Planting a Church Where It’s Illegal for Churches to Gather

If you would have told me this would have been my life, I might have naturally thought we were talking about being in some foreign context; maybe one militantly opposed to the Gospel because of the country’s animistic or communistic background. Never in my life would I have thought we were talking about Canada. Yet, this is the exact spot I found myself in when my family moved to plant a new church in Winnipeg in January 2020, and as we continued to gather in opposition to the waves of lockdowns and mandates that came throughout November 2020 — February 2022.

words + photographs AARON BOSWELL

In the seasons of harshest lockdown, the devastating toll on those around us was palpable. Widows suffering with loneliness. Drug addicts needing somewhere to love and accept them, even when they didn’t have it all together. People needing a cup of coffee and a community to open its lives, homes and dinner tables (1 Thessalonians 2:8), despite the looming fear of being caught and given fines. 

And in these early days of our church plant, these were constant realities we faced. We weren’t loud about gathering; rather, we did so secretly, striving to please God and not create a ruckus among those without our convictions (1 Timothy 2:2-6) and those who were anxious about losing their lives (Matthew 6:25-34; Mark 8:34-38). And as we continued to meet every week, whether in basements or in forests, God used this entire journey to implant deep truths inside of our hearts as His people.

Firstly, we were comforted to reflect on the Bible’s clear teaching that God is sovereign over every situation (Genesis 50:20; Exodus 4:21; Job 1:21-22). Even spectacular sins cannot thwart God’s purposes and plans, as John Piper clearly articulates. Thus, every plan the Father has ordained will come to pass (Acts 2:23). God’s sovereignty also extends into every facet of our lives, as God is the One who directs our steps (Proverbs 16:9), and we know from God’s Word every day of our lives has been written in His book (Psalm 139:16). Thus, the God who knows the end from the beginning certainly knows when we will die, how we will die, and has ordained to use our lives for His glory before we depart from this life and be with Him (which is far better — Philippians 1:23). The problem is for many of us, we believe this world is far better than to part and be with Christ, which is indicting. Thus, we would naturally choose to disobey the clear commands of God from His Word than to face the consequences of standing in faithfulness (1 Peter 2:12; 1 Peter 4:4-5; Hebrews 10:24-25). Yet, in persecution for righteousness’ sake is where we fill up the afflictions of Christ to be clearly seen by all (Colossians 1:24).

We also were constantly reminded our anxious efforts to prolong our lives cannot do what they promised, for our anxious toiling could never lengthen our days (Matthew 6:27). In thinking about the government around us, we were also comforted that the king’s heart is not free; rather, it is in the hand of the Lord ,and God turns it wherever He wishes (Proverbs 21:1). Thus, even evil kings and authorities can have their hearts turned by God to accomplish His purposes and plans (Isaiah 7:18). And while God had called us to live in Canada in this season of time, even ordaining our boundaries of our dwelling places and the periods in which we live (Acts 17:6), we know we are called to be lights in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation as we share the Gospel with those around us (Philippians 2:14-16). 

Aaron Boswell with his wife, Samantha. COVER Aaron and Samantha with their three children: Summer, Téo and Owen.

Thus, God’s sovereign control over every jot and tittle of the universe became not just a theological treatises, but an everyday place of refuge; a rock to lean upon in the shifting tides of the world around us. What better of an anchor can we have in this life than a rock-solid confidence in the sovereignty of God?

This is the hope persecuted Christians have clung onto throughout every season of suffering, and it is the hope Christians still cling to as we walk through various trials and temptations to despair. God is sovereign over every human heart, institution, will, desire and longing. 

Though the last few years have been the most difficult and weighty of my life, God has provided over and over again for us in this work of church planting. At the time of writing this article, we are only 18 months old; yet you would be hard-pressed to find a church that loves God’s Word, trusts in His sovereignty, and delights in the Gospel more than these wonderful saints. They are fearless and a joy to pastor. Seeing all He has done in our midst, we rejoice in the truths of Psalm 127:1, “ “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.” AB

Originally from Texas, Aaron Boswell is the lead pastor at The Trails Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He and his wife, Samantha, have three kids: Owen, Téo, and Summer.

COVER PHOTO Aaron Boswell with his wife, Samantha.


Dr. Stephen Spates

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