Members of Trinity Pentecostal Church in Montreal are renewing their zeal for evangelism after a new convert was murdered in a gangland-style shooting.
"There is a stronger sense of focus and urgency about reaching our community for Christ. The killing has sobered us up," said Les Burton, the church's pastor.
Charles Menard, 46, was gunned down with his brother Danny in the parking lot of a Montreal convenience store on Jan. 26. He had given his heart to Christ last fall while attending an 11-week Alpha Christian discipleship program sponsored by Trinity. He had served time in a maximum-security prison from 1988-91 for conspiracy to commit armed robbery.
Before his conversion Menard faced a serious charge. He was accused with another man of attempting to rob a courier carrying gold and checks for a trading company on June 25, 1999.
Menard's sister-in-law, a member of Trinity, asked the church to pray for his bail hearing in August. When the judge let him out on bail, Menard knew that God had intervened because his accomplice remained in jail. Accompanying family members, Menard attended a Sunday morning communion service.
Menard reportedly began crying during the service and then ran out of the room. In September 1999 he appeared at the first Alpha meeting and drifted into the pastor's cell group. People cringed because he cursed frequently and challenged Burton's teachings.
Burton didn't expect to see Menard again. But he returned the next week and continued attending the Bible study. His belligerence faded as he sang choruses and showed enthusiasm for the Bible. Within six weeks he repented of his sins and became a born-again Christian.
"There was a real change in his attitude and countenance," Burton told Charisma. Menard became a more responsible husband and father and shared his new faith with former buddies in the underworld.
Menard also attended the Rockfield Church, an Italian Pentecostal congregation pastored by Lorenzo Dellaposta. "He made two pastors happy," Burton said. At the Alpha graduation ceremonies in December, Menard was smiling. He was proud about carving a crucifix from a celery stick, Burton said.
Showing an insatiable hunger for the Bible and Christian literature, Menard met often with Burton and Dellaposta. Burton spoke with Menard for the last time when he drove him home after the Wednesday evening service on Jan. 19. Sitting in the pastor's minivan in front of his house, Menard talked about how he had achieved victory over sin and his criminal past.
Church members were sur prised when Menard didn't appear for the service the next week. They later learned that he had been shot during the service. He wanted to attend but surrendered to his brother's pleas to come along on an errand. Danny was shot twice in the face and died on the ground. Charles was shot in the neck and died in the ambulance on the way to a hospital.
Burton and the church were devastated by the news. "I was absolutely shocked," he said. "I couldn't believe it. I never had a member murdered and [with] whom I worked so closely."
Unable to preach a normal sermon on the following Sunday, Burton talked about Charles and his dramatic conversion. He stressed the frailty of life and the timing of God. At the end of his message 15 people responded for salvation and rededicated their lives to Christ. Several hundred from the congregation then flooded the altar behind them, interceding for the city of Montreal.
With 3 million inhabitants, Montreal is a needy mission field, Burton said, calling it "one of the most unchurched major cities in North America." Hedonism dom inates the social scene. Drugs and alcohol flow freely, along with prostitution and pornography. Motorcycle gangs battle for turf and have bombed pubs. Less than 1 percent of Quebec's population is considered born again, Burton estimates.
Affiliated with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, Trinity is a multicultural church whose 500 members are rearming themselves with urgent prayer for a new thrust of evangelism. "There's no doubt the killing has impacted our church family by shocking us into realizing how serious this business of reaching the lost is," Burton said. "The time is short. We always talk about Jesus coming back, but you never know how long you have to live yourself."