It’s a long way from Liberia to East Lansdowne, but over that distance God planted and nurtured a small worshipping community in a refugee camp into a thriving Lutheran Church officially welcomed at the 2012 Assembly.
In 1996, a high-school student named Moses Dennis (right) who fled the Liberian civil war for a refugee camp in Ghana, was organizing a Lutheran worshipping community there. The young man gathered prayer groups house to house, said Thomas Kpanka, a fellow refugee. “He was hard-working, and always evangelizing,” Kpanka said.
Immanuel Lutheran Church had been thriving on Penn Boulevard since 1906, but as the dawn of the 21st Century neared, “we had lost a lot of members,” said former church administrator Virginia Leitch (right). “Some moved, others got older and died. We reached a point where there were not many people coming.”
By the time Immanuel’s leaders asked the synod for help to prevent the church from closing, Dennis had immigrated to Philadelphia from Ghana where he studied at the Lutheran Theological Seminary. The synod proposed calling Dennis to serve the dwindling Immanuel and to build a congregation of Africans. Mr. Kpanka who had also resettled to this area, and a small group began meeting in his home for prayer and fasting.
“When we started, there were seven of us in prayer meetings,” Pastor Dennis recalls. Soon there were a couple of dozen at prayer, and 70 people gathered for the initial worship. Today the new Faith-Immanuel Lutheran Church averages 200 people at worship.
Praise and worship at Faith-Immanuel Lutheran Church is one wonderful way of worship.
In addition to a lively African praise service, Pastor Dennis holds traditional worship for a faithful Immanuel remnant twice a month. In addition to a thriving day care and scout groups, the church is home to the Christian Vision Broadcasting Network, an internet radio station linking Liberian immigrants locally with their homeland with a mix of gospel programming, preaching and social justice activism.
“The church really encourages you to grow and to get deeper in Christ,” said Joyce Adams, the new congregation’s vice president.
Though for years the church was known as Faith Worship Center, as time to be officially organized approached the leadership chose the name Faith-Immanuel to emphasize both its past and its future. “There is no way we can separate Faith and Immanuel,” Pastor Dennis said. “Just as Immanuel left us a legacy so we have to leave a legacy for the future church that will continue to worship here.”
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