From The Visitor, Feb. 26, 2015: Ebenezer Church, the oldest historically African American Adventist congregation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has welcomed 50 refugees from the Congo after a call for help from the Nationalities Service Center (NSC), an agency that assists the United States government in resettling refugees from war and disaster areas worldwide. The refugees had requested they be placed with Adventists before they left for the U.S.
NSC located and contacted the closest Adventist church to the new community where the refugees were relocated. Similar requests for help may be made to other Adventist congregations across the country with refugees from many places who make the same plea to the NSC.
Ebenezer Church is responsible for providing for the spiritual needs of the Congolese. To accomplish this goal, the church purchased language translation equipment; transmitters and earphones so the group can hear worship services in Kiswahili, which many of the refugees can understand, even though it is not their native tongue.
Church members also secured the services of a translator who speaks Kinyarwanda, the native tongue of the Congolese, and obtained Sabbath School lessons in Kinyarwanda. The church will be starting classes in English as a Second Language (ESL) for the refugees. This is an essential step in helping the new arrivals find jobs and establish homes in Philadelphia.
Even with the immediate language challenges, the families from Congo are becoming actively involved in various church activities. The Congolese children participate in the Children’s Ministries programs and sing with the Ebenezer children’s choir.
Crystal Drake, wife of Pastor Charles Drake, is coordinating the efforts to make the new group feel welcome and help them with their transition to a new city. She has the assistance of a number of church members. “The church has rallied around these families. They have given so much in clothing and household goods until we had to ask them to stop,” she said. The church is also providing school uniforms for the children and conducting job-training seminars for the adults.
Ebenezer Church is located 18 blocks south of city hall in downtown Philadelphia in a neighborhood which was historically an African American community until the last couple of decades. It has become much more multicultural. Ebenezer has 318 members currently and was one of the first congregations in the denomination made up primarily of African Americans. Dr. Charles Bradford, the retired president of the denomination’s North American Division, belonged to this congregation as a child.
Contributors to this report included Michelle Bernard, editor of The Visitor, the news publication of the Columbia Union Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, and Dr. Robert Booker, communication director for the denomination’s Allegheny East Conference.