By: Shannon Youell, Director of Church Planting
Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.”
No one has been unaffected by the events of the past eleven months. No one. Individuals, families, businesses, governments, weddings, funerals and places of worship. All have experienced the effects that a pandemic can have in our world.
Our churches have shifted and responded from no gathered meetings, to partial gathered meetings and back to no gathered meetings. Through all of this we have been prayerfully asking God to reveal himself at work around us so we are encouraged to continue being missionally and faithfully present in our neighbourhoods and in encouraging and discipling our churches.
We are all hearing stories of churches both adapting to the challenges and struggling with the challenges and changes. And some of those stories are surprises – we can’t always assume which churches will be struggling and which will find new ways to thrive and flourish. Some of those stories are within our current new churches/plants. Here are some of their stories.
Greenhills Christian Fellowship-Winnipeg-East
GCFWE is our newest plant launched from GCFW. This faithful and passionate group of Filipino church planters began training and discipling their core group in 2019. When Covid hit they were just ready to officially launch and had begun to gain some traction in their target area.
If you have the pleasure of hanging out with Filipino people, you will know how they evangelize – they eat together, have parties, bbq’s in the park and with the Code Red restrictions in Winnipeg it became very challenging to build neighbourhood relationships and do evangelism.
Yet, this past summer they celebrated baptism of new believers and as Pastor Arnold Mercado notes, in terms of people studying the Bible and learning the deeper truths of God, they’ve had more opportunities and people are growing in their faith. He reports that the best way to describe their planting community right now is in how God is building them, noting that ten months ago they hardly knew one another and now are growing together deeper in their relationships with Christ and with one another. They feel better prepared to saturate their neighbourhood with the Gospel once restrictions are eased.
This past fall they had their official launch from their sending church. Where God is at work and his people join him, even a pandemic cannot stop the work of the Spirit among the people!
Hope Church of Calgary
Pastor Mouner and this community of Arabic speaking believers are finding the challenges of Covid, well, challenging. Like all of us, they are deeply missing the opportunities to gather and be together. One thing I’ve learned about people from the Middle East countries is how excellent they are in hospitality. We may consider ourselves a nation of warm friendlies, but compared to our Middle Eastern friends we are really not that great in the area of hospitality!
Everything they do is around food and tea and visiting. Take those out of the equation and our brothers and sisters at Hope are discouraged and not adapting well to the online meeting applications. But even in the midst of these challenges, God is still at work.
Pastor Mouner faithfully delivers to each congregant’s home the elements of bread and cup for shared online Communion. An important element of Communion for them is the actual shared loaf of bread. It gives him an opportunity to have a safe-distance, non-virtual conversation with his congregants.
A new preacher among the congregation is being raised up. A blessing for the Pastor and congregation. Mouner has also begun an online connection with other Syrian ministers around the world and the testimonies from other places are exciting and encouraging. There are many testimonies of an amazing revival among Iranians and Kurdish peoples.
Even in the challenges and struggles, Mouner and Hope Church see God at work amid the chaos of Covid.
Makarios Evangelical Church
Pastor Jessica of MEC is an innovator. Like the rest of us, she has had to pivot and adapt multiple times in the past eleven months. This new plant, launched in 2018 has been very intentional in both the spiritual formation of the community of believers who gather at MEC and in their mission field of international students who are housed and schooled right across the street from their church building location.
Using social media, apps, zoom and other creative vehicles they are staying connected on a daily basis with one another and the students. This is vital for the students, already isolated from home, culture and family and now isolated from activities and relationships they were beginning to build in this foreign land. Meeting with the students via online can be challenging as they are already ‘online’ for all their classes, yet Makarios has found places that resonate with the students. One of the practices the church has been doing all along is to cook dinner together with the students and then eat, fellowship and talk about life, school, family and faith. Most of these students would be eating alone and this has been a very popular event for them.
Now restricted to their dorms, they eat alone, so the church is now ‘eating’ with them via zoom. Now that’s looking at your context, at the needs of your neighbourhood and finding a way to engage in spite of Covid!
Emmanuel Iranian Church
With Pastor Arash and Pastor Ali leading this growing, thriving community of Iranian people, discipleship is a key focus. A large percentage of the congregation are new converts to Christ and with hundreds of baptisms since they launched in 2018, there is a LOT of discipleship happening every day (and night!).
We’ve been celebrating the stories of new believers and baptisms since then. One might wonder how this can continue during a time of gathering restrictions, yet Pastor Ali reports that lives are being transformed on a weekly basis.
Many of us are experiencing congregants weary of zoom meetings (if they liked them at all) and disengaging with an online version of community. Certainly, EIC has struggled with that as well, yet Pastor Arash said that lately more people are getting used to this new way of meeting and it’s now become ‘real’ to people. In a recent evening prayer time, people reported, for the first time, experiencing the presence of the Spirit virtually connecting the participants spiritually and emotionally together! There are even people coming to Christ on their zoom meetings, so new people are engaging with the community, sense the presence of the one true God and raise their hands to commit to Christ.
EIC is currently praying and discerning another plant in the Surrey area of the lower mainland. Many new immigrants settle there and their desire is to serve in that community in a multi-cultural context with both Farsi and English speaking services to serve and train 2nd and 3rd generation young people.
Pray for and Celebrate Together
These are incredible testimonies and a reminder that God is certainly at work amongst his churches despite any restrictions placed upon public gatherings. We can choose to riff on all the barriers to ministry we are trying to navigate through, or we can allow our thinking and creativity to forge us into finding new rhythms and ways of being the people of God, called to be both salt to one another and light to those struggling in dark places. Yes there are challenges and some of us are really struggling to find our way. Let our stories of God-at-work among us shed some light into our own darkness and grant us encouragement to persevere through our trials.
Pray for each other. Pray for these new churches and for the churches in your area. Pray for light to breakthrough in the least expected of places. God has promised to never leave us nor forsake us and though it may seem like it some days, he has not done either but rather is stirring us up to join him in his work of bringing his kingdom come here on earth as it is (already) in heaven.