Building Bridges in Quebec
Every year since 2003 Olivia Durham particularly anticipates one single week in July. Though her anticipation is hedged with excitement, it is preceded by hundreds of hours of preparation.
Olivia, member of Covenant OPC in Barre, Vermont, leads “English For Kids” (often referred to as E4K), a week-long children’s camp in Quebec, Canada. The camp, organized in partnership with The Reformed Christian Church of Beauce, is not only designed to teach local children English, but is primarily used to share the gospel. This camp incorporates Bible curriculum and activities, along with conversations borne out of relationships built with children, parents, and community members.
The Reformed Christian Church of Beauce (St. Georges de Beauce) is a congregation of the Reformed Church of Quebec, a denomination in partnership with the OPC. Located in the agricultural heartland of Quebec, this church is immersed in a predominantly French-catholic culture in a rural region. Most of the immediate community is rather apathetic, perhaps even averse, to the Christian faith, resulting from a historical divide between English Protestantism and French culture. More recently, some younger generations have come to perceive organized religion with suspicion because of the devastating reports of scandal within the Roman Catholic Church at large.
Since 2006, E4K has served as a means of outreach for the church, connecting the congregation to families and children in the community. Olivia explains the way in which the camp is breaking down the barrier between the church and local families, “The role of our camp has been to make a bridge by offering something that parents want, which is English, and letting them know that these are normal, healthy, nice people [in the church].” She also describes the camp as a means to “break down walls of misunderstanding” between the church and their nonbelieving neighbors. Although the kids are there to learn English, the desire of Olivia’s heart is that ultimately the children would be exposed to the care of the body of Christ and come to understand that the Bible does in fact have relevance and truth for today.
Though Olivia has faithfully invested in the camp for many years, English for Kids was not originally her idea. In 2002, it was Laurel Swift (another member of Covenant OPC in Barre, VT) who gathered a group of four individuals to visit St. Marc’s Reformed Church in Quebec City in response to pastor of St. Marc Reformed Church, Ben Westerveld’s request for volunteers to organize an English language children’s camp. Upon the group’s return and hearing the proposition, Olivia was eager to put her skills as an ESL teacher to good use in service of those in Quebec. By the following year, Laurel and Olivia had written a curriculum, gathered volunteers, and were ready to host a camp. For three summers, Covenant OPC (Barre) sent a team of both adults and teens to minister to the Quebecois children.
In 2006, Pastor Westerveld asked Covenant OPC Barre to consider beginning E4K in a second location, the Beauce, while other groups continued to serve in Quebec City. Olivia gladly obliged. It was around this time that the large group of Covenant OPC teens were no longer teens, and their obligation-free summers were coming to an end. Thus, Olivia began incorporating teens from other OPC congregations, beginning somewhat of a yearly tradition for many of the teens of the Presbytery of New England and New York, as well as for others across the country. Since then, the Lord has continued to supply teenagers who are eager to serve and grow together. The camp is an earnest time of edification, as many of the teens have few other similarly aged peers in their home congregations. For Olivia, this is one of the most heartwarming aspects of the mission. She describes working with these precious covenant teens as “sailing with the wind.” It is clear Olivia has a great affection and love for the teens she serves with and delights to invest in their growth.
Because of the proximity of congregations in the Presbytery of New York and New England to Quebec and the significant financial support of the presbytery, many of the teens come from the New England region. This is further cause for ongoing bonds and relationships, as there are often mutual connections and friends among teams even before they arrive in Quebec. In reference to the teens, Olivia says, “[The goal is] to encourage growth in the faith of youth [in] the many scattered churches [of] the PNYNE by giving them a chance at leadership in ministry. I love seeing them grow into that.”
It is also clear to see that, as Olivia expressed, the ministry of the camp extends far beyond the children who are there to learn English. Beyond the children are parents who walk away with a better perception of the church, teenagers who leave with nourishing Christian friendships, and the members of St. Georges who receive great encouragement amid their difficult, isolating cultural and societal context. The relationship between the two churches has even given rise to occasions of mutual service and fellowship, as families from St. Georges have come to volunteer with Covenant OPC’s Vacation Bible School in Barre, Vermont.
Although God has been faithful to preserve this ministry in the past, Olivia expressed concern for the uncertain future of E4K. Because of new, stricter international travel vaccination requirements between Canada and the US, it seems as though Olivia will have to source most volunteers from Canada. Because of her affinity and established relationship with PNYNE, from which most volunteers are found, recruitment has become more difficult . This is to be a matter of prayer, that such circumstances would not prohibit the camp from moving forward in the coming years and that the teens of PNYNE would be permitted to rejoin the effort in Quebec by next summer. Olivia also made it known that she is praying for the right time to pass the leadership of E4K on to someone who is equipped and invested in the work the Lord is doing through E4K. Pray that the Lord would provide such an individual to continue this avenue of service and fellowship.
This year, English For Kids will be held from July 2-9. For this summer, Olivia is thankful for a team consisting of Pastor Brian Belh’s family of Providence OPC, Rockford, IL, Jay Rankin, elder at Bangor OPC, and 7 young people from the Canadian Reformed church in Ontario. Please pray for the team as they serve in this post-pandemic setting, for good health, and for sensitivity and resolute planting of the Gospel seed.
If you are interested in learning more about English For Kids or the Reformed Christian Church of Beauce, please visit opcstm.org or beauce.erq.qc.ca
If you are thinking about starting an ESL program or camp in your area, Olivia Durham would be happy to share her ESL children’s camp curriculum with you! You can contact her at [email protected]