Some surveys estimate that Montreal has more unreached people than any other city in the world. Less than 4% of residents attend church in this city of nearly 2 million people. “The city has dramatically turned from its Christian heritage and undergone intense secularization,” says Adrian Van Giessen, Home Missions Regional Leader for Eastern Canada. The CRCNA as a denomination has limited resources – and only one Christian Reformed Church – in Montreal, but as Van Giessen says, “There’s a spiritual hunger there. The city is ready for God, and God shares our passion to see redemption in this place.”
Montreal is now the home of a brand new ministry, called Mission Montreal, the first of its kind in North America.
Joel Huyser, World Missions director for transformational networks, describes Montreal as a global city. “The city has strong local roots, but is also home to immigrants from around the world.” Home Missions and World Missions entered Montreal knowing we’d find God already at work there. What we found there was even more encouraging – partners already on the ground, committed to strengthening the church and fostering unity. Joining together with Diaconal Ministries Canada, Classis Eastern Canada, and our “partner on the ground” Christian Direction, we’ve seen big increases in our capacity to develop, equip, and work alongside Christians and churches in Montreal.
Glenn Smith, executive director of Christian Direction, stepped into this partnership to assist in linking the Christian Reformed Church with ministry already happening. “This is one of the most fascinating partnerships I’ve ever been involved with,” he says. From Smith’s perspective, the biggest asset Home Missions and World Missions have brought to the table is their collaborative spirit. “Christian Direction has been around for nearly 50 years – we’ve got good roots, but we’re a small organization,” he says, “We know we can’t accomplish our mission without partnerships, and this one is really special.”
Mission Montreal has seen God at work in a myriad of ways. Focusing on developing missional communities, equipping Christians to reach their Muslim neighbors, and working alongside ministries at Montreal’s universities, Mission Montreal seeks to unite churches to serve the city. “We’ve taken the concept of church unity and expanded it far beyond our denominational walls,” says Van Giessen. “We want to enhance and contribute towards a shared Christian witness in a city that desperately needs God.”
Smith can list a host of ways Mission Montreal is seeing real, concrete life transformation. Montreal has more university students per capita than any other city in North America except Boston, yet mission work among this population is minimal. Mission Montreal has sought out these students, involving them in volunteer work, small groups, and telling them about Jesus – some for the first time. One of the biggest areas of focus for Mission Montreal is outreach to their large Muslim immigrant community. Through feeding the hungry, conversation cafes, music lessons, and outreach to single Muslim mothers, the ministry is building relationships and changing lives.
This innovative initiative in Montreal has been spurred on by Home Missions and World Missions coming together like they’ve never been able to do before. In addition to contributing financial support for the project, both organizations have contributed staff members to sit on the board of Mission Montreal, including Adrian Van Giessen, Steve Kabetu, and Joel Huyser. Home Missions and World Missions have also added staff capacity to the project by providing for the hiring of three employees working exclusively with Mission Montreal.
“This is the first time World Missions has ever done a project in North America. It’s unprecedented,” says Huyser, who is excited about the future of collaboration between Home Missions and World Missions. Both agencies have brought essential resources and experience to Montreal. But Huyser sees this effort as an even bigger opportunity than just serving the city. “From the beginning, we’ve said we want Montreal to be a laboratory and a classroom for the CRCNA,” he says. “Rather than seeing the places that we do mission simply as ‘receivers,’ we see them as places to learn together.” As Home Missions and World Missions seek to become more unified, as we learn more from each other and from the communities we serve, we can join more fully in God’s mission.
“Mission Montreal is proof positive that we can embed collaboration and imagination into the work of the CRCNA,” says Van Giessen. “Future initiatives and projects will build on groundwork laid here.” Home Missions and World Missions are working to use what we’ve learned in Montreal as a template for new ministry all over the world. As a unified agency, we can refine this method of finding God at work, coming alongside partners who share our values and passion for ministry, and adding our gifts and resources to the mix. “We’re on the cutting edge of missional practice,” says Smith.
Leaders at both agencies are hearing God’s call to work together through their experience at Mission Montreal. “The collaboration we see here is compelling; it’s exciting,” says Home Missions director Moses Chung. “Imagine what could be on the horizon moving forward as a unified agency – Mission Toronto? Mission Beijing? God’s ushering in a new reality.” World Missions director Gary Bekker adds, “A unified missions agency is the next step in our calling to bring a Christian witness to the ends of the earth.”