A newsletter for friends of the Global Mission Institute, Luther Seminary

Global Vision - Spring 2013

View more articles in the Spring 2013 issue.

GMI Member Congregation Profile

A Vision of Heaven

As two Sudanese women drove through St. Cloud, Minn. on their way to work, they passed Bethlehem Lutheran Church They had been searching for a place to connect with other Christians. After prayerful consideration, they decided to give the congregation a chance. On their first visit in 2003, the women received such a warm welcome that they returned to Bethlehem week after week. Soon they brought their children, and the families became an integral part of the community.

As more Sudanese worshipers were drawn to Bethlehem, communication challenges became apparent, as English was not their first language. Rather than view this as a barrier, the congregation recognized it as an opportunity to expand their ministry—an opportunity that was not unfamiliar, but was fundamental, to the community. When it was founded in 1908, Bethlehem was predominantly made up of Norwegian immigrants working in local stone quarries. They worshiped entirely in their native Norwegian tongue until they saw an opportunity to reach out to students in the area by adding English worship.

So it was natural for the people of Bethlehem to reimagine their ministry when the greater St. Cloud population began to transform with diverse languages and cultures. "This congregation was formed and organized out of a desire to hear the gospel in a first language," says Pastor Dee Pederson, "So we wanted to provide that for our new neighbors. It was clear that our current ministry could not meet the needs of our congregation or offer support because of language."

Soon after, Pastor Pederson connected with AGORA, a program dedicated to equipping immigrant lay leaders for multicultural ministry. A student had recently completed the AGORA training and was hoping to move to St. Cloud to minister to the Nuer-speaking people from Sudan. Before long, Bethlehem welcomed AGORA graduate James Puotyual as the Lay Minister for African National Ministries. From his AGORA training, Puotyual helped implement a model that fosters a unified congregation, regardless of language. Bethlehem strives to be "a vision of heaven," says Pastor Pederson, "A place where all tribes and languages are gathered together."

During his AGORA training, Puotyual studied topics including leadership, Bible, theology and outreach. Since 2007, he has led Bethlehem's weekly Nuer-language worship service for up to 60 people. He works with community members from Sudan, Liberia and Nigeria, and often serves beyond the role of a preacher and worship leader, providing language support for local families with paperwork, doctor appointments, meetings and more.

Now with a thriving multicultural ministry, Bethlehem continues to be a strong supporter and committed advocate for AGORA at Luther Seminary. Four other Bethlehem members—two from Sudan and two from Liberia—have attended AGORA training.

AGORA aligns with the Global Mission Institute

Since aligning together in August 2012, AGORA and the Global Mission Institute at Luther Seminary are excited to continue to provide critical training for multicultural lay leaders, while being strengthened by increased resources, facilities, technology and faculty. Bethlehem Lutheran knows firsthand that in today's evolving communities, it is crucial to equip leaders who can support diverse populations in the church. By setting an example in their own ministry, and supporting AGORA and the GMI, they encourage other congregations to better serve their own changing communities.

Many congregations are embracing the rich culture and diversity in their communities. Learn more about how you and your congregation can partner with the Global Mission Institute or participate in AGORA's Christian Leadership Training

Do you know an emerging lay leader in your congregation? AGORA's Christian Leadership Training for a Multicultural World will help prepare and equip lay people from multicultural and ethnic specific congregations to serve as leaders in ministries of education, congregational care and proclamation.