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building a community to reach a community

Africans in Johnson City - Our Neighbors

Karamoh and Yaema call Johnson City “home” as their minds swirl with fresh memories of the brutal hostilities in their native Sierra Leone from which they fled for safety. More and more Africans are moving into our community. In less than ten years it has grown from 50 persons to over 1,000. And GFC senses God’s call to reach them with His love and gospel.

Most of these African immigrants – like myself - fled from war torn countries; but a small number also came under the Diversity Visa after winning the US government lottery which opens our borders to a small number of lucky “winners.” Still others come to study at ETSU.

Yet all share a common denominator: they find themselves in a foreign environment with immense social, economic and spiritual challenges.

Socially our new neighbors experience limited community support compared to their native culture. Each day they face communication challenges as language barriers make integration in the local community very difficult and discouraging.

Economically they scramble to work hard in order to pay bills and to help their families back in Africa. This leaves little time for spiritual activities. Of course, actually finding a job is a near-miracle. And if they lose a job they don’t easily find another. Many are caught in a financial crisis due to unwise choices or mismanagement.

Spiritually each one confronts an intimidating strangeness in this new land. There are differences in worship customs and theological backgrounds. “Where do I fit in?” they ask. Some live with an ever present fear of the influence of witchcraft. Coming to America is itself considered a “success” which causes friends and family back in Africa to become jealous, often creating friction in relationships. Sadly, I’ve seen new students openly confess their Christian faith when they arrive here, but drift away with bad companionship and exposure to different philosophies, ideas and opinions.

When African immigrants arrive in this sophisticated environment
with its challenges, they lose sight of their life’s purpose. My four years’ experience working and mingling with these brothers and sisters has raised my awareness to their existential problems and needs. It has helped me understand that I must begin by building trust. They need a listening ear, comforting words and sometimes material assistance. They need to feel acceptance and gain hope. Unfortunately, few have anyone to turn to as they are overwhelmed with daily problems.

As I begin my full-time position at Grace Fellowship as part of the Outreach Team, I pray for God’s direction as we serve this African community which needs God’s transforming power. Our GFC community is uniquely equipped by God to reach out to this growing presence of Africans with loving and generous hearts. I believe we are on the threshold of seeing our Lord change lives, families and even generations.

Benjamin Kisoni
Cross-Cultural Outreach Pastor

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