Technology aids Nova Scotia partnership

If you travel by road the 1,780 miles from Spartanburg, S.C., to Cape Breton Island, located at the northeastern tip of Nova Scotia, it will take two and a half days of “pretty good driving,” according to Keith Davis.

Two congregations more than 1,700 miles apart came together via Skype for a Wednesday night Bible study. A small group of believers and volunteer missionaries gathered in a living room in Nova Scotia, while members of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Spartanburg (below), worshiped with them from the church’s fellowship hall.

However, if you have access to a high-speed Internet connection, you can instantaneously bring together two diverse congregations – one in Nova Scotia, the other at 2817 East Main Street in Spartanburg – for a shared experience of worship and Bible study.

That’s what happened on a recent Wednesday evening, when members of Zion Hill Baptist Church in Spartanburg worshiped via Skype (an Internet videoconferencing program) with a small group of believers and South Carolina missions volunteers in the rural Cape Breton Island community of Goose Cove.

And it wasn’t just one group of people passively watching the other. The camera panned the Mt. Zion group, which had gathered in the church’s fellowship hall to view the proceedings projected onto a wall, while in Goose Cove, residents viewed South Carolinians on a television screen as they introduced themselves, leaning into the laptop’s built-in camera. Someone in Spartanburg led in prayer, and someone in Goose Cove read Scripture. Worshipers on both sides sang hymns.

“It really helped our church feel a part of that mission trip,” said Davis, who is pastor at Zion Hill. “It put faces with the people we had been talking about.”

Davis and seven church members traveled to Cape Breton Island in late July to assist and encourage a small group of Christians who gather once a week in a home for Bible study. Because there is no evangelical church in the sparsely populated Goose Cove community, a pastor from Baddeck Village drives 45 minutes every Wednesday to meet with the Goose Cove believers.

Baddeck Village Baptist Church was established two years ago with help from South Carolina Baptists through their missions partnership with Nova Scotia. First Baptist Church, Pacolet, played a “big part” in planting the Baddeck Village church, Davis said.

Cape Breton Island is home to 120,000 people, but less than 2 percent of them “even claim to be Christians,” Davis said. Hugh Morrison, a Baptist pastor in Margaree Valley in Nova Scotia, has a vision for planting churches all along the Cabot Trail, a 185-mile scenic roadway that completes a loop around the northern tip of island. Morrison is well known to South Carolina Baptists who have made the trek to Nova Scotia. “He almost pleads with God over the souls of people on that island,” Davis said.

This year marked Zion Hill’s second trip to Goose Cove, where the volunteers led a Vacation Bible School. Davis said some of the local residents told him it had been more than 30 years since there had been any kind of Vacation Bible School there.

Davis also said he has experienced some opposition to South Carolina Baptists’ witness. “We have to go in gingerly and love on them through VBS,” he said. “We’re seeing the walls come down, but it’s a slow go.”

His church sent hymnals to the church in Baddeck Village last year, and this year they are sending craft materials. “Through our partnership, we can do things like this even though we’re a small church,” Davis said.

He said Zion Hill will also schedule some more Skype-enabled Bible studies with the small band of believers in Goose Cove.

Although the Zion Hill volunteers took a plane to Nova Scotia this year, Davis has, in the past, made the 3,560-mile roundtrip by bus. “I told the group last year, if Paul can go on a ship, we can go on an air-conditioned bus,” he said.

Still, he added, laughing, “When I got back home, my sciatic nerve was about to kill me.”