Robin A. Grant  

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Sharing Their Faith
The Downhomer Magazine

Founded by Gordon and Louise Young, St. John's First Assembly began as a non-denominational Christian outreach ministry in 1995 under the direction of Pastor Gordon Young and his wife Louise.

The Youngs, originally from Twillingate, have been sharing their religious faith and hope ever since.

"Revival Harvest", the first national televangelist ministry east of Montreal, is a show based out of St. John's, Newfoundland. Broadcast on the Vision Television cable channel, "Revival Harvest" is the result of the inspiration and efforts of The St. John's First Assembly. Indeed, the television program is just one example of how the congregation of St. John's First Assembly has made many great strides since its humble beginnings.

"The joke used to be that we started out with one extension cord, no money, no property, no equipment," said Gordon Young, pastor and co-founder of the Assembly. "Now we have over five acres of land, television equipment, and a brand new building."

Last year the Assembly made national headlines when the Youngs decided to open "Joel's Place", a drop-in counselling centre located smack dab in the middle of St. John's night club scene.

Meanwhile, the Youngs were also inspired to open up the "Kid Connection", an innovative version of Sunday school for Newfoundland children from various locales, bussing them in to the church en masse every Friday evening.

"Our children's ministry is basically a fun-filled action program that's provided free of charge for children of the community. We provide transportation for those that need it. We bus them in to this facility. As well, the evenings are closely chaperoned by our volunteers to ensure that the children are in a safe environment."

Every Friday evening for the past five years, weather permitting, the ministry busses in from three to four hundred children to partake in an evening of games, Bible stories, puppet shows and singing. Every week, the children are also entertained by "veggie tails", or chaperones dressed up like vegetables, and a brand new bike give-away.

I asked the Youngs how they managed to make ends meet financially, considering the cost of busses and bikes and whatnot these days.

"In the spiritual world, we move in the realm of faith. In the business world, they call this behaviour 'risk-taking.' Basically, we just bring it to our people (congregation). We say we need busses or bikes, and we just launch it in faith. People always come through and we don't have a lot of rich people here."

Gordon Young said generally all the bikes needed for a given "Kid Connection" semester (or season) are donated in one Sunday service.

Impressed by the goodwill inspired by the Youngs, I asked them about the history of their faith.

Have they always had such an incredible sense of faith?

Gordon Young told me that the seeds of faith were planted in him as a boy by his mother.

"My mother was a member of the Salvation Army. As a child, I would lie on her lap and she would tell me stories about her parents. She would tell me how, as Salvation Army preachers, her parents were able to witness miracles."

Louise Young told me about how she grew up in a Christian-Pentecostal home. She told me about how she and her family used to walk through snow three times a day to get to church.

She told me what Gordon Young was like as a young man.

"He always had a smile for everyone and he was good to everyone, but he was somebody a person would glance at and say, 'He's a hard ticket,'" said Louise. "Gord had longer hair, a big old car and wore shirts with the sleeves cut out. And he was a heavy drinker."

The Youngs proceeded to tell me how they met and married in 1970. They told me about their three children, Kimberly, Jamie and Justin, now 26, 25 and 23 respectively. And they told me about their successful careers. Gordon as executive assistant to a minister of the Trudeau cabinet and Louise as a civilian employee to the RCMP.

And finally, Gordon Young told me how his whole life almost came to a shattering halt when he was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer in March of 1981.

Young said that after learning his diagnosis, he became depressed. One night, he said, he sat despondent in front of the television set to watch an episode of Billy Graham Crusade, an American televangelist television program.

The televangelist suggested that someone sitting in front of their living room TV needed to be saved.

"It felt like he was speaking directly to me," said Gordon Young.

"He said to say the Sinner's Prayer, and once I did, it was as if a million pounds had been lifted off my shoulders."

Gordon Young said he gave his life over to Jesus that very day, and also claims to have bewildered the medical profession, from the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's all the way to Boston, Massachusetts.

The cancer disappeared.

After numberous bone scans were screened at the Health Sciences and a bone biopsy was gathered and sent to the United States, Gordon's doctor was baffled.

The only thing his doctor could say was, "The body must have taken care of itself."

But Gordon Young and his family know differently.

"The seeds my mother had planted began to take shape and grow," said Gordon Young. "Since then we have just continued to walk in faith."

Meanwhile, the Young children appear to have followed in their parent's footsteps.

The eldest, Kimberly, helps to run the youth ministry from the Eastern Pentecostal Bible School in Peterborough, Ontario--the same Bible school her father attended. She also plays the keyboard and sings for the services.

The next oldest, Justin, plays drums in the band, and the youngest, Jamie, is being groomed to produce the "Revival Harvest" shows for weekly programming with Vision TV.

And the family connection itself seems to be integral to St. John's First Assembly as a whole.

Gordon Young described Mrs. Diamond, an elderly woman who has been both a volunteer and a grandmother figure for the "Kid Connection" events.

"She's always here with the kids, and although she can't get on the floor with them, she sets a real nice atmosphere and brings something special to us here," said Gordon Young. "It's beautiful to see all our people work together."

As well, the "Kid Connection" events also include special treats for the parents, including gift certificates to different local family restaurants, like Swiss Chalet and Pizza Experts.

In fact, this Valentine's Day, Gordon and Louise Young celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary. The Youngs had planned to have special supper for the children and parents of the parish, followed by a dessert "just for the parents," and the following evening, events "just for teens," so as to encourage the participation of the entire family.

Finally, I asked them what they had planned for the future, considering all that they had already accomplished.

"Well, the areas to help in are infinite," said Louise Young. Her husband agreed.

"I don't want to be unrealistic, but I want to move in faith," said Gordon Young. "We have a few things coming up..."

Gordon and Louise looked at each other, smiling.

"We have these dreams that one day will unfold." said Gordon, glancing at his wife Louise, who laughs softly. "I'm sort of working from a second chance, and it's not that you owe a debt to the Lord. You just want to share Him with others, 'cause He's such a good guy."

Then, as I clued up the interview, Gordon Young adds, nonchalantly, "Well anytime you're not doing anything and you're really bored on a Sunday, you know..."

We laughed and I thanked them.

"We don't want to torment people,"said Gordon Young. "We just want them all to know they're welcome."

And then they smiled at me...smiles that were rich and buoyant...and full of faith.