MONTREAL (BP)–From location to language to leadership, the Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists has tallied a number of firsts.
For the first time in the CCSB’s 17-year history, the convention held its annual meeting in the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec, with simultaneous translation in Canada’s two official languages, English and French.
In addition, all three of the CCSB’s elected officers are eastern Canadians, a first for the convention that had its beginnings in western Canada.
“For many it was an awakening to Quebec’s needs and the opportunity to make a heart connection with its people,” Gerry Taillon, CCSB national ministry leader, said of the July 2-4 sessions at Westview Bible Church on the West Island of Montreal. “Many people for the first time caught the heart of Quebec and became challenged to pray.”
With only 0.5 percent of its 7.4 million people maintaining any evangelical Christian connection, Quebec is a sorely unreached part of North America. In addition, the province leads Canada in such social problems as abortion, divorce, out-of-wedlock births, poverty and couples living together outside marriage. Quebec’s suicide rate is not only the highest in Canada, it is also one of the highest in the industrialized world.
In an often-emotional testimony, Chantal Vallee shared with messengers, many of whom had never visited Quebec before, about her personal perspective on Christianity in the province.
Vallee, a founding team member of l’Eglise Impact Church in Montreal and now a fulltime CCSB volunteer missionary to Quebec, was born in Quebec and lived for several years in the province of British Columbia on Canada’s West Coast, where her father became a Christian. Vallee later became a Christian herself but did not attend a Protestant church until she was 19 years old.
Quebec’s French population, she said, tends to associate evangelical groups such as Baptists with English Canadians. For this reason, it is initially difficult for the Quebecois, as Quebec’s native French-speakers refer to themselves, to comprehend that faith in Jesus Christ does not mean they must reject their heritage. However, many of them also have rejected their Roman Catholic heritage and do not have a personal faith of any kind.
“Ninety-five percent of French Canadians in 1945 were going to church,” she said. “But that is no more.”
In the 1960s, the “hippie years” and the time of la Revolution tranquille (the Quiet Revolution to secularism from Catholicism) in Quebec, many Quebecois stopped going to church.
She also noted that French Canadians are promised many things by politicians promoting separatism. Passionate appeals, she said, are made to the people’s longing for recognition and acceptance. They are promised an identity and a future.
“But,” she added, “politicians do not have the ultimate answer for the Quebecois. Instead, the answer to their dreams is found in Jesus. They just need Jesus.”
She also told the messengers that French-speaking Christians in Quebec need English-speakers from other parts of North America. Working together, she said, revival can come to the province.
In addition, she asked messengers from other parts of Canada to take a heavenly perspective when they hear of news events in Quebec.
“When you hear a Quebec politician on television say something you don’t like, don’t get angry,” she said. “Pray for Quebec.”
Translation duties during the meeting were handled by Georges Boujakly, former North American Mission Board church planter/catalyst in Montreal, who left last year to assume the language ministries director position with the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists. In addition, the 300-plus people attending sang both English — and French-language choruses and hymns.
In electing a slate of officers from eastern Canada, messengers tapped Perley MacNeill, a layman from Community Baptist Church in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, as the first CCSB president from the Atlantic provinces.
He was joined by Scott Plavnick as first vice president and Shan An as second vice president. Plavnick and An both serve in Mississauga Ontario — Plavnick as pastor of Grace Baptist Church and An as pastor of Dixie Baptist Church. Plavnick served as president last year. All were elected without opposition.
“Regional prejudices melted away,” Taillon said. “Our churches face many challenges, but God has been faithful to lead us from one victory to another. We began as a western association of churches, but God has now stretched us Canada-wide.”
During the convention, messengers approved a $2.5 million budget for 2003, up 3.5 percent from the current budget. Nearly half, or $1,123,336, is earmarked for church planting/missions.
Messengers also increased Cooperative Program giving to world missions causes from 20.5 percent to 25 percent of anticipated CP receipts of $481,045 from CCSB churches.
Messengers referred two resolutions to the CCSB national leadership board, one for interim objectives to be developed for the goal of 1,000 CCSB churches by 2020 and another to develop a strategy to employ more Canadians in leadership positions by 2015. A resolution was passed to instruct the national office to give more detailed statistics of gains and losses to messengers.
In other highlights at the annual convention:
— Plavnick, in his message as outgoing president, reminded messengers that focusing on Christ can help believers make it through tough times. “Celebrating the profound truth that Jesus loves me is so very simple, yet it is a profound statement,” he said. “It can help us in times of discouragement and difficulty.”
— Taillon, addressing the convention as national ministry leader, spoke about both the need of every Christian for grace and for Quebec to experience grace on a provincial scale. Taillon, who grew up in a French-speaking family in Saskatchewan, served as a convention church catalyst in Quebec for four years. “I believe with all my heart that the most important component of the Christian life is grace,” he said, adding, “It is the essence of our relationship with God. … Quebec needs the transforming power of God.”
Next year’s annual meeting will be July 1-3 in Vancouver. The exact location has not been determined.
Campbell is a freelance writer in Kansas City, Kan.