Some Remarks on Testimony in Quebec

The deliberately modest title of this short article reflects the writer’s disinclination to make sweeping statements and a conviction that anything he says on its subject will be limited in scope. It will also mean that much of the work in Quebec that is good and worthy of the prayers of the Lord’s people will, of necessity, be omitted. Readers are asked to bear in mind that the essential aim is the encouragement of their prayers for testimony in Quebec.

A simple, general statement which could be made about some assembly testimony in Quebec is that the words in the Prophecy of Malachi chapter 3 verse 16 apply particularly to situations where local testimonies are beleaguered by relative depletion and isolation, ‘Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name’. While the prophet is indeed referring to the faithful remnant under the Old Economy, yet their vital application to the present day in Quebec can be very apt in the sense that fellowship links can be at a premium when some regions of Quebec seem to have little discernible, scriptural assembly testimony.

While it is a truism to say that Canada is vast, yet Quebec itself may also be so described. Extensive areas of Quebec may be said to be characterized by a situation of great remoteness. Its highest point - Mont d’Iberville1 - was, according to records, first climbed only in 1973 and its rural population is dispersed over a truly enormous area. To give some idea of its size, the area of The Netherlands - among Europe’s most densely populated countries -would fit well over thirty times into the area of Quebec. A significant part of Quebec’s population is centred in and around Montreal; testimony has been maintained in both French and English from several assemblies over many years. In 2016, the Montreal Gazette reported on the life of William Craig Baynes (1809-1887), secretary at McGill University, who was identified with assembly testimony in the city and known for vigorous activities in the gospel; it would seem that the focus of his ministry was through the medium of English.2

A valuable literature ministry is that of Librairie chretienne de Quebec,3 led by Jean-Paul Gosselin; this ministry, and others, including International Bible House, Brampton, Ontario, are much appreciated sources of French gospel literature, for which support in prayer commends itself.

Thanks are due to various brethren in one way or another active in French testimony and gospel activity in Quebec who have kindly supplied prayer points.

A brother, who meets with the Sainte-Foy assembly, reports that the pursuit of personal contacts among those in local fellowship, and among those who have written in as a result of a broadcasting ministry, has continued against the background of disruptions from the consequences of Covid. He writes with the conviction that such work of French testimony will go on because, ‘he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ’, Phil. 1. 6.

David Hunt reports that work - much of it being by way of literature - continues on the Quebec North Shore. Over the years, meetings have been held at La Tabatiere, Harrington Harbour4 and Chevery and he has been encouraged in the news of a profession of faith by the relative of a Christian lady who is a regular contact. Stressing the importance of prayer and in confidence that the Lord continues to bless His word, brother Hunt has continued in work over a wide area with gospel calendars and children’s items. 5

Murray Pratt sends an encouraging report of recent gospel meetings in Venosta, a locality north of Gatineau/ Ottawa, where a total of nineteen people attended at least some of this series; prayer is earnestly sought that the Lord will graciously bless this seed sowing among local residents, not a few of whom are from an Anglophone (Englishspeaking) Irish background. He has engaged repeatedly in such efforts over several years, with meetings sometimes being conducted in both English and French, reflecting local demographics.

Peter Lansing, who has been active in French ministry, with a few other French-speaking brethren, has had repeated opportunities for involvement in French gospel testimony via the website of an assembly in Ottawa, which, being close to the Quebec border, is ideally situated for facilitating such exercise, for which prayer is indeed opportune. After some easing of Covid restrictions, regular onsite gospel meetings continued monthly in French and, as a result, several Francophone people, who had not visited previously, attended the meetings; these meetings were also broadcast simultaneously.

Over the years during the summer months, Christian camps have been held at sites near the Quebec-Ontario border. These camps, at sites situated on both sides of the border, have likewise been attended by members of families living both in Quebec and Ontario. Some believers living in Quebec have attended an assembly in Renfrew, which is itself situated close to the border and which has been involved in considerable prayerful and practical exercise for summer camp work, which continues.

It needs to be remembered, particularly by readers outside North America, that Quebec is overwhelmingly French speaking. For assembly testimony in many areas of Quebec, not taking this into account would run up against deep-seated cultural barriers. In the past, the militant activities of different religious and quasi-religious groups in conflict with one another have, at times, served to work against a receptiveness to the biblical gospel. It would be another truism to say that, in the past, a perceived cultural polarization between the Roman Catholic church and the Orange Order - as it has done elsewhere - has informed widespread indifference to the presentation of the scriptural distinctives of gospel testimony. While no comment is intended about the Orange Order today, in the 19th century a series of unedifying events involving Orangemen and their antagonists was widely publicized in Quebec and susceptible also to sometimes widely differing interpretations. For example, the Parliament in Montreal was burned down by Orangist rioters, and a prominent historian claimed that in practical terms Canada’s armed forces found their origins in volunteer militias raised in the mid-19th century in order to quell rival Orange and Roman Catholic mob violence in Canada West (the name by which the Province of Quebec was known immediately prior to 1867).6An added historical anomaly in the mid-19th century consisted in the fact that documented gospel testimony activities were, at times, even opposed less by Francophone members of the Republican ‘Patriote’ movement than they were by Anglophone Orangemen. While these unappetizing events are well in the past, yet it is undoubtedly the case that even during earnest witness activities any perception that people are being shouted at in English can still leave an unhelpful impression among many Francophone people. Particularly for those coming from outside Quebec, a prayerful exercise to bear a respectful tone in witness - and, in many areas, also the preferable use of French - does strongly suggest itself.

Despite the smallness of some existing assembly testimony in parts of Quebec, there is a sense in which this situation may be said to offer much opportunity for local believers to be exercised before the Lord, dependent on Him as their risen Head, even as relative isolation and depleted numbers may inform a lower level of contacts with other assemblies than may be the case among assemblies in parts of Anglophone Canada. Shawn St. Clair, writing in Truth and Tidings, has issued a timely exhortation for believers in assembly fellowship to respect and enhance the scriptural practice of local assembly autonomy. Referring to several scripture passages, including Acts chapter 20 and the first three chapters of Revelation, he writes, ‘Each assembly is called upon to make its own decisions before the Lord regarding the associations it has with other assemblies … We undermine [assembly autonomy] by involving ourselves in issues that are not our own, or by allowing the decisions of other assemblies to override what we would have done before the Lord’.7Applied to the background of some assemblies in Quebec, the heeding of scriptural exhortations - indeed, warnings - of such a nature would bode well for the stability and wellbeing of local assembly testimony, with its distinct culture in Quebec, which is less likely to be seen as part of any perceived ‘circuits’ of assemblies in Anglophone Canada.

Stated differently, perhaps, the relative isolation of some believers in Quebec can also serve to diminish the possible influence of strife originating from elsewhere. In any case, among those who are truly exercised to help relatively isolated believers in the testimony, as Brian Gunning has aptly stated, most preachers - known to him - are usually only too willing to travel distances to help small and isolated companies of believers with the ministry of the word.8

Briefly also, there are the present writer’s activities,9 including French gospel literature work and visitation of isolated believers among whom ministry in French is regularly possible. Prayer is currently being made by the present writer and his wife for a lady from the Monteregie region who wrote in after receiving literature, in turn followed up by suggestions of further scripture reading and contacts with assembly sources of French ministry.

Back to Malachi, to the keyword ‘vast’ and to the article’s central purpose of seeking to motivate readers to pray for work in Quebec. May the Lord’s people indeed be encouraged to pray regularly for testimony in this still vast corner of the Lord’s vineyard, that from Quebec at the Lord’s return there may be yet many more jewels for the Saviour’s crown, Mal. 3. 17!

Endnotes

1

Not to be confused with the town of Iberville, on the outskirts of which a little assembly, which over many years has met at different venues, has been regularly visited by the present writer. Before moving elsewhere, Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Green, who formerly served the Lord in France, were associated with this little assembly for several years.

2

John Kalbfleisch, ‘Second Draft’, Montreal Gazette, 14. 10. 2016.

3

For a history of this particular French literature ministry, commenced many decades ago by the late Jean-Paul Berney, see (in French).

4

Harrington Harbour is sometimes remembered as the location of a hospital founded by Sir Wilfred Grenfell (1865-1940).

5

While English-speaking readers might regard the Quebec North Shore area as being adjacent to Labrador, Francophone people and strict cartographers might tend to view this area as being part of Labrador itself; indeed, in the 19th century the whole of Labrador was theoretically included in an ephemeral Republic for which members of the ‘Patriote’ movement strove.

6

Desmond Morton, A Short History of Canada, 3rd Ed., McClelland & Stewart, Inc., 1997, pg. 60.

7

Shawn St. Clair, ‘Assembly Autonomy’, Truth and Tidings, September 2021, pg. 266.

8

Brian Gunning, The Church at Work, Gospel Folio Press, 2000, pg. 32.

9

Residing in Canada, Mark Fenn is engaged in full-time French and Spanish ministry as a personal exercise. [Editor’s note]

Print
0