BCM Canada—75 Years of Reaching Children and Serving the Church

By: Lauri Barrette

Each country served by BCM International faces its own unique challenges. Some countries have artillery pointing at their borders. Some missionaries face incarceration and great persecution for sharing their faith. In Canada, where BCM recently celebrated seventy-five years of ministry (1941-2016), our challenges are much more subtle.

Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows for freedom of religion, of beliefs, of peaceful assembly. Living in a land of relative freedom and peace is a blessing. At the same time, it has lulled many, including Christians, into complacency and even apathy. Battles waged for these hard-won freedoms are a distant, hazy memory. Freedom is taken for granted. Among Christians, a sense of urgency to share the gospel, to support missions, or to serve in the local church is often lost.

These days, Canada is frequently referenced as being in a post-Christian era. What this denotes is a societal shift from the country’s historical Judeo-Christian values. The Canadian government has introduced physician-assisted suicide and is removing the terms “mother” and “father” from all government forms. A mentality of openness to anything and anyone but Jesus has become mainstream. Until the 1990s, public school students would be given a Gideon’s New Testament when they reached fifth grade. No longer. And gone are the days of repeating the Lord’s Prayer after the national anthem at school. Instead, people seek out psychics, mediums, tarot card readers, and Eastern mysticism to find direction and spiritual guidance.

Activity at a a kids’ missionary conference

BCM Canada’s ministry has been directly affected by this culture shift. For decades, missionaries in Ontario were allowed to teach Bible classes in the public schools. Then in the early 1990s, new provincial legislation cast a shadow on anything that could be construed as proselytizing in the classroom. One by one, BCM missionaries were told by school administrations that they could not continue. With courage and faith, they refused to let this setback deter them. Instead, they chose to be good stewards of their freedoms and focus on what they could do for God, not what they could no longer do. Many developed after-school Bible clubs that continue to this day.

BCM Canada’s tagline is “Reaching Children—Serving the Church”. Our missionaries are increasingly aware of the enormity of the task of reaching Canadian children for Christ amidst ever-increasing darkness. To achieve this goal, BCM Canada’s vision is to build partnerships with the local church in order to establish children as the next generation of kingdom disciples who know, love, and obey God. The good news is that in Canada we still have the freedom to do so. As a mission, BCM Canada helps train and mobilize the body of Christ through such endeavours as teacher training events, Kid’s Missions Conferences, and making available BCM’s excellent and biblically-sound Christian Education resources. Our stated goal is to become the greatest friend and best children’s ministry resource the church in Canada has, and we are seeing this happen step by step, little by little. Churches are reaching out for training and resources. Children are coming to Christ through Bible clubs and camps. Meanwhile our BCM Canada missionaries are committed to keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

In Canada, BCM does not only mean Bible Centered Ministries. It also means Because Children Matter. And they do, more than ever!

(Excerpt from our national anthem)

God keep our land glorious and free.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee!

Ten Things You Didn’t Know About BCM Canada

(Click on the items below to read a full explanation and view corresponding photos)

1. We are small, but mighty fish in a really big pond!

Canada’s population is estimated to be 36,286,425 people. BCM Canada has twenty active missionaries, which gives us one BCM missionary per 1.8 million people. Our country is 9.985 million square kilometres, which works out to one BCM missionary per 500,000 square kilometres. In actuality, our missionaries are located in just four of the ten provinces.

2. In Canada, we really should be spelled “Bible Centred Ministries”.

You know, the Queen’s English and all that! While not our favourite way to spell, we honour the American spelling because BCM ministry did originate in the land where the colours of the flag are red, white and blue.

3. We call our Children’s Ministry Teacher Training Conferences “E2 Conferences”.

This stands for “Envision ‘n Energize”. Enthusiastic children’s ministry workers drive up to three hours to attend these conferences, hosted by churches all across Ontario. That’s dedication! In Step with the Master Teacher (ISMT) seminars were also held this year at BCM Canada headquarters in Hamilton, ON. Most recently, our ISMT trainers joined BCM missionary and street evangelist Tony Schaapman in Montreal, Quebec, to train eighteen ministry leaders from three different churches how to reach and teach children to know God. These teacher training sessions also provide opportunity to showcase available BCM curriculum and other resources.

E2 Conference

4. BCM Canada missionaries use a variety of tools to reach others for Christ.

Carol Eagles in Sarnia, ON, takes along some of her own after-school clubbers when she leads Walk Thru the Bible events for children. Some clubbers have put their trust in Christ as a result. Helen Harrison from Stratford, ON, encourages local churches to reach out through “Adopt-a-School”, a ministry that helps churches build bridges into their community schools. At least five schools have been adopted by churches in the Hamilton area alone. Gloria Burns of Port Franks, ON, communicates Christ’s love through writing and presenting dramatic monologues from the point of view of biblical characters.

5. In some areas, doors remain WIDE OPEN to after-school Bible clubs!

Clubs in Sarnia, Caledonia/Oneida, Essex County, and London, ON, continue in full swing, limited only by the availability of volunteers. Judy Hiebert attended a BCM Bible club as a child. Now a BCM Canada missionary, she has far more opportunities for new Bible clubs than she has time or available personnel. Fay Johnson of London, ON, faces a similar situation. While there is still time and opportunity, please pray that “the Lord of the harvest will send workers into his field” (Matthew 9:38).

London, ON, Bible Club

6. Camping ministry is alive and well in Canada.

Mill Stream Bible Camp and Retreat Centre, an hour northeast of Toronto, celebrated its seventieth anniversary this year. This summer alone, twenty-five campers received Christ. One new program is Beginning Camp, a half-week residential camp for ages 5-7. Camp administrators Larry and Cindy Chupa have seen 80% of these children return as full-week residential campers once they are old enough. Larry Chupa reminds that camp is not just for campers, but has been used by God to train, shape, and empower young people to become future leaders of the Church. Over the past fifteen years, forty Mill Stream staff members have gone on attend Bible school, and eight have entered full time ministry. Many were also campers there as children. Mill Stream also partners with Daniel and Lauri Barrette one week each summer to direct an overnight camping program for young adults with disabilities called HandiCamp Canada.

Mark and Debbie Taylor oversee Mount Traber Bible Camp and Retreat Centre in Nova Scotia, founded in 1965. This summer ten campers confessed Jesus as their Saviour. BCM Canada’s two newest missionaries, Angela MacDonald and Ethan Parker, also serve at MTBC. The camp is building relationships with the local community by offering an affordable children’s day camp as well as participating with pony rides and other activities at local festivals and exhibitions. Equally important is relationship-building with the local churches. MTBC staff know that showing up for an annual report on camp is not enough. By making themselves available year-round to work with children and youth, they help area churches recognize how camp can be an extension of the discipling and evangelizing churches want to see happen in the lives of their youth.

7. BCM Canada is also a sending mission.

Among Canadians serving overseas with BCM is Isabelle Leaitch, with thirty-two years missionary service in Spain. Lorna Ralston, along with her husband Michael, who recently passed away, served for two decades in Italy. Mary Den Boer served first in Hamilton, ON, then for many years in the Netherlands. John Zembwe, who immigrated to Canada from the Democratic Republic of Congo, has returned to Africa with BCM to assist in training children’s ministry leaders.

Isabelle Leaitch (in glasses) with youth-Spain

8. Many retired BCM Canada missionaries keep serving and serving and serving.

Ron and Beth Benoit, Marilyn White, and Kathy Shaw continue to participate in Bible club ministry. Evelyn Plett, a long-term BCM missionary in Spain, now serves in her home church, while Carolyn Mapplebeck ministers to seniors. Gaetan McDuff, former director of Camp Promise for handicapped youth at BCM USA’s Big Sky Bible Camp, with his wife Bev, is now active in prison ministry. Recently retired Dario and Becky Inocencio continue to minister to Filipino churches in the Toronto area. Sonny Acocoro, retired after forty-five years of church planting and leadership training in the Philippines and Ontario, has a new ministry called “Happiness Post”, which shares by Facebook and email insights on Bible passages meant to encourage others to find their happiness in God and His Word. Former BCM Canada executive secretary Chloe Chamberlain is the artist behind BCM’s new felt flannelgraph backgrounds along with volunteering in the national office.

Marilyn White teaching Bible Club

9. Phil and Olga Whitehead, Pam Rowntree, Sally Klassen, and Lynn Lawson all have one thing in common.

They all work at the national office in Hamilton, ON, which is the hub around which BCM Canada revolves. Besides praying regularly for each BCM Canada team member, headquarters staff facilitate all that our missionaries and volunteers do across Canada. Without Lynn, mailings and correspondence would grind to a halt. Without Sally, all things financial would fall to pieces. Without Pam, publications would no longer be developed and training seminars would go off the rails. Without Olga, orders for curriculum and teaching materials would not be filled. Without Phil at the helm, this Canadian BCM ship would go off course. The BCM Canada missionary team is thankful for their passion, vision, dedication, and continued commitment for the glory of God through BCM.

Phil Whitehead

10. Right now we are sort of “BCM Canada of no fixed address!”

When BCM Canada’s Emmanuel Bookshop, located in the national headquarters at 685 Main Street East, Hamilton, ON, closed in 2011, the building became too large for current purposes. In July, 2016, a “For Sale” sign went up, and within an unexpectedly short period, the building sold. The new owners have allowed BCM Canada to rent from them until a new building is purchased. We are trusting God to lead us to a new location of His choosing.

BCM Canada HQ

Originally Published in BCM World December 2016

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