Where's Bonner's Ferry?
As we sat, mesmerized, we began hearing the question “Where’s Bonners Ferry?”, first in whispers and then in shouts. This scene unfolded during the Bible Bowl competition at the 2008 Parish Life Conference in the Diocese of Los Angeles. A record number of teams competed, but it was the team from Holy Myrrhbearing Women Antiochian Orthodox Mission in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, that actually took first place – with a perfect score. As the competition progressed, the poised team of Benjamin Horton, Cindy Matthews and Stephanie Matthews quietly answered every question correctly. We were later told that this had never happened before in the history of the Diocese. People began asking “Where’s Bonners Ferry?”
One might ask how the Orthodox Christian Church has found its way to a town with a population of maybe 3,000 people (and there are just over 5,000 people in all of Boundary County, Idaho). One might also ask how on earth a Bible Bowl team from the Orthodox Mission Parish in that town won the diocesan competition and went on to compete (and win) at the national competition in July at Antiochian Village. And, of course, one might also ask the proverbial question “Where IS Bonners Ferry anyway?” Let’s begin with this last question.
Bonners Ferry is located in the panhandle of Idaho, near the very top of the state. It is just east of Moyie Springs, south of Porthill and north of Naples. If you’re in the area, you can’t miss the town: there is only one road that passes through it! A drive to the nearest town in Canada takes less than 30 minutes. Northwest Montana is easily reachable by car and even the major city of Spokane, Washington, is less than two hours away.
One might say, in fact, that Bonners Ferry is at the center of the action. For all of this convenience, however, this quiet little town is nestled in the mountains along the Kootenai River, far away from the maddening rush of crowds and traffic. It is still a rural place where one can fi nd farms, hunters, fishermen, loggers, hikers and, for the last year or two, Orthodox Christians!
The story begins in late 1995 when I joined a pioneering group of Orthodox Christians to help found St. John the Baptist Antiochian Orthodox Church in Post Falls, Idaho. About eight years later, these efforts were duplicated and Christ the Savior Antiochian Orthodox Church was born just across the border from Post Falls in Spokane Valley, Washington. The Orthodox Christian presence in Bonners Ferry began in earnest in 2006, when I began traveling there once a month or so to celebrate the Divine Services and to gather the faithful already living there. So this is the third new Orthodox Church being built from the ground up in this area in the last 13 years. My family and I moved to Bonners Ferry in August 2007 and have now helped to establish a permanent Orthodox presence here. It is truly an exciting time for Orthodox in the “Inland Northwest.”
Holy Myrrhbearers Mission embraces members and seekers from Canada, Montana, Washington and other places in Idaho. These include families that were already living in the area, as well as those who have moved from as far away as California to join us. Recently, I have been contacted by folks in Arizona and Oregon who are interested in relocating to beautiful north Idaho. Some are looking for the peace and serenity that this area affords. Others are excited about assisting a new Orthodox Mission Parish as she takes her first steps; they want to know what it means to be a “missionary family.” Whatever the reasons for each of us, God is bringing together a group of Orthodox Christian believers in this place.
Until the Church came here, this area had never known the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church in all of its fullness. As a result of the presence of the Church, the first group of catechumens already meets regularly for instruction in the Faith and for inspirational discussions. The community of Holy Myrrhbearers stands ready to welcome anyone who wishes to share this incredible mission to the great Northwest. More information is available at www.holymyrrhbearingwomen.org.
Now, back to the original story: the courageous Bible Bowl-ers from Bonners Ferry ventured forth to Pennsylvania and faced stiff competition from the other teams of the Antiochian Archdiocese. Once again, however, as the contest progressed and the Bonners Ferry team prevailed, the now famous cheer of “Where’s Bonners Ferry?” filled the room. Team members humbly accepted their award and spent a few days relaxing in Pennsylvania (including a day at Ligonier Beach, complete with an oldies band, where I sat and sang the entire afternoon away). They have now returned to their quiet (yet busy) lives in the Cabinet Mountains of North Idaho. They do receive visitors by request – but first one must be able to answer that formidable question: “Where’s Bonners Ferry?”