Newfoundland and Labrador comprise the easternmost of the Canadian provinces. It is also Canada’s newest province, having joined the federation in 1949. The province has two sections of unequal size: Newfoundland, which is an island, and the much larger region of Labrador, on the mainland of Canada. Together, these sections have a land area roughly the size of California. St John’s, in southeastern Newfoundland, is the provincial capital, the largest city, and one of the oldest settlements in North America.
It is a land of rugged beauty. Picturesque fishing villages dot the rocky shores and outlying islands. Vast tracts of untamed wilderness cover the interior of Newfoundland and almost all of Labrador.
The seventh largest Canadian province, it ranks ninth in population with approximately 506,000 people. More than 30 percent of the people live in or near St. John’s. Between 1992 and 2002, the population fell by about 60,700. Population is expected to decline modestly over the coming years due to natural population losses and out-migration. Rapid aging, one of the province’s most important demographic challenges, is also expected to continue. The median age is expected to rise from 39 years in 2003 to 47 years in 2018. Public sector challenges include demands of health care for an aging population and education services to far fewer students over less densely populated areas.
Gospel Efforts and Planting Assemblies
The first assembly was planted in 1945 at Carbonear and, over a period of fifty years, twenty-one assemblies were established, sixteen on the island and five in Labrador. Today nineteen of these assemblies still function, with some having fewer than twenty and some less than ten in fellowship. Annual Conferences are hosted by nine of the assemblies.
Herb Harris, George Campbell, Bert Joyce, Gaius Goff, and Peter Matthews, along with others that came with an interest in seeing souls saved, helped in the early work. Some left the comforts of large cities and came to small isolated areas to help in this great work. Some of these brethren brought other younger men to help, especially in summer tent activities. Several of these men, including Brian Funston, Marvin Derksen, Jonathan Procopio, and Jim Jarvis, stayed to work full-time and saw significant blessing in their gospel efforts. Among the local men, the Lord raised Wallace Buckle, Carl Payne, Alvin Blake, Bryan Joyce, and Eric Fowler to full-time service.
Many of the assemblies planted were in outlying, isolated communities, and both the gospel workers and the new Christians encountered the challenges of dealing with small groups, opposition from local, well-entrenched religious denominational groups, and pressures from family members who, though not always religious, were generally raised with a fear of changing their denominational affiliation.
The assemblies today have fewer young couples with children. Large Sunday schools marked the early days. Now most find it difficult to attract young children from the communities. This, coupled with smaller families in general, currently takes its toll on Sunday school enrollments.
Character of People
Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are characterized as friendly and helpful. The families are closely knit groups. Most people know their neighbors well and, in fact, generally know something about everyone living in the community.
When it comes to the gospel, there seems to be a growing indifference. The strong opposition along denominational lines so evident in the early work appears to have moved more to the attitude of “if it is okay for you then that’s fine but as for me I will do my own thing.”
Challenges and Problems to Be Faced
Young people leave the province to seek employment, so an aging population poses a challenge. Economics plays a major part in this. Improvements in education have resulted in people being better equipped for jobs outside the province.
Distance between assemblies is another challenge. As a result, the Christians are not able to support each other as much as they would like. Maintenance of existing small and struggling assemblies is a growing need, and encouragement is increasingly necessary.
Growth areas in the Province are in the larger more centralized areas, which often become service regions for the 400 or so small coastal communities.
For the Young
The province’s colleges and university are located in the larger centers. In these places, making and keeping contact with newcomers who have had assembly influences in their hometowns provide new opportunities for gospel work. This is especially true of the Christians’ children. They leave home to pursue higher education and often become lost in the milieu of the larger towns. We have already made small gains in locating these young people and providing fellowship and kindness. Seeking them out is a labor of love, which is often frustrating and disappointing. Many are away from home for the first time; often they are lonely and a little kindness goes a long way. Perhaps we could have made greater gains if we had compiled and maintained a list of such individuals by contacting the various outlying assemblies on a regular basis.
For the Aging
More and more seniors’ homes and personal care homes are being built, again mostly in the larger areas. Organizing a regular gathering for singing and a gospel message in these facilities encourages the folks living there. Family members from outlying areas often come to visit, so planning to coincide with their visits has opened a dual outreach. Meetings of 45 minutes or so have worked well in senoirs’ homes. Staff members are usually very receptive to such gatherings and many of the residents welcome the singing and message. Commitment to maintain consistency in this work is necessary but not easy. “In due season we shall reap . . .”
The land is large, the population small, yet God has kindly blessed His work here. Continue to pray for this work.