Three or four years ago, Rev. Brandon Froiland of Christ Lutheran Church in Platte City received a request to share their church building with a group of recent immigrants from Ethiopia. These individuals, members of the Oromo tribe, came to the United States as refugees, fleeing persecution. They were specifically interested in becoming Lutheran and felt uneasy with their current space, which was through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). They wanted a partnership with an LCMS congregation, with whom they felt more aligned doctrinally.
Technically a separate congregation, the Oromo Evangelical Christian Church of Kansas City (OECCKC) meets in the larger gymnasium of Christ Lutheran Church’s building. Additionally, the children of both congregations often attend weekday and Sunday School together. The two congregations have held a few joint worship services together, giving each group a chance to learn about each other’s worship style.
At first, the congregation included approximately 40 people and had to settle for the leadership of any available pastor whenever they could borrow one from somewhere else. They did not have the luxury of having a baptism or wedding performed whenever they wanted. Christ Lutheran Church often had elders take care of as much as possible, but it became clear that this group needed their own pastor.
Rev. Froiland and Christ Lutheran Church worked with an immigration attorney out of Cleveland (they could not find a local attorney to take the case with the correct expertise), and once a suitable pastor was identified in Ethiopia, it took months and massive amounts of paperwork and processing. The Missouri District was heavily involved with the documentation, as the Oromo group had to prove their church was legitimate in order to obtain a visa. At one point, Rev. Froiland inquired if any of the current members of OECCKC felt called to start formal theological training to get the group a pastor. None of them did, and ultimately, Pastor Abdi was finally allowed to migrate to the United States, followed by his family. The process was not without challenges.
It was very stressful for the Oromo worshippers when the government in Ethiopia would introduce red tape and bureaucratic road blocks to allowing Pastor Abdi to leave the country, and eventually, the state senator had to intervene with the Ethiopian embassy.
Once they had a pastor in place, there was relief and more stability. To be able to hear preaching in their own language was an enormous quality of life improvement, as everyone in the group is at different stages in the journey learning English. Now they can get married with their own pastor officiating, hear preaching in their native language, baptize their babies and partake in Holy Communion regularly. The next step is to grow to a point where they can
support a pastor in a traditional full-time position, and someday acquire their own space. Both of those steps are in the future. However, when you consider all that happened to get everyone here in the Kansas City area together, it’s easy to feel optimistic. Afterall, the OECCKC has more than doubled in size, now averaging between 90 and 100 worshipping each week.
In a recent assessment, Christ Lutheran Church asked members to share some feedback on the joys and challenges of having the ministry of sharing their space with the Oromo people. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. People felt inspired by the unique mission work, felt like they could see how God was working across borders and felt good about serving their brothers and sisters in Christ. They acknowledged that in can be challenging at times to share a space with such a large group, and they were sometimes surprised by the different styles of parenting across cultures, but they seemed to feel like the good far outweighed the bad.
Rev. Froiland says watching this worship community flourish under his congregation’s roof has been a joy. He says, “To see the appreciation they have and the thankfulness for
everything God has done for them. It’s been really humbling for me to see that. Certainly we have different life experience, me growing up here and these folks growing up in really difficult situations in the third world. But we can come together around these common things: the preaching of the Gospel, the gift of new life in baptisms and what God does
for us in Communion.” Rev. Froiland is also impressed with how holistically the Oromo
approach worship. Though they, of course, work jobs, their worship permeates every aspect
of their life. “I think that’s something we can learn from,” he says.