Representative check of gift by Cascade UMC for $150,358, designated for building the first UMC structure in Global Ministries' Central African Mission Initiative. From left to right: Global Ministries staff Frido Kinkolenge, Todd Willis and General Secretary Roland Fernandes with Senior Pastor Dr. Kevin Murriel, Executive Board Chair Judge Kimberly Esmond Adams, Finance Chair Jeffrey Johnson and Lay Leader Darris Rollins. (Photo: Courtesy of Cascade UMC)

The Rev. Aquilas Soronaka, the current country director for the Central African Republic Mission Initiative, says that having a home church building is crucial at this stage of the church’s development.

“Since 2016, we have not been able to have a church worthy of its name to house the souls coming to God through the evangelism and mission we undertake,” Soronaka said in a video message. “The country is emerging from war, with low purchasing power, which is why we have faced numerous challenges in building a church. We find ourselves in people’s homes and private properties, but this doesn’t give us dignity and confidence.”

The beginnings of a United Methodist presence in the Central African Republic can be traced back to a Global Ministries-sponsored French radio program in the early 2000s known as Radio Afrique Internationale. The broadcasts focused on God’s mission and the vision and objectives of The United Methodist Church across the world.

The Central African Mission Initiative was launched by Global Ministries in 2015, building on the work of the adjoining East Congo Episcopal Area and Bishop Gabriel Unda, who continues to provide leadership as the presiding bishop of the mission initiative. The initiative has experienced many challenges, such as civil unrest and difficulty finding acceptance among older faith communities. Today, with new local leadership, the mission initiative has been revived. Yet, The United Methodist Church in Central Africa has never had an actual church building of its own.

Connecting the church to do mission

Two years ago, major changes were also taking place with Grace UMC in Atlanta, GA, the church on Global Ministries’ campus. After years of transition, the pastor and congregation decided to look for a partner that could reach out to the residents who currently surround the church, a very different community from when the church was founded.

A partner was found in Cascade United Methodist Church, a 7,000-member congregation in Southwest Atlanta with predominantly African American membership. They had been looking to expand where they could increase their community outreach and service, which Grace’s location in Atlanta’s midtown Old Fourth Ward neighborhood could provide. Grace’s congregation merged with Cascade to form Cascade UMC’s midtown campus.

The relationship between Cascade and Global Ministries has been growing and strengthening. “We asked Global Ministries about an area of mission need that Cascade could become a partner in – to make a tremendous impact in an area that was underdeveloped or really had promise for making disciples of Jesus Christ. That was the motivator and our driver,” said the Rev. Dr. Kevin Murriel, Cascade UMC’s senior pastor.

“When Rev. Aquilas said: ‘When people ask us, where is our church? We can’t give them an address. We have no location.’ That resonated so much with our church and our leaders, who are so generous of heart,” Murriel continued.

The Cascade congregation has just completed a major renovation on its Southwest Atlanta campus. “We now have two places, both immaculate, in which we can worship God as much as we desire. What does that say for our brothers and sisters who don’t have that, and then, what is God calling us to?”

In fact, the project resonated so well with the congregation that they raised $150,000 in three weeks during Lent, exceeding their goal by $50,000! Dr. Murriel confirmed they had donations from across the U.S. from members who attend their online worship services, and even some from other countries across the world.

Hope in challenging times

Now that the funding has been secured, the Central African Republic Mission Initiative will purchase land through a grant provided by Global Ministries and begin the hard work of building the church. Yet, knowing that another congregation from the U.S. is walking alongside them in this journey gives the church hope.

“I assure you that by constructing this church, you are bringing dignity to the grassroots work we are currently undertaking,” Rev. Soronaka assured the Cascade congregation. “It lends weight to our position with political authorities and strengthens our standing among other churches with similar goals in the CAR. It will be a place to shelter the people of God and a space of teaching and training of young people and women.”

Cynthia Priscillia Soronaka, who is married to Rev. Soronaka, is the first woman to be ordained as a deacon in the church. In an earlier story from Chadrack Tombwe Londe, UM News correspondent in the DRC, Cynthia said: “Many evangelical churches in the Central African Republic do not accept the pastoral consecration of women in ministry. A woman like me can become a pastor, what an opportunity for evangelism.”

Both Cynthia and Aquilas Soronaka serve as Nationals in Mission with Global Ministries, providing leadership for the church in their own country.

Roland Fernandes, general secretary of Global Ministries, thanked Cascade members in person and in writing. He has followed the work of the initiative since its original founding and affirms that this is the time for a tangible symbol of Methodist presence in the country.

“The donation to the Central African Republic Mission Initiative will really propel the Methodist movement in CAR at an exciting time in the history of the development of the church,” he noted. “It is also remarkable to see the impact Cascade is having in the local community and abroad.”

Christie R. House is a consultant writer and editor with Global Ministries and UMCOR.

Founding and nurturing new faith communities and supporting existing congregations that seek to increase membership and expand ministries into local communities have historic roots and contemporary implications for Global Ministries. Missionaries who train pastors to plant churches in new places; mission initiatives, which start new Methodist faith communities; scholarships that assist church leaders to earn the credentials and degrees they need for service and ministry; and networks that resource racial and ethnic faith communities across the United States are examples of Global Ministries’ commitment to evangelism and church revitalization.

Support evangelism and church revitalization by giving to Advance #400400.