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Pursuing Urban Outreach: Impacting Children beyond the Local Church

Laura Bogner understands what it means to be young and troubled, and then have the gospel transform her life. She now desires to impact children for Christ—those who may otherwise not be reached through traditional ministry models because they never have an opportunity to attend a local church. She has enjoyed surprising favour and open doors in unexpected places, enabling her to do just that.

testimony: How has your approach to ministry been influenced by your own childhood experience?

Laura Bogner: When I was growing up, I said the Lord’s Prayer in school and got the small red pocket Gideons Bible. I went to church on special days like Easter and Christmas, and whenever I went to my grandma’s house. But it wasn’t until a bus would honk its horn every Sunday morning to take kids to Sunday school that I really learned about Jesus and gave my life to Him. In my teen years, I lived in a group home. After being back home for a couple of years, my family sent me to a place called Bethel Home for Girls run by the PAOC. It was here I discovered that Jesus was more than just a Bible story; He was God, pursuing a relationship with me. My relationship with Jesus didn’t come from being raised in church, but through people reaching out to me in my need. That’s how a child hears the gospel message.

t: How did your involvement in children’s ministry first come about?

LB: My young adult life was more about surviving life than living life. After getting married and having a son, I began attending church. It wasn’t long after I began attending Highway Gospel Church in south Scarborough, Ontario, that I became fully involved. Children’s ministry was where I was most passionate. About five years later, I was asked to be the children’s pastor.

t: How did your work beyond the church begin?

LB: When I was serving in south Scarborough, an opportunity arose for me to help with a children’s program every Tuesday at a local women’s shelter. Many thought it was not the best use of my time since I was unable to share the gospel there, but it did so much more than that. Because I honoured their request and showed the love of Jesus through my life, there was more openness to the church among the women who came to the shelter. Dr. Roz Roach, the director, said, “Pastor Laura, before you came I did not trust many Christians; I was hurt by the church as a teen. You are a person who has truly shown unconditional love.” As a result, many of the children in the shelter would attend our day camps and were able to hear the gospel message. Dr. Roz invited me to pray at various galas, and I was later asked to be on the board of directors for the shelter.

t: What other kinds of opportunities have you encountered?

LB: When I went to Agincourt Pentecostal Church in north Scarborough, they were already ministering to a huge community of children in Metro housing through a bus ministry. Every Saturday night, two buses went out to five different Metro housing communities to pick up children. Together we shared dinner and built relationships before our Saturday Night Gathering service. Many children came to know Christ through this ministry, which still ministers to many families today. I now serve at Southside Worship Centre in south Ajax, Ontario. Since the fall of 2011, I have worked primarily with Bolton C. Falby Public School doing school assemblies and more recently, being involved with students in various extracurricular activities. I have also worked with young mothers at Wings Maternity Home teaching baby sign language and connected with a local organization called Kids Changing Lives. This not only builds bridges into the community but allows the church to reveal Jesus through their love for others. Our church is also able to reach children through the food bank, school mentorship, and children/youth camps (P.A. Day camp, March break camp, and summer camps).

t: What factors contribute to urban children being missed by local churches?

LB: One of the common factors with these various communities is isolation. Children living in housing communities have fewer opportunities because of finances and location. Bolton C. Falby Public School is surrounded by four highrise buildings in south Ajax. Many of the children’s routines involve simply going to and from school without the benefit of participating in other activities unless they are provided by the school.

t: What are some key activities in the school programs?

LB: Each month the school highlights a character trait for the students to apply and demonstrate in their lives. In the case of Bolton C. Falby School, when the teachers have required workshops during the day, the school provides me with the character trait. I then put together content for three assemblies: for children in kindergarten, Grades 1–3, and Grades 4–6. We make the character traits come alive by using games, skits, puppets, illusions, dance and media. I have a home-schooled youth ministry team that helps, and I also get to train kids within the school in creative arts to participate in the assemblies. I have invited other child and youth workers who have also taken part in these assemblies. This helps open the door for churches to build relationships with local schools and to learn how they can impact the lives of the students.

t: Would you say that these opportunities can be proactively sought? Or are they divinely appointed?

LB: These opportunities are both divinely appointed and proactively sought. First, we must seek to have the heart of the Father and then pray for Him to bring openness and receptivity. Being proactive means knocking on doors and offering to serve, knowing that it is God who will open those doors. We have seen so many partnerships with the local school and community that could not have been manufactured by us. Only God could have done it.

t: Looking back at how everything has unfolded in your own life, what are some key final thoughts you’d like to share?

LB: I can’t imagine having to find Jesus on my own. How would a child even know where to look for real hope? We may be seeing a generation that may not ever know who Jesus is. Even in the information driven times we live in, relationship will speak the loudest in revealing Jesus.

Laura Bogner is a children’s pastor at Southside Worship Centre in Ajax, ON. She has been married to her husband Andy for 25 years. They have three beautiful children—Julien, Chelsea, and Rayne.

This article appeared in the May/June 2013 issue of testimony, a bimonthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2013 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.