Our church works with a children’s agency called Urban Promise. They are a Christian program dedicated to helping children and teens in inner city communities. Four days a week after school twenty or thirty children from our neighbourhood gather in the basement of our church to get help with their school work and be taught the Scriptures. Their workers come form all over the world and this year the interns working with us are from Germany, England and Canada. On Sunday one of the interns from Germany gave his testimony in our morning worship service. Here it is.
I can well remember Pastor Ken’s words in a service a couple of months ago where the new Interns got introduced: “We are thankful for the work that these guys are doing and are eagerly waiting for the day a young man stands here and can testify that God has used the work that Urban Promise is doing to turn his life around.”
I am this young man.
When I applied to do a missions year in Canada I literally had no relationship with God. Deep in my heart I knew that I needed Him but I wasn’t willing to do anything about that. I was caught up in drinking and partying, always making sure to be liked by others. I would have done everything to please others and to make them like me which ultimately meant that I had to be fake, I had to pretend to be somebody that I really wasn’t. This included that I was ashamed of letting anybody know that I was going to church. The fact that most Sundays I was too hung over to even listen to the sermon is indeed shameful. But I liked the thought of going to another country for one year “to do something good”. In the interview at the mission in Germany I was asked about my relationship to God and why I felt called to work as a missionary for one year. Growing up in a Christian home I knew what the person interviewing me wanted to hear and as you can see now, he seemed to have liked what I said. I basically told him a bunch of lies because I was too scared to tell him how much I really struggled with my faith. Urban Promise sounded interesting because I was told that there would be a lot of young people from all over the world. Finding new friends from all kinds of different countries? – Why not.
During the training days at the mission centre in Germany where all the young people going to different places in Canada meet, some interns from the past year introduced Urban Promise as well as different camps in the Muskoka area to us, talking about the things they experienced. The Interns from the camps in Muskoka had tons of stories about all the crazy activities they did, how they got to experience the nature of Canada in all it’s beauty and all the different sports they were able to do. On the other side, Johannes who served at Urban Promise seemed nice but he was just talking about “how the kids taught him so much”. I thought that was weird and said to myself that there really is nothing that a 10 year old boy could teach me. I admit that I can be very wrong sometimes.
As soon as I heard about the camps in Muskoka I did not want to go to Urban Promise anymore. I always loved sport and new adventures and it just seemed more fitting to me. Working in the stinking ghetto instead of enjoying fun activities in a beautiful surrounding? No way that I would go into the city. So I sent a mail to the person in charge at the mission, saying that I had the feeling that God wanted me in one of these camps to “serve him better”, another lie – I never even considered asking God about his ideas for me.
To make a long story short, despite everything, I ended up at Urban Promise, which was where God clearly wanted me to be, and He hit me with his incomparable love the first day I arrived. To me it honestly felt like a punch in the face every time I heard somebody preaching or talking about their experience with God because I could see and feel that they had a passion for Jesus that I was lacking.
But God really changed my heart about a lot of things and I have learned so much through the work with the kids and the staff at Urban Promise, more than I could have ever imagined.( I am saying the exact same thing as Johannes now which is kind of ironic). The dark basement of this church has become the most beautiful place in Toronto for me because it is evident every single day that God’s light is shining down there, with a power that overshadows all the brokenness that the kids and the staff bring into Camp.
I remember one day where some kids acted very mean towards me and I got really frustrated. A 10 year old boy came to me, grabbed my shoulder and said that I shouldn’t take what kids say too serious, he gets bullied often but he knows that what other people say doesn’t define who he is. This was one of countless times were I realized that a young boy can indeed teach me a lot of things about myself!
Coming here made me realize how broken I am, how much I need Doctor Jesus to fix me, to heal my wounds and to open my eyes and my heart so that I’m able to see Him in everything and everyone. God pours out His grace daily on me and has allowed me to come to Urban Promise to experience Him in an indescribable way. He didn’t care about the lies that I told to other people or that I didn’t even want to come here. He knows exactly what is good for me and lead me to do a work that I never thought I would enjoy. He promised me that, despite my shortcomings, he would never give up on me. He would never give up on me, never give up on you, never give up on any of the kids, their moms, dads, brothers or sisters. It is such a blessing and an honor for me to be able to serve these kids, I know better than anyone else that I don’t deserve to do this work. It is because God has placed people into my life that believed in me and never stopped to plant seeds that I am standing here today. And really that’s all that we are doing every day at Camp. We try to share God’s love with the kids and give them opportunities to understand what he is doing for us. We show them that they are precious and never deserve to be left out, trusting that God will use this work one day, in his own timing. It took me twenty years to get it but I am sure that God listened every single time that people prayed for my salvation.
I know that the ones who prayed most for that were my Mom and my Dad. When he passed away last year I didn’t understand why this had to happen. It just didn’t make sense for me why God would take away one of the most important persons in my life and take me away from the kids and all the people that I grew to love so much. But during the time in the hospital I experienced the comfort that God provides for broken and hurting people and that nothing would ever change anything about his love for me. I know that so many people prayed for me and that helped a lot. Now I am just thankful that I had the privilege to come back here, to learn more about God and to get to know him better as my personal Savior. But not only as my Savior, also as my perfect Father. Now I can relate to all the kids in our program that don’t have their father around – it’s so important for them to know that there is a God who says that we and they are all his children and that he is inviting everyone to have him as a father!
I want to encourage all of you to never stop praying for the people in this community and for everybody at Urban Promise. God has really changed my heart by showing me how much he loves me and cares for me and he has enabled me to share this love with others now. He was patient and gracious and he forgave me for all the times I rejected and ignored him. Over the last 2 years he has taught me a lot about himself and how who He is in me should reflect on my relationships with others. I want to remind everyone how much God has done for us and how much joy there is in serving him and seeing what he is doing in other peoples’ lives! For me there is no doubt that God is all over Urban Promise and it is so exciting to see how He is constantly putting broken pieces together to create something beautiful. The basement of this church is filled with hope for all the kids, interns and whoever else might walk in that they would experience God in a deeper way.