Scores of baseball fans poured into the Rogers Center in Toronto, Canada, Sept. 22 to watch the hometown Blue Jays play the New York Yankees. The majority of the cheering crowd had one thing in common; they wore iconic blue and white colors, accompanied by a stark red maple leaf that showed their loyalty to the Jays.
Aside from their allegiance to the hometown baseball team, many Toronto residents have little else in common.
The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) boasts a population of more than six million, including people from 200 ethnic groups speaking 160 languages, according to census data.
Despite the appearance of uniformity in the baseball stadium, Toronto happens to be the most culturally diverse city in the world.
A small group of fans tucked away in the upper deck of the stadium had something in common other than excitement about the game, though. The spectators weren’t layered in blue and white, nor were they Toronto residents.
BR photo by Seth Brown
Mike Seaman, former student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, talks about Trinity Life Church, the congregation he helped start two years ago.
They were N.C. Baptists that want to see the gospel of Jesus Christ spread throughout the diverse population in the Toronto area.
The North American Mission Board (NAMB) identified Toronto in 2011 as one of three target cities in Canada for the Send North America initiative, an effort to mobilize Baptists to plant new churches in strategic North American population centers. The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) also began a partnership in 2011 with the Canadian National Baptist Convention, alongside NAMB, to emphasize and facilitate strategic, church-to-church partnerships with the goal of planting new churches in GTA.
BSC and NAMB hosted a Toronto Vision Tour Sept. 21-23, led by Send City Missionary Brett Porter, that highlighted current GTA ministries for N.C. churches to consider joining in partnership. Seven church leaders from across the state, along with two from Ohio, traveled across GTA and heard reports from multiple church leaders and NAMB staff.
Ministering in a multicultural city
Jason McGibbon, NAMB church planting team member in the West region of Toronto, outlined various ministries collectively called The Hamilton Fellowships in a suburb of Toronto. One of the ministries grew out of a non-profit bicycle restoration shop called New Hope Community Bikes.
Chandler Horne, NAMB church planting apprentice, leads a weekly worship service called “shop talks.” He said, “We’ve been called to do discipleship with cyclists and their friends.” Cycling for many Canadians is more than a hobby, according to Horne; it’s a way of life. Many families rely on bicycles for basic transportation, like getting to work and grocery shopping.
The ministry, Restoration Hamilton, employs the ever-present object lesson of restoring bicycles. Horne said it’s “our way of celebrating the restoration that God is doing in the city and in people’s hearts … a way to relay to them the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Other partnership opportunities include church planting efforts in the East region of GTA. Matt Hess, who planted Fellowship Pickering in 2014, said he has a goal of 12 church plants in 10 years. Dave Strobel, who serves in the GTA Midwest region, outlined ways N.C. churches can partner on the Toronto Church Planting website, like helping to put on sports camps, day camps, family festivals and barbeques. “We need help meeting people, surveying, building relationships and sharing our faith,” he added.
Church targets downtown park
Mike Seaman, former student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, relayed information about the church that he helped start two years ago, Trinity Life Church in downtown Toronto. He said the goal is not simply to plant a church, but “to be a body of Christ that multiplies into more bodies of Christ across the GTA.”
The Biblical Recorder reported Feb. 14 about Trinity Life church planter Daniel Yang, his Hmong background and his journey to Toronto. He said their strategy is simple: “Helping people to discover their destiny and identity in Christ.”
One of the ways Trinity Life implements its strategy is through community outreach. They began by ministering in Regent Park, the largest project-housing complex in Canada.
City organizers were already in the process of revitalizing the crime-ridden area when Trinity Life came alongside the Toronto Boys and Girls club to serve the park in practical ways, like cleaning and event planning. “We started living on mission,” said Seaman, “and people were attracted to that.” He added, “They were attracted to something different – a church doing something in the city.”
Short-term mission teams have come from partner churches to serve with Trinity Life in various ways, like helping to carry out a citywide event in which Trinity Life participates.
Seaman said a Muslim leader recounted after an event, “We’re so glad Trinity Life Church is here. We don’t know how we’d pull off events like this without you guys.” Teams have also helped coordinate an evangelistic outreach tool called Big City, Big Questions.
“How can we encourage you to grow in your walk with Jesus as we live on mission together?” is the driving question for Trinity Life mission teams, said Seaman. Trinity Life emphasizes that partnerships are beneficial to both parties, not just the church plant. Partner churches have also sent interns for longer, semester-length terms.
N.C. churches set partnership goals
Thomas McDonald, student pastor at West End Baptist in Willliamston, N.C., said his goal for the trip was “to take the information … back to West End Baptist. I want to be able to share with them how we can partner with Toronto to further the kingdom of God. That is what it is all about.”
He also named some possible avenues for partnership, including prayer, financial giving or taking mission teams to GTA. “Acts 1:8 tells us to take it to the uttermost parts of the World,” said McDonald, “this includes Toronto!”
“Far too often smaller congregations are content to passively engage in missions,” said Jason Currie, pastor at First Baptist Church, Grifton, N.C.
He believes “giving to Lottie Moon and praying a few times a year” are not enough. He wants to see small churches become more active in direct missions engagement “by networking together with other congregations.”
“Toronto is strategic for N.C. Baptists because of the diversity of nations that live in the Greater Toronto Area,” said Steve Hardy, team leader for BSC Office of Great Commission Partnerships. “It allows us to reach out to a great number of people groups in one geographical location.
“It is also a city of significant influence on all of Canada and North America because of the half-million university students and the governmental impact of the city. If we can establish a foothold for the gospel in Toronto, we can influence all of North America.”
The Jays lost their Sept. 22 bout with the Yankees, but the game is just beginning for NAMB’s Send initiative in Toronto. They’re working hard to recruit N.C. churches to join their team, and step up to the plate of missions engagement. The game plan is simple: Baptists want to take the gospel to the nations, and the nations are in Toronto.
Visit torontochurchplanting.com or contact the Office of Great Commission Partnerships at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina to learn more about how churches can partner with ministries in the Toronto area.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Seth Brown is content editor for the Biblical Recorder.)