When Jacques Cartier landed on the Gaspé coast in July, 1534, he hurried to erect a thirty-foot cross, while bewildered Indians watched. This significant act by Cartier presaged things to come, for Canada’s growth since that time has been inextricably connected with the lifting up of the Cross of Jesus Christ—first in Canada, as the nation took root, and then abroad as Canadians rallied in an expanding missionary outreach.

For the first three hundred years of its development, Canada was a receiving country for missionary enterprise. It was a mission field into which a stream of dedicated men and money emptied from abroad. As the young country grew in awareness of its resource potential in agriculture, forests, fisheries, and mines, and as new communities took shape, expanding into towns and cities, so the Church grew throughout the land.

The Years Of Outreach

Not until the middle of the nineteenth century did the Canadian church begin to enlarge its vision and take up the challenging task of outreach. In these years the Canadian church became a sending church. Although there were still vast territories of the Canadian Northwest where the Indians and the Eskimos had never heard the Gospel, and although for many years the Canadian church continued to receive aid from the great British missionary societies, nevertheless the days of sending had begun. It was as if the new responsibilities assumed by Canada in becoming an independent nation were adopted by the Church also as it took on new stature and began to initiate constructive work abroad. The ensuing story bristles with dramatic accounts of vision, determination, courage, and sacrifice. It reflects a growing conviction that there could be no real participation in Christ without participation in his mission to the world.

• The year 1844 marks the formation of the first foreign mission board in Canada. This action was taken by the Presbyterian Church in Nova Scotia, and two years later the same church sent out the first missionary to the New Hebrides. On the eve of Confederation in 1867, the Presbyterian Church sent out eleven new missionaries to the New Hebrides, Trinidad, and Formosa.

• The Baptists of the Maritime Provinces sponsored missions as early as 1845, offering their missionaries to the American Baptist Mission Board. In 1867 the Baptists of Ontario and Quebec began sending missionaries to India with full Canadian support. The Maritime Baptists now launched their own mission work with full approval of the American board, and both groups worked independently for some years on the southeast coast of the Bay of Bengal, India. In these early days, many Canadians continued to serve in overseas fields under American mission boards. Even today some Canadian denominations operate their missions this way.

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• By 1873, the Methodist Church in Canada had established a mission field in Japan and was equipping it with personnel and funds. Both the Presbyterian and Methodist denominations accelerated their overseas missionary activity, the Presbyterians in China, Formosa, and Japan. About 1881 the Congregational Church in Canada appointed a missionary to serve in Angola.

• For fifty years after Confederation, the major thrust of Anglican missionary work was directed toward the vast Northwest and the inaccessible British Columbia coast. Indeed, the tremendous part played by Anglican missionaries in carrying the Gospel to the frontiers of the new dominion can hardly be overestimated. The complete absorption of the Anglicans with the needs of the Indians, the Eskimos, and the early settlers of those untouched areas tended to delay any overseas missionary program. But the first fully Canadian-supported overseas missionary was an Anglican, a graduate of Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, who went out to Japan in 1888 under the auspices of the Wycliffe College Missionary Society. And he was soon joined by others. Several years later the first official missionary of the Canadian church was sent out under the newly formed Board of Domestic and Foreign Missions.

In these early days of missionary activity, a great deal of support came from youth movements and from those within church colleges. Two Presbyterian institutions, Knox in Toronto and Queen’s in Kingston, Ontario, sent men to open a work in northern China. Wycliffe College did the same for the Anglican mission in Japan. Similarly, in the Methodist Church the establishment of Christian Endeavour Societies and the founding of the Epworth League in 1890 stimulated remarkable enthusiasm among young people for overseas missions. This resulted in the formation in 1896 of the Young People’s Forward Movement, a group that within a few years had recruited and was supporting a great number of missionaries in Szechwan, China.

In the last decade of the nineteenth century, a number of smaller denominational groups launched out into overseas missionary activity, offering their personnel mainly to American boards.

• The Lutheran Church in Canada began sending missionaries through its affiliations with the Lutheran churches in the United States. Today twenty-eight ordained and thirty-five lay missionaries serve in more than a dozen fields.

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• In 1899 the Evangelical United Brethren (the name that since 1946 has been in use for the older body known in Canada since 1867 as the Canada Conference of the Evangelical Association) sent the first Canadian missionary overseas to Japan. In the years that followed, a number began service in China, Sierra Leone, Brazil, and Nigeria, working under the American mission board.

• The Church of Christ (Disciples), a small but keen church in Canada, offered a medical missionary to China as early as 1886. This early effort was followed by many others—in China, India, Africa, Tibet, and the Philippines.

• The Canadian Salvation Army was aroused to overseas missionary activity at the close of the last century and focused its attention on India. Today sixty-six Canadian officers serve in a number of mission fields.

• The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, a corporate body since 1919, can present an impressive picture of missionary outreach overseas. Missionaries have been sent to more than a dozen countries in three continents: Africa, Asia, and South America. Today this comparatively small religious body has 140 missionaries in the field.

The courage and resolution of these early missionaries compels admiration. Volunteers who went to areas where the Gospel had never been preached often walked into the face of countless dangers and possible death. Just recently, I stood at a grave in the garden of the Anglican Cathedral in Kampalla, Uganda. The simple headstone told the story of James Hannington, the first Bishop of East Equatorial Africa, who was murdered at Busoga in 1885. Just before they speared him to death he declared, “Tell the Kabaka [King], I die for Uganda.” When the Baptists of Ontario and Quebec first opened up their work in Bolivia at the close of the last century, they were fully aware of the law which read: “Anyone who attempts to preach the Gospel in Bolivia will certainly be arrested and put to death.” Many of Christ’s messengers have found graves on foreign shores.

Shifting Concerns

As missionary activity increased in the first quarter of the twentieth century, several marked trends appeared. It became necessary to form some new mission boards and to consolidate others. In 1902, at the General Synod of the Anglican Church, a missionary society for the whole Dominion was formed, known as the Missionary Society of the Church of England in Canada. In 1912 the Canadian Baptist Foreign Mission Board succeeded various regional boards. Many mission boards, convinced that money and personnel should be released for untouched areas, began to confer and cooperate in an attempt to avoid costly duplication of efforts. Many of the denominations began to develop national leadership on the mission field. And as converts were won for Christ, missionaries sought to establish indigenous churches. This policy reached its high point in the Anglican communion when native Christians were elected bishops of Mid-Japan and Honan, China.

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At the quarter mark of this century, two events began to color the life of the Canadian church. In 1925 the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Congregational denominations united to form the United Church of Canada. In 1927 the Baptists divided, mainly on theological issues, and formed the Canadian Baptist Federation and the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptists.

The United Church of Canada, the largest Protestant body, moved forward with an accelerated program of missionary outreach. In the second quarter of the century, great efforts were made to elevate ecumenical cooperation into a prime object of missionary policy. Everything was done to establish autonomous church courts in all areas of missionary activity. The United Church withdrew from Formosa, British Guiana, and part of central India. These areas became the exclusive fields of the continuing Presbyterian Church. The former Presbyterian Korean work was handed over to the United Church while the Presbyterians turned their attention to a Korean minority in Japan. In 1954 an excellent work was undertaken in Eastern Nigeria, and the Presbyterians soon had twenty-five workers in that field.

The division of the Baptist Church also called for a re-allocation of mission fields. The Baptist Federation retained Bolivia and India and later opened up an important work in Angola. The Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches assumed the responsibility for working in Japan and India and also for directing its missionaries into faith missions operating in many parts of the world. For example, the Evangelical Baptists have eighty-nine Canadians serving with the Sudan Interior Mission, twenty-nine with the Sudan United Mission, twenty-two with the South Africa General Mission, and great numbers with other mission boards. The Fellowship of Evangelical Baptists has 450 Canadians serving overseas, and 145 are in the field from the Baptist Federation. These churches have made the most impressive Canadian contribution to the outreach of world missions.

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Some prominence must be given to the tremendous involvement in overseas work of the thirty-five faith or interdenominational missions that have established Canadian offices. The largest is the Sudan Interior Mission, with 335 Canadians in the field. The Christian and Missionary Alliance, which received its charter in 1925, has been sending Canadian missionaries into the major areas of its mission work. Viet Nam is the largest field of activity. Today 100 Canadians are serving overseas with the Alliance.

The telling fact is that nearly 80 per cent of the total Canadian missionary force overseas is serving with these faith missions. This is a powerful vindication of the view that religious groups that emphasize the Scriptures as the inspired Word of God and the Gospel as the power of God unto salvation are apparently led to offer many more missionary volunteers than those that adopt a more liberal view of the Bible and the Gospel. If a person believes that the world needs the Gospel more than anything else—indeed, is lost without it—he is much more likely to offer himself for missionary service than if he believes that one religion is just about as good as another. If Christians are to move forward in our day they must take as their goal the conversion of the nations to Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

The Current Malaise

Today Canadian missions have entered upon a third stage of their development in which the distinctions of sending and receiving are transcended by a new awareness of sharing in full partnership of the Gospel with the Church in other lands. All praise should be given for all that has been done in overseas work in the past; still, it has obviously been inadequate even to keep pace with the world’s exploding population. We have passed through days of revolution in every aspect of life and society. On the mission field, change has been so rapid that it has caused considerable bewilderment. Once missionaries went out to areas where there was no church. Today they go out and become servants of the indigenous church. Once a Western missionary was the sole representative of Christianity in many parts of the world. Today a Christian missionary may be almost unnoticed among a great number of Westerners serving abroad in government, voluntary agencies, or business.

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In a world passing through social revolution, resentment of Western imperialism has inspired hostility to Christian missions and has raised barriers. The phenomenal explosion of nationalism, especially in Africa, and the resurgence of non-Christian religions, completely revitalized, have done much to demand a new look at our methods and approach in missionary activity. The missionaries themselves have been among the first to recognize these changes and urge modifications of policy to meet them.

In the midst of all this, one thing has not changed. The Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit is still the answer to the world’s need. It does not have to be altered to make it true for modern man. The Church must always adjust its methods as it stays alert to the changing world scene. But its problem today is not so much its failure to find new missionary strategy as it is a breakdown of conviction that the Gospel is God’s truth to man and a lack of inspiration to declare it with boldness and compassion. Deep within the Church itself there is a widespread, deep-seated malaise. It has infected the clergy and laity alike and has produced a loss of nerve for the Gospel. This sickness is paralyzing the Church’s total effort for global mission.

There is only one answer. The whole Church must recapture the conviction that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe. It must become aware that proclaiming Jesus Christ and his Gospel to all the world is not a human option but a divine imperative. If the Canadian church can recover this imperative, evangelism may yet revitalize its very being so that its declaration of the Gospel with courage and conviction will ring forth and the exalted Christ will draw many to himself.

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