Great-Grandpa’s Church

A 20 year building vision – that’s what they had.

Sometime around 1905 someone among the parishioners at Sacred Heart Parish in Lebret, Saskatchewan, had an idea to build a stone church. 20170827_141722They had a wooden chapel already, but they felt something more enduring was needed. (Their instincts were good – the historic wooden chapel was burned by the Ku Klux Klan.)

My great-grandfather, Napoleon Pilon, was a part of that church. He was a farmer in the region, one of many staunch Roman Catholic believers there. The farmers were an integral part of the vision because for the next twenty years, from 1905 to 1925, they brought field stones from their farms to the building site.

For twenty years that pile of stone grew higher and heavier. Finally, in 1925, the priest of the time, Father Le Coq, looked at it, looked at the men, and said, “Its time.” And they began to build.

With the foundation being laid for twenty years, it took only an extra two to actually erect the building there today – inside dome 38 feet high; ground level to the top of the cross 122 feet high; 145 feet long by 55 to 70 feet wide. 20170827_134228

The building is imposing, and the inside is still beautiful and preserved pretty much in its original state – complete with Tyndall stone, from our old neighbourhood in Manitoba. (An architect has said it would cost something in the neighbourhood of $40,000,000 to build the church today.)


When I think of it I am impressed by the foresight of the men – and women too, no doubt – who conceived the idea and worked to bring it to fruition during those twenty years of toiling on the soil, digging those big stones out of the ground, hauling them who knows how far. My great-grandfather among them, they were not deterred by the passing of time, or the seeming lack of progress, or the worshiping in a place that wasn’t yet their spiritual home.

I learned all of this from our visit to Balcarres, when we took a small detour to Lebret so I could check out the cemetery where some of my family are buried (including Great-Grandpa, and Thomas Kavanagh, the first white homesteader and grain farmer in Saskatchewan, and a great-something uncle of mine).20170827_130757 The church was closed when we arrived (they had celebrated mass earlier in the day), but there was a sign that told us to call “Bruno” if we wanted a tour.

Bruno turned out to be a marvelous tour guide and raconteur, and we enjoyed listening to him tell the story of the Qu’Appelle Valley, the town of Lebret, and the church. My favorite part was when he was relating the story of the building of the church, and Bruno quoted the words uttered by the priest, “Men – its time.”

A call to arms, a call to worship, a call to work.  In the fullness of time. Twenty years in the making.

Watershed Changes Coming

I just saw an article, Hydropower on the Mambilla Plateau, outlining a new deal struck by the Nigerian and Chinese governments. As the article states, there was an earlier agreement, which later fell through.

At that time – back in 2007, I think – the Mambilla Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS) initiated some steps to purchase land outside of the flood zone, which is where the seminary is now located.

If this new deal goes through it will mean major drastic changes on the Plateau. Some of them we trust will be for the better, as they will gain access to electricity, and the region may be opened up to more possibilities. Other changes may not be for the better, as land will become an even more contested resource, and many people will need to be relocated – including this guard at Kakara, where the dam will most likely be located.

Guard at KakaraIn any case, much wisdom will be required to best know how to navigate these new waters (pun intended), and so prayer will be needed for our Christian brothers and sisters on the Plateau and beyond.

Fearing God = Freedom

Freedom means a lot of things to folks here in North America. It is not often linked to the word ‘fear,’ but for me the two things are inseparable.

The Bible says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (see Proverbs 1.7). I have found it is also the beginning of freedom.26

Just to be clear, the fear we are talking about is not some kind of white-knuckle, wide-eyed worry that the old man is going to come up the stairs with a wrench in his hand. Our heavenly Father is not to be compared with the inhumane abusers that some folks have to suffer here on earth.

Rather, he is seen in Jesus – who is the exact representation of his being (Heb 1.1-3) – and Jesus did not abuse anyone. A quick read through the Gospels tells us that he was no pushover either, and that his disciples were actually afraid of him (see Luke 8.22-25 for one example).

The fear they had for Jesus was a mix of awe, respect, reverence, and ignorance. Does that last bit surprise you? It did me a bit, but it makes sense, for we fear what we do not know – and how can we fully know the Lord?

Anyway, on to my main point. The fear – let me say, the right fear – of the Lord also brings freedom. Since it makes we want to love and obey him, I know that if I am fearing him I am walking in the way of the Lord. And if I am doing that, then what else have I to fear? In fearing God I am free from all other fear.Vans on Madina road

As the psalmist says, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (See Psalm 23 for the whole passage.)

Or, as Paul puts it, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (For the whole, beautiful passage, see Romans 8.31-39.)

Folks often ask about the inherent dangers of living and travelling in Cameroon and Nigeria, and wonder how we deal with the fear. The proper fear of the Lord brings in its wake many good things. For me, a fear-prone guy at the best of times, one of the best is freedom from all other fear.

NAB Appeal

An appeal has gone out from the North American Baptist International Office concerning the Fulbe refugees on the Mambilla Plateau, which you can access at Fulbe Conflict. If you are able to pray or help in other ways, it is much needed and appreciated.FB_IMG_1500329690816

To aid in understanding the conflict I have made two short videos (4 and 5 minutes) which you can access at Fulbe History, Part 1 and Fulbe History, Part 2. (Thanks to the Alberta Baptist Association for the use of their board room.)19424277_780166562153348_5658066797476326273_n

I include here photos taken of the harm done to the cattle to show the horror of it all, but will refrain from posting photos of the slain, out of respect for both the living and the dead.

At the moment people are out of harm’s way, but if only if our definition of “harm” does not include things like lack of shelter, food, education, and so on. You can see where I am going with this I think. There is a great need for aid to be given these folks. Thanks for clicking on the links to read more about it all, and for your praying and giving.