Alumni Couple Serve Cat Lake First Nation Community

Love began in the cafeteria

When Jonathan Larsh (’04) and Katie Symonds (’05) met for the first time as students working in the cafeteria, it was clear they had something special. In addition to the many things they had in common, both of them dreamed of working in ministry.

They fell in love, and the summer after Jonathan graduated, they were married. But because Katie was still a student with two years to go, Jonathan took the role of sole provider. It wasn’t easy, but Jonathan stayed positive as he worked whatever jobs he could find.

“The jobs I had after university were not the best, but they were what God provided,” says Jonathan. His first job after graduating was essentially a summer job at Vanderpol’s Eggs, where he was a receptionist and helped with miscellaneous things. It wasn’t glamorous, but he did what he needed to do.

The struggle to be content

A few years into their marriage, Jonathan and Katie were still unsure where God was calling them. Both had a heart for missions, but they never really felt like the right door had opened.

“It was hard to take jobs that were not in ministry,” says Jonathan. It was a confusing season. But he and his wife felt confident that God was providing these experiences for a reason and that He was equipping them for a time when they’d finally be called to the mission field.

“The biggest struggle was learning to be content where God had placed us,” says Jonathan.

The Call to Missions

One day, while on a call with Jonathan’s mother, they discovered that Cat Lake First Nation in Ontario was planning to start a Christian school and needed someone to run it. Jonathan and Katie shared a look, then asked for more information.

After spending some time in prayer, they felt confident this was where God was calling them.

“People were saying it wouldn’t be safe, especially for the three and one year old children that we had,” says Jonathan. “We thought and prayed about it all and realized that the safest place to be is in the will of God and if we were to make sure that we were in His will, we would be safe.”

Six months later, they were moving to Cat Lake.

The Christian school was funded by the remote First Nation, and when the Larsh family first moved there, it was just to help get things going. But they quickly fell in love with the community there and started to get involved in leading church services. This led to Jonathan becoming a pastor under the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, Western Ontario District, Aboriginal Pentecostal Ministries.

In addition to being a teacher and a pastor, the Larsh family were invited to become missionaries through International Messengers, an organization that has been incredibly helpful in supporting their work in Cat Lake.

The Heavy Workload

Monday to Friday, Jonathan gets to school around 8 AM and doesn’t get home until after 5 PM. He sets aside some intentional time for family. He takes every Friday evening off, but most weekday nights he needs to work in the evening on administration stuff.

Saturday’s are equally busy, with him doing about 6-8 hours of administration work for the school. After that, he preps for church the next day. Sunday’s he preaches, then takes the remainder off.

It’s a heavy workload, but Jonathan and Katie are happy in Cat Lake and love serving the community there.

“I teach some kids how to learn to read and also work with fractions,” says Jonathan. “I get to minister to them when they are having a bad day. I have the opportunity to speak into some lives that we would never get the chance to do in a public system. I get to pray with the children and for them. Some of the kids come from homes that are pretty scary. Having the opportunity to speak into their lives is so incredibly rewarding—more than anything else that I can think of.”

Learning from Every Situation

“I believe God has called me to all the roles that I’m currently doing,” says Jonathan. “Being a father (most important), a teacher, a pastor, and a missionary. It is a lot of work, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Jonathan believes that God has entrusted him and his wife with many responsibilities. He also believes that God has equipped him for the skills needed to do it all.

“So much of what we are able to do is from doing what God has asked us and staying in his will—the safest place to be.”

When asked about sharing advice to others who have recently gradated and are struggling with what to do, Jonathan says, “Don’t give up, and learn from EVERY situation in life. Whether it be at a job you don’t like (or love, but still isn’t your long term goal in life), a church you don’t like (but God still wants you to be there), or anything else, make sure that you learn to be content in all situations constantly searching out the will of God for your life.”

This attitude that kept Jonathan and Katie from getting discouraged before having the opportunity to live out their dream of working in ministry, and it’s this attitude that keeps them from getting burned out with the many responsibilities entrusted to them as they continue to serve the people of Cat Lake.