Sometimes when I call someone for an interview, I may just have a name, phone number and their title. When I called Renford Jeffrey, there was no formal title, although he suggested if I wanted one, I would designate him as an urban missionary and member of Malvern Methodist Church. Otherwise, he said, “I’m Renford.” Within minutes, Renford had me inspired by his efforts to pave a way into his community on behalf of the church. He had me wanting to be on his ministry team. I suspect he has this effect where ever he goes; his zeal to serve God is highly contagious. Whether he has a formal title or not, he is a natural and charismatic leader.
Renford is a Registered Nurse by profession. He specializes in addictions and mental health. He shares his passion for community outreach with his wife, who is also a nurse. Over 20 years ago, they “started going into the community, doing BBQs and door-to-door ministry.” From there they “started various visitation programs, meeting the needs they encountered, from nutrition to finding jobs.” As the needs arose, they did their best to assist the people, drawing on their experience in nursing and accessing the resources in the community.
Their ministry started soon after they moved to the [College and Finch] area of Scarborough from Jamaica over 20 years ago and it continues in Malvern today. With every relationship Renford builds, he sees it as a way to show people love and meet needs in Christ’s name. “We try to gain a foothold by identifying the needs that exist. From there, we build relationships with the people and eventually, over time, when they come to recognize that you accept them, you have opened up the door to their lives.”
“Without our inviting them to church or asking if they would like to accept Jesus into their lives, we have the experience of people asking us if they can come to church with us because they can actually see the work that you are doing. They recognize that there is something different about you.”
Renford is currently in the process of launching a strong family program in the community with Malvern Methodist, including advocacy for children and parenting seminars. “There is no greater protective factor for children than to have them come to know Jesus Christ. This keeps them from going in the wrong direction,” Renford says.
Renford believes that “the basis of most of the problems that exist within the community are around the lack of a strong family presence. We need strong families in our communities. Without having strong families, you see gang activities, violence and drug activities.” His own story is a testament to the fact that when you come from a strong family background, the outcome can be different. “That is the foundation for the changes we wish to see in the community.”
Renford himself was raised in a single parent home in Jamaica. “I didn’t know my Father till I was 16.” Renford believes it was the providence of God and the presence of his mother that kept him “unscathed” growing up in “one of the worst areas of Jamaica.” While other kids were getting involved with gangs, violence and drug activity, Renford was spared from that life.
Renford received a strong call to minister to and on behalf of children about 15 years ago. It was a time of crisis for him and he was praying for guidance. Renford had developed a habit of meeting with God early in morning, going for walks while it is still dark, as in a prayer walk. “It is during those times that God really speaks to me.” During one of these walks he heard from God directly, “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” The verse kept repeating in his head. Around the same time, his wife was also waking up early in the morning, which was uncommon. She began to intercede for children – it hit her in the same way. They knew they had a shared vision, their passion grew from there.
One thing that has supported their vision to advocate for children and families was an article Renford came across during one of his prayer walks that took him right through the doors of Markham/Stouffville Hospital. He found the publication, Hospital News. “An article called ‘Just One Out of 10 Make a Difference’ flew off the page and into [my] brain.”
“Sick Kids in collaboration with other organizations, did extensive research so as to find out why some children are more resilient and able to endure crisis situations than others. They examined different factors and came up against Risk Factors that work against children. There are also Protective Factors, such as having a safe family, high self-esteem, proficiency in school subjects. But they came to the conclusion that there was one consistent factor that was always present in every situation, where there is a child that has gone through adversity and that child coped well, thrived and flourished. It was the presence of one parent adult who unconditionally loved and accepted that child and expressed the commitment to the child in spite of what they’re going through. With that one parent in your life, you can go through all sorts of different adversities in your life. That resonated with me because that was the case with my upbringing. It could be your parent and, if not your parent, it would be a strong adult figure in the community.”
Support of the Church
Renford moves easily through his neighbourhood on his own, but recognizes, “If you don’t have the support of a church behind you, it’s very difficult [to do ministry on your own]. You’re just asking for burnout.” Renford sees himself as a trailblazer, opening doors for the church to come in and establish a long-term program. “We have had the great support through Malvern Methodist Church. I strongly believe that we are part of the body and when the body works together, we have greater results. If there is a call on your life, it is important that the other parts of the body compliment that.”
I spoke with Pastor Steve Stoddart, assistant pastor at Malvern, who affirms Renford’s gifts. “Renford will go into a community doing simple acts of kindness and share with us that there’s an opportunity for the church to minister. We then plan together, give support financially and physically by serving in these areas.”
I asked Pastor Stoddart how he built that trust with Renford. “When I met him, close to two years ago, that very day, we had a two-hour conversation about evangelism. We share the same vision and dreams. We confirmed that this is exactly what we should be doing. I trust him because of the Spirit of the Lord and my spirit confirms what he is doing is of the Lord.”
Inspiration to serve
I ask Renford how he stays inspired and energized. “My devotional life plays a big role in that. Whenever that wanes, so does my passion. But I have a passion for serving people. It’s all about relationships. If you are in a right relationship with God and with people that’s where the inspiration and passion comes from. It does not feel like work because you’re making such a great difference in people lives. That is the case in the community. I would never live my life in any other way. In fact, to me, I want to double down and do twice as much as I’m doing right now.”
“Being at Malvern Methodist affords me the opportunity to do that. It’s the first church that has come beside me. You hardly find support like that.“
So what advice does Renford have for us, who are challenged to move into our communities in the name of Jesus? “Ultimately, it’s about people. Sometimes we lose focus and get distracted. For example, if you are in finances, you might be tempted to think it’s all about the money. But it all gets back to people. Whatever your calling is, you can use that to recognize that you are there to serve Jesus. Incorporate service to others in all that you do. We are all called to ministry. You don’t have to be a pastor, you don’t have to have a title. Over the years people have asked me, why don’t you become a pastor or why don’t you get a title, but I recognize that you can be just as effective where God has placed you.”
If you have a story of how God is working in and through your church, please contact Loreli. No title required!