Tucked away in the hills of the southern part of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia is the city of Penticton. It is about 250 miles east of Vancouver and over 400 miles southwest of Calgary with the majestic Rocky Mountains in between. Rev. Andy Foster has been ministering in Penticton since shortly after his graduation from the Whitefield College of the Bible in 1994. The little church in the center of the city is not just picturesque; it is a home for the ministry of the gospel and a spiritual refuge for each soul who attends. My wife and I spent a few weeks in the area last fall and we witnessed the happy fellowship of God’s people under the ministry of our brother supported by his wife, Jill, and their two children, Cameron and Charlotte. Attendance was not large, but almost everyone was present at every meeting. I put the following questions to Mr. Foster for this issue of Current.
How did you come to take up the challenge of pioneering the church in the Penticton area?
In 1995, not long after I finished my theological studies and after I was licensed by the Ulster presbytery, I was invited to visit the churches in Calgary, Prince George, and Cloverdale to provide some vacation relief for the ministers of those churches. At that time, I was also able to visit Penticton and preach at some meetings which had been arranged under the auspices of the Let the Bible Speak broadcast in the Okanagan valley, which aired on a Penticton radio station. My wife was able to accompany me on that trip and the Lord impressed this area upon our hearts.
On my return to Ulster the Lord gave unmistakable biblical guidance and repeated confirmations of His will that I was to “go forth unto the valley” (Jeremiah 19:2) and “make this valley full of ditches.” His promise was that “that valley shall be filled with water” (2 Kings 3:16–17). Jill and I arrived in Penticton to commence the work in January 1997 with the first services being held in a rented church facility on the first Lord’s Day in February 1997. While we had some contacts from our previous visit and through the LTBS broadcast, the church was started on the basis of the call of God rather than any petition from a previously formed group of people.
What is the story behind God’s providing for the purchase of the church building you now worship in? I know it is a coveted site in the center of the city and the building is perfectly suited for your ministry.
Our small congregation continued to meet in that rented church facility until 2003 when we became aware that a church building owned by the local Brethren assembly was for sale. Through a series of providences and guidance from scripture we were led to pray that the Lord would direct the leadership of the Brethren assembly to contact us and offer the building to us. This they did, asking only for a nominal payment of $50,000. This was a marvelous answer to prayer because at that time the property was worth in excess of $300,000 and we didn’t have the resources to consider a purchase at full price. Thanks to the kindness of God’s people from several Free Presbyterian churches the building was paid for very quickly. The Lord has given us a wonderful location in the city and has graciously preserved our presence here. We are grateful for a very suitable building with the capacity for 150 people. We believe that the Lord gave us the building to anchor the work here and that He will provide a people to use it for His glory.
What has been the greatest challenge to you personally to persevere in the weekly ministry of the church?
There have been many challenges involved in this ministry. The continued smallness of the work and constant disappointments over those who begin to attend and then cease their fellowship with us have been a trial of our commitment. This pattern can affect the morale of the whole congregation as well as that of the preacher! The smallness of the audience brings challenges to preaching week by week. I have been blessed, however, with a faithful band of believers who eagerly attend to hear God’s Word. They are easy to preach to because they love the Word. It has also been a challenge to find a way to provide for our family. Initially, my wife, Jill, took employment, but because of her involvement in schooling the children, it became necessary for me to find work to leave her free to teach them. While we made these decisions with a measure of reluctance and certainly did not rush into them, the Lord directed very clearly in this matter and it has led me to start my own home maintenance business.
You and Jill have home schooled your children. Why was this necessary and how did you set about providing a sufficient education for Cameron and Charlotte?
Both Jill and I are advocates of Christian education. There was no suitable Christian school in the area and so there was no alternative to home schooling our children. There is a strong home schooling movement here in the Okanagan Valley, which provides lots of programs. Jill was a teacher in Newtownabbey Independent Christian School prior to our arrival in Canada, so is well qualified to teach Cameron and Charlotte. We make use of a distance-learning program that provides certification and graduation credentials. Both of the children have done well and the quality of the education their mother has provided is regularly admired by education professionals we have occasion to deal with.
What sports have you engaged in with your children?
I am not particularly athletic but we have always tried to encourage the children to be active in sports of one kind or another. We are fortunate to live in a small community where there are lots of recreational programs. Cameron is an avid and accomplished skier while Charlotte and I perform at a lower level and enjoy skiing together. They also swim and play baseball, hockey, and soccer. Cameron has also developed a love for pickleball [a cross between tennis, badminton, and ping pong] which he plays regularly. Charlotte has a passion for all animals, especially horses, and would love to be more engaged in activities involving animals. I’m not sure that it could be called a “sport,” but she regularly walks and runs a neighbor’s dog that she has befriended. We used to do a lot of biking and walking together but Jill’s recent back problems have curtailed some of those activities.
Your wife most often provides the music in the church. Are there others who can also play the organ or the piano?
We are blessed with musicians! We have two other ladies who play regularly and at least one other who is willing to play when required. Another regular attendee is an accomplished violinist and plays with us in our services in seniors’ homes. Mr. Steve Warchola has served many years in the church as a deacon.
How has he encouraged you in the work and witness of the church?
Steve was formerly an elder in a Christian Reformed congregation in Penticton before it disbanded. He was converted, however, after attending our services and discovering he had never been born of God. He has been with us since very nearly the beginning of the work. He and his wife, who is now with the Lord, quickly became members of the congregation. Steve has willingly and whole-heartedly performed the function of a deacon in the congregation, giving quiet, steadfast support to the work. Some health problems have curtailed his active work in recent years, yet though he is now in his 80s, he still attends most meetings. He is a constant support and faithful friend to me in the ministry.
How do you manage the balance of secular employment and church ministry?
I make it my constant prayer that the Lord will manage my work schedule. The challenge always is to handle the affairs of life without becoming entangled in them! I am self-employed so have freedom in setting my schedule. However, the volume of work that the Lord sends at times means I can be very busy. I try to preserve quality time for the study of the Scriptures and prayer. During most of my working hours I am alone and I enjoy the solitude! I am thankful that I have always been able to study and prepare to preach while doing other things, so I find I can work and still be making preparation to preach. Often I can listen to good messages while working which helps me later in my preparation. I am thankful that the people of the congregation understand and appreciate the fact that I have to work and that they make allowance for my being very busy at times. I’m also deeply indebted to Jill for her support and readiness to take up the heavy end of work at home.
How is your series of Sunday evening messages on the book of Leviticus going? You were already well into it in September when I was there.
We are almost at the end of the book now. It has been a very enjoyable series. Leviticus was the manual of gospel doctrine for God’s people all the way through the Old Testament period. I have found it refreshing to study and preach from Leviticus as there is so much of Christ within its pages and because it lends itself to practical gospel application to the lives of God’s people today.
What forms of outreach do you and your people undertake and how should readers pray for the extension of your church?
Our outreach has involved literature distribution and newspaper advertising. A couple of years ago we lost our weekly radio ministry when the local station changed hands. The church website also attracts some interest locally. We have mailed out substantial numbers of invitations to homes in the city. This is something we plan to repeat as the resources become available.
As in past years we continue to conduct monthly services in several seniors’ homes. The residents enjoy our visits and do show an interest in the Lord’s Word. There is, however, a tragic indifference to spiritual things in this area. In the summer, Penticton is a vacation hotspot; otherwise, it is a center for retirement, which creates its own challenges to gospel ministry.
Pray for families to be added to our church. We would love to see younger people attending as this is vital for the future of the work here. Our burden is to experience the power of the Lord to establish a strong witness for Christ in this city.