Patrick St-Onge - A Moving Account of Missional Vitality in Quebec
Wednesday Morning Plenary Session at General Conference in Montreal, Palais des congrès de Montréal on May 4, 2016
Patrick St-Onge (left) and his French translator Ron Rust speaking on Wednesday morning on missional vitality in Quebec.
It’s a pleasure to be with you this morning. Are you blessed?
Today I want to share with you from the Word about Vitality. It’s truly a joy to share on this topic this morning. I thank the Lead Team for choosing me and giving me this privilege … it’s truly a joy.
I surely have in my heart this morning about the past, the present and the future. Because if you want to go forward, we must understand what’s happening now, and what happened in the past. All that we are doing in our lives today is based or founded upon somebody else. Somebody put down a foundation, and we built upon it. And it all depends now on our attitude and how we go forward.
As we go forward in ministry, sometimes God will bring us outside of our comfort zone. And this is the hardest thing. I remember a few years ago, my wife brought me outside of my comfort zone. How many of you know that your wives are good for taking you outside of your comfort zone? I had a little more weight, and she looked at my weight and said, “You’re going to change.” I thought, “Good luck!” And my health was deteriorating. And my wife said, “Let’s go for a walk together.” She had a plan. She wanted to get me out of my comfort zone, and it worked! I lost 35 pounds!
Our comfort zones are dangerous. Because when we don’t get out of them, we stay where we are. And God loves to bring us to places where there are changes. And when there are changes, He’s with us—everything is by faith, because God is pushing us to a certain place.
"Our comfort zones are dangerous. Because when we don’t get out of them, we stay where we are. And God loves to bring us to places where there are changes."
I want to read 1 Samuel 1:1-11.
This is a truly interesting story. This truly underlines the fact that God often begins with nothing. In Judges we have this chaos, and we have the nation of Israel doing whatever they want to do independently of God. And we get into 1 Samuel, there’s still this context of chaos … and God wants to work in this chaos. And He starts to work with this family—with a woman. And the question we can ask ourselves is, why does God begin often in the milieu of conflict and dysfunction? Because God works in the middle of dysfunction. When things are upside down, and there doesn’t seem to be a true meaning, God has a plan. I don’t know where you find yourself this morning, but I know in my life, when things are chaotic, I wonder, God, what are you doing in my life? What are you accomplishing? How can you do something good in the middle of this chaos?
I look at this woman, Hannah. She’s sterile. She doesn’t have any life. She doesn’t have an identity. She is married to a rich man—and he’s an important man, and he wants descendants. But this woman won’t give him children, so he chooses a second woman. And this is a difficult tension. Because when Peninnah has children, and she shows them to Hannah, she provokes her over and over again. And this woman lives in a context where there is pressure … there is hatred. She goes to the temple often, and once there, she has a time of prayer. The passage says she was weeping bitterly, with anguish. Have you ever prayed with bitterness? It’s really something. We can pray with tears, with intense difficulties, but when we’re bitter, to pray? And when we feel the hurt and the pressure coming against us? And then having a husband who will come and say, “Am I not worth more than children to you?” The husband doesn’t understand his wife. Her rival detests her. And she comes to the temple and she’s praying with deep bitterness. And the temple priest, Eli, didn’t understand what was going on—he thought she was drunk. There’s no one in her context that seems to understand her. This is the same thing in ministry. We want things to go well, and we have all kinds of pressures against us, and we want to go forward. Often the work of God goes forward despite chaos, despite extremely difficult situations. Even when there’s sterility, God is working. There are things that start to happen … and God is at work.
"Often the work of God goes forward despite chaos, despite extremely difficult situations. Even when there’s sterility, God is working. There are things that start to happen … and God is at work."
God often wants us not to give up. What is your attitude? Are you going to give up, and run away? I don’t think so, because we have a true example here. Hannah was able to take what she was going through in prayer to God, all her bitterness, and God answered her prayers. We know the story of Samuel—that he’s coming. And do you know the root of the word “Samuel” in Hebrew means “To ask”? When Samuel comes, he is an answer to Hannah’s prayer. He’s an answer to the prayer of the nation—a nation in need of spiritual direction. They needed to know that God is alive. God wanted to bring the nation back to Himself. Because of the work of God had begun this way.
When we look in our history, we remember Azusa Street, and we see our historical context. We started with Azusa in 1906, with William Seymour—a man who wanted more than he had known. He experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit, speaking in other tongues, healing ministry—and this spread around the world. We have also William Durham in Chicago with Azusa. And then Robert McAlister was affected in Toronto and Ottawa, and had an impact on another person in Ottawa. Charles Baker was in Ottawa. The impact of one ministry—one man—A. H. Argue was an evangelist was speaking one time. The wife of Charles Baker was deeply touched. She was healed—she had cancer. The night that she was healed, she started speaking in other tongues. The Baker family was transformed. Here we had a situation of sterility—there was no more life, no hope, but the hand of God touched. And a man was transformed. He left his work to go into full-time ministry. After this, he came to Montreal to start Evangel—this was like the mother church of Montreal. Evangel is like a tremendous blessing in this province, because this was a church through which the gospel went abroad.
"When we look in our history, we remember Azusa Street, and we see our historical context."
And then there were others that had impact in Quebec—Europeans. Philippe Charles LeBrocq—this was a special man. I knew this man when I was little—he was still alive in 1970. He began the French work through Evangel. And there was Louis Lucille Dutaud. His wife was transformed, and healed and saved. He was a Baptist pastor, and his wife was healed. And there was a transition of ministry, to work in churches that experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit. And they began the first church of Pentecost in the 1920s. And these are our beginnings.
Another important church here in Montreal was Le Centre Évangélique. Pastor LaSeige was one of the men who had the most impact in the 1940s and ’50s. And Pastor LaSeige came from California. And he wanted to come to this beautiful province of Quebec. He came outside his comfort zone. He came from a place where there was 30, 35 degrees Celsius, to minus 50. He came out of his comfort zone. He was single. He was the one that all the ladies were looking at. My mother, who was married, told all the young girls that he was a good catch. He was single to the end of his days. His life was truly characterized by prayer—he lived for ministry. His successor was Gilles Gagnon.
Gilles Gagnon was pastor for many years at Le Centre Évangélique. Then there were several transitions in this church, and the name actually changed to Gospel Vie. Le Centre Évangélique was like a mother church for many others in this province. In the French milieu, in the 1940s right through to the ’90s, this was like a mother church. And we went there often to this church for all of the big conference. It’s where my mother bought me colouring books … and I would colour in the basement during the meetings. This was a church everybody went to. In the west, you had your churches, you had Agincourt, and Calgary, but in Montreal it was Le Centre Évangélique—that was the centre.
And then there were the Bible colleges. There was a dedication in 1941. Walter Bouchard came from Europe---he came from his comfort zone to come to Canada. And he was there at the beginning of this new Bible college. Then there was an expansion. We want to see new people going into ministry. [The college was] in the northern part of Montreal—it looked almost like a forest. When you go there today, there are just buildings all over the place. George Upton, who was in charge of overseas missions, and the father of Gordon Upton, came to see what God was doing in the north part of this province with Walter Bouchard. The young Vachon brothers were students there, and they became pastors that were working in the first church of Pentecost. You see a vision of expansion. We want to come out of our comfort zones. These are men who decided to serve in ministry and the work of God. Church planting was at the very heart of the college—expansion. We had to go where the gospel was not preached. My father and mother were part of this generation. They worked on this level, in the far north, in Quebec City, in Granby, and they then established themselves in Laval in 1968.
One person you surely know is Robert Argue. I knew him. I went to his summer cottage. My father was a good friend of Robert Argue. Robert Argue began the program FLITE (French Language Intensive Training for Evangelism). The idea was to take English students, those coming from our Bible colleges, have them come to Quebec, learn French at the University of Laval in Quebec City, and then send them out into ministry. This is coming out of our comfort zone. It’s a true challenge to learn a new language. And now today we’ve brought back this program, FIT4M, with Gary Connors. True blessing. And now let’s look at the fruit of this work. How many churches were established? Because of the FLITE program, at least 20 churches are still in existence. When we come out of our comfort zones, and there is an area where we give sacrificially, God accomplishes His work.
Let’s talk about another college called Formation Timothy. Can we give a hand of applause for this nice-looking man in the picture, (name)? This is Le Carrefour Chrétien la Capitale. This is a church in the ’80s that truly had expansion. And truly this church has affected many others across the province. Here are some men who worked with this church from the beginning. Allen Bowen, Don Martin, Pastor [first name] Charbonneau, Clyde Williamson, David Whittaker. I believe David Whittaker is here with us, too! And the current pastor is Paul Corriveau. But truly the vision for this church is to establish a Bible college in the church, and then to equip pastors to send them out. And so we have here the church and the Bible college linked together, and then the opening up of many new churches.
And then in 1997 there was a fusion of the two Bible colleges in the province—there was the Collège Biblique Québec and the Institut Biblique Berée—the two became one. And then we had our new district in the year 2000, with the churches from the French conference, and then the churches from the Eastern Ontario and Quebec District that came together. And many things happened. But through this all, there was always growth. Getting out of our comfort zones.
Hannah lived in a sterile situation, and all of a sudden, vitality came forth. Where there seemed to be no hope, no understanding, where the people didn’t have any vision, and her husband even said, “This is reality, accept it!” Even her rival said, “Just accept it! You’re not going to have any children!” She said, “No. I will NOT accept sterility. I will NOT accept it. I have a VISION for the future. God won’t leave me sterile. He won’t leave me in the condition I’m in. He’ll give me a future. He’ll give me something new. He’ll give me a child.” And this is truly the cry of my heart for this province. We can’t stay where we are—we must go forward.
"And this is truly the cry of my heart for this province. We can’t stay where we are—we must go forward."
My father [Marcel St-Onge] came to pastor this church in Laval in 1968. We called this church a chicken coup. We had this type of chicken wire there, with cement on top of it. This was a chicken coup. And when my father decided he was going to take this church in Laval, they said to my father, “You’re going to take this chicken coup in Laval?” But this chicken home—had lots of eggs! It started to grow! And then in 1978 we had to sell this old building and buy a new one! And my youth and childhood was in that second building. In there, we were about 150 to 200 people.
And then there was expansion again. But there were difficult times. In 1988, the church went through a split, and we were in the middle of a building program. And that was the year I considered going to Bible college. This was the year that I was planning to go to Bible college, but in a year of terrible financial problems because of division. God works in the middle of chaos—we don’t have control. I remember this period so clearly—seeing the suffering in my father’s eyes. But he prayed even though he was bitter. And he saw the hand of God work. This helped me to move forward in my ministry. And even though people can go through difficult situations, they come out stronger and see God work.
"I remember this period so clearly—seeing the suffering in my father’s eyes. But he prayed even though he was bitter. And he saw the hand of God work."
The last phase of the work of this church was when a new third church was built in 1989. We knew again of a great time of expansion. And when I took the pastorate in the 1990s, we saw growth. And then we had to go to two meetings. And God was continually working. And sometimes, though, we were off-kilter. But He was putting something in my heart. And God was showing that my assistant would be leaving, and maybe this would be a church plant. And I was saying, “Lord, I just feel you leading in this direction, but not right now, please … a little later… ” And then I went to lunch with Eric Lafleur, my assistant pastor. And he opened his heart up to me. And that day, we truly made a covenant. We were going to see a church plant in Laval. And last fall, that took place! And the vision was to go forward! This was the first time we went in this direction. There weren’t many models I could follow. I spent time with Pastor Paul Corriveau from Quebec City, and he was involved quite a bit with the church plant, his church and the church in Ste-Foy.
So we find ourselves in this context. If we want God to bless us, we must come out of our comfort zones. In a time of prayer, and even in times of suffering and prayer, God will birth something new … and we will go forward. And God is too good to not bless us. He wants to truly lead us on. The prayer of my heart is that I want us to work together in Quebec in this direction. I would be so pleased again if we would link up again with the Canadian initiative to see many new churches planted here in this province. Because we have a heart for the future of this province. Others were able to do it in the past, why can’t we do it now? We can do it now! Together we are working for our future. We’ll take a step of faith.
"If we want God to bless us, we must come out of our comfort zones. In a time of prayer, and even in times of suffering and prayer, God will birth something new … and we will go forward."
Are you blessed?
Last statistic. Presently here in Quebec, we have 109 churches—67 French, 19 English, nine First Nations, 14 ethnic. We want to see that continue to grow. I’ll share more on this later. Thank you.
To learn more about Patrick St-Onge, click here.
Photo by Leslie Ghag. © 2016 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.