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Church lifts its passion across Canada

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story is part of a monthly Baptist Press series to explore and describe how individuals, churches, associations and conventions exhibit a passion for Christ and His Kingdom.

OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada (BP)–The legendary Paul Bunyan, who according to folklore hacked through seemingly impenetrable frontier forests to open much of North America, is said to have been based on the exploits of a French-Canadian lumberjack in the mid-1800s.

French-Canadian church planter Rick Lamothe now envisions the same kind of endeavor from one end of Canada’s Eastern Corridor to the other –- a 715-mile stretch along the St. Lawrence River populated by more than half of the country’s 33.3 million people.

“Rick is one of our best pastors,” said Gerry Taillon, national ministry leader for the Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists. “We have high confidence in him.”

Paul Bunyan, according to www.americanfolklore.net, was a symbol to North Americans in the early 1900s of “the willingness to work hard” and “the resolve to overcome all obstacles.” That pretty much sums up the frontier spirit of the visionary planter of Ottawa’s Sequoia Community Church, already one of the leading Baptist congregations in Ontario, Taillon said.

Lamothe’s largely unevangelized “frontier” is much of the Canada’s Eastern Corridor, a relatively narrow band of land from Windsor, Ontario — across the St. Lawrence River from metro Detroit — to Quebec City in the province of Quebec. Lamothe wants to reach the populace with the Gospel message of God’s unconditional love and the reality that the John 10:10 abundant life in Christ is available to all.

Lamothe describes his plan –- based on a vision God gave him back in 1996 while attending seminary in Vancouver, British Columbia — as encompassing a sports and recreation center that also will house church services on Sunday and offer “cross-training” programs throughout the week to respond to peoples’ spiritual, physical, intellectual, relational and emotional needs.

The vision also includes an Eastern Canada Missions Center for the Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists in order to help develop churches and fill ministry needs throughout the Eastern Corridor.

“We support that vision,” Taillon said. “It’s a big, big vision.”

One million people live in Canada’s national capital region, which includes Ottawa, Ontario, and Gatineau, Quebec. About 5 percent of the populace in the Ottawa area are believers, Lamothe said, but among the 6 million French people in the province of Quebec on the other side of the Outaouais River, less than 1 percent -– or .7 percent -– are born-again believers.

“This makes this area the most unreached people group in North America,” Lamothe said. “The harvest here is really, really tough.”

For Lamothe and others among the 300 people who worship at Sequoia Community Church, their outreach often springs from an eye-catching, sparkling red “Fun Cruiser” Jeep that often pulls a trailer filled with crowd-pleasing gear such as a hot dog cooker, sno-cone maker, popcorn popper, balloon-inflator, face-painting equipment, a wide variety of games that can be done in parks and a sound system.

“Sequoia Sam,” a more-than-life-size mascot of a type more often seen at football games, tags along with the Sequoia Fun Cruiser wherever it goes.

“I think the Lord wants to use our church because it has always been about living for His glory and seeing many people come to know Jesus in Ottawa,” said Lamothe, who baptizes about 30 people each year. “We want to be the church, the ecclesia, the called-out ones -– that’s our passion.”

It’s a passion rooted in Lamothe’s calling as a church planter, a calling shared by his wife Donna.

“Our heart is to see people like me and many others come to know Christ,” Lamothe said. “Many are so culturally Catholic here. They think that they’re Christian, but they have no personal faith.” Lamothe speaks of his father’s suicide back in 1985. “He knew the Christmas and the Easter story, but that did not save him.

“The harvest is indeed great -– people are so lost here,” Lamothe said.

Sequoia was launched in September 1999, using the facilities at Mother Teresa Catholic High School in Barrhaven, a south Ottawa suburb.

“One of the things we also said right from the beginning was that we wanted to be a giving church,” Lamothe said.

In the first week of its existence, Sequoia began giving 10 percent of its undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program and 4 percent more through other Baptist channels. “We have been giving 14 percent to missions ever since, in addition to significant outreach initiatives in Ottawa,” Lemothe said. “For a church of folks who were not raised in Southern Baptist traditions -– 60 to 70 percent of regular attendees have been baptized at Sequoia -– we became and have stayed among the top giving churches” in the Canadian convention.

“For eight years now, we’ve been setting up and tearing down each week,” Lamothe said, regarding the church’s venue. “That’s brutal on our equipment. We really need to buy land and build our own facility. And because of our unique future facility, our new wine skin and a new paradigm of doing ministry, we believe it will provide tremendous growth.”

Lamothe, eyeing a prime piece of real estate that could come on the market, believes Sequoia will have first chance at purchasing the $2.8 million tract, which will require the congregation to exercise its faith in finding partners to supplement its own $750,000 “Possess the Land” campaign.

Sequoia, however, was not yet four years old when in 2003 it planted Celebration Church in Ottawa to give a citywide university/college focus on students.

“That was our best year yet in terms of baptisms and money given to missions through the Cooperative Program, as we planted Celebration Church and also began at getting involved with Compassion Canada (an evangelistic child sponsorship organization), with plans for our first international mission trip in 2004,” Lamothe recounted. “That was also when the church was trying to break through the 300 attendance barrier, but interestingly we began experiencing conflict for the first time.

“I think the Lord was testing our character and perseverance,” Lamothe said. “God has given us a sacred trust in the Gospel, and I believe He’s always asking, ‘Are you going to prove faithful? Are you going to really share the Gospel? Are you going to really pray and declare your dependency on Me?'”

Sequoia now is preparing to plant another church, HEAT Worship House, a postmodern outreach with an acronym for High Energy Audio Truth. Sequoia also has plans to plant a French church.

“In Canada the church is so marginalized,” Lamothe said. “Everyone thinks the church does nothing, is small and insignificant. God wants to turn that around. He wants to have a foundational impact in our nation’s capital, but that’s going to require a church that goes to the street and doesn’t wait for people to come to the church.”

Lamothe reflected, “I love weddings. I love it when the bride steps down the aisle and everyone stands in respect and awe. She’s beautiful, radiant and pure. Jesus is waiting for His bride [the church] to walk down the aisle of our city as people stop and take notice.

“But in Canada, very few people are paying any attention to the bride!” Lamothe said. “Our fellow Canadians are distracted with sports, pornography, gambling, materialism, workaholism, the Internet and all these crazy things. They think the church is irrelevant, so they seek a false fulfillment in all these other things.

“It’s time to for the bride of Christ to stand boldly in the aisle of this world -– stand in eastern Canada -– and be noticed!” Lamothe said, underscoring the need for the Sequoia Cross-training facility and the Eastern Canada Missions Center –- aimed at “supporting a church planting movement” and “shining brightly before the Lord.”

At Sequoia, three-fourths of those who attend Sunday worship serve in some kind of ministry, Lamothe said.

“We had five floats in the Christmas parade, gave out over 1,000 cups of hot chocolate, candy canes, bags of popcorn and Christmas invitations,” Lamothe said. “The very last float was our disaster relief float. We were there to clean up the parade’s garbage.”

Lamothe noted that Baptists in western Canada have the national convention offices, a seminary, a full disaster relief unit and, consequently, stronger churches and associations. “But none of this strong infrastructural support is in eastern Canada, again where we have 50 percent of Canada’s population,” Lamothe said. “In order for our Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists to reach its vision of seeing 1,000 churches by year 2020 -– we have about 250 right now -– much work needs to be done and supported in eastern Canada.”

In fostering new work in eastern Canada, Lamothe said, “I’m going to be the lead pastor of our church, but one on the road; I’ll be starting things for our convention.” Ryan Dawson, who has joined Sequoia’s staff as teaching pastor, is the former national ministry leader of the Athletes in Action outreach of Campus Crusade for Christ in Canada.

Also joining in the work is Harold Hancock, who retired in February after 50 years of ministry, 19 years of them as missions pastor at First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala. Hancock and his wife Helen plan to serve in retirement as advocates for the vision of reaching eastern Canada for Christ in a partnership between Sequoia and First Baptist Montgomery.

“I think the Lord is moving and we’re entering a new day,” said Lamothe, who once was a logistic transportation officer in the Canadian military. “If we’re going to make some major inroads for the harvest in Canada, we must establish a beachhead; we need to help the ‘front-line troops,’ which now have limited resources in respect to land or facilities….

“We’ve baptized, given, planted,” Lamothe said. “We have a heart for the lost. We are seriously mission-minded…. I believe the Lord is calling many people to get involved because the harvest is so great.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message and Dakota Baptist newspapers.