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Ministry in the Margins: Being Jesus in the Jane and Finch Community
A North Toronto church goes where few choose to tread. The cost is great, but the rewards outweigh it.

Jane and Finch, in northwest Toronto, has been designated by the national press as one of the worst neighbourhoods in all of Canada. While the media has blown its struggles out of proportion, the grave realties of life in this neighbourhood are not in question. Teenage pregnancies, gangs, high school dropouts, and single moms are all too common.

Pastor Olu Jegede, standing at the corner of Jane and Finch near the church where he ministers in Toronto, Ontario.

Christian Centre Church stands in the heart of the Jane and Finch community Youth pastor Olu Jegede and his team confront these realities every day. Nothing exemplifies this more clearly than the events of the past six months.

In May 2007, within a span of three weeks, two youth in Pastor Olu's outreach ministry were shot. The first shooting on May 3 involved a 13- year-old boy, shot in the left shoulder by a rival gang member. Fortunately, he survived. As the younger brother of a known gangster, a resident of Toronto Metro Housing, and the product of a broken family, it's not surprising he ended up in the emergency room before reaching high school.

The second shooting took place on May 23 and, unlike the first, this shot was fatal. Jordan Manners was killed five days after his 15th birthday He was shot in the bathroom of his high school. His death was reported by media across the country. Underneath all of the hype, the church knew Jordan as the boy who had started attending their youth programs at the age of six.

The images of the week following his death will never be forgotten. A walk through Jordan's housing project revealed neighbours, children, friends and family falling apart in mourning. This is what happens when a child dies in the projects: it affects not only the immediate family but the entire community.

The remainder of the summer left Christian Centre with little room to breathe. On May 30, the day of Jordan's funeral, approximately 30 gunshots went off in Jordan's housing complex, filling the community with fear. And then, on June 13, a million-dollar drug and weapon raid took place across the neighbourhood, affecting some of the church's youth and their families.

The situation became more desperate when, on July 22, I I -year-old Ephraim Brown was tragically killled while at a birthday party. Ephraim was hit by a stray bullet, fired by a gangster and intended for another man.

For almost a month after Ephraim's death, things were quiet. But all too soon, the calm was broken. On August 19, two men opened fire on each other in the middle of a community barbecue in Shoreham Court the same housing project where Jordan Manners grew up. Christian Centre had held its own community barbecue there only a day before. Then, with the summer coming to a close, a 17-year-old boy who had played for Christian Centre's outreach basketball team was shot three times. Where? In Shoreham Court.

These stories affect Christian Centre and the people who benefit from their ministry. But Christian Centre would not have it any other way. Jesus never had it any other way. Didn't He choose Zacchaeus, the despised and corrupt tax collector, out of the crowd? Didn't He cross a lake to reach the demon-possessed man living in a graveyard? Jesus never shied away from approaching those who were marginalized by society. And Christian Centre, without question, follows His example.

Pastor Olu's team believes in this model of ministry so much that they take their own kids downtown to hang out with homeless people in neighbourhoods laced with crack and prostitution.

Not every youth involved in this ministry is exposed to guns or is waiting to drop out of school. There are countless children and teens who are warm and waiting for someone to love them with passion. However, that warmth is threatened every day as they watch tragedy and hardship surround them.

The solution to the problems of the inner city is not complicated. The world makes it seem as though the issues are complex, but we know that the wisdom of the world is foolishness. We do not need to solve poverty, even though we want to. Neither do we need to make sure every child has the perfect life. Our sole responsibility is that these youth are given the chance to come into a relationship with their loving Creator.

The Gospel gives peace, not peace without conflict, but peace despite our conflict.

There is one age-old problem: there are not enough workers. Very few people are willing to help. Even fewer are passionate about helping because of the great cost involved. Pastor Olu and his team understand the cost but find the rewards of seeing lives changed far outweigh it. They invite you to join them.

Visit Christian Centre's online website at www.christiancentrechurch.com/janeandfinchmission.html.

If you live in the Toronto area, you can be part of the multifaceted basketball ministry, two inner-city after-school programs, each in rival gang territories, and/or an expanding mentorship program. Live outside Toronto? Bring a missions team or come and do an internship with the youth department.

"We have facilities, resources and a harvest field waiting. Don't delay! Lives are at stake."

Johnathan Knight is a youth outreach worker at Christian Centre Church.

Originally published in Testimony, November 2007.

 

 
 
 
 

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