Meet our Missions – Bethany Liberian Mission

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This month in our “Meet our Missions” series, we are highlighting Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church, a mission congregation of the English District of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.

By Rev. Fred Gerlach, Pastor, Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church

In 2001, Bethany Lutheran Church became a home congregation to Liberians who were displaced by the Liberian Civil war. This brutal conflict not only crippled this nation-child of American democracy, but divided families by driving people from their homes and their communities into refugee camps located outside of Liberia. Bethany was an active partner with Lutheran Immigrant Services in helping these immigrants relocate and settle in the Trenton, New Jersey area. Bethany continues to actively serve this community and other socially-challenged members of our community. Our primary objective is to educate Liberian immigrants and others to be Confessional Lutheran in understanding of scripture and worship.

Catechizing adults and children from this community has challenges in that American English does not always equate to Liberian English. On Sunday morning, we teach very deliberately to assure that we are properly communicating the Gospel. This year, we have supplied Lutheran Worship hymnals to all of the families of the congregation. Using the Lutheran Worship Hymnals teaches our Liberian families not only the faith, but it is also a reading tool. This produces several benefits:

  1. It teaches the faith and how Lutherans worship.
  2. It helps them understand the Bible.
  3. It teaches and improves their reading skills.
  4. It gives them a guide on how to pray.
  5. It teaches the hymns.

Bethany addresses many issues in our community and not just for the Liberian community. While we are a part of the city of Trenton, though we are not in the heart of the city, we have people from local group homes and the homeless who regularly visit our congregation. We serve these individuals through food, meals, transportation to church and other needs. Many of our Liberians live in the city, which like many urban centers, needs to manage crime, gangs, drug abuse and economic issues. Our grant aids this mission and congregation providing human care such as food, medicine and counseling. Many of our immigrants are the working poor because they lack education and training required for higher paying jobs. Often, we assist families with paying for rent, utilities, medical bills and other basic needs. Last summer, a Liberian woman and mother of three children needed an extensive surgery that required her to miss six weeks of work. Her disability insurance could not support the family, so Bethany helped her with mortgage payment assistance and transportation to therapy.

An important part of our mission is the support of our children. The children need assistance in a number of areas, such as tutoring, school supplies and being in a safe environment to play and socialize. In August of 2016, we supplied 61 children with backpacks and school supplies. We had two elementary school teachers give advice to parents (mostly single mothers) on how to help children with homework and how to communicate with the child’s teacher. We have a book and breakfast program each quarter for about 25 children, where they come to have something light to eat and they get to choose a book to take home and read. Each child is encouraged to write a story to bring home and read to their parents and family.  Many of the kids would love more activities, but we are limited with our volunteers.

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Every year we help 8-10 Liberian families with meals for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Also, on a weekly basis, we help Liberians, the homeless and shut-ins with bread, pastries and various household items. We also sponsor health events where nurses from the local hospitals come and take blood pressure and blood tests to check for diabetes. This year we held a mammogram check for the community. The event was sponsored by Princeton Hospital and we offered rides so people could participate.

There are many social events we engage in to reach out to the community, including the Ewing Drug and Alcohol Alliance, Woman’s Place (shelter for abused women), and Trenton Rescue Center. Our congregation is a caring and Christ-centered church. Our treasure is the people we serve, and our partners in the English District and our sister congregations of this district share in the work of this mission to ensure our ability to serve this community. Without the support of these partners, we would not be able to serve the community to such an extensive way.

If you have a mission or ministry story you’d like to share, please submit for consideration via email to Lynne at lcobb@englishdistrict.org.

A Golden Opportunity

If we pay close attention and listen, we may find a golden opportunity to share our faith. Today’s post is another great example of the importance of Campus Ministry.

 

October Slippery Rock

By August R. Mennell

If we pay close attention and listen, we may find a golden opportunity to share our faith. Today’s post is another great example of the importance of Campus Ministry.

This summer presented a golden opportunity for campus ministry at All Saints Lutheran Church and Student Center. Three international students: Wendy and Paula (not their real names), who are Muslims, and Jane, an Orthodox Christian, were on Slippery Rock University’s (SRU) campus a week before most of the students had arrived. Because these students were not yet taking classes they had little to do. They were eager to talk and to visit places in the area. They were glad to share just about everything, including their religious beliefs. The Lord had given campus ministry a golden opportunity.

In today’s politically-correct world, many secular people and some Christians believe that although sharing friendship is fine, they believe it is an imposition to bring up, even just to mention, religious beliefs. In short, personal religious beliefs must never be brought up in public. Campus ministry, however, believes that sharing the Christian faith is not an imposition, but is a God-given opportunity.

Wendy is a practicing Muslim. She came to All Saints because an Ethiopian student had told her that All Saints would help her. She was lonely and missed her family in Pakistan. She had no way to get around town. She needed transportation to buy an international telephone card so she could call her parents.

Wendy was easy to talk with. She described how excited she is to be studying in Slippery Rock; how she wants to travel to New York and California before her exchange program ends in December; and how she has signed up for the most challenging classes she can enroll in at SRU. She explained that she has chosen to wear a head covering, to pray five times a day, and to observe Muslim religious festivals because she is serious about her faith.

In the days that followed she came in regularly when she realized that we were kind and would help her. As we talked during the days before classes began, we became friends and we made time to visit a quilt shop in an Amish community near Volant; got the phone card in Butler; and ate ice cream cones at several shops in the area. A special day arrived when Wendy came to Sunday worship and we sat together. We helped her understand the service. She felt very welcome at All Saints and says she will try to come again as her studies permit.

Wendy did not stop coming in to visit when classes began. She feels so appreciative for the kindness shown to her that she rushed back from a trip to Chicago just to be here on time for All Saints’ Labor Day student meal. Wendy is a warm, friendly student who smiles a lot. She is interested in everything including talking about her faith and listens to what Christians believe. The sharing of faith is an awesome opportunity.

Jane, an Orthodox Christian from Ethiopia, enjoys the friendship that she got when she came to All Saints before classes began. She showed her appreciation by preparing a delicious, very spicy dish to share. She came several times to converse. She said she is an Orthodox Christian; that she would come to our Lutheran worship service, which she did. She enjoyed the worship which she said is not so different than her own.

Jane told us about her religious beliefs. She said she does sometimes fast, but she added that she does not really understand the Lord’s Supper. We invited her to come in so we could share more about the Bible and faith issues. Her first reaction was to decline the offer for a Bible study. She said no to the invitation, commenting that Christianity does not seem to be part of the real world. The real world, she believes, is so filled with corruption that faith does not seem to make a difference. Jane added one more comment regarding our invitation to study the Bible. She said she believes she needs to “feel” like doing this before she would do so. She implied that until she is “good enough” and has right feelings she should not come to worship or Bible study. I asked if she always “felt” like going to classes. She said no. And then she amazed me. Almost out of the blue she asked if we could meet on Saturday or Sunday to talk about faith. Wow! We will find a way! What an opportunity, one too good to pass up.

Paula from the Middle East also came in to ask for help learning to drive. She had attended a Christian high school but did not learn who Jesus really is. She still finds more comfort in the Koran than in the Bible. Even so, she is quite comfortable at All Saints. She talked about her research, her attempts to deal with the stress of studies, and her joy in learning to drive. She has let us know she is willing to describe her faith and to listen to who Jesus is according to the Bible. We could not ask for a better opportunity. It is golden.

This semester is bright with the chance to share the Gospel with international and American students at Slippery Rock University. We would appreciate your prayers for what we are doing.

Augusta R. Mennell is the Campus Ministry Director at All Saints Lutheran Church and Student Center in Slippery Rock, PA. If you have a mission or ministry story you’d like to share, please submit for consideration via email to Lynne at lcobb@englishdistrict.org.