A few weeks ago I was back in Canada, where I lived from 2010-2016 — and I always enjoy opportunities to go back and speak in the country that was home for six years.
We had an incredible week of ministry on this trip. We ended up in Toronto, where we worked with one of the huge Coptic churches. It’s an amazing church tradition which I know very little about. The huge Coptic Centre in Toronto wanted me to come and speak to their young people. They expected “a couple of hundred” of them to come on the Friday night, but that was a huge underestimate! We had as many as nine hundred. I have never seen anything like it; they kept coming and coming and coming!
I spoke on “God and Science”. Their leaders asked me to speak about that because a number of their young people were struggling with questions about science at university. After my talk we opened the floor, and answered question after question after question. Some of these youngsters were pretty well read, too. One of the questions on biology contained a term I didn’t even know! So I must admit, I bluffed, and said, “For people in the audience who don’t know what that word means, could you explain it?” Thankfully, he explained it in such a way that the speaker (who is not a scientist!) could understand and then address.
It was amazing to see these young people on fire for Christ. It’s an amazing church community because many of those Coptic families are in Canada having fled from Egypt, where Christians are persecuted quite heavily by the Muslim majority. Hearing stories of Christian families, who have experienced real persecution because of their faith; was very sobering. Many of us ‘Western Christians’ rarely think about these things, while those in the Middle East have been through a lot.
When we were in Canada I also took part in a mission at Ottawa University, in Canada’s capital city. It’s always exciting to do university missions in Canada because when I was there (2010-2016), I helped to start them off. To see them now, thriving and having a life of their own is so exciting.
I hadn’t done a mission at Ottawa University before, and it was incredible to see the passion and enthusiasm of the Christian students there. They organised a great mission, and found the perfect location for the talks. Rather than being shut away in a classroom, we used a venue called “The Agora”, a little amphitheatre right in the middle of campus. It’s right by the food courts where students come past all the time. When I was speaking I was surrounded by people on three sides and there was lots of traffic to and fro. There were really good audiences, with hundreds of people coming to our talks. We addressed all the usual topics, like sexuality and identity, suffering, meaning, and significance. I spoke on the resurrection — why we can be sure the resurrection of Christ happened and what it means. It was exciting to see young people come to faith in Christ.
One young man called Ashwant walked into one of our first sessions as a liberal Hindu and, by the end of the week, had come to faith in Christ. We often see people come to faith in Christ in the weeks and months after these university missions. Typically they sign up for an Alpha course during the mission, but the event is just the start of the process. This man though, had a dramatic encounter with Christ! For me to be part of that story, to be part of the group that prayed with him is such a tremendous privilege; and it’s so wonderful to see God at work.
What I love about university missions, whether it’s in Canada or right here in Scotland, is that we see similar things going on all the time. God is very much at work right in the heart of the academy.