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Reaching the Nations in Toronto

Published on September 18, 2023

Allison Gibeson
God used music lessons to burden Phil and Jessica Coolbaughs’ hearts for the nations and lead them to sports ministry in Canada.

In 2014 the couple was living in St. Louis, Phil was pastoring a church and Jessica was teaching piano. Jessica intentionally offered lessons to non-believing students as a method of outreach, so it was not surprising when the Coolbaughs discovered the family of one student followed a different religious tradition. Through the relationship the couple built with the family, they were able to share the Gospel.

The experience challenged Coolbaugh, who grew up in a Christian family and assumed he would continue in long-term pastoral ministry in the United States. God was stirring his heart, and after some research, he learned about the diversity of cultures in the Canadian city ofj3qxQpXQ Toronto. Coolbaugh connected with Hans Ostrem, Divisional Vice President for FCA Canada, and went to visit.

“I was amazed, encouraged and burdened all at the same time because it is much different from the Midwest,” Coolbaugh said. “If you drive through the greater Toronto area, you are going to see mosques, Buddhist temples, Hindu temples, Sikh temples, large Coptic churches and traditional evangelical churches.”

God was making it clear to Phil and Jessica that ministry in such a diverse setting was His plan for their lives.

“It’s like having the world at your doorstep,” Coolbaugh said. “The Gospel is here. When we saw that for ourselves, it was one of the things that burdened our hearts.”

Coolbaugh joined FCA staff as FCA Canada’s Director of Ministry Advancement, and the
couple along with their four children moved to Toronto in 2018. In his role, Coolbaugh focuses on curriculum, partnering with churches, and the planning and execution of ministry.

Ministry in the area includes multi-sport leagues, clinics and camps, and the diversity of cultures provides the opportunity to use a wider variety of sports, like cricket, as bridges to sharing the Gospel.

“We have people represented not just from different races, but also different religious backgrounds, who will come together because of sports,” Coolbaugh said.

Many of their camps are done in conjunction with local churches, including one held in March 2020 just prior to the pandemic shutdown. Jessica worked with a group of kids on a craft, and one girl told her she R7wbQ07Qdid not want to take the craft home. Jessica eventually discovered the girl’s reasoning: her family was of a different religion. But, there wasn’t opportunity for follow-up because the shutdown soon followed.

Time passed, and the Coolbaughs temporarily lost touch with the girl and her brother until some restrictions lifted and they visited the church that helped host the camp. The two children were there along with their mother, and they had all become Christ-followers and baptized thanks to the local church following up on the seeds planted during the camp.

“That’s a beautiful picture of pastoral ministry, church ministry, and FCA all playing a part in the Kingdom and coming full circle,” Coolbaugh said. “Sports were the interaction. We kept that, the church played a part and now they are faithful and growing in our sports programs.”

Ministry in Canada’s post-church culture presents challenges as there is increasing pushback from taking a stand on biblical principles.

“A continued prayer of ours is that we as a staff will remain steadfast to Truth and that God will protect our ministry,” Coolbaugh said.

Coolbaugh and the team are pursuing many ministry growth opportunities, including a recent merger with another sports organization, which included inheriting a large soccer program and hockey league.

“God has helped me to better learn how He in His good sovereignty uses people of all sorts of backgrounds and cultures to advance His Kingdom,” Coolbaugh said. “This experience has helped to both humble and teach me how to graciously see ministry work from different perspectives. Every day I encounter new situations and new perspectives, yet God over and over reminds me that His Spirit and His Word are sufficient for them all.”

As you lift ministry in Canada up in prayer, Coolbaugh asks for staff growth as they equip more coaches for ministry. Pray God would continue to provide additional opportunities for partnerships and that the ministry would pursue these opportunities with wisdom and discernment. Coolbaugh also requests prayer that the ministry would stay true to biblical authority despite any opposition that arises. For more information and to donate, go to canadafca.ca.


Photos courtesy of FCA Canada