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Missionaries at home in Canada, 2,200 miles from U.S. roots

WESTBANK, British Columbia (BP)–For 10 years now, North American missionaries Kevin and Alicia Madden have lived 2,200 miles away from Kevin’s birthplace, Washington, Ga. — a historic little town located about 100 miles east of Atlanta. Today, their home and hearts are firmly rooted in Canada.

Madden is a church planting missionary and senior pastor of The Potter’s House Community Church in Westbank, British Columbia, a community of 30,000 people, located about four hours from Vancouver.

Kevin and Alicia are among the 5,300-plus missionaries in the United States, Canada and their territories supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions. Kevin is one of eight Southern Baptist missionaries to be highlighted as part of the annual Week of Prayer, March 5-12, 2006. The 2006 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering’s goal is $56 million, 100 percent of which is used for missionaries like the Maddens.

“As part of the Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists,” Madden said, “we work very closely with the North American Mission Board. The funds from the Annie Armstrong Offering help as a supplement to my salary and help us with many of the ministries we carry out as a church plant. The chairs we sit on in church were provided by Annie Armstrong money.

“It’s really hard to imagine our work and our ministry without the kind of support we’ve had through the Annie Armstrong Offering and through our network of partners. We’ve been very blessed as a church, but the need is great.”

Reflecting the country of Canada at large, there’s an overwhelming need for more churches in the Westbank area, said Madden, who estimated that only 5 to 8 percent of people in the region profess a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Some 90 percent of the population never darken the doors of any church on any Sunday.

After graduating from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and serving as pastor at churches in South Carolina and Texas, it was a close relationship with another couple that pushed Canada to the front and center of Madden’s radar screen for missions.

“We became overwhelmed with the lostness of Canada. God pushed us out of the nest and into churching planting. We saw a great need in Westbank, where the population is growing tremendously and is projected to continue to grow.”

While the spiritual potential is great, the current spiritual climate can be somewhat bleak.

“Many students go to a school where they don’t know of another Christian in the school,” Madden noted. “Alicia and I grew up in Georgia -– in the middle of the Bible Belt -– where we didn’t know of a non-Christian in school. Here, people are not aware of Christian teachings and don’t know much about the Bible.”

Paradoxically, Madden described Canadians as people who want to be loved and want to be accepted and who are open to spiritual things.

“There’s a great openness and hunger for God, and a lot of talk about God. Canadians are a very hospitable and friendly people. But as Christians, we have to develop relationships with them, not try to push a message down their throats or take a harsh approach to sharing the Gospel,” Madden said. The best method, he said, is to let Canadian people witness the authentic Christian life, to speak about Christ and to live out and model Christ’s love and message.

The Potter’s House Community Church derived its name from Jeremiah 18, in which God told Jeremiah to “Go down at once to the potter’s house; there I will reveal My words to you.” Jeremiah went and watched the potter shaping the imperfect clay into something useful and beautiful. Madden likes the potter and clay imagery for his church, believing that he and his members are the clay that God, the potter, is using for His purposes.

Madden extends the pottery theme into the community. One way he and Alicia welcome and invite business people to Potter’s House Church is to stroll down Westbank’s main street, handing out free potted flowers to the merchants.

But despite the Maddens’ creative ways for drawing Canadians to Christ and the church, their workload remains formidable -– almost overwhelming.

“You could get a map of Canada and close your eyes and just point to any place, and I promise you that wherever your finger landed, that location needs not only one church but many Southern Baptist churches.” In his role as a church planter, Madden has a vision for additional churches in 12 other sites within a day’s drive from Westbank.

“We need more pastors, more Bible study leaders, more Mission Service Corps missionaries,” Madden said. “We need to reach out more to people with addictions and those struggling with some negative habits or behaviors in their lives. We need a specialized recovery ministry for these people.”

To those who ask why the Maddens and their three sons are spending their lives in a world 2,200 miles away from the American South they know and love, Madden said, “The short answer is that God called us and we felt a clear calling to come to this country. And He brought some people across our path who helped us understand the tremendous needs of Canada.

“The more we became aware of Canada, and after we came here for a visit, He called us in a very special way to fall in love with the people here and invest our lives here,” Madden said. “Oddly enough, this feels more like home now than when we go back to Georgia.”

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  • Mickey Noah