My parents were married and immigrated to Canada in 1955 and my Dad’s dream was to be a farmer. They began attending a reformed church that did not have the gospel of Christ and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as the focus. They soon became disillusioned and left the church. It wasn’t until my two oldest brothers, Adrian and Ralph, went to Vacation Bible School at Bramalea Baptist and became Christians that my parents came back to church. By the time I came on the scene, the youngest of five brothers, my earliest memories were that of going to church and growing up in a family that was first generation Christian. I must admit it is all God’s grace in allowing me to grow up in a strong Christian home where I can honestly say that the faith of my family was so genuine.
It was on the evening of February 2, 1975, the night my brother Edwin was baptized that I remember going forward to accept the Lord as my personal Savior. It wouldn’t be the first time because as a child I would always be ready to go up again to just make sure. In fact, I remember going forward and telling the person at the front that this was my 4th time asking Jesus into my heart and counting...One of the earliest lessons I learned was on the assurance of our salvation and that it was God who held us in the palm of his hand and 'no man can pluck you out' of there! John 10:28 I was also thankful for a special Sunday School teacher, Mr. Heineman, who really took a personal interest in my life. I remember vividly when our church had revival meetings with the Sutera twins. It was as a result of this that I made the decision on my own to not let playing hockey interfere with going to church and as a result I quit playing with the traveling team and was content to play in the house league. It was through experiences like these that caused my faith grow as I came to grips with what was most important in my life.
On May 10, 1977, I was baptized at Maple Ave. Baptist Church in Georgetown, ON. I want to share that my father and mother made it very easy to grasp the concept of unconditional love, total security, gentleness and kindness of God as it was displayed and evidenced in their lives. My Dad’s dream to have his own farm was never realized, but he did something far better; he sacrificed his dreams and became the faithful man who prayed for us. I can still see him knelling by his bed to pray in the evening as I would walk by to my own room. He instilled in his sons a love for God, a deep appreciation for life and heartfelt gratitude.
My parents became foster parents in April, 1981 and shared their love with my foster brothers Rob and Ed and sister Rhonda. I learned to love them and they became like family to us during the ten years that they were with us.
I seriously began to take stock of my life after my four brothers who headed off to Bible College, told me to burn my rock records, Christian rock ones too! And I did, snapping vinyl, because hey, they were my brothers and I looked up to them.
On a more serious note, my brothers did influence my life to a great extent and I always enjoyed and shared in their enthusiasm with their ministry opportunities. In the summer of ’81 and ‘82, I went to stay with my brother Lloyd for two weeks experiencing life with inter-city kids in Buffalo, NY. It was an incredible experience and formed in me a deep sense of compassion and love for the kids, some of whom were my age. I helped serve meals in the city mission and went on events with the kids.
After my family moved to Acton, ON., we began attending Maple Ave. Baptist in the neighboring town of Georgetown, ON. It was there that I became involved in the Christian Service Brigade and our captain was Bob Gage. He was the man who saw leadership potential in me and took me under his wing. He provided me with the inspiration to pursue and complete my Herald of Christ. He had a great influence on my life; teaching me, discipling me and providing me with great memories of experiencing God’s presence, like holding on for dear life in the rapids of the Madawaska River! Bob passed away this summer and was a great influence to many of us teaching us conversational prayer with God and the value of Scripture memorization. Verses that I learned then that still guide me today are Joshua 1:8,9 and Romans 12:1,2.
It was in the Fall of 1985 that my brother Lloyd challenged me to head off to Bible School and so I did, a decision made in the span of a weekend! It was while attending N.B.B.I. that I made the decision to commit myself to full time ministry whatever form that would take. The verse that became my inspiration and motivation was Matthew 6:21, “for where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” It was with that realization that the greatest passion of my life was to invest my life in the lives of others in the way that God had so instrumentally used others in my own. It was through the field education experiences I had at school that gave me such a desire for ministry. I would go door to door handing out Bibles, preach in nursing homes (they were the only ones who would listen to me) :) and drive seven hours on a weekend with other students to my brother Ralph’s church planting ministry in Kentville, NS and do visitation blitzes!
In the summer of 1986, I had the opportunity to be a student intern at Emmanuel Baptist in Milton where my brother Lloyd worked alongside Ken Campbell. In the summer of 1987, I stayed with Ralph six weeks one summer to support and be involved with his ministry. As you can see, ministry was the great adventure for me and if I wanted a cross-Canada missions trip, I just had to visit my brothers.
In the Fall of 1987 I made the decision to finish Bible school at Prairie Bible College. In my first year there I continued to have opportunities for field education. I was involved in a youth ministry in Airdrie, AB and the highlight of my year was being part of the Olympic Outreach Team from our school in conjunction with the Calgary churches. In the summer of 1988, I served as a youth intern at Bethel Baptist in Fergus, ON., and it was there that I would meet my wife to be, Sharon Norris. We dated that summer and our relationship continued to grow stronger even while we were separated as I went back for my final year of school. In my graduating year at Prairie I continued to pursue my dream of full time youth work, leading a team of students with a youth ministry program at Sonrise Community Baptist in Calgary. However, it was the opportunity to be a resident assistant to ten high school guys in the dorm that solidified in my heart and mind my passion for youth ministry. I was personally involved in their lives, of whom some were missionary students and others, from Hong Kong learning to speak English. The privilege I had of being a big brother to them was an experience I’ll never forget. Through all of this, I continued to sense God’s hand on my life shaping me for ministry with youth.
It's All About You Jesus!
Upon graduation from Prairie in 1989 with my B.R.E., I figured I was ready for an internship, but the Lord had to break me and teach me some valuable life experiences before going into ministry full time. I ended up working at our local church as a general labourer and became the 'jack of all trades' as Bethel built a significant addition and the Lord kept me home that summer for a very good reason. My father passed away of colon cancer on August 22nd 1989 at the age of 55 and his legacy lives on and my prayer is that I may follow in his footsteps in my marriage and with my children. Before my dad passed away he gave his blessing to me to marry Sharon as did her father and we were married on December 10, 1989 and had the most eventful first year of marriage. I kept trying to become the ‘youth pastor’ to no avail and so we decided to move out to Nova Scotia and help out my brother Ralph in his ministry. I must point out that Adrian had a really good sales pitch to come to Halifax and work with him there, but all my other brothers were in the Annapolis Valley. They of course sold me on the fact we would all play hockey together as well as do ministry. While there for fifteen months, Sharon and I volunteered with the youth program and I did every kind of job from roofing and siding, making roof trusses, harvesting onions, painting, working at Kmart, pumping gas at my brother’s gas station and selling sporting goods at my other brother’s sports shop. I sold the first snowboard at his shop! After realizing that this was just a little too crazy, we decided to go back to Ontario where I could further pursue my desire for full time youth ministry.
During the summer of ’91 Sharon and I had the opportunity to serve together at Crusaders Bible Camp and it was there that we were involved with the camp programming, Bible teaching and ministering to the counselors. That Fall we moved to London in faith that God would provide as I went through for my M.R.E. at London Baptist Seminary. God answered our prayers by giving us both work within days of arriving on the scene. I completed my degree in the summer of 1992; but still there was no youth ministry and nothing happening, so I began to consider teaching and enrolled in a one year teaching program. At the same time we started getting involved at Knollwood Baptist and it was here that Verne MacDonald asked Sharon and I to head up the Collegiate ministry. We did and began to really enjoy that ministry and made friendships with a number of students. Since that time we have had the privilege to see a number of them get married and still continue to be involved in their lives.
It was really out of nowhere from a human perspective when Pastor Don Howard asked me about the position of youth ministry primarily at Knollwood. I never applied for the job and it was hard to contain my excitement and joy over this ministry possibility. After candidating and being approved through a vote, only one person said no, I accepted the position of Assistant Pastor with youth as my major focus in November, 1992. I finished my year at school and officially came on staff in May, 1993. I have never taken for granted the blessing of God in directing my life as I truly believe that when you delight in the Lord, He will give you the desires of your heart. The key is timing of course and his timing is the best timing.
The Exchanged Life
It was towards the end of our ministry in London that God started teaching us the deeper truths of our identity in Christ and resting in the work that He does in and through us before just full on 'doing for God'. Isaiah 40:28-31 spoke to that and the word renew here is best understood as an exchange. With the departure of our senior pastor, Don Howard, and now with two children, Jordan and Brynley, life became unsettled although we were very affirmed in our ministry at Knollwood. I would receive a phone call from a church in BC seeking a youth pastor in the fall of '96 and a new challenge awaited. I was reading Oswald Chamber's devotional at the time and the day the package arrived from the church I was reading Luke 9:61 where followers said to Jesus, 'Lord, I will follow you BUT...' The writer would go on to say that how often will follow as long as it doesn't go against our common sense. He then finished by sharing, 'when the Lord sends an opportunity of adventure your way, see to it that you take it' It was enough for me to know that we were on a new path, but God had to continue to work on Sharon's heart. We got to the point where people in our house made an offer on our house, but it was less than what we were comfortable with. Sharon was not ready to accept until one night God woke her up in bed and in turn woke me up to read John 12. There we read in the early hours of the morning the story of the woman who poured a year's worth of ointment on Christ. There were tears and we knew we had to sell and trust God.
Ministry at Cloverdale Baptist was full of adventure with youth who lived on the edge and great youthleaders. It was here that I learned to snowboard and where we saw over 70 youth reached through Damon's passion for a skatboarding ministry called CHAOS! The church wasn't too thrilled with a lot of black marks on the gym wall...so we thought we would go for bigger thrills in seeing a BMX ministry created with Ryan's passion. There were missions trip to Mexico and Bolivia and all was going well until God clearly spoke to my heart about moving again... It was while in San Diego at a Youth Specialites conference that Mike Yaconelli challenged us on 'Messy Spirituality' and being still while using clay and other experiences to teach us to discover the dangerous wonder of God speaking to us. God impressed on me, 'I am moving you' and showed me a moving truck with license plates from Florida during a prayer walk. Following that I sat down back in my meeting with youthleaders from you guessed it....Florida. So I sensed it was a move and that Florida was the confirmation and not the place. From there I continued to minister in Cloverdale and at the same time trying to help God find that new ministry. So I started looking and found a church in Edmonton that needed a youth pastor (they had outdoor hockey rinks)...I had to go through the process of being accredited with the Christian and Missionary Alliance and it came down to two candidates. I was the one they didn't choose so I kept focused on equipping and leading in my ministry.
Let Go and Let God
Ministry was going well until I had my first and final evaluation after 4 years of youth ministry. I was told that I was a round peg in a square hole and I was not the right fit, I was also told I had my own vision for the church and a lone ranger...So, that was that and now I knew was on the move for sure, but where...no clue. So, there we were with 3 children and one on the way and I began reading Proverbs and searching for opportunities until I found a church in Ottawa that was ready to have me candidate. However, I was reading Proverbs 19:2 where it told me to not make the decision in haste and lose the way. So we didn't move on it. So, now we waited and I visited my brother Lloyd's charasmatic church in Kelowna where it was prophecied over me that I would bring rivers of living water to a dry and weary land from Isaiah 43:18-21. Father's Day 2001 was my farewell Sunday at Cloverdale and in attendance is Charlie Masters, an Anglican minister from Milton who together with his youth minister, Chris Jones were in attendance at our church connected by family there. They approached me about an Alliance church in Milton who happened to be looking for a youth pastor for the past year and 1/2...the same amount of time since God had laid on my heart that he was moving me. It also happened to one of the most dry summers on record for the town....So God took an Anglican minister to find a Baptist pastor and bring him into an Alliance church!
The Call to WIN, BUILD, EQUIP and MULTIPLY
I began ministering at Southside Community Church that fall and just loved ministering with the youth there while having a great relationship with Greg McCombs, the pastor there until his departure just over a year later. At that point I began to take on a greater leadership role in the church while still seeing the youth involved in missions in their local schools through the creation of a band, Infulltrate and missions trips to the inner city with Toronto City Mission and overseas to Kiev.
It would be in January 2003 that I went to Orlando, FL to a Sonlife youth leadership conference and it was there that God challenged me to think beyond the youth ministry and now to dream about vision and values for the church and so an acronym came together on the values I wanted us to be about:
Outpouring of His Spirit
Unreached people matter to us
Hunger for Christ's conforming presence
Strength in community
Dedicated to serve
Expanding God's kingdom...stepping out in faith
Those values would later be refined but that was the start and I felt a cold sweat about what God had given me. I came back to the church and didn't say anything about the values until the search process for a lead pastor came up empty and so in June of that year, I began to share. After the elders listened and focus groups were formed, a mentor was brought in and I would walk through the challenge of changing roles in our church and taking on the lead role in September 2004.
Listening to the Voice of God
One of the biggest lessons I learned was towards the end of my ministry in becoming more aware of how God speaks into our lives and impresses His words on our heart. Mark Virkler was very instrumental in getting me to slow down more to listen and journal God's words to me as he spoke from John 10:4,27 It was while here that was many times we felt and saw the river of God flowing from the southside of the temple! Ezekiel 47:1 We saw many amazing soccer camp outreaches and hockey camps too. God impressed Isaiah 58 upon Sharon and a 'Good For Nothing' store was created and we had a great connection to the Women's Shelter in town.
Run In My Fields of Grace
From about 2007 on I was heavily pursued by a parachurch ministry opportunity in London which finally led to Sharon and I accepting an invitation to hear the vision for the ministry there. It was while going there that God enabled us to finally close the door knowing that our heart is fully engaged in the local church and believing that it is the hope of the world. It was certainly not to take anything away from the ministry but we really knew our fit. It would be while on the website looking at that position that I came across the opportunity at Grace.
The job description really resonated with me, but what really caught me eye was a church that was looking for a pastor who would love hockey enough to go to JR A games and work with young adults in soup kitchens. It spoke to me and when I showed it to Sharon, she said it sounds like they are describing you! So, with that, I put my resume together and prayed over it and left it in His hands.
During my time of listening prayer on May 11th, God would speak to me with clarity and the words that came to me were,
'let me lead the way and light your path. You have been faithful in many things, now run in my fields of grace. Run with all your heart and let my love wash over you. Keep your feet firmly planted in the ground, take root and grow there. There is so much I want to show you. Give yourself freely to me.'
We knew we were going to Grace!
The Story of # 9
The number 9 became my hockey number at Prairie Bible College as I captained the Pilots there and so everything had to happen on the nines! I started dating Sharon on July 9th '88 officially and we were married on December 9th '89.
When Sharon was pregnant in her first trimester with Addi she began bleeding to the point where she visited the hospital and was told, 'you will lose the child...better luck next time.' She called me on the phone as I was at Youth Quake in Saskatchewan and we had people praying across the country with our previous churches in Ontario and my 'spread out all over' family. She came back after the weekend and Addi was a fighter. A month of bed rest and still a beating heart and a child forming right until 9 9 99 when Addi came into the world around 2am weighing in exactly at 9lbs! She was our miracle baby and gift from God... Sharon and I were married 9 years and 9 months to the day!
Fast forward to June 9th 2010 and we have our house on the market...5 days at this point and I pray to God in the van after dropping our kids off at school, "God, you know how You have done special things for us with the number 9 and it would be really amazing if you give us an offer on our home. Well, I told Sharon and went to work and two hours later she called and told me that there was an offer on our house. So, at 11:40pm that night our house was sold....confirmation! We love you God...thank you.
A confession...Grace hasn't officially voted on me to be their lead pastor, but we just trusted God with this one and went ahead and bought a home in Guelph the next day for Sharon's 40th BDAY :)
I got the official call from Grace two days after preaching on Father's Day...I didn't have to wait to say yes!
Come to the Corn Roast this past Saturday, a great community outreach event and I am literally running in the fields of Grace! John Clark is chasing me with water and my heart is full of joy watching a church truly live it's mission to be turned inside out for the community.
Now it is Sunday and God leads me to Psalm 71:18 in my devotional journal as I prepare to share my story with our new church.
Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.
Profound? Absolutely!! Grace's strategic vision unapologetically makes their #1 focus...the next generation!
I look forward to being part of that vision. Thank you Grace for welcoming the Ninaber family in this incredible journey of faith.