By Shannon Youell
Imagine a church that is an enthusiastic worshipping community, a family dependent on prayer, and a “home away from home” for those new to a city and culture. Evangelical Emmanuel Fellowship Church is all of this and more. Pastor Elie Pierre and the male and female leaders who are part of his team are pursuing spiritual renewal in Edmonton’s Haitian community.
“It takes a village to raise a child.”
This African (Igbo & Yoruba) proverb, which exists in varying forms captures the shared responsibility of everyone in a community, both immediate and extended, to nurture and develop young ones and comes from the African worldview that “children are a blessing from God for the whole community.”
In the same way, it takes a village to support, plant and grow churches. There are many ways a new church needs support and the joy of sharing with these new works makes me think of the apostle Paul’s statement about his joy being complete when those he discipled, mentored, and supported continued the work of the gospel of the Kingdom of God.
A few years ago CBWC was introduced to a lovely group of Haitian believers by our Alberta Regional Minister, Dennis Stone. They had been gathering as a church for a time and desired to be part of a larger family of churches. Their hearts for gathering together and for the people in their neighbourhood are evident and contagious. One of our first tasks in supporting them was in their provincial registration as they are mostly French speaking. Dennis engaged a member of Bonnie Doon Baptist Church in Edmonton to help with translation.
A while later, I had the wonderful honour to meet with them and then we introduced them to our wider Edmonton family at a Celebration Dinner.
They felt so very welcome by all. Pastor Elie attended Banff Pastors’ and Spouses’ Conference that year.
Though I was concerned about the language barrier and how he and his wife, Clertude, would be able to engage, on the very first night, Colin Godwin from Carey Theological College happened to be seated with them and engaged them in French!
As we worked towards affiliation, this group continued to move out into the neighbourhood from their rented facility. Early this past spring, they were delivered the news that their rent would be increased to an amount that was out of reach for them. Staff at the Alberta Regional Office began to seek the possibility of sharing space in one of our other Edmonton congregations.
The Circle of Church Life
Around this same time, one of our well established faithful congregations were considering the possibility of closing the church, as their congregation was aging. Bonnie Doon Baptist Church was a plant out of Strathcona Baptist Church in Edmonton in 1913. Sam Breakey reports that the church had a long history of investing in next generation leadership. Many fine CBWC pastors and leaders came from that ethos. Their forward-thinking nature led naturally to Dennis Stone’s encouragement to entrust the building to CBWC so that another congregation could come to life in that community.
A high percentage of French speaking people reside in Bonnie Doon around Faculté St. Jean (University of Alberta) and a newly built French elementary/high school. Thus began the discussion that perhaps God was leading our new Haitian church plant out of their soon-to-be unaffordable space into a new ministry context in a more affordable and strategic location.
Dennis and Sam facilitated meetings between the two groups and they both had growing excitement at the possibilities of new life flourishing in the beloved building and neighbourhood. With the help of our head office and some folk in other Edmonton CBWC churches who provided on the ground assessments and advice on both the building itself and the community, we began to move towards this great opportunity. There was much work to do in assisting with some necessary building upgrades, official motions, and paperwork updating; many hands were involved!
In early June Evangelical Emmanuel Fellowship Church held their first service in the Bonnie Doon facilities. With representation from Bonnie Doon Baptist, they celebrated in worship and thanksgiving for how God made provision in ways beyond anything they could have imagined for both congregations. Much joy was shared and I wonder, as tears were present, if some felt their joy had been made complete.
Written with assistance from Sam Breakey (see, it really does take a village!)