Omaha churches bring light to their neighborhoods

Churches committed to growing disciples, meeting needs

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Omaha pastors Stephen Stout, Faith Bible Church, José Guerra, Iglesia Manantial de Agua Viva, Rosemberg Polania, Iglesia Agua Viva, and Jon Annin, Stony Brook Church, are committed to growing God’s kingdom. Photo by Janae Rempel Shafer

This summer, U.S. Mennonite Brethren will meet in Omaha, Nebraska, for USMB Gathering 2024. The city of more than 487,000 is home to four Mennonite Brethren churches, which will be involved in hosting the event. These congregations, while small, share a commitment to being salt and light in their neighborhoods. They also embody the church planting strategy of churches planting churches.

Faith Bible Church

The story of Mennonite Brethren churches in Omaha begins with Faith Bible Church. FBC was born from a Krimmer MB Conference mission ministry in northern Omaha in 1950. The church, originally called Fontanelle Chapel, moved to the Columbus Park neighborhood near downtown in 1968 and began meeting as Faith Bible Church.

“We (have) a specific focus of reaching the people in our urban context,” says pastor Stephen Stout, who has attended FBC for 32 years, including the past nine as pastor.

In 1985, Faith Bible planted Millard Bible Church. Five years later, FBC began a Spanish ministry, which became Iglesia Agua Viva, a daughter MB church officially established in 1994.

The congregations of Faith Bible Church and Iglesia Manantial de Agua Viva, which share a building, gathered for fellowship on New Year’s Eve, joining hands in prayer at midnight and later enjoying a meal together. Photo: Stephen Stout.

In 1996 FBC started a nonprofit, Good Neighbor Ministries, to better meet the needs of their neighborhood. This past December, FBC volunteers distributed gifts and shared the gospel with 120 neighbors.

The Faith Bible congregation of 50 hosts weekly Bible studies, a small group study and Truth Seekers, a Wednesday night children’s program that is growing. Sunday messages and small group studies focus on discipleship. The first Sunday of every month, the congregation circles chairs for a family-style morning service including discussion, reflection and a meal.

FBC’s vision statement is: “United together. Following Christ. Helping others follow Christ.”

Stout is excited about four new teams: hospitality, encouragement, service and teaching. In 2024, the congregation will emphasize prayer and mission work.

Iglesia Agua Viva

Iglesia Agua Viva is the result of FBC and Central District church planting efforts. Led by Uruguayan missionary Walter Preza, the congregation first met at Faith Bible Church and was officially established in 1994.

Today, the IAV congregation numbers 90 and counting and is comprised primarily of first-generation Latino families from Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador. The congregation also includes families from Honduras, Venezuela and Colombia.

Colombian missionary Rosemberg Polania, his wife, Diana, and their two children came to Omaha about a year ago. After serving for 20 years in Latin American and Caribbean countries, Polania and his family moved to Omaha to serve as IAV pastor following Pastor Daniel Rodriguez’s appointment as the Central District Conference minister.

The Iglesia Agua Viva commitment to reaching the less fortunate is why they partner with the local Open Door Mission shelter. Once a month, the congregation provides preaching to homeless men at the shelter. Photo: Rosemberg Polania.

The congregation is passionate about reaching the less fortunate.

“Even though we are a church made up of immigrants with low economic resources, we want to be obedient to the calling of God to be merciful with the world that surrounds us,” Polania says. “We are a family of believers with the mission of equipping each other to love Jesus and live as those sent by him to this world.”

Once a month, the congregation distributes hygiene and food items and a New Testament to homeless people. The congregation also provides preaching to homeless men at the Open Door Mission shelter. IAV assists Hispanic immigrants with finding jobs and housing and occasionally provides them with food, Bibles and a gospel message.

Polania is excited to continue motivating the congregation toward missions through evangelism and social assistance. A recent highlight, he says, is welcoming newcomers and former attenders to church as a result of local missions and collective prayer.

Future goals, Polania says, are to support national and global missionaries and begin a chaplaincy prison ministry. The congregation is also seeking funds to build a temporary shelter for vulnerable people.

Iglesia Manantial de Agua Viva

In 2010, Iglesia Agua Viva planted Iglesia Manantial de Agua Viva. Led by pastoral couple José Guerra and Yanira Lopez, Iglesia Manantial shares a building with Faith Bible Church and is comprised of members from Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Guerra has pastored the church since its beginning. The day before starting the church, Guerra and Lopez began a half-hour radio show on a local Spanish station. When the station closed, Guerra and Lopez began work on their own online radio station. In 2021, they began transmitting Radio Manantial de Dios with three live shows, which is still on air.

Guerra says the church’s biggest need is growth of membership—average attendance is 13—and the congregation is working on evangelism.

In August 2022, the congregation celebrated five students’ graduation from the Instituto Bíblico Anabautista (Anabaptist Bible Institute). Guerra and Lopez graduated from Seminario Bíblico Anabautista Hispano (Anabaptist Hispanic Biblical Seminary) in September that year.

Guerra is pursuing a graduate certificate in theological studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, a curriculum offered in partnership with Mennonite Education Agency Hispanic Ministries.

Stony Brook Church

The Stony Brook Church congregation of 75 to 105 seeks to be a worshiping, relational and missional church devoted to the next generation.

“Our mission at Stony Brook is simple and complex: ‘Make Disciples,’” says church administrator Melissa Hanna. “Everything we do begins in prayer and leads directly back to our mission.”

Stony Brook held a lake baptism in July 2023. Photo: Stony Brook Church.

Since September 2021, Jon Annin has pastored Stony Brook, which meets in the same building as Millard Bible Church, the USMB church he attended in his youth. Although Millard Bible closed in 2008, 10 years before it planted a church (Rolling Hills Church) that in turn planted Stony Brook in 2010.

Annin’s Sunday messages focus on the life of Jesus, while Growth Groups build community.

Ministries include serving foster-care families, the LIFT benevolent fund, community outreach and global missions.

Outreach events have included concerts, carnivals and movie nights. The congregation welcomed more than 1,600 people to a Trunk or Treat event and 300 to a live nativity walk despite heavy rain. People donated more than 400 pounds of canned goods to a homeless shelter and provided Christmas gifts for more than 530 foster children.

“We enjoy coming together as a community of believers and creating fun and exciting ways for our community to feel comfortable and try stepping onto the grounds of a church in their area,” Annin says.

Stony Brook is participating in the Central District mentorship program with Annin and worship director Kristin Pikop mentoring Jude Johnson-Bohn, from Strawberry Lake Mennonite Church in Ogema, Minnesota.

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