“Coming to America,” a movie from the 1980s, is like the story of Ebenezer Oromo Evangelical Church of Riverside, Mo. (suburban Kansas City). Slightly over four years ago, a small group of faithful Lutheran Christians from Ethiopia — all of them relatively new to America — began to meet and worship in a home. Seeking to remain faithful to
Jesus Christ, they sought a home in a tradition in which they had their roots. Within weeks, the members of St. Matthew ‘s Evangelical Lutheran Church, an NALC congregation in Riverside, Mo., heard of these faithful Lutherans and offered to share their building. This was the founding of Ebenezer Oromo Lutheran Church. Today, St. Matthew’s building is the home to three NALC congregations: Ebenezer, St. Matthew’s, and a Micronesian congregation.
In an era and an area where congregations are more likely to shrink, these three congregations are all experiencing growth. Praise be to God! The tiny house church of Ebenezer has grown from a dozen members to 95 as they and Pastor Faisa Atomsa have faithfully reached out in friendship and love to the many Ethiopian immigrants in the greater Kansas City, Mo., area.
As we all know, growth comes with many joys, but also with complications and problems. What do you do with a small building that was not designed to handle more than 200 people worshiping, sharing fellowship, etc. on a Sunday?
The time has come for the fledging Ebenezer Oromo Lutheran congregation to leave the nest that nurtured them for four years and purchase property of their very own! What joy to grow so much!
Fortunately, an abandoned church was located within one mile of St. Matthew’s. It is an older structure that needs some work and some TLC. But it is ideally located for the people of Ebenezer. It sits on two acres at the end of a dead-end street with room to expand in the future as more and more disciples are added to the rolls of Ebenezer. Directly across the street is a small park with a playground.
Did I mention that the congregation of Ebenezer is young? Worship and fellowship are filled with the welcome noise of children — an unusual characteristic for many churches in North America. The congregation had been planning to find their own building, and the abandoned former Baptist Church building was ideal. The price was also ideal for a young (in membership age) congregation. The location is also ideal, but it seemed that the timing was all wrong.
The people of Ebenezer had just started raising funds for their future vision of owning their own building in which to worship. God’s timing is never wrong, and it seems that now is the day.
Trusting in God, Ebenezer made an offer of $147,000 for the abandoned church and the surrounding property. To this amount, another $28,000 of repairs need to be made to make the property usable. The offer was accepted, and now the details are being worked out.
In just a few short months Ebenezer has been able to raise $20,000. The Great Plains Mission District has added an additional $30,000. A $10,000 grant from the North American Lutheran Church has also been generously given, along with another nearly $6,000 from sister Great Plains Mission District congregations. Ebenezer is now working with a bank to obtain a loan for the $105,000 balance.
While to many churches $105,000 does not seem a great amount, imagine that you are a church where close to one-third of your members are children, most of your members have been in America less than three years, and English is your fourth or even fifth language (and many you are still learning English). Also imagine a church full of young families in their 20s and 30s. To such a congregation, $105,000 is a very large amount.
As Dean of the Great Plains Mission District for the past three years, it has been a joy to watch the people of Ebenezer as they have grown in numbers as well as in Spirit. I have learned so very much about discipleship, rekindled my joy in praising God through worship and prayer, and gained the friendship of Pastor Faisa via my walk with the congregation as we work together in mission in our district.
I would like to take this opportunity to ask those of you who read this to support the Ebenezer congregation — first by lifting them up in prayer and second by giving to their building fund if you feel that God has placed this call upon your heart.
To adopt and partner with Ebenezer, please visit: www.thenalc.org/GCS.
*Written by Pastor Dennis Beckmann, Dean of the Great Plains Mission District.