By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent
BALTIMORE, Md.—Sunday afternoon walkers on Eastern Avenue crossing Robinson Street across from Patterson Park may stop for a moment and listen. From the little old tan church building on the corner, sounds of praise emanate with tambourines, organ music, drums, loud, passionate singing—authentic fervent worship coming from Salem Gospel Church. The Baltimore campus of Salem Church shares the building with Patterson Park Church ministering to the East Baltimore community. Salem meets at 3 p.m. on Sundays.
Adrien Ngudiankama and his wife Barbara are church planters. The couple help lead the energetic worship. There’s just a few faithful at first then two buses arrive full of men, women and children who quickly join in the praise. Amazingly, most of these joyful worshipers are refugees from war torn countries such as Ethiopia, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and Congo-Brazzaville and they’re struggling with post-traumatic stress, culture shock, international conflict and poverty. But through it all, they praise God. Barbara Ngudiankama exhorts the group to sing, to dance, to shout praises to God for He is good. Praising God, she tells them, will provide their healing and take away their sorrow.
“The Holy Spirit has been at work,” Adrien said quietly in his strong French accent. “The Lord keeps on sending us people from zones where there are wars going on.”
Adrien described situations of families fleeing from one country to another to finally being transported to the United States. Families arrive after losing fathers and husbands. Some are wounded from war, including a little girl from Central African Republic with a bandage on her nose. She, and her siblings, saw their father killed during the war. The mother thinks that it is the tear gas that was used against their daughter, Raissa, that has damaged her skin and left her almost blind in one eye. After spending times in the bush, they succeeded to get to the United Nations Camp in Cameroon from where some United Nations and Humanitarian related programs brought them to the US.
Many are the stories of those whose family members were killed in their presence, of those whose children got lost while fleeing, of those whose family members were systematically raped. The latest of the refugee families to join the church is from Ethiopia. They are a Bantu Ethiopian family of 11 people. They have spent years in refugee camp in Kenya. Some of them, including the mother, cannot speak English. They are very gifted and sometimes sing in their native language during the worship service to praise the Lord. Families often spend many months or years in refugee camps before they are selected to come to the US and most of the families that Salem receives are from rural African backgrounds and illiteracy is one of the major problems.
Some of the refugees are dealing with extreme culture shock. “We have to teach them how to use electricity,” Adrien explained. Consequences of illiteracy, past trauma and abuses are still paramount among African refugees and make it very hard for them to easily navigate and grasp the American social, educational and legal systems. Hence, the relevance of an informed pastoral holistic approach enriched by the fruit of Spirit as mentioned in Galatians 5: 22-23.
Salem-Migrant Social Ministry
It is in this context that Salem Gospel Ministries has established the Salem Migrant Social Ministry that focuses on three basic aspects that are: cultural-social orientation, interpretation/translation and the basic health promotion programs for African refugees. These programs are voluntarily led by Yate Mpoko, Alima Malungila , Clementine Nkumba and also Barbara Ngudiankama. These women dedicate their time to assist and visit these refugee families to meet some of their challenges. Some of these women have spent long hours (even at night) assisting in hospitals, in schools and with social services and legal services. Besides the uniqueness of the Christian/pastoral assistance, the social assistance to these refugee families has at times been the only resource in a moment of crisis. “To God alone be the glory,” Adrien said.
The church is also trying to provide a safety net to protect the refugees from becoming involved in the darker Baltimore subculture of drugs and violence.
Another challenge for the church is that many of the refugees are Muslims and he knows that it is only through prayer and love that they will be able to reach them.
Adrien said that through it all, the Lord has been blessing. Patterson Park Church is graciously allowing Salem to meet rent free. In addition, Baptist Family & Children Services as well as many BCM/D and community churches have supported the refugee families through shoes and clothes drives.
The church now has two busses; one holds 50 and the other 20. Konki Komboshi is the driver who picks up the members who need transportation on Sundays. The small vehicle is used for many other activities including youth and women’s programs or retreats and the collection of clothes and shoes for newly arrived families.
In addition to the Baltimore campus, Salem has a site in Silver Spring. They meet at Montgomery Hills church, on Georgia Avenue from 9 to 10 a.m. The ministry in Silver Spring is growing as well. Though the church also has refugee families in our Silver Spring site, the sociological dynamics are quite different. The church in Silver Spring is composed of people who have strong academic backgrounds including medical doctors, economists, nurses and bio-chemists.
“We are grateful to God to see that through Salem many refugees are coming to know Christ, people are healed from their trauma, and people from divided ethnic groups joyfully praise the Lord together. I have never thought that working as a pastor among African refugees would be my ministry. I graciously praise God and I pray that He will guide me and all those who work with me. On March, eleven members of Salem will be consecrated as leaders. Two will be licensed to preach and others will become deacons and elders.
“Ministering to refugees is a unique opportunity for churches to show God‘s love to strangers and fellow believers. Salem Church is seeking other churches to stand and partner with us. We need help.” Adrien said.
For more information about helping Salem Gospel Church, please email Adrien, [email protected].