Every Friday night at a home in Kitchener, Ontario, 15-30 people ranging in age from newborn to 50-something gather together for a potluck dinner and fellowship. The weekly gathering is called Connections and it was formed in 2014 when some members of The Journey church shared with one another their desire to create a missional family that could welcome and befriend newcomers to Canada. Since that time Connections has become like a family to people whose countries of origin include Canada, Eritrea, Somalia, Iraq, Nigeria, and more.
Each weekly gathering begins with the children leading the group in prayer before all share a meal together. The rest of their time follows this pattern:
Worship: a time of praise and prayer to Jesus, sharing needs and caring for each other
Social/Games: a fun evening for all ages.
Worship: a time of praise and prayer to Jesus, sharing needs and caring for each other.
Celebration: a time to celebrate special events within the missional family such as birthdays, anniversaries, Mother's Day, baptisms, etc.
(when available): Outreach: time to serve the broader refugee community often in partnership with Welcome Home (a local home for newly arrived refugees and at which the group has pledged time and money for sponsoring a room and those living in it.)
Although Connections was founded by Christ followers, all are welcome and those who attend represent a variety of faiths. In addition to the Bible, the group leaders have found books from 3DM, including those on Learning Communities, to be helpful as they plan and prepare for their gatherings. The God Loves Me books with their simple language and colorful illustrations have also been a helpful resource as they work well with children and those who are learning English. Using the God Loves Me books to act out the stories together has also been a fun activity.
Frank and Marlene Hoekstra have opened their home and their hearts to Connections and say the blessings of being part of this intergenerational group are many. Participating in mission with Jesus has multiplied their love while giving them purpose and the courage to step into unfamiliar territory. Watching the children singing and dancing during worship, praying for others and welcoming newcomers has been a faith nurturing experience for all ages. Family ties are strengthened because families can spend time in a supportive environment together. And, being an open, intergenerational group with no restrictions on age, gender or beliefs means that the group is able to welcome all people anytime.
With such a diverse group gathering together to eat, worship and play, it’s no surprise that “beautiful, but oh so chaotic!” are the words Marlene uses to describe their time together. “The challenge is to create space for deep sharing while young children play at our feet or are cradled in our arms,” says Marlene. “Prayer time is even more challenging as we often need to lift our voices above the cries or giggles of little ones. We welcome the children just as Jesus did and we are simply grateful for the times that deep sharing emerges, usually by God's grace not our plans.”
And the “beautiful” that has come out of the messiness of being a missional family? Newcomers have found friends and grown in confidence as they make a home in Canada. Families are joining Jesus’ mission and living out their faith. And, as this story from Marlene illustrates, children are discipling children (and adults):
“One particular 6 year old child (Lily) loves to lead the prayer before mealtime. We've created a rhythm of using the same prayer each week. Lily begins "Loving God, to you we say..." and the rest of us repeat after her. Discipleship happens as other children join her or take her place in her absence. Feeling confident to lead us in prayer, Lily was then the first to offer prayer for healing for her baby sister when she was in the hospital. “