Canadian pastor finds new flock with AAEO help

Canadian pastor finds new flock with AAEO help

John D’Antonio’s family knew his four-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, would soon be over. Many of his Italian-Canadian family and friends had gathered in his Windsor, Ontario, hospital room to say goodbye to the 30-year-old father and husband.

Just before D’Antonio’s diagnosis four years earlier, his family had moved next door to the Lenos. Garth Leno was pastor of one of Windsor’s largest churches, and D’Antonio’s mother was a faithful member. On this most difficult of days, the family called Pastor Leno.

He arrived at the hospital and entered a packed hospital room. The family had requested a reduction in morphine so that D’Antonio could communicate with them. D’Antonio’s wife gave permission for Leno to be alone with her husband.

D’Antonio couldn’t talk and he was having trouble breathing.

“John, if you can hear me just squeeze my fingers,” Leno said, then felt pressure from D’Antonio’s weakened hands.

Leno then explained the gospel, God’s grace, the plan of salvation and that it’s available to any man or woman at any stage of life.

“Do you believe this?”

D’Antonio squeezed Leno’s hand and they prayed together.

As the pastor of a large church in the city, Leno could have dispatched any 1 of his 20 staff members to the hospital that night. Now as the pastor of a Canadian National Baptist Convention church plant called The Gathering, he has only two additional staff.

Leno and his wife spent more than 30 years serving churches in a denomination that began to alter important doctrinal positions and has seen no net gains in Canadian churches in many years. Then, during a three-month sabbatical, struggles within the church erupted that eventually led to Leno’s departure.

He found himself in a lonely place. He never expected that church planting would be so difficult and isolating. Leno and his wife started a Saturday night Bible study mostly with people who were “disillusioned with church.” What started in their home in September 2013 soon grew rapidly.

Leno later met Wayne Parker, pastor of Merriman Road Baptist Church, Garden City, Michigan. Parker is the North American Mission Board (NAMB) Send Detroit city missionary and knew about Leno’s Bible study.
Leno also connected with Andrew Lamme, Canadian National Baptist Convention’s lead church planting catalyst for Southern Ontario. Multiple calls of encouragement to the Lenos soon followed, along with emails and help, something they rarely received in more than 30 years with the other denomination.

With counsel from Parker, Lamme and an affiliate with the Canadian convention, Annie Armstrong Easter Offering funds soon helped Leno and his following of “disengaged and disenfranchised” people secure and renovate a warehouse for The Gathering. And The Gathering also is now part of Send Detroit, NAMB’s church planting strategy for the metro area surrounding the city. (BP)