Two years after a JoinMen grant helped purchase their first church building, African Community Church of Lancaster (ACCL) is thriving with a renewed sense of vision and connection to the broader Mennonite Church.
After nearly 15 years of saving and praying, the congregation purchased its first building in Manheim, Pennsylvania in 2020. A $40,000 grant from Mennonite Men's JoinHands program helped complete the long journey towards the dream of ownership at a critical time in the congregation's story. "We were in a desperate mood," recalled Sam Wanjau, pastor of ACCL. Having just purchased the new building, "we learned that the parking lot was not drivable and the boiler nearly dead." The JoinHands grant, along with two other private gifts, helped the congregation purchase the building without debt and took care of these two major projects. ACCL finally had a home of its own after years of prayer and preparation.
The financial assistance gave the small congregation a sense of belonging within the broader Mennonite community. As a congregation made up of primarily East African immigrants, many questioned whether they were a valued part of the local faith community. "We felt very isolated and some of us wondered whether we made the right choice in coming to the United States," said Pastor Wanjau. "Having a friend who could support us with no expectations, who we could turn to in desperation, showed us that maybe the cultural and relational barriers aren't so great as we feared."
Church ownership has also given a boost to ACCL's sense of mission and purpose. A new energy and commitment to their various projects followed their move and resulted in a new level of financial flexibility and freedom to creatively explore new ministry. ACCL now supports four church plants and their associated ministries in East Africa along with their local commitments to organizations like Water Street Rescue Mission. They also serve as a soft landing place for other East African immigrants who arrive in Lancaster before transitioning to other parts of the country.
Support from Mennonite Men and other groups and individuals within Mennonite Church USA and Atlantic Coast Conference helped bridge a feeling of isolation felt by the immigrant congregation and contributed to their thriving and growing ministry in their community and beyond.
If your congregation is a Mennonite congregation that is 10 years old or less and is looking to acquire its first building, you can find out more about the JoinHands program at www.mennonitemen.org/joinhands.