Gary Swabey started his career with Young Life in Kelowna, B.C., learning how to connect with teenagers one-on-one. Years later, he’s about 20 months into a Kelowna church plant – and more convinced than ever it’s not Sunday sermons or music but personal connections with Christians that make the difference to non-Christians as God works in their hearts.
As our society becomes more secular, Gary says, “we are going to struggle increasingly with the same things missionaries deal with.”
The act of coming to a church service – if you’re not a Christian – is a huge cross-cultural experience. “We’re asking them to be cross-cultural,” he says, “but we need to be the ones reaching out.” Both pastor Gary and his wife Denise came to faith in their mid-20s, so they bring those memories to the connections they make with people in Kelowna’s suburban Glenmore area.
The Swabeys’ neighbourhood used to be a rich farming area. Now, it grows houses and condos. As in most neighbourhoods, there is pain in ours, says Gary. “So we need to reach out. We all have a story to tell, and we all have connections to the community.”
The church building is a converted egg grading plant. Called The Abbey, it’s a campus of Kelowna’s Willow Park Church.
Gary feels encouraged by the regular attenders who understand the need to reach people who don’t know Christ. “We’ve got a core (about 40 people) who grasp that we need to be incarnational, just like the early church.”
Gary models this as he reaches out to residents of a nearby elder care home, serves as chaplain to the Okanagan Sun football team, and chats with his neighbours and even helps them with chores.
“We have to think like missionaries,” he says. “We have to go to them!”