He'd taken a trip with his wife Gwen, beginning in Seattle then working their way up the coast. When they reached the city, it was as brilliant as it is today, if a little less populous.
The sea glistened, buildings lined up along Coal Harbor and the Strait of George, which they would cross to Victoria, British Columbia's capital city on Vancouver Island.
God had already started planting a desire in Williams, beginning when Henry Blackaby, a native Canadian and discipleship author, came to speak in Texas where Williams was serving as a pastor at the time.
"He shared his vision for Canada," Williams recounts, "and I immediately thought, 'I've got to do something about this.'"
Flash forward 26 years when Williams, now pastor of First Baptist Church in Lyons, Ga., is attending the Southern Baptist Convention's 2011 annual meeting in Phoenix. He runs across Ray Woodard, a longtime pastor in Vancouver, and is immediately taken back to the Canadian seaside city.
"I walked up to Ray and I said, 'So you're from Canada,' and he said 'yes' and I said, 'I've got an incredible burden for Canada.'"
Williams agreed to a vision tour in Vancouver this fall with Rob Zinn, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland, Calif. The pastors met church planters and pastors across the greater Vancouver area, including Amin Kaveh, an Iranian who fled his nation because of religious persecution and is now reaching the 40,000 Farsi-speaking immigrants in places like Surrey, Burnaby and North Vancouver.
"I was so impressed with his passion and his sacrifice," Williams says of Kaveh. "I asked myself, 'How can we stand off to the side and not do something?' So we decided to step up to the plate and help them plant churches wherever these people were."
Williams and First Baptist decided to partner through Send North America: Vancouver. Soon they will help sponsor two new church plants: one reaching Iranians and other Farsi speakers and a new plant on Vancouver Island through the North American Mission Board's strategy for assisting and mobilizing Southern Baptists in hands-on church planting.
Now supporting more than a dozen church plants in the U.S., Canada and globally, the 500-member First Baptist has committed 24 percent of its budget to missions.
"The two things I've learned as a pastor about keeping a church alive and vital is that I need to teach my people to love Jesus and to be thankful," Williams notes. "When we love Jesus, we understand He's worthy of our best. And when we're thankful, we also have a generous heart."
Williams, now serving on the Send North America: Vancouver coalition, has visited Canada for a third time.
"All I can say is God has just put it in my heart," the pastor says. "It's a beautiful country and the people there are wonderful people but they don't have Jesus.
"It is an incredible challenge," he adds. "And I am excited to see what's going to happen."
Churches can explore avenues for partnering with church planters in Vancouver by visiting www.namb.net/Vancouver.
Adam Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board.
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