Lessons from a plane window

I happen to glance down at just the right time.

The view below the plane, on my trans-Atlantic flight had been stymied by heavy cloud cover. But now, the clouds have parted to reveal a spectacular sight: Greenland’s jagged, snow-covered peaks! Awe washes over me. This is a truly wild place on earth, beyond human reach.

Such exalted views of the earth frequently fill me with wonder, not only for the incredible topography, but for the isolated outposts of human inhabitation. One of my favorite games is “Who Lives There?” I like to imagine what life would be like in that far-flung corner of the world.

Later in the flight, I have my chance to play. I notice an oddly shaped peninsula with a small town to the right of it. I know this is somewhere in the far north of Canada, but nothing else. The town is tiny. What look like snowmobile trails extend for miles out onto the ice. I take some photos and decide to find this on Google maps when I’m home.

Back in the studio, it takes me some time to find the village. I use the fox-head peninsula as my landmark. And there it is!

North West River – the name of the village – is situated on the western edge of Lake Melville in Labrador. It is home to about 1800 people.

Nearly two thousand people inhabit this tiny speck on the globe – a globe that is covered with such dots, not to mention the huge blots of people-packed cities. How can God possibly keep track of all these souls, each with an aching need for his love?

Then I stumble across Wilfrid Grenfell. In 1893, this British doctor was sent by a mission board to bring medical and spiritual aid to the fishermen and aboriginals living in Labrador. As his mission expanded, it provided a doctor to North West River to establish a hospital that served all of Labrador. Grenfell’s work eventually expanded into establishing schools, orphanages, and work projects.

For his life of service to the people of Labrador, Grenfell was knighted in 1927. And in 1940, he made his way onto a stamp.

How does God reach all these souls, I asked? Grenfell gives a glimpse of the answer. God sends his people. Filled with devotion for Jesus. Inspired by his words. They go to the ends of the earth to carry the message of his love, demonstrated through selfless service.

From Greenland’s Icy Mountains is a once-popular, now forgotten hymn. But having just seen those very mountains, I am moved when I read the last verse:


Waft, waft, ye winds, His story;
  And you, ye waters, roll,
Till, like a sea of glory,
  It spreads from pole to pole;
Till o’er our ransomed nature,
  The Lamb for sinners slain,
Redeemer, King, Creator,
  In bliss returns to reign.

Lord Jesus, our pathetic minds are boggled by the sheer size and scope of this world you’ve made, and the people who live in it. Yet you, right now, are sending out your love to the farthest corners. To the remotest villages. Send us, today, to serve someone where we are.

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments. Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. And if you liked this, please use the buttons above to share it!

Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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