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Kenyan new worshiping community doubles worship attendance with language swap


Focus on ‘Ubuntu’ broadens community reach

April 5, 2019

The Rev. Kinyua Johnson of Church of Amazing Grace International preaches during worship at the Anaheim, Calif. church. (Photo by Daniel Long, Long Winter Media)

At the Church of Amazing Grace International in Anaheim, California, the Bible that the Rev. Kinyua Johnson preaches from is in the language he grew up with — Kikuyu, a language spoken by about 17 percent of Kenyans.

But recently, Johnson and the community discovered something profound about their approach to worship. “We realized we were being selfish,” he said, “by just having the service in Kikuyu.”

The church changed its worship language to Swahili and English, the two most widely spoken languages among Kenyans. More than two-thirds of the Kenyan population have Swahili as a second language.

The Church of Amazing Grace International realized that having a community church that was open and welcoming in the language the majority of Kenyans spoke would be a signal to people looking for a place to call home.

“The bottom-line experience of every Kenyan immigrant is the experience of feeling alone,” Johnson said.

After the church made the change, leaders started seeing members of other ethnic groups from Kenya joining their community. Over time, worship attendance doubled.

And Johnson says the idea of “Ubuntu” — which means “I am because we are” — is very important to Kenyans and other Africans.

“Most of us coming from Africa had this experience all the time,” he said. “We are part of the community before we are (an) individual. When I’m born, I’m not born just into a family — I’m born into a community.”

When someone is sick, the illness is taken to be a community illness. Church members don’t just visit the people who are ill. They cook for them and eat together, encouraging the person to get well.

When that happens, Johnson said, “We’ll come back and give thanks as a community.”

The Church of Amazing Grace International has received Mission Program Grants through the Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. These grants support the work of new worshiping communities and mid councils to transform existing churches.

In 2012, the 220th General Assembly of the PC(USA) declared a commitment to a churchwide movement that results in the creation of  1001 worshiping communities by 2022. At a grassroots level, hundreds of diverse new worshiping communities have already formed across the nation.

 Paul Seebeck, Mission Communications Strategist, Video and Digital Asset Management, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus:  Church of Amazing Grace International

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Mary Oxford, PMA
Linda Pagano, PMA

Let us pray:

Lord, we love our neighbors as we love you. Let us feel your embrace when we embrace others. Amen.

Daily Readings

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