A CITY IN DARKNESS
In contemplating the issue of missions, I immediately thought of Montreal, the city where I was born and raised. With a metropolitan population of nearly four million, Montreal is the 15th largest city in North America, and the 2nd largest French-speaking city in the world, after Paris. Its vibrant European-style culture is made possible by Montreal’s many immigrants, each of whom contributes to the city’s innumerable restaurants, cultural events, festivals, and international conventions.
But spiritually speaking, Montreal is a city of darkness.
Much like the rest of the province of Quebec, Montreal was once staunchly awareness should also motivate us to give sacrificially to the ministries which send out the workers, and to be willing and able to join them in the harvest fields ourselves. We need to do everything in our power to make sure that we are sending people who will accurately proclaim God’s message. And we need to make sure that those who are so equipped are receiving all the help and support we can possibly give them. In these days of great global and economic uncertainty, the face of Christian missions may change significantly from what we have seen in the past. Traditional models may need to give way to new strategies. Churches may need to re-evaluate how they can best send out laborers. But the fact remains that there is a harvest ready to be reaped. We need to pray for the Lord to send out laborers, and do all that we can to help them, and even be ready to be laborers ourselves. Roman Catholic. In the 1950s, church attendance was upwards of 90%. Mark Twain famously said he had never before visited a city where you couldn’t throw a rock without breaking a church window. But then something happened, what historians call the Quiet Revolution. Quebec seemed to become secular overnight. The atheistic welfare state came to replace the Roman Catholic Church as the center of civil society. Among Roman Catholics, church attendance dropped to 10%. And today, less than 1% of the population are Evangelical. post-secular. We did not actively disbelieve in God. The question of God just never came up. The thought that such a Being could exist never crossed my mind.
A SPIRITUAL VACUUM
By the time I was born, in the late 70s, my family was not just secular, but post-secular. We did not actively disbelieve in God. The question of God just never came up. The thought that such a Being could exist never crossed my mind.
However, being ignorant of God does not eliminate the “God-shaped hole” we all have. Eventually my mom became interested in the New Age movement. This was typical of many people in Quebec, which has become fertile grounds for all kinds of occult movements, from brownie distributing Hare Krishnas to alien-worshipping Raeliens. One summer my family took a trip to visit the Edgar Cayce Hospital of Enlightenment in Virginia Beach, named after the famous American psychic, where we underwent experiments to determine the level of our psychic ability. It didn’t take long before I rejected the whole process as superstitious nonsense.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t all nonsense. I soon learned the New Age Movement is not a powerless thing, but demonic (1 Cor 10:20). Soon after getting involved with it, my mother suffered the consequences. She had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for several months. I clearly remember the day she was taken to the hospital. She was pointing to my father and grandmother, screaming “I see demons! I see demons!” For a boy of around ten, it was very disturbing.
When my mother was finally released later in the year, she came back telling us she was a “born-again Christian.” We had no idea what that meant. I was suddenly forced to attend Westview Bible Church, an assembly rooted in the Open Brethren tradition. Only, I wasn’t interested in Jesus or church. On the contrary, I was afraid this was just another of my mother’s phases, one that might make her sick again, and I was deeply skeptical about anything to do with religion or spirituality. But she insisted. And I sporadically attended for about 6 years.
By the grace of God, influenced by my mother, daily Bible reading, and the preaching that I heard at Westview, in my last year of high school (which in Quebec goes to grade 11), I became a Christian. One of the advantages of growing up in a nominally Catholic culture is that evangelicals are at pains to explain that, unlike Catholic teaching, we are justified before God by faith alone, apart from good deeds and religious works (John 3:16; Gal 2:16; 3:11, 22). And the benefit of having attended a Dispensational assembly is that I was taught by my elders (esp. a man named David Knight) that having once believed, we are eternally secure (John 10:28), and the good works we do earn rewards in the Millennium, not salvation (1 Cor 3:8; 2 Cor 5:10; 2 Peter 1:4).
IN AND OUT OF SEASON
Having become a Christian, and knowing the dangers of false spiritualty, I was anxious to tell others about Jesus and the gospel. And in a culture such as Montreal’s, there was no shortage of opportunity. On the metro, on the buses, and in school, there were always ways of talking to someone about Jesus.
I spent one summer doing openair preaching with a team in downtown Montreal. I was a little hesitant. I thought we would be laughed at, shunned, or ignored. I thought no one would listen. But when we began to preach, people would always stop to hear what we had to say, upwards of forty people at a time. They might have initially stopped for some light entertainment (as Montreal is filled with street performers), but they often stayed even after it became clear that we were preaching a religious message. Not unlike the Athenians, what we were saying was actually new to them, and they were open to hearing more (Acts 17:22-31). True, every educated person in Montreal has heard the name of Jesus, but precious few actually know even the vaguest details about who Jesus was, why He died, and how He offers everlasting life through faith in Him. Most people, I think, were genuinely shocked at our message. The cross was scandalous to them. The freeness of eternal life sounded improbable. Salvation was earned by being good, they thought. But a few believed. Only God knows how many. In sum, Montreal, my own backyard, was and is the quintessential mission field.
I now live in Dallas, perhaps one of the most outwardly Christian cities in the entire world. But what I learned in Montreal, I took with me here. Because while Dallas is outwardly very Christian, it is only nominally so. People here know a bit more about Jesus than people living in Montreal, but not by much. And what little knowledge they do have, often makes them less open to hearing the gospel, because they think they already know it all. Those of us in the Free Grace movement should be mindful of this.
As I think of my daughter, who was born this past November, I am acutely aware that every new generation must be evangelized with the gospel. And that does not only happen overseas. It happens right here. In our cities. In our businesses. In our churches. The ripened wheat is all around us, even under our own rooftops.