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Welch hears Vancouver Baptists describe a challenging culture

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (BP)–Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch said a goodbye to the big tour bus at the Canadian border Oct. 5. He and his crew rented a Jeep Cherokee and drove it across the border from Washington to Canada.

“There was so much stuff to manage that we felt it was best to just take what we needed and send the bus back home,” Welch said.

The last leg of “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” tour takes Welch from Vancouver, British Columbia, by air to the 49th state, Alaska, Oct. 6, followed by the last stop, Hawaii, on Oct. 7.

In Vancouver, where the weather was overcast and rainy, high-rise apartment buildings shoot up from the city center like stalks of steel wheat.

“This is the most densely populated city in North America,” Jerry Conner told Welch. Conner is a church planter who pastors a small church called The Bridge. They meet for worship in a rented conference room in the Vancouver Planetarium. Conner and his wife, Diana, came to Vancouver from Kansas by way of Texas to plant a church in this bustling city.

Most people in this area are not much interested in Christianity, Conner continued. This is an extremely secular society mostly interested in making money and having fun, he said. Welch listened as Conner told him that nearly 80 percent of the people who come to The Bridge do not come from a churched background. Since launching The Bridge three years ago, The Bridge has 50-60 people who attend regularly.

New Age thought and individualism are rampant. Muslim mosques, Sikh temples and Buddhist temples compete with Mennonites, Churches of the Nazarene, Baptists and nondenominational churches for converts.

“This Buddhist temple up here, they plan to build a 10-story temple with a 100-foot golden Buddha,” Conner said, pointing to an enormous, ornate building. “It will be the largest Buddha in North America.”

Conner said the Buddhists use terms to justify their expansion which are identical to Christian missiology terms.

“They want [the 100-foot Buddha] to be their ‘gateway to Vancouver,’” he said. “They say the reason they need to build a larger Buddha is because they want to reach more people and it takes a large Buddha to reach more people.”

In addition to the spiritual competition, the Gospel can get drowned out in Vancouver by the gale-force torrent of wealth that pours into this third-largest city in Canada. As evidence of the high cost of living here, Conner told Welch that an average-sized three-bedroom home in a decent neighborhood can sell for more than U.S. $600,000.

At The Bridge’s gathering in the Planetarium, about 30 people gave Welch a warm welcome. Many of the people in attendance are leaders in Vancouver Focus, a city-reaching initiative in partnership with the Capilano Southern Baptist Association and the Canada Convention of Southern Baptists. Vancouver will be an SBC Strategic Focus City in 2006.

Plans are being laid and prayers set forth by this small community of Vancouver Baptists in anticipation of this initiative. Welch listens encouragingly as North American Mission Board city coordinator Alan Au reported that they want to see 100 churches planted by 2010.

“We only have 34 churches now,” Au said. “So we want all kinds of churches for all kinds of people in all kinds of places.”

“I like that,” Welch said. “That sounds just like our motto for this trip.”

The strategic value of Vancouver is obvious considering the fact that more than 2.5 million people live in the greater Vancouver metropolitan area, of whom nearly half are of Asian descent.

“Vancouver maintains strong ties to six or seven countries around the Pacific Rim,” Au told Welch. “Koreans, Japanese, Malaysians, Mainland Chinese, Hong Kong Chinese, Taiwanese and some Singaporeans are all here in great numbers.”

Welch was moved by the warmth and openness of this small but committed group of Canadian Southern Baptists.

Welch encouraged their efforts to reach out to young people with sports clinics. He also gave these Canadian Baptists an overview of Everyone Can campaign and its goal to “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” with its call for believers to get equipped to share their faith, witness to the people they come in contact with every day, encourage new converts to get baptized, practice stewardship, use Vacation Bible Schools to reach children, and to start new units.

“Let me tell you one of the most compelling reasons we have to do these things,” Welch said.

“Some of those [lost people] are family members, next door neighbors or co-workers. They are not people way out there who we don’t know. We are the only hope they have got, and whether they know it or not they are counting on us to reach them,” he said.

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  • Brent Thompson