Toronto Athletes Line Up for the Gospel?
In post-Christian Toronto, most people wouldn’t dare set foot in a church.
Yet even the secular government — and staunchly Muslim organizations — will not only promote but also send their own children to the gospel-centered events that Hans Ostrem’s (’06) mission team organizes throughout the city, he says.
Since Hans and his family began their mission work in the Toronto area in 2014, Muslims, Sikhs, and Buddhists have more than doubled in number. Meanwhile, only 3.5 percent of the estimated seven million residents holds evangelical Christian beliefs.
“The whole world has converged in Toronto. Name the ethnic group, and they’ll be there in the thousands,” Hans says. “Every major religious group is represented, and they’re all bigger than Christianity.”
Despite the odds, Christians partnering with Hans’ team have reached some 5,100 people with the gospel in the last year alone, and more than 50 responded by accepting Jesus as their Savior.
How have so few had such an impact? Sports camps have played a large part.
Hans is the executive director of Upward Sports Canada. The world’s largest Christian youth sports provider, Upward Sports is extremely popular in the U.S., where it follows a predominantly church-based model. Students who already attend the hosting church and their friends generally sign up. Events are held on location.
In Canada, however, Ostrem and his team with Upward Sports Canada have had to completely revise the model to reach their anti-church communities. More than anything, their camps have become a tool for introducing children to the gospel for the first time and then connecting those who believe with church plants in the area.
But before all that happens, Hans’ team works with these local churches to prepare them for the events. Upward Sports Canada raises funds to provide a facility for the camps; equips the church members in not only sports training, but more importantly evangelism and discipleship training; and then also helps facilitate the actual week-long camps.
Partner churches from the U.S. — even several based in South Carolina, like Locust Hill Baptist Church, Abner Creek Baptist Church, and Victor Baptist Church — also fill spots in the mostly volunteer staff of each camp event.
The camps are in high demand across the city, even among nonbelievers. Canada’s very government has asked Hans’ team to hold camps in more locations this summer — places where “local churches are nonexistent,” Hans says.
In fact, in 2018, Upward Sports Canada expects to host a total of 63 sports camps, with an overall attendance of 4,000 mostly Muslim students.
“In a community where the church has almost no presence and no acceptance, we’re seeing God open these amazing doors through sports,” Hans says excitedly.
Although Hans himself grew up in a missionary family, he wasn’t always this thrilled about missions work.
“What I saw missions do through most of my life was — not in a bad way, but I perceived it in a bad way — it took my father away from interacting and playing with me to always being out sharing the gospel and helping start churches. I held that bitterness against the Lord,” he says. “I had no missional desire anywhere in my heart.”
After high school, Hans studied interdisciplinary studies at North Greenville. The Lord used two people he met here to change Hans’ outlook completely.
The first was Joe Cuyar (’04).
Joe and Hans met for the first time after a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) event one night on campus. On the spot, Joe asked Hans if he’d ever been discipled. When Hans said “no,” Joe offered to disciple him one on one.
At one of their first meetups, they went to Joe’s room. Hans distinctly remembers how Joe made him a roast beef sandwich, and then they sat and studied the Bible together. Over time, Joe modeled not only how to study God’s word, but also how to obey it.
“It was then that my heart changed from being anti-missions. God used Joe to change me to think of the Great Commission in the way that it was intended — to not only ‘make disciples,’ but I had omitted the first part, which was ‘go,’” he says. “So I surrendered to the Lord that I would go.”
The second person was Brandy Clark (’07).
Hans and Brandy met and started dating at NGU. After Hans had graduated from NGU and begun PA school in Texas, Brandy shared the news that she believed the Lord was calling her into full-time missions work overseas.
“I looked at her and I said, ‘I am not called to missions,’” Hans remembers. “I started to have a moment of reverting back to where I was before.”
But as they continued to pray together about their future, Hans realized he was also being called to missions. He told the Lord he would surrender by not only going, but also going wherever He wanted — just “no hot countries.”
Cairo, Egypt: that’s where the Lord called them to begin serving just two months after they were married. Hans can laugh about it now.
Today, the Ostrems — now a family of six — serve as full-time missionaries in Toronto. In addition to working with Upward Sports Canada, they have planted a church with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) for “Muslim-background believers,” which meets in their home.
And they’ve still remained connected to NGU. Hans has returned to campus several times to share at NGU’s annual Global Missions Conference, and an NGU L.I.G.H.T. team served alongside Hans and his family in their sports ministry a few years ago.
“I’ve always seen the heart focus for mobilizing students for God’s work [at North Greenville]. And if we start with young people, we’re going to impact generations,” Hans says. “It’s just been neat to see how many students have come out of North Greenville and now gone to ‘the ends of the earth.’”
He and his wife, Brandy, are among them.
“God used North Greenville to really shape my perspective for the nations so I could see the lost not as an annoyance because they took my family away from me, but to see them through the eyes of Jesus. And they need to hear the truth,” Hans says. “I thank the Lord for North Greenville. It guided me and pushed me to where God had intended all along.”
Learn more about ministry opportunities at NGU at ngu.edu/ministries.
(Photos courtesy Upward Sports Canada)
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