Kenyan new worshiping community doubles worship attendance with language swap


Focus on ‘Ubuntu’ broadens community reach

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

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)

LOUISVILLE — At the Church of Amazing Grace International in Anaheim, Calif., the Bible that the Rev. Kinyua Johnson preaches from is in the ethnic language he grew up with — Bantu 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 says, “by just having the service in Kikuyu.”

The church changed its worship language from the more comfortable 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.

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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,” says Johnson.

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 says. “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 says, “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.



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