Notre Première Assemblée Française à Montréal

Yes, you read that right. This past Sunday we held our first worship gathering in French simultaneously with our normal weekly worship gathering in English. As our church is made up of both anglophones (native English speakers) and francophones (native French speakers), we have been looking forward for a long time to being able to start a worship gathering completely in French in downtown Montréal. This week we held one for the first time. We still have a little ways to go before we can effectively hold this service on a weekly basis, but the precedent has been set.

Not long ago we announced that Norton and Tatiana Lages, missionaries from Brazil and wonderful friends of ours who are part of our city group, would be taking the leadership role in developing the French expression of Église 21, our church in downtown Montréal. Norton has worked with our French city group leaders, our worship director, and the pastors to design and conduct an initial worship gathering in French. He was able to capitalize on the overlap with our existing welcome team, nursery and children’s ministry, and bookstore and security ministries by putting in place bilingual volunteers. They assembled a French worship band to lead us and asked Marc Pilon, the lead pastor of Église 21, Sherbrooke to preach the message.

It’s hard to overstate the excitement that this brought to our church, especially those of us who worshiped completely in French for the first time or the first time with this church. We planned this service specifically to bring encouragement to our French speaking brothers and sisters and to begin to put key things in place so that as we grow and see more and more Québécois people become part of our family that we will be well postured to worship together on Sundays.

Please join us in thanking God for this great privilege and blessing and pray with us that God will add to our number many more francophone followers of Jesus and that this service will soon become a permanent part of our regular experience!

Norton and Tatiana sharing their heart for this church!

Church 21: Strategic Partnership

One of our priorities as a local church in Montréal has been to work with others wherever possible for the advancement of the Kingdom of God in Québec, not to work alone in order to build up our own kingdom and/or reputation as a church. A few weeks ago we acted out on this value in a huge way and formally merged with another congregation to become one church. We did so in order to more strategically impact the province of Québec with the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What may be different about this merge from others is that we did not geographically bring two churches together but rather two churches in two different cities came together under shared leadership. Our primarily anglophone congregation in Montréal (Initiative 22) and a primarily francophone congregation in Sherbrooke (Axe 21) now celebrate a common identity as Church 21 (Église 21 in French). What’s more, one week after we relaunched each church with this new shared identity, we launched a new church plant that has been over two years in the making as Église 21 in the city of Magog.

Each church brings some very powerful gifts to our common table and we are very excited about walking forward together with the same heart and mind for the province of Québec. The church in Montréal has been leading the way in living out our missional identity and working this out well in the structure of the church. Our brothers and sisters in Sherbrooke have such a strong identification with the culture and people of Québec that they are imparting to us as we work alongside each other. It is a blessing to see how our leaders share responsibilities and humbly accept difficult changes for the sake of the growth of the Kingdom of God!

From the beginning of our church planting residency we have been preparing to train men in the church in Sherbrooke, and now we have one couple on the ground there who are part of the church and who are training with us with the expectation of planting a church in Montréal. Our newest church planting resident will also be moving to Sherbrooke with his family to train with the French church there. It is so important that we have different contexts in which to train men and that we are able to train in both French and English.

So let me happily introduce you to our new church – Church 21 – a church with a huge heart for the people of Québec and a very intentional strategy to see disciples and churches multiplied for the good of the province and the glory of God!

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Stay tuned for the launch of our complete website which is still under construction. In the meantime, you can see more at http://eglise21.ca/en.

Our First Year in Review

One year ago we sold our home in Clark’s Green, packed up everything we owned and headed north on I-81. Here are some of the things we learned in our first year in Québec…

God is in control!

We didn’t even make it into Canada before learning this lesson. Many of you remember that we were denied entry into Canada twice in Ontario before we finally got in through Québec. This very trying couple of days was more than adequate to teach us that we are not in control but we don’t have to worry, God is.

God provides.

For the last year and a half we have worked hard to secure commitments of financial support to cover all of our budget. Though we did not accomplish that in the time frame we originally desired we decided to move anyway (we figured since we have to live somewhere while raising support it might as well be Montréal). Yet while we still have not reached 100% of our goal, God has provided everything we have needed and we have no doubts that he will continue to do the same. Over the years there have been times where we’ve had more and sometimes with less, but there has never been a time when we did not have what we needed to do what he asked of us.

French is hard.

Ok, it’s not that hard, and there are lots of languages which are a lot harder, but it hasn’t come automatically just by virtue of living here. It takes a lot of work and just when you feel like you’re making some good progress you encounter a new situation that reminds you just how far you have to go. On the flip side, the four older kids who are in school have done amazingly well. Their entire school year is completely in French and we are so proud of them for jumping in with nothing and coming as far as they have!

Life is dark for most people.

We never thought gospel work would be easy. And there is spiritual darkness everywhere in the world, not just in Québec. But in just the last few months we have had one friend commit suicide, another consider it, marriages breaking up, a child battling transgender questions, alcoholism, and the list goes on. Whether it is lack of hope or misplaced hope, there is a deep set spiritual blindness that leaves many of our friends and neighbors groping around in the dark for anything to help them find their way.

The world is at our doorstep.

Maybe not the doorstep, but definitely within a short walk. Our neighbors include friends from Poland, Iran, Morocco, Chile, Colombia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Serbia, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, China, the Philippines, Portugal, and Italy. If you were to consider those who are part of our church this number would easily double. While most of the people in our neighborhood, in Montréal, and across the province were born Québécois, the growing number of immigrants as well as second and third generation Québecois offer an amazing opportunity to see the nations impacted by the gospel!

Church planting will take time.

We have been excited by many opportunities to meet people, network with other gospel workers, and share what we’re doing to train men to plant and lead gospel-centered churches in Québec. At the same time, we have seen several guys begin to walk with us only to realize that this is not exactly where God is leading them at this time. This will be an ongoing part of our experience and is truly helpful for them and for us, but it does force us to keep our eyes on the Lord of the harvest and trust him to provide the workers.

Canada is cold. 

I have to sneak this in. It reminds me of the line in Band of Brothers where Guarnere says “My brother’s in North Africa, he says it’s hot there.” and Malarkey replies with “Really? It’s hot in Africa?”. Yes, we knew Canada would be cold in the winter. In February our average temperature was -15C (5F), which turned out to be a tad chilly to have the kids outside playing all day. But we enjoyed it and made the most of it and look forward to next winter :).

We are the light of the world!

While not necessarily something we learned in the past 12 months, we certainly have been reminded of its importance over and over. In the midst of the challenges, the failures, and the successes we want to keep our minds set on this essential truth. Jesus is the light of the world, the only hope for those in darkness, and a welcome relief for those who are coming to know him. And he shines his light through us so that when people see our good works their response is to give honor and glory to God. There have been countless opportunities to shine that light over this past year and we can’t wait to see eyes being opened and people confidently walking in the light of the gospel!!!

This video includes a sampling of pictures representing what this first year has brought us in Québec: some scenes and friends from around the province, the kids and their friends, the church, our city group in St. Henri and the one we just started with our neighbours in LaSalle. A special thanks to all those whose prayers and financial support have made this first year such a great success!

City Group Meetings

What do we do when our missional community (we call them city groups) meets? In addition to eating together, recreating, serving each other, and just being together at various points throughout the week, we gather one evening each week to do three very intentional things:

  • Renew our focus on the good news of who God is and what he has done
  • Share the victories and challenges of the past week and expectations for the week to come
  • Pray for each other and for those around us

Anyone is welcome, regardless of whether they believe what we believe or not, but we are calling them to join us as we follow Jesus, to be family, and to serve those around us. The idea is that people can belong before they believe and oftentimes they must.

The structure is very simple as you can see in this agenda from last night’s meeting. We always start with a casual time for coffee, snack, or meal, any introductions, light conversation, etc.

1. Renew our focus on the gospel…

Read Mark 2:1-12 twice.

Ask the following questions concerning this passage:

Who is Jesus?

What has he done?

What does this story remind us about our needs?

What does faith look like in this story?

What will faith look like in our lives this week?

2. Share life from this past week and the upcoming week.

How does who Jesus is or what he has done speak to what’s happening in our lives?

In what ways are we being challenged to exercise faith?

How can we pray for and encourage each other to walk through this next week by faith?

In what ways can we serve each other and others in our lives this coming week?

3. Pray as a group through everything that we just explored together.

Now when we come together next week we automatically have specific touch points to address to see how God worked and how we were able to exercise faith and put our faith into action. This rhythm helps us to be more and more transparent with each other, more dependent on God, and more likely to get into each other’s lives throughout the week.

Kids are welcome in the meeting but are also free to play with their friends. Older kids and adults from the group take turns watching over the little ones.

Understanding Community

How well do you know your community?

What do people do, what do they like to do, what do they have to do that they wish they didn’t? What kinds of work do people do? What do they work for – money, success, survival, the weekend?

Where do people go when they aren’t working? What do they do for play? What do they watch? Where do they spend their extra money?

Who lives where? Where do people live who don’t have much? What kinds of opportunities are available for them? What are the main factors that make life difficult for them?

Understanding your community and the people who make it up is foundational to being on mission. The church is designed by God to be on mission, it’s part of our identity. The mission is people, that’s who God is after. He wants them to be part of his family. So we pursue people that we might invite them into our family, God’s family.

To pursue people means to be able to engage them, to build relationships with them, to get close enough that you can love them and serve them. This is where it gets tough for so many of us who want to be on mission but don’t know where to start. We tend to not talk with people because we don’t understand them.

Here are a some ideas that may help you start to understand others better and which will ultimately enable you to build relationships through which you can become a better friend and neighbor.

  • Ask God to help you love people the way that he loves people.
  • Read through a local paper or two from cover to cover regularly.
  • Vary your routine a bit, shop new places, try new things.
  • Practice talking to people you don’t know about things you don’t know much about.
  • Volunteer. Serve your community by yourself, with your family, or with friends.
  • Make a new friend and try to be the best friend you can be to them.
  • Take someone you’ve just met out for a coffee or invite them to dinner with your family.
  • Recruit friends to be more intentional with you, challenge each other in this area.
  • Work through The Gospel Primer by Caesar Kalinowski or The Tangible Kingdom Primer by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay. You may be amazed at how much you grow!

Daniel and Samuel skating for the second time, playing with a new friend at the park near our house.