African Kids in Kentucky
When Beth A. Arp took the helm of Shively Worship Center 13 years ago, the Louisville, Kentucky, church had nearly shut down. Her presence didn’t improve matters.
“When I took the church, a lot of people, especially men, wouldn’t sit under me, so they left,” says Arp, 60. “They just couldn’t accept the fact that there was a woman in the pulpit.”
That didn’t deter Arp, who sensed the future of the church should focus on ministry to children. Associate pastor Tronda D. Graham also expected kids to come. Neither knew quite how this would happen.
Last October, a teacher from the local public school visited Shively Worship Center and brought a group of 35 children who lived nearby. Arp and Graham sprang into action, creating both a Thursday evening and a Sunday morning program for the children who have immigrated from the Congo, Uganda, and Tanzania. On Thursdays, the children eat dinner at Shively Worship Center and participate in a lesson afterward. Various women who attend the church have been energized by the effort.
“We all help to buy and prepare the food,” Arp says.
Sunday morning has become the favorite for children because of worship with flags.
“They love praise and worship, they love to pray,” says Graham, who is African-American. “They’ve had that instilled in them before they came here.”
Graham, 54, created and leads a program for the 9- to 16-year-old girls: POWER. Its mission is to teach the core values of positivity, originality, wholeness, excellence, and respect.
“Our foundational Scripture is Acts 1:8,” Graham says. “It’s about making witnesses. They can go back into their sphere of influence knowing that they have an identity and it comes from Christ, despite what other people have said to them.”
Because they are African immigrants, some of the children have been bullied at school.
“They just want someplace that they can feel loved and they belong,” Arp says. This care and attention is reaping positive benefits. Arp notes that one young disruptive boy who initially displayed anger has mellowed.
“He came up and gave me a hug,” Arp says. “The children are starting to trust and know that we do love them.”
Graham notes that some of the African children have long been expected to act like adults because they are responsible to care for younger siblings.
“When they come here, they’re so excited to be children, to be able to have fun,” she says.
This summer, Arp and Graham plan to begin a summer program where the children can continue to learn from the Bible, play soccer, eat together, and have fun. She is grateful that God has provided a new mission field for Shively Worship Center.
“Immigrants are in our own backyard and our churches need to be a place of refuge,” Arp says. “Children are looking for safe places; they are looking for people who are going to love them. Our churches need to be that sanctuary.”
Arp and her husband Virgil, have been U.S. missionaries with the Assemblies of God for 40 years, starting with Teen Challenge in 1979. Virgil continues with work in addiction treatment.