with the Shulls, then transfer to Nuuk, the place, they are saying on their web site, there may be “no gospel witness or Independent Baptist Church.”

Actually, Nuuk has a range of Christian teams, together with a Catholic congregation and Inuunerup Nutaap Oqaluffia (INO), a Pentecostal denomination that has outreaches in 14 cities round the nation. The Nuuk congregation, which has about 150 members, simply underwent a church cut up when its Greenlandic pastor left in April.

“You’ll find more people here than in the Lutheran Church,” stated the Reverend John Østergaard Nielsen, INO’s former nationwide chief, who was in Nuuk final month to assist the congregation. In distinction to congregations consisting primarily of expatriates, he stated, “this church has been very Greenlandic.” In 2018, it was half of a big Christian rally in Nuuk that drew 1,000 individuals.

“From that rally, a few stuck with the church,” he stated. “And healing has not disappeared. We see people getting healed here,” together with the time he was invited to a hospital the place a girl lay in a coma.

“I began to pray,” Nielsen stated. “I just said ‘Jesus,’ and all the wires began to beep. But two weeks later, I heard she was healed. I was shocked but then was reminded of the power in the name of Jesus. Sometimes, as a pastor, you forget that.”

Shull avoids such Pentecostal shows, saying they’re too near the shamanism that lurks in the tradition. He plans to stay in Ilulissat for a few years to return and hopes extra Baptists be part of him in reaching out to a phenomenal metropolis with powerful issues.

“When I first got off the plane, my tour guide said, ‘This is the devil’s town,'” he remembers about their arrival 14 years in the past.

“I said, ‘Well, this is the town for us.'”

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