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A Taco Bell KFC Church

A TACO BELL- KFC CHURCH

Missionary Hiruy Gebremichael

The first thing to say is that this blog is not about an outreach to Spanish speaking people, or those who love fried chicken. It is affirmation for a growing trend of mission in American churches – the so-called “Taco Bell- KFC” Church.  This particularTBKFC church started a long time ago. Below is the story.

Rev. Hiruy Gebremichael did not plan to become a missionary in America. He was happy being a youth worker in Eritrea, East Africa. Unlike in other parts of the world, the church in Eritrea is functioning and Hiruy could share Jesus with young people, shaping their lives for service to the Lord. Then his wife took advantage of an opportunity to study in America and Hiruy went along. They ended up in Atlanta, and lived in a small town outside of Atlanta called Tucker. 

St. Mark Lutheran Church in Tucker, Georgia is known as “A small church with a big heart.”

In 2005 seeing the needs of immigrants in the community around them the church opened its doors to Eritrean refugees. Hiruy and other Eritreans were welcomed as brothers and sisters in Christ. Hiruy asked if they could have space to worship in their language. That’s when St. Mark decided to  begin a separate mission, a church inside a church. The churches had the same Bible and the same Creeds but they were to be different churches because they came from different cultures.

One time early on Hiruy was in downtown Atlanta, a black man, he saw a white handicapped man in a wheel chair  struggling to get out of the rain. It was pouring  – but Hiruy went out of his way to help him. The boy was taken back – “Why did you help me?”  Hiruy was surprised because in Eritrean culture if someone was in need others rushed to help. 

All the new church needed in the beginning was a small room. Now they could use their native language and sing their old songs, praising God the way they worshipped the Lord in Africa. As did the German, Italian, Swedish, Norwegian and other first generation immigrants. That was at first.

Then the  new church outgrew the room and a larger space was provided. That would not be the end. In 2009 St Mark reached a new level. The two churches decided to become one. Like Taco Bell and KFC. Two different restaurants, often found under the same roof. When this happened the church moved to one set of elders, one church council composed of members from Anglo and Eritrean worshippers. The new St. Mark gave financial support to Hiruy so he could complete the EIIT (Ethnic Immigrant Institute of Theology) program to become ordained. In time Hiruy was called to be the pastor of the united St. Mark Lutheran. 

I asked Hiruy “Knowing what you know now, what do you want to tell a church about your experience at St. Mark?” He had several things to say.

First, they still maintain two separate worship services, one in English and one in Tigrinian. But they also plan joint worship services during the year – like on Pentecost. Then they use hymns that have tunes familiar to both groups, but the people sing the words in their own language. Then it sounds like the worship St. John describes in heaven (Revelations 7:9). 

Second, it was important for the immigrants, but especially the children of the immigrants to learn English. They speak English in school and when they go shopping. In the church the Bible studies for children are in English. The younger generation is growing up in a diverse population. They look for that in the church where they choose to worship. The days of the mono-cultural church will diminish.

Finally, Hiruy believes God has sent him and other dedicated Christians to America as a sign of God’s blessing for the church in America – which for centuries has sent missionaries overseas to his and other countries. Today the church in America is under severe stress. “They taught us how to be missionaries. Now we are blessed to return the favor.”

I believe we will see a growing Taco Bell-KFC like church “franchise.” As America becomes more diverse there will be growing opportunities for young immigrant families to bring vision and energy to Anglo churches with mission eyes. As missionaries from other countries supplement resources of older churches the favor of the Lord’s blessing will flourish.   

To see a one minute intro video interview with Hyruy, click here.

To see the full twenty minute interview, click here.

An African Moses In America

An African Moses
Missionary to America Moses Dangba

Moses Dangba remembers a beautiful place in his native South Sudan. This “place’ appeared regularly even during civil unrest, famine and war – things Moses experienced as a child in his small town of Maridi, near the border

with Zaire. This “place” appeared  when the Christians in his town came to worship. People from different ethnic groups singing the same hymn in different languages brought a transcendent joy, reminding him of the worship St. John described in Revelations 7:9, “I looked and saw a multitude too large to count, from every nation and tribe and people and tongue, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”

Moses was one of eleven children – certainly a challenge to provide for in war-torn South Sudan. It is not unusual for a relative to offer to take and raise a child, lessening the burden. When he was nine years old his pastor grandfather took the boy under his wing- and changed his African name to “Moses,” because, he said, “This Moses will bring his people to a different life.” This began the boy’s preparation to become a missionary.

“I was following him around, learning from him.” He was taught Bible stories and hymns. As he grew he not only went on pastoral calls with his Pastor grandfather but was supervised to pray in public, to teach and to preach. As a teenager his grandfather sent Moses to Khartoum, North Sudan, to a preparatory boarding school. Only when he graduated from this school would he be allowed to go to college.

When he arrived in Khartoum police in what was then the Northern part of a united Sudan confiscated his Bible. “I never thought they would take my Bible. We needed the Bible for school. When we entered the school each of us had to choose studying Islam or Christianity. While there were books and teachers for the classes in Islam there were no Bibles or teachers for us. So, I led the fifteen Christians who chose not to study Islam. With no Bibles we taught ourselves, sharing what we had remembered. We sang the hymns we learned as children. We had no time during regular school hours for our Christian classes; our ‘classes’ were late in the afternoon and at night. But with God’s help  every one of us passed the exam for Christians.”

His grandfather’s preparation had been a blessing. Then the stakes increased.

Having graduated from the boarding school he was qualified to fulfill his grandfather’s dream – he could attend college, earn a degree and a better life for the family he had left behind. But now the rules had changed. Civil war had broken out. First he and the others would have to agree to join the army of North Sudan to fight the Christians of South Sudan. Some agreed to join; Moses and several others refused, and were detained by the police. There was a good chance they would be shot.

Moses continued to lead the prisoners, as it turned out, to Egypt. He led preaching and teaching the Bible in prison. The hymns and prayers of the former boarding school students were a witness to those around them.  By God’s grace their jail door was opened – the United Nations intervened and took custody of the young men. Fearful the Christians might not remain free Moses and the others were smuggled into Egypt –  left in Egypt to fend for themselves. They had no protection, no funds and no work. Then in 1998 a door opened – to Lebanon. In Lebanon for two years he found work, attended a Christian college, and married a wonderful young  woman he had met in Khartoum. In 2000  America’s door opened, and welcomed the refugees. They found a new home in Lansing, Michigan.

Rev. David Theile, a Lutheran pastor in East Lansing had an opportunity which was turning into a frustration. Young men from Sudan, some of the “lost boys,” had found refuge near his church. They had escaped the murderous civil war in South Sudan to come to a new country that cared for them. Christ Lutheran welcomed the young men, many of whom did not speak English. Pr. Theile needed someone who knew their language and culture, someone from South Sudan who could lead them to Jesus. That is when he met a Christian evangelist from South Sudan, Moses Dangba.

 Moses became the church’s missionary to lead African immigrants from several countries to Jesus. When the Africans worship together, each using their own language to sing praises to God, it is something beautiful. Moses’ grandfather’s prophecy was realized.

Martin Luther in “Admonition to Prayer,”( Luther’s Works, V. 43, p.239) has something to say to Moses’ grandfather, and to you and me. “I strongly urge that children be taught the Catechism. Should they be taken captive in an invasion, they will at least take something of the Christian faith with them. Who knows what God might be able to accomplish through them?”

To see an introduction video click here.

To see the full video interview, click here.

To purchase a biography of a missionary to America, click here.

To donate to support giving a voice to the new missionaries, click here.