I am not sure who saw the sign first. It said, “Vermont – 5”. I was in a car with folks from the CLC Canada team this past week and we were nearly at the restaurant where we were going to eat lunch when we saw the sign. We were only five kilometers from the U.S. border and as I said to one of my colleagues, I had never felt further away. Crossing the border from New York into Quebec heading for Montreal was somewhat like falling down the rabbit whole into Wonderland. I was just as quickly disoriented as Alice and wondering where I was.
My first clue should have been the dual stop signs on the other side of the border. The first one had the words STOP and ARRET, and then it was ARRET and STOP and finally just ARRET. From that point on, I am not sure that I saw another sign in English. My disorientation continued as I discovered that even multi-national corporations had made appropriate language accommodations and now KFC was PFK. Fortunately, they still had a picture of Colonel Sanders on the sign and greasy but delicious chicken inside so that I could tell I was in the right place.
Montreal is one of the most diverse cities in the world with people from many nations calling it home. The CLC team is a reflection of this melting pot and we have people from Asian, Latin American and African/ Haitian origins all working together. The evangelical church is a small minority of the population. Some estimates put it at no more than 40,000 in a province of over 7 million people. Catholicism is the dominant faith, but it is not practiced by the majority of postmodern inhabitants of Quebec. It truly is a mission field and Satan has been hard at work to keep it that way.
With such a small population of Evangelicals as a market for French Christian books, it is very difficult for local publishers to produce large enough quantities to give them the economic scale for adequate pricing. In addition, many of the books are published in France and imported into the county. This has produced incredible price disparities between French and English books. In our store, we had a book on sale in English for $8.99 and the same book available in French for $39.99. These price differences have existed for a long time and are a part of the reason that Christian books are not more widely purchased and read in this part of the world.
Our team is facing this challenge head on and doing what they can to be as creative as possible. Recently they closed their main store in Westmount and opened 3 others in various parts of town in addition to our second store in Ahuntsic so that they now operate four stores and a warehouse. Each of these locations has books in English and French and well trained team members that can help people make wise choices. This strategy of “dividing to conquer” took place in the last year and is still being worked out with old customers still finding our new locations. The new stores are beautiful and inviting to those that pass by in the street.
I had the privilege of being the keynote speaker at a public celebration of the team’s 60th anniversary. The event was held in a local hotel with over 200 people attending. I could not help but notice that the audience was just as diverse as the city itself and larger than most local church congregations on any given Sunday in Montreal. We heard an amazing group called Heritage perform classic hymns with new and modern arrangements in the French language that I was learning to appreciate. As we worshiped together, I got the feeling that this was just a small taste of what heaven will be like when we have people from every tribe and nation singing together. It is amazing how my disorientation melted away as we listened to music that glorified the God we all served. Worship is a language all its own and Satan was not happy that night.