It’s a vertical city – a large garden of high-rises at the foot of the mountains and the edge of the Salish Sea. It’s younger than you’d imagine (125 years old), growing into every available space (mostly in high-rises) and garnering a reputation for global magnetism. Some 200 language groups are represented among its residents.
Discovered by the Squamish (First Nations), explored by the Spanish, established by the English and heavily settled by the Chinese following the Gold Rush years, it’s as much West Coast North America as it is Far East and Western European. With its winning hockey team, it’s also thoroughly Canadian.
Vancouver is the third-largest metropolitan area in Canada, with a population of 2.3 million, according to the Canadian census. It’s a city of several cities – Richmond, Steveston, New Westminster, Burnaby, Surrey and Pitt Meadows to name a few. Dozens of communities bustle along the transit line (Skytrain and Seabus), each with its own personality and spiritual typography. To reach the people who live in Vancouver, it will take churches that reflect the ethnic makeup and culture of the communities in which they are planted.
Photo by Adam Miller.
This intersection in Vancouver reflects the bustle of a city with a population of 2.3 million and more than 200 languages spoken by its residents.
The North American Mission Board, on Nov. 8, launched its second Send North America city emphasis – Send North America: Vancouver.
Send North America is NAMB’s strategy to mobilize and assist churches and individuals in hands-on church planting in 29 cities throughout the U.S. and Canada. Through Send North America, NAMB will come alongside Southern Baptist churches that are not directly involved in church planting and help them become more hands-on. And NAMB will partner with Southern Baptist churches already planting churches to help them increase their efforts.
Convergence of cultures
Because of its location as a thriving port city, Vancouver has become thoroughly multi-cultural. The percentage of Vancouver residents whose first language is English is 49.1 percent and Chinese is 25.3 percent. People groups that once inhabited the city center have now moved throughout the metro area.
“The Chinese are not in Little China anymore,” says Dan Crawford, a Southwestern Theological Baptist Seminary professor who’s brought students from the Texas campus to Vancouver for more than a decade. “The majority of Chinese are in Richmond.”
In Richmond, a 10-minute drive south of Vancouver, there’s a stretch of road with a place of worship for every major world religion: the Temple of the International Buddhist Society and British Columbia’s largest mosque, for example. “There’s even a golf course,” says Crawford, joking. “They call that road the ‘highway to heaven.’“
And the highway runs right by Towers Baptist Church, which shares a building with Richmond Chinese Baptist Church, a fairly large Mandarin-speaking congregation. Nearly 38 percent of Richmond’s residents speak a Chinese dialect.
A number of Koreans live in Vancouver because of the University of British Columbia (UBC). Suzanne Perry, international student minister at UBC, says many Korean mothers let their husbands support them from abroad while they bring their children to educate them.
“Their husbands have climbed the ladder in their country and to come here they’d have to start from scratch, so they stay there and support their wives and their children’s education,” Perry says. “It’s created this community of, essentially, single mothers and some of them have come to me to learn English.”
Vancouver has changed even in the last couple of years. A longtime haven for refugees and others from the international community, the Winter Olympics opened the world’s eyes to the opportunities abounding there. Since then, the Vancouver Sun reports, more than 1,500 new immigrants enter the city every month.
“When God called me to missions, He called me specifically to cross-cultural missions,” Perry reflects. “Vancouver is very multicultural and very global. There are 153 countries represented here.”
Origin Church, launched in September by church planter Craig O’Brien and a core team including Perry, was a recent fulfillment of a longtime desire of the UBC student ministry. With the international student ministry and the ministry to the community surrounding the university, Perry hopes these foundations will help sustain the church planting effort.
Across town, Victor Thomas is finding open doors at Simon Fraser University. As church planter pastor of The Point church, Thomas has seen God do amazing things as The Point has lived with love and service as its commission.
“We make it clear that we don’t want anything from Simon Fraser but to serve the university community in whatever way we can,” Thomas says. “God, in turn, has provided us with more open doors than we could’ve dreamed.”
On the horizon
The work in Vancouver is only just beginning. Though Southern Baptist and Canadian National Baptist Convention church planting efforts laid the groundwork for more than a decade, the fruit is growing slowly.
Re-acclimating people to God and the church takes nothing short of a miracle, says North American Mission Board missionary Jeff Phillips, who is planting The Crossings church in Vancouver’s city center. The church in Canada is seen by some as a threat to freedom, since the freedoms Vancouver seeks to create conflict with the gospel.
“Just the things our children are being taught in the local public school are a sign of how unchurched this city is,” Phillips notes. “It gives us some interesting discussions with our kids and reminds us that we are in a spiritual battle all the time.”
Again, though, through service and friendship, Phillips and The Crossings core team are building a network of residents they hope will develop into disciples.
Josh Arrington, planting to the east in Pitt Meadows, is working to overcome skepticism toward the church. “This community has seen so many churches come and go that we’re having to build trust and let them see that we’re here to establish a church that’s here for the duration,” says Arrington, a NAMB church planter missionary.
About 50,000 Iranians live in North Vancouver, Coquitlam and Burnaby, where an Iranian refugee, Amin Kavah, is reaching his fellow countrymen, and also the large groups of Afghans and Kurds who speak Farsi as well.
Zendeh is the name of the Farsi church Kavah started in Burnaby. “The name means living,” he explains. “We want to offer life to Farsi speakers.”
One Iranian man has already accepted Christ and is attending a church elsewhere in the city. “He isn’t coming to our church,” Kavah says, “but that does not matter.” The man was an Iranian refugee who came to Kavah for help with immigration information and tax forms. “He had met with a Catholic priest when he was a refugee in Germany and that Catholic priest helped him understand some things. When he came to me and I was able to tell him my story, he accepted Jesus.”
The reality in a place like Vancouver is that a church is a community effort involving planter, core team and the support structure of likeminded churches.
Vancouver church planting efforts are the result of missions giving by Southern Baptists through the Cooperative Program and through the SBC’s Easter and Christmas special offerings – but also critical to their success is the ongoing praying, giving and sending of partner churches.
Josh Arrington says eight churches across two associations in the States are how he’s able to become an established part of Pitt Meadows. Jeff Phillips says living in downtown Vancouver is only possible because of the church partners who are faithfully giving every month.
Through Send North America: Vancouver, Southern Baptist churches can partner with planters on a number of levels, from supporting them prayerfully to sending teams to work in the field alongside them to even multiplying the church by helping plant new ones just like it.
“Vancouver is a testimony to the power of partnership and a persevering sense of purpose among our partner churches,” says Ray Woodard, the coalition coordinator for Send North America: Vancouver. “I’ve been here 23 years and I’ve seen what can happen when churches take the call to this city seriously.”
Churches interested in partnering with a church planter through Send North America: Vancouver can start the process by visiting www.namb.net and clicking on “mobilize me.” For stories and testimonies from church planters as well as updates on the work being done in Vancouver, visit www.namb.net/Vancouver.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adam Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)