God is Always at His Work

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.    

Re-Engaging a Community: Northmount

By Shannon Youell

A few weeks ago on this blog, I told a story of a pastor stunned to discover that people in the neighbourhood, for which their very large and active church lived, did not know what the building was or what went on there, even though scores of people came and went every week. 

Many of our own good and faithful pastors and congregrants recognize the disconnection between what they engage in as community inside their building and the neighbourhood around them. Recognizing and acknowledging this fact is the beginning of leaning in together to discuss, pray, listen and perhaps to lay down some things so that our church communities can re-imagine what it means to be relationally engaged with those around us.

Northmount Baptist Church in Calgary engaged in this conversation a few years ago. They came to realize that God was calling them to rediscover their own neighbours and how they can join them where they are at, while also joining God in what He is already doing.

So they took the risk, assessed their own strengths, weaknesses, limitations and barriers, and plunged in faith into hiring an Outreach Pastor with the mandate to engage with the surrounding neighbourhood.

“At Northmount we are looking for new ways that we can come alongside the community.”

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Stampede Breakfast

Pastor Gabriel Alalade was hired and he started by first getting to know and understand the people in their neighbourhood. What are their passions?  Their dreams? Their hopes for their immediate community and the people who live in it? He connected with new immigrant families, youth and young adults, families with young children and began to engage relationally with them. He began intentionally discipling the youth and young adults towards what it means to live as missional disciples in everyday life.

He and some of the young people from Northmount began hosting a coffeehouse once a week where people of all ages, both within and beyond the church came to be wonderfully served by the team. Northmount has also planned and executed neighbourhood BBQs and Stampede Week Pancake Breakfasts that literally drew hundreds. Pastor Greg Butt said it was kind of like the loaves and fishes story….somehow the food kept feeding the crowds that came! Those have been great opportunities for the people in the neighbourhood to meet the people who gather in the church and rediscover what the building is and the warmth and hearts of those from within it. 

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Young adults Gabriel is discipling.

A key focus has been on discipleship–the intentionally relationally engaged, living all of life as Christ’s missional disciples, kind of discipleship.

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Gabriel (far left), Greg (second from right) and volunteers.

“We long to make disciples and leaders that multiply into the world. Everything we do and everything we say reflects this vision that God has placed on our hearts.

Gabriel reports that “Things have been moving steadily in terms of some of the discipling initiatives.”  He is seeing growth with those engaging in Bible studies, social engagements and prayer. 

Among other things, Northmount is currently working on a vlog and blog series shaped as a roundtable discussion for Christians, seekers and agnostics and making better use of a community Facebook page they began to connect neighbours to neighbours.  

Re-engaging our neighbourhoods means re-examining each of those areas where we live, where we work, where we play and where we pray, as places where God desires Shalom to exist for the benefit of the dwellers.  It is never a short engagement, but a long, committed, love-inspired relationship. 

Communities like Northmount need our collective support to continue forging, in faith, into this reconnecting and re-engaging with their neighbourhoods. The investment is long but the return is eternal, as we learn from one another as churches and as followers, missional disciples, of Jesus, our Lord and our Savior, fresh ways to engage our own communities.

A Story of Faithful Presence and Hot Chocolate

At Banff Pastors Conference last week, Aaron Hansen, Pastor of Mission, Outreach and Youth at First Baptist Church in Cranbrook, BC, shared this story with us about how FBC Cranbrook has been “stumbling” towards becoming a faithful presence in their community.

Do you have a story from your neighbourhood? We’d love to hear it and share it as we strive to, like iron sharpening iron, encourage and inspire one another towards following Jesus into the homes and hearts of our neighbours.

Halloween Hospitality
By Aaron Hansen

A number of years ago, as a church we decided that “Acting on what God is calling us to do or be within our neighbourhoods” was going to be one of our guiding statements. So, since that time, and likely before it too, we have slowly… clumsily… accidentally been taking steps in this direction towards engaging our neighbourhoods. Our latest step was to think about how to care for our neighbours during what can be a long, cold evening in our area: Halloween.

Our Children and Families Pastor, Natasha, brought forward a bunch of different ideas that we could try as a church, and one of them was Halloween Hot Spots. The idea was simple: offer trick-or-treaters and their parents hot chocolate to warm up with. So this year we tried it!

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We had about eight different stations in neighbourhoods around our city. Hosts set up tables outside their home and welcomed all who came by a chance to be warmed. They got to meet their neighbours and all who participated reported how much fun they had doing this simple act.

There were no reports of mass conversions, just the continued conversion of regular Christ followers to the message of loving their neighbour as themselves. These hosts are now challenged to continue to pray for the people who live around them and to be a faithful presence in that community.

What’s next for your congregation or small group as you look for ways God is at work in your neighbours and seek to participate? Perhaps a Cranbrook-esque “Holiday Cheer Drop-In” or a wider invitation to your New Years Eve party will be the spark that ignites friendships and care among your neighbours?

Seven-Day Missional Living

By Cid Latty, Congregational Development Associate for the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec

Everyone seems to be telling us to be more mission minded but few give us practical ways to do it in the midst of our busy lives. This week, why not try the Missional Challenge? We have based it on a monastic weekly schedule that includes prayer, scripture, manual labour, service and hospitality. Our prayer this week is that together we might “live up to what we have attained” in Christ (Philippians 3:16).

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Day 1—Start the week with God

To spend time with God is not a waste of time but the fuel for our missional activity. Spend time with God in a way that may be new to you today. You could search for a scripture, poem, hymn or sacred song to give focus. Take a walk and pray as you worship God.

Day 2—Live simply

Give away something that is valuable to you. Other ideas: pay for someone’s cup of coffee, get the next person’s food, gas, etc.

Day 3—Service

Recall what inspired you to become a Christian. Give the people who come to mind a call or send an email to say thank you. Look to serve someone today in what we might call the mundane things of life. Who do you know who needs Jesus? Spend time with them today. Pray for an opportunity to share faith with them.

Day 4—Believe

We have been taught to say ‘In Christ’ but rarely have we been taught to say ‘I can,’ Let us memorize the whole verse today: ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ Philippians 4:13.

Day 5—Hospitality

Send a friend or family member a word of encouragement today. Make or buy cakes to leave in the kitchen at work for people to take for free. Find a way to offer your skill set today. Take someone for lunch or find a way to use your home to host someone you know. Intentionally speak words of encouragement today.

Day 6—Love

Ask God to show you someone you can be a person of peace towards. Find a food bank that you can serve in some way.

Day 7—Pray for the world

Take one issue from the news today and pray about it. Remember to pray for those who are being persecuted. For more details about praying for the persecuted church see www.idop.ca.

See also CBM prayer line:

http://www.cbmin.org/prayerline

If you take Cid up on his Missional Challenge, let us know how it goes! What did God teach you? What did you see?

What ARE we Planting Part IV: In A Neighbourhood

By Shannon Youell

Church planting is developing an expression of God’s kingdom in a neighbourhood.

In the beautiful and familiar passage of John chapter one sits one of my favorite verses: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

Eugene Peterson translates it in The Message this way, “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood” (John 1:14).

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God, in Jesus, moved into the neighbourhood!  He went to the local school, shopped at the nearby shops, visited over the fence with his immediate neighbours, went to barn dances at the local community center, memorized the Torah at the local synagogue. He lived there, right there, God with skin on, where humanity, created in His image, lived. And He lives in my neighbourhood, in your neighbourhood. He dwells among the world He so loves and His presence invites all to participate with Him in the ministry of reconciliation.

I love this image as it helps me understand and re-see that God is already at work in the places around me. What does that mean for us as we wrestle with God and imagine with Him where he is already at work in our neighbourhoods? And where, exactly, is the neighbourhood where we are to develop this expression of God’s kingdom? Is it the neighbourhood where the building is that we gather for worship? Or the one in which we live? Or work? Or where the jogging trail, the coffee shop, the grocery store that we frequent during the week are?

Perhaps, the answer is the same answer Jesus gave when the Pharisee asked, “Who is my neighbor?”  Jesus’ short answer: the people right in front of you! Right where you have been placed. Right where you are. This is where each of us, as image-bearers of Christ, are compelled by love of neighbour to develop an expression of God’s kingdom.

We form relationships with those around us, in communities whose health and well-being affect our own health and well-being, because, as we are reminded in Jeremiah, we are not set in a place to endure until heaven, but to “seek the peace of prosperity [of the place I’ve put you]. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (29:7).

Eugene Peterson takes us on a journey of “a conversation in spiritual theology”—the subtitle of his book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. The book is an amazing read, but I want to focus our attention on his observations about place in his chapter titled “Christ Plays in Creation.” He talks about how God created place for humans and it is local. It is wherever we are. And it’s not perfect; there’s a serpent slithering around. Peterson writes this:

This place, this garden, is not utopia, is not an ideal no-place.  It is simply place, locale, geography, geology.  But it is also a good place, Eden, because it provides the form by which we can live to the glory of God (page 74).  

And a few pages later he acknowledges, “Getting to know the neighbourhood, the nature and conditions of the neighbourhood, is fundamental to living to the glory of God.  It is slow and complex work” (page 78).

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I wonder that much of our wrestling to define neighbour and neighbourhood has to do with what we need to come to terms with.  Developing places where the glory of God is seen does take some slow, often tedious, and complex work.  It requires commitment and shared heart with God about who he loves. t demands dying to what Peterson calls “self-enclosed” lives—to opening ourselves up to an adventure of learning who is around us, and where the gospel story intersects in their own stories.  It means putting aside what we think is needed and discover together, in a neighbourhood, what is needed to usher in God’s shalom that brings healing, hope and goodness to that place.

In urban planning and developing we are seeing an intentionality in reclaiming community. In reconnecting neighbourhoods to shopping and recreation and community issues. As Christ Followers, we should be doing the same—looking neighbourhoods as places we already live, work, play and pray in. But just like in urban planning, we must be intentional. We must make an effort and take a step out of our comfort zone.

Is there a local community issue? Attend the meetings, research all sides, get to know all people involved.

Help out cleaning up the parks; participating, not just attending, local community celebrations; read to kids at schools; do a bakery or grocery pick up run for your local food bank once a week.

Make an effort: engage, encourage. Be intentional. Get to know the people around you. Start walking your neighbourhood, your local community. Chances are you might run into God taking a leisurely walk down the same streets as you.

I could share with you some stories of those who have committed themselves to this type of intentionality in their place of context, but how about you tell some of yours with all of us.

Send us a story over the next few weeks to encourage, inspire and equip us to join God where He lives…in our neighbourhoods!

Shannon Youell
CBWC Church Planting Coordinator
syouell@cbwc.ca