Voices rise in Tigrinya, the most widely spoken language in Eritrea, and in tongues. Waves of music wash over the gathered congregation of refugees from the East African country in the sanctuary of First Mennonite Church in Kitchener. Leading the ecstatic worship is Pastor Jonathan (Joni, pronounced Yónie) Abraham, microphone in hand, backed by a group of women all clad in white, as they practise one of the Shalom Worship and Healing Centre’s priorities: connecting with God.
According to Abraham, the other priority—the “healing” in the church’s name—is godliness, living lives of discipleship that lead to freedom and wholeness. Himself a refugee from the communist-like Eritrean government’s persecutions of Christians, Abraham came to Canada seven years ago, gathered the 12 Eritreans he found and began a congregation.
They find the openness of Mennonites to be “from heart to heart” in both the congregation at First and leaders like Brian Bauman, Mennonite Church Eastern Canada’s mission minister. The congregation became an “emerging church” in MC Eastern Canada a year ago.
Abraham talks about a prophecy in Eritrea that Eritreans would go out into the world to bring the good news to all the people. No one took it very seriously until government persecution began and, like the Jerusalem church in Acts 8, the scattered Christians began to share the good news of Jesus wherever they went.
With other Eritrean Christians, the Kitchener congregation wants to reach this generation with the gospel. They want to reach not only Eritreans, but anyone in Canada who needs to hear the good news about Jesus and receive the healing of the Holy Spirit to live lives of discipleship.
“Fasting and praying” lead to the power of the Holy Spirit being released, he says. Congregants gather on week nights and Saturday to pray. “They love to pray,” he says. “When God called, ‘Adam where are you?’ God knew Adam’s location. What God wanted to know was, ‘Where are you in my will, in my power?’”
The congregation now has about 150 adults and 75 children under age 14. Like many new Canadian congregations, the tension between the Tigrinya-speaking adults and the increasingly English-speaking children is growing. Other new Canadian growing pains—members scattered over a wide area, the need to work shifts to make a living, and people not living to the full potential of their education and training—give Abraham concern. He thinks that an Eritrean community centre would help both the adult refugees and their children.
MC Eastern Canada is “an umbrella for me,” says Abraham, who will be licensed towards ordination on May 20. Every leader and every congregation needs to be responsible to someone, he believes, and the area church offers that to him and his congregation. But he also hopes that the area church will support him and his congregation in mission plans they are drawing up. His ministry includes going back to Sudan, Ethiopia and other East African places to preach and teach Eritrean refugees living in refugee camps there.