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Church Plant Closure in Ontario ‘Sad and Disappointing’

Ecclesia Church in Oshawa, Ont., an emerging Christian Reformed church we reported on in November 2018 (Market to Church: ‘Better Because You are Here’ ), closed down its ministry earlier this year. Immigration difficulties prevented church planter Rev. Jana Koh, who moved to Canada from Seattle, Wash., in 2016 to begin the new ministry, from continuing her work.

When Koh accepted the call to begin the church plant sponsored by Classis Quinte (a regional group of Christian Reformed congregations), a Religious Workers Visa gave her the legal right to live and work in Canada temporarily. The Koh family (Jana, her Malaysian-born husband, and their two young children) worked with the help of a lawyer to apply for permanent resident status. However, their application was caught up in bureaucratic red tape. A classis ministry leader said early in 2019 the family was advised to start their application process all over again. Already three years into their ministry, with the denominational grant for a new church plant decreasing, the Koh family decided they had to move back to the United States. They left Oshawa in June 2019, and with their departure, the ministry of Ecclesia Church ended.

In a May 2019 Classis Quinte Home Missions Committee Report, the committee noted, “In planting, you get happy unexpected happenings as well as sad and disappointing ones. When dealing with people, the pain of things not going as planned can be painful. We grieve as a whole Classis and church family with Ecclesia and the Koh (family).”

At its September meeting, classis included a litany of lament and gratitude marking the closing of the Ecclesia ministry as well as two other former ministries supported by the classis that closed in 2019. Classis minutes noted readings from Psalm 13 and John 2 and a time of “seeking God’s voice in what may be next.”

While not related to the details of this story, a different regional group of churches, Classis Hackensack, asked Synod 2019 (the annual general assembly of the CRC) to address concerns of immigration issues for churches. It requested the denomination retain a lawyer who could help congregations sort out difficult legal situations (see Agenda for Synod 2019 p. 513). Synod declined to do this and instead pointed to aid that is currently available, asking the denomination’s executive director “to identify and communicate appropriate legal and financial resources to assist churches and classes.” See also Synod Relies on Existing Resources to Aid With Immigration (June, 2019).

When asked about the situation months after moving back to the U.S., Koh said her family likely isn’t the first or the only ones to experience immigration problems in a bi-national denomination, and that the CRC would do well to develop resources to help ministry families with cross border issues.

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