by Lynn Ward, RIOT team lead
In 2016, Session approved a plan to establish a new team under the Local & US Missions Council. The team was to focus on serving the needs of refugees and immigrants who had settled in Wichita. The new team, dubbed RIOT (Refugee/Immigrant Outreach Team) quickly befriended a group of believers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who had arrived in the United States that year. Led by Pastor John Ronel, a supported local missionary of Eastminster, the believers had found a church called Oaks Baptist Fellowship, and were worshipping on Sunday afternoon, at Sharon Baptist Church’s facilities. The church had been established under the umbrella and with the support of the Heart of Kansas Southern Baptist Association (HOKSBA).
Members of RIOT began to attend Oaks services and recognized many opportunities for serving its members. From 2016 to 2018, RIOT’s efforts and budget were focused on the Oaks congregation. Every member of RIOT developed close friendships with Oaks families, including Pastor John and his wife, Francoise, and their 10 (!) children.
In late 2017, Pastor John asked RIOT if the Oaks could start worshipping on the campus of Eastminster on Sunday mornings. Sharon Baptist was only open to Oaks on Sunday afternoons, and John’s members wanted to worship on Sunday mornings, instead.
After considerable prayer, study and discussion, Eastminster invited the Oaks to use its Student Center for Oaks services on Sunday mornings. Eastminster also invited the children of Oaks to attend the 9:30 a.m. Sunday classes with Eastminster children. Thus, starting April 29, 2018, Oaks began to worship at the Student Center each week.
Since April of 2018, the attendance at Oaks’ services has grown from 70 to nearly 150. This includes 30-40 children, ages kindergarten through fifth grade, who attend Oaks Children’s Church. RIOT members have served as leaders of the Children’s Church along with high school volunteers. RIOT members have provided ESL classes at 9:30, and the Eastminster Kids teachers have welcomed as many as 40 Oaks children at their classes.
With all this growth has come a need for more room and a permanent home for Oaks.
In January 2019, Pastor Stan appointed a task force of four elders (Don King, Robert Howard, Andy Fletcher and Pastor Mike Goolsby) to study the future relationship between Eastminster and Oaks. These men devoted countless hours to prayer, study and careful planning, with input from Pastor John, RIOT and the HOKSBA. All involved felt led by the Holy Spirit to plant a church, called Oaks Fellowship. HOKSBA is partnering with Eastminster by providing an empty church building to Oaks. It is located at the intersection of Maple and Edwards, near Friends University. Eastminster will continue to provide support to Pastor John, and all three organizations (Eastminster, HOKSBA and Oaks) will each designate three individuals to serve on a board to provide accountability and structure to the Oaks Church Plant. Eastminster’s session approved the partnership at its August 22, 2019 meeting.
What happens next? Oaks will move into its building over the next few weeks and will celebrate its first service there on October 6. In the meantime, Eastminster is donating a sound system, chairs and a desk to be used at the new building. Pastor John and the Oaks are very excited to have a permanent home to not only hold services, but also to conduct other parts of its ministry, like Bible classes during the week, choir rehearsals and prayer meetings.
All of Eastminster is invited to a special celebratory service on Sunday, September 29, in the sanctuary, from 10:30 – 11 a.m. The farewell and blessing of the Oaks leaders and congregation will be led by Pastor Stan, then the Oaks will go back to the Student Center for their last service on the Eastminster campus.
You may be wondering where we go from here. Eastminster and RIOT will continue with our warm friendship with and support of the Oaks Fellowship. Three members of Eastminster will serve on the governing board for Oaks. Pastor John will continue to be supported as a local missionary by Eastminster and RIOT will continue to serve the refugees and immigrants of Oaks in various ways. RIOT will help train women of the Oaks congregation to lead Sunday School and Children’s Church. RIOT will continue to provide ESL and readers in Oaks family homes. RIOT will continue to mentor the young people of Oaks. RIOT hopes to expand its outreach even more, possibly offering Vacation Bible School to the Oaks kids at their new facility next summer and continue assisting with job hunting for the fine workers of Oaks.
Most importantly, though, God’s Kingdom on earth will be expanded, as the Oaks Fellowship develops into the “go to” congregation for refugees and immigrants to Wichita for Swahili-speakers from all over the world. To God be the glory – great things he hath done!