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Focus on Campus Ministries
Our nation’s campuses are largely unreached by the Gospel, and those doing the work believe it’s time to take this challenge seriously.

A personal profile of Brandon Malo – founding pastor of The Embassy.

God has been raising up bold visionaries across the Canadian landscape to make a powerful, influential impact with the gospel. They are entrepreneurs, risk takers—committed to pursuing urgent spiritual needs in our communities which are painfully obvious to the discerning, but obscure to most. Mission Canada interviewed one such visionary Brandon Malo. Brandon is the founding pastor of The Embassy in Waterloo, Ontario. Brandon gives us a bit of his story – when God first called him; his experience with Canada as a mission field; and his vision for the future.

Q: What were you doing when you determined to create The Embassy, and why did you leave that to start a church?

A:  In my second year of studies in the Business Administration program at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, I began to sense a strong calling to full-time pastoral ministry. Initially, I fought the promptings and determined that I would respond after my graduation. But the sense of calling intensified, and I realized that I needed to respond immediately. So I dropped out of university the day before my wedding, and Melissa and I set out to begin an exciting new phase of life together.

It was during my biblical and theological studies the following year that the dream of The Embassy came together. My heart began to go out to my peers who were still at Laurier. Knowing that Christianity was conspicuously absent from the university scene, I wondered who was going to introduce my generation to Christ and the eternal, abundant life He came to bring. I soon realized that the answer was me – that God was calling me to go back to the place I had just left and establish a church that would engage students with the gospel that had so dramatically changed my own life.

Q: What have been some of the personal costs to pursue this calling?

A: When I left Laurier, I gave up something that was very important to me – a university education – with the understanding that I would likely never go back. That was a great cost for me, but I believe God wanted me to give that up for reasons only He understands.

In the early months and years of The Embassy, there were the expected financial strains associated with a church planting endeavour (There wasn't exactly a line-up of supporters who were eager to invest in such a risky idea!) In fact, there was a season when Melissa and I had no income at all and would depend on anonymous envelopes slipped under our apartment door to help us buy a few groceries.

There were some very lonely times. We felt disconnected from established churches and pushed aside by Christians on campus who didn't support what we were doing. It's much easier to take risks when you know that people are standing behind you.

Q: What have been the rewards?

A: Just last week, my wife and I were driving home from an extended vacation, talking about how much we missed and loved our church, and she said to me, "Everyone always talks about the early sacrifices and how hard it was in the beginning, but when I look at all that we've received in the end, I think, 'Is that all we had to do? Is that all we had to sacrifice?' "

There's nothing like living on the other side of obedience. You can only know the rewards of faith when you actually step out in faith. We have met so many amazing people over the years, and we've seen thousands of students encouraged and built up in their faith. That's reward enough.

I even think of the personal financial costs mentioned earlier — you can't learn the lessons we learned unless you're willing to trust God with everything. So I would say that the deep character development during those dark times was an incredible reward as well.

Q: Tell us a bit about The Embassy — how it started, the meaning of the name, its mandate.

A: Once I finally started talking to people about this crazy idea of starting a church on campus in Waterloo, the pieces actually came together rather quickly. In December 1997, I talked to the manager of the Humanities Theatre at the University of Waterloo and made arrangements to book the venue every Monday night starting the following September.

I presented the vision to the church board of Waterloo Pentecostal Assembly and they pledged their support for the launch. In February, I gathered a small team of people to help and, over the next few months, we got things ready for our first service. This took place on September 14, 1998. It was one of the most significant days of my life.

The Embassy is all about God's place on campus and in the community. It's about being His representatives in an environment where He is often misrepresented or altogether ignored. It's about introducing people to Jesus in a real and relevant way, acknowledging the significant opportunity we have to engage students at an incredibly formational stage of their lives. It's about seeing students sent out into the world to be Christlike leaders, whatever their field of study.

Churches often think territorially…

Q: What are some misconceptions about a campus church? Campus ministry?

A: The single biggest misconception is that a campus church is not necessary. For someone who hasn't lived in the rushing current of college or university culture, I can see how it may be out of sight, out of mind," but rest assured there is a great need across the nation.

Churches often think territorially, afraid that the establishment of a campus church will take people away from their own services. Obviously, this way of thinking doesn't help. Also, it's a mistake to think that students will automatically attend a church located outside of the campus area. A lot of students aren't that mobile and aren't willing to walk half hour across town.

Q: What daily challenges do you experience?

A: Connecting with students is fascinating but unpredictable, and can be overwhelming. But each challenge means that we are able to help students make some of the most important decisions of their lives.

An obvious challenge is the funding of the vision—a financial investment cannot be made by the students themselves. So individuals and churches have to believe in and invest in the vision without expecting anything in return. Our nation's campuses are largely unreached with the gospel, and those of us doing the work believe that it's time to take this challenge seriously.

Q: What would you say to an individual who felt called to serving students on a campus?

A: Respond to the calling. Unfortunately, over the years I have had numerous conversations with individuals who have told me about feeling called to campus ministry, but few of those have ever materialized.

Even if you can't do it full time, even if you aren't called to pastoral ministry, find a way to invest in students' lives. Learn about the kinds of opportunities that exist. Just start a conversation and see where it goes from there.

Q: What should mature believers know about what university life is like for their children and grandchildren? How can they help shape the minds and lives of those living in that reality?

A: There is a definite culture that envelops each student who begins the post-secondary journey. It's a culture where lifelong friends are made and young minds are pried open for the first time. It's a culture that presents endless options, equipping students to take their lives wherever they want. But it's also a culture that has little respect for God and makes it very difficult to live out a life of faith. And it's a culture that often tears out the tender roots of faith which have not had time to dig deeply enough to withstand the temptations that the world has to offer. I've heard this story time and again over the past nine years in the rush of campus ministry.

A few years ago, I had a first year student tell me that while she was committed to Christ upon coming to university, she had fully expected to lose the battle and abandon her faith. Then she thanked me for being there.

The primary reason that people like me are engaged in campus ministry across Canada is to see this same thing happen again, again to see young believers live out their faith in fullness and to see others come to Christ for the first time, beginning a lifelong journey of hope and faith. And [readers] can help us fulfill our mission by believing in what we're doing, praying for our success, and making concrete investments in the work we've begun.

Brandon and Melissa Malo are the founding pastors of The Embassy and Elevation in Waterloo, Ontario. Brandon is deeply committed to and involved in student ministry in Canada while serving as the lead pastor of Elevation, an intergenerational congregation spawned from The Embassy in 2001.   

Originally published in testimony, October 2007.

Used with permission.  Copyright © 2008




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