If you were at Assembly 2016, you may have watched us welcome a new-to-us church into our Canadian Baptist family: Joshua Ministries in Chatham, Ontario. Led by Pastor Larry Forsyth, this innovative church is finding new ways to connect with others and respond to God’s call on their community.
While they may be a more recent edition to the CBOQ family, they have been working in ministry together for many years and have felt a call to indigenous ministry. “Our work in Wemindji began in 2002, when a family from our church in Reaboro, Ontario, moved to this northern community of 1500 people. Our friends were involved with native wellness and worked there professionally. They engaged us at that time and asked if we would be interested in helping them start a work there,” writes Pastor Larry.
Thus began a 14-year relationship with Wemindji through the Neighbourhood Fellowship Church and their now-retired pastor Randy DeCarlo. Larry has since developed a mentorship and encouragement ministry to the church, including partnering with other Canadian Baptist churches and partners to develop a summer camp for young people in the area.
“I believe we can help this group going forward understand not only how to ‘do church’, but to ‘be the church’; how to practice the presence of God through Christ in this setting where Church and government have failed previously in the past. This is a new day for our brothers and sisters in this Cree community.”
Pastor Larry has since had more opportunities to return to Wemindji and other communities in the area. “I could see that they are hungry for teaching… I was able to once again introduce more of the relevancy of gathering and not just the format… I believe going forward we have a wonderful opportunity to disciple a healthy church growth.”
Not willing to stop there, Pastor Larry also began looking into opportunities to go to Attawapiskat, a community of about 2000 people on James Bay in Ontario. Through friends and connections with government, Larry headed north last summer. Attawapiskat has a long and troubled history of high suicide rates and the situation came to a disturbing head of late, with 11 young people taking their own lives in just a short time. “Our host was a young male nurse in the local clinic. This man has had first-hand contact with the suicide and suicide attempts that have ravaged the community. There is no simple solution other than the work of building hope and vision.”
Even though things are just beginning in Attawapiskat, there are some hopeful signs that God has already gone ahead and opened up some potential opportunities. “[On] our last day we met a man named Roger… He found out we were pastors and his curiosity was piqued. I explained our purpose for being there; that it was to see how God could use us to be an encouragement to the people. He said he had ideas; he was building a café across from the new school. He asked if we thought God could use that. I was thrilled because this is the very same work God has led Joshua Ministries to in Chatham. Roger, being inspired at this point, told us of other visions he had for the community that I believe were inspired of God… We have been invited back by these folks and I believe we have a place there. There is so much more I could say; I am very grateful for the opportunity and support that enabled me to be involved with our indigenous brothers and sisters.”
God isn’t only speaking to the people of Joshua Ministries, though. Carleton Place Baptist Church, another church in the Ottawa area, had hosted a “Women Sharing” potluck breakfast where they began gathering mitts and toques for a northern indigenous community. For the members of that church, it was a small gesture to begin the healing process for past wrongs. Just after Christmas, they were able to pack up the warm things and send them with Pastor Larry to Attawapiskat.
In big and small ways, God is calling this family of churches to break down barriers and reach out in love and humility to our First Nations neighbours. The hope that we have in Jesus sustains us; it is a hope worth sharing. While we have a lot to learn from each other, these first overtures of friendship are laying the foundation for a life-filled future.