Eleven pastors and mission leaders from 10 Mississippi Baptist churches recently went on a “vision journey” to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada to build partnerships with church planters Charlie and Leslie Harris.
Hamilton, less than an hour away from Toronto, is the world’s second most diverse city, representing an array of nations whose people flock there in search of housing.
But Charlie and Leslie’s story began in Vicksburg, Mississippi, where he was a pastor before he felt God calling him and his family to become church planters.
After going through the planter process with the North American Mission Board, the Harrises arrived in Hamilton in 2019. Advice from all sides suggested they visit churches to raise support, but the couple remembered the faith of famed missionary George Müller, who never asked for help but prayed for God to meet his ministry needs.
Feeling nervous at first, the family moved to Hamilton with little visible guarantee of support. Nevertheless, they continued to trust and pray and, in time, churches began asking to share in their mission. Not only can the cost of ministry be daunting, but the cost of living in Hamilton is very high. Consequently, Charlie works as what he calls a “co-vocational pastor,” having another job too.
And his business in animal control has turned out to be quite sustainable.
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Preparing future leaders
Chad McCord, director of missions mobilization for the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board and organizer of the vision journey, noted, “In Canada you can’t kill any animals. You have to catch the animal, ensure you don’t hurt it and release it within a couple of miles from where you caught it — so it’s a great business because everything he catches, he’s likely to catch again!”
Charlie has been able to run his business while also meeting people and inviting them to church, Summit Fellowship, which gathers in the basement of their home and consists of about 20 people from six nations.
“If you know much about Canada during COVID, you’d be aware of the extreme lockdowns,” McCord recalled. “Churches were not allowed to meet, forcing the Harrises to be creative. They had to start meeting outdoors — a challenging endeavor in Canadian weather.
“Despite the difficulties, they’ve endured and are more passionate than ever about their calling. They feel at home and have a heart for Canadians and the diaspora peoples arriving there. They’re doing great work.”
McCord noted the purpose of the vision journeys is to “encourage churches not only to go on mission trips but to create lasting partnerships with church planters worldwide. It’s about forming long-term relationships for prayer support and mission teams to help sustain the work.”
Reflecting on his role with MBCB, McCord said, “This was my first vision journey as director of missions mobilization, so I told the group they were the best I’ve ever had! They were enthusiastic and easy to lead.
“Nathan Case from New Prospect Church in [Brookhaven] had never traveled far before, and this trip was eye-opening for him. It helped him envision how his church could engage in missions.”
The impact of the trip was clear, as McCord expects several churches to form partnerships with the Harrises and Summit Fellowship.
He was especially impressed by the Harrises’ focus on leadership development.
“Although Summit Fellowship is currently small, Charlie is already preparing future leaders,” McCord explained. “He’s cultivating a church that disciples effectively, trains new leaders and aims to plant additional churches. That’s a testament to their vision and commitment.”