Embracing Diversity to Reach New People for Christ

By Rick Wolcott*

Jai mashi is a Nepali phrase that means “victory in Christ.

On Sunday, February 4, the Nepali-speaking Bhutanese Christian congregation of Refugee International Fellowship and the congregation of Grandview United Methodist Church (Canal District) celebrated their victory in Christ together during a joint worship service.

Worshippers in the Sanctuary

Pastor Santa Gajmere and the Refugee International Fellowship congregation began worshipping in the Grandview UMC sanctuary in 2016 thanks to the connection of The United Methodist Church.

“We used to worship at Grace United Methodist Church in Newport News, Virginia but it was expensive living there.  When we were looking to move, Pastor Hank (Teague) sent a letter to the United Methodist churches in Akron and Pastor Paula (Koch) was the first to answer,” he said.

“When I received the email, it was at a time when the congregation was looking for a way to reach our community.  I realized this was a way to be present for others,” Koch said from her current church, Millersburg UMC, where she was appointed in 2017.

“One of my favorite memories was the first World Wide Communion Sunday after the ministry began using Grandview’s facility. I preached and Pastor Santa translated my message. It was a great opportunity to share the Sacrament together and worship together. It truly brought home to us that we are the Body of Christ no matter what language we speak or what country we call home.

Canal District Superintendent the Rev. Ed Petersen says that North Akron is quickly becoming a large international community.

“Akron North High School reports 26 distinct cultures and 13 languages represented in the school, and Akron now has the largest population of Bhutanese/Nepali people outside of Nepal.”

“Surveys show us that there are 18,000 Nepali-speaking Bhutanese in Akron and the surrounding communities, but less than 1,000 of them are in Christ,” said Gajmere.  “So we are continuously praying for the other more than 17,000 and we need the help of the churches in the area to reach out and introduce them to Christ.”

He explained that the large Bhutanese population, coupled with better employment opportunities and a lower cost of living were reasons the 12 families of the Refugee International Fellowship moved from Virginia to Akron two years ago.  Since arriving in its new home, the congregation has grown to 100 worshippers, comprised of 19 families.

Roseann Andrus, a member of Grandview UMC, says, “I’m really excited to have Pastor Santa and his congregation here.  I really am.  They are trying so hard to assimilate and the more we can help them the better off everybody is.”

“I have found the people here to be very friendly and they all have a heart to help,” Gajmere said.  “There are so many seen, and unseen, people in this church who are helping us, and making us feel at home here.”

When the Rev. David Hull-Frye was appointed to Grandview UMC in July 2017, succeeding Koch, he was glad to learn that his new congregation had welcomed their Bhutanese brothers and sisters in Christ.

“In 2001, I worked with a refugee population from Sudan, with the Lost Boys, so I had experience with that, and I’ve always enjoyed working with different cultures.  It was exciting to come here and be part of this,” he said.

“Here in this community we don’t expect it to be racially diverse, but it is.  That’s the dynamic of who we are now.  So for this congregation to embrace that is encouraging to me and I think it’s living out our Gospel message.”

The two pastors meet once a month to brainstorm ideas to bring the congregations together, since Grandview UMC worships in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings and Refugee International Fellowship worships there in the afternoon.

“We decided that once a quarter we are going to come together in worship, share our cultures and emphasize the similarities in our faith.  We’re all worshipping the same God, though it might be in different languages,” Hull-Frye said.

Voices of both languages sang together as one during the February 4 service.  The Refugee International Fellowship choir led the singing of Mahan Iswor Bicharchhu Kaam Tapaiko in Nepali, while the Grandview UMC choir led the singing of How Great Thou Art in English.

Other ideas borne from the pastors’ brainstorming sessions will come to fruition this spring.  A new church pictorial directory will be published that features photos of both congregations in the same book; and Gajmere will begin writing a section of the Grandview UMC Sunday bulletin in which he will offer Nepali words and phrases, along with their English translations, to facilitate breaking down the language barrier between the two congregations.

“Grandview’s commitment to build a relationship with ALL people in their community has led to this amazing partnership between worshipping communities.  Rev Hull-Frye’s leadership is moving towards East Ohio’s vision in reaching new people,” said Will Jones, the East Ohio Conference director of Multicultural Vitality.He, Hull-Frye, Peterson, and EOC Director of Congregational Vitality the Rev. Kelly Brown continue to be in conversation with Gajmere to discern ways to join in ministry with the Bhutanese Christian community, and also be in ministry to them and the larger Bhutanese refugee community.

“We equate it to a new marriage, where you have to take time to get to know each other, and understand each other’s needs.  We each have a culture we have to learn, and all sides bring something to this,” Hull-Frye said.  “It’s a joy to work with both congregations and see the dynamic of how that comes together.  Its not always easy to welcome those that we perceive to be different, but deep down we’re all the same and we all want to experience God’s love.”

*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Heart 4 The City Designated as a Mission Church

By Rick Wolcott*

Welcome to Heart 4 The City sign

“This church means a lot to the community because a lot of people need help.  It’s a blessing to have the church here,” said Geraldine Williams about Heart 4 The City United Methodist Mission Church (Canal District).

What began on February 22, 2010 as an outreach center for the Goodyear Heights community, sprouted from Northampton United Methodist Church (Canal District), is now a stand-alone congregation of the East Ohio Conference.

“Heart for The City has been designated as a mission church,” said Bishop Tracy S. Malone.  “It is an intentionally diverse and multi-generational faith community that is reaching a mission field that is underserved and has limited resources. This community ministry is extending the love and invitation of Christ through its worship and strategic offering of programs and services that are meeting tangible needs.”

Heart 4 The City Consecration Service
Heart 4 The City Consecration Service

Williams was one of 109 people who attended the consecration service for the church on Sunday, July 16.  So was Kenneth Hayes.

“We’ve been coming to the pantry but this is the first time our family has come here for a service.  We have six little kids and we came because the people are good-hearted people, Christian people,” he said.

Pastor Brett Bartel Preaching
Pastor Brett Bartel Preaching

“For us to be recognized and affirmed as a United Methodist Church with a set pastor means the world,” said Pastor Brett Bartels, who has been appointed to the church.  “It means we now are accountable for our influence and our impact in this community around us.

Pastor Brett Bartel's Children's Message
Pastor Brett Bartel’s Children’s Message

“We’re called to this community and we have to plan accordingly so that we can be united with this community in mission and in ministry so that we might share God’s love and invite people to know Jesus personally,” he continued.  “There is no greater joy in this world than being part of what God is wanting to do here and now.”

Bill Ellis said the church is a special place to many.  “When you come through the doors of this church, you feel different.  I know I feel closer to God when I am here,” the church’s head usher said.

One of many ministries of Heart 4 The City is Community Day, held the third Saturday of every month.  On that day, residents can get a free lunch, buy household items and clothing for a minimal charge at the community store, visit the food pantry, and get a haircut.

Heart 4 The City Prayer Wall
Heart 4 The City Prayer Wall

“What excites me about this church is that you interact with the community,” said Dan Kearns.  “This is not about white middle class coming together.  This is about people of all different cultures and races coming together with needs, not just physical, but for God.”

Everyone at the church knows Kearns as the man who makes the popcorn.  Some grab a small bowl of the tasty kernels on their way into the sanctuary so they can munch on them during the service.  Others wait to enjoy their treat until the time of fellowship right before the sermon.  Bartels instructs parishioners to use those five to seven minutes to introduce themselves to, and visit with, others – all while enjoying popcorn, donuts, coffee or tea.

“One of the things that tugs at my heart about this church is that in a small group of people you have this eclectic group of folks.  Some are homeless and some are corporate lawyers, yet in that small mix of folks people know each other by name, they care about each other, they ask about each other, they’re willing to do for one another.  It’s a beautiful picture, a small picture of heaven,” Bartels said.

Kileigh Su Leads Worship at Heart 4 The City
Kileigh Su Leads Worship at Heart 4 The City

“This church is super authentic.  We don’t have a matched set of what we do every Sunday, we just go with the flow,” said Worship Leader Kileigh Su.  “We are here to meet people’s needs. It’s awesome!  As a family we love it.”

Community Day is just one way that the church touches the lives of the community.  It also hosts archery, biking and fishing clubs in the summer, as well as Wednesday Club that provides Bible study, gardening, crafts, games and field trips for older elementary-age children.

Heart 4 The city Good Soil Garden
Heart 4 The city Good Soil Garden

The church and community also work together in the Good Soil Garden, which last year had 40 crops that produced 2,100 pounds of vegetables.  Some were distributed through Heart 4 The City and the rest were donated to a neighboring community program.

“My conviction is that every church ought to be like this.  Every church ought to look like it’s neighborhood, and reflect what’s going on in its neighborhood, otherwise we’re the church on the hill that’s irrelevant that no one knows about, that’s too inward-focused,” Bartels said.

“So we try to be tied to the community, whatever that looks like, whatever that sounds like, whatever is going on, we want to reflect that in a positive way that draws people to Christ so that we can make disciples,” he said.

“Heart is very unique in that it is a United Methodist community center that also has a worshipping community.  I am excited about the potential for ministry opportunities that the new designation for Heart 4 The City will offer,” said the Rev. Ed Peterson, Canal District superintendent.

“We want to finish what we start,” Prayer Leader Alisa Stinson told the congregation during the consecration service.  “We want to be a presence in this community, at this address, that says ‘the Lord is here please come, no matter your baggage no matter  your lack of baggage, whatever you have whatever you don’t have, please come.’”

*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Rev. Abby Auman Appointed Mahoning Valley District Superintendent

Abby Aum

Bishop Tracy S. Malone is appointing the Rev. Abby Auman to the East Ohio Conference Cabinet.  She will serve as superintendent of the Mahoning Valley District.

“Abby has strong leadership skills, is an innovative thinker who brings vision and courage to the development and empowerment of lay leadership, and has a passion for revitalizing the local church,” said Bishop Malone.

“God’s call is often surprising, and the call to be a district superintendent certainly was!” Auman said.  “As a pastor, I took a vow to follow Jesus wherever he called.  Since I had just preached about that to my congregation, when Bishop Malone called, I had to offer myself to a different kind of service.  I am growing more excited to serve Christ’s church under her leadership.”

In her fifth year as pastor of Greensburg United Methodist Church (Canal District), Auman also serves as Candidacy Summit director for the East Ohio Conference Board of Ordained Ministry.  Her first conference appointment was to Mt. Carmel United Methodist Church (Firelands District) in 2006.  She then served the Strongsville United Methodist Church (North Coast District) as associate pastor from February 16, 2009 until her appointment to Greensburg UMC.

She will succeed the Rev. Dan Bryant as superintendent of the Mahoning Valley District.

“Everywhere I have served, I have been amazed and thrilled to see God work through faithful followers of Christ, in ways large and small,” Auman said.  “I’m excited to learn what God has already done through the people of the Mahoning Valley District, and even more excited to see what new thing God is about to do.  I look forward to dreaming together about how to share Christ with the least, the lost, and the last.”

Her appointment to serve the Mahoning Valley District and Bryant’s appointment as senior pastor of Lakewood United Methodist Church (North Coast District) are effective July 1.

Auman earned a Bachelor’s degree in Religion, with a minor in Creative Writing, from Ohio Northern University, and a Master of Divinity from Wesley Theological Seminary.

“I was born and raised on a farm, which gave me a deep love for creation and the relationships that are often so strong in farming communities,” she said.  “My husband and I intentionally attended Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC in order to experience more of the world.  There we learned to think globally and to appreciate the diversity and creativity of the city.  Serving small, medium, and large churches has helped me to appreciate the strengths of each in reaching people for Christ and helping them mature as disciples.”

She and the Rev. Seth Auman are parents of a son and a daughter.