Small home Bible study now a 200-member congregation
From a report by Seifu Ibssa
Ethiopian Christian Fellowship, a USMB congregation of 200 in Sacramento, Calif., celebrated its new worship facility and campus with a dedication service March 31. For 30 years the congregation has emphasized nurturing personal relationships with God and worshiping him. They have also emphasized reaching their immigrant and English-language neighbours.
“I truly believe we’re given this church building for a purpose,” says Seifu Ibssa, chair of elders for this USMB congregation. “That purpose is not only to gather for Sunday worship, but also to reach out to those who are hurting, to reach out to those with spiritual and physical needs, to reach out to those who are without Christ in our immigrant and English-speaking communities here in Sacramento and beyond and to spread the good news of Jesus Christ here in the United States and beyond.”
The story of this congregation goes back several decades. In the early 1980s, many Christians were persecuted in Ethiopia by the then-communist military regime. Many were imprisoned and even killed. Church buildings and worship supplies were confiscated and used by the communists to spread Marxist and Leninist ideology. But the church continued to worship underground in homes and in small groups to avoid suspicion and the threat of persecution and imprisonment. Others fled the country in search of freedom of religion—some to the United States.
“Wherever we settled, whether in large cities or small towns, the first thing we did was to continue that intimate relationship with the God we knew and worshiped in Ethiopia,” says Ibssa. “We met in small groups and conducted group Bible studies, which then grew to a bigger church.”
Following this trend, a group of Ethiopian Christians in Sacramento, consisting of not more than 10, formed a small Bible study group in their homes around 1982. The group eventually grew and decided to meet formally on Saturday evenings in the facility of a local church, Capital Christian Church.
In 1994, the church leaders started looking for a better place of worship and found a bigger and better church facility at Fremont Presbyterian Church. The congregation continued to grow, though at a slower pace.
During the latter years of the 1990s, church leaders incorporated the church to gain official recognition by the State of California and the federal government bodies. The church received recognition under the name of Ethiopian Christian Fellowship in Sacramento. Following an affiliation with USMB, the church purchased a building and relocated to 7201 Florin Road, Sacramento, in September 2002 without a pastor.
Eventually, the church hired Tamirat Haile Weshebo as full-time pastor, but the legal process to bring him from Ethiopia seemed impossible.
“After several years of genuine prayers, God intervened in his own way in bringing Pastor Tamirat and his family from Ethiopia, and the church was, once again, joyful about this miracle,” says Ibssa.
The church installed Tamirat as pastor in May 2004, following USMB ordination.
The seed that God planted in 1982 with fewer than 10 believers began to produce tangible results. “Many souls were saved and continue to be saved and baptized,” says Ibssa. Within a few years after the arrival of their new pastor, the church ran out of seats and parking spaces.
In response to this growth, the church focused on reaching out to young adults and for a short time employed Roberto Parks to lead this effort. The church also called and installed Abbayneh Yohannes as an associate pastor in January 2011, followed by a youth minister, Nebiye Kelile, in January 2012.
The growth meant that Ethiopian Christian Fellowship outgrew the building fairly quickly, reaching an average attendance of 200. March 31 they dedicated their new facility, a campus with 12 buildings, a 300-seat sanctuary, plentiful offices and teaching rooms, plus seven acres of land for a playground, parking and recreation.
Representatives from MB Foundation, the Pacific District Conference and other Ethiopian congregations were on hand for the dedication. The Saturday celebration continued Sunday with worship, sharing and food.
“The church is not an institution organized by the will of man, but by its head, Jesus Christ, who gave his life for the church. Ethiopian Christian Fellowship in Sacramento is no exception,” says Seifu Ibssa, chair of elders for this USMB congregation. “Our foundation is the Living Rock, Jesus Christ himself.”