Church adds three new small groups after pastor starts taking walks

Last year hit Ashley Austin hard. His church — Canvas Church in Victoria, British Columbia — lost two staff members because of COVID-19. His dad passed away. And he — like many others — had to cancel several scheduled mission trips and camps.

And then in November, he had open-heart surgery to repair a bicuspid aortic aneurysm — something, he said, it was a miracle they found and a miracle he survived.

“So I thank God that that happened, that the surgery happened, but that put me out for two months,” he said. “When I jumped back in in January, at that point everything was shut down in British Columbia.”

The only thing he was allowed to do was livestream church and go for walks.

“So I just said, ‘OK, God — show me the people you want me to spend time with,” Austin said. “And God would put certain people on my heart, and I would schedule those walks.”

He met people by the beach, on hiking trails and in parks. He would spend time asking them how God was working in their lives, what God was teaching them and what Scripture they were reading. He would pray with them. He didn’t have a formula.

“I let the Holy Spirit lead the conversation, and I just jumped into those relationships as they shared,” Austin said. “Everybody I met with, the goal wasn’t just to meet with them but for them to invest in other people, too.”

Now, six months later, about 40 men make up three new discipleship groups at Canvas.

“We meet once a week and share how God is working, we share Scripture, we pray together and we celebrate answers to prayer,” Austin said. “It’s pretty cool seeing how God is working in all of our lives.”

It wasn’t a grand strategy, he said. “It was less about me having some grand idea and more about me saying, ‘God, what can I do in this season?’ Even when things are difficult, there’s always an opportunity.”

Published June 23, 2021