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Heart for Canada!

By Peter Youngren

I’M privileged to know Canada more than most Canadians. For the first 16 years of ministry I crisscrossed the country, often by car, from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island. International campaigns have taken much of my time over the past few decades, but the vision for Canada burns as strong as ever.

Yet, like 22% of people in Canada, I was born outside of this country. As a child, I didn’t know much about Canada. My earliest recollection is watching the country of my birth, Sweden, play hockey against Canada.That was before players from the National Hockey League were allowed to participate in international tournaments. Canadian players had a reputation of playing with their heart (and sometimes with their fists), and that passion often resulted in a winning outcome.

After I received Christ, I had a powerful experience with the Holy Spirit. This changed everything; I became eager to share the gospel anywhere and everywhere.This newfound passion led me to read books by a Canadian pastor, Dr. Oswald J. Smith (I think I read all of them), founder of the People’s Church in Toronto. His writings profoundly affected my spiritual development.

Some of the titles like, The Challenge of Missions,The Passion for Souls,The Man God Uses and The Cry of The World, give an idea of the vision that permeated Dr. Smith’s ministry.Though I was only 15 years old, God was using these books to burrow deep into my soul. Billy Graham called Oswald J. Smith the foremost missionary statesmen of the 20th century, and I echo that statement.

The message of Christ will become front and center in the nation’s attention.

Repentance doesn’t lead people to Christ; the discovery of Christ leads people to repentance.

No nationwide awakening

After devouring Smith’s books, I read the authorized biography of his life, Not Made for Defeat, written by Douglas Hall. One short paragraph, only a sentence or two, made a great impression.

Oswald J. Smith’s life influenced me.

In trying to explain the spiritual situation in Canada at the time, the author mentioned that this nation has never experienced a nationwide spiritual awakening.This puzzled me. At the time, not being familiar with Canada, I assumed that with such close proximity to the United States, Canada would’ve experienced the same awakenings that affected our neighbour to the south.

Maybe you wonder why I was so impressed by these thoughts at such a young age. It goes back to my encounter with the Holy Spirit.The same passion that inspired me to share the gospel with people in my hometown also made me interested in God’s dealings with nations. That’s why I was familiar with “the Great Awakening,” and “the Second Great Awakening,” in the United States, and national awakenings in European nations like Germany, France, the Scandinavian countries and the U.K. Meanwhile, I never dreamed that in a few years, while still a teenager, I would become a Canadian.

While churches and denominations have experienced spiritual refreshing and revival, I’m speaking of a national spiritual awakening. This is more than a spiritual renewal for a group of churches or denominations. I’m not suggesting that every person in the country will receive Christ, but that the message of Christ will become front and center.

A daring pastor

After a year of attending Bible College in Rhode Island, USA, I found myself in Toronto and Pastor George Tunks invited me to speak to his church, Dixon Gospel Temple. There I was, 19 years old, on a hot and humid Tuesday night in the month of July. Before the service, Pastor Tunks asked me what I was doing, and I told him; “I’m an evangelist.” Gratefully, he didn’t ask any follow-up questions about my experience (it was slim at best). I preached, and when I finished Pastor Tunks, without forewarning, said to the congregation: “The Lord has spoken to me that we are to invite this evangelist, Peter Youngren, to come and hold three weeks of meetings here on Dixon Road. I will arrange for a 1000 seat tent to be put up. Do you agree? “ The congregation promptly responded; “Amen.” Then he looked at me, in front of the people, and said; “Are you willing?” I answered; “Yes.” And that was that.

Pastor Tunks didn’t know that it would be my first Gospel campaign, or he may not have invited me. Though he was a man of unusual faith and willingness to try new avenues, so he may have. I will never know for sure.

Later that night Pastor Tunks told me; “Please, send me your promotional package with pictures as soon as possible.” George Tunks was a man of action; he wanted the meetings to start six weeks later. The only problem was that I didn’t have any promotional package. In fact, I remember thinking; “what is a promotional package?” This was all very new. Unbeknownst to Pastor Tunks, I was to return to Sweden the very next day. For several summers before coming to Bible College, I had worked a summer job for the Parks and Recreation Department in my hometown.This was how I funded my Bible College training, and I was scheduled for six weeks of work, before I was to go back to college.

Flying back to Sweden, my concern was no longer about going back to college, but I was trying to imagine what a promotional package was.

Pastor George Tunks asked me to send a promotional package, I had no idea what he meant. This is the photo I sent him.

On the first day back I hurried to the town photographer. I put together a one-page resume of my life and what I had done (it wasn’t much) and a few pictures and rushed the material off to Pastor Tunks.

Six weeks later I landed back in Toronto, and was taken to Dixon Gospel Temple.There was the1000- seat brown tent, with a banner strung from pole to pole, Every night: Teenage evangelist from Sweden. PastorTunks had a flair for dramatic marketing. Suddenly, my life was changed. I was in Canada.This was to be my home, my country. After three weeks in the tent, invitations came in from churches in different parts of the country.And so for the next 16 years I conducted series of meetings lasting anywhere from one week to six weeks in churches, hockey arenas, tents, convention centers and just about every imaginable venue.

I became very familiar with Canada. After a few trips from the Atlantic to the Pacific, I didn’t need a map anymore. Canada had become my home. And moreover, God had given me a heart for Canada.

Interested in people

Why did pastors invite me to their area? Obviously, it wasn’t because of my age or wisdom. However, word spread that non-Christians would attend our meetings, and that church folks were glad to bring their friends to hear me preach. Most pastors want new people in their church, and that’s why I had a full schedule. People outside the four walls of the church have always been of interest to me.Today, with 36 million Canadians, this interest is more important than ever:

  • How can we present the gospel to those who have no church background?
  • Are national spiritual awakenings only something of the past? Can it happen today? In Canada?

The current situation, as of 2020, doesn’t look good. Many churches have reported a decline in attendance.What will happen after the lockdown? I am grateful that a large percentage of the Toronto Int’l Celebration Church is participating in Sunday in-person services, while others are joining online. Still, the situation is critical nation-wide.

Meanwhile, outside the church, many seem disinterested in God. Is a spiritual awakening possible in a country as diverse as Canada? What about immigrants with their religions and cultures?

Examples from Scripture and from history encourage me. Sometimes, a situation seemingly has to become hopeless, before God’s people will rise up. And, when an “impossible” situation becomes possible, everyone knows that it was a work of God.

Picture from one of my early Canadian tent campaigns.

A prophecy

Zechariah, the Hebrew prophet, spoke about a spiritual awakening in Israel. The seven principles found in his prophecy are applicable to every country. God loves the world. He set every nation within “times” and “boundaries,” and promised; “I will shake all nations,” (Haggai 2:6). That includes Canada!

1. God’s grace comes first. I will pour out …. the Spirit of grace, Zechariah 12:10.

Prayer is vital, but according to this prophecy a spiritual awakening begins with an outpouring of God’s grace. On the Day of Pentecost, in Ephesus, in Corinth and throughout the Book of Acts, the pattern from Zechariah’s prophecy is repeated; God’s grace comes first.

Isn’t the message of God’s grace well-known to church members?

No! The annual study about religion and culture, released this August, from the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University, contains shocking facts. Here is one of the most notable; 46% of Pentecostals/Charismatics and 41% of Evangelicals believe that salvation and heaven are obtained by “being good” or “doing good.” Evidently, members in “born-again” churches do not know that we are saved by Christ’s righteousness. Sad!

After decades of Sunday sermons, often better described as motivational speeches, life lessons and self-help instructions; what did we expect? Sadly, it’s possible to attend church without discovering who Christ is and what He has done. A national awakening starts with an outpouring of God’s grace. Canada and the world need it!

2. Prayer. I will pour out… the Spirit of prayer, Zechariah 12:10.

When we know God’s grace, we learn to pray effectively. Not prayers from a beggarly position, where we see ourselves as “have- nots,” seeking to obtain something, but prayers from a position of victory. Since Christ has provided it, we know that we already have that which we ask for.

Jesus said; If you ask the Father for anything in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full, John 16:23-24.

Grace filled prayers are in full assurance that everything that is included in the name of Jesus belongs to us.

3. Attention on Christ. They will look on Me whom they have pierced, Zechariah 12:10.

This refers to Jesus Christ, who was “pierced” for the sins of the world. Phillip, the evangelist, encountered witchcraft in Samaria.Yet, he never referenced that evil – he preached Christ, (see Acts chapter 8). In Corinth, the Las Vegas of ancient Rome, a city filled with idolatry, prostitution and debauchery, Paul did not preach about the sins of Corinth, but “Jesus Christ crucified.”

“Revivals” may be characterized by various teachings or phenomena; holiness, healing, speaking in tongues, weeping, laughing, etc.

That’s why I speak of an Awakening. It is something grander, more inclusive, national in scope, and the focal point is Jesus Christ.

4. Repentance. They will mourn for him… and they will weep over him, Zechariah 12:10.

Repentance, expressed in mourning and weeping, comes after people’s attention has turned to Christ. Repentance is the Greek word metanoia; “to think differently after,” or simply, “to change one’s mind.”

This is only possible when information about Christ has been provided. Since the goodness of God leads to repentance, God’s goodness must be discovered before we can repent – change our minds.

Ponder this: Repentance doesn’t lead people to Christ; the discovery of Christ leads people to repentance. We do not try to get people to repent; we present Christ, and once people see who Christ is – they will change their minds (repent).

5. The whole country affected. They will mourn, every family by itself; the family of the house of David by itself… the house of Nathan by itself… the House of Levi by itself… the family of the Shimei by itself…all the families that remain, every family, and their wives by themselves, Zechariah 13:1.

David represents the political leadership. Nathan (the prophet), Levi (the priest) and Shimei (the scribe) represent religious leadership. And then “all families”: a national spiritual awakening to every part of society.

6. Freedom from guilt, sin and shame. In that day, a fountain will be opened … for sin and for uncleanness, Zechariah 13:1.

People seek guilt relief through medication, religion, philosophy and psychology. In Canada today, suicide, opioid-related deaths and a host of other social ills are on the increase. Our nation doesn’t know that God ordained that the blood of Christ would provide cleansing from every sin, shame and guilt.

7. Light drives out darkness. I will cut off the names of the idols …. I will remove the prophets and the unclean spirit. Zechariah 13:2.

Idolatry, false prophets and unclean spirits represent the kingdom of darkness. Idolatry is a misdirected trust. More than ever, this pandemic has caused Canadians to put their trust in governments, unions, business and science.

These influences – idolatry, false prophets and uncleanness – are mere symptoms; the root cause of the problem is that Canadians do not know Christ.

In Zechariah’s prophecy the removal of dark influences comes last. A spiritual awakening is not about cursing the darkness. It’s about spreading the light of Jesus Christ, because this light drives out darkness.

46% of Pentecostals/ Charismatics and 41% of Evangelicals believe that salvation and heaven are obtained by “being good” or “doing good.”

Peter Youngren

Peter Youngren