Look on the Fields: French Eastern Canada

North American Christians do not need to cross the ocean to find a missionary field with a different race, language, and culture. Right in this continent they will find 6.7 million people whose mother tongue and culture is French. The vast majority of these live in eastern Canada, mainly in Quebec, some in New Brunswick, with smaller numbers in Nova Scotia and in western Prince Edward Island.

Quebec has a population of over 7 million. This includes over half a million English speakers, many of whom live in Montreal. In New Brunswick just under 240,000 are French or 32% of the total population. Quebeckers are an independent people, proud of their origin. These people were molded by the Roman Catholic religion which is deeply ingrained in their culture and life. Even though now their religion does not, and cannot, dominate their lives as before, they still seem attached to it. In urban areas attendance at mass has fallen sharply. In country areas the services can still be well-attended and religion still has a sway in their daily lives.

In Quebec, the population in general has turned away from God and spiritual matters. Yet, here and there, individuals can be found who respond to the message of the gospel. We have found that in the northeast corner of New Brunswick, called the Acadian Peninsula, many are strongly opposed to any approach that is not Roman Catholic. Some are quite violent in their reaction and use abusive language; others are indifferent but occasionally we find someone open to the message we bear. It is very hard in the Acadian Peninsula to see folks coming to gospel meetings. People are afraid of the treatment they will receive from their neighbors or work colleagues: mockery, cutting remarks, perhaps threats, and a reputation of having changed religion. In other areas of New Brunswick, where the French live among an English-speaking population, they are polite and often do not chase us. Many receive the literature, but they want no conversation. The only exception to this is in the city of Montreal where many requests were received after a Seed Sower distribution. Our gospel tents were rarely touched in Quebec, but in the Acadian Peninsula we faced threats and damage to our tents almost everywhere. Elsewhere in the province we had better treatment.

Less than thirty years ago, there was no French-speaking assembly in New Brunswick. For a period of about ten years from the late seventies to the late eighties, the Lord seemed to be working with the French of New Brunswick. In the midst of opposition and even persecution, people were contacted and came to gospel meetings in tents or homes. During this period three assemblies were formed in three widely separated parts of the French areas: Green River, Tracadie, and Shediac. A spirit of deepest interest pervaded the assembly meetings. The presence of God was very real. After that time, interest began to taper off. It became increasingly hard to interest people in the gospel. Almost 100% of the French-speaking areas of the province have been visited at least once, with texts and literature. Some parts have been visited many times. The response has varied. I have been privileged to work with Gerard Roy, a native from French New Brunswick. He was commended in 1984 by New Brunswick assemblies and has labored since then among his own people with much acceptance.

The work in Quebec, on the other hand, began in the 1930’s when John Spreeman and Noah Gratton arrived, commended from Ontario assemblies. They faced much opposition and persecution but established the first assembly at Girardville, in 1934. The work spread, but unfortunately unscriptural elements crept in and the work began to deviate to popular evangelical, and even worldly, lines in some places, causing some workers with simple assembly convictions to be forced out of Quebec. As years went past, many Quebeckers professed to be saved but later some of these returned to their old sins. Care in reception does not seem to have been exercised and in many places the testimony has, as a consequence, been sadly tarnished, perhaps even ruined. Over the years we have worked with two small assemblies, one situated in the Montreal area and the other in the lower St. Lawrence valley, where the sole worker with whom we have fellowship in Quebec, brother Larry Buote, lives.

The opportunities for further work in Francophone New Brunswick are to be found in the communities, villages, and towns that have never had series of gospel meetings. From our experience it is hard to see strangers come in, unless the Christians know someone and can bring them. Thus one would have to be content with small numbers. Work would have to be continued a long time before anything solid could be established.

Quebec has more than 25 times the French-speaking population of New Brunswick. Many places have never heard the gospel declared clearly. Indifference is widespread and open sin is accepted as normal. But if a worker were willing to settle down in a locality and work patiently until he gained the confidence of the population, he could perhaps see God working with him. The work would be slow if it was going to be solid and lasting. He would have to be a brother with strong assembly convictions, humbly desiring to please the Lord and not man, and willing to suffer loneliness as far as Christian fellowship is concerned. His work could not survive links with much of what claims to be assemblies. Montreal, a city of over 2.1 million, needs assembly worker possessing sound, distinctive assembly convictions.

Who is willing to go, yielding up all for the sake of the Lord Jesus? Many souls in Quebec have never heard the gospel of Christ. Perhaps most who hear will reject it or ignore it. But souls here and there may respond. The Lord is calling young brethren who are serious about their Christian life and willing to suffer for the Lord and His Word.