Jan Vezikov and his family emigrated from Estonia to Rhode Island in 1989. A few years later his father planted a church in Rhode Island. Not long after that, Vezikov’s father began driving once a week to Boston to lead a Bible study because he also felt a burden for the people of Boston. “He prayed for a church planter,” Vezikov said.
At the time, Vezikov did not anticipate that he would become that planter. After attending college in Providence, R.I., the Federal Bureau of Investigation recruited him to work as a Russian analyst. Vezikov stayed at that job until God called him to attend Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest. He then moved to Boston in order to plant a Russian-speaking church. Vezikov also helped plant an English-speaking church that began meeting last month.
“In Boston, people do not have a framework for God or sin. They do not have a Christian perspective or framework. You have to first build the house of a Christian worldview,” Vezikov said.
Bo Ellis, who first met Vezikov during a mission trip to Boston with a group from Southeastern, said it takes time to build relationships. “In Boston, you just have to love people. It can take a year before you earn the right to share the gospel. It’s not just throw up a church and everyone come,” he said.
Ellis and Vezikov were part of a panel discussion breakout session Nov. 8 during the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s (BSC) annual meeting in Greensboro. The session focused on giving North Carolina Baptists a chance to hear from church-planting catalysts and pastors in Boston, Toronto and New York City, all areas where the Convention is partnering to help impact lostness.
Ellis described Boston as the “land of I’m all set,” as people do not see a need for God. “Some have never really met a Christian,” he said. “They have a reverence for God, but don’t want to come to church.”
The greater Boston area is home to 4.5 million people and less than 2.5 percent are evangelical.
Reaching ‘The Golden Horseshoe’
Toronto is another urban center where spiritual darkness is great. Dan Collison, director of Toronto Church Planting, is working in an area where there is about one church for every 275,000 people and only 40 Southern Baptist churches.
The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) includes a portion of Southern Ontario known as the “Golden Horseshoe,” which extends beyond the GTA down to the U.S. border and includes the entire area that touches Lake Ontario. The GTA includes communities that completely lack an evangelical presence.
Collison shared with those attending the breakout session that many church planters in Toronto are “holding on by their fingernails.” Church planting is a challenge and many planters are experiencing seasons of trials.
Collison asked North Carolina Baptists to pray for the work in Toronto. “Prayer is the overarching air support cover. It’s a spiritual warfare we’re engaged in,” he said.
Scott Rourk is a Toronto church planter serving in one of the most dangerous areas of the city. The children who attend soccer camps hosted by Rendezvous Church are often harassed by drug dealers. Rourk said when the drug dealers are hanging around he tries to run the soccer camps longer in the day. “We try to play and outlast the drug dealers so they don’t bother the kids,” he said.
Todd Brady, pastor of The River Community Church in Fayetteville, is leading his church to partner with Rourk and Rendezvous in order to plant a church. This summer members of River Community helped Rourk with a Vacation Bible School and soccer clinic.
“We worked with kids from all over the world. It’s a beautiful tapestry of what God is doing,” Brady said. “We need to quit mission vacationing and build relationships long term.”
New York City and beyond
Carlos Soca, another Southeastern Seminary graduate, is looking to begin investing long term in Clifton, N.J. Soca is a second generation Cuban American whose parents came to New York City in 1970 seeking a better future for their family.
Soca was raised Roman Catholic, but at age 16 came to know Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior. When Soca moved to North Carolina to attend seminary he had no intention of moving back north, and neither did his wife.
About a year and a half ago Soca heard George Russ, executive director of the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association (MNYBA), speak at Open Door Baptist Church in Raleigh where Soca is pastor of Hispanic Ministries.
The BSC is partnering with MNYBA, an association with an area of influence that encompasses New York City and beyond, including Long Island, the lower Hudson Valley and Northern New Jersey. More than 21 million people live in this area, which only has about 240 Southern Baptist churches.
After Soca heard Russ speak about the great need for church planting in his association he and his wife felt God leading them to return north to plant a church in New Jersey. Soca couldn’t get the vast number of lost people in that area off his mind.
“I was one of those people once, walking around without hope, without Christ,” he said.
In the summer of 2013 Soca and his family will move to New Jersey to begin this next chapter of their lives.
If you or your church wants to get involved in reaching the cities with the gospel, visit ncbaptist.org/gcp to learn more.