DIEPPE, New Brunswick, Canada (BP) — Louis Charrier was putting the finishing touches on his southern Louisiana gumbo and already a line of 15 people was forming, eager to get a taste of the Cajun dish at a block party in Dieppe, New Brunswick.
Moments later, some fellow Louisiana Baptists begin serving the cuisine by the bowl, along with an evangelism tract telling the purpose of their trip to the Canadian province.
One of three 2016 trips Louisiana Baptists took to New Brunswick and neighboring Nova Scotia, the Cajun Connection is a joint effort by churches around the state.
While there, they minister with a Canadian church for door-to-door surveys, Vacation Bible School and student ministry.
The outreach, which aims to connect the culture of Louisiana with its northern roots, began in 2004 with Louisiana missionaries Winter and Betty Case from Stonewall who spent two years in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and opened a door of opportunity to share Christ.
Cajuns are descendants of the French Canadians who came to Louisiana more than 260 years ago, moving from Nova Scotia starting in 1755 when Great Britain acquired control of the area. When the Acadians did not become cooperative British subjects, the British began removing them from the Canadian province. Known as the Great Derangement, the Acadians settled in various countries, including the United States, and by the 19th century nearly 4,000 Acadians had moved to southern Louisiana.
“For us, when we go to a Cajun area and say we are from Louisiana, it immediately opens the door,” said Charrier, pastor of Washington Baptist Church and three other church plants in Louisiana. “Their eyes light up and it gives an open door always. They consider you a part of their past — and that common French background is the entry point for Louisiana Baptists.
“It’s more than just a Cajun Connection. We are trying to connect people to God who have been disconnected,” Charrier said. “The real connection is not horizontal but vertical. We use that name for a cultural connection. But once we arrive for that cultural connection it opens the door.”
Steven Kelley, pastor at Bayou Vista Baptist Church in Morgan City who participated for a third consecutive year, said returning on a regular basis builds bridges to sharing the Gospel with the people of the Canadian province.
He mentioned the example of a young girl who has attended VBS all three years, beginning in 2014.
The first year, the team made the girl and her mother some cupcakes. By the third year, the mother, who was unchurched, attended a worship service at a local church.
Kelley also shared about two young boys who attended the VBS this year. By the end of the week, he said, their mother was communicating with the team through Facebook, sharing the impact they had on her sons.
While neither mother has yet accepted Christ, Kelley said the effort planted seeds that he hopes one day will lead to their having a relationship with Jesus.
“For me, it’s all about relationship building,” said Kelley, who also serves as director of missions for Gulf Coast Baptist Association. “The first year you go, everything is new. But now we have a personal and relational investment that makes it all different.
“I have gotten to know the community and built those connections,” he said. “You only get that by going to the same place over time.”
Kelley said the camaraderie among the Christians in the area is something he hopes to model more in south Louisiana.
“The churches up there, because there are so few of them, have a tremendous fellowship,” Kelley said.
The Cajun Connection is among Louisiana Baptists’ partnerships that span at least 50 countries. Wayne Sheppard, executive assistant to the executive director for Louisiana Baptists, said the Canadian partnership is a perfect opportunity to share Christ’s love in another country, particularly for those living in southern Louisiana.
“The main reason is the affinity of French Acadians — natural connectivity culturally and historically,” Sheppard said. “Additionally, the people group network has an excellent strategy and leadership team. Finally, it is very good entry-level mission experience for people who have never done missions.”
For information on how to partner with other churches for the Cajun Connection, contact Charrier at 337-308-0336.