Born in the Philippines, Luis Cruz was a self-professed “bad boy” on the streets of Manila. And if you meet him for lunch, he’ll readily tell you about the wild days of his youth. But he’ll also be quick to share how his mother-in-law stopped him in his tracks.
“When my mother-in-law invited, or rather forced me to attend Bible Study at her house in 1986, I met the Lord Jesus Christ,” he describes. “Over time I progressed towards wanting to become like Christ, to take part in what God was doing in the world.”
Since then Luis has gone on to bring Christ to almost his entire family, and then to follow God’s leading to share the good news with the Filipino community in Toronto. “When I came to Toronto as a tourist in 2002 I told my wife ‘I think God is calling us to Canada; I need to go spy out the land!’” Almost six years later, after desperate prayer and near despair, the Cruz’ were granted immigration.
15 Small Groups a Week
Luis is now the head of Pastoral Care at Greenhills Christian Fellowship (GCF) Toronto, a role that involves tireless small group leadership. At one point he facilitated 15 small groups every week, with as many as five groups on Saturday alone. “Growth Groups,” as they are aptly named at GCF, are individually unique, but tend to be low-pressure gatherings, scheduled around a meal, where honest dialogue between believers and seekers takes place.
“We start with food,” Luis explains, “Food is universal. The groups themselves are very organic and conversational. We listen to each other’s stories and discuss commonalities. This way we build trust. People come to know that they can ask me anything under the sun and I won’t be offended, so that opens up conversation. I find that especially in a highly individualistic country like Canada people just need to talk.”
When asked how he brings the conversation around to faith, Luis explains that he just tells his own story. “I start with my old self, with my identity as the ‘bad boy’ in my community before I knew Christ. Then I share how Jesus changed me.” Luis’ friends and family can attest that what convinced them of the power of Jesus was the change they observed in Luis’ own life after he committed himself to the way of Jesus.
“At first it seemed impossible to peel off the baggage in my life. It is my belief that everyone who comes to the Lord needs quite some time to realize the attitudes and behaviours that they need to forgo.” Luis particularly loves walking with new believers as they shed their old selves and seek re-birth in Christ.
After working with a GCF team to start a church in Vaughan, Luis has now moved to a brand new venture in Ajax, Ontario: GCF’s first intentionally multi-cultural church plant.
“Right from the start in Ajax we’ve committed to seeing three ethnic groups represented in each Growth Group. The model has to be entirely different because it’s harder to find commonalities among different cultures.” With a smile on his face he adds: “At least one commonality still remains: food!”
GCF Ajax will be GCF’s third church plant in the Toronto area. Key to their strategy is a commitment to grow new churches by multiplication, rather than division, every two to three years. “Group members understand that within two years they are expected to give birth to another group themselves,” Luis explains, “and then in three years there are enough new groups to form a church.”
An early trajectory
A wise pastor once observed that the way a person comes to faith in Christ often marks the kind of ministry they offer to Christ later in life. In Luis’ case, this has proved true. Although he resisted it at the time, the conversational atmosphere of that first small group with his mother-in-law now characterizes the shape of his work here in Ontario.
Go ahead: ask him anything.