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Leaving a good home behind

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Lee Francois felt that Vancouver’s Willingdon Church was always his secure spiritual home. He came to faith there. For 13 years, he served as a pastor there. His wife Ilona felt the same.

But they gave it up for Crossridge, a new plant they spearheaded in Surrey, B.C., southeast of Vancouver. Its first service was held Sept. 25, 2011.

Lee and Ilona moved to Surrey 10 years ago. They quickly became active in neighbourhood life: coaching ball and involving themselves with others. Bit by bit, they “started to get a heart for Surrey.” Finally, convinced it was a call from God, they talked first to the elders at Willingdon, then to Church Planting BC, about starting a church near their home.

But the harder they looked, the more they couldn’t see! There was nowhere they could meet, no suitable premises to rent. “We thought we had everything figured out scientifically,” says Francois, “but it came to nothing.” By July 2011, their stress had increased because they knew they needed to start in September.

Just five kilometres to the east is Cloverdale, business heart of the sprawling municipality of Surrey. One of its historic buildings, dating to the 1940s, is the Clova Theatre, still in business, with a seating capacity of 300 people.

They approached the theatre manager directly, and he said, “Yes! I’ve been waiting for a church to call.” He agreed to the few needed space adjustments. Just across the street was a perfect place for Sunday school – the Cloverdale Learning Centre, a building with many classrooms, and a positive attitude  toward renters.

Throughout the process, Lee, Ilona, and the two other Willingdon pastors who shared in the project (Andy Frew, now Crossridge associate pastor, and Rebecca Withrow, now children’s deacon) met with supporters each month for six months to talk about vision and mission and the detail of starting up a church from scratch.

It was time. Augmented by well-wishers from Willingdon, 200 adults and about 60 kids attended the first service. The next week, 110 adults and 45 young people came – far more than the team had expected.

“I’m not a prototypical church planter,” Francois says. “God did a work in me, and in all of us, to get us here.”

Lee and Ilona Francois worried about how their four children would accept the change, but stopped when their oldest, Josh, age 11, asked, “Dad, do I get to help?”

—Barrie McMaster

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