“Just steps away” from where a driver began a carnage that killed 10 and injured 15 on a pedestrian-friendly Toronto street, Willowdale Baptist Church pastor Bruce Jones is corralling a hurting community for prayer and hope.
Screen capture from CBS News
Toronto First responders treat survivors after a man drove his van a mile along Toronto’s Yonge Street, killing 10 and injuring 15.
“As Joseph said at the end of Genesis [in the Bible], what you meant for evil, the Lord meant for good for the saving of many lives,” Jones told Baptist Press (BP) ahead of a silent prayer vigil on April 24 where the crime began. “I believe the same thing is occurring in this case, that what the evil one meant for harm, that God will turn into great good for His Kingdom. He’s going to wake up people and call them back to a relationship with Himself.”
Jones can stand at his church in Toronto’s North York district and see Olive Square, the site of a makeshift memorial where police say 25-year-old Alek Minassian started to weave on and off the sidewalk for a mile along Yonge Street, intentionally striking pedestrians.
“It’s something that shakes you,” Jones told BP, “but at the same time one of the things I keep saying is God is sovereign, He’s in control, and there’s nothing that causes Him to wring His hands and say, ‘Oh my goodness what am I going to do now?’”
Willowdale Baptist Church, affiliated with the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Canada and The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, worked with other churches to plan the prayer vigil at the memorial of handwritten sentiments on Bristol board and tacked to a 4-foot-high brick wall marking small Oliver Square park.
Handwritten messages in the many languages of culturally diverse Toronto express prayers and comforting thoughts, Jones said, amid a community he described as subdued, sad, shocked and amazed.
“They might say our thoughts and prayers are with you, but they don’t even really know how to pray,” Jones said. “So that’s one of the things that we are really wanting to offer in these days is a safe place for people to come, and [provide] people who are willing to pray with them [and] encourage them.”
The church led a prayerwalk through the Willowdale community April 24 and will keep its doors open in the near future for individuals and first responders to pray and use bathrooms.
“It’s been very busy the last 18 hours or so, and we’re thankful for the opportunity when things like this happen to help turn people’s hearts toward the God who loves them,” Jones said. “Even using passages like Psalm 42:11, which says, ‘Why are you downcast oh my soul, why so disturbed within me. Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.’
“We just want to be that light and that encouragement,” Jones said, “that the Holy Spirit will then use to draw people’s hearts toward Himself.”
Willowdale Baptist Church draws about 150 worshipers on Sundays, Jones said, and has about 230 members from about 25 different language groups. Jones encouraged Baptists to pray for Toronto and to perhaps consider the city for mission trips after first responders complete their tasks.
“I think our most important work will be done in the weeks and months to come, once the news crews have left,” said Jones, who pastored a church in a small rural Ontario community of 5,000 people for 18 years before coming to Willowdale two years ago. “There’s a lot of people in this area who have no understanding of Christian things. It’s going to be in the weeks and months to come when I think the greatest challenges, the greatest work will be done to turn people’s hearts toward God.”
The crime police say Minassian committed is the worst mass murder in Canada since Marc Lepine killed 14 women at a Montreal engineering school in 1989, Bloomberg News reported.
Police arrested Minassian shortly after the crime without accommodating his plea for police to shoot him in the head, according to news reports, and even as he pointed an object at a lone officer. No motive had been reported for Minassian’s actions, and Canadian police had not termed the crime a terrorist attack.
Southern Baptists’ North American Mission Board (NAMB) lists Toronto as one of its Send cities for church planting and evangelism, with only one Canadian National Baptist Convention church for every 113,284 people. Among languages spoken, in addition to the official tongues of English and French, are Chinese dialects, Filipino and Arabic, NAMB said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)