Frequently cast as somewhere else by filmmakers looking for an economical stand-in for one of several U.S. cities, Toronto is finally getting its own close-up. Identified as the North American focus of Foursquare Missions International’s global strategic cities effort, the city has captured the attention of churches across the country and over the border as The 2010 Challenge gets underway.
Foursquare leaders welcome the attention given to the Ontario provincial capital on several levels, from the way it is tapping into the denomination’s spiritual roots to how it can serve, they say, as a potential spiritual springboard to the rest of the world. They cite the city’s unique profile as making it a fitting center of missions attention, noting its cultural, political and financial influence and its status as what is believed to be the most ethnically diverse urban center on the planet.
Surprised but “very honored” that Toronto was chosen as the North American target, Barry Buzza, president of Foursquare Canada, noted that 50 percent of Toronto residents were born outside the country, while almost half speak a language other than English in their homes. That underscores the complexity of reaching cities for Christ in a nation that, unlike its neighbor to the south and other Western countries with large immigrant populations, is “more of a mosaic than a melting pot.”
Overseeing the Foursquare effort is Ron Morin, director of the recently formed Greater Toronto Area (GTA) Foursquare unit. A former missionary to Brazil and one-time head of a Portuguese Bible school in the Toronto area, he has developed a seven-point plan for The 2010 Challenge.
The plan includes inviting 12 short-term mission teams from other parts of the world to GTA during the summer—with some anticipated grant funding from the Foursquare Foundation—and hosting a series of special events in the city, from training courses to a praise festival and youth conference. Also on the calendar is a family camp at Maple Grove near Ingersoll, close to Toronto and the birthplace of Foursquare founder Aimee Semple McPherson.
Despite that heritage, Foursquare’s footprint in Toronto has been light through the years. However, the city does have a rich Christian legacy—headquartering the Pentecostal Churches of Canada and home to revered pastors Oswald J. Smith and A.W. Tozer, and the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, locus of the “Toronto Blessing.”
Central to Ron Morin’s script for Toronto are ambitious Foursquare church planting efforts. Himself the pastor of a thriving multicultural congregation in the city, Hope for Tomorrow, he believes that after years of struggling to really establish a presence in the GTA, Foursquare’s time has come.
“I really feel that what God is about to do is going to be a new thing,” he says. “I believe that the move of God that is coming will take a different form.”
There are currently seven Foursquare churches in the city, most established within the last five years, and all but his are essentially homogenous—Filipino, African, Portuguese, Caribbean, Tamil and Czech.
Gina Dolor pastors the largest of them, Praise Christian Family Church, whose approximately 200 mostly Asian members meet in the North York area of GTA. Sunday services are broadcast over the Internet so that members’ relatives in places such as the Philippines and Taiwan may participate.
This example of Toronto’s international connectedness is significant to Barry Buzza for several reasons. He notes that because of its multicultural make-up, Toronto has links with most parts of the world—and that Canadians have an international reputation as peacemakers.
“Canadians are pretty much loved around the world, and as such we have a natural open door to almost any country,” he says. “There’s not a better place to reach the world from. We are missing the greatest opportunity if we don’t do something in Toronto—if you want to reach the world, you have to reach Toronto.”
Serving as a major proponent for The 2010 Challenge is Ted Vail, Foursquare’s North American area missionary and director of Urban and Multicultural Ministries. He has been championing support for the initiative among churches in the U.S. and overseas, recently visiting Indonesia to talk about mission opportunities in Canada.
His role is to “encourage churches that have probably never seen Canada as a mission field, like they may have seen Costa Rica or somewhere like that,” he told Foursquare.org. Ted points out that people from some countries, such as Algeria, who may find it hard to come to the U.S., can find their way to Toronto—where they can then be reached with the gospel.
One American congregation that has already embraced the invitation to join the Toronto initiative is Family Christian Center in Toledo, Ohio, some 250 miles away across the Great Lakes Region.
Pastored by Igor “Beau” Beaufils, the small congregation—almost 60 years old, with fewer than 40 members—has been sending teams to work with Ron Morin in Toronto for five years. The link came about after Igor first traveled there on business in 2001, and “I felt the Lord speak to my heart and tell me that He didn’t send me to Toronto to make money, but rather to serve Him and the people.”
The Ohio visitors have taken part in kids and teen projects and sent money.
“We believe that Toronto is strategic in God’s plans as we go into the 21st century,” Igor asserts. “Toronto is not only an economic, cultural and social gateway to and from Canada for the rest of the world, but it is also a gateway through which many will come to know the Living God.”
By: Andy Butcher, who previously served as a YWAM missionary in Europe. He is now the editor of Christian Retailing and a freelance writer living in Longwood, Fla.