At our last Board meeting, we engaged in a session with Jim Brown, a Christian governance specialist with extensive business and not-for-profit experience. This process was a continuation for a concern for governance that was first initiated by our previous President, Sam Chaise, was augmented and pursued by our past President Beth Millard and is being taken to a subsequent and helpful stage by our new CBWC President, David Simpson. During this process several people were asked to recall God’s work in our midst. One of those responses was written by our former denominational president and Alberta moderator, Jan Paasuke. There are many things we could all say about our experience of faith in the local church, people coming to faith, people sharing the news of births and marriages and deaths, all the stuff of life. Jan has chosen to tell a story from her own perspective and I imagine, even invite you, to sit in the pew of your local church to look around to remember and to give God thanks for some of the stories that have unfolded in the place where you are sitting.
I have a sense of many of you as storytellers. There are many of you who are brilliant writers. I have rarely read anything of this type of reflection that has moved me more. I would like to thank Jan for being willing to share it with us. And I would invite each of us to take a moment or two and to add a few paragraphs in our own hearts and minds that add to the story.
I sit alone in the pew, remembering all of the people I have sat beside in the long years leading up to this day, and I am amazed. There have been so many and their stories have all been so different. Some have become my close friends, some were people with whom I shared ministry tasks, some were people with whom I walked on a special journey but most remain memories of passing acquaintance and maybe only a few words of encouragement, a smile or some small gesture of connection.
There is _____, a street person from Vancouver who came to my city to die of a brain tumor. She shared her struggle to rise above her alcoholism, to be a person who loved Jesus but just couldn’t seem to rise above her past. We walked together along her final journey and she did not die alone.
There is _____, a young pregnant Mom, bleeding and scared she is about to lose her baby. I arrange for babysitting and we hurry to the hospital for help. A few months later we hurry to the hospital again for the safe delivery of her sone. She did not cry, wait or celebrate alone.
There are the _____, a Nicaraguan refugee family, newly arrived in Canada. As they struggle to adjust to everything new, they join my family for their first Christmas dinner in their new home and the food is all strange and our ability to talk together difficult but the friendship started then has lasted for twenty year. They did not struggle alone.
There is ____, a mentally handicapped middle aged man, crying, feeling lonely who wanted to share the joys and pains of his week with someone who would care. He needed a hug, a listening ear, a ride home after church, an invite to lunch and the chance to read the Bible lesson for the Sunday School class. He did not ride, read or eat alone.
There is _____, a young woman wanting to grow in her faith. We shipped her to Belgium to a Canadian Baptist Ministries ministry team in a church plant in Liege. We prayed for her, financially supported her, visited her and she became a woman of God, grounded in her faith who had the opportunity to practice her leadership skills which she uses today to teach young kids about Jesus and the ABC’s of life. She did not grow alone.
There are hundreds of stories that I alone can tell and they have all been made possible as I have connected with people in several of our CBWC churches. As a denomination, I have seen the development and encouragement of many different types of ministries within our churches. Almost all do not look the same as they did forty years ago and some have disappeared altogether. Yet, in many ways the underlying reason for their existence, their change, their death has remained the same. The people of our churches want to be involved in relevant ministry and the denomination has wanted to continuously find ways to facilitate that desire. We celebrate today the fantastic institutions that our camps, our Canadian Baptist Ministries, our Carey Centre and most of our churches have become. We celebrate the significant leadership skills of our people and we stand at the threshold of an even brighter future. However, what I think we celebrate most effectively continues to be the encouragement of ministries that are the result of two or three people getting together under the direction of the Holy Spirit to discover where the Lord is working in their midst and their willingness to step out in faith and make things happen for God. It is following in the footsteps of Jesus, going where only people matter. It is to introduce people to Jesus so that they are never alone. Where will it continue? It will continue where it started – with you and me, IN THE PEW.
Written by: Jan Paasuke, CBWC Board Member