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Scouting the land in Newfoundland
July 25, 2005
By Bryan Cribb

Two members of a mission team from Southern Seminary share the Gospel with a man on the street in St. John's, Newfoundland. Thirteen people from the seminary went on the three-day trip in May to scout out the province for future church planting work. Photo by J.D. Payne

Pioneer mission work. This phrase often evokes images of faraway lands, mosques teeming with devotees or Buddhist worshippers prostrate before idols.

Yet, just north of the United States on the east coast of Canada is a place where the people are just as lost, just as deprived of evangelical witness, and just as in need of groundbreaking missions efforts.

This place is Newfoundland Canada's tenth and newest province and the newest target of Southern Baptist pioneer church planting work. It was also the destination of a historic "scouting trip" made by a group of planters from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

In late May a team of 19, including 13 from the seminary, embarked on the trip, the purpose of which was to take some initial steps to penetrate the province of more than a half million people with the Gospel.

In conjunction with the Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists (CCSB), the team worked in the provincial capital of St. John's for three days. The scouting tasks were simple identify possible prospects for later church planting ventures, research first hand the idiosyncratic culture of the coastal capital and formulate a strategy for future work.

"Following the example of the Apostle Paul in Acts 16:11-15, we were given the task to look for 'Lydias,' or persons of peace who would be the initial people in the first churches," said trip leader and assistant professor of church planting at Southern Seminary, J.D. Payne. "Our time in Newfoundland was the first in a series of stages in a much larger CCSB strategy for planting churches in St. John's in particular, and across the province in general."

The need could not be greater, said Payne, who also directs Southern's Church Planting Center.

"I was just amazed at the great need that was there just because it is such a pioneer area," Payne said. "You think on this side of the world that [kind of need] doesn't exist. But it just exists in a different mode. We're looking at a post-Christian area. It's extremely lost."

Indeed, despite the fact that the province claims a Christian heritage, Newfoundland has no Southern Baptist churches and few evangelical ones, Payne said.

"Though the provincial motto is 'Seek ye first the Kingdom of God,' and though scores of beautiful historic Anglican and Catholic church facilities dot the landscape, there is very little witness for Christ," Payne said.

Added team member and Maggie Valley, N.C., native, Sam Dyer, "I've never been to a place in my entire life that people didn't know what Baptists are."

In performing the scouting work of this spiritually destitute province, team members fanned out over the city prayerwalking, talking with people and evangelizing.

"Everywhere we went we were intentionally trying to engage people," Dyer said.

According to Payne, their efforts were rewarded. The team members talked to hundreds of people, they shared the Gospel and left many tracts, and they gathered valuable cultural data.

"I think it was a big encouragement to the Canadian convention to be able to give them some information that they would not have been able to obtain otherwise," Payne said. "Too, I think it was a successful trip in that we were able to identify some people who at this point may not be what we were calling hot prospects, but they were open to it."

Indeed, after spending three days in various parts of the city, talking with people ranging from street people and tour guides to clergy and students, the team was able to identify a handful of receptive people. Team members will continue communicating with many of these and even "cooler" prospects via e-mail over the next few months in hopes of finding people who might be interested in becoming a part of a Bible study and possibly the first Southern Baptist churches in the province.

"The prayerful expectation is that over time they will become more open to whatever takes place when the Canadian [Baptists] come in," Payne said.

Overall, the team found many people there to be accepting, even eager, to hear the Gospel. But, their reactions to church and the entrenched mainline Christianity of Newfoundland were more lukewarm.

"It's a hard-soiled area," Payne said. "They have a history of the Gospel that has been there. But over the years, it has accommodated to the culture and has become sidetracked. And the generations that are living there now are very much exposed to a false Gospel, to a false understanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ."

The trip made a definite impact on team member Travis Fleming. The Ph.D. student from Greenville, S.C., said he is now open to the possibility of missions outside of the United States. But the trip also inspired him to be more deliberate about engaging in evangelism back in Louisville.

"I was pumped up to go and share even with people here not just to be evangelistic there when you are on an intentional mission trip, but to do the same thing here, and engage the people in local restaurants and coffee shops, finding out their life stories and sharing the Gospel with them," Fleming said.

Payne hopes that the door will remain open for future trips to Newfoundland possibly even next summer. Indeed, the team's work in May was only the first step of many that will be needed to reach the province.

"If students are looking for a good opportunity to be a part of pioneer work in North America and history-making work in Southern Baptist life, this is it. It's hard to find a more pioneer area than Newfoundland," Payne said.

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