For ten years now, North American missionaries Kevin and Alicia Madden have lived twenty-two hundred miles away from Kevin's birthplace, Washington, Georgia — a historic little town located about one hundred 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 thirty thousand people, located about four hours from Vancouver. British Columbia is Canada's far-western province, just above Washington State.
"We are so blessed by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering," says Madden. "As part of the Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists, 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."
Westbank runs counter to every image Americans have about Canada. There's no frozen tundra, and the climate is mild compared to most of Canada. It's a rich agricultural region — known for its wine country and fruit orchards, including cherries, pears, apricots, plums, apples, peaches, and grapes. Gigantic Okanagan Lake nearby draws thousands of tourists who come for the fishing and water sports. During a couple of weeks in the summer, temperatures can climb up to one hundred degrees.
Canada is different from the United States in a myriad of subtle ways, according to Madden. There's not a single Canadian language, but both French and English are spoken. There's no famous Canadian cuisine. While America is often characterized as a melting pot, Canadians rally around diversity.
"Canadians consider themselves to be more like a tossed salad," Madden explains. "They celebrate differences. They don't expect conformity to language or to dress or to religion. Diversity is celebrated, and by and large, Canadians are very tolerant, even to the extreme."
Canada is the world's second largest sovereign country in terms of land area. Huge yet sparse, Canada has a population of "only" thirty million, about the same as the state of California, but spread out over an immense chunk of North America.
"Our Southern Baptist association alone spans a length of twelve hundred miles from north to south and nine hundred miles from east to west," Madden says. "There are pastors that I've never met in our association, even in the almost ten years we've been here."
Reflecting the country of Canada at large, there's an overwhelming need for more churches in the Westbank area, according to Madden, who says that only five to eight percent of people in the region profess a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Some 90 percent of the population never darkens the doors of any church on any Sunday.
After graduating from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, 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 says. "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.
"It's not popular for kids to be Christians in the schools. Kids who wear Christian T-shirts or who promote Christ in any way stick out in a negative way by local standards. It's just not cool or culturally acceptable for Christian kids. Students who try to stand up for their faith and take a stand for Christ are definitely the odd man out," Madden said.
Paradoxically, Madden says that Canadians are 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," said Madden. He said the best method 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.
Consequently, Madden uses some unorthodox methods to try to win over the Westbank community and attract the locals to his church, The Potter's House Community Church, which meets in a rented community center gym.
Potter's House 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 God, the potter, is using for His purposes.
Madden extends the pottery theme out 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.
"I got the idea from the Scripture that said we need to try and gain favor in the community with the people," he said, "and to build a bridge with them. So, realizing we're going to be here for a long time and wanting to make a good first impression as a church, we use the potted plants as a way to serve the community without expecting anything in return," said Madden. He's also been known to distribute thousands of water bottles at local beaches in the summertime or during the Canada Day parade, the biggest community event of the year.
When people ask him why he and Potter's House are committing these acts of kindness, he simply replies that "it gives us an opportunity to tell you why we're here and that we're trying to share God's love, that we are a church reaching out to unchurched people, and that we want to invite you to come to our church and check us out."
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 twelve 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."
Why are the Maddens — along with their three sons — spending the days of their lives in a world twenty-two hundred miles away from the American South they know and love?
"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. Oddly enough, this feels more like home now than when we go back to Georgia," said Madden.
These four articles were written by Mickey Noah, news specialist for NAMB.
A Fistful of Dollars
The items below represent a sample of what your AAEO gifts can do.
$1 A dozen pencils, a pair of scissors, and other school supplies for a needy child; OR a cup of coffee for a student interested in talking to a missionary about Christianity.
$2 Flyers to advertise a special event for a new church start; OR a subway pass to visit a prospect for a new church.
$5 A ream of construction paper for use in a Backyard Bible Club or church start; OR free pizza for university students attending a Bible study.
$8 One hundred promotional Frisbees for use at a beach or park.
$10 A JESUS video in a different language; OR a Bible in a native language for an international student.