Grace Church of the Nazarene in Nashville, Tennessee, has always had a heart for missions and cross-cultural work. In 2017, the congregation found a new outlet for this passion when five men from Africa began attending the church.
“They had a meeting with Pastor Jonathan, and he asked me if I would meet with them and see how Grace Church could minister to them,” said David Johnson, church planting pastor and local Nazarene Missions International president. “We learned the men had families, and their wives and children didn’t come to church because they either didn’t speak English or they didn’t speak it well.”
Grace Church decided to offer English as a Second Language classes to help the Swahili-speaking community members who wanted to attend church. During this time, the church also decided to offer a Swahili service on Sundays. The staff met with five refugees for their first Swahili service. The next Sunday, there were a few more refugees, and the numbers slowly grew each Sunday after that.
Gradually, the staff even began using the church van to bring several of the Swahili-speaking families to church since many of them did not have transportation.
“They continued to bring more from their community,” said Alyssa Forest, pastor to children and their families. “We now have a full Swahili congregation that has outgrown many rooms and portable buildings. They now meet in our gym weekly.”
The families began bringing their children to the church’s kids’ ministry; now they now participate in the church’s bus ministry and are encouraged to join all church functions.
“We have about 30 Swahili-speaking children that join us, and each week we see new faces,” Forest said. “There are challenges we have faced with the difference in how they see time, their challenge with speaking English, and even knowing their ages since many have not celebrated birthdays.”
Alyssa says that no matter how many communication barriers there are, the children always know that they belong at church.
“One thing they do understand is that they are deeply loved and valued,” Forest said. “[In May,] 15 children accepted Christ into their hearts, seven of whom were our Swahili-speaking children. They are part of our church family.”
The church has a great relationship with their Swahili-speaking congregation; however, they are always looking for new ways to strengthen and support the community.
“We hope to better serve them as we learn better ways to help them assimilate to Nashville and participate in the mission of God,” Forest said. “We are all children of God, and I believe they are finding this out, if they did not already know it.”
Forest believes the church has followed God’s will because He has blessed both the refugee community and the church.
“God has been so good to us with offering us so many ministry opportunities and blessings,” Forest said. “[There have been] so many challenges but so many beautiful memories, and God gave us family in that people group — we love them so much.”