What if the Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Somalian corners of Bradford, Manchester, London or Bristol witnessed a wedding in their neighbourhood that looked something like this?
In July, a young Christian couple held their wedding in their deprived, multicultural neighbourhood in Toronto, Canada. Dumpsters and recycling bins fenced the gathering in on one side and a clattering subway track on the other. An unlikely setting for a wedding, but the entire neighbourhood was invited. Those who came loved it. Bride and groom, though Caucasian, wore Indian wedding garb. International music played and halal food was served for Muslim guests. The day’s festivities erupted into dancing at the end — including women jigging at the edges of the crowd in full burkas. Some Bangladeshi neighbours said this was the best day of their time in Canada since arriving years earlier. Many Bibles in foreign languages were given away from a book table.*
What if everyday followers of Jesus started intentionally moving in to the struggling communities of our cities in Britain, amidst ethnic and religious pluralism? Might embers in struggling churches burst into flame, and gatherings of new Christians start where no church existed before?
MoveIn is a grass-roots movement that is running after this vision. It is striving to bring transformation to these struggling communities by helping to plant teams of passionate Christians right inside of them.
The vision is to see thousands of ordinary Christians prayerfully moved in among the unreached, urban poor, reproducing disciples in the more troubled corners of the world’s cities.
MoveIn began in 2009 in Toronto, Ontario, when God gave a vision to a young man called Nigel Paul. With a small group of other believers, he was living among a densely populated Pakistani and Afghan neighbourhood in Toronto.
He could see the potential for such teams in communities far and wide. Since then, 25 teams have sprung up, mostly in southern Ontario with a couple more in western Canada. Roughly 155 Christians make up these teams. Many are in their 20s and 30s, but some are empty nesters and a few are retired missionaries.
The movement shies away from reporting salvation numbers, but, in the little more than two years since teams first moved in, several have come to know Christ as Saviour through their influence — an Indian woman and her two daughters, a Ghanaian youth, a young Vietnamese man … and others.
The young boy from Ghana was able to learn more about Christ because an apartment of three guys on a MoveIn team in one of Toronto’s roughest neighbourhoods has an open door policy for their neighbours. The kids especially love to come and hang out — and even help the guys clean!
‘We have neighbours visiting our apartment regularly and we have slowly been able to visit their apartments’, says the team leader.
The values that define MoveIn are:
Prayer comes first. It is the lifeblood of MoveIn and it’s the only requirement that the MoveIn Vision Team (essentially, co-ordinating staff for the movement) has of the teams. Every team prays one night a week for their community. The prayer meeting is the central meeting time for the team.
In another Toronto patch, two young Czech children, aged nine and 11, whom the team has befriended, come to the prayer meetings with Bibles from the team, donated from the Canadian Bible Society. They love to be part of the meetings and even to try and pray.
It’s not about parachuting in with tracts and Bible verses and then leaving. It’s about living among the people we’re trying to reach and loving them every day in practical ways.
MoveIn encourages natural relationship building that comes from simply living everyday life in these patches, rather than the creation of resource-intensive programmes. It encourages meeting people in laundry rooms, elevators and lobbies. It encourages spending time with them by drinking tea with them in their living rooms, holding community meals, tossing around a football with neighbourhood kids after school.
Some teams hold more organised programmes and activities, such as summer day camps for kids in their apartment building, EFL (English as a Foreign Language) lessons and more, and these bring wonderful relationship connections too.
Unreached, urban and poor
Teams move in to the highest-density neighbourhoods where the most people can be reached. They are needy neighbourhoods — the kind where people new to the country come because it’s all they can afford, where many buildings have bed bugs and cockroaches, where police know the area well.
MoveIn calls them patches, but they’re small parts of larger neighbourhoods. A typical patch in Toronto is made up of a cluster of 20-storey-plus tower blocks that are together home to several thousand people. Sometimes they are low-rise buildings. Some patches have a mix of market-rent and government housing. It’s not unusual for a mosque to be located in an apartment unit in one of the buildings.
People who join a MoveIn team are regular people. They don’t raise support to live in their MoveIn patch. They go to work at regular jobs or study at school and spend time with neighbours in their spare time — after work and on weekends.
Making reproducing disciples
How can we bring transformation to patches of thousands who don’t know Christ? By creating disciples who create disciples … who create disciples.
Eman (not her real name), an Arabic woman, moved from a shelter to a Toronto neighbourhood with her three children in 2009. Some MoveIn team members living in the same neighbourhood helped her move. That started a relationship that grew as some of the women on the team visited and prayed with her regularly. She is now a thriving believer and one team member takes her regularly to an Arabic church on Sundays. She is growing like crazy.
She says she used to cry a lot, remembering the danger she fled from in her native Israel where her Muslim father and brothers threatened her life because of her divorce and living alone (as opposed to with family). Now she says God has healed her heart.
‘I see God bringing our neighbourhood together — the team are showing real love to people’, she says. ‘I don’t normally pray for any specific country, but I just pray for God’s peace in the world and for those who have not seen the light of Christ and need God’s love.’
Her daughter, nine, and son, 12, have since come to Christ. And her little boy, age four, carries around his little picture Bible and calls it ‘Jesus loves me’. Other team members are taking active roles in discipling her two older children.
Eman has since shared Christ with her sister, who fled Israel for the same reasons, and moved to the same neighbourhood too. She has become a Christian as well and has joined the team. Her sister is now sharing Christ with other neighbours.
The teams are accountable to their local churches, not to MoveIn. They are taken care of by the people and leadership at those churches, while the MoveIn Vision Team provide soft support in the form of connections and initial help in forming teams, guidance, some member care, Bibles in multiple languages and other ways.
MoveIn in the UK
Some of the 7/7 bombers had broad Yorkshire accents, but said they felt marginalised in Western society. Many others in areas like theirs are not extremists, but still feel unappreciated. Imagine the difference it could make if they had Christian neighbours who didn’t keep them at arm’s length, but instead made time to get to know them and their culture. It’s an opportunity waiting to happen.
Some good organisations have begun to do this. Nevertheless, it is not certain if even a dozen teams of people have intentionally moved in to reach unreached people groups in Britain yet, even though people in these groups number in the millions here and are growing rapidly. But churches in cities throughout the country are becoming excited about their unreached neighbours and starting to work together to reach them. It seems that it is the right time for MoveIn and movements like it to spread in Britain.
As MoveIn develops in one small city in Britain, a team of young men have been playing football with Sudanese and Somalian young men in their new neighbourhood, and through football connections they’ve also been invited to large Afghani parties. Another young couple had a birthday party recently to which several Pakistani and Indian neighbours came.
What has begun to happen in Toronto in just two-and-a-half years can happen here too, and many times over through the limitless power of God.
Rachel De Lazzer, Ted Barham & Corrina Lobbezoo
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
*Watch a highlights video of the wedding at http://vimeo.com/26871884