NEW BRUNSWICK, Canada (BP)–For only the fourth time in more than 200 years, the descendants of people who were forcibly removed from their lands in the 18th century returned to their ancestral home in eastern Canada. Southern Baptists from Louisiana were there to share the good news of God’s love.
The once-every-five-years celebration that started in 1994 recalls what today is known as the Great Upheaval of 1755-63. Sixteen Louisiana Southern Baptists traveled to New Brunswick in August to make new friends and help Canadian Baptists minister to the people in their communities.
For some, the mission trip also was an opportunity to connect with people who somewhere along the line might be relatives. Louisiana’s Cajun people and culture are descended from some of Canada’s displaced Acadians.
Norris Landry, for example. The pastor of Hessemer Baptist Church and his wife, Donna, came across many Landry connections during their stay in the Pierre Landry Dormitory at a French university.
“I’ve never traced my heritage but I know my ancestors came from up there,” Landry said.
Mary Lege Floyd of Kaplan unexpectedly found a Lege cousin.
“I am grateful for the experience and the opportunity to be a part of this trip, to work alongside such fine fellow Christians,” Floyd wrote in her journal during the mission trip. “I am grateful for the chance to return to the area where my ancestors came from, to meet and connect some family ties, but most of all, to tell them about another family, about a Heavenly Father who loves us all.”
On opening day of what in English is called the Acadian World Congress, the Louisiana mission team served seven gallons of chicken gumbo to passersby at the event’s main entrance. They also passed out gift packs, including a gumbo recipe and tract entitled “Food for the body, Food for the soul,” plus Tabasco sauce and Cajun seasoning.
Not everyone was willing to try the distinctively Louisiana dish, but about half of those who did came back for more, Floyd said.
Floyd was part of the eight-person first wave of on-mission Southern Baptists from Louisiana. They were joined at the end of the week with the second wave, creating a Louisiana presence throughout the entire 17-day event that drew about 50,000 people to festivities across 102 cities in northeastern New Brunswick.
During the first week, in addition to serving gumbo at three events, the Louisiana mission team helped with a sports camp for first- through sixth-graders called “Skills for Life,” led by Canadian Baptist Church Planter Michael Tompson.
In addition to practicing hockey, soccer, soccer-baseball and aerobic activities, Tompson taught a life skill each day: kindness, patience, be happy with what you have, show respect and self-control.
“He always used the Bible,” Floyd said of the church planter. “When he would sit the kids down for the group meeting, he would bring out the Bible and say, ‘This is what the Bible says.'”
The Cajun French she speaks was for the most part quite similar to that spoken by people in New Brunswick, Floyd said. But speaking French wasn’t a requirement.
“My wife [Donna] is from Texas,” Landry said. “She doesn’t speak French and was apprehensive, but there were enough bilingual people there that she did fine.”
“This trip in New Brunswick there were many more French-speaking people than in Nova Scotia,” continued Landry, who attended the Acadian World Congress five years ago. One of the highlights of this trip was that he was able to connect with many more of the area residents; five years ago his opportunities were more among tourists, he said.
“This time we really had a chance to meet with the local people,” Landry said. “Now we’ve got quite a few missionaries there.”
He credited Winter Case of Gloster Baptist Church in Gloster, La., and Bert Langley, director of missions in the state’s Evangeline and Gulf Coast Baptist associations, with organizing this second mission trip in 10 years to the Acadian World Congress.
The second mission team didn’t work with a Southern Baptist missionary because there was none in that part of the province, Case said. That group used gumbo and Cajun music to draw people into relationship-building conversations, leading to an evangelistic witness.
The combination gumbo recipe and evangelistic tract seemed readily accepted, Case said.
“In all we handed out, I saw only one person toss it away,” Case said. “The gumbo was an excellent idea. The Acadian people love things that are Cajun.”
The second team talked with about 900 people in a variety of settings, Case said.
“One of the big objectives was to get Louisiana Baptists involved in the work in eastern Canada and God answered that prayer,” Case said. “Less than .5 percent of the people there are evangelistic Christians.”
The mission team worked with ministers affiliated with the Atlantic Baptist Convention, and specifically Newcastle Baptist Church, Langley said.
“I was really impressed with some of the ministers there, their commitment to the Lord and their evangelistic efforts to make a difference in the area,” the director of missions said. “They were very receptive to us. They were definitely evangelistic. That was refreshing.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message (baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.