Vancouver church plant doing the impossible

Amy Robertson | Jun 8, 2011
 

By Amy Robertson

John Martens and his wife Tiffany. Submitted photo

AMaple Ridge pastor knows he serves the God of the impossible.

John Martens leads a church plant in Maple Ridge called The Connection. His vision for what God will accomplish through their little congregation of 50 is astounding—but Martens has seen first-hand that nothing is too big for God.

His world-sized vision began years ago, while he was attending Briercrest College and Seminary. Conferences, missions courses, and messages from visiting missionaries gave him a passion for the people in the world who didn’t have what he had.

He moved on to the University of Manitoba to study physics after graduation, thinking he could use science for ministry. Before class, he would often sit outside in an old combine with a map open on his lap, praying that God would heal the world.

Occasionally, he would break down emotionally, asking God, “Why haven’t they been reached yet?” Martens begged God to allow him to be a part of the solution somehow. Gradually, he says, God gave him a growing sense of how He wanted to redeem the earth.

First, He wanted to renew and mobilize the North American church. With resources like money and education to spare, North American Christians could empower missionaries and pastors in poorer countries.

Second, God wanted to redeem the North American media. Hollywood has unbelievable power, Martens explains. Millions of people in countries across the world love Hollywood-made movies. If they were infused with a Christian worldview, the effect would be astounding.

Although Martens had a sense of what God wanted to do, he wasn’t sure what his role might be. But he wanted to start somewhere, so he began writing screenplays as he worked toward his PhD.

After Martens completed his dissertation, however, God didn’t lead him into science or moviemaking, but pastoral work. He took on a little Baptist church of 15 in Texas.

It was then that God began using him to do the impossible.

Within a year or so, Martens realized that his church would become ineffective if it didn’t change—so with no training or experience, Martens combined his group with another to form a new church plant. The association leader was amazed the congregation had rallied behind something so huge.

Martens’ next church was in Indiana. Early on, Martens invited another pastor to get together to pray. Over the next five years, their group grew to more than 20 pastors. Their churches represented a variety of denominations, and amazingly, they weren’t competitors—they were partners.

Then, on September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks shook the U.S.

Martens believed the attacks and the world’s response were a sign that the church was failing—something needed to change.

“We can’t beat terrorists with guns,” he says passionately. “We can beat them only with the love of Christ.”

“The only way that we’re going to have freedom for our children and hope for their future is reaching the world.”

Martens sensed it was time to move on and plant a church. In 2003, God led him and his family to Maple Ridge, a suburb of Vancouver, B.C.

Martens is convinced that the city of Vancouver is a key part of God’s plan. It’s been ranked as one of the most liveable cities in the world, making it a go-to place for immigrants. This in turn makes it one of the most multicultural cities in the world.

It’s also known as “Hollywood North,” with the potential to transform the media—one of the most powerful influencers of worldview today.

“Through Vancouver, we can reach the world,” Martens says.

His church plant, The Connection, started with different summer camps for children and teenagers.

After a couple of summers, Martens thought they should try a media camp—a week where teens could come together and make a movie with a Christian message.

A contact suggested he talk to a young man named Kyle Lawrence from Saint Louis, Mo. Martens called him, and asked if Lawrence would like to help him run a media camp in Maple Ridge.

Lawrence said yes.

But there were a few problems, Martens told him—there was nowhere to run it but his house, and he couldn’t afford to pay Lawrence. He also didn’t have any video gear.

Lawrence said he’d pay for his own plane ticket and bring his own gear. All Martens needed to do was bring the kids.

It was “a blast,” Martens says.

The Connection’s numbers grew. But before long, Martens was battling exhaustion. He and his wife were the church’s only staff members, and between a thriving youth group and a church congregation, he needed help. One night, he got on his knees and asked God to send someone.

Within days, he got a call from Lawrence, who wanted to come and help with the youth group. He arrived weeks later.

Martens and Lawrence had big dreams for the church to reach the city. They emphasized relevant, simple teaching and a service that appealed to the un-churched.

They also wanted to branch out into the media. Martens told Lawrence that someday, when they were bigger, perhaps, and they had a little more money, their church would make movies that would speak to the city about Christ.

“Why wait?” Lawrence responded. “We can be the church that makes movies now.”

At 21, Lawrence wasn’t intimidated by the word “impossible.” He’d produced a full TV series as a high school student.

Martens realized Lawrence was right. He had spent his life watching God do amazing things through people who were willing to obey. Why should moving forward with a full-length film with no money and a base of only a few dozen people be any different?

Martens wrote a screenplay about the dangers of the occult and the power of prayer. An investor pledged $5,000, and in faith, The Connection secured a loan for another $10,000. The rest of the $20,000 budget came from donations.

Martens and Lawrence began filming The Scarf in 2008 with nearly 200 volunteers. God cleared the way for every step, from providing the perfect props to bringing machinery back to life in the middle of the night.

They held a packed world premiere at a Silvercity theatre in Coquitlam in June 2009, and the response was astounding. Many were moved. Some were brought to tears. It sparked deep conversations about spiritual reality and even brought people to church. One 15-year-old girl from the premiere is now part of one of The Connection’s worship teams.

Some have criticized the film because it doesn’t present the Gospel in its entirety. But Martens has a different view.

Most people don’t go from zero exposure to the Gospel to being ready to surrender their lives to Christ in the space of an hour and a half, he says. He wants to make mainstream movies that appeal to people on the “edge” of Christianity. He wants a message that will make people think about God—and then take the next step.

The film was released to DVD September 30, 2010.

Martens has great hopes for more movies, a church-planting school, and a Christian media training centre. But for now, he and his wife are focusing on their flock—the people on the edge for whom their hearts ache.

He confesses it can be easier to focus on projects he can finish—like children’s camps and movies. But he knows how essential the church is to God’s work.

“God’s plan for renewing, healing, ministering, and saving is the church,” Martens says. “There is no plan b.”

Martens is trusting God for more partners so their ministry can grow. He envisions literally surrounding Vancouver with worship by planting churches that share resources and work together.

Some may say that Martens will never be able to turn a group of 50 in rented building into a string of churches that encircle the city.

But he’s not worried.

For more information about The Connection and The Scarf, visit www.tcjourney.com.