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Missionary ‘scout’ opening up Canada for church planting

EDITORS’ NOTE: The Week of Prayer for North American Missions, part of the 2005 North American Missions Emphasis, is being observed in many Southern Baptist churches March 6-13. Baptist Press will present profiles on the featured missionaries through March 15. For more information on the emphasis, visit www.AnnieArmstrong.com.

COCHRANE, ALBERTA (BP)–Dwight Huffman climbs up a hill and looks down on the town below. The cool Canadian breeze ruffles his hair as he surveys the environment, a vast wooded area once untouched by development.

What had been pristine wilderness is being transformed into the rapidly growing town of Chestermere 15 kilometers from Calgary. With the trained eye of a seasoned pro, Huffman makes a mental note of the community of about 5,000 and asks himself the best way to bring Christ to its residents.

“Chestermere is representative of many towns springing up around the province of Alberta. Some of these towns have no evangelical witness, but that’s why we are here as Canadian Baptists,” Huffman said. “We want to discover the needs of the community and meet those needs in the name of Christ.”

Huffman and his wife, Judy, are among nearly 5,200 missionaries in the United States and Canada supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions. They are featured during the March 6-13 Week of Prayer and North American Mission Study, which this year focuses on the theme, “Answer His Call.”

Huffman is no stranger to church planting. While earning his degree from California’s Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, he started two churches and served as pastor of a third before he was called to work with the Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists.

Today Huffman is less of a planter and more of a scout akin to the old fur trappers who first trudged through western Canada’s rugged terrain. Back then, of course, they traveled by foot looking for beavers and bears, whereas Huffman drives by car and visually maps the terrain for others to follow, sharing Christ.

Huffman frequently is gone from his family. His wife Judy and their daughter Ashley, who is in the 12th grade, understand his calling and patiently await his return. Another daughter, Amber, is a third-year student at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., Huffman’s alma mater.

Judy teaches sixth-grade students at Bearspaw Christian School, in addition to being the vice principal. She also leads a care group in their home once a week. It is a couple’s care group, but more often than not, Judy is leading it without Dwight, as he is on the road, frequently a week or two at a time.

As the strategy coordinator for western Canada, which is made up of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, Huffman travels about 60,000 kilometers a year in his car. His area is approximately the equivalent of the continental United States but has less than 140 churches and missions related to the Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists.

“I’m responsible to see the day when every Canadian in western Canada hears the Gospel from someone they trust, and for every community to have a Canadian Southern Baptist church that is equipping believers to walk with God and hang around lost people.”

With such a vast area to cover and so few laborers to help, Huffman has pioneered a strategy that is gaining acceptance across the convention.

“We have developed a three-stage strategy of scouting, pioneering and settling. The point is to multiply the number of people involved in reaching new people, new communities for Christ.”

At the core of Huffman’s approach are the scouts. They are people who go into a town or neighborhood in advance of a church planter to engage in simple exploring.

“The uniqueness and genius of this strategy plan is that it requires almost no church-planting skills that we’ve historically identified.

“Anyone can go to any neighborhood, walk and talk with God, hang around that neighborhood, and do a casual interview with some of the people they meet.”

Scouting can be done anywhere — in a restaurant, at a gas station or in a foursome of strangers playing golf.

“For example,” he said while down from the hill overlooking Chestermere, “in one case it turns out that the scouts were golfing with the mayor and a high school principal. In that context they built trust and were invited to come to that city and conduct a sports clinic and a variety of other ministries.”

Huffman’s inspiration came from reading about the coureur de bois –— runner of the woods -– sent out by the Hudson Bay Company to explore new lands in search of Aboriginals willing to barter their furs.

“You had these runners who would initially identify these communities and build trust. Then they would set up a little trading post and pioneer a little group there. But eventually, more people would come and settle and that group would grow into a community.”

Critical to a successful scouting assignment, Huffman said, is finding “a Lydia” (Acts 16:14-15) who will open up her (or his) home as a safe place to build relationships and start a Bible study. Only when that core group shows potential for becoming a church is a church planter enlisted.

But to reach the goal of having an evangelical church in each community, Huffman needs more scouts. And for that, he’s counting on help from Baptist churches throughout North America to share his vision.

“We are organizing our churches so they all see their role as scouts. We want to prayerwalk every city and every neighborhood in western Canada. A lot of my tasks are related to scouting new areas and sharing that information with others. We’ll get pastors from the United States to come up and bring teams from their churches.”

As Huffman settles into his car to begin the drive to the next community, he paints a picture of the vastness of his work and the need for others to walk alongside him.

“About a three-day drive north of us is Yellowknife, NWT. When I came to my current position there was no Southern Baptist work in the Northwest Territories. It would be similar to there being no work between Jacksonville, Fla., and New York City.

“Yellowknife sits on the eighth-largest lake in the world and is the capital of the Northwest Territories, but there is no CCSB church there. In March 2001 a friend and I took a prayer drive to Yellowknife and discovered many Inuit and First Nation settlements that could only be reached by crossing ice bridges. In Fort Providence we prayed that God would send laborers to fall in love with this field.

“God answered that prayer through the person of David Hahn, who was studying a map one day tracking his son who was on a trip home from Alaska [to Louisville, Ky.]. As he looked at that map, God put Fort Providence on his heart. He got in touch with me, and he and two friends drove up here from Louisville. After they saw the need they returned with members of their church and began scouting the area.

“They have now made five trips to partner with us as scouts in the Northwest Territories. We recently traveled the territory all the way down the McKenzie –- that’s like driving from Atlanta to Los Angeles -– and we found villages that we are relatively sure have never heard the Gospel. The value of these scouts is immeasurable in the work we do,” he said.

Many times he and Judy are lonely not being able to spend more time together due to his travel schedule, but the rewards keep them both going. They are both passionate about their call to Canada.

“One of the joys of my life is seeing the Heavenly Father send someone to a community without any solicitation or marketing,” Huffman said. “He just sends someone here to work in His field. Sometimes I think God is just waiting to hear the prayers of His people so He can respond.”

Huffman said he feels Canada is a forgotten country to many Southern Baptists. There are more Southern Baptists in Brazil than in the country to America’s north. And as much as God loves Brazilians, those who come to Canada don’t have to learn a second language, he said.

The Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists is praying for 1,000 healthy, reproducing, cooperating churches by 2020 — an increase of 800 from the 200 churches listed at the end of 2003. Convention leaders report there are 31 cities in Canada with 10,000 people or more that have no evangelical witness at all.

“Canada is a place where an English-speaking person can come and walk with God,” Huffman said, “and hang around lost people, and see a movement of God.”
For more information on church planting in Canada, visit www.ccsb.ca/cp.

    About the Author

  • Joe Westbury