25 Jun 2021

Helping To Make The City A Better Place

I grew up in Iran a dutiful Shiite Muslim, but I never really had a true heart for this religion but it wasn’t until we moved to Vancouver that I considered following anything else. It was my mother who first met Jesus when she was invited along to Coastal Church by a friend and was so overcome by God’s love that she accepted Jesus into her life. A few years later, I too was drawn to Christianity and was bapitzed in English Bay in 2004!

Within a year, God shook up the plans I had for my life and directed me towards Bible college where I met my now wife! A year into our studies, we married and when I graduated, I got involved as an outreach worker with the homeless in Vancouver. Here, my love for outreach became deep-rooted and a desire to care for the marginalized and engage in community development started to grow. In 2014, I became a Campus Pastor at Coastal Church pastoral team and launched a congregation in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) – Vancouver’s oldest and poorest neighbourhood. Quickly after this, with our compassion and concern for our poorest neighbours, and long-term commitment to community transformation, we launched an Eden Downtown Eastside team with a social enterprise coffee shop: the Coastal Eden Cafe!

The café is dedicated to providing a welcoming space for people of all walks of life – not to mention exceptional coffee and food, and was inspired by our Message Trust family over in the UK. Having seen how The Mess Café over there supports those from broken backgrounds as they rebuild their lives, we knew we had to replicate that here in Vancouver as we reach the marginalized, coming alongside them and discipling them in their journey with Jesus. I just love being involved in the café and seeing first-hand what God is doing in the lives of those who we meet day in, day out.

I believe that for Christians to be effective in reaching and transforming their neighbourhoods, it is vital to have a clear understanding that we serve a mission-focused God. God first sent his Son to the world and then his Spirit to fill his church, so we, too, could be sent as his agents of change and ambassadors of hope to the broken, materially poor, marginalized, chronically ill and oppressed. We are called by God to bring the good news to those who are anxious and burdened, despondent and rejected.

To do this, the local church needs to be in close proximity to the people they are wanting to reach with the gospel in order to make disciples for Christ. When we are living among those on the edge of society, their pain and problems become more visible and louder to us. When the people of God choose to live in high crime, high unemployment neighbourhoods and send their children to under-resourced schools, the issues of their community become their issues.

The approach of sending missionaries to live long-term in close proximity with the poor is what the Eden team is all about. Eden sends and supports people who are called by God to a certain geography and demography to live sacrificially, love their neighbours and share the gospel. It’s a privilege to be God’s hands and feet in these communities that really need the love of Jesus but it’s not without its challenges. I have been physically and verbally assaulted on many occasions, our car is often broken into, many of our neighbours live in a tent city that has grown opposite our home and others live on sidewalks and litter the neighbourhood with used needles and crack pipes. We have lost friends and congregation members to drug overdoses, stabbings and suicides brought on by a life struggling with addiction, mental illness and crime.

Nonetheless, through all of the difficulties, we have also been greatly loved and appreciated for our presence and our work, we have experienced God’s sustaining grace and comfort, we have learned what it means to count it as joy when we face all kinds of trials, and my children have grown in their understanding of God’s love, grown in compassion and love for the poor and they pray daily for God’s intervention for their neighbours. That in itself is a huge gift – to have my children grow up with a heart for the poor, oppressed and broken-hearted.

So my challenge to you reading this article is not to forget the poor. The poor need access to justice and equity, for which the church should advocate and, most importantly, they need access to the gospel for Jesus proclaimed, ‘…the Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour…’ Luke 4:18-19.

It may be that God is asking you to live as salt and light in community with the least, the last and the lost? If so, welcome to the most exciting way to live for Christ. You are not alone in this adventure!

By Fari Maghami