God’s Immigrant Church

A sermon preached by Joseph Welker, Jr. and Endy Kidanewold

God's Immigrant Church

Isaiah 49:1-6
Acts 8:26-39

July 15, 2007

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends
of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian family. While effort is
made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use
material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the
notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered.
Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore
prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written
accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

Note: The Sermon today is given on the occasion of celebrating
our relationship with our brothers and sisters from the Ethiopian
fellowship who worship at the Kirk.

JODY WELKER –

In preparing for this service with our Ethiopian brothers and sisters,
and as our nation has recently been through an immigration policy
debate my mind has occasionally been led to think about my family
of immigrants. Late in the 19th century the first Joseph Welker
migrated from Darmstadt Germany with his parents to settle with
many other German settlers in the hills of Pennsylvania. He attended
Gettysburg College and then Gettysburg seminary. He preached to
other German Lutheran immigrants. He preached in English and in
German. I can only imagine that he preached with a heavy accent.
Recently I learned that he moved his family in one church over the
mountains in a covered wagon. The church 30 members when he came
and had a time paying his salary. Three years later there were 70
members and a new building.

On my mother's side, I come from a line of English and Scots. Sharon's
family who immigrated here came from Ireland and Scotland.

When the first immigrants came here, they mostly stuck together.
German Lutherans… Scottish Presbyterians…Back then it
was easy to choose a church. You went where your language was spoken
and your family raised you. That has changed of course-as we continued
to migrate from North to South and South to North… East to
West… West to East….

Today the average Presbyterian congregation has immigrants from
the Baptist faith… Methodist… Catholic tradition…
Menonite… Episcopalian… We are all mixed up aren't we.
Come to think about it, almost all of the churches I have served
have been immigrant congregations. Have you ever thought of that.
Except for Red Springs where we joined with a Lumbee Indian chapel-
I've never served a church with Native Americans!

So when I came to the Kirk a few years ago, I shouldn't have been
so surprised to see that we were a congregation with great diversity.
Recent immigrants from Scotland, South Africa, the Netherlands,
Bosnia, Thailand, and Ethiopia. I met people and heard different
accents. Some had come with jobs at IBM and other corporations.
Others came as refugees.

Today we celebrate God leading our Ethiopian brothers and sisters
to us thanks to the leadership of Wendy Segreti and a whole host
of other Kirk members who gave the gift of hospitality to our new
friends. My friend Endy was one of the first ones to join the Kirk
many years ago. Now, there is an Ethiopian fellowship that worships
regularly at the Kirk on Sunday afternoons. They have given me the
gift of hospitality. When I first came, Endy and Meseret welcomed
Sharon and I into their home and family-sharing with us our first
Ethiopian meal. I had my first taste of enjura bread. In the past
year I was invited to a wedding. Pastor Girma and others have been
nothing but kind and gracious to me and for that I thank God.

That God might bring us all together should come as no surprise
really. I imagine that this is exactly as God intends it to be.
Our own faith finds it roots in a God who called a particular tribal
people-the Hebrews into a covenant relationship. But God did not
call them into being so he could be their personal God and he would
take up their personal causes against the rest of the world. Isaiah
reminds them and us-that "it would be too small a thing"
if God were only to care about what happens to Israel… for
God had called them… "to be a light to the nations, that
my salvation may reach the end of the earth."

As the story continues we see God reaching out to the earth in
Jesus Christ. Of course Christ starts by calling a group of Jewish
students-disciples who will learn from him. Then after his resurrection
and ascension… the Holy Spirit takes a hold of them and leads
them to break out of their tribe to reach into the nations…
Today's story is just one story of God breaking out of the tribe
to be a blessing. Reaching all the way to Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian minister of finance to Queen Candace-perhaps a Jew
himself-is on the way home after having traveled a long way to worship
at the Vatican of the Jewish faith-the temple of Jerusalem. On the
way home, he is doing some Bible study and is confused over the
passage in Isaiah-describing the servant of God. This is an opportune
moment and a teachable moment-both for the Ethiopian and for Philip.
The Ethiopian will learn that Jesus fulfills the job description
of God's ideal servant and is led to Baptism. Philip will see once
again that God is not only the God of the Jewish nation-but of all
nations. Once again… as Philip is open to be led by the Spirit
of God-Philip will be blessed to see the light dawn on the nations-even
as far away as Ethiopia. Think about it, there were Ethiopian Christians
before there were American Christians or Scottish Presbyterian Christians.
Of course today we celebrate that it is in Christ that we find our
unity… that the walls of separation have been broken down.

Today we celebrate that that light still shines brightly in Ethiopia.
There are over four million Presbyterians in Ethiopia. The Christian
faith is exploding there. The work of people like Pastor Girma,
Endy and other leaders is a blessing there and a blessing here.

Today, I have invited them to share some of their story with you…
consider it yet another chapter in God's story of God's immigrant
people- who were blessed when God used Israel and the church to
be a blessing to the nations.


MESSAGE FROM ENDY KIDANEWOLD

I picked a verse from Hebrew 13: 8.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. From
time to time we are reminded of an old question: "Is God still
with us"? Is God alive today? Are Miracles and Angels true
today? Can we trust the Bible? In preparing for this service I was
asked,
How do our Ethiopian brothers and sisters worship God in their suffering;
at least the stories for so long is that of famine, strife and instability,
and persecutions specially of protestant Christians? What does Christianity
look like over there amidst all this? How do they perceive the Bible
stories?

Here is a story I heard from one of my seminary professors a long
time ago. A father that was an atheist once wanted to train his
kid to be like him. Grow without God in his life. He thought religion
was the cause of all our suffering and that God does not exist and
people should not have the faith. In the process of indoctrination
one day he wanted to keep him busy and gave him an assignment to
work on a project; write that, "God in no where" and to
write it 1000 times until he came back from work. The kid did his
assignment and gave his dad his homework at the end of the day.
Dad I did it. I have done my homework. Upon seeing what his son
wrote, the dad was astounded to see something strange. His son had
been writing something else all day. He had written the statement
and gave it a whole different meaning than what the dad intended
to. The kid wrote 1000 times that: "God is now Here."
The story goes on to say that the father made sense out of this
and could not treat it as mere accident and accepted Jesus Christ
as his Savior and became a Bible believing Christian from that day
on. He grabbed the moment. He did not want to miss God. God is now
here.

The Ethiopian Eunuch did the same thing when he experienced the
Holy God in the presence of the Word and the exposition by the servant
of God. His heart was touched and seized the moment and accepted
Christ and took Christianity home to Ethiopia with him. Faith is
something that God does in our lives. But we have to respond to
God at the moment He calls us. We never know if we can hear him
again. That is why the Bible says, "The moment of salvation
is now"!

Going back to Ethiopia, suffering and persecutions don't take people
away from God. In a strange way they bring people closer to God.
It is true that the Ethiopians bore lots of suffering. The recurring
famines since the early 70s and the disaster during the 80s where
at least two million people starved to death. But all that did not
dampen their spirit or their faith. The persecutions during the
dictatorship of the communist regime and the forced indoctrination
in Marxism and Leninism and atheism or the imprisonments, tortures
and in some cases the killings of Christians could not take away
the love of God and their savior Jesus Christ from their heart.
The church came out victorious and more than doubled when the regime
fell to a rebel group that took power. During those days we thought
God was near. There were fervent prayers, we believed the God of
Moses, Abraham, Isaak and Jacob is still alive and well. The God
who parted the waters and delivered Israel could deliver us from
the hands of the brutal dictators and we saw that He did. The Ethiopian
Christians love to tell stories of God's interventions in their
lives. They testify that they were healed of their infirmities after
prayers in the name of Jesus Christ.

I and Rev. Girma here are witnesses to a man that came to our congregation
in Ethiopia in 1975 begging for a last meal before he died of lung
disease/tuberclosis. He was discharged from the health center and
was told to go home and die. He was a hopeless case and had only
a few days to live. He was skeletal and yet smoking also. He told
us he smoked for 39 years and hopelessly addicted to it and had
no where to go. Rev. Girma shared the gospel with him and some of
us also stood around him, laid hands on him and prayed for God to
heal him. We believed God could do it. Yes, God can! He does the
impossible. We believed the word of Isaiah that Jesus Christ bore
our sicknesses and that "by His stripes we were healed."
The man was delivered from his sickness. He got strength and swore
not to touch cigarette from that day on, his addiction to cigarettes
went away; and in a few days he started to show progress. Rather
than die he started to blossom. Interestingly enough, the man after
two years or so married a Christian lady and lived many more years
before he went home. He was a living testimony to the God of the
Bible.

Folks, tests and trials don't destroy your faith; they somehow
draw you nearer to God. They are attention getters when we refuse
to answer His call or just can't hear him because we are too busy
occupied with the things of the here and now. Don't miss God in
your daily lives. God is with us. We are in His merciful hands even
when we don't acknowledge that. And here in the United States of
America, God is near.

I heard stories of nine eleven; how God delivered some people from
that inferno at World Trade Center. Heard one of the stories on
BBN radio as a man shared a story of a stranger helping him walk
down several floors. He helped him find his way down by tapping
and guiding him from the other side of the wall through that treacherous
and impossible situation. Who was that other stranger? He didn't
know him and doesn't know to this day. Could he be an angel of the
Lord may be? The story teller believes so.
God has a purpose for each of our lives. Maybe this person has unfinished
business here on earth that God wanted him to live a while more.

An Italian friend who grew up in New York once told me of a story
of those who perished in the attack that some of them called home
to their loved ones and related to them that they were being comforted
by the sighting of angels in the middle of that tragedy. The loving
God was with them there even though the tragedy and such magnitude
of atrocities are hard to comprehend or explain. In many cases the
why question is the one thing we will never be able to answer. That
is where trust in God becomes our defining faith. God knows that.
We are to just trust the Lord.

Nonetheless, we experience God's presence in the midst of troubles
and trials. The story becomes not one of hardship or trials which
often times are simply unexplainable, but God who parts the waters,
makes us walk over the stormy storms, or comes to us in our desperate
moment and lifts our spirits and takes away our worst fears even
if it be walking through the shadow of death. I shall not fear for
thou art with me!" Hallelujah! Don't miss God! In your worst
moments He is close by.

I believe that many New Yorkers became church goers as a result
of 911. I heard and read that the churches were crowded and I hope
and I think I hear that many stayed that way to this day. People
start to think of the most important things in life. Nobody wants
to exit without God when the day comes.

I close with another story. It was Brian Williams of MSNBC and
the day was the anniversary of 911, September 11 year 2002. During
his evening news don't remember the exact time maybe 8:00 p.m.,
he reported something like this: "Today the Lottery numbers
have said something that defy explanation. On such solemn day when
the nation is mourning the loss of three thousand people last year
this same day the pick three lottery number for today is 911. And
finished his story with a punctuation; What can we say"? Brian
Williams did not treat this as a coincidence or mere accident when
he reported it. Maybe he didn't want to miss God for himself and
for us all. Is God saying something to us? Humm.

In Job it is written (Job 33:14- 19, 26-30)

Friends God is here! The God of the Bible is here. Have faith in
God. Jesus Christ is the same Yesterday, and Today and Forever!
Amen.


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