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:
- It teaches the faith and how Lutherans worship.
- It helps them understand the Bible.
- It teaches and improves their reading skills.
- It gives them a guide on how to pray.
- 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.