A very long time ago, according to Luke’s story in the Acts of the Apostles, before Jesus left his disciples for the last time, he gave them a promise and gave them work to do.
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
The story told in Acts is one of expansion, inclusion and a journey to the heart of the Empire. Before the story is over, the Good News has traveled from a little province on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean to the city of Rome.
Paul is a prisoner, but he doesn’t care. He gets to tell the story of Jesus to people in the most powerful city he knows.
The promise to Abraham is being fulfilled. God said to Abraham, “I will bless you; and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
The covenant was with the Jews but was never meant to stop with the Jews. It was good news of great joy for all the people (as the angel said to the shepherds).
The message that God is love was to spread around the earth.
That movement continues. Today, messengers of God’s good news are traveling the globe. For a long time, Christian pastors, teachers and other workers went from Europe and North America to other continents.
Now, Christian mission is a shared, global movement. Pastors and teachers travel from one country to another to work with immigrant groups and local churches. The church in South Korea has sent out missionaries all over the world.
We have been blessed in Rome to have a pastor from Nigeria in our community. Benjamin Arazu was invited to the United States by the Pentecostal church through a pastor from the US working in Nigeria.
That church body sponsored Benjamin for a religious worker’s visa. Benjamin is the pastor of the River of Life Church on West Dominick Street.
Through God’s grace, Benjamin and the Presbyterian Church have been able to become partners in a ministry with immigrants in East Utica from Central African countries.
The former Bethany Presbyterian Church on Lansing Street closed and the building was empty. Benjamin was seeking a place to establish a Christian fellowship for immigrants in Utica. The Presbytery of Utica (our regional church body) was able to make the former Bethany church building available for the ministry offered by Benjamin and the River of Life Church.
The period of time covered by Benjamin’s R-1 visa is over and he now may apply for a permanent work permit (Green Card).
However, he is being required to return to Nigeria and make his application from there. He and his family will have to fly back to Nigeria at great expense. The children will have to leave school. It may take several months for the process to complete before Benjamin can return.
Please pray for the two congregations Benjamin will have leave behind, that the seeds planted there will continue to grow and that leadership will be strong.
Please pray for safe travel for Benjamin and his family, and for their endurance of this challenging time.
I am grateful for the surprising way God’s Spirit brings people together from every nation and people and makes us one body in the midst of all our differences. Thanks be to God for this global church!