Chemistry uses the concept of a catalyst to describe a substance that, when added to another substance, promotes a reaction without being used up itself. Bernard Sejour is Mennonite Church Eastern Canada’s mission catalyst in Ottawa and the Province of Quebec or, as he puts it, area church mission minister “Brian Bauman’s representative.”
Sejour was born in Haiti. Having lost his mother, he was “the hope” of his father. His illiterate father gave him a Bible when he was 13, telling him, “This is something that can help you.” He needed help. His father had remarried and Sejour says his stepmother “persecuted” him, twice trying to end his life—once through the practice of voodoo and once by food poisoning.
By the grace of God, others helped him get back to school. There he “met the Lord” and came to love the church. He studied law and worked for the Haitian government and a human rights organization.
He was persecuted again, this time for his work, and he left Haiti for the United States. But he sees suffering as a gift from God. “God’s grace is sufficient,” he says, quoting Paul from II Corinthians 12:9.
In Haiti he had known Anna Versluis, a Mennonite Central Committee worker, so he checked out Mennonites to see if they were like her. He said he “found Mennonites to be a loving community.” While at Hesston College in Kansas, he attended an Argentinian Mennonite church and “learned what the church is all about.”
His first church plant was actually in West Palm Beach, Fla., a Salvation Army church that is still going. “The church is a family and a community, committed to serving the Lord by serving each other and loving without discrimination,” he says.
In 2014, he came to Canada to serve with Mennonite Church Eastern Canada. Because of immigration laws, his family is still in Philadelphia, Pa., and he travels there often. His wife cannot work or go to school in Canada, so they talk by Skype often.
His role in the area church is to look for leaders, including those with no Mennonite background, whom he evaluates and then coaches. Creating a network among these leaders and the congregations they are planting is to invite others to practise the same faith and same baptism.
He believes a denomination needs to be cohesive, have the same theological language and see through the same lenses. But he says that MC Eastern Canada feels far away from Quebec and it is seen basically as an Anglophone group. For the past decade, there has been no one to gather, coach, lead or include the Quebec churches and their leaders. This is his role: to lead those who are on the edge and need someone to help them move into the middle.
“Jesus started his movement on the edge,” Sejour says. “If the centre is empty, we need to move inside, not to replace the mainline churches but to do what needs to be done. There is much to be done there.”
Currently, Sejour is also the interim pastor at the Village International Mennonite Church in Ottawa. The church was started by Stefan Cherry, who has since moved on to work with an evangelical para-church organization. Sejour is working with the congregation to form a more lay-based leadership style that is not dependent on one person to run. This means taking these charismatic leaders and discipling them just as Jesus called his disciples and formed them into leaders.
Sejour is the catalyst, expecting that in 2017 he will set the congregation free to find its own way. Starting with a core of three to five people, he is helping them to develop a vision to implement in the group. Prayer, Bible study, discussion and sharing times are his preferred methods. He feels that, with natural leaders like those in some of the congregations he helps guide, the core of three to five leaders can be shaped in three to four months to implement a vision together through prayer, study and worship. But leaders should not pretend to be in control, driving the church in one direction, he says.
He asks for prayer for Haiti and for his family to be able to join him in Ottawa.