Matt Windsor doesn’t find it easy to get up in front of a crowd to speak publicly. By nature, the recent Canada Institute of Linguistics (CanIL) grad is reserved and analytical. Even in a small room of friends he says he appreciates how his wife Caitlin carries the conversation so he can “relax and think a bit.” That way he can slowly add his ideas without focusing on the mechanics of carrying on a conversation.
On a Sunday this past October, however, Matt finds himself standing in front of his home church in Comox, B.C. He is sharing about the long-term plans he and Caitlin have to work in Bible translation ministry with the Oji-Cree people in the northern Ontario First Nations community of Kingfisher Lake. (This work is a part of the Wycliffe Canada-sponsored Cree Initiative project. See Word Alive, Jan-Apr 2017.)
Bobbing in the back of the Bay Community Church sanctuary with their 10-month-old daughter Hazel wrapped around her waist, Caitlin listens to her introverted husband. Matt explains to the Vancouver Island congregation that he and his wife need more long-term financial partners before they are able to start the first step of their life in ministry—an internship with the Naskapi people, a First Nations language group in the northern Quebec community of Kawawachikamach. There, Matt tells the congregation, he will learn from veteran mother-tongue translators, preparing him to then advise a group of less-experienced Oji-Cree translators in Kingfisher Lake.
Since Matt graduated from CanIL in the spring of 2015 with a master's degree in linguistics and exegesis, both he and Caitlin say they have become more comfortable speaking in front of churches and inviting people to support them.
“As time has gone on, I’ve felt less insecure,” says Matt after church in the living room of their nearby home. “It’s been really clear that it’s not about [us]. We’re not the main characters in God’s story here.”
Caitlin agrees, adding that neither of them are natural networkers, and at the beginning they felt like they weren’t cut out for this kind of work. She admits, however, that fundraising is an act of trusting God.
“Once you realize that it’s God who brings [financial support] in and we just give people the opportunity and then He does the work, that’s a huge relief.”
Matt and Caitlin developed their trust and deep-rooted relationship with Christ while attending the same youth group as teenagers in the Comox Valley. However, despite being in the same social circles, it wasn’t until they attended the University of Victoria that they became friends and started dating.
“A lot of our spiritual upbringing was kind of the same,” explains Matt. “So, that gave us a lot of common ground for our relationship.”
Soon after Matt and Caitlin started dating, they quickly tackled some important questions regarding their future together. A month into their relationship, Caitlin had a mini-stroke, caused by a medical condition called cerebral cavernous malformations. She couldn’t walk for six months.
“I won’t blame you if you choose to leave—I’m not going to think any less of you,” Caitlin told Matt after her stroke.
Matt, though, didn’t want out: “She’s not any less deserving of love because of something like that,” he reflects. “I thought that was the role that I could see myself doing okay in—that role of working through recovery with someone.”
The second question the couple answered was whether their future plans were in sync. Shortly after Matt became a Christian when he was 16, he decided that he wanted to be a missionary. Desiring to help others reconcile themselves with God, Matt at first assumed the only way to do this was by trying to make himself an outgoing street evangelist, but soon realized God had designed him with other gifts. Then his youth leader introduced him to Bible translation. He explained that Matt’s interest in linguistics and science could be used in Bible translation ministry with Wycliffe. From there, Matt met other Wycliffe missionaries and became even more confident of his path moving forward.
“The Bible really captured my imagination in the way that God created all of humanity and that He chooses to communicate with them through this Book that He created over a couple thousand years.”
Caitlin, on the other hand, didn’t have a clear ministry path in mind, but believed that God would lead her forward alongside Matt.
“I really took it to heart that you’re a missionary wherever you are, so God could choose to plant you in your hometown or across the world,” she says. “When I met Matt and knew he was going into Wycliffe [I said], ‘Well that works. It doesn’t really change my life too much in terms of my overall mission.’”
Connecting the Dots at CanIL
With parallel vision, in 2013 Matt and Caitlin made the move to Langley, B.C., for Matt to attend CanIL. Matt says the Bible-centred education he received provided him with the linguistics knowledge he needed to serve minority communities and the marginalized in Canada.
“At CanIL everything is always connected to those kinds of goals,” he explains. The end game is getting the powerful Word of God to those who desperately need it. According to Matt, every theory they were taught will be applicable to real work they will do in the field.
While Matt attended CanIL, however, something else amazing happened. God directed Matt and Caitlin—independently from one another—to work with First Nations people of Canada. For Matt, God’s direction became evident when he attended a Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada event. There he heard heartbreaking stories from indigenous people who attended residential schools and were abused and punished for speaking their language (see related stories in Word Alive, Jan.-April 2017).
Returning home, Matt told Caitlin about what he learned. Caitlin replied that she too had indigenous issues on her mind. Throughout the next few weeks, it seemed repeatedly they were prompted by God about First Nations people.
“Okay, what’s going on here?” Caitlin recalls asking herself. “This is weird how often this is coming up and starting to really grow in my heart.”
Matt mentioned his interest in working with Canada's First Nations to his CanIL professor Larry Hayashi. He directed Matt to talk to the guy with the big beard, Bill Jancewicz, whose wife Norma Jean was attending Trinity Western’s Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) program. The couple had spent more than 25 years working with the Naskapi people of Quebec (see Word Alive, Spring 2013). Hayashi was pleased to see the Windsors listening to God’s promptings.
“It was really exciting to see the Lord leading both Matt and Caitlin toward serving here in Canada with First Nations ministry and language development,” says Hayashi. “Matt definitely has a gift for linguistics.”
Matt and Caitlin soon formed a relationship with the Jancewiczes—who have become their friends and mentors, and will serve as their supervisors in their future work. With their plans becoming clear, Matt tailored his courses by doing assignments using language data from Naskapi (which, like the Oji-Cree, is part of the Algonquian language family).
In one course, for example, where Matt was tasked with analyzing the discourse (conversation) of a language, Bill’s presence was particularly beneficial.
“In a class like that I could go to Bill, grab a Naskapi legend, internalize the whole text and spend the whole course basically going through it and learning about discourse features of Naskapi.”
In August 2015, Matt and Caitlin’s education went beyond book learning when they visited the Naskapi community Kawawachikamach near the Quebec-Labrador border. The journey consisted of two flights, four days of driving, a ferry trip and then a 14-hour train ride. The couple remembers arriving at the simple, no-frills train station near Kawawachikamach and seeing a big, muddy parking lot full of trucks.
Matt and Caitlan began developing relationships with the Naskapi people by visiting with them in their home, focusing on speaking as best they could with the people in their own language. This went a long way to building trust with the people, who see many outside professionals such as police officers and nurses come and go.
For much of the visit, Matt sat in with Bill and local translators who were editing a series of soon-to-be-published folktales, while Caitlin joined Norma Jean as they led a professional development workshop for Naskapi school teachers.
Reflecting on their Naskapi visit and a Cree mother-tongue translators workshop that they joined in Guelph, Ont., this past April, Matt says he learned a lot from the indigenous participants.
“We can learn from them and vice versa,” he explains. “They, as indigenous Christians, have a whole lot of strengths: in ways of looking at God in the Bible and things that stand out to them that they understand better than us.”
The Internship—The Future
As Matt and Caitlin continue to work toward building a team of prayer and financial partners for their future ministry, they find themselves in a strange space. They are ready, passionate and called to serve Canada’s First Nations people. They look forward to learning from experienced Naskapi translators during their internship. And they dream about the day that the Oji-Cree—like the Naskapi—will also have a New Testament in their own language.
“There’s that picture of the body of Christ worshipping Jesus around the throne from all languages, tribes and nations,” says Matt, referring to the prophetic image found in Revelation 7:9-10 and which includes the variuos First Nation language communities of Canada.
For now, however, like all Wycliffe missionaries, they live in the reality that they can’t do it alone—they need a team of generous donors and prayer warriors to join them—and they need God’s provision. This isn’t a new concept for the couple. Caitlin’s cerebral cavernous malformations are a constant reminder for them of how dependent they are on God to sustain them every day.
“We all have a short time in life and we serve God the best we can with the time that we have,” Matt reflects.
It’s with this desperate trust that Matt and Caitlin also continue to commit their future ministry to the Lord.