Iona stewart’s first encounter with the Christian Reformed Church was a service at Second CRC Brampton, Ontario, to which a friend invited her. “It was the most beautiful thing I had ever experienced in my life. Listening to such a large group of people singing I thought was what the angels must sound like,” she recalls.
At the time Iona was a young adult using alcohol to escape the pain of earlier abuse. She had a limited understanding of who God is, she admits. Her parents married young, had six children, and became embittered toward the church after a nasty experience with immoral leaders. When life got hard, they turned to drinking. Iona picked up their example.
The adult Iona found out that God had never left. And she suddenly felt himleading her every step. Five years after that beautiful service she became a member of Second CRC and married Ken Buisman. When they moved to rural Palmerston and started attending the Christian Reformed church there, Iona says, “I began to really search for deeper meaning to what church was about. God placed pivotal people in my path who began to impact me in an incredible way.” She noticed women in the church who were “authentic and deeply spiritual.” She prayed that she would know God in the same way. God’s answer came in a 13-year process.
Iona and Ken moved back to Brampton in 2001 and became custodians for Immanuel CRC. “My husband and I began to grow spiritually at an amazing pace,” she says. Two years later that growing faith would be severely tested. Ken’s father was diagnosed with lung cancer and died in just three months. A godly man, he had been a tremendous influence in Iona’s life. Only two months after that trauma, “their” church building burned to the ground. Iona saw God revealing his presence in the midst of all their pain, and felt his comfort and peace.
At Immanuel earlier that year Iona had attended an Alpha course, a program that clearly presents the gospel and basics of Christian doctrine. During that time, she says, God completed her healing from the “bondages that had imprisoned” her all her life. Alpha was important for another reason: “God brought Leo Gatatos into my life.” Leo is pastor of Living Mosaic, a new church plant in Burlington, Ontario, supported by the three established CRC congregations there and by Classis Hamilton. Leo became Iona’s mentor, and she felt God’s call to evangelism—to “devote the rest of my life to sharing what God has done in my journey,” as she puts it.
To prepare, Iona entered Eastern Canada Leadership Development Network’s three-year program. The network, supported by CRC classes (regional governing bodies), works with local congregations to find and equip people to become evangelists, staff, or volunteer leaders for church plants, continuing churches, or community development ministries. Simultaneously, Iona found herself leading a ministry to teenaged mothers on behalf of Immanuel CRC and Youth for Christ. Yet she began to “struggle with a sense of restlessness.” She felt God had something else in mind for her. Much prayer led her and Ken to the answer. At Living Mosaic Leo Gatatos needed help. So, “stepping out in faith,” Iona and Ken moved once again, to Burlington. “I knew my calling had shifted to church planting,” she explains. Iona is now Community Ministries
Director for Living Mosaic. Iona, 42, considers how the CRC has affected her: “I think the impact I have experienced the most is through the local church. God has been extremely faithful in bringing spiritual guides into my life. In each of the CRC communities Ken and I were a part of, God used the people around me to nurture me, which was a part of my healing, discipling me to grow in my understanding of the Christian life and faith and to challenge me [and understand] God’s purpose for my life.” n Marian Van Til, editor for The Banner’s “Grace Through Every Generation” column, runs her own writing, editing, and research service from her home in Youngstown, N.Y. She’s also a church musician and a founding member of Jubilee Fellowship CRC in St. Catharines, Ontario.