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Church brings gospel to poor, immigrant families

San Diego new worshiping community is helping disrupt cycle of generational poverty

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

SAN DIEGO — Looking around the Linda Vista neighborhood in San Diego, one might see poverty and deficits. But what Noel Musicha sees — what gets him out of bed every morning — is the potential that is there among the neighborhood’s young people and the homeless friends he’s made who are beginning to get jobs.

Musicha, who came to the United States from Malawi on a college soccer scholarship, co-pastors Ebenezer Church, the 1001 new worshiping community along with Jeremiah Lester, who is the son of a first-generation immigrant to the U.S.

“Our mission is to bring the good news of Jesus to all people,” says Lester, “but in particular to the poor and to the immigrant.”

Through partnerships Ebenezer is making a difference in their neighborhood in housing, financial health, immigration rights and education.  One of those partners is Montgomery Middle STEAM (for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) Magnet School.

“I believe my purpose here is to interrupt the cycle of generational poverty, because I know what the strain of poverty does for families,” says Montgomery’s principal, Stephanie Brown.  “When I sit down and talk with Jer and talk with Noel, I know they believe the same thing I believe.”

Musicha, who played professional soccer in Malawi, helped Montgomery create a sports program that they use to talk with students about leadership, responsibility and life principles.  He also cooks at the school on Wednesday nights when Ebenezer welcomes a diverse group of families from Linda Vista to dinner.  His philosophy is simple: “You can’t demonize people that you spend time eating with.” He says he wants parents to see the school as “an extension of home.”

“Nobody’s paying them him to do this,” says Montgomery’s health and wellness coordinator, Emalyn Lepard.  “It’s that connection from the heart that he brings.”

Ebenezer also has a partnership with the University of San Diego,  working specifically in the areas of homelessness and the migrant crisis in Tijuana.  According to Lester, institutions in need — who want to make a difference in the neighborhood — are more open to faith-based institutions like theirs when they are approached in the posture of “OK, we just want to serve you,” Lester says.

“I think they’re really good about it not being about them, that it really is about the Ebenezer community” says Christopher Nayve, USD’s associate vice president for community engagement. “They’re committed for the long haul, which is really connecting dots in our neighborhood in ways I hadn’t seen for a very long time.”

As an immigrant from one of the poorest countries in the world, Musicha recognizes that he didn’t get here by himself.  He was helped.  So, when he looks at the work he gets to do in the neighborhood, he says, “I am a man paid in full.”

It’s from the overflow of understanding that, he explains, that makes him want to say to others that “a better way of doing life in this country is possible.”

“No immigrant goes anywhere without hope,” he says. “I want to remind each of them, the thing we hope for is actually possible and it is inevitable.”

For Stephanie Brown, knowing that Musicha and Lester has a similar belief to hers in their life purpose makes her emotional

“The tears are there because I feel so passionate and so grateful,” she says. “I don’t think everybody gets to be in a position where they get to show up for work every day and live out their purpose, and I think that’s what brings me to tears.”

When Ebenezer was formed Musicha and Lester decided that instead of spending 20 plus hours a week working on a sermon, they would give those hours back to the neighborhood.

As a result, what’s happened is that the message they’re going speak on Sunday is formed as they watch the Holy Spirit move in their neighborhood.

According to Musicha, God’s mission for Ebenezer is increasingly clear: “to disrupt the things that hinder the fullest expression of God in our neighborhood.”

Ebenezer Church receives relational and financial support from partner congregation La Jolla Presbyterian Church.

Presbyterian Mission Agency has also supported Ebenezer with Mission Program Grants through Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries. These grants support new worshiping communities’ and mid councils’ work to transform existing churches.

In 2012, the 220th General Assembly of the PC(USA) declared a commitment to a churchwide movement that resulted 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.


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