The Apple Blossom Trailer Park in Fredericton is a long, long way from Benin, West Africa. But when a 32-year old missionary returned to New Brunswick, he began to apply what he had learned as a missionary in Africa to this trailer park of 50 units and approximately 150 people.
“My background is missions. I come in and try to look at the community with as unbiased a view as possible, like I would if I came into an African village. I try and study the culture — because it is a culture. We have a lot of different sub-cultures that run under the mainstream of North America,” explains Don Longworth.
Longworth works with SIM Canada (www.sim.ca), a Christian organization whose mission is “to glorify God by planting, strengthening, and partnering with churches around the world.”. More specifically he works with SIM’s Culture Connexions program, a ministry designed specifically for the setting Longworth finds himself in: Canadian, urban and on the radar of local churches who want to innovate programs in their communities to share God’s love with their neighbours.
“I partner with churches to reach their marginalized communities more effectively,” says Longworth. “Churches sometimes struggle with reaching these types of groups. It could be lower- income Canadians, homeless people, youth cultures like skaters, punk, Goth; all these types of cultures that these churches have a hard time bridging, or are scared to bridge.”
At Apple Blossom, it all began with a friendship. Longworth, who partners with two local Baptist congregations (Kingsley Baptist and Lincoln Baptist), befriended a young man who lived at Apple Blossom and showed up at church one day.
“It was the building of a friendship,” says Longworth. That friendship, and the energy and enthusiasm of the other young guys who began to meet with Longworth for a Bible Study at Apple Blossom, led to the creation of the Apple Blossom Cafe, a drop-in coffee house ran out of a vacant trailer in the park. “It was an awesome way to connect with people. We were delivering coffee to people’s homes. Many folks there look at me as their community chaplain,” says Longworth.
And Apple Blossom is a community like any other that can sometimes use a chaplain. “I am dealing with a lot of addictions, a lot of dysfunctional family situations, and problems with knowing how to relate and deal with things like conflict resolution,” explains Longworth. “It’s been a spiritual exercise of listening to God and seeing what doors are open and where I could help.”
Longworth has recently walked through another open door and right into a senior-run soup lunch hosted by Lincoln Baptist Church. “This free lunch has become quite a huge thing in the community because of hard times. It’s been an amazing place for me to sit down and eat with people in the community and just build relationships over a meal,” says Longworth.
Through all of the ministry outreach Longworth works in — whether it’s in a trailer park or a senior’s soup lunch — there is one quintessentially Canadian constant: Tim Horton’s. “In Africa, when I was learning a tribal language I had to be around people. I went to the mango trees. They are great big shady trees, and all the guys would gather and play cards in the heat of the day. It was where people hang out.”
Tim Horton’s, says Longworth, is the Canadian mango tree.
“I asked myself ‘Where is that mango tree in my context here?’ There is no substitute for Tim Horton’s. When you invite someone to Tim’s there is something disarming about it, at least here in the East. They know you are going to talk life, about things that matter more than the weather. That’s what I started doing,” says Longworth. “I learned when I was in Benin, in order to reach people you have to be where they are.“
(This story was provided by Karen Stiller, writer and editor for Faith Today. The story also appears in Jan-Feb 2013 issue of Faith Today.)
In 2011, one of our goals was that by 2025, 80% of our churches would be involved in missional activity. This story is one example. If your church has something to share please email us @ email@example.com.