Skip to content ↓

The Most Happily Multi-Ethnic Church I Know

I love America and I love Americans. Some would say it is my duty, as a Canadian, to hold a grudge against America and its people. But I can’t help myself. I have traveled to most of the states, I have visited most of the key cities, and I have spent time in many of the small towns. I just plain love America.

Over the years I have often looked with sorrow at America’s enduring struggle with issues related to race and racism. I have tried to listen and to understand, though I know that as an outsider I will only ever have the barest understanding of the experience and issues. I have often wondered what, if anything, I can say. To this point I have said little.

But today I want to say something. I want to bring a word of encouragement to people in America who are growing discouraged by the situation there, and to people across the world who have little opportunity to experience people and cultures different from their own. I want to encourage you that the gospel has the power to bring unity through diversity. The gospel really can generate love and affection between people who, in any other situation, would remain apart. And I want to demonstrate this by telling you about the most diverse church I know—my own church, Grace Fellowship Church.

Grace Fellowship Church began as a suburban, middle-class church. Though all of the founding members were Caucasian, it had two great advantages that were bound to generate diversity. The first advantage was demographic. The church is in Toronto, a city in which more than half of the residents were born in a different country. You do not have to go looking for racial and ethnic diversity in this city. The second advantage was theological. The church was founded upon the gospel and committed to preaching the gospel, primarily through the mechanism of expository preaching.

The plan was to preach the Word and to let God give the increase. And he did.

I want to make it clear: The church never created a program to attract diverse people. There was no formal plan to reach into ethnic communities. The plan was to preach the Word and to let God give the increase. And he did. I wish you could see it, and see what God has done. I wish you could see the nations gathering here. Grace Fellowship has become a church that displays all the diversity of Toronto.

I wish you could meet Thushara, who grew up Buddhist, and his wife Shaida, who grew up Muslim. They met and fell in love in their native Sri Lanka. Forbidden by their families to marry, they eloped and immigrated to Canada where they heard the gospel and became Christians. Thushara now serves as a deacon and reads the Bible in our worship services. Shaida serves in the hospitality ministry. It is the rare Sunday when they do not have their home full to bursting with guests.

I wish you could meet Chelms and Esther. Chelms came from India to study at the University of Toronto and, since joining our church, has played guitar or bass nearly every Sunday. Esther’s work brought her to Toronto from her native Montreal. They married last summer in a ceremony that was a melding of French Canadian and Indian traditions (and which came soon after another wedding uniting another French Canadian woman to a Nigerian man).

I wish you could meet N & J and their beautiful little girl D. I cannot use their names because they are Kurds from a Middle Eastern country who travel home occasionally and whose lives would be in danger if their community learned that they have turned away from Islam to embrace Christ. He serves in the church and she volunteers today at a local pregnancy care centre, beginning outreach into Toronto’s Kurdish community.

I wish you could meet Gideon who was an exemplary intern this year, who led our summer evangelism program, who hopes and prays to be a pastor before long, and who has recently gotten engaged to be married. One of 30 or 40 Ghanian young adults in our congregation, he left the church he grew up in because he longed to be where he would hear the gospel and sit under expositional preaching.

I wish you could meet Chisso, a Chinese man with a Japanese name who grew up in Indonesia. Chisso loves sharing the gospel and does so with nearly everyone he meets, sometimes even setting up on Toronto’s busiest street corner. He recently completed his studies at Toronto Baptist Seminary and is currently being evaluated by a missions organization as he prepares to head overseas.

I wish you could meet Dorin who left Romania to move to Canada with his wife. Dorin has served our church as a deacon and in many other ways. He regularly returns to his home country to help disciple and care for that nation’s orphans.

I wish you could meet Diana who grew up in St. Vincent before immigrating to Canada when she was a teen. The first time she came to our church she prayed, “God, there are not many other people of color here. I’m asking you to bring more.” A few months ago she told our church how God had answered her prayer beyond all she could have imagined. In just a few weeks she will move to Scotland as a missionary with 20schemes and, again, be one of very few people of color in her new local church.

I wish you could meet Paul and Susan. Paul grew up in Toronto and moved to California to study at The Master’s College. It was in California that he met Susan, who hails from Indiana. When he graduated from The Master’s Seminary he returned to Toronto to serve as a pastor and, soon after, founded Grace Fellowship Church.

I wish you could meet Matt and Libby who were married last Saturday in a Ghanian/Portuguese wedding right in the heart of the city, the second Ghanian/Portuguese union our church has enjoyed recently. They began dating when they were in high school and are now living as husband and wife. (The food at the wedding was sublime—one table packed full of Portuguese food and the other packed full of Ghanian delicacies.)

I wish you could meet little Gabriel who looked up at his mom the other day and observed simply, “Dad’s white. You’re black. Emily and I are brown.” Though he’s only a toddler he sees it and he gets it. It’s beautiful.

We are not a perfect church and have not attained perfect unity. But we are learning and growing and experiencing so much grace. We are learning how to value and enjoy very different cultural preferences, very different traditions, and very different foods. We are learning how to appreciate people who are very different in such important ways, and to see those differences as good. We are learning to laugh at ourselves and with one another. We are learning to repent and apologize. We are learning to love.

I tell you all of this because I want you to believe that the gospel is capable of building unity even, and maybe especially, in the midst of diversity. And that makes the gospel look so good, so sweet, so real. When I consider America’s struggles I see an incredible opportunity for the church to prove the power of the gospel. God loves to display his power in gospel-focused communities of gospel-loving Christians. And he does. He is doing it right here. And I can fully believe he can do it there as well.

Image credit: Shutterstock

I am now accepting (and encouraging) letters to the editor. This is an experimental feature meant to replace the comments section. If you would like to write a letter to the editor, you can do so here.

  • Redeeming Sex in Marriage

    Redeeming Sex in Marriage

    Surely few things in this world are more mysterious than sex. Surely few things give such clear evidence that there must be more to them than the sum of their parts. On the one level, sex is a simple biological function that exists to populate the earth with human beings. On the other level, it…

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    A La Carte (May 22)

    A La Carte: What should we think about paedocommunion? / Ten questions for readers of erotica / You are an influencer / Do you believe your pasture’s green? / Adam poisoned me / Kindle and Logos deals / and more.

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    A La Carte (May 21)

    A La Carte: A theology of immigration / Christian catholicity in an online age / Violent pornography’s assault on the marriage bed / Heresy that warrants no apology / Franchising church / With each passing moment / Kindle deals / and more.

  • Why Do I Feel Such Profound Loneliness?

    This week the blog is sponsored by Moody Publishers and is written by Steve DeWitt. The story of human loneliness has its roots in the character of God and God’s purpose in creating us.  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created…

  • Stop Swiping Start Serving

    Stop Swiping, Start Serving

    I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that in the past few weeks, you have probably not gotten rip-roaring drunk nor participated in a debauched drinking party. You have probably not given yourself over to rampant sexual immorality or a life obsessed with sensuality. At least, I hope not

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    A La Carte (May 20)

    A La Carte: What media got wrong about supposed Christian self-immolation / We are walking on holy ground / “His Glory and My Good” / How pop Nietzscheanism masquerades as Christianity / Why a full calendar doesn’t necessarily produce mature church members / Thinking biblically about social justice / John Piper Kindle deals / and…