By Susan Mires
Dryden, Ontario, Canada – The Missouri missionaries arrived in Dryden, Ontario, with only one item on their agenda: to build relationships with people.
In two weeks, the groups from Wright-Douglas-Ozark Association made a visible impact on the city through service projects.
“The thing they couldn’t get over was why we were doing this,” said Dick Wakefield, director of missions for the association. “There was only one answer: God sent us.”
Wright-Douglas-Ozark voted last last year to form a partnership with the Canadian city. The association had just wrapped up a five-year partnership with Grand Valley Association in Colorado and felt led to reach out to Canada.
The association received information from Rick Hedger, partnership missions specialist with the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), about three communities in Ontario they could reach. Wright-Douglas-Ozark felt a connection to Dryden, a city of about 8,500 people. There is no sister church in the city to partner with, so it is genuine pioneer mission work. Wakefield and other ministers took an initial trip to Dryden in April.
“We came back and after that, there was never a doubt that this was where Wright-Douglas-Ozark was supposed to be,” he said.
Gary Smith, North American Mission Board (NAMB) missionary, provided orientation and suggestions on how to share the gospel with Canadians. Only about one in 200 have a relationship with Christ.
“They know the name Jesus, but they don’t know him,” Wakefield said.
The Missouri believers sensed a deep spiritual hunger among those they met. The paper mill, which had employed 1,400 people in Dryden, recently shut down. It is operating again, but with only a fraction of the employment.
“It’s in our heart. We hurt because those people are hurting. We met some of the finest people,” Wakefield said.
They were also blessed to connect with some believers who have been searching for a Bible-based, mission-minded church. Hedger said the convention contacted all nine existing churches in Dryden to see if they felt there was a need for or potential to work with an evangelical church plant in the city. Most of those that responded were supportive.
The Wright-Douglas-Association has a long-term goal to plant a church in Dryden. They started out with a simple goal this summer to serve the people of Dryden. The first team of six people led by Mike Dillon, pastor of First Baptist Church of Gainesville, arrived on July 4. They visited city hall and asked for chores they could perform. This year is the city’s 100th anniversary and they have a number of activities planned.
“We said we’ll do anything. We just want to bless you,” Wakefield said.
The group went to Aaron Park, a large park that the province of Ontario had donated to the city, but the city hadn’t had the labor resources to maintain. The team went to work with lawnmowers and trimmers, then began painting. The property manager was amazed how much they accomplished in a matter of days.
A second team of senior adults arrived in Dryden July 11. Some set to work finishing up projects at the park. Others went to an old youth center that was going to be torn down. They sorted through items and prepared them to be sold at a garage sale that will raise money for a new center.
The missionaries drew plenty of attention in the small community. The local newspaper wrote an article, which quoted the Dryden Police Chief Shayne MacKinnon.
“I believe these folks were really helpful and worked very hard” MacKinnon said. “They were looking to help the community in meaningful ways and that was one of the projects they took on. Maintaining a viable youth center is a priority for our police service and we are grateful for their help.”
The team also prayer walked portions of the city and talked to people whenever they had a chance and prayed with them. They gathered names and addresses of their new Canadian friends, so they can keep in touch in the following months and pray for them. Wright-Douglas-Ozarks plans to return to Dryden next spring and invite their new friends to a cookout, where they can continue to build relationships and share the Gospel.
Wakefield has formed relationships with some city leaders and he is personally looking forward to telling them about Jesus as the opportunity becomes available. The association is excited to see the Holy Spirit at work in Dryden and is planning future trips, including one for pastors and their wives this fall.
“Because they’re willing to receive us, because of the way we’ve been a blessing to them, I believe there will be a church that can minister to that town,” Wakefield said.
Churches considering partnering with Ontario will benefit from learning from NAMB missionary Gary Smith, Wakefield. Smith will be available at the MBC annual meeting in Springfield in October to provide information to churches and associations.