National Lutheran News

Strengthening bonds across the cultural divide

River of Life Lutheran Church to host first national Liberian convention

For the majority of the past two decades, Liberians have suffered an unrelenting civil war that left millions displaced and without a home. Consequently, many have fled to the United States in search of peace and a new beginning. But for Liberian Christians, this journey has also posed the challenge of fitting into the ever-changing and pluralistic religious landscape of the U.S.

Approximately 30 percent of the nation’s population officially practices Christianity, about eight percent of whom are Lutheran. Have Liberian Lutherans found a place in the colorful American religious mosaic? Until August of last year, the answer was no. But three Liberian Lutheran organizations saw the need for unification and leadership among Liberian Lutherans living in the United States, prompting the creation of The Association of Liberian Lutherans in the Americas (ALLIA). The group strives to promote unity and leadership among Liberian Lutherans in the United States, and furthermore, to extend a hand to those in need at home in Liberia.

ALLIA will host its first-ever national convention this August at River of Life Lutheran Church (ELCA) in North Minneapolis. The purpose of the convention is to gather Lutheran Liberians living across the United States and Canada for community building, leadership development, and brainstorming possible projects for mission and community in the United States and Liberia.

Liberian Lutherans met recently to plan a first-ever national gathering at River of Life Lutheran Church in Minneapolis in August. Photo provided by ALLIA

Of the Twin Cities’ Lutheran churches, River of Life has the largest number of worshipping Liberians.

“Liberian Lutherans in the United States are spread across the 50 states and desire interaction and fellowship whenever possible,” says Joseph Sumowo Roberts, one of the organizers of the event. “This convention will meet those needs, strengthen bonds among Liberians, and provide a forum for us to act together. Together we can achieve more than any one of us can by ourselves.”

The Twin Cities — a Liberian center

The Liberian population in the Twin Cities metro area is one of the largest in the country. “Since the Twin Cities metro area has such a significant Liberian population, our church leaders hope that holding the convention here will bring enthusiasm and opportunities for Liberian immigrants to reconnect with their Lutheran roots and even find a church home if they have not already,” says senior pastor at River of Life, Lee Ann Pomrenke. “It will provide an opportunity for non-Liberian church members to experience the vitality of worship, teaching, and fellowship in the manner to which our congregation members from Liberia are most accustomed.”

Of the Twin Cities’ Lutheran churches, River of Life has the largest number of worshipping Liberians. More than half of its council members and Sunday school teachers and almost two thirds of its membership are Liberian. “We are truly bicultural, but this never comes naturally, and always takes effort,” says Pomrenke. Recently, the Liberian and American music directors at River of Life have worked together to sing, record, and write out music for Liberian praise songs sung in the Liberian refugee camps in order to form River of Life’s own songbook. The songbook, released on Pentecost Sunday, will be available at the convention in August.

“River of Life embodies the untidy work of becoming a bicultural congregation where leadership and cultural practices are shared equitably. Our church’s role as host of this convention is a way to highlight that there is a vital West African presence in Minneapolis and in the ELCA.”

The convention is open to Liberian Lutherans from across the United States and Canada, American missionaries who have served in Liberia, and other members of the local community of faith. “I hope the message that un-churched Liberians living in the United States receive from this gathering and the whole organization is that there is a place for them in the Lutheran Church in the United States not as audience members but as leaders. God is doing a new thing through them in this ew land, and they are as much missionaries to this context as anything else,” says Pomrenke. “I hope that we who were raised in the North American context can realize that we only experience the fullness of the body of Christ when we are in faithful community with those who experience and express their faith differently from us.”

The convention will take place from Friday, August 10, beginning at 5 p.m., to Sunday, August 12, concluding at 1 p.m. (with an optional afternoon soccer game) at River of Life, 2200 Fremont Avenue North, Minneapolis. Saturday evening will include a formal banquet with an address by the new bishop of the Lutheran Church in Liberia (LCL). ALLIA dues plus registration fees are $100 and registration fees without ALLIA dues are $50. Register at allia.us.

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