Stephen Dawe is an elder at Calgary Baptist Church in the city of St John’s, Newfoundland. He is the lead mentor of Union’s Learning Community in Newfoundland – one of our newest. Hear from him as he shares the context of gospel ministry in this province of Canada, and what his church hopes to build in partnership with Union.

"Newfoundland and Labrador is the youngest province in Canada, but has the longest history of European settlement. The city of St John’s was claimed by England in 1497, and Newfoundland was a colony of the British Empire until we officially joined Canada in 1949. Since the island portion of the province is closer to England than to many Canadian cities (Union’s Learning Community in London is 1000km closer to us than the one in Calgary!), we are culturally closer to the UK than to much of Canada or the United States. Church and state have historically had a closer link here than is common in the rest of North America. Our provincial government’s motto is a bible verse (Matthew 6:33), and we had a Christian denominational education system until 1997 (around the same time as the government took direct control of religious hospitals, and ended our Sunday shopping laws). The result is that most Newfoundlanders will claim affiliation to one Christian denomination or another, simply because of culture.

However, it is not a Christian province in the sense of people having saving faith in Jesus Christ. There are only 74 congregations in the city, with fewer than 20 sharing a discernibly Christian message of salvation through Jesus Christ. Just as we’ve seen in the UK and Europe, the church in Newfoundland has steadily declined in the last few decades. On an average Sunday, less than 1% of the population of St John’s will attend a church that preaches the gospel. 

I have learned the value of fervent prayer, and of Christian community that is built around the word of God. We want this to be central to the churches we plant. 

Seeing the need in our own province, our church – Calvary Baptist Church – has begun a church planting wing. We want to plant gospel-centered churches led by competent and godly leaders. To do this, we are aiming to make our church a local hub for church planting and Christian education. We have sold our church building and are raising money to build a church in a strategic part of the city. We have three goals: 1) to develop a solid Christian community that can support church plants; 2) to recruit and train godly people to plant churches in Newfoundland and Labrador; and 3) to fund and send out those church planters to build solid outposts where Jesus Christ is known and his gospel is lived. As a pastor who spent a great deal of time in the Korean church (I was a member of the English Ministry at Sarang Church, South Korea for four years, and a pastor in Cheongju for three years) I have learned the value of fervent prayer, and of Christian community that is built around the word of God. We want this to be central to the churches we plant. 

There is no functional evangelical seminary in the province, and – due to our isolation – sending church leaders abroad to prepare for work in Newfoundland is rarely a viable option. By partnering with Union and hosting a Learning Community, church leaders can now train locally – leaders who will be doctrinally sound and intellectually capable, but most essentially spirit-led and redeemed through faith in Jesus Christ. In the Newfoundland Learning Community students can benefit from Union School of Theology’s academically rigorous and biblically sound education, the Graduate Diploma in Theology (GDip). With Union’s help, we are hoping to raise up a generation of competent, local leaders who are used to contextualizing the gospel to Newfoundland culture, but do not lack an understanding of the richness of our Christian history, two millennia of Christian thought, and their implications for how we live as believers before the crowd of witnesses gone before us.

Please pray for us:

  •  Pray for wisdom and discernment: we are a small church seeking to do great things for the kingdom here;
  •  Pray that the gospel would go forth and that churches would be planted: we hope for between five and 10 healthy new churches in Newfoundland by 2025;
  •  Pray that God would provide interns and church planters, the finances we need, and prayerful support from fellow Christians;
  •  Pray for future classes for the Learning Community: the UST GDip course is impressive and useful, and we would like to see many Newfoundlanders go through it to strengthen gospel witness to Newfoundland." 

- Stephen Dawe, Lead Mentor for Union's St. John's Newfoundland Learning Community.

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