“Churchy” was the name I was given in high school by my drama teacher, Mrs. Small. Later on she said to me, “Churchy, we need someone like you in our high school. We need someone who can sit and listen to students who are going through things. Someone who can be there for them. I’m going to talk to our principal, and we are going to set something up.”
She started a conversation about having me in to speak to her high school, a public high school in Quebec, as a motivational speaker. I thought, Is this actually happening? This teacher, when I first met her, would say she did not believe in a God at all, but she has since changed her opinions on what I believe (that’s a story for a different article). Was she really asking me, a pastor, to come and spend time with students at their high school on a regular basis? When our conversation ended, I sat in my living room trying to process the conversation we had just had. This moment almost did not happen.
Three years ago, my wife and I, along with our three (now four) kids, left our role as student ministry pastor at our church in Ottawa, a place we had been for eight years, to become a Canadian missionary to high school campuses as well as an evangelist. It was scary to step out into the unknown. How would we survive with no income—at least, no guaranteed income? Would people even book me? If so, why? Do Canadian churches support Canadian missionaries? I had many questions, and those questions didn’t come with any immediate answers. But as Christians, we just believe, right? We just keep going, even when the road gets tough, right? “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil …” Right? A year and a half ago, I started wondering if any of that was true. I was tired. I felt like I was set up to fail. I even started wondering if God had forgotten all about me. I mean, I gave up everything for Him; the least He could do was help out. (Frustration makes you think some crazy things.)
One day everything changed. In one moment (seriously, it was a moment at a stoplight), I went from telling God that I was pretty sure He had failed to reminding Him of how awesome He is (just in case He forgot). Let’s be clear about something: in this moment, nothing about my situation had actually changed. I still had no income. I still had only one church that was willing to sponsor a Canadian missionary. (Since then, I’ve added one youth group but no other churches.) I hadn’t received any new bookings to speak, but everything changed because my perspective of Him changed. In that one moment, God spoke to my heart.
It’s tempting, as a communicator, to want to be liked and to be popular. If that happens, it’s great, but I realized that my purpose is not popularity—it is to reveal the Lord, to anyone and everyone. I believe that if we reveal Him, then others can receive Him, and that’s the goal. I do what I do because I want people to know Him. I want the hopeless to find hope. I want the hopeful to keep going. But how? What I believe God was speaking to me was to get people to start sharing stories—their personal stories. I know I could be wrong, and I’ll accept it if I am, but I strongly believe that stories have the power to change lives. Sharing our stories—the struggles and the successes alike—helps us cope and encourages others.
Can I be really honest for a moment? I keep hearing people ask questions about how we can reach people with the gospel, and how we can reach the next generation for Jesus. Those are important questions for us to ask, but there are moments when I feel we are missing what’s right in front of us. As I read Scripture, I’m told there is power in our testimony (story). I’m told of individuals who were impacted by the gospel, and because of that, they shared their story, and others were also impacted. Did you know that the religious leaders wanted to kill Lazarus because his story was changing lives? Here is our reality: there is a generation of students who are looking for a church, but they are looking for something that can change lives. How will they know that God changes lives unless stories are told about what He can do? Side note: if the only story about what God has done in your life was five, 10, 15 or 30 years ago, my encouragement to you is to get out of the boat a bit, let Him show up again in a new way, and write a new story.
As a Mission Canada Next Gen Youth worker, can I ask you to pray? Pray for open doors into high schools across our country. Pray that new stories of faith will be written and told, and that those stories will have great impact. Pray for churches—maybe even your church—to support the work we are doing. Finally, would you tell your story? Tell of the good works He has done and is doing. Telling a story is more than just words; it’s living out your story of freedom. When you do that, you reveal Him. When you reveal Him, others can receive Him.
Adam Gilfillan, his wife, Rachel, and their four children have called Ottawa, Ont., home for the past nine years. Learn more about Adam and support him at https://paoc.org/donate/AdamGilfillan.
This article appeared in the October/November/December 2019 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photos © istockphoto.com.