BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (KT) – A few years ago, with her husband’s church struggling, a diligent pastor’s wife prayed a simple prayer.
She asked God to bring the church 10 families.
God answered her prayer, but it was far different than she expected. More than a dozen Congolese families joined Forest Park Baptist Church in Bowling Green and now make up the largest part of the congregation.
The church is truly in mission-mode with a large group of refugees to serve. The Congolese attendees, who number many in the Bowling Green area, have become part of the Forest Park family, Wood said, as the cultures begin to blend. They have helped each other grow in incredible ways. They have recently even had baby dedications for the Congolese members, who have made themselves at home.
“Our church members have embraced them and want them here with us,” Wood said.
Forest Park was a church with an older congregation, yet they have embraced the Congolese people who now make up the church’s majority. Each week everybody seems to get more comfortable, the pastor said.
When Wood’s wife, Amy, prayed for the additional families a few years ago, she never knew the blessing that was to come with it, her husband said. “The Lord works in mysterious ways,” he said.
“We knew our neighborhood had a lot of different nationalities,” Wood said. “But never in our wildest dreams did we expect what has happened.”
Bowling Green has more refugees than any city in Kentucky. Several other churches have Congolese attendees too.
The pastor said two Congolese men were the first refugees to come about a year ago. One of them spoke English and the other older gentleman could not. The one who could speak English asked the pastor about the possibility of opening a daycare at the church for the Congolese people. Wood told him it was a long process, including state licensing and finding workers, if it could be done at all. “I told him we weren’t having enough people to run our ministries at the church,” Wood said.
The two men kept coming for about three weeks, but the English-speaking man stopped coming. “I think he was miffed at me because of the daycare situation,” Wood said. But the elder gentlemen kept coming each week despite not understanding the language.
“I really didn’t understand why he was coming. But after him coming for a couple of weeks by himself, another woman showed up and sat beside him,” Wood said. “You could tell she knew the language. She was interpreting the sermons to him.”
She did that for a few weeks, and then she brought her family of about eight and asked if it would be OK if she brought more families to church. “Isn’t that what every pastor wants to hear?” Wood said.
Her name is Ketty, a Congolese interpreter with Bowling Green schools who speaks five languages, and she has found her calling in the church, Wood said. She also convinced the church to buy a microphone with headset receivers so the Congolese could use them as she interpreted the sermons.
“We bought 40 receivers and I thought, ‘We will never need that many,’’’ Wood said. “Now we need more of them.”
Other churches within the association host Congolese refugees, but most have separate services. But those who attend Forest Park want to be part of the main service. One Congolese gentleman, a former pastor, has even asked if he could preach. Wood told him he could if he wrote out what he was going to say.
Within the church, one member has four gardens so he can give food to his new Congolese brothers and sisters. Another church member has helped a young Congolese man through the process of obtaining a driver’s license, which can be a life-changing event for him.
The church wanted to have a dinner for the Congolese people, but they asked the pastor if they could cook one of their traditional meals for them. So five Congolese women and three American church members cooked together and served a large crowd a meal of special bread, exotic greens and fish – the entire fish. The pastor learned there is nothing like eating something that’s looking back at you.
“It was good. I really liked the fish,” he said. “I know the eyeball is a delicacy in a lot of countries. I was hoping they weren’t going to honor the pastor by giving me those to eat.”
Wood doesn’t have the problem of needing more families. Now, he said, the church needs more volunteers as God grows Forest Park in ways not before imagined.
Here’s a thought: He may want to ask his wife Amy to start praying for volunteers.