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.

What is there to do?

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By Vicki Helmling

This article first appeared in Grace English Lutheran School’s weekly newsletter. It has been reprinted with permission.

“What is there to do?”

I hear that a lot with the kiddos in my room. I’m often amazed, since they have school work to keep them busy. What they really seem to be saying is that they don’t want to do what is being required of them.

Are we this way?

How often do we say we want to help, but we want to do this on our own terms. We question those we are offering to help – are they deserving of our help. We put conditions on the help we give them.

Right now, we are seeing the need to help many people in many different places in our nation as well as around the world.

The children of Grace English School are helping others in a very basic way – they are collecting coins: pennies, nickels, and dimes during the month of September. The children don’t question if the two schools we will be helping (one in Florida and one in Texas) are deserving of our help. They haven’t asked if these schools have checked out all the possible other resources. The students just bring in their coins and know they are helping their neighbors as Christ commanded them to do in the story of the Good Samaritan.

The children of Grace are thrilled to be able to bring in their coins. So far, they have brought in $99.80 to help the hurricane victims in Florida and Texas.

The children understand Christ’s words from Matthew 25:35-40. They understand they don’t need to know the people in need; they understand they don’t need to know the needs of the people; they understand; they know there are people in need and they are willing to help – willing to help out of the love they have for their LORD and Savior.

Can and will we do the same?

Vicki Helmling is the school administrator at Grace English Lutheran School in Chicago, IL.  Do you have a ministry experience you would like to share? If so, you, too, could be a guest blogger for the English District. For consideration, please send an email to Lynne Cobb, Communications Coordinator for the English District LCMS, at lcobb@englishdistrict.org.

“Who is my “Nextdoor” neighbor?”

“And who is my neighbor?”

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By Tom Kuwazaki, Morning Star Lutheran Church, Lakeside, CA

In Luke 10:25, a lawyer started asking Jesus questions and in Luke 10:29, to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus then starts to share with the lawyer the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In Luke 10:36-37, Jesus shares, 36““Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.””

Today many people live in fear and we are given a solution for that in 1 John 4:18 – “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…”  By loving our neighbors as Christ Jesus has loved us, we are instruments of His Love.

There are many ways of building relationships with our neighbors to help them experience Christ’s love and one of those ways that has been helpful to us at Morning Star Lutheran Church in Lakeside, CA is the use of a smartphone app call “Nextdoor.”  So far, we have been able to help a family that had financial needs, give resources that helped a person with his job, and just meet up with others for a cup of coffee. In essence, we have been given a great opportunity to show “mercy/grace” to a neighborhood that has not known the love of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

The following is an excerpt from Nextdoor.com about the service their app provides. I would like to encourage you to consider using this app as another way of reaching out to a lost people.

Nextdoor is the private social network for you, your neighbors and your community. It’s the easiest way for you and your neighbors to talk online and make all of your lives better in the real world. And it’s free.

Thousands of neighborhoods are already using Nextdoor to build happier, safer places to call home.

People are using Nextdoor to:

  • Quickly get the word out about a break-in
  • Organize a Neighborhood Watch Group
  • Track down a trustworthy babysitter
  • Find out who does the best paint job in town
  • Ask for help keeping an eye out for a lost dog
  • Find a new home for an outgrown bike
  • Finally call that nice man down the street by his first name

Nextdoor’s mission is to provide a trusted platform where neighbors work together to build stronger, safer, happier communities, all over the world.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for helping us to fulfill the Great Commission that you have given us to reach out to those who know not the greatness of your Love and Mercy!

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.