Elvira Cote Profile

Elvira Cote

Winnipeg’s North End, Winnipeg MB

North End missionary shares Christ on Winnipeg’s streets

When most people hear the word "missionary," they imagine someone serving overseas in some exotic location. For Elvira Cote, being a missionary means serving where she lives in Winnipeg.

For the past 10 years, Cote has worked in Winnipeg's North End, going on prayer walks in the neighbourhood and leading Bible studies at a local soup kitchen. She can often be found at the Newcastle Family Restaurant on Main Street, or at McDonald's on Main near Mountain Avenue, building relationships with people from the neighbourhood over a cup of coffee.

Many Winnipeggers regard the neighbourhood with fear due to its high crime rate.

Cote says some people don't understand what she does or why she does it, but God gives her strength to keep going each day.

"The Lord has blessed me in ways I couldn't imagine," the 57-year-old says. "Everyone needs a chance to hear about the gospel."

Cote grew up the youngest of nine children on the Cote First Nation Reserve in southeastern Saskatchewan. Her parents were impacted by the residential school system, and her home life was marred by alcoholism. She describes her upbringing as "extremely violent."

Today, Cote's parents and siblings—as well as many of her nieces and nephews—are dead as a result of drug addiction, suicide or murder. At one point, Cote was on a similar path. She says that between the ages of 16 and 19, she was in and out of jail for "everything imaginable," short of crimes involving drugs and murder.

But when she was in her 30s, missionaries from the Evangelical Mennonite church led Cote to Christ. Soon after, she moved with her two daughters to Lac LaBiche, Alberta, where she earned a diploma in biblical studies from Kee-Way-Tin Bible Institute.

While studying, Cote became passionate about street ministry. In 2003, she moved to Winnipeg to work with Inner City Youth Alive (ICYA). A few months later, she left ICYA to begin the work she is currently doing.

Cote attends Braeside Church, an Evangelical Mennonite Conference (EMC) congregation, and is supported in her work by the Native Evangelical Fellowship of Canada as well as the EMC.

Tim Dyck, the EMC's general secretary, has known Cote for six years and describes her as an encouraging person who is committed to her faith.

"She's always got a smile on her face," Dyck says. "She's interested in people and she wants to connect." He adds that Cote's life experience gives her a unique opportunity to relate to the challenges that many people in Winnipeg's North End face.

"She can make a deep connection that someone who's grown up in a suburban home just can't understand," Dyck says. "Her work is important because of that."

Cote says that one of the biggest challenges of living and working in Winnipeg is that she isn't able to see her oldest daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren very often. They live in Alberta. Still, she is committed to continuing her work so that others might know about Jesus Christ.

"If God can [save] little old me," she says, "then he can do it for anybody."

By AARON EPP

Special to Christian Week | November 12, 2013

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