MISSISSAUGA, Ontario (ABP) — From early churches springing up on the Atlantic from the seeds of displaced American slaves to the metropolitan Pacific coast, Canadian Baptists reflect their huge, diverse nation.
In the world’s second largest nation by land mass that stretches 5,514 kilometers east to west and harbors 33 million citizens, Canadian Baptists are a small but significant presence. Canadian Baptist Ministries is the correlating body for four distinct groups that relate to the North American Baptist Fellowship.
Sam Chaise, a British-born Baptist of Indian descent, is general secretary of CBM, which resulted from merger 16 years ago of the efforts of the four bodies.
Canadian Baptists “tend to identify with our regions,” Chaise said, and each region has cultural distinctions. CBM operates as the common international mission arm of each and the mutual missions encourager in a nation where 80 percent of the population live within 100 miles of the U.S. border.
“Overall we are definitely engaging the reality that Canada is a post Christendom society,” Chaise said. He said Canadians have “an interest in spirituality, but not in the traditional framing of the gospel or in the church as an organization.”
With this realization comes a renewed vision to see the mission field “across the street and across the city” as well as across the oceans.
Toronto is often described as the world’s most diverse city as measured by the number of distinct people groups in residence — and host to an ongoing parade of new arrivals who do not know the language or the culture. With his own offices there, Chaise is determined to help Canadian Baptists “learn how to be God’s people in the midst of a wonderfully diverse set of cultures and learn to welcome people to Canada.”
More churches have multiple language services, but often the best relationship builder is the ancient and simple art of “having someone to your house for dinner,” Chaise said.
Canadian churches cultivate a growing involvement with social justice, he said, an attribute that “has always been a part of our past.”
That conviction leads Canadian Baptists to involve themselves with the environment, homelessness and — especially in the east — racial equality. Baptist churches in the east are among the oldest on the continent — up to 250 years old. The most significant number of African-Canadian churches is in the east, born among the communities of American slaves carried to freedom by volunteers in the Underground Railroad.
The Union d'Églises Baptistes Françaises au Canada in French speaking Quebec is the most recently formed of the unions.
There are other primary Baptist groups in Canada, some which do not seek interaction or partnership with others. Jeremy Bell, executive minister for Canadian Baptists of Western Canada, said Fellowship Baptists have about 500 churches, Converge Worldwide (formerly Baptist General Conference) has 103, North American Baptists have 130 churches and Southern Baptists in Canada have about 250 churches through the country.
The Canadian National Baptist Convention (www.cnbc.ca/) is also a member of the North American Baptist Fellowship. Southern Baptists in the United States organized that convention. Gerry Taillon is executive director.
“NABF is a good vehicle to learn what others are doing,” said Chaise, as he gets his arms around the scope of CBM ministries.
Internationally, CBM collected significant funds for relief work in Haiti following the January 2010 earthquake. Canadian Baptists support work there, although they do not “own it” Chaise said. They work through NABF and partner groups for effective relief ministry.
In Africa, Canadian Baptists work in Kenya with Somalian refugees in a situation of “great need.” The church is growing significantly among those suffering displacement in the face of famine and war.
Canadian Baptists have worked in Kenya for 35 years, building relationships, until now there is a generation of trust. CBM member bodies also work in Rwanda and the Congo.
“We’re very deeply committed to a holistic approach to missions that integrates classic missionary evangelism and disciple making, with classic community development, such as health, education and water,” Chaise said. “Both elements are important but if they don’t speak into each other in an integrated way, it’s bifurcated and people don’t see the completeness of the gospel.”
CBM missionaries also are in Asia, the Middle East and South America.
Tim McCoy, executive minister of Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec, is also an immigrant. Born in Charlotte, N.C., in the United States, he and his wife Julie were seeking a challenge for their family and came in 2006 to direct youth ministry.
He has held the executive’s chair since April 2010. Of the 355 churches in the CBOQ, 84 are in greater Toronto and worshippers speak 27 different languages every Sunday. Cooperative Baptist Fellowship missionaries Marc and Kim Wyatt say they visit seven to 10 countries every week and never have to leave the city.
While church planting is a part of his evangelism strategy, McCoy said, “In Ontario our strategies much more revolve around our desire to understand a culture and find how they embrace the gospel and raise someone up within that culture” to be the gospel vehicle.”
There are about 185 churches in the growing Canadian Baptists of Western Canada, where Jeremy Bell has been executive minister for nearly six years. The convention added 16 churches last year. Some were independent and looking for a home.
Bell’s convention defies description. A church in one town that is 30 percent Muslim ministers to immigrants who work for an American company and the pastor is a woman from Zimbabwe. “How do you put that all together?” he said.
Norman Jameson writes for the North American Baptist Fellowship.