The town of Gander is located in central Newfoundland and has been called the ”Crossroads of the World.” During the propeller-era of air travel, most trans-Atlantic flights stopped to refuel there, and so the subtitle reflected Gander as the intersection point for world travelers. However, in a far different way, Gander has become a crossroads of the grace of God and of the furtherance of the gospel over the past 35+ years.
During the 1970s, much of the gospel outreach in central Newfoundland focused on the outport coastal areas, but by the end of the decade a few believers had moved from these areas to Gander for employment purposes. Gospel blessing seen in the Eastport Peninsula work (that began in 1976 when Bert Joyce and Bryan Funston pitched a tent there) ultimately spilled over to Gander, as several couples living in the town and linked with the new believers in Eastport were contacted and eventually saved. Although these new converts were added to the new assembly in the Eastport area, nearly an hour east of Gander, their desire was to enjoy fellowship together, and soon home Bible studies commenced in the town. When several other Gander contacts were saved in 1980, the work began to assume its own focus. Although Bryan Funston continued to follow up the leads, he was fully occupied with the established work in Eastport and so in late 1981, he asked if I would be willing to come over to Gander and help in the work. I had been involved with the work on the North Shore, Bay of Islands, but Jim Jarvis had just been commended to that work, which allowed Barbara and me to move to Gander in January, 1982.
By this time, the work was experiencing “growing pains,” as the living rooms that we were meeting in were too small. In view of this need, Bryan and I were able to rent the old upstairs provincial court room in Town Square dubbed the “Upper Room.” Children’s meetings, weekly gospel meetings, and Bible studies commenced, and in mid May, Bert Joyce and Bryan Funston had a two week gospel series with some blessing in salvation. All of this instilled a real desire on the part of the believers to see an assembly planted in the town, and as part of this exercise, a tent effort was planned for the summer. Gaius Goff and George Campbell agreed to come and preach, while Bryan Funston, Jon Procopio and I assumed responsibility for other aspects of the effort, along with a crew of young men who came to help. The weeks in the tent proved to be a time of visitation and blessing. At the end of the summer, two baptisms were held at Gander Lake and on September 12, 1982, we had the great joy of sitting down together as a small assembly to remember our Lord for the first time. With several visitors and workers in attendance, there were 19 of us. Although few in number, it was a precious time of appreciating His grace in salvation and in gathering us unto Himself.
The upstairs meeting room served our purposes for those opening years, but by 1984, there was a desire to have our own building. With ample enthusiasm but limited resources, we spent several weeks in the woods cutting saw logs, assisted greatly by believers from the Gander Bay assembly. After another tent effort that summer, we cleared an acre of land that we had purchased from the town and began construction in September. George Creary and Stan Seymour from Ontario came to help, and by late November the main shell of the hall had been closed in. As funds allowed, work continued for the next 18 months. By the spring of 1986, we all felt that the hall needed to be completed sooner rather than later, and so we arranged a bank loan and moved into the hall on May 25, 1986. The new venue proved to be a real asset to the work, as we were now able to host an Easter conference starting in 1987, which has continued to the present.
The fact that Gander is still a strategic airport town has opened up some unique opportunities for gospel outreach. In the early 1990s, a number of Sri Lankan travellers stepped off a plane and sought political asylum. A short time later, one of the believers noticed these men walking about the town and made contact with them. The result was that a number of them began to attend the gospel meetings during their stay in Gander, and one or two of them were saved. A similar incident in 2007-2008 involved dozens of young Chinese men who came to the town to enter flight training for employment back in mainland China. Community suppers at the hall along with gospel meetings saw 25-35 of these men gathered together on occasion to hear truths from the Bible that they had never heard before. Their training lasted 12 – 18 months, but some returned to China with God’s salvation, and all of them left with eternal truth in their minds.
From these humble beginnings, the work in Gander has continued to experience the Lord’s faithful and sustaining hand in growth and blessing despite setbacks and crises through the years. Several believers have gone home to heaven while others have moved away for various reasons. The out-migration of many in the province because of economic difficulties has affected Newfoundland assemblies in a marked way, but with Gander’s central location and its medical facilities, a number of believers have relocated to the town in recent years, and there are now 45 believers in fellowship.
The assembly has benefited greatly from the timely ministry of many brethren over the years. Arnold Adams made a number of visits to the assembly in the early years, Sandy Higgins spent a weekend with ministry on marriage and the family, Stephen Vance helped with the Chinese contacts, and many of the Maritime workers visited for either a gospel series or ministry meetings. Interest in the Scriptures has marked the assembly from its beginning, and the weekly Bible studies are a delight to attend. Our prayer is that this spirit and exercise might long continue and that the testimony to the Lord’s precious Name might be preserved and strengthened in these closing days of grace. As we look back on the Lord’s guidance and dealings, we are able to echo the psalmist’s words, “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes” (Psa 118:23).