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Inspiring Immigrant Pastors

Missionary Julie Kraus equips ethnic minority ministers in adjustment to new land.
Government and humanitarian agencies provide help for immigrants and refugees getting settled after arriving in the U.S., while faith-based groups share both practical aid and Christian compassion.

Many new arrivals are already Christians, including pastors who hope to continue serving in their new homeland. That’s where U.S. Missions Intercultural Ministries missionaries like Julie K. Kraus step up to the plate.

In 2007, Paul and Julie Kraus answered God’s call to minister to growing foreign populations and unreached people groups in New York City. They previously served 20 years as Assemblies of God world missionaries in West Africa, mostly French-speaking Côte d’Ivoire, as well as at Global University, where they learned about immigrant pastors who needed help adjusting.

New York Ministry Network Superintendent Duane P. Durst wanted to create a welcoming environment for the state’s new international residents, and hundreds of ethnic pastors in New York, with AG or similar background, needed assistance. Not all spoke English; many of the Africans spoke French.

The Krauses transferred to U.S. Missions in 2007 and set to work in New York hosting ethnic leaders’ forums and “Who’s My Neighbor” seminars focusing on unreached people groups in communities; connecting pastors; and helping foreign ministers obtain U.S. credentials. Julie taught French in a high-need Title 1 high school in Harlem, while Paul, as the network’s Intercultural Ministries director, began developing the department around three core motivations: raising awareness of New York’s enormous cross-cultural challenge; encouraging and connecting ethnic Christian leaders as partners in addressing the challenge; and resourcing Christians to evangelize effectively to culturally different neighbors.

“To effectively communicate the gospel, we can’t just be experts in our own culture,” says Julie Kraus, 63. “We must recognize our negative biases and find ways to bridge cultures. Understanding culture is essential to building trust and sharing the gospel.”

In 2017, Paul Kraus received a medical diagnosis of multiple myeloma. In November 2019, Paul and Julie relocated to Illinois to be near family while Paul was a candidate for CAR T-cell therapy through the University of Chicago. However, he died March 4, 2020.

As Julie navigated pragmatic changes and personal grief, she still sensed a ministry calling from God. She continued the work in New York, assuming Paul’s position as network Intercultural Ministries director. She met ethnic pastors via Zoom even during COVID-19 restrictions. Other U.S. missionaries sometimes joined in, including those working with Native American populations in New York.

In spite of Paul’s illness and death, Julie says God used the move to Chicago to open greater doors of connectivity with French-speaking pastors and churches in Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and other states. After the AG national Office of Ethnic Relations asked Julie to write a welcome letter to a French-speaking Congolese pastor in Minnesota, she connected with other Togolese there.

The Ohio Ministry Network is a partner, as AG leaders in the Buckeye State look to support refugee ministers such as Amon Kajabika in his church planting and French/Swahili ministry training vision. Kraus is grateful to Durst for his leadership in facilitating connections, wisdom in seeing the needs, and support of efforts to equip other districts.

“The Lord has swung doors wide for Julie to reach out to these French speakers,” says Wayne Huffman, senior director of U.S. Missions Intercultural Ministries. There are potentially hundreds of French-speaking African congregations in the U.S., as pastors in several states are eagerly embracing the structured approach for credentialing.

“Some of these pastors are already AG, or they have studied at Bible schools started by AG missionaries in Africa,” says Huffman. “They are starving for inclusion and connectivity. And they want to reach their neighborhoods.”

While placing a U.S. missionary in every city where such pastors want training would be cost prohibitive and logistically impossible, Huffman says Zoom calls and providing materials in French paves the pathway for increased assimilation.

Because Julie’s daughter, Emily Stender, lives in Chicago with her family, Kraus stays in Chicago while maintaining the ministry in New York. Kraus meets regularly with the AG pastors and a larger group of African pastors, and is working with the Network School of Ministry and Global University’s Berean School of the Bible to develop credentialing training in French. In January 2021, she completed training with the Cultural Intelligence Center to begin conducting workshops where local church leaders can learn to relate and work with people from different backgrounds.

The opportunity for connections perfectly illustrates an old African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” In order to fulfill their calling, though, pastors also need a platform for ministry. Local churches can help by providing space in buildings for ethnic congregations to meet.

Destiny Christian Center in Syracuse, New York, is one church meeting that need. Located on the city’s north side, the church’s focus on inner-city outreach began to broaden when the mayor opened the area to refugees. In 2011, looking for ways to help the new residents, the church connected with Congolese pastor Emmanuel Seruhugu, who wanted to start ministering to other Congolese.

Lead pastor Jeff Stonecipher says the church’s location, a converted funeral home, is well-suited to sharing, as it has more than one meeting space. The congregation got involved, helping the newcomers with food, clothing, and getting settled. A few years later, a Baptist Nepali pastor, Matan Magar, wanted to connect with a Pentecostal church and began ministry from Destiny Christian Center as well, starting a congregation called Syracuse Aaradhana Church.

Both Syracuse Aaradhana Church and Destiny’s African Nation Church are parent-affiliated churches now averaging 200 in attendance. They now help other refugees and join in outreach to the neighborhood. Most African refugees have spent considerable time in refugee camps due to civil war in their countries and are fully vetted, approved to work in the U.S.

“These are hardworking, intelligent people eager to get settled and contribute,” says Stonecipher, 53. “When they started, they used our van to pick up people, but now most have jobs and own cars.” As their children learn English at school, the Congolese have had to adapt their service format and ministry approach. Before long, they may need their own facilities, even as other Central African groups are currently developing.

“The goal of Intercultural Ministries is to help believers see their Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish neighbors as their mission calling and equip them to credibly and confidently share their faith,” Kraus says. “Jesus’ command to go into ‘all the world’ is more than just going to another country, it’s our call to cross cultural barriers right here at home.”

Cynthia J Thomas

Cynthia J. Thomas worked for Assemblies of God U.S. Missions for six years before becoming primary caregiver for her father, a World War II veteran. She has served as a counselor for victims of domestic violence and women facing crisis pregnancies. Cindy and her husband, Phil, a schoolteacher, volunteer in youth outreach and have three adult children and one granddaughter.