Antoine is an artist and a really good one. I had traveled to Montreal last weekend to be with him and the local CLC team and was invited to dinner at his home. As he invited me in, I immediately noticed how beautifully decorated his house was and that someone had clearly taken a lot of time choosing the artwork that adorned the walls. What I didn’t expect was that he had created every piece himself. Starting as a fine art student in university he had begun a lifelong passion of creating paintings, calligraphy and other objects that could have easily been in a museum. Culture matters to Antoine and changing the culture for the better matters a lot.
Providing evangelical Christian literature in Quebec is a challenging proposition at the best of times. There is a very small evangelical population, there are far fewer Christian books available in the French language and those that are available cost much more than the same books in English. Despite this, an intrepid group of publishers, wholesale distributors and Christian bookstores has been making these resources available for many years. Church leaders depend on these resources and every effort has been made to get more books into Quebec and at cheaper prices. This band of brave leaders met this past May to talk about working together, about impacting their culture and being a part of a move of God in Canada.
Following that important meeting, which Antoine had hosted, he decided to poll the attendees for ideas. Surely someone would come up with something that would provide the breakthrough they had been praying for. Surprisingly, there was not even one idea – not one. Antoine knew he had a problem as the group was going to reconvene this October to discuss what to do next and no one had suggested anything. With that reality in his heart, he spent time praying, thinking, researching and getting alone with God during the summer and God answered his prayers. It was a big idea and one that would not happen easily.
As Antoine considered his context in Quebec, he came across two important facts. The evangelical Christian population may have been small but it was not declining. In fact, some churches were growing and new people were coming to faith. Immigrants from many other nations who were already evangelical believers continued to come to big cities like Montreal on a regular basis. At the same time Christian book sales had been declining and this was true for all the publishers, distributors and bookstores. While that might have been explained away by internet sales competition in other countries, most of these French Christian books had never been made available on Amazon or any other major internet reseller. The clear conclusion was that Christians were reading less. After talking with many other Christian leaders about this, Antoine had this conclusion confirmed time and time again.
So what had changed. The culture had. Over and over, Antoine heard the same thing when he brought up this concern. People were far too busy surfing the internet, watching movies and being distracted by digital options to consider the possibility of picking up a book. In addition, the commitment to daily devotional time alone with God had eroded tremendously in the face of so many other ways to spend time. A way of life, a Christian discipline and the joy of reading a great book was alluding an entire generation and it was having a huge impact in the church. Pastors could no longer presume that the average congregant had ever read the books they were quoting from or even heard of the author at all. Something really big had changed.
Clearly understanding the problem he was facing, Antoine decided to tackle it head on and came up with one big idea to present to the gathering in October. What would it look like if every Christian committed to reading one hour a day? What would it look like if an entire church committed to doing this together? What would happen if reading became normal again and people started discussing the books they were reading as their lives were being impacted by the content? What could God do with a small band of believers that were committed to changing the culture one book at a time? Maybe, just maybe, a movement would get started that would have an impact far wider than just the evangelical Christian church.
As Antoine presented this idea to the group, people got excited. They leaned in and asked questions and then they did something even more important. They volunteered to help. Antoine asked for a show of hands of those willing to form the steering committee to get this idea off the ground. Immediately a number of hands shot up and people began discussing what it might look like if this idea really took off. I couldn’t help but think of Antoine the artist painting a different picture of the future for those in the room. Just because the culture is moving in a particular direction, it does not mean that we have to go along for the ride. He was seeing the mind as a canvas and books as a way to create beauty in a barren and desolate landscape. What a reason for hope, excitement and common purpose. I look forward to seeing this dream become a reality as this newly formed team begins to work together and creates a new culture of reading and reflection in the years to come.