Georgia community among most diverse in America
July 13, 2017
A church in Georgia is reaching out to a community that has become one of America’s most ethnically diverse.
Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church in Stone Mountain is about two miles from Clarkston, Georgia, which counts as many as half of its 13,000 residents as refugees. Those who trace their Presbyterian roots to Scotland, Africa and the Caribbean, along with those who found their roots at Memorial Drive, worship side by side.
Memorial Drive’s pastor, the Rev. George Tatro, sees the potential for the church to be the heart of the community. His mantra is “If you have something, share it.”
And the church is doing just that by letting Shalom International Ministry — a 1001 New Worshiping Community founded by immigrants, refugees and the Tri-Presbytery New Church Development Commission — worship in its space free of charge.
In addition to Sunday worship, the Shalom International Ministry sponsors an after-school initiative called Inspire at Memorial Drive, which provides tutoring for nearly 30 middle school students from Ethiopia, Somalia, Burma, Rwanda, Sudan, Pakistan, Nepal, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya and Angola, as well as children’s ministry programs. On Saturdays, they have a safety program for 35 to 50 children in the community, and on Fridays, a youth ministry for ages 16 to 21.
When asked what Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church has meant to him, the Rev. Gad Mpoyo, Shalom’s organizing pastor, said, “In 2012, we had been worshiping for six months in apartments. Then we met with pastor George Tatro and the session at Memorial Drive. They told us not only would they give us space but that they wanted to do ministry with us.” He remembers that pastor Tatro said, “We may not have money but we open our space to make ministry happen.”
Tatro said the space originally prepared for the Shalom International Ministry is also shared by two other 1001 New Worshiping Communities — Chin Presbyterian Church and Zo Presbyterian Church — made up of Myanmar refugees who received the gospel through the work of Presbyterian missionaries.
“God plants, transplants and gives the growth,” Tatro said. “Our part is to be faithful.” He added, “When people ask the practical question ‘What do the refugee churches give?’ I always respond, ‘They give us an opportunity to show radical hospitality, to share from our abundance. They give us the opportunity to reach out to people who come with nothing; and just as we minister to their needs, they minister to us because God is at work in all of this.’”
The International Rescue Committee meets at Memorial Drive to provide classes in English, American history and government. A diverse group of refugee and immigrant women and girls gather at the church weekly to learn to use a sewing machine and improve their sewing skills. Classes are led by experienced volunteers from the Global Village Project, a school in Decatur that serves teen refugees whose educations have been interrupted by war. They learn to identify various fabrics and make unique products as they stitch their lives back together.
Memorial Drive has outfitted its large gym to be able to host groups of students for alternative spring breaks and has partnered with a Christian-based peacemaking group to offer training in nonviolence and advocacy.
The city of Clarkston provides many opportunities for students to address poverty, dislocation and trauma caused by violence, as well as other life issues. The community of Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church truly has become an international mission field, which the congregation says is a huge challenge and a great blessing.
Anne Sayre, Correspondent, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church
Let us join in prayer for:
Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church Staff
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Gracious God, open the eyes and the hearts of us all so we might see opportunities to serve you in the lives of those around us each day. May your light and your love shine through us through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.