Reflections from Pastor John
Not preaching this weekend gave me a great opportunity to wander around Zion and observe what’s going on. I have to tell you that I am so thankful to God for Zion Church and for those who choose to be a part of this ministry. I’ve only been a pastor at Zion for seven years but I’m continually amazed by our ability to manage change and adapt. In those seven years, for instance, we’ve implemented a new leadership structure which is radically different from what we had before; we’ve hired a pastor from a different denomination; joined a new denomination; left a previous denomination; welcomed many new members, many of whom speak a different language; we’ve seen some long time members say “goodbye” and go to support other churches; we’ve launched a plethora of new ministries and been positioned by God to serve our community in a very unique way. And I could go on and on. I can’t think of a single area of our church that hasn’t been affected by major changes in the last seven years.
So, wandering around the church this weekend gave me an opportunity to reflect and I want to share some of those reflections with you:
Hurray for Sunday School!
I’m so proud of our Sunday School and the great work that Denise Nahnsen and her team are doing. It was really a balm to my soul to see all the little kids singing and jumping and praising the Lord. My word, there are a lot of young kids at Zion! There were way more kids than I ever imagined in Sunday School. And then to wander down the halls and look in the classrooms of the older kids - again, wow. So pleased to see so many junior and senior high school students with open Bibles. I’m especially proud of the racial integration we’ve witnessed in the last couple of years. Changing dynamics significantly can lead to trouble and I’m so proud of how Zion has pulled together to welcome new faces.
This year, I believe, is also going to be the year that Sunday School goes year ‘round. Last year we experimented with Karenni Sunday School and it worked. This year, I really believe that we’ll be able to offer English language Sunday School for everyone. I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am by this prospect. It seems odd to me that in the past we’ve just “stopped” our programming for kids in the summer except for Bible School and Art Camp. I think we thought that our volunteers needed a break, and perhaps they do, but others need to step up and help out. Our kids need Jesus year ‘round, not just in the school year. I’m pleased that so far, everyone I’ve talked to about helping out has agreed to help. It will be a big effort, but I think it will yield amazing fruit.
What language do you speak at home?
Our new data base, which we’re still learning to use, coupled with our growth in numbers lately and especially our numerical growth in people whose first language is not English, has left us scrambling to produce meaningful statistics. But just in conversations during the 10:30 service I can share this with you: we are a church that prays in 9 different languages. Those languages are: English, Mizo, Arabic, Karenni, Nuer, Vietnamese, Kunama, Bandi and Grebo. Some of the language groups are quite small, perhaps one family. Others are quite large, the Mizo, for instance, number close to 300. Arabic speakers are growing in number, too. We are now past 20 Arabic speakers who consider Zion to be their church. I have to tell you that I’m really blown away by this. Why? Because, except for Arabic and Mizo, there are other immigrant churches in our city that worship in some of these languages. Yet the families continue to regularly attend Zion and give and when I ask them, “What brought you to Zion?,” they continue to answer, “Because God said to come here.”
مرحبا بكم في كنيسة صهيون
This means, “Welcome to Zion Church” in Arabic. I’m very excited about the growing number of Arabic speakers coming to our church. At a recent home visit with one of the families, an emphatic family patriarch grabbed my arm and said, “Zion is our Church, we belong to you!” These are Christians who have endured terrible persecution since the war in Iraq. They’ve lost their homes, businesses, and extended families. Many of them do not have an evangelical understanding of our faith. We’ve been trying to meet the needs of this community for the last two years. Now God has brought us a wonderful man named Majed Bahidh and his family to help us. Majed and his wife, Abeer, and their three children arrived in Ames in September. We’ve been trying since January to get them to come to Zion and we’ve finally worked out the transportation issues and the weather has, at last, cooperated! They are a family that is ready to serve the Lord at Zion by ministering to our Iraqi Christians and Muslims as well. The entire circumstances of their coming to Zion brings tears to my eyes. Majed and Abeer have been Christians since 2004. Majed has served as a lay pastor in both Iraq and Syria. We welcome him with open arms and he has graciously agreed to take over our Arabic language Sunday School class and to work tirelessly in the community that Zion has been reaching out to for the last two years. Thank you, Jesus! Majed gave his testimony recently at the 10:30 service and I’m sure that the other services will hear it soon.
We’ve Got New Wheels
I’m so proud to say that, as of today, we’ve been able to acquire another church van. It’s a Chevy, 2007, and runs great. We thank all our contributors for this special project, especially 100 Men in Mission and Stew Hanson Dealerships for their help in securing this new ride. I expect it to be in service in time for Sunday’s Sunday School run. We now have the ability to transport even more people to worship and education at Zion. Now we just need more drivers! Talk to me if you’re ready to volunteer! We have a beautiful problem: more people want to attend Zion on a Sunday than we can bring. I’m so thankful to God for this and grateful to the congregation for making people feel welcome.
The 65th Annual Chin National Day
The Mizo members at Zion are a part of the Chin people from Burma. They come from Chin State in Myanmar. Sunday I attended the 65th Annual Chin National Day Celebration, which was the third for Des Moines and I’m proud to say that Zion was represented at all three. It was a celebration of song and dance and fashion and food. A hearty congratulations to our Mizo dance team that performed three of four traditional dances in a “non-stop” format that wove music and dance together seamlessly. The dance was a big hit with the packed house and I have to say it was, in my opinion, the best performance of the afternoon.
The power of partnerships
I’m thankful to belong to a church that realizes it is a part of something greater than itself, that is, specifically, the body of Christ. I’m grateful to the many partnerships we’ve enjoyed throughout these last years. Freedom for Youth gave us our start in Whiz Kidz which this year became our very own STAR Kids program. I’m thankful for the support of Meredith Drive Reformed Church which continues to loan us their van for taking kids to and from school and on field trips. I’m thankful for our partnerships with others who are trying to serve the least of these with us. I’m thankful for Stew Hanson Dealerships and their support of our new van and STAR Kids. I’m grateful also to EMBARC, Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center, for partnering with us on numerous projects, most recently, summer programming for the kids and summer camps as well.
We live in a world of constant and unavoidable change. But I’m so grateful that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. Thank you for your partnership with us at Zion Church in the Gospel.
Thanks for reading. God bless. PJ