Spokane church plant reaches out to immigrants

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Christmas celebration part of larger dream to serve immigrants in Spokane

By Myra Holmes

Disciples Church (DC), Spokane, Wash., invited about 40 immigrants to a Christmas celebration, held Dec. 25. The celebration was one part of a larger dream for this USMB church plant to reach out to the many immigrants in their community.

DC is a partnership of USMB, Pacific District Conference and Pilgrim Slavic Baptist Church, a USMB Slavic congregation in Spokane. Most of those who attend this English-language church plant are immigrants themselves—Slavic as well as others—so they have common ground with those new to the United States.

“Because we are immigrants,” says Pastor Aleks Borisov, “we think we have a way to approach them, and they will accept a message from us.”

The celebration was planned for Christmas Day and targeted those for whom this was the first Christmas in America, because that day is often lonely for newcomers who are unfamiliar with the culture. Borisov says that DC hoped that by providing a welcoming experience, the church could create a positive first impression. “They will remember it for their entire life,” he says.

While the church dreamed of inviting all local 2013 immigrants to their celebration, they learned that an estimated 500 people immigrated to Spokane in 2013—a big number for this congregation of about 25 to host. So the church asked their local office of immigration for names of about 25 to 30 who might be interested in attending a Christian Christmas celebration. About 40 people responded and attended—12 families—all from Middle-Eastern background.

Guests were greeted by a live nativity and choir of “angel” carolers, both provided by Pilgrim Church. Inside, the celebration included a program with a Bible story in English with translation, illustrated by flannel graph, and special music.

Guests were given balloons, gift baskets for adults and inexpensive toys for children—“to make it a party,” Borisov says. Volunteers from Pilgrim dressed as a camel and wise men presented the gifts; Borisov says that part of the story particularly connected with their Middle-Eastern guests. The gifts were donated by local businesses and churches.

Borisov says the congregation was concerned about how to communicate clearly to the mostly Arabic-speaking guests. But just days before the event, they were introduced to an Arabic Christian who was delighted to help translate and to present the gospel in Arabic.

“He helped us a lot,” Borisov says.

The atmosphere for the event was “very open,” Borisov says. Children were allowed to roam, and parents were able to relax and enjoy the day. It was noisy, Borisov admits, but “it was a good noise.”

A Christmas meal followed the celebration, with food prepared by the women from DC. Borisov says their guests seemed to enjoy the food, and some even volunteered to help cook for a future event.

And there will be future events, Borisov says. DC plans to follow up by inviting their Christmas guests to other gatherings—perhaps one asking them to wear traditional dress in order to open conversations about their culture.

In addition, DC plans to offer a “language fellowship” for immigrants—a chance to learn and practice English skills. Borisov says they will use the Gospel of John as a text for learning, since only 600 vocabulary words are needed to understand that book. He says DC has a solid group of volunteers, but they are still forming the plan.

One specific need is a person or couple trained in English as a Second Language to help establish this ministry.

Next Christmas, DC hopes to invite all 2014 immigrants to a celebration, even if there are 500. That’s a bold dream for a small congregation, so they already are calling for help from other local churches and businesses.

“We already have a good response,” Borisov says. He invites the larger USMB family to support this dream through prayer and donations as well. “Pray for us,” he says.

He invites prayer not only for these specific ministries but also for growth in general. “God keeps sending us people we can serve,” Borisov says, “but we are also praying for committed Christians to help us serve.”

PHOTOS: Provided by Disciples Church

1. Organizers of Disciples Church's Christmas Day celebration created a "party" atmosphere for their guests.

2. The story of Christ's birth was told using flannel graph.

3. Guests were greeted by a live nativity scene and carolers provided by Pilgrim Church, the mother congregation of Disciples Church.

4. The children receive gifts from a Disciples Church member dressed as a wiseman.

5. Gifts for the party were provided by area businesses.

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