By Kenny Day
Chris and Eileen Carr lead a life devoted to a higher calling. A calling that has taken them around the world. A calling to reach the nations with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Despite an unexpected detour and a period of soul-searching uncertainty, the Carrs have discovered that elusive next step in their calling to reach the world for Christ.
On Sept. 20, 2017, Chris, Eileen and three of their children piled into their family van and headed northeast. The destination wasn’t Tulsa or Broken Arrow. Nor was it Silver Dollar City, a favorite family vacation destination. Instead, it was Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Carrs weren’t going on vacation, though … they were going to fulfill the next phase of their ministry.
Change of Plans
Long before God called the Carrs to Canada, he sent them to another cold climate to reach the lost. But this one wasn’t in North America…it was in Ufa, Russia. From 1999 to 2015, the Carrs served there with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. They helped plant churches, disciple new believers, reach the lost, lead and coordinate volunteer teams, and network with believers outside the area.
The Lord prepared the couple for their service through various educational experiences. Chris earned a BA in pastoral ministry on Bison Hill in 1986 and an M.Div. with biblical languages and a concentration in evangelism and missions from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1997 while Eileen earned a Bachelor of Arts in Christian studies from OBU in 1997. Chris also pastored three Oklahoma churches from 1990-99, preparing them well for their work with the IMB. During their service in Russia, he also earned a Doctor of Ministry in international church planting from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2010 and is currently pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in biblical studies with an emphasis in biblical missiology, also from Midwestern.
Along with their work in Russia thriving and while experiencing great fulfillment in their kingdom work there, also came a feeling that something was about to change.
“We had sensed, through Bible reading, prayer, and internal dynamics during our last year and a half in Ufa, that a huge change was impending in our lives, though we couldn’t predict exactly what,” Chris said. “Our team had really gelled in its camaraderie and effectiveness, a missional movement had been surging for some years in Ufa and across Bashkortostan, catching the eye and attention of Russian Baptist Union leadership in Moscow, and things were really clicking in Ufa.
“Our team’s influence coupled with that of Ufa’s Russian Baptist Union churches was starting to contribute at a high level with the Russian Baptist Union leadership in Moscow and other parts of Russia. And when IMB’s early retirement process rolled out, eventually we knew down deep that our team likely would not survive the economic and strategic reorganization I knew was imminent with IMB. It seemed a natural time for a graceful transition and to await God’s next chapter for our lives.”
The Carrs moved to Shawnee in August 2015 to serve as global consultants at OBU. Soon thereafter, the departure from the IMB became official and the family was left searching for what would come next.
“After we got to Shawnee, Eileen continued homeschooling our four younger kids as well as helping me fulfill the global consultant role during the 2015-16 academic year. We spent as much time as possible with OBU students promoting and modeling a missional lifestyle, as well as spending time with OBU missionary kids and international students,” he said.
Following their time as global consultants but without clear direction on the next step, the two worked jobs in town, Eileen at a weekday church children’s ministry and Chris at Chick-fil-A. He also spent many Sundays preaching pulpit supply around the area and around the state. The two served as guest speakers at different mission meetings and conferences. They also became extremely active in Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee and spoke regularly at their former home church, New Life Church in Broken Arrow.
A New Calling
With their ministry in Russia ending far sooner than imagined, the Carrs were left searching and wondering…what was next? Where would the Lord send them and what was His plan? They were ready to serve, armed with education, experience, knowledge, and fervor. Yet, no matter where they turned, doors continued to close. That is, until one day in late 2016.
A few days before Christmas, a former IMB colleague reached out to the Carrs on Facebook and started a conversation about why they should consider serving with an organization called Global Gates. The contact led to a phone conversation with the Global Gates director for the state of Texas, who was formerly with the IMB and someone the Carrs knew personally from his work among Muslims. That, in turn, led to a phone call with the executive director of Global Gates who told Chris about the opportunity to serve in Canada as gateway hub leaders for the Greater Toronto Area and as directors for Global Gates Canada.
Looking back, the Carrs saw the hand of God preparing them for this work in multiple ways. During a long, unexpected layover in Toronto in July of 2016, having been rerouted there on the way to a mission trip to Ufa, Chris told Eileen that he could envision their family living and serving in Toronto.
“God was priming the pump five months before we ever heard about Global Gates and were asked to apply with the organization and lead their work in Toronto and for all of Canada,” he said.
They were approved with Global Gates in early 2017 and began the process of building financial support for their mission. Through God’s provision, ceaseless prayer, tireless efforts, outreach to friends and churches both locally and nationally, and supported by a base of friends in Shawnee, the Carrs reached their initial financial goals in late summer.
The New Plan
The Carrs have begun their service with Global Gates as gateway hub leaders for the Greater Toronto Area and directors for Global Gates Canada. Global Gates mission is to reach the ends of the earth through global gateway cities, with the intention of seeing gospel transformation of the world’s most unevangelized people groups who have come to global gateway cities, and through them reach their communities around the world. According to Global Gates, Toronto’s population of 2,731,571 – with 8.7 million in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) known as the “Golden Horseshoe” – makes it the fourth largest city in North America. Also, one of the most ethnically diverse cities on earth, Toronto vividly captures the meaning of a “global gateway city.” Over 100,000 immigrants arrive in the GTA annually and half of Toronto’s population was born outside the nation of Canada.
Interestingly, the name Toronto comes from a Huron word that means “the gathering place.” Toronto was once the location where various tribes would come together to either trade or fish for a period of time before dispersing back to their own territories. The city lives up to that name today, recognized as one of the most ethnically diverse cities on the planet – a place where the nations of the world gather together.
The GTA is home to nearly 700,000 Muslims and Arabic-background individuals; more than 500,000 Chinese; 250,000 plus Slavic people from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Serbia; 120,000 Pakistani Muslims (Urdu); 300,000 Punjabi Sikhs; 200,000 Jews; 100,000 Indian Tamils; several thousand Tibetan Buddhists, and scores of other nationalities and ethnic groups.
In their first few years in Canada, the Carrs will focus on the Greater Toronto Area as they lead and build a team while strategically networking with missionaries from the North American Mission Board (NAMB), International Mission Board (IMB), Canadian Baptist Convention, the Canadian Baptist Seminary and many other evangelical mission organizations.
The Carrs will utilize their 16 years of mission experience among Russian-speaking people to engage Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians and Serbs with the gospel, as well as Sunni Muslim-background people. As the team grows, the focus will widen to include multiple key ethnic and immigrant groups, and eventually to other large Canadian cities with significant numbers of immigrant ethnic groups.
The Carrs have a specific ministry plan for their work in Canada. First, they want to increase the mission “climate” in Toronto among existing churches and believers. Second, they intend to mobilize ministries to reach out and connect to people who don’t know Jesus. Third, they will minister in Jesus’ name by meeting human needs. Fourth, they will make disciples that make more disciples, and start churches that start more churches. Fifth, they will stimulate disciple-making and church-starting movements around the world from Toronto.
As hub leaders for the Greater Toronto Area, they will define and implement strategy for evangelism, disciplemaking, church starting, meeting human needs and mission training, in partnership with evangelical believers, churches and organizations. Likewise, in their role as directors for Global Gates Canada, they will ultimately reproduce the missional model from the Toronto area, spreading it into other Canadian cities in coming years, mobilizing immigrant and ethnic believers across Canada to reach their people groups around the globe.
They are most excited about the exponential affect their ministry in Canada can have for the kingdom of God through their team’s efforts in evangelizing, disciple making, church starting, mentoring and coaching believers, and mobilizing the diverse groups of people to return to their people groups to spread the gospel,
“The capacity to reach the ends of the earth via the immigrant, ethnic and refugee populations in the Toronto area is very exciting. God brought immigrants there for His sovereign kingdom and mission purposes. They already know the language, culture, history and worldview and are uniquely qualified to take the good news of Jesus back to their own people.”
During the transition between serving in Russia and the call to serve in Canada, Chris said they learned some difficult lessons.
“We learned what it’s like to feel like a refugee in your own home country trying to reintegrate. However, we are very thankful for how Immanuel Baptist Church has ministered to and provided for our family in many ways, as well as some targeted help from the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, and from our former home church (New Life in Broken Arrow).”
Chris recalled that it was difficult for them and for so many others who came off the field to return home and not have a place to serve and use their skills. The Carrs and others like them returning from overseas have many years’ experience serving in the field resulting in a vast amount of leadership knowledge, skills and wisdom ready to be utilized once again for furthering the Kingdom. He also shared lessons they learned in humility along the way.
“We learned that as parents, we had to swallow any pride and do what it takes to provide for our kids. We’ve been pulled closer to Jesus as He hears our griefs, struggles, concerns and frustrations. These aren’t complaints, but the realities of life in transition,” he said.
As for their children, they have transitioned well into public schools and the American culture. Now it’s time to learn the Canadian culture as well.
“Although [the Carr’s children] obviously miss Ufa and Russia, overall, they are excited about the opportunities awaiting in the big metropolis in Toronto and also reuniting with several IMB missionary kids whose families now serve in the Toronto area,” he said. “They’re also looking forward to a white Christmas again.”
A Foundation Forged on Bison Hill
“OBU didn’t merely prepare Eileen and me for a ‘career’ or ‘profession,’ but rather, holistically for life itself,” Chris said. “The education and experience we gained from OBU continues to carry us throughout different seasons and locations of serving Him. The critical-thinking and problem-solving training and skills I honed at OBU have served me and our family well over the years and will continue to do so. The evangelistic and missional fervor we have in our lives is directly attributable to the impact OBU made on us as students.”
Their time back in Shawnee has reminded the Carrs of the importance of investing in college students for kingdom purpose and has given them time to refocus both missiologically and theologically.
“It reminds us of the sacrifice many made so that Eileen and I could have a quality education and mold a biblical worldview into our minds and lives, and of the importance of that continuing in new generations of Jesus followers,” he said. “We believe such a conservative, biblical worldview education is more important than ever as we see our country implode into open sin, rebellion, lawlessness, amorality and tribalism. As Enlightenment mentality runs its logical course in North America, it provides fresh opportunities to identify with the first-century church in its understanding of living as exiles and outcasts pushed to the fringes of society, albeit with a refreshed prophetic message for those who are broken, bruised, bloodied and beaten down by life.”
As they start their new mission in Canada, the Carrs take the friendships they built at OBU with them in all that they do.
“Eileen and I are deeply thankful to God for the personal friendships we’ve had over the years with several OBU presidents and their wives, including Bob and Nelle Agee, Mark and Rhonda Brister, and now with David and Dana Whitlock. We have a multiplicity of college friends with whom we have stayed connected over the years and those relationships continue to deepen and mature as we are now in our middle years. We can’t drive near on or Bison Hill without deep emotion, love and thankfulness to God and those who make OBU possible.”