I first met Emmanuel in 2008. He knocked on the door of the church where I was working. He introduced himself as an Episcopalian new to this country (he had only been in the US for a few weeks) looking for a church home in Dayton. He told me his story of leaving Rwanda following the war that led to horrible tragedy and personal loss for him and so many as part of the genocide. He told me of his long journey to America and how God had walked with him and led him to our church.
Emmanuel quickly became both a faithful member of the parish as well as a prophetic voice calling us to see the need in the refugee community outside the doors of the parish. He would bring friends and fellow immigrants to worship on Sunday and would also bring the needs of the community to us and challenge us to find creative ways to respond. He helped organize members of the parish and people beyond the parish to host a Christmas party for refugee children. He took me to people’s homes, to meet them and hear their stories. He organized a choir to sing both in our church and for community gatherings and events.
In his own personal life, he quickly found a job, applied for and was granted asylum (a process that takes many months if not years for many people). He is raising four children and caring for his parents and extended family members. AND he finds time to help organize the refugee community. He spends his spare time taking people to the doctor or to Job and Family Services or even driving them to Chicago to go through the process of applying for asylum. He helps newer refugees learn how to live in America even as he himself is still learning.
About two years after we first met, he approached me about beginning a Prayer Fellowship for the community – telling me that although he and his community loved our church, the people missed praying in their own language and singing their own songs. He and his wife, Simone, and several others began to meet every other Saturday for worship and prayer. The community quickly grew and led primarily by him and his wife with support from trusted clergy colleagues, they began a new community. They now meet every Sunday afternoon at St. Andrew’s and have about 70 people who pray, sing, and listen to and reflect on God’s word together. I continue to be inspired by this fresh expression of church in our midst. However, most often it is Emmanuel, who continues to gather the people and care for their needs, that teaches me what it means to be a leader of a community of faith and a faithful servant of the Spirit. Emmanuel is a gift to all who know him and a witness to ‘God with us.’
New Hope Christian African Fellowship meets on Sundays at 1 pm at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Dayton, Ohio. For more information you can find them on Facebook.