Last week I was in Paradise. I drove down Paradise Lane and visited West Paradise. As it turned out I was in paradise in more ways than one.
Paradise is a small, rural community in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia and yes there really is a Paradise Lane in the village. I had traveled there to meet with Mark Reece, the pastor of the Paradise Baptist Church. I wanted to hear first-hand how one small church in this very small community could make a huge difference in the lives of six people.
An amazing story
Last August a mother and her five daughters were welcomed to their version of Paradise because of the faith and vision of this church. A member of the leadership team in this church was listening to the radio as he drove along in his car. He heard an interview with a government official involved in bringing Syrian refugees to Canada. The official began talking about the need for churches and other organizations to become involved in this process.
It can be dangerous listening to the radio. The leader began to ask himself whether this was something that they as a church might be able to do. He shared his concern with Pastor Mark and the two of them in turn shared it with the leadership team.
Mark shared with me that rather than ask themselves the question that most of us would ask “Can we do this?”, they asked themselves a much more challenging question: “How can we not do this?”. Their answer to the second question was that they couldn’t turn their backs on these people who were in so much need.
This brought them to a second question that moved them further along the path that they were taking: “How are we going to do this?”
They had to raise $16, 500 in order to meet their share of the expenses in bringing a family to Canada. The whole church take a huge step of faith and decided that God could provide. God honoured their faith and provided the necessary funds.
They also needed to find accommodations for a family of six, not the easiest of tasks in a rural setting. Their official commitment to this family is for a year but they look on it as a much longer, fuller commitment than that.
Last August they met the family at the airport in Halifax and took them to their new home. The family had traveled from a refugee camp in Turkey through the process center in Toronto and on to Halifax where people from the church were there to greet them. The family is adjusting to life in rural Nova Scotia which for them is paradise in more ways than just the name. They not only have found a place of safety and peace but they have found a community of people who love them.
The wider impact
I met with Mark Reece for lunch on a Monday. The previous day I had attended another small church in the Annapolis Valley just outside of the town of New Minas. The people at Third Horton Baptist Church were excited for several reasons that morning but the main cause of excitement was that just a few days before they had welcomed a refugee family that they along with two other churches had been instrumental in bringing to Canada.
They had pictures that they showed of meeting this family at the airport in Halifax. This time it was a mother with three boys. Hugs were exchanged and I imagine a few tears were shed as this family realized their dream of being in a place where they didn’t have to worry about their safety.
The people from this church again had found a place for the family to live. They were concerned that snow was predicted for the next day and the boys’ first day at school might turn out to be a snow day. They were making sure that someone would visit the family if school was cancelled and explained to this family who had never seen snow what snow days were here in Canada.
I had lunch with one of the members of the church and he shared with me some other stories of small churches that were involved in sponsoring refugees. He then told me that it had all begun with the commitment of the people at Paradise Baptist Church to step out in faith and do something that apart from the power of God would have been impossible for them to do.
What can we do? We are just a small church.
Someone compared the difference between a small church and a large church as being similar to the differences between a Chihuahua and a Saint Bernard. They are both dogs but most of the similarities end with that statement. Small churches get into trouble when they don’t understand that they are a Chihuahua and try to act like a St. Bernard. It just doesn’t work.
But having said that, there is one thing that every size of church has in common. They both have the same Lord Jesus Christ as their head. His power is no greater in the large church than it is in the small. His ability to impact lives is just as great in the small church as it is in the large. His presence is just as real in a small church as it is in a large. His love for his church is just as real in a small church as it is in a large.
If you believe what I just wrote in the last paragraph, don’t ever use the words of the title for this section. Don’t ever accept the idea that you can’t make a difference because you are small. Don’t even listen to someone who would suggest that Jesus can’t use you because you don’t have all the resources of the large church.
Paradise Baptist Church is a small church in a small town that made a huge difference in the lives of a lot of people. They made a difference in the lives of a single mother and her five children. They made a difference in the lives of other refugee families brought to Canada by other small churches who were motivated to get involved at least partly by the example of Paradise Baptist Church.
They made a difference in the lives of their own people and all of the other people in all of the other churches that became involved because they saw God provide in response to their faith.
They made a difference in their community because people in that community saw the church being the church and sharing the love of Jesus with people for whom he died.
They made a difference in my life. I came away from my lunch with Mark feeling blessed because I had witnessed God at work.
Don’t anyone ever tell me that a small church can’t make a significant impact for God.