Quebec: Canada's Prodigal Province
In the summer of 2009, 19-year-old Natasha Bass drove—alone—1,070 miles from Greenville, South Carolina, to Montreal, Quebec. She had no itinerary, no contacts at her destination, and definitely no notion of how a short-term mission of a few months in a highly secular culture would change her life.
Bass had intended to study French in Switzerland for the summer. Her plans fell through, so she prayed for direction. "I told God I wanted my summer to be used by him."
While researching housing options in Switzerland, she had received an e-mail about an apartment in Montreal. She found an inexpensive part-time French course and sensed a door opening. She prayed for two more days. The next morning, she had a sense of peace. "I got in my car and started driving."
A day later, Bass found herself in a situation that would have scared off many Florida-born Southerners. "The apartment was just awful," said Bass, "but I believed this was what I had to do."
Bass realized that she had landed in the middle of an enormous mission field: Montreal's famous Le Plateau-Mont-Royal borough, one of Canada's most densely populated neighborhoods and known for being literary, intellectually trendy, and artsy.
Despite its nominally Christian majority, Montreal and the larger Quebec Province are among the most underevangelized regions of North America. A 2008 Léger poll found that only 6 percent of Quebec's 6 million Catholics attended weekly Mass, down from 90 percent in the 1960s. About 7 percent of Quebecers are Protestants, and less than 1 percent identify as evangelical.
After two weeks, urban life began to wear Bass down. Then she found Temple Baptist Church, a congregation created 100 years ago by English-speaking residents. It became her spiritual home away from home.
"My outreach didn't consist of 'Bible-thumping,' " Bass told Christianity Today, but rather "unconditional love, whether they were addicts, homeless, hopeless, or just plain mean."
Bass's unexpected summer of mission is one example of a new cohort of evangelicals determined to reseed Quebec with the gospel. Some of these leaders draw inspiration from Lesslie Newbigin, the 20th-century missiologist. Pierre Lebel, head of the Montreal base of Youth With a Mission (YWAM), said that based on Newbigin's teachings, evangelizing a post-Christian culture is like trying to reach a divorcée: Sensitivity is required for both situations.
Lebel said the post-Christian culture has broken away from Christianity. "Grace has to precede truth. Truth has to be accepted on the basis of trust. When you work with a divorcée, it takes a lot of sensitivity. We have to be open to accept and to repent of errors and change. I don't think post-Christian culture is going to come back to sit in our pews. We have to be an incarnate church with an incarnate theology rather than the theology of coming out of the world."
Another Quebec evangelical leader, Walter De Sousa, has perhaps found the perfect vehicle to reintroduce the gospel: the blues. A blues guitarist, De Sousa and his band will perform at five concerts this year with a goal of raising $500,000 for poverty-fighting charities.
De Sousa said, "When people ask me why my music is being played on radio when I'm not well-known, I say it is because of my manager. When they ask who my manager is, I say with a smile: 'The living God!' and that opens up conversations."
Post-Christian and 'Pleasure-Mad'
Montreal is known for its enviable quality of life, once ranked by the United Nations as the highest worldwide.