By: Christa Meland
Earl Zeon is among the 30,000 people of Liberian descent who call Minnesota home. Although he’s happy here, he misses his native country—and he’s grateful to have a connection to Liberia through Brooklyn United Methodist Church’s African ministry.
“It keeps me vibrant,” he said. The African ministry has been around for about eight years and was at one point an independent faith community. In July, it became a cultural ministry of Brooklyn UMC—and since then, it has found new momentum and is growing under the leadership of Rev. Henry Dolopei, Brooklyn’s associate pastor.
“You go all week at your work place, and on Sunday, you come to a place where you feel at home,” said Zeon, a 31-year-old quality engineering technician at St. Jude Medical.
Zeon, who is married and has two boys, grew up Baptist. But he was drawn to the African ministry because of its strong worship and its contemporary African gospel music, which he said immediately fed his soul. He now leads liturgy each Sunday and cares deeply about making each worship service meaningful.
Before Dolopei was appointed to the African ministry, it had significantly dwindled in size and impact. But thanks to intentional efforts to revitalize the ministry, and a three-year Congregational Development grant that includes coaching and benchmark goals, it’s grown from 12 people in July to about 55 in average worship attendance today, most of whom are young adults. The ministry now has its own Sunday worship service and its own Sunday School.
The growth has happened largely through word of mouth and through evangelism efforts on the part of the ministry’s members. Dolopei regularly invites them to share their “God moments” with each other and with those they encounter in everyday life—and they’ve embraced that invitation. Approximately 100 people came to a Thanksgiving meal that the ministry hosted for members of the community.
To facilitate further growth, Zeon recently created a social media presence for the ministry, and other members are working on a website.
The African ministry has created some unique opportunities for its members. Many of them work evenings but want to remain connected during the work week. So every Wednesday evening, they come together in a conference call for a “Bible and prayer line.” After reading and discussing scripture, they spend the rest of the time in collective prayer.
Dolopei led the Bible and prayer line for the first three months, but since September, it has been driven by members.
In recent months, many prayers have been for family and friends fighting Ebola back home. Almost everyone within the ministry is connected to someone who has the disease—and some have loved ones who have died from it. In November, members of the ministry came together for a memorial service to remember and honor those who they’ve lost to the epidemic.
“They didn’t have the opportunity to go back to Liberia for a memorial service,” said Dolopei, who also provided one-on-one grief care. “This was an opportunity for them to share and pray.”
Perhaps one of the most significant ways the ministry has transformed lives is by bringing together people from different socio-economic backgrounds, said Dolopei. Status is heavily emphasized in Liberia and created divisions there, but members of the African ministry have found common ground.
“Everybody now sees one another as brothers and sisters despite their status in Liberia,” Dolopei said. “During fellowship time, they try to find something in common…Even if you get back to a certain [economic] status in the U.S., you remember where you came from.”
Dolopei and Zeon are both committed to continuing to growing the ministry—and they’ve been working together to do just that. One of the things they’ve made an effort to do well is follow-ups with both members and visitors. For example, one woman who had been coming to Sunday worship suddenly stopped showing up. They heard she had a baby, so they brought a gift to her home and told her she was missed. Soon after that, she returned—this time with other members of her family.
Zeon is an introvert, but he doesn’t hesitate to go out of his comfort zone for the sake of the gospel, whether that means introducing himself to newcomers at church or telling people he encounters in other facets of his life just how much the African ministry means to him.
“It’s amazing how God has taken me from where I was to where I am today, and I’m always eager to let people know that,” he said. “I am honored to be part of something greater than me. The African cultural ministry is my heart, and I will do everything possible to keep up and grow that ministry.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church