Richmond Hill Baptist Church, which hosted annual meeting in Calgary, wanted to offer messengers and visitors an opening event that senior pastor Shane Spannagel hoped would be "fun, refreshing and inspirational."
The setting was the CL Ranch, about a 20-minute drive west of Calgary. Its owners are the Copithorne family, some of whom attend Richmond Hill or Bow Valley Baptist Church in Cochrane.
The ranch is home to the CL Western Town and Movie Set. With help from the convention, the church hosted an afternoon and evening of family fun and tours of the movie set. They provided activities for children as well as miniature horse-drawn wagon rides and a creek-side fire pit. The afternoon's activities were followed by a barbecue dinner and a "cowboy-style" worship service.
"We wanted to provide an opportunity where people could really come together and enjoy the fellowship," Spannagel said. "We also recognized that when people come to Calgary, they want to enjoy some Alberta beef. And why do it at the church, when we can enjoy it out at the ranch?"
A lot of people clearly agreed, as the turnout exceeded everyone's expectations.
"We had a tent that had seating and tables for 500 -- and we had just three pounds of meat left after serving over 600," Spannagel said. "We had a big tractor with brush-hog mowers on it. So when we realized our parking lot wasn't going to be big enough, we just kept making it bigger."
Golf carts were used to transport people to and from the parking area, hay wagons took people to the kids' games and the movie set, and a water truck suppressed the dust on the road in from the Trans-Canada Highway.
Yet the day ended on a much more somber note. Afshin Ziafat, lead pastor at The Providence Church in Frisco, Texas, near Dallas, told his life story of how he came to Christ out of Islam as a high school senior -- and how his Iranian-born father, a devout and prominent Muslim physician, responded by disowning him.
Ziafat explained how his experience made him realize that "the call of Christ is not easy believe-ism, but a call to follow Him, to count the cost."
"It may not be the life you want, but it's the life you really need. It's the life you really do want, but you just don't know it. It's the life that's about God's glory," Ziafat said. "Why? Because you and I were created for His glory. So if you're breathing today, the number one reason you were created is for Him, to bring glory to Him."
"If we're going to plant 1,000 churches by 2020 in Canada," Ziafat added, "some people are going to have to die, maybe even in this tent, to a career plan that your dad maybe had for you, young person. Some pastors are maybe going to have to die to a dream and step out. My prayer for all of us is that you would see that you serve a God who is able to do immeasurably more than all you ask or imagine."
NEW EASTERN OFFICE
The opening of a new eastern national office in the greater Toronto area is a visible sign of what CNBC national ministry leader Gerry Taillon calls the "stronger and expanded partnership" between Canadian Baptists and the North American Mission Board that has evolved in the past year under Ezell as NAMB's president.
Ezell, speaking at the June 5-7 convention, said these closer ties were born out of the clear need to see many more churches planted in Canada.
In Georgia, there's one church for every 4,000 people, Ezell said, with one church for every 60,000 and one for every 76,000 in New Jersey. "But in Canada, there's one church for every 121,000. And so there's an incredible amount of work to be done," Ezell said.
Toward that end, Ezell said the North American Mission Board has boosted, from 2.5 to seven, the number of fully-funded church-planting catalysts on the field in Canada, and plans to triple the amount of money it spends on church planting in Canada in 2012.
"We do believe in what God wants to do here," Ezell said. "I'm going to do the very best I can to mobilize hundreds and, we believe, eventually thousands of churches in the South that will invest in churches in Canada."
For Taillon, the opening of the eastern office is "a dream come true."
"It is an incredible accomplishment in Canada for a denomination to start in the West and spread right over to the East," Taillon told messengers to the annual meeting at Richmond Hill Baptist Church. "That is very, very rare, if you know Baptist history in Canada. And we have seen God do that."
The office will operate as the office of the North American Mission Board's Canada Region -- created as a result of a restructuring that made Canada one of five new regions -- as well as that of Canadian Baptist church planting and mobilization personnel.
"The way this is working is all of the NAMB Canada Region staff are also part of the CNBC team in the same way that our IMB missionaries in Canada are paid by the IMB, but they're also part of the CNBC team," Taillon said. "So the operating principle here really is that we have many sources of funding for all kinds of people, but we form one team."
CNBC start team leader Jeff Christopherson, who is also now the NAMB vice president responsible for the Canada Region, said the new office will be on a par with the Cochrane office.
"It's the CNBC in two places," Christopherson said. "So even though church planting and mobilization are two specific mandates, we're going to be doing more than that, because we're going to be sort of the physical presence of the CNBC in that part of the country."
"Having an office there is strategic to be able to be on the front line of where many churches are needed based on population," CNBC mobilization director Peter Blackaby said. "It puts us close to two of the three largest cities in Canada, Toronto and Montreal."
A further indicator of NAMB's increased commitment to Canada, Taillon told the convention, is that NAMB has begun wiring funding requests to the CNBC in Canadian dollars for the first time.
"The biggest difference that makes is in being able to predict our income so we can do way better planning," Taillon said. "We could never forecast the American dollar exchange rate. Sometimes it would surprise us after we'd made annual commitments in Canadian dollars and we saw it go up against the American dollar. Any amount it went up was actually costing us money."
People who attended the Global Celebration that closed out this year's Canadian Baptist annual meeting in July likely came away with a far greater appreciation of a growing partnership to help Cuba's Baptists reach their island nation for Christ.
Attending the celebration was a six-member Cuban delegation, led by Joel Luis Dupont and Victor Samuel Gonzalez. Dupont heads the Eastern Cuba Baptist Convention in Santiago, while Gonzalez heads the Western Cuba Baptist Convention in Havana.
They came to thank the Canadian Baptist for launching the "Cuban Connection," which encourages churches to support the ministries of their Cuban counterparts whether by undertaking a particular project, financial help, or simply a commitment to pray.
The dire financial straits in which many Cubans now find themselves has apparently created countless opportunities for evangelism.
"What they kept emphasizing is we have this window of opportunity.... We need to jump when the window is open" said Mel Cruikshank, the Send team member responsible for international partnerships.
In fact, as both presidents testified, God is powerfully at work among the Cuban people.
Though there are many challenges, "the hand of God has been moving throughout our convention," Dupont said, according to share team member Cesar Parra, who translated for him. "We are seeing His glory."
Gonzalez, for example, said the Western Convention had 21,572 members in 322 churches, 477 missions and 1,892 house churches, and 170 pastors and 356 missionaries. In 2010 alone, they had 2,074 baptisms and added 35 new churches. Likewise, the Eastern Convention, with more than 465 churches, 225 pastors and 1,129 missionaries, saw more than 4,000 people baptized last year.
But with only 5 percent of Cuba's 11.5 million people claiming to be Christians, Gonzalez said there is still much more room for Kingdom growth.
"We are asking the Lord that the light of Jesus Christ will be shining in the 15 provinces across Cuba," Gonzalez said. "So to God be the glory for what is happening in Cuba. It's the Holy Spirit moving in our country. It's the answer to our prayers."
After they had spoken, Dupont and Gonzalez received a lengthy standing ovation. CNBC national university ministry leader Mel Cruikshank said the Cubans "were absolutely blown away by our encouragement and desire to participate."
Next March, Cruikshank and Peter Blackaby will be leading a vision tour to Cuba to coincide with the Eastern Convention's annual meeting.
In his convention report, Blackaby said he expected by the end of the year "to have at least 10 churches intentionally partnered long-term with a region, convention ministry, or project in Cuba."
This year's annual meeting was well-attended, with 110 messengers registering, along with 229 visitors, from across Canada, the United States and Cuba. Churches in Alberta sent 61 messengers, followed by British Columbia (28), Saskatchewan and Manitoba (12), Ontario (7), and Atlantic Canada (2).
In other convention business:
-- Messengers elected Dwight Huffman as president, Joshua Claycamp as first vice president and Leon Brown as second vice president. Huffman is pastor of Bow Valley Baptist Church in Cochrane, Alberta; Claycamp is pastor of Bridge Baptist Church in Kamloops, British Columbia; and Brown is a member of Sequoia Community Church in Barrhaven, Ontario.
-- Messengers approved for 2012 budgets of $1,774,570 for the CNBC, $603,954 for international missions, $2,093,194 for the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary and College and $20,000 for the CNBC Foundation.
-- Messengers voted to dissolve the foundation's board of directors and transfer its responsibilities to the National Leadership Board. "This will have no material change as to how foundations funds are managed, as they will be guided by its Investment Policy Statement," outgoing foundation chairman Casey Cleland said. "What it does mean is a significant drop in the cost of administering the foundation year over year."
The 2012 convention will be held July 3-5 in Montreal, Quebec.
Frank Stirk writes for the Canadian National Baptist Convention.
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