LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) - Hurstbourne Baptist Church looked a little different last Sunday morning as hundreds stayed after the service to greet their new members: six families from the Congo. Despite cultural and language differences, greetings were exchanged and the church celebrated.
“Our church will now look more like heaven,” said Chase Grubb, student and missions pastor at Hurstbourne.
These six families, in addition to the five Congolese families who joined Hurstbourne the previous week, began attending the church in late October and early November of 2020, Grubb said.
Although many of the family members speak broken English, Hurstbourne began learning their stories through translators.
“These families are from the Congo and were refugees in surrounding countries. From those refugee camps, they relocated to the Midwest (U.S.) two to three years ago,” Grubb said.
While jobs were noted as a reason for the relocation to Kentucky, it seems that family was a stronger draw.
“Here it seems like they congregate around family. As one family relocates, the majority of the families connected with that family also relocate,” Grubb noted.
He also explained the eternal benefit of having Congolese members as a part of Hurstbourne.
“Our lives are better the more we conform to the image of Christ, and our fellowship will be better the more it conforms to that of heaven. Our congregation will learn things about loving others well from these Congolese brothers and sisters and vice versa.”
Membership interviews had been conducted over the past several months for the Congolese families. With the help of interpreters, Hurstbourne staff was able to hear powerful testimonies of how each person had trusted Jesus as Savior despite all the hardships they had endured.
“When we hear stories of these families who had to flee everything they knew to preserve their life, and they still give praise to God, I think it changes the mindset of our church,” said Vince Scarbrough, family pastor at Hurstbourne.
Some of the Congolese families, along with Hurstbourne pastors, had a chance to meet with Doug Williams and John Barnett, missions strategists for the Kentucky Baptist Convention, to learn more about their story and how they desire to partner in gospel efforts around Louisville.
In the midst of the excitement surrounding this influx of Congolese believers, there have also been many practical challenges, Grubb explained.
“Language has been a big challenge. Trying to navigate anything with broken language can be frustrating,” he said.
Grubb and other Hurstbourne pastors have been working to obtain listening devices so Congolese members can hear the sermon translated in real-time.
Culture is another challenge, Grubb explained. “When you have two totally different cultures and languages learning to worship together—as great as it sounds, and as great as it will be in heaven—this side of heaven it’s extremely challenging because you do have lots of different understandings and needs.”
He continued, “Their thoughts and ideas and the way they worship are different. They love to dance and they haven’t been able to dance. They love to sing and so far, because of language, they haven’t been able to sing.”
It’s also a challenge to create relationships between current members and new Congolese members because of the language barrier. Making those cross-cultural connections can force many people to step outside their comfort zone, said Grubb.
What is happening at Hurstbourne is a “gospel witness to a world that is dividing over skin color and race,” Grubb said.
In the end, all the challenges and barriers to this cross-cultural ministry are worth overcoming for the cause of Christ, he explained.
“It’s worth the challenge and effort for me to become more like Christ; it is also worth the challenge to have a church with multiple cultures. We will be patient in the struggle.”
For those at Hurstbourne, the new members have enriched and challenged their presence in the community to be more far-reaching.
“We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve had some other cultures represented in our church for several years, but with the influx of the Congolese, there’s no doubt it’s going to change our church culture as a whole," Scarbrough said. "I’m excited about that because it’s going to challenge us to look at worship and why we do and how we do things.”
“I love diversity because it highlights the unity we have in Jesus Christ,” said Jeremy Pellum, lead pastor at Hurstbourne. “The kingdom of Jesus Christ is for every tribe and nation and people. We identify first and foremost as followers of Jesus and anyone and everyone is invited to follow Him.”