*This article originally appeared in Sent & Sending, a weekly newsletter from Westside Church, and has been republished with permission.
Jesus calls us to go and make disciples to reach the ends of the earth for His glory.
We are sharing Gord and Ute Carkner's ministry on the UBC campus with Outreach Canada.
They primarily work with faculty and graduate students, positioned as "The Interface of Christian Truth & Contemporary Culture." They mentor, resource, and spiritually empower others through academic life by hosting seminars, building community, prayer, teaching, and providing resources.
Gord & Ute's Story
Gord felt a call into ministry in his last semester of undergrad and through serving with a variety of ministry projects at Queen’s University. During his seminary training that followed, he developed a strong sense of vision to help people in the university community understand God. Much of what he was learning at TEDS was relevant to campus struggles and tough questions. He began the adventure of campus ministry at Guelph-Waterloo-Laurier with Inver-Varsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF). He came to the West Coast in the late eighties to study more on science and theology and to serve at UBC.
Ute: From her earliest days reciting the Lord’s Prayer with her mother, Ute had a strong consciousness of God as her loving heavenly father. After her undergrad studies, she was invited to join a youth mission team to India for one year. Christ's overwhelming love compelled her to share him with many. After a transformative year of giving testimony to Christ's work on the cross, she witnessed principalities and powers being disarmed.
Returning to Ontario, Ute taught school by day, but continued in youth ministry, intercession, and Bible study by night. Easter Sunday, April 1983, became another growing moment. While sitting in an obscure little church in East Germany, the Pastor concluded his sermon with, "I serve a higher God than this regime." This was the commencement of her intercession for the downfall of the Berlin Wall. After three years of full-time youth ministry with IVCF, Ute created space for God to continue his transformative work through theological studies at Regent College from 1991-94. It was a gift to focus on Spiritual Formation and Direction under a mentor such as Eugene Peterson.
Together, Gord & Ute have worked on the West Coast through both IVCF and Outreach Canada, mainly at UBC. Ute joined the ministry with her giftedness and passion in 1991. Married in 1992, their focus moved more intensely towards faculty and postgraduate students in the late nineties. At that time, Gord commenced his PhD research on late modern identity through a school in Oxford. It involved a major postmodern figure, French philosopher Michel Foucault, in dialogue with eminent McGill philosopher Charles Taylor. Student ministry has been very rich and deeply challenging, keeping them nimble, humble and open to new ideas.
Gord and Ute's work as meta-educators allow them to mentor, resource, and spiritually empower postgraduate students through academic life. They also help them gain an articulate grasp of their faith.
Here are some of their ministry activities:
- Regular scholarly lectures through visiting academics on faith, culture, theology, and science to stimulate deeper reflection and debate.
- Build a community among Christian faculty and postgraduate students for fellowship, mutual encouragement, Bible study and vision.
- Partner with people at TWU, SFU and Regent College.
- Gord teaches UBC students locally, plus those abroad through the internet, on key issues such as identity, apologetics, faith and culture through blogs and YouTube videos (see below).
- Ute spends many hours praying for spiritual awakening in students, staff and faculty. Her prayers for the world have shifted to Asia since coming to the West Coast, especially as they adopted two beautiful Chinese baby girls (now 17 and 24).
- Ute offers prayer and spiritual formation to many graduate students, and has hosted numerous meals in their home for students and faculty using her gift of hospitality.
- Gord offers key theology and culture resources for a group of pastors from various churches.
"God has been very faithful to us during these trying times: regarding financial support, fruitful ministry, fresh ideas, and new vision. It has been eye-opening and encouraging to sense His passion for the academic world, which shapes so many future culture leaders."
Who has God become to you in the midst of the challenges and the joys of your time in this ministry?
The closing of the university during the early stages of COVID-19 was a significant challenge. Students were not back on campus until September of 2021. Because of this, Gord and Ute had to revise their strategy—they couldn’t host large groups, but could meet and pray one-on-one outdoors, go for walks, and engage online.
During this time, Gord decided to produce some of his work and thinking as YouTube video webinars. It became a lively learning curve where he discovered the broader audience potential of his training and teaching work. Topics covered included:
- Millennials Encounter Agape Love
- Late Modernity, Scientism and the Quest for Meaning
- Can We Make Peace Between Faith & Reason?
- The Way of Zen versus the Way of Incarnation
- The Genius of Truth
- Relativism and the Struggle for a Stable Society
These scholarly lectures are posted on the YouTube channel (check them out below).
Due to pandemic restrictions, lectures were held on Zoom, drawing some people from England and America that otherwise would be over budget. Four successful lectures were hosted in 2021:
- Paul Allen (Critical Realism in Science and Theology)
- Ray Aldred (Truth & Reconciliation)
- Tom McLeish (Science, the Humanities and Theology)
- Brian Bird (The Struggle for Tolerance).
Due to its online nature, some of their key supporters from across Canada and the USA have been able to join in the talks, deepening partnership.
On the GCU blog, Gord has been writing weekly devotionals for the students to boost their spiritual health. He is currently finishing a fifteen-part blog series on Incarnational Spirituality which he wants to develop into a book. It will include some reflection on the input from hosted international scholars.
UBC CGU (Blog)
“We acknowledge the profound role that brokenness plays in unfolding the spiritual life and building spiritual community. We share each other’s weakness prayerfully. This releases God’s power among us, within us and beyond us (2 Corinthians 12: 7-10).”
Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership
Student Community Life
In fall 2021, Gord and Ute enjoyed an exciting online Bible study with students on II Corinthians, Paul’s awesome New Covenant vision. One sweet, young new believer from Montana joined the group. Gideon, a PhD student from Nigeria, helped to lead her to faith. She attends UBC in person this coming spring to work on a Master’s degree in business.
They love to see people get inspired with fresh vision of the kingdom while labouring in their studies. It is great when students take ideas and run with them: in the labs, coffee shops and libraries. The various international viewpoints of the graduate students add so much richness to the work.
The GFCF scholarly forum committee continues to enjoy hunting down top resource people (prophetic voices) from around the globe—real detective work.
UBC Graduate & Faculty Christian Forum
Ute had a most unusual 2021 of intense suffering with back and leg problems (a synovial cyst and a broken tibia). She also experienced substantial healing and was able to share this with many who needed encouragement. Bedridden for a good amount of time because of the pain, she was able to draw from the deep well of grace during her rehab.
God met her in a special way, releasing powerful ministry via phone, text and some personal visits. She began to receive calls from needy students and friends. From her bed, she cried out to the Lord on behalf of so many, and comforted them in their trials. One friend was under institutional pressure for taking a principled stand. Another life was hanging in the balance from a complex set of surgeries.
Psalm 107: 20 reminds us that God cares: “He sent out his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave.” Worship was also a key strength for Ute during this stressful time. She became more aware of both the fragility of life and the holiness of God.
What has God been doing in this time?
God has been very faithful to Gord and Ute during these trying times: regarding financial support, fruitful ministry, fresh ideas and new vision. It has been eye-opening and encouraging to sense his passion for the academic world, which shapes so many future culture leaders.
Gord has found it stretching to write some books while on staff with Outreach Canada: The Great Escape from Nihilism; Mapping the Future; and now a new project called Towards an Incarnational Culture. Together, they want to continue to refine their skills as thinker/writer/speaker/spiritual mentor.
Ute claims that the suffering encouraged her to pursue God with renewed zeal and intentionality. She was awakened to the loving presence of Christ at a profound new level, as she brought her pain and that of others before the throne. God really met her in and through her pain and healing.
Where have you seen God show up in big and little ways?
They were delighted to connect with Gideon this past fall, a PhD student from Nigeria, who is gifted in evangelism and carries a tremendous love for God. Gord also met Geoff, a PhD student in Computer Science, through the September lecture with Tom McLeish on science and faith. Geoff will be a great addition as an on-campus dialogue partner on science and faith. Some students are very brave to bring academic critique to institutions in their home country.
The lecture by Ray Aldred on Truth and Reconciliation was particularly profound. It garnered over 450 views on YouTube. One female Indigenous elder remarked, “I wouldn’t have made it through the residential schools without Jesus.” Gord and Ute continue to build out from their core project, planning new lectures and teaching resources, listening for God’s voice. Students and faculty really do appreciate the wisdom from Christian scholars and scientists and the prayers of Ute.
How can we pray for you, your family, and the work that you're doing?
- Wisdom and creativity going forward with new relationships and teaching.
- Scholars at risk who write on sensitive topics.
- Placing these bright young Christian scholars in key posts in the university, business, government, and beyond.
- Leadership development and resourcing of students towards their full calling.
- Health, safety and patience for all involved—students, faculty, staff.
- Future webinar on Radical Individualism and the new book on Incarnational Spirituality.
- Finding good speakers for future GFCF forums.
Contact Gord Carkner