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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Say ‘yes’ to the community

General Assembly Co-Moderators visit Memorial Drive Ministries, a center for support to refugees in the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta

April 4, 2024

Memorial Drive Ministries tour participants, including the Rev. Dr. Fahed Abu-Akel, Moderator of the 214th General Assembly (2002), far left. (All photos courtesy of the Rev. Andy James, Stated Clerk, Presbytery of Greater Atlanta)

Clarkston, Georgia, has been synonymous with refugee resettlement for decades. Described as the Ellis Island of the South, and the most diverse square-mile in North America, the small city includes a number of faith and nonprofit groups assisting and accompanying refugees. According to a CBS News report, more than 60 languages are spoken in Clarkston. Fifty-three percent of its residents were born outside the United States.

The worldwide character of the community shows up in the array of languages on storefronts lining Market Street, and on the campus of Memorial Drive Ministries, where signs welcome refugees from five continents. Memorial Drive Ministries and the work of its onsite partners are a continuation of community programming begun by the PC(USA) congregation that used to worship there: Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church.

On Feb. 2, the Co-Moderators of the 225th General Assembly (2022), the Revs. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace and Shavon Starling-Louis, saw Memorial Drive Ministries up close, visiting the campus during a trip to Atlanta and receiving a tour of the buildings and grounds from Executive Director David Roth.

“Memorial Drive Ministries embodies what it means to receive the stranger in a way that reflects Jesus’ teachings that cherishes and recognizes each individual as a gift of God,” said Santana-Grace after the visit. “I’m grateful for the work and vision of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta for coming alongside and supporting this and other creative ministries.”

Co-Moderators of the 225th General Assembly (2022), the Revs. Ruth Faith Santana-Grace (left) and Shavon Starling-Louis.

Starling-Louis, who first learned of Memorial Drive’s refugee ministry during her student days at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, said it was inspiring to be there as co-moderator, especially after learning how the presbytery and former congregation had redeveloped the land and buildings for new purposes.

“There was such a love for the ministries happening there,” said Starling-Louis before mentioning the multiple church groups that now hold services in the sanctuary, a day-care center for children and mothers, and schooling for English-language learners. An onsite sewing collective so impressed her with its beautiful wares she purchased a handbag.

Roth, who has led Memorial Drive Ministries since 2018, said it was an honor to welcome the Co-Moderators to a place that has welcomed so many from so far.

“The Co-Moderators’ care for local churches was clear during their visit, and their encouragement for local churches to say ‘yes’ to the communities around them,” he said.

Roth talked with Starling-Louis and Santana-Grace about the realities of international displacement, including how globally “the human family is fleeing danger faster than we are finding solutions for those in harm’s way. That’s a problem that won’t be fixed without local communities who are committed to the moral project of welcoming those fleeing danger.”

A map shows some places community members of Memorial Drive Ministries arrived from.

In a theological context, he often thinks about “how Christ comes to us through strangers. Ministry with refugees is one of our opportunities to serve Christ among and alongside them.”

Memorial Drive Ministries welcome to refugees includes hosting more than a dozen partner groups on-site, including Christian worship services in Swahili, Lingala, French, Mara, Chin, Burmese, Amharic and English; the Amani Women Center and Sewing Academy where Starling-Louis purchased the handbag; the Center for Victims of Torture (Georgia); the Shalom Afterschool Initiative; and the Refugee Family Literacy Program.

Everything about today’s Memorial Drive Ministries goes back to Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church, a congregation that expanded on the Clarkston campus from the 1950s into the ‘80s, including the addition of kitchen space, a gym and outdoor play areas.

The congregation met the realities of membership decline in the 21st century by “proactively opening its doors to the wider community,” Roth said. “Everyone rallied around that new model.” He gave special credit to the Rev. George Tatro, pastor as Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church.

“I’m always eager to lift up and honor the legacy of that congregation,” Roth added. “They planted a church that was designed around worship, relationship and service to the community.”

Fred Tangeman, Manager of OGA Publications, Office of the General Assembly

Today’s Focus: General Assembly Co-Moderators visit Memorial Drive Ministries

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Cindy Ealy, Budget Assistant, Office of the General Assembly 
Lindy Ebbs, Administrator, Constituency Relationships, Relationship & Development Operations, Administrative Services Group, (A Corp)  

Let us pray

Lord, we thank you for the growth of your church. Continue to bless, guide and inspire us all to serve you faithfully so that the world may turn to you in praise. Amen.