Postal Bible School - Canada
Pete Smith, Portage La Prairie, Canada
It was encouraging to read the following comment, in a recent Christmas card, received from a student – ‘I love learning more about the BIBLE ? Hopefully I can learn more in the years to come’. Over the past eighteen years one wonders what impact these monthly Bible lessons have had on over 12,000 students who have been enrolled here in Canada.
At the end of 2017, we numbered around 2,000 students. Our three largest areas of concentration are approximately 750 in Ontario, 500 in the USA, plus 475 in Manitoba. Outside of these, some 325 live in western Canada while, disappointingly, only thirty live in the eastern provinces, with none in the northern territories. Unfortunately, we seem to lose as many as we gain each year, which is approximately 1,000 students. The highest we’ve reached is 2,399 back in November 2015. These are marked by a very faithful team of 265 teachers, who are from all across the country, plus a few in the United States. The vast majority of our team consists of sisters. It would seem that very few brethren have a desire to get involved. We would request your prayers that we shall see this change in the future and that the existing team might be given wisdom as they mark each month’s lesson, make comments, and correspond with their class.
Elaine’s office team consists of three sisters from our home assembly, plus two of our daughters. Our other daughter helps by marking. Their contribution, whether on a weekly or monthly basis, is a tremendous help in keeping Elaine’s workload from becoming too heavy. In addition, three or four young people from our local assembly help out once or twice a month, by opening all the mail for us and then sorting it into groups – new applications, prize requests, teacher’s queries etc.
We lease a high-quality colour digital printer to produce our monthly supply of lessons and are thankful to have very few problems. Please pray that this will continue. The four grades of BibleTime lessons have been edited three times. We are presently considering whether to use the new eight-page Level One Lessons that have been recently introduced in Great Britain, replacing the original four-page edition. If we do, it will mean setting up a new editorial team to go over the 144 lessons. In 2015 we decided to revise the NewLife Bible Studies, as we had never done a full revision of these. This project is now almost complete and will be launched on our website, God willing, maybe this spring. We have been using the new red and black format ourselves since each was completed. Please pray with us that they will prove a useful tool for Bible class teachers. All our BibleTime lessons are also available on our website, readily accessible for Sunday School Teachers. Prayer would be valued for Mike Badgley of Ottawa, who is our webmaster and who hopes to make some upgrades to the website shortly. Once we have completed the English NewLife revision, our long-standing graphic designer of some eighteen years will be retiring and Mike will be taking over the responsibility of making all our corrections. At this stage we’re not sure who will be assigned the laying out of the new Level One, if we decide to use it.
Over the past seven years we have been working on a Spanish translation of the NewLife series. Unfortunately, due to various issues, we’ve been delayed several times, with the biggest holdup in 2017 being my inability to find the needed time to complete it sufficiently so it can also be made available on both our website and the BES website. Please pray that this project will see the light of day in 2018, especially as the BibleTime lessons are now available in Spanish.
Our two biggest ways of recruiting new students continues to be our website and promotion during our ‘Treasure Seekers’ children’s weeks. This past summer I had seven one-week children’s series, including a return visit to a small rural community called Arborg, situated two hours north of Winnipeg. How we came to go to Arborg was quite amazing! One day a friend of ours was speaking to a farmer from there who had five of his seven children doing Postal Bible School (PBS). When he heard about the Gospel Tent he said that he would love to see children’s tent meetings in his area, so our friend gave him our contact details. I was curious how many other children were doing PBS in his area and was very surprised to discover we had forty-one active students! In August 2016, over sixty children attended daily afternoon meetings, including nearly all our PBS students! What a thrill to be sharing the gospel with those who had been doing PBS lessons for three, five, or more years! Last summer, we started with only forty-two but climbed to seventy-three, with eight to fifteen parents present each afternoon. However, it was a conversation with a mum that I will remember most. She told me how her eleven-year-old son had been in Bolivia with her husband two months earlier. As his dad was driving a bulldozer, his son tried to get his attention, but his dad couldn’t hear him. As he tried to get out of the way of the machine, he tripped, and was run over and killed! She said this is why he is not at the meetings this year. How solemn! A year ago he didn’t miss a meeting and now he is in eternity – where I don’t know! May the Lord help us to faithfully preach and distribute His word!
An annual outreach that PBS has been involved with for many years is a gospel booth in the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair that is held during the last week in March in Brandon. In recent years, PBS has taken on the full responsibility of running it, after the small assembly approached us. As a registered charity, we are given a discounted rate for our double site, which is a real help. However, as I had been struggling to come up with any new ideas in the last couple of years, we approached Mike and Helen Knox and asked if they would like to have a major input into this outreach and they kindly agreed to do this last year. Helen is our eldest daughter, and they were commended to the Lord’s work in January 2016. Based on a book called If You Could Ask God One Question, the display included these words on a large fabric display.
There was a board where people could write and leave their questions, plus an interactive photo table where those looking were asked questions. Mike had ordered 1,100 copies of the book, which were available for free to anyone who wanted a copy, while a new PBS fabric banner display was used and ‘goodie bags’ passed out to any children.
It was a complete break with the style and content used in recent years but, as hoped, it attracted many to stop and talk and to take for themselves a copy of the book. We would appreciate prayer for the follow-up to this year’s outreach.
Another development that has tremendous potential has opened up in St. Lucia. During my last visit in May 2017, nine primary schools were visited again and at two of them I showed the head teachers sample PBS BibleTime booklets. These are printed in Ireland and contain twenty-four lessons. I offered to supply these free of charge, if they felt they could use them as part of their Religious Education curriculum. Both heads were very positive and felt it was most timely and said they would get back to me after speaking to their staff. One of the schools was the very first one I visited in a rural area with about 250 students.
The other was one of those in the capital, Castries, that has over 700 students. After some months’ delay and several phone calls, in November we were thrilled when the rural school ordered 126 booklets. At the time of writing we had not heard from the other school. As you read this report, I am hoping I will have had the opportunity during my Jan/Feb 2018 visit to speak with the head teachers of seven more Primary Schools where I had morning assemblies, along with the Head of a High School in Castries, and left with them samples of the booklets. Please pray that many Head Teachers will place orders and begin using the material with their children.
We have now been involved with PBS for some thirty years. Neither of us are getting any younger and, ideally by 2022, we would like our numbers to be halved to around 1,000 students. If we didn’t have responsibility for any students from Ontario and the USA this could be accomplished. Please join us in praying that the Lord will overrule with regard to the future. We appreciate your continued prayers for the Lord’s blessing upon this outreach.