If Liam McGibbon had been tumor-free, you might not be reading about his parents this week. They probably would have never made it to Hamilton, Ontario, and certainly not as miraculously.
For one, Jason and Kimberley McGibbon didn’t really imagine themselves as church planters. At least that’s what they’ll tell you. And two, they weren’t looking to leave their life in Milton, a suburb of Toronto where Jason served as worship leader at The Sanctuary Church Milton, and move to the other side of Lake Ontario.
Jason and Kimberley McGibbon are one of five missionaries featured during the Week of Prayer for North American Missions, March 4-11, 2012, and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® emphasis. The offering helps support McGibbon and other missionaries like him who are serving on behalf of Southern Baptists in North America. With a goal of $70 million, this year’s offering theme is “Whatever It Takes.”
Photo by Ted Wilcox
Shoppers look on as Jason McGibbon (playing guitar), wife Kimberley and Mike Harvey (on the fiddle) sing, play and share the gospel in Hamilton, an urban/arts community popular locally for its restaurants and shopping near Toronto.
Their story began three years ago in a pediatrician’s office. Little eight-year-old Liam was complaining of headaches. Migraines run in the family, and so they assumed the best. When Kimberley heard it was much more serious, a parent’s worst nightmare materialized before her eyes.
“I remember when I found out about Liam and I thought ‘I can’t breathe’ and the room got very cold,” says Kimberley.
A tumor was growing in the middle of Liam’s brain.
The next week Jason, Kimberley and Liam were in Hamilton, meeting with neurosurgeons at MacKids, the pediatric division of McMaster University Hospital. This couldn’t be happening. But it was.
Two surgeries and several weeks passed. As Liam, now 11, recovered, God opened Jason and Kimberley’s eyes to the needs of those around them and shifted their hearts. Looking around the waiting room, the couple could see a desperate loneliness across other parents’ faces.
“As we waited, we saw people sitting there by themselves in the hardest times of their lives. We wondered how they made it through,” says Jason. “We heard so many stories from other parents whose lives were rocked by illness. They had no real hope outside of medicine and science.”
Jason and Kimberley couldn’t get away from the idea of true community, which they had experienced with church members praying for them, visiting with them, practically camping out at the hospital with them.
And then there were these parents in Hamilton who had no Christian presence, no church family to walk with them during their own difficult journey. To leave the area without a gospel presence seemed out of the question.
“I’d been to Hamilton before. I’d pass through it when I was at graduate school,” says Jason. “But I’d never really thought much about it.”
Anchored there for weeks, the McGibbons learned of a city full of beauty, diversity, creativity but with no true spiritual direction. Hamilton is a Toronto-area city on the west side of Lake Ontario. More than 500,000 people live there. More than 100,000 are immigrants. Only 3 percent of the Greater Toronto Area population is evangelical.
The McGibbons chose to live in a section of Hamilton frequented by artists and musicians, just the type of people Jason, a musician, wants to reach. So they moved. But first they prayed.
“Once we found our neighborhood and found every street in that neighborhood, we signed people up from our church to prayerwalk every street in our neighborhood,” Jason said.
Jason and Kimberley are planting The Hamilton Fellowships, a plant of The Sanctuary Church Milton, which is a church plant of The Sanctuary Church Oakville. In the early days, planting in Hamilton has centered on building relationships with neighbors and with people on the street, inviting people over for meals and Bible study. The McGibbons launched their first house fellowship in September 2011. Their vision is to start several fellowships throughout Hamilton.
“When I sit down and think about it, I can become very intimidated,” says Jason. “I’m a pretty normal, average guy and to be quite honest when I see some of the church planter kind of stuff, I don’t see myself as fitting that mold all that often. But one of the things we know is that God has called us to do this. We just know God is there and God works. Even when you seem like you’re up against the biggest, thickest, brick wall, it’s then that you see God work.”