Among midtown’s affluent, professional class most lack any actual physical needs, unlike Toronto’s Parkdale neighborhood just eight miles south with a high concentration of poverty and violence.
To the north and east of Parkdale is Scarborough, one of Canada’s most diverse communities, with about 57 percent of residents born outside the country.
Three unique areas with different challenges, needs and much spiritual darkness – which is why Scott Rourk is starting churches in each of them. In the past year, 22 North Carolina Baptist churches have partnered with Toronto church planters, like Rourk. More partners are needed in the Greater Toronto Area, which is less than five percent evangelical and home to more than 5.5 million people.
After four years in Canada, Rourk planted Oasis Church and is now seeking to plant 10 churches in 10 years across Toronto. Rourk grew up in a suburb of Atlanta, Ga., and has planted churches in Belarus and New York. “Soon the whole world will be urban centers. The cities matter to God,” he said. “I came here because of who God has here. You have to love the city; you can’t just survive in the city. Our hope is to transform the city through the gospel message.”
Scott Rourk, left, talks with a woman who lives near Rendezvous Church, a church plant in Toronto.
Rendezvous Church in midtown, which meets on the University of Toronto campus, was the first of 10 Rendezvous churches that Rourk is praying will be planted across the city. The Parkdale and Scarborough churches also launched this year.
Love the city
Building up to a church plant Rourk invests in communities, forms relationships and earns the trust of residents. For about three years now Rourk has invested in Parkdale, even helping start a soccer league that meets twice a week.
Rendezvous Church hosted a soccer/Vacation Bible School camp this summer at a public school in Parkdale, as well as a SparkGood camp. Weeklong SparkGood camps were also held in midtown and Scarborough.
“We help kids spark a good idea, and then we help them go and do it,” Rourk said. “We help them think about one risk they could take that would make their community a better place.”
Other Rendezvous summer outreach efforts included prayer walking, block parties, street festivals and a bike repair clinic in midtown where volunteers repaired more than 700 bikes. “We try to create those moments, experiences and environments that will bring Christians and non-Christians together,” Rourk said. “That’s not just going to happen on a Sunday morning.”
Servant evangelism, such as picking up trash, is also important to Rendezvous Church because people need to know the church cares about their city.
“Our overarching goal is to better the city of Toronto. We came to seek the peace and prosperity of the city,” Rourk said. “People here love to serve, and they care about their city. We are sharing Jesus’ love in practical ways, and they find out why we are doing what we do. It’s totally relational.”
Rendezvous is also reaching out through canned food drives, packing and distributing hygiene bags through Un2Others Ministries, and coffee house evangelism.
A volunteer works with girls to make salvation bracelets, a craft project that allows workers to share how to come to faith in Christ.
Rourk was invited to a public school with a rather unusual request – explain to students the meaning of Christmas and Easter.
“People don’t have a Christian foundation. They are so distant even from knowing why they celebrate their holidays. We have to go all the way back to creation,” he said.
Rourk described Canada as a mosaic of cultures, with people bringing their customs and religion with them. More than half of Toronto’s population was born outside Canada and more than 30 percent of Toronto residents speak a language at home other than English or French. Half of all immigrants have lived in Toronto less than 15 years.
“You have to earn your right to share the gospel,” Rourk said. “Worldviews don’t change overnight. Religion is so intertwined with culture that it really is God having to change their life.”
Kate Croft served as a summer intern with Rendezvous Church. She said ministry in Toronto requires patience and willingness to listen and respect. “You have to be willing to listen. … That wall of pride prevents so much from coming in,” she said.
Croft, 22, attends college in Colorado but is from Oakville, about 30 minutes south of Toronto. The past two summers she served in community outreach in Oakville and this summer was determined not to come “home.” But she was obedient to go where God called and is planning to return to Toronto to serve after college. “Part of being a Christian is to listen to God, and He’s probably pushing you out of your comfort zone,” she said. “This summer I have learned how to put myself aside and serve others. I have learned how to love others by how God loves me.”
Partnerships are valuable
Rendezvous Church depends on support from interns like Croft, as well as church planters. Sath Arulvarathan and his wife Charmaine are moving into the Parkdale area to help lead the new Parkdale church plant.
“We feel called to establish ourselves in Toronto. Parkdale is the most diverse area I’ve seen,” Sath said.
He asked specifically for prayers against spiritual warfare. “Church planting can be draining and lonely. We’re all under constant spiritual warfare. Please pray Ephesians 5, that we may put on God’s full armor.”
Rendezvous also depends on long-term church partnerships.
“If you just come one time, you’ll never see the fruit of your labor,” Rourk said. “If you can commit with us four or five years, you’ll see a church planted.”
Three churches from Rowan and Cabarrus associations served together for a week this summer and worked alongside Rourk and Rendezvous volunteers. The trip came together after Ken Clark, pastor of Enon Baptist Church in Salisbury, participated in a Toronto vision tour last year with the Office of Great Commission Partnerships of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. “You don’t have to go across the world to impact the world; the world has come to Toronto,” Clark said.
To learn how to involve your church in a Toronto partnership, visit www.ncbaptist.org/gcp.