African Immigrants Find Healing in Indiana
With fewer than 100 people on a Sunday morning, International Restoration Church of Fort Wayne may not look like a thriving congregation.
Yet, as part of a network revitalizing churches and reaching ethnic groups across northeast Indiana, this largely African-immigrant congregation is an integral element in an Assemblies of God success story.
“I think people are experiencing God in our church,” says Pastor Francois Mikobi, who emigrated to the U.S. after fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the late 1990s. “Our vision is to be a restoring center. It’s a place where God will provide healing and deliverance. A lot of people who came in the beginning were refugees. God has started a work of restoring our lives. This is not a small thing.”
Restoration launched in 2009, a year after First Assembly of God of Fort Wayne started offering French interpretations of Pastor Ron Hawkins’ sermons for a small group of refugees.
That led to the group’s own service and then a move to rented quarters. Finally, growth led to a search for a permanent home.
Despite most members living on modest incomes, Restoration raised $45,000 last year for the down payment on a building. Originally listed for $225,000, the owner agreed to sell it for $179,000.
The key came on a special fundraising Sunday, when people donated or pledged $30,000. One member who planned to buy a car instead gave the money to the building fund.
After acquiring the property, Restoration held its dedication service last November, with more than 200 attending. Soon after, the church moved its 1 p.m. worship service — a time necessitated by using other facilities — back to 11 a.m.
“Through getting that building God has shown us His faithfulness,” Mikobi says. He says God spoke to his heart at the end of 2013 to begin planning for a new building.
“I started praying we would get a building that would hold 300, that God would give us leaders who could reach people, and God would give the increase,” Mikobi says. “By God’s grace we’ve reached those goals.”
Turnouts have gradually increased, reaching an average of 70 by early January. Assistant pastor James Masasu says having a permanent, 10,000-square-foot home has created a trust between leaders and the congregation.
“It’s a living testimony, from a small house to a big building with a sanctuary and Sunday School space,” Masasu says. “It’s God working in the life of the church. It’s something no one ever expected.”
A key part of Restoration’s story is the crucial boost it received from First Assembly, which included a donation toward the down payment.
“I love the multicultural impact they are making,” Hawkins says. “Restoration has touched people I didn’t even know we had in Fort Wayne. I’ve been here for 37 years and people are coming out of the woodwork for this.”
First Assembly’s ethnic outreach extends beyond the African community. It supports a nearby international house that ministers to multiple immigrants, and also has helped start Burmese, Hispanic, Mandarin Chinese, and deaf churches.
In addition, First Assembly has formed a 14-church regional network. Hawkins leads monthly mentoring sessions, with staff members leading volunteer training and providing other support. Last year First Assembly invested $10,000 in the network; as members grow they, too, are supporting operations.
This educational component is one reason Mikobi obtained his AG credentials in August 2014. Although he came to the United States with a different culture, the pastor says he wanted to associate with other Christians with similar doctrine.
In addition to network meetings, Francois attends the monthly school of ministry operated by the Assemblies of God Indiana District.
“Being part of a Fellowship where I can be trained is a blessing,” the longtime Pentecostal says. “I’ve met different pastors who share their experience on how to minister to people here. I see myself as a missionary to the U.S. You have to understand where you are.”
Among the many lives touched at Restoration Church is the 30-year-old son of Masasu. A refugee who also fled violence in the Congo, James is delighted to see Patrick there three years after his son wanted nothing to do with church.
“People are giving testimonies of how Jesus is changing their lives,” Masasu says. “There are a lot of practical things where we can see God is working. People are going and giving. We see not only refugees, but different nationalities and backgrounds. It’s the move of the Spirit.”
Though African in origin, Restoration has some white members, such as Dennise Orr. Despite Pentecostal roots she never had been an AG member until recently.
An administrative assistant for a home health care business, Orr developed her love of Africa on a mission trip to Ghana five years ago. She grew so close to her hosts they gave her the Ghanan name, Ama.
Orr says the African refugees proved a strong attraction. Once she started attending regularly, Orr recognized Restoration as a biblically based church home offering unconditional love.
“They don’t care what happened in your past,” Orr says. “In this day and age where everyone is gossiping about you and everyone is judging you, it’s a place where you’re going to find God’s love. That’s what attracted me and that’s why I stay.”
This growth comes amid a pastor so dedicated to this work that he makes a four-hour round trip every weekend.
Mikobi says his passion for what God has done in in his life is why he commutes after working all week as an electrical engineer in the Indianapolis area.
“God has restored us,” says Mikobi, who met his future wife, Salima, in a refugee camp. They started dating after reconnecting at a mutual friend’s wedding in 2003.
“Our story is a story of God’s love and restoring us as refugees,” Mikobi says. “I went through a very rough time, but God was faithful to protect us and establish us in the U.S. We look at this as an opportunity. We know we are restoring lives for eternity.”