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I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go

I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go

“Living in Haida Gwaii, formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands off the northwest coast of British Columbia, has to be the second most challenging thing in my life, next to parenting,” Curtis Rasmussen says. A bold statement coming from a man whose professional career requires working in challenging situations. “I made the decision to accept my deployment to Haida Gwaii with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police based on the faith of my wife—one of her spiritual gifts.”

The Rasmussens wanted to get the RCMP required three-year “Isolated Posting” accomplished while their children were young. Still, access to the Church was imperative. Of their post options, none fell closer than a long ferry ride or 5-hour drive to Church services. Leah Rasmussen explains, “When I saw Queen Charlotte on the list of possibilities, it just felt right. I knew without a doubt that was where we were supposed to go and that everything would be okay.” Haida Gwaii is an 8-hour ferry ride from the mainland. They took the posting on faith, not knowing if even one member of the Church lived on the island.

Curtis relayed their intentions to the Vancouver British Columbia Mission, hoping elders might come to Haida Gwaii, a plan already in the Mission President’s mind. When then President Karl Tilleman heard about the Rasmussens, he sent two Elders. “That seemed like a miracle,” Curtis says. “It confirmed to me that everything would be okay.” The missionaries, the first in 40 years, came to the Island about 2 months before the Rasmussen family. Of the Island’s 40 members of record, the elders found only one sister actively living the gospel. She attended meetings whenever she was off the island for work. Soon two other sisters became reactivated after more than 30 years of inactivity. These three women, one of their grandsons, the five Rasmussens and the missionaries made up the early days of this fledgling congregation.

That is only one of the challenges they encountered. “We gained a firm testimony of food storage and 72-hour kits after a 7.7 earthquake rocked us a few months after we arrived,” says Leah. “Fresh groceries only come to the Island by ferry on Mondays. By Thursday evening, only canned or frozen foods remain on store shelves. When the ferry cannot get across, no food comes either, so food storage is our safety net.” 

With the arrival of the first senior missionary couple six months later, the small congregation became a branch. “It was a glorious blessing to receive the support,” Curtis, recalls. Today, senior missionary Elder Masters functions as Branch President and presides at meetings every Sunday in Skidegate, the Haida Village just 7km north of Queen Charlotte. Then he and Sister Masters drive 1 ½ hours to services on the north end of the island to accommodate 3-4 members there. They teach Primary to two children and then drive back home. 
Haida Gwaii Photo

Brother Rasmussen’s callings include first counselor in the branch presidency, ward clerk, priesthood instructor and home teacher. The two Aaronic priesthood holders and one high priest meet together for priesthood meeting. Sister Rasmussen functions as Primary president and teacher, nursery leader and visiting teacher. Their four children make up most of the Primary; yet they still have class presentations and a Primary program. Out of necessity, everyone takes part in the worship services. Curtis speaks about once a month and Leah every few months. Even the children take part. The Rasmussens implement daily family scripture study, family prayer and regular family home evening. Curtis calls it “organized chaos”. Attending district conference involves an 8-hour ferry ride, a 1½ hour drive and considerable expense. “We’ve gone to District conference four times. Between the ferry ride, gasoline, food and accommodation, the cost is significant each trip,” Leah says. “But by combining these trips with medical appointments required on the mainland, it feels more like a tender mercy. The kids think it’s worth every penny knowing that they get to swim in a pool and have fast food!”

With average summer temperatures of 17C, it’s no surprise oldest son Carter worried about his September baptism in the ocean. It rained the whole day. Grey clouds loomed low as a number of non-member friends joined the family on the beach. “Walking out into the water, Carter kept saying, ‘It’s cold, it’s cold’,” Mom Leah says. “His Dad kept saying, ‘It’s okay, it’s okay.’” Once in the water, the clouds parted and a stream of light fell on them. “Dad, I feel warm,” Carter said as he came up out of the water. Then from the top of the hillside above came the sound of drumming. A group of 25 Haida from a nearby school got word of the baptism and came to the overlook. They played and sang tribal songs, “New Birth” and “Chief Entrance”, songs reserved for times of great honour.
Haida Gwaii Photo

Once, while on official police duty, Curtis gave a priesthood blessing to a female investigator who had been severely injured in a domestic abuse incident. “She was near death when I arrived,” Curtis says. “I was able to put my hands on her head and bless her.” She survived and subsequently joined the Church. “That day I came to the realization that God trusted me; that I came to be in that place, at that time, to help and protect one of his precious daughters,” he says.

As to the other challenges, both Curtis and Leah feel isolated at times and miss the activities and comradery found inside a large ward. “I miss the brotherhood of the priesthood, things like having a home teacher to call on for a blessing,” Curtis explains. “My fellow RCMP respect me and know my standards, but because I don’t drink and socialize the same way they do, we don’t get together much. I didn’t go on a mission when I was young and always regretted that, but I have to say that this feels like our mission. We feel like pioneers. Great strength comes from knowing that God is aware of me and my family. I know that when we seek His help, He will make us be the best we can be in whatever circumstances we are in.” 

People ask Leah, “How do you do it—living somewhere so isolated, the struggles of a young branch, hurricane force wind storms, earthquakes, power outages, no family close and with pregnancy difficulties?” Her response, “We just do it.  We made our choice to come and now we do the work. It’s not easy, but the Lord has been with us. The difficulties compel us to rely solely on the Lord and each another. But the blessings are just too many to number,” she says.  Leah, Curtis and their children hope their time in Haida Gwaii has strengthened more than just their family. “I know that the members here are concerned about the future because we’ll depart soon, but the Church is here! THEY are the Church. No matter who comes or goes, as long as there is even one member on Haida Gwaii living the gospel, the Church is here”, Brother Rasmussen testifies.  
Haida Gwaii Photo

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