Then and Now: A Son reflects on his father’s ministry in Quebec

“Then + Now” is a feature in the Mar/Apr Faith Today that shares the experience of Charles Foster and Marc Pilon, highlighting the unique challenges of evangelizing in Canada’s belle province. We asked Rob Foster, Charlie’s son and assistant professor of education at Tyndale University, to share his memories of growing up in a ministry home in Quebec in the 1960s and ’70s. He wrote a winsome journal for us. 

By Rob Foster

Charles Foster. Photo par Jessica Darmanin pour Faith Today.
Charles Foster. Photo par Jessica Darmanin pour Faith Today.

Lower Quebec city 1961: The neighbourhood five-year-olds we try to play with on our street are mean. They call us “les maudits anglais” (damned English). My younger brother had to climb a tree the other day to avoid getting bitten by the dog those French kids sicced on him. I went and told Mom. Then Dad came and rescued us. My little sister was in the pram last week sleeping in front of the living room window and some kids came and scratched her face.

1968: I’m really good at helping Dad pack the car, since we move a lot. So far, at age 12, I’ve been on Cadillac Street in Montreal, St Constant on the south shore, and in Quebec city in Limoilou, Ste Foy and St Cyrille. One thing stays the same. I watch Dad preach every Sunday! I can now imitate him perfectly and make people laugh.

I like our new house on Des Braves. Seven bathrooms, 22 bedrooms and secret passages behind the walls! A huge house, but I don’t feel like a rich kid, though, because every month Dad prays for the money to come in to help pay for it.

I know there’s a really generous lady in Toronto called Mrs. Alfreda Hall who gives us money. Lots goes on at our house: a Bible school, an evangelism training centre, a coffee house on the weekends, and I get to wrestle with Robert Godin, who lives here and is now becoming like an older brother to me and my four other siblings.

When the Operation Mobilization people come to visit Quebec city and stay at our house I get to show them around old Quebec. I love that! I take them to the Château Frontenac and watch them hand gospel tracts out. Last winter a couple of French African guys from Laval University came over and we took them tobogganing on the plains of Abraham. What a laugh! We sat them up front and when they got snow on their faces they couldn’t stop jumping and shouting “Cold! Cold!”

Sometimes stuff happens. Like when we went on holidays and left the house in the hands of a “missionary” family from Switzerland and when we came home they had moved out and stole the church’s piano! Or when one of the guys who lived with us was so messed up he would crawl around on the floor like an animal. Dad says he had mental problems.

1969: The church is really old and small, right in the middle of lower Quebec near the St Charles river. There are a lot of friendly people there, except for Mr. Bédard, who thinks he owns the church or something and always argues in meetings.

My most embarrassing Sunday was when my brother and I started laughing when Dad’s voice cracked while he was preaching and Mom sent us to the back to stand facing the wall, one in each corner.

Now that I’m 13 what I love most is going to camp in Ontario in the summer, and having my bedroom in the attic. Dad put a hole in the ceiling and made a ladder to go up for me and my brother. I can see the high school and the YMCA across the street. On Carnival night I can look out the window and see tons of drunken people. One time I climbed the tree along the parade route right in front of our house and one guy saw me up there so he threw a whisky bottle at me and nearly got me. When I heard the empty bottles of alcohol were worth money, my brother and I went and got bags full to trade them in for cash.

Being a preacher’s and missionary kid is okay. My brother doesn’t like it at all but I don’t mind. The church people are always happy to see me and my siblings, so I don’t mind going, even though Dad usually drives super-fast to get there!

I’ve done a few impulsive dumb things like when I lit some firecrackers behind the house and one of them exploded in my sister’s hair, or when I threw a ball against the wall too close to the window and shattered it, or lit matches in the house and burned a hole in the linoleum.

Dad always finds out about it and there are consequences, but he never gets really mad. I don’t like when Mom has to go work at the hospital as a nurse, even when she’s sick, just so we have food on the table. I know Dad makes the same money as every other pastor’s family, no matter the size of family. So since there are seven of us, we depend on the Dominion grocery store to donate day old stuff so we have bread and desserts. We also eat a lot of chili-con-carne. Mom can make a tasty meal out of some pretty simple ingredients!

Montreal’s south shore, 1973: I notice that wherever Dad goes to teach and preach, there are a lot of new Christians. I hear lots of stories of how their lives were changed after meeting Jesus personally. We’re in the coolest church ever. Small but cool.

Dad and some people from the town have started the Lapraire church. We meet on the upper level of the fire hall. The people I really enjoy getting to know are Mr. Lauzon, an auto paint shop worker and Mr. Tessier, a CN railroad repair man. I love these men because they love to laugh, they speak Québécois French and have neat expressions like “Ça roule comme les yeux dans la graisse de beans!” (Things are rolling along like eyeballs rolling around in leftover grease from fried beans).

They’re so happy to be Christians!

Port Perry, 2016:  Dad (90) and Mom (83) live close by at the assisted living Port Perry Villa.

Dad is president of the Residents’ Council, has been leading a Bible study, is producing and selling his artwork, and is studying Creationism (again!) and attending conferences whenever he can.

He as active on email and is as passionate as always about big Christian ideas. It is great to have them nearby, so I can take Mom to a dementia care day program and drop in when they aren’t out for a walk or gone to Miller’s Market for their morning latte.

And it’s so nice to have the many years of teaching, reaching, discipling and moving around in Quebec profiled in Faith Today.

Check out this story and more in the Mar/Apr Faith Today



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