Witness Online

Calgary to Istanbul

Calgary to Istanbul

“I had never been outside of North America,” said Trevor Rysavy, a church planter in Calgary, Alberta. “My wife and I were not exactly travel savvy and, to be honest, we really had no heart for overseas mission. We were called to Calgary.”

Trevor grew up in a small town in Saskatchewan and, in some ways, moving to Calgary was enough of a stretch for him. In 2010, he and his wife, Lesley, started a church called Urban Grace in the inner city. Aside from his passion for Jesus and for church planting, the move into Calgary’s downtown core was the beginning of Trevor’s fascination and love for cities.

The small congregation started slow and struggled at times. For the first two-and-a-half years, Trevor was overseeing the church plant but also working another full-time job to make ends meet. But in 2012, he was approached by the C2C Network, the church-planting arm of the Canadian Mennonite Brethren.

“They threw us a life raft,” Trevor explains with obvious gratitude. “They started supporting us financially but, more importantly, they adopted us and encouraged us and gave us the spiritual support that the church needed to survive.”

At that point, Trevor had no idea what doors would open through C2C and how a city in Turkey would factor into his church-planting vision. But apparently God had an idea. And so did Mark Burch, Associate Director of C2C.

“When Mark called me, I knew God was up to something,” said Trevor, who had developed a close friendship with Burch. “He invited me to consider a trip to Turkey with a group of North American church planters who would learn from Turkish church leaders.”

“You just don’t say no to opportunities like that!” he says with a chuckle.

Despite his lack of experience in international travel, Rysavy had Turkey at the very top of his list, in terms of places he had dreamed of going to. He longed to see where Paul travelled on his first missionary journeys and where the early church had first begun to spread.

Within a few weeks, Trevor and Lesley were in Istanbul with the group, sitting with Turkish Christians, hearing their stories of perseverance and patience in the face of persecution. “Our minds were blown,” Trevor said with sobriety. “To hear their stories, their suffering. We were crying every day, all day, as we sat with these precious brothers and sisters.”

Rysavy tells about one of the church leaders who was, in his mind, nothing short of a modern-day apostle Paul. “His courage was so inspiring. He had faced death so many times in his ministry. And his dependency on the Holy Spirit? We talk about that in North America, but this guy lives it. He needs the Holy Spirit every day to do what he does. There’s no other option, no other way.”

Rysavy was changed in Turkey. “I explain it like this,” he says as he puts his hand under his chin and raises up his head. “God let me see things from a totally different perspective. Suddenly, I could see my own culture in a different way – things that I was totally blind to before. Now I’m bolder in evangelism and in confronting the idols in our culture. I’ll never be the same.”

However, after returning to Calgary, Trevor became frustrated. “I hate that some of what we felt and experienced in Turkey is gone. I want to feel that again. I want to go back to be with those people.”

“It’s a magical place,” he says as he pulls down photos from his office wall of places where he visited, photos that he himself took on the streets of Istanbul and in the ruins of Ephesus. Rysavy plans to send a team from his congregation in late 2016. “I want people to experience it. I can talk about it, but unless people go, they won’t be able to really feel what I felt; they won’t be able to meet the people I met.”

In terms of how his experience in Turkey fits into his church-planting vision now, Rysavy says, “For me, it’s not about ministry here and missions there. It’s just about church planting. We’re committed locally, nationally and globally. Our church in Calgary has a vision to plant twenty churches in the next ten years. Does it matter where those churches are? I sure hope a few of those are in Istanbul, and we’re going to do our part to see that happen.”

By Mark JH Klassen