Living Water Community Church, a long-time MCC partner, is committed to developing their youth into leaders within their congregation and in the broader Chicago community. By partnering with several MCC programs, young adults are given the opportunity to explore their gifts while ministering to their diverse neighbors.
According to Pastor Kristin Jackson, the congregation, which was founded in Rogers Park in 1995 by a group from Reba Place Church, is made up mostly of people who did not grow up in the Mennonite Church. It brings together people from different backgrounds and ethnicities, with more than four languages spoken regularly in their services.
MCC has played a key role in the congregation’s development. “Most people come to our church without a clear sense of Mennonite identity,” said Jackson. “MCC has been one of the earliest and strongest connecting points with the larger Mennonite community.”
Summer Service program
One of Living Water’s first partnerships with MCC began with the Summer Service program, a short-term MCC program that supports young people of diverse ethnic backgrounds in their development of leadership skills in their home congregations and communities. This program allows Living Water to employ young people for the summer, and because they don’t need another job, the participants can get more integrated into church life and the community.
Three participants in MCC’s Summer Service program are spending several months this summer continuing this legacy of building bridges in the surrounding Chicago communities.
Hafashimana Obedi and Jean Marie Bikorimana are working with refugee families in Rogers Park, focusing on partnering with resettlement activities. They, along with Nisha Darjee, are also working to support neighborhood outreach activities. All three helped as well with the congregation’s three-week-long summer day camp.
Pastor Stephen Lamb is the coordinator for the Summer Service program at Living Water. “This partnership is a great thing for us,” he said. “It helps us to be able to develop some of these leaders.”
According to Lamb, the program takes a different shape each summer, trying to take advantage of the students’ individual gifts in order to reach the different cultural groups that make up their community. Much of the students’ time is spent out in the neighborhoods working with brothers and sisters from their home countries such as Burundi and Nepal.
One of the days each week this summer is focused on teaching one another songs and dances in their respective languages and then leading the congregation. It has turned into a very meaningful exercise for the participants. “It’s not likely that someone else who is not from your country would come learn your way of life, your songs, your country,” said Obedi. “It’s usually the other way around being told to learn English.”
According to Obedi, spending time with people from other cultures also enables one to find the similarities between different cultures, rather than focusing on the differences. The Summer Service program has given him and other participants the opportunity to build relationships they wouldn’t have otherwise.
In addition, Obedi and Bikash Biswa, a previous Summer Service participant, had the opportunity to attend the Mennonite World Conference Global Youth Summit in Pennsylvania in July, thanks to a scholarship from MCC. The experience enabled them to connect with people from all over the world and get a broader sense of the worldwide Mennonite community.
Coming out of the Summer Service program, MCC is also providing leadership development grants to the congregation for ongoing work after the summer session ends. The three participants will have several hours each week throughout the school year to focus on the projects they began this summer. This allows for continuity in relationship-building in the community, as well as continued personal development and reflection for the young leaders.
Church Community Worker program
Although now discontinued, Living Water also participated in MCC’s Church Community Worker program which gave grants to churches to employ individuals. Amos Shakya was one of the participants in this program. Shakya was at a point of trying to discern pastoral ministry for himself and specifically feeling called to minister to refugees from Nepal and Bhutan. “We didn’t have the resources to bring him on as staff, but MCC came around us,” said Jackson.
The position allowed Shakya to develop as a leader in church. Once the MCC program ended after two years, Living Water was able to hire him, and he continues to be on the pastoral staff. “MCC’s stepping in at the crucial point was very significant in his ministry as it rose and blossomed,” said Jackson. “What started as a house church meeting in families’ living rooms has grown to our second service that has 75 people come every Sunday. And now he is about to plant a second church in Aurora.”
Over the last decade, a number of young adults have also participated in MCC’s international year-long Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program. And the congregation has hosted various MCC events such as the recent Peace Gathering last spring.
This fall, between worship services, there will be an opportunity for people to tie knots in an MCC comforter top. With the wide mix of languages in the congregation, this a project that crosses language barriers.
“My sense is that people naturally, if left to their own plans, tend to hang out and want to be with people that are like them,” said Jackson. “That’s true whether you’re from Burundi or born in Chicago or Katmandu. We need to put our money and time and paid staff toward the things that we can do that help connect across cultures.”
The ongoing partnerships between Living Water and MCC is one step in building some of those bridges and equipping young leaders.