By Jim Foster, Marketplace Minister, Toronto Alliance Church
God has placed a call on our hearts to reach downtown Toronto, what we call His ‘Re-Build Vision’ for our church, Toronto Alliance Church. Like he did in Jerusalem through Ezra, Nehemiah and the people of Israel, God is now doing through us, and that is to rebuild the city on God’s terms. And just as they did in building a wall against invasion, we’ve started by building up security as together we are building places and relationships where people are safe and can trust God again.
Then by inviting many to commit to their city, and join in small groups to pray and find inspiration from God’s word, we’re rebuilding a commitment to strong community, just as Nehemiah invited a tithe of the people to move back into the city to build a community. Then we’re preparing, as Ezra did, to rebuild the “temple” together and the core places of worship – both within the hearts of followers through gatherings for prayer and worship, and by establishing the places where the community can join in worship, humbly asking God to dwell in and bless our city and nation.
Spiritual community building in the inner city is no small task. But to rebuild a commitment to worshipping God in the city, he has opened the way for His presence to move through us into the city and to rebuild faith in God there.
Here are a few examples:
- Community among lonely students
On Sunday evenings, we host a gathering attended currently by mostly young adults and international students. Some of them come to practice speaking English at the English Conversation Cafe, and then many turn to deeper matters because of the trusted relationships they’ve built up there. At first, these students are not open to Jesus, or at least don’t see how He relates to their pain – which has come from everything from loneliness to physical abuse. Being new to the country, they generally have no family and no community in the City to turn to. We simply introduce them to Jesus through loving community. He does the rest through His spirit.
- Hospitality to immigrant families
Many people are very lonely in the city, so personal friendships are valued. In December we helped through a Holiday Party for families from the community to offer hospitality and relationship building for families, most of whom are new to Canada. We did something similar for Syrian families whom the government had placed in downtown Toronto. Many of these families have received very little relational care and when we practice hospitality, we find that it always means so much to them. These are stepping stones toward faith in Christ for these families.
- Renewal of faith among the homeless
We pray for, feed, clothe and talk about Jesus to many in the City who have addictions. Drug use – and hard and dangerous drugs – is growing at an alarming rate in the City, so much so that many street people have expressed their fears of taking the wrong drug one day. One lady stopped by recently as we were handing out frozen turkeys before Christmas. She needed prayer about a serious illness but first confessed that she had an addiction that was harming her faith. In brokenhearted prayer, this First Nations woman rededicated her life to God then and there. We prayed for her and she left with renewed trust in Jesus.
- Children & youth discipleship
During the summer, our soccer league and summer camp are excellent opportunities to share Jesus with community children. Many kids eagerly participate because they have become close with Christian leaders throughout the year at programs at the local schools. At camp several years ago, one young girl took a step of faith to seek Jesus. This girl is now a leader at our kid’s church after school – praying, quoting Scripture, and sharing Christ with her high school friends. She calls this discipleship meeting ‘my church’. Her family worships an entirely different god, but she now knows Jesus as the only way to God.
- Healing for the aged
An older couple from our Saturday night dinner and worship time shared recently how the prayer of a believer had healed him of cancer and restored their marriage. God has recently blessed them with an inheritance, and they can now move out of the inner city and off of significant government assistance. They wanted to thank us for serving them and offered to make a donation to the church.
- Faith in the Savior
We pray with many to come to faith in Christ. For example, a gentleman came into the church one day and told our pastor that he was knocking on heaven’s door, but no one was answering. The pastor corrected him, saying it’s actually the other way around and asked if he would respond to Jesus’ call as he was knocking on his heart’s door. In the most beautiful prayer, this man prayed and opened his heart to the Lord.
- A place of worship in downtown Toronto
We trust God to provide ways for us to re-build the city. We’re waiting patiently for God to open the door for us to purchase a multi-use property in downtown Toronto – a base from which to re-build. We feel that the city has urgent needs – it’s not just for our congregation, but also for development services to the community, for evangelistic ministries, for planting churches among ethnic communities, and for the training people in urban and ethnic ministries. We have been waiting for a while for a larger facility, but we know God has the best timing in mind for us. And when the time is right and “the wall” is fully built again with the resulting security and community, then the “place of worship” will be provided.
And finally, it’s important to realize that all of these examples involve some form of partnership between us and other churches, businesses or ministry groups in downtown Toronto. We do everything through partnership. There is no other way to remain for the long haul in the city than to work hand in hand with others.
We are only One Church after all. Let’s join hands and re-build that wall, and that community, and gather many again to worship in the City.