The following story is taken from our 2017 Year in Review. If you're interested in getting a hard copy of the full brochure, you can stop by our Wheaton office to pick one up!
In 2010, Darren and Wendy Miller, members at Glen Ellyn Covenant Church (GECC), were introduced to a Bhutanese refugee family as World Relief Friendship Partners. Over time their deepening relationships in the immigrant community opened the door for both a Bhutanese and Burmese congregation to share GECC's building space. But they didn't just want to be three congregations sharing a building. "We wanted to build community between our congregations and do ministry together," Darren and Wendy explain. They realized that inviting all three congregations to participate in their youth program was a perfect way to do this.
Pastor Saa, who leads the Burmese congregation, expresses gratitude for the opportunity the youth have to share in the program. "We can do nothing for GECC in return, but they love us so much and they support us in everything," he says. This gratitude is also shared by the leaders of GECC, who tell stories of how their youth have been transformed because of the involvement of all three congregations. "Now, our youth group is much more about relationship than entertainment. Our students come to be with each other and grow together, not to experience the hippest program," says Jeff Root, the youth pastor. Darren and Wendy add, "Sharing our facility and programs has caused us to think beyond ourselves - our church community has expanded, and our hearts with it."
The leaders of the three congregations have found it difficult to know how much to engage the refugee students in ministry without pulling them out of their own church and community. "We want them to stay engaged in their own congregations, but also want to be there for them as they transition more and more into American culture," Jeff explains. "It is very difficult to walk that line." Despite these challenges, the beauty of this partnership is that these three churches are finding a way to navigate them together.
As we facilitate connections between local churches, we have seen God at work, growing those relationships into beautiful friendships and rich opportunities for ministry. We have found that when follows of Jesus from all backgrounds come together to worship and serve, communities are always transformed.