Where Are They Now feat. Hakka Alliance Church
Sometimes people tell us, “We love hearing about the many new things that you’re doing, but what about the new things that were launched some time ago?”
We’re happy to share that we also love sharing these kinds of stories. God is faithful!
Today we’re excited to share the story of one of our very first New Ventures, an initiative to reach Hakka-speaking seniors in the GTA which today is Hakka Alliance Church.
If you are unaware, Hakka is one of many Chinese spoken dialects. In comparison with Mandarin and Cantonese, the Hakka dialect is spoken by an extremely small number of people in the GTA.
The story that led up to the launch of this New Venture is one of God’s persistent calling on the life of an individual to respond to people in need in Canada from all the way across the world in India.
In this short interview, we checked back in with Lead Pastor Clifford Li on their New Venture journey leading up until the present day. Check it out and be inspired by his willingness to join Jesus at work.
Describe your journey into becoming a New Venture.
Wow! This is really a God-led journey! Where do I even start?
If we start from the first prompting of God toward a Hakka ministry, it would be back in 2007.
I was serving in India in 2007 and on a visit to Toronto, I met three Hakka-speaking couples, all seniors, who knew my parents from the same community in Calcutta, India. Only one of the three couples was Christian and the other two were Buddhist. The most surprising thing was that they all shared with me a desire to go to church. They had been to Mandarin- and Cantonese-speaking churches before but could not fully understand the language. There was no Hakka church in the GTA or anywhere in Ontario.
Hearing their desire to go to a church where they could understand the language was like something I had never imagined. Hakka people are known to be very resistant to the gospel and among the least reached people groups in the world. I wondered what had inspired in them this desire to go to church. I spoke to more seniors and noticed some similar trends among them. First, the Hakka people are known for being hardworking and retirement was making the seniors feel “useless” (in their own words). Second, many seniors felt isolated and lonely after their children moved out. They needed community and fellowship, and the church was the one place they thought they could find both. But language was a huge barrier.
Praying for God's leading, I reached out to a group of friends who were attending different churches in Toronto (this same group later became the Core Group leadership of Hakka Alliance). I shared with them this wonderful opportunity God seemed to be opening for outreach to seniors in the Hakka-speaking community. My challenge to them was simply, "Why don't you guys do something about this? Start a fellowship group or a community group and bring these seniors together. Show them that Jesus loves them too." A week later I returned to India. I kept corresponding with the group, asking and encouraging them to keep praying.
About 5 months later, they came back to me with great news that they were going to have their first meeting as the Hakka Family Fellowship in partnership with Scarborough Community Alliance Church. That was November of 2007. More than 40 people, mostly seniors, came for the fellowship and the amazing thing was that they all knew each other from India. Far away in India, I celebrated God's goodness and mercy as over the next year God blessed the fellowship with more than 20 people saved by God's amazing grace.
They continued meeting over the next two years and on October 4, 2009, they officially launched their first service as Hakka Alliance Church with Rev. Timothy Quek serving as the interim senior pastor. The mission of the new church was primarily to do outreach among seniors in the Hakka community to bring them to Christ and to offer them a community different from any other.
The Eastern Canadian District together with Scarborough Community Alliance searched but were unable to find a pastor who could speak the Hakka dialect to continue leading the church. It was then that the Core Group reached out to me in India to ask whether I could come to be their pastor. It was difficult for me to think about leaving my church in India. Besides, it also meant the need to relocate my family to Toronto, which I was unwilling to do at the time.
Early in 2010 a woman named Rosie from the Core Group visited me in India and asked me again to consider coming to pastor the church. I expressed my inability to do so but said I would be visiting Toronto later in the year and promised that I would visit the church as well. They invited me to speak at the church and at the church retreat. After meeting with them and speaking at the church, I felt a strong sense that God was calling me and my family to make the move to Toronto.
What kind of support did the New Ventures environment offer your ministry?
In June 2011, my family and I moved to Toronto and I took over as the senior pastor at Hakka Alliance.
Under the leadership of Dave Enns at New Ventures, Scarborough Community Alliance Church, First Alliance Church and the Canadian Chinese Alliance Churches Association became our partners and committed to support us in prayer, through finances, and with the use of church facilities.
A word about Dave Enns: he was always there when we needed him. Whether it was about where to get resources, how the steering committee of a church works, sitting down with our partners and introducing us to other pastors and churches in the ECD, he always had a word of advice and a word of encouragement. Looking back, we see how the New Ventures environment helped Hakka Alliance through its different stages, from a New Venture to a developing church to where are today.
Describe your ministry today.
As we celebrate 10 years of Hakka Alliance in October this year, we look back with thankfulness and look forward to God's continuing guidance for our ministry.
Our church today consists of a group of regular and committed people, most of whom have been with us from the first day. The Core Group leadership remains the same from the time the church was planted. They made a commitment to support and serve in this ministry and they continue to serve today.
In fact, here’s an amazing thing that I love to share as a testament to God’s faithfulness to our community: the Core Group leadership that started the church has brought their parents to church. Originally all from Buddhist backgrounds, within the first three years of attending, all of them have given their lives to Christ.
The church leadership continues with the primary mission of outreach to seniors in the community. As the only Hakka-speaking church in the GTA geared to outreach to seniors in the community, we feel this is God's continued calling for the church.
At any given worship service, you will see that 70% of the people are over the age of 65. God has blessed this ministry with many seniors coming to Christ—a miracle which would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. There is also a group of people in their 40s and 50s who are serving here. The younger generations who were born in or have grown up in Canada usually do not speak the Hakka dialect and so the Hakka ministry doesn't apply to them at this time.
Are there any elements of your New Venture journey that still characterize your ministry today?
Yes, the continuing outreach to seniors in the Hakka-speaking community still characterizes a large part of our ministry today. It will continue for this generation of seniors as we are still the only Hakka-speaking church in the GTA and indeed in all of The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada.
Our New Venture journey started with the desire to do outreach to a group of people from a Buddhist background, to give them a sense of a new community made possible through the love of Christ. The church today is still very much a community where everyone knows and loves one another, and where relationships go back three generations, from China to India to Canada.
Excited by this story of God’s faithfulness as he calls us to do new things?
Here are some ways you can support New Ventures and people like Clifford as they join Jesus at work in Canada.
Pray with us.
Join our prayer team to learn about and pray for one New Venture across Canada every week.
Consider a financial gift.
Support a New Venture with the resources they need to develop their ministry.
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