Gospel Partnerships: Bridging Racial Divides in the Name of Jesus

Pastor John Ronel of the Oaks Fellowship gives an update on how the congregation has been impacted by COVID-19, stories from the Week of Blessings, and how our two church bodies are working together to represent the unity of the body of Christ.

“I believe that our partnership is a beautiful image of bridging racial divides in the name of Jesus.”

How has the Oaks community been affected by the pandemic?

The Oaks Fellowship is a part of one body of believers. We never count ourselves as isolated but rather as part of the community-at-large.

When the government proposed measures to reduce the spread of the virus, most of us were shocked by how these new guidelines would oppose our style of worship and the African way of living. This pandemic challenged us to limit the number of church attendees per service, to social distances, and to utilize social media as a platform to facilitate our services.

If anyone among believers is sick, let him call elders of the Church, and let them pray over him/her, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14).

This verse and others call for closeness between elders and church members. God created us to be in community and to pray for one another. However, this pandemic has brought on a season of isolation, even within the church body. What we learned was that enforcing these rules was critical to reducing the spread of COVID-19, but this would create a barrier between believers in our church family. Adjusting to these changes has been challenging and will require that the church leadership reassess how to serve the congregation best during this time.

Families struck with the illness within the congregation included my family six, another family of six, and a family of four. Fortunately, most of us fully recovered.

Several church members also lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Many have called me for financial assistance to meet rent dues, utilities, and other necessary living expenses. This season of hardship has led to a decrease in giving and has crippled the church’s ability to help congregation members.

What challenges have the church and community faced because of the pandemic?  

No government officials came up with a clear plan to stop the spread of COVID-19. However, many agreed that we could limit the spread of the virus by using masks, washing hands, applying hands sanitizer, and social distancing.However, many of these guidelines were unwelcomed by a few of our Church members. Several of our members misunderstood what was going on while a few even misinterpreted Scripture to suit their wishes. This pandemic sowed fear, and this fear led to the defection of several members of the church.

While my family of six was ill with the virus, our absence opened the door for families to consider other church options. We are are sad to see several Oaks families choosing to worship with other church bodies, especially those who were active members of our leadership and church choir. And since none of us know when this pandemic will be over, the Oaks church has struggled to restart our choir rehearsals and several other church activities.

How were you encouraged by the Oaks and Eastminster joining together for the Week of Blessings?

The Oaks and Eastminster Church collaboration efforts are essential to the success of this ministry. Our collaboration started a long time ago and is still bearing fruit today. Because of that, God is being glorified!

Although I have to talk about the Week of Blessing, please permit that I should mention the following: Our collaboration is seen in evangelism where ministers from Eastminster preach the gospel to the Oaks, or our choir worships with you. This same collaboration is also seen through Eastminster’s financial support to the Oaks through initiatives such as the Week of Blessing.

I am sincerely encouraged by Eastminster’s spiritual burden for immigrants and the desire to reach the members of the Oaks. You have done many things that are beyond our imaginations. Because of this kindness, the name of Jesus is known. We cannot thank you enough for your love and willingness to partner with this ministry of loving immigrants in Wichita.

Are there any stories you can share from the Week of Blessings?

Elina Mukamazimpaka, also known as Maman Mbabazi, is a Seventh Day Advent church member, widow and friend of the Oaks. She is the mother of Oliva, a single lady who died three months ago, leaving behind six children.

Although Oliva was with a husband married to more than one wife, our church body was devoted to loving her and her children well and praying for her.

On numerous occasions, Oliva stopped by and attended our church services. Regardless of Elina’s belief backgrounds, we were compelled by God’s love to assist her family and to support the orphans under her care.

During the Week of Blessing, Elina received two full baskets of utensils and school supplies for the orphans under her care. Elina said, “May the Lord bless you [Pastor John] and the Oaks Church. May the Lord bless the “Bazungu” [white people] working in partnership with you. You have shown that you’re serving God. This gift is proof that you were true friends to Oliva. It is a joy to know that there are still people who care that these children receive school supplies this year. Thank you.”

Can you share more on how the Oaks and Eastminster working together bridges racial divides in the name of Jesus?

Although we came from different church traditions and different church backgrounds, our mandate to working together as the body of Christ is an effort to applying the divine principle.

Letting believers consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and …” (Hebrews 10:24).

As a friend and Elder at the Oaks Church, there are no right words I can use to express my appreciation and gratitude to Eastminster’s family of believers. Your willingness and commitment to partner with us have encouraged us to advance the work of the Kingdom.

While racial divide and discrimination exist in America, and many people hypocritically support and enforce the vice, I believe that our partnership is a beautiful image of bridging racial divides in the name of Jesus.

From the very first days of our partnership, Eastminster Church has taken the lead in embracing members of the Oaks. Many of your members worked tirelessly to facilitate the integration of refugees in the community. Eastminster Church has mobilized its members to teach ESL classes to our members, help with child care, and develop deep and meaningful relationships with our families.

Moving forward, Eastminster and the Oaks Fellowship can share this vision of unity in Christ across the city of Wichita, the state of Kansas, and across the nation.

It is shame that the racial divide in our country and our communities is becoming our daily creed and sometimes supported by officials, defended by theologians and church organizations. Jesus Christ cries! But, does Eastminster’s collaboration with the Oaks mean a lot based on what our cities, state and country need? Could our working together be strengthened to reach out to our community bridging racial divides?

People from the secular world still know that churches do their best to preach the inclusive love of God and encourage their members to be united. Yet, others see division, injustice and discrimination as tools and means to fulfill their ego agenda.

The Oaks and Eastminster can move forward boldly with faith that Christ can unite these racial divides. We can do so speaking out against all kinds of injustice and discrimination and should openly tackle this issue from its root causes. We also should understand that believers are Ambassadors of the Kingdom of God in this country. As ambassadors, we MUST do more to counter this intensification of the racial divide.

How do you see God working at The Oaks right now?

I thank God for his love and mercy. I thank him when I see members of the Oaks sharing their lives, joy and worries, and their faith. During this pandemic, I have seen the power of prayer and steadfastness displayed across our congregation. I thank God for touching and changing the hearts of the 160 members of the Oaks by the power of His Holy Spirit.

I am so humbled to continuously learn that God’s ways are not our ways, and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8).

How can we pray for you and The Oaks community?

Pray that the gospel we are preaching may spread, and the Oaks Church may grow stronger in faith. Pray that our fellow members may shine within this time. Amid this new and challenging season, pray that our church members would boldly confess that our Lord Jesus Christ remains the same “yesterday, today and forever” (Heb 13:8), and his Word, the gospel is the only source of hope. Remember to intercede for families that left us to join other ministries during this season. Let us pray collectively that this pandemic end and that racism is uprooted. Finally, pray for all of the children, and for this nation’s November election.