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Goulais pastor finds new meaning in childhood surgery that saved his life

Now 72, Werner Peters was a baby destined for a new life in Canada when he suddenly fell ill — forcing the boat to take an unexpected detour toward a St. John’s hospital

At 72, Werner Peters is still enjoying his ministry as an evangelical Christian pastor at Goulais River’s Northland Bible Chapel.

A pastor since the late 1970s, he has served at many churches across Canada and, on May 27, he and his wife Carole celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

But  as a six-month-old baby in 1951, his very survival and — let alone the prospect of a long, happy life ahead — was in serious question.

Crossing the North Atlantic to Canada on a ship with his German immigrant family, Peters became sick. Doctors on board discovered Peters had a bowel obstruction that could not be treated at sea.

“Rather than go to Pier 21 at Halifax, which would have taken an extra day, the captain of the ship steamed for St. John’s, Newfoundland in order to drop me off so that I could have life-saving surgery,” Peters told SooToday, in a telephone interview from St. John’s.

“It’s our 50th wedding anniversary and we wanted to take a trip to mark the occasion and we also decided on St. John’s because of my desire to visit the city and thank it for being so hospitable to me and my family when we came to Canada and for saving my life.”

The couple arrived in St. John’s for their anniversary trip May 25.

Peters’ life was saved by doctors at St. Clare's Mercy Hospital in 1951. A photo from the city’s Daily News that May shows Peters’ parents and siblings as they awaited Werner's recovery in hospital.

The family’s need for food and accommodation was taken care of by helpful St. John’s citizens for two weeks.

St. Clare's Mercy Hospital still exists but of course, with the passage of time, there is no one around from the team that saved Peters’ life to thank in person so he has shared his story of gratitude with St. John’s media.

However, there is someone still living with a connection to the life-saving hospital team that Peters has been able to meet.

“We’ve visited a lady who is 101 years old and her mother was the person who translated for our family when we got off the boat,” Peters said.

“Imagine not knowing a word of English and my mother had to hand me over — a baby — to be operated on but not knowing the intricate details because there’s this language barrier. A translator was needed and so I actually met the daughter of the translator that was on that medical team and she said she remembers the event.”

After his recovery, Peters and his family settled in Winnipeg.

Peters said that as a child, teen and young adult his life went through some sad and soul-searching twists and turns.

His father worked at two jobs to support his family and his mother died when he was only eight years old.

Peters said that as a young adult he worked at various places of employment but that he could not find any sense of satisfaction in life.

“I tried working in a hospital as an orderly. I did construction work. I drove a taxi. I worked as a miner. I worked in masonry, all kinds of things,” Peters said.

Eventually, things took a dramatic turn for the better.

He met his wife Carole in Manitoba and the couple married in 1973.

“My wife grew up in Woodstock, Ontario, and in her words, she moved out to Winnipeg to ‘find herself’ and she found me instead,” Peters said with a chuckle.

Peters said his life became filled with purpose after meeting Carole, a Bible college graduate, and dedicating his life to God.

“It wasn’t until I met my wife and got married that I was able to settle down and decide what direction my life was going and the only thing that made sense to me, because I had such a love for God and the Bible, was to go to Bible school.”

The couple moved to Goulais River six months after they married and his wife introduced him to Northland Bible College.  

Looking back on meeting Carole and his enrolment in Bible college, Peters said his life-saving surgery as a baby in St. John’s took on new meaning.

“I felt like my life was spared for a purpose but I didn’t discover that purpose until later. I think that God directed events in my life so that I became a pastor and I’ve been pastoring since 1977.”

Peters ministered at evangelical Christian churches in Algoma District communities such as Blind River and Leeburn, in Austria for four years and in Toronto for 20 years.

He then returned to Goulais River and helped guide the construction of Northland Bible Chapel’s new building.

“I think difficulties helped to shape me and of course my Christianity and my belief in the sovereignty of God in my life all worked into it. I do believe in the sovereignty of God and that He leads in the affairs of men and God knew what I was supposed to become.”

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Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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