African worshippers find home in Grand Rapids

All ages lead in worship when the family of God gathers as Restoration Community Church. RCC is one of three African United Methodist congregations in Michigan; the others are in Lansing and Detroit. ~ photo courtesy Dean Prentiss
All ages lead in worship when the family of God gathers as Restoration Community Church. RCC is one of three African United Methodist congregations in Michigan; the others are in Lansing and Detroit. ~ photo courtesy Dean Prentiss
Untitled Document

If you are around Wesley Park United Methodist Church in Grand Rapids on a Sunday, you might hear the spontaneous shout of “Karibuni!” which means “Welcome” in Swahili. It is the shared word of greeting between the traditional members of Wesley Park UMC and the African worshipers at Restoration Community Church. It reflects the warm relationship which has developed between the two congregations as they share their life together.

The Revs Dean Prentiss (left) and Banza Mukalay lead worship at Wesley Park UMC. An English-speaking service on Sunday morning; a Swahili-speaking service Sunday afternoon. ~ Photo courtesy Dean Prentiss 
The Revs Dean Prentiss (left) and Banza Mukalay lead worship at Wesley Park UMC. An English-speaking service on Sunday morning; a Swahili-speaking service Sunday afternoon.~ Photo courtesy Dean Prentiss.

Wesley Park United Methodist Church is a part of the Michigan Annual Conference.

Restoration Community is the work of Pastor Banza Mukalay, a refugee from Congo. Born into a United Methodist family in Congo, he was forced to flee his homeland and spent 15 years in a refugee camp in Tanzania before he and his family were able to come to Grand Rapids. In 2009, while still in the refugee camp in Tanzania, he was ordained as a United Methodist pastor. They were finally granted permission to immigrate to the USA in 2012.

Very soon, he and his family, along with several other Congolese families, came to worship at South Wyoming United Methodist Church, and the pastor, Rev. Marcia Elders, said, “…our lives were changed. Many of our friends had gone on mission trips to other parts of the world, but for my spouse David and me, the world came to us. It didn’t take long to discover that Banza was an ordained United Methodist pastor.  Then I knew God was doing a new thing!” 

Within a year, about 150 Africans were worshiping in Swahili each week. When South Wyoming Church became a campus of Cornerstone, they continued to worship there until renovations on the building led them to move to Wesley Park UMC and Restoration Community was formed. Pastor Banza says, “It feels like home to us. We are happy to be at Wesley Park.”

On Sundays, the Wesley Park congregation worships in the morning. The Restoration congregation gathers at 1:00pm with worship lasting until about 3:00pm, then fellowship until 6:00pm. They meet for prayer on Saturdays from 10:00am until 3:00pm.

The congregation is predominately Congolese, but it also includes persons from Burundi, Uganda, and Rwanda. The common thread is the Swahili language and the shared African identity. 

Restoration is not only interested in what they can do in Grand Rapids. They have already raised funds and sent mission teams back to Africa to minister to refugees among the 70,000 persons in camps in Tanzania.

A woman offers a heart-felt prayer during worship at Restoration Community Church, an African congregation hosted by Wesley Park UMC in Wyoming, MI. ~ photo courtesy Dean Prentiss 
A woman offers a heart-felt prayer during worship at Restoration Community Church, an African congregation hosted by Wesley Park UMC in Wyoming, MI. ~ photo courtesy Dean Prentiss.

Restoration Community is one of three new ministries reaching out to African immigrants in Michigan. French United Methodist Church, launched in January at Embury UMC in Birmingham, is seeking to minister to immigrants from the French-speaking countries of Africa such as Ivory Coast as (Cort d’Ivoire), where there is an active United Methodist Church. Conference Staff person Dirk Elliott reported, “We had the official launch for French UMC on January 26, and Embury Church was filled.” 

Under the leadership of the Revs Rob Cook and Eric Mulanda, Mt. Hope UMC in Lansing has welcomed immigrants to the point that one-third of the worshiping congregation is African. They have a Swahili choir and an expanding ministry to new arrivals in the community.

Across the state of Michigan, the United Methodist Church is saying, “Karibuni! Welcome to the African immigrants coming to our state.  “Karibuni, in the name of Jesus Christ!”

excerpt from a story by Jack Harnish, Michigan Conference Communications

This story represents how United Methodist local churches through their Annual Conferences are living as Vital Congregations. A vital congregation is the body of Christ making and engaging disciples for the transformation of the world. Vital congregations are shaped by and witnessed through four focus areas: calling and shaping principled Christian leaders; creating and sustaining new places for new people; ministries with poor people and communities; and abundant health for all.