Quebec evangelicals remember pivotal Expo ’67

MONTREAL, QC—Individuals and churches across a broad spectrum of denominations will celebrate April 28 as the 40th anniversary of the most eventful summer in the spiritual history of Quebec—the year of Expo '67.

Growth and attendance in Quebec's evangelical churches has plateaued over the last couple of years and many are looking back to the breakthroughs of the summer of '67 for inspiration.

While many Quebec evangelicals do not trace the roots of their conversion to the summer of '67, they probably have been influenced by churches, ministries and others who were directly involved.

Slow, tedious work

Before '67, long decades of slow, tedious work—most often done in obscure, remote corners of the province, had resulted in little fruit.

Then, with the eyes of the world turned on the city of Montreal in 1967, Quebec's evangelical churches collaborated in a gutsy and unabashedly evangelistic outreach that would lead thousands to Christ and become "the tipping point" for all of the province's evangelical denominations.

Working in collaboration with Moody Bible Institute's evangelism department, the organizers developed a series of spectacular science-based shows that would draw people in and then introduce spiritual truths. The concept of the popular Sermons from Science pavillion was developed based on outreaches at two previous world's fairs in the United States.

George Speake wowed crowds by flowing 1,000,000 volts through his body—a charge powerful enough that it sparked into flame a wooden paddle he held above his head. People intrigued by the first live presentation were invited into a second, smaller theatre where they could watch a short film featuring Leighton Ford giving a clear presentation of the gospel. At the end of the film, counsellors were present with New Testaments, literature and answers.

When the gates closed for the last time at the end of that first summer, 840,539 people had watched the presentation and 4,500 had made a decision for Christ—more than the total population of all of the province's existing evangelical churches at the time. More would be added during the following summers.

Christian Direction, the organization initially created to lead the outreach and follow-up, is playing a pivotal role in this summer's celebrations. It will be updating its website throughout the summer with archival pictures of those early ministry years as well as details of celebratory events.

"The key lesson for us as an organization is the challenge of the risk these men and women were willing to make," said Sandy Smith, director of communications at Christian Direction. She notes that coming up with the $500,000 financing needed for that first summer led to extraordinary steps, including five Montreal businessmen mortgaging their homes as donation.

This year, the April 28 Montreal kick off will highlight Christian Direction's 40 year history in creative ways, including an art contest.

"Quebecers are indeed finding new ways to communicate their faith and vision of the world to their communities—and art is one of those outlets," says Rebecca Rowley, of Christian Direction. The contest is open to young Quebec artists and includes a first prize of $1,000.

"As the reality of the world around us changes, there are some conventional methods and approaches to reaching our communities that just don't work anymore. It's time to get creative. Sometimes you just need to take the risk and work out of your comfort zone," says Smith.

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