For immigrants, currency is relationships

Forming connections is goal of two new programs

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Worship at Naioth Renewal Center, located in Columbus, Ohio, and led by Pastor Samwel Kadegembe, is energetic. Naioth is one of the Congolese congregations in the Eastern District Conference. Photo: Don Morris

Emmanuel Musinga holds multiple jobs to support his family of seven and his ministry as senior pastor of Grace Tabernacle Ministries (GTM), a Congolese USMB church in Indianapolis.

In addition to working in home care, Musinga drives for Uber and DoorDash and drives truck.

“I use my own money to do all the ministry work,” Musinga says. “If I take any payment, my church will not have any money in the account. My goal is to make sure my church is thriving.

Musinga’s congregation of 200, comprised primarily of refugees from Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, rents a worship space from another church but cannot access the building during the week.

“The ministry is growing,” Musinga says. “Maybe one day we will have a building. Any dollar (that) comes to my ministry, we save (to) maybe one day put a down payment for the church. We’ve been here 10 years. We have never even made (enough) money to buy a building.”

Musinga, and Congolese churches like GTM, could benefit from two programs developed by USMB’s Congolese Task Force, including Meet Me in Kansas City, which offers ways for churches to partner financially and relationally with Congolese pastors at USMB Gathering 2022; and the new CORD program, which will provide longer-term financial assistance and relationships.

Meet Me in Kansas City

Ten Congolese churches have joined USMB across the Eastern, Central and Southern districts. Rick Eshbaugh, chair of the Congolese Task Force, says a primary need is relationships.

“(For) the Congolese, and probably with immigrants in general, the currency is relationships,” Eshbaugh says. “They desperately need that connecting person to the culture that they can trust and ask questions.”

A sub-committee of the National Strategy Team, the Task Force includes Eshbaugh, Doug Hiebert, Terry Hunt, Don Morris, Henri Ngolo, Garry Prieb and Claude Tambatamba.

Many immigrants come to the U.S. from villages and refugee camps, and adapting to life in the U.S. can be challenging. Musinga helps immigrants by serving as a translator, interpreting in immigration court, teaching people to drive, assisting with legal paperwork and job applications and teaching about building credit and saving for retirement.

“A lot of American pastors tell me, ‘The work you are doing, it is very hard; you can quit,’” Musinga says. “If I follow my mind, I should (have) quit 10 years ago, but my heart doesn’t allow me to quit.”

The Task Force recognized an opportunity for relationship at USMB Gathering in Kansas City in July. The goal is for the 10 Congolese pastors to connect with at least one pastor who will stay for the Congolese gathering on Saturday, encourage and pray for them  and form a lasting sister church relationship.

“Meet Me in Kansas City is really a next step so they can connect church to church, build relationships, find mentors and then continue to grow,” Ngolo says. “They are bivocational pastors, so they have to learn with American pastors how to grow a church, how to sustain it, so that way we can build solid Mennonite Brethren churches in the community of the future.”

The cost for Congolese pastors will be prohibitive for some churches. Most will attend Friday and stay through Saturday’s Congolese gathering, incurring hotel costs of $120 per night and meals totaling $80 per person.

Those interested in connecting or financing Meet Me in Kansas City may visit www.usmb.org/operation-meet-me-in-kc to learn more or to donate. Donations designated to Operation KC may also be sent to Donna Sullivan at USMB Churches, P.O. Box 20200, Wichita, KS 67208.

CORD program

For relationships formed as a result of Meet Me in Kansas City, and others seeking involvement, the CORD program offers a longer-term opportunity for relationship and financial partnership.

“Fifty-six percent of the immigrants are identifying as Christians, so they are our brothers and sisters,” Eshbaugh says. “What is our responsibility as Christians? What are we supposed to do for our brothers and sisters who are in need?”

When the Congolese Task Force met in Cincinnati in 2019, it garnered input from Congolese leaders to determine needs of immigrant congregations including biblical training, a stable place of worship, pastoral development and connection. CORD will provide three Congolese churches with $55,500 over a three-year span to help meet these needs, funded primarily by congregations and individual partners.

“We would want individuals to be donating and churches picking them up like they would a missionary,” Eshbaugh says. “That’s not to say that the districts won’t get involved.”

Lawum Kayamba pastors the 400-member Disciples International Christian Church in Portland, Maine. Kayamba’s congregation has been asked to leave the Salvation Army church building in which they have been meeting.

“They were receiving a pretty fair deal,” Eshbaugh says. “Now they don’t have a place… and it’s going to cost more. Most of our churches have been bounced at least once or twice.”

To address needs like Kayamba’s, CORD will provide $12,000 per year for rent to secure a stable meeting place.

CORD will also provide $500 per year toward biblical training and educational resources through The Urban Ministry Institute (TUMI) and the Evangel School of Urban Church Planting. District Ministers will receive training as mentors, and MB Foundation will provide financial training.

CORD will also provide a $6,000 per year stipend, which the congregation will be asked to match, to allow lead pastors to hold one primary job with benefits and devote more time to training and congregational development. Pastors will be assigned a coach.

CORD will connect churches to other congregations, who can help immigrants navigate paperwork and share resources, ideas and equipment.

To qualify for CORD, a church must have joined a USMB district and credentialed its pastor.

CORD will launch at USMB Gathering.

“I hope that within our MB family of churches, some will prayerfully consider adopting a Congolese MB church to help walk alongside them for the next five to 10 years,” says EDC minister and task force member Terry Hunt. “I know this will help these churches become more self-sustainable and reach their God-given potential sooner rather than later.”

A mutual friendship

While CORD will help meet physical and financial needs, the hope is for a mutual exchange of friendship, support and ideas.

“We don’t want the relationship to be based just on supplying their need,” Eshbaugh says. “They have a lot to offer us as well.”

Immigrant churches tend to display emotions in exuberant worship and a reliance on the Holy Spirit, Eshbaugh says. Immigrants also bring connections to their home countries, creating opportunities for increased global awareness. Musinga has 10 church plants in Uganda and Kenya. Eshbaugh says the Task Force is exploring ways, possibly through Multiply, for others to provide resources for churches like these.

“The world really is a big place, and God’s doing a lot of things, not just here,” Eshbaugh says. “It makes you hungry to see God working in our churches the way he works in their churches.”

For Musinga, God’s grace is sufficient even when life gets hard.

“I am who I am because of Jesus,” Musinga says. “Through his word, I have faith and hope, and now I pursue serving God and to encourage other people. God has sent me to preach his gospel and to serve other people, not to complain.”—Janae Rempel

Ten Congolese congregations are part of the U.S. Conference of MB Churches

  • Christ Salvation Church, Kansas City, Mo., Pastor Muhizi Serukiza, SDC
  • Christian Center the Hand of God, Hamilton, Ohio, Pastor Hermann Mputu, EDC
  • Disciples International Christian Church, Portland, Maine, Pastor Lawum Kayamba, EDC
  • Grace Tabernacle Ministries, Indianapolis, Indiana, Pastor Emmanuel Musinga, CDC
  • His Grace Christian Life Church International, Nashville, Tennessee, Pastor Alex Mutabazi, EDC
  • Holy Jerusalem Pentecost Church, Coralville, Iowa, Pastor Moise Byizigiro, CDC
  • Restoration Church of Christ, Cincinnati, Ohio, Pastor Jules Mukaba, EDC
  • Royal Family International Church, Fairfield, Ohio, Nico Kinwa Mandanda, EDC
  • Naioth Revival Center, Columbus, Ohio, Pastor Samwel Kadegema, EDC
  • New Jerusalem Temple,Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Pastor Claude Tambatamba, CDC

 

 

Janae Rempel
Janae Rempel is the Christian Leader associate editor. She joined the CL staff in September 2017 with six years of experience as a professional journalist. Rempel is an award-winning journalist, having received three 2016 Kansas Press Association Awards of Excellence. Rempel graduated from Tabor College in 2010 with a bachelor of arts in Communications/Journalism and Biblical/Religious Studies. She attends Hillsboro MB Church.

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