CHURCH PLANTING: First Nations kids sharpened their calling

Baptist Press
|
Posted: Jul 06, 2011 5:22 PM
CHURCH PLANTING: First Nations kids sharpened their calling
DUCK LAKE, Saskatchewan (BP)--After a weeklong mission trip to Duck Lake, Saskatchewan, Karla Johnson wondered aloud what would happen to the kids who had accepted Christ.

There was no First Nations church to disciple them.

"God will raise somebody up," her husband Jason replied.

"It's us, isn't it?" Karla realized.

The Johnsons had felt God leading them to the mission field for several years, but that trip to Saskatchewan cemented where He wanted them to serve.

"After a week of praying, we jumped in with both feet," said Jason, who at the time was the missions pastor at First Baptist Church in Odessa, Texas. "Regardless of how it happened, we were going."

The Johnsons' first phone call was to the North American Mission Board to find out how they could serve.

"They said they would love to have us, but there was no funding for the position," Jason recounted.

The Johnsons investigated the opportunity to serve through NAMB's Mission Service Corps as self-funded missionaries who engage in evangelism and church planting with administrative support provided by NAMB. Ultimately, MSC became their path to the mission field in Duck Lake, Saskatchewan.

"It was scary to step away from a secure church staff position not knowing exactly where our funding would come from, but it was amazing to see the way God provided," Johnson said.

The Johnsons started contacting family, friends and people they'd worked with in the past. Within a few months, they'd raised their support, secured a home and acquired work visas allowing them to live and work in Canada for three years. They moved to Saskatchewan last July.

"People just jumped on board to be part of our regular support," Johnson recounted. "It's a tremendous relief to know that you have continual, year-round -- not only financial but prayer support and friendship support."

Several of the Johnsons' supporters are churches they worked with back home in Texas. Not only are they giving but they're also going to help the Johnsons reach First Nations communities in Saskatchewan.

Last winter, volunteers from First Baptist Church in Odessa, First Baptist Church in Buna, Calvary Baptist Church in Beaumont and First Baptist Church in Silsbee helped the Johnsons with a sports camp teaching basketball skills to Duck Lake's youth.

"Jason is very passionate about what he's doing, and we caught that vision," said Clay Jones, Calvary's minister of missions and evangelism. "We came up here and fell in love with the people and wanted to be involved in what he's doing. The potential here is huge. There are 144 First Nations reserves in Saskatchewan and only 12 evangelical churches in the entire province."

First Nations families in Canada are a largely unreached people group. Their traditional beliefs and experiences with being forced into Christianity have left them wary of groups coming in to share the Gospel. Johnson and his family are working to overcome such barriers by loving people and becoming part of the community.

"There's a lot of false hope and a lot of animosity between the First Nations people and people who represent Jesus Christ," Johnson said. But that hasn't stopped him from making personal visits with the people as part of his outreach.

Not long ago Johnson knocked on the door of Noella Sutherland's RV and shared the simple message of Christ's love.

"He asked me if I was willing to accept Jesus," Sutherland recounted. "I've had other people come to my door asking me to do that, and it just never felt right. And then one day these guys show up and I knew it was time. So I said yes."

Sutherland prayed and gave her life to Jesus Christ on the steps of her RV that day. A woman who'd avoided church is now part of the core group of a new church start.

"We're here to serve," Johnson said. "We're bringing the Gospel through children's ministry, sports ministries, just getting out and helping people work in their fields and cafés -- whatever we can do."

Johnson's goal is to start churches in communities -- some of them with populations of up to 2,000 -- with no evangelical presence.

One of the ways the Johnsons are building trust and sharing the Gospel is through sports camps. Last winter, the Johnsons, along with teams from each of their four partner churches, held basketball camps on two First Nations reserves and in the town of Duck Lake.

"The response this year has been great," Johnson said. "The kids loved it, and we had around 100 people at our family night events at each location." Community leaders told him to expect only 20 participants.

"We're riding the wave from last year's sports camps," Johnson said. "People see us and still talk about how fun it was and how much they loved interacting with the Texans who came up to the cold Arctic to play with them.

"It's about interaction and building foundations that will open up new opportunities for spreading the Gospel."

This year, community leaders were advocates, even publicizing the event in the schools.

Johnson credited their partner churches as being a key part of the event's success.

"There are instant rewards to having people on the field with you," he said. "It just magnifies what we live out daily. We try to represent Christ with our lives, and to have volunteers from the United States to reinforce what we're doing is a huge boost in this community. The productivity we get from that is exponential."

Jami Becher is a freelance writer in Alpharetta, Ga. To view a video about Jason Johnson, visit http://www.namb.net/namb1cbvideo.aspx?id=8589998629.

Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net