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A child's brain tumor yields a church plant in metro Toronto

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Southern Baptist churches are engaged in the annual Week of Prayer for North American Missions, March 4-11, in conjunction with the 2012 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. With a goal of $70 million, AAEO gifts help pay the salaries and ministry support for missionaries serving in North America with the SBC's North American Mission Board. For more information, visit www.anniearmstrong.com.

TORONTO (BP) -- If 8-year-old Liam McGibbon had been tumor-free, his parents probably wouldn't have made it to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and certainly not as miraculously.

For one, Jason and Kimberley McGibbon didn't really imagine themselves as church planters. And two, they weren't looking to move from the Toronto suburb where Jason served as worship leader at The Sanctuary Church Milton, to the other side of Lake Ontario.

Jason and Kimberley McGibbon are one of five missionary couples featured during the Week of Prayer for North American Missions, March 4-11, 2012, and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. The offering helps support McGibbon and other missionaries serving on behalf of Southern Baptists in North America. With a goal of $70 million, this year's offering theme is "Whatever It Takes."

Their story began three years ago in a pediatrician's office. Liam, then 8, was complaining of headaches. Migraines run in the family, so the couple assumed the best. But when Kimberley heard it was much more serious, a parent's worst nightmare materialized before her eyes.

"I remember when I found out about Liam and I thought 'I can't breathe' and the room got very cold," Kimberley says.

A tumor was growing in the middle of Liam's brain.

The next week, Jason, Kimberley and Liam were in Hamilton meeting with neurosurgeons at MacKids, the pediatric division of McMaster University Hospital.


Two surgeries and several weeks passed. As Liam, now 11, recovered -- regaining his faculties and his vital signs improving -- God opened Jason and Kimberley's eyes to the needs of those around them in Hamilton.

Looking around the waiting room, the couple could see a desperate loneliness across other parents' faces.

"As we waited, we saw people sitting there by themselves in the hardest times of their lives. We wondered how they made it through," Jason says. "We heard so many stories from other parents whose lives were rocked by illness. They had no real hope outside of medicine and science."

In the end, Jason and Kimberley couldn't get away from the idea of true community, which they had experienced through the church in Milton, with members praying for them, visiting with them, practically camping out at the hospital with them.

And then there were the parents in Hamilton who had no Christian presence, no church family to walk with them during their own difficult journey.

To leave them without a Gospel presence seemed out of the question.

"I'd been to Hamilton before. I'd pass through it when I was at graduate school," McGibbon says. "But I'd never really thought much about it."

Anchored there for weeks, the McGibbons learned of a city full of beauty, diversity and creativity but with no true spiritual direction. Ask people who cared nothing for church to drive 30 minutes for church? Not an option.


Hamilton is a Toronto-area city on the west side of Lake Ontario. More than 500,000 people live there, including 100,000-plus immigrants. Only 3 percent of the greater Toronto area population is evangelical.

The McGibbons chose to live in a section of Hamilton frequented by artists and musicians, just the type of people Jason, a musician, wants to reach.

So they moved. But first they prayed.

"Hudson Taylor once wrote, 'If you should enter that province you must go forward on your knees,'" McGibbon says. "Once we found our neighborhood and found every street in that neighborhood, we signed people up from our church to prayerwalk every street in our neighborhood."

The McGibbons are planting The Hamilton Fellowships, a plant of The Sanctuary Church Milton, which is a church plant of The Sanctuary Church Oakville.

In the early days, church planting in Hamilton has centered on building relationships with neighbors and with people on the street, inviting them over for meals and Bible study. The McGibbons launched their first house fellowship in September 2011. Their vision is to start several fellowships throughout Hamilton.

"When I sit down and think about it, I can become very intimidated," McGibbon says. "I'm a pretty normal average guy and, to be quite honest, when I see some of the church planter kind of stuff, I don't see myself as fitting that mold all that often.


"But one of the things we know is that God has called us to do this," he says. "We just know God is there and God works. Even when you seem like you're up against the biggest, thickest, brick wall, it's then that you see God work."

Adam Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board. To view a video about the McGibbons and other Week of Prayer missionaries, visit anniearmstrong.com.

Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net

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