Pastor Gad Mpoyo from the Democratic Republic of the Congo began reaching out to immigrants and refugees in the Atlanta, Georgia, area in 2008. He remembers visiting a family from Haiti that came to the U.S. after the earthquake.
“Their sixteen-year-old daughter told me, ‘We used to feel lonely a lot,’” says Mpoyo. “Before I started visiting them there was no one coming to see them.”’
Mpoyo, who had been working at Druid Hills Presbyterian Church Night Shelter, felt led by the Holy Spirit to show God’s love to their neighbors in Clarkston, Georgia.
He and student friends from Kenya (Wilson Arimi), the United States (Joshua Ralston) and Zambia (Rogers Chishiba) formed Shalom, an outreach ministry. Shalom began reaching out to an estimated 8,000 residents from at least 30 countries, responding to their spiritual, social, and emotional needs.
During this time, three Presbyterian pastors—Sara Hayden, Joy Fischer, and George Tatro—reached out to Mpoyo, who grew up and was ordained United Methodist. “These good people in the Presbyterian church did not see denominational boundaries,” says Mpoyo. They saw what God was doing in the community through our Shalom outreach ministry, and wanted to be a part of building God’s kingdom through immigrants, refugees, and the homeless population.”
Hayden heads up the Tri-Presbytery New Church Development Commission, Fischer is a congregational consultant for the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, and Tatro is from Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church in Clarkston, Georgia. They began meeting and praying with Mpoyo.
“After numerous meetings and much discernment, we felt God calling us to start a more intentional outreach—based on what we were doing—but now we were going to start worshiping together in people’s homes,” says Mpoyo.
Shalom International Ministry officially began in December 2011. Eleven people came, representing the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia and Cameroon. “They told us they needed a space where they could experience a sense of belonging,” says Mpoyo, “where they could heal from past trauma and be together in hospitality.”
For five months Shalom worshiped in people’s houses, using Jeremiah 29:7 to guide and direct their ministry: “Seek the shalom of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in the shalom of it shall you have shalom” (Hebrew Names Version).
God’s work through Shalom transforming lives
As stories spread of God transforming lives through Shalom, the community began to grow. “I hear amazing testimonies,” says Mpoyo, telling a story of a couple from Congo who came to the U.S. last year. They had no place to worship, no one to give them an orientation to the city of Atlanta, to help them understand transportation, job searches, grocery stores, and how to get furniture for their home.
“Thanks to the work of hospitality through Shalom, the husband and wife are working,” says Mpoyo. “They come to worship every Sunday, they feel safe, welcomed and valued as children of God.”
More than fifty adults and forty children come to worship now at Shalom, in space provided by Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church. Together they represent sixteen countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Congo-Brazzaville, Togo, Ghana, Cameroon, Nepal, Zimbabwe, Jamaica, Angola, Bhutan, and the United States.
On Saturdays, children come to a recently started kids’ program for a meal, to learn Scripture, and to play games in the gym. “The kids love coming; there is now a place for them to have fun in a constructive way,” says Mpoyo. “You can begin to see the future where these children will offer their many gifts and talents, not only to Shalom but to the American society.”
Mpoyo says he never could have imagined one day starting a worshiping community with people coming from so many different countries. After high school, he attended medical school in Democratic Republic of the Congo. Three years later, he felt God calling him to be something other than a medical doctor."
“I made a U-turn,” he says. “I went to study theology in Zimbabwe. While there, I happened to be at a university that had more than twenty countries represented. I started and led a choir of students from ten different countries. God was preparing for a cross-cultural ministry like Shalom. ”
Mpoyo came to Atlanta seven years ago as a student, earning his M.Div. in 2008 and his Th.M. in 2009, at Candler School of Theology at Emory University.
“There is an African concept of ubuntu,” he says. “I am because we are. This is my hope and dream, that we experience God’s love and peace in our lives, and continue to seek the Shalom of Clarkson, Georgia, for then each and every one will find shalom.”
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