SARNIA, ONTARIO – As the clouds darkened the skies over the city of Sarnia I was reminded it was expected to be a colder winter and the snow would pile up. The cold winter is what birthed the idea to hand out retired winter wear along with with the gospel message, thanks to the Ayton family. This year we had over thirty people participated in reaching the unchurched people of Sarnia.
The winter wear had been collected diligently and coats were ready to be handed out to anyone who had a need. Not to be put off by the foreboding sky, this little band of Christians gathered along the side of Bayside Mall to hand out hot chocolate, coffee, winter coats, boots, hats and mitts. Along with these acts of kindness were people ready to talk about the love of our Saviour. Gospel literature was available and tracts were intermingled in the pockets of all the coats. We were all gathered to give a cup of water in Jesus’ name.
The spirit of spontaneity, adventure and resourcefulness all came to fruition on a particular Thursday morning. As the raindrops hits my windshield I decided to turn around and go home to gather plastic tarps and my sunshade. Before long we had constructed a “tent city” to keep the garments and shoppers dry as they looked for something that might fit their children or themselves. One single mom remarked how thankful she was for these coats because she did not know what she was going to do for her kids.
Our church planting team (The Bridge Gathering) put together eighty “blessing bags” filled with colorful homemade hats, many personal items and a New Testament. We added a special event prize filled with Christmas delicacies, bus passes and other practical helps for anyone who filled out a ballot, which would be drawn at a free Christmas dinner in two weeks. We gained contact information for future events and asked if they would check off an interest in life skill classes like cooking, finances and parenting. Many responded positively to this initiative and we look forward to maintaining email and phone contact to continue our ministry to this community in the days ahead.
Over the next three-hours, we witnessed to more than two hundred people, enrolled them for future follow up and handed out Christmas dinner invitations to which one hundred actually came two weeks later. And just when you think you’ve done everything, I had my first turkey cooking experience as I spent the day putting three of those big birds through my kitchen oven. At the event, volunteers mixed and mingled during the dinner to indicate that we are interested in a relationship, not just helping them out. Children were kept occupied with a craft while parents enjoyed the delicious turkey and ham dinner. Someone even set up a photo booth and took family pictures, printed them off and delivered them to the families. One person remarked, “this was the first family picture they had taken in years.”
At the end of the day, here is what we learned: If we are going to ask someone to consider a personal relationship with our Saviour, we had better be ready to establish a personal relationship with them first. We cannot talk about a relationship with Jesus Christ and not be prepared to engage ourselves in relationship with others. This is the gospel connection we must make if we are going to reach our lost neighbours. This is what it means to be “On Mission” and it is the most exciting thing we can do as Christians.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cecil Cogswell serves The Gathering Church as Director of Community Outreach for Sarnia-Lambton. Cecil and wife Jayne planted a church in the Greater Toronto Area years ago and pastored that church faithfully until relocating to Sarnia. Cecil and their team plan to develop small groups within the area as a strategy for reaching people with the Gospel. They are extremely hospitable and enjoy having people into their home. They have two married daughters.