Dropped into an unfamiliar culture, East African refugees haven't had it easy in adapting to a new home in Minot. Their adjustment largely went unnoticed and unaided until recently, when local churches stepped up and an African missionary couple felt God tugging them to Minot.
The Rev. Joseph Endeiki and his wife, Josephine, came from Kenya to share the Gospel with the people of America. They didn't expect their ministry to include people from their part of the world, but their ability to connect with the refugees has helped local churches bridge a language divide so that they can meet the physical and spiritual needs of the population.
The arrival of the Endeikis last May is one of several "coincidences" that indicate this ministry is God-driven, said the Rev. Bob Edwards, senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Minot.
Worshippers join hands during a praise song at the African service at First Presbyterian Church Feb. 26.
"We are learning cultural diversity, but we are also learning to appreciate Christ and how he works," he said.
The number of East African refugees in Minot is estimated at between 60 and 100. Many initially came about two years ago through a host program, but the person who brought them to Minot left them on their own. Since then, others have come in response to the abundance of entry-level jobs. Coming from countries such as Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Burundi, many work as nursing assistants or in housekeeping for Trinity.
Cyndi Schnase of Minot, born to missionary parents and raised in the Congo, has used her familiarity with the kituba dialect to offer translation after learning through Northland Harvest Church of the refugees. She also is helping with a local international ministry team's project to develop pocket guides to Minot for immigrants.
How to help
Minot-area churches are invited to join the ministry to East Africans in the community.
First Presbyterian Church seeks to raise supporting funds to bring the Rev. Joseph Endeiki on staff. The African people also continue to need help with basic needs, such as food and clothing.
People interested in learning more or in financially assisting the international ministry or Endeiki's support can contact the church office at 852-0315 or send donations to First Presbyterian Church, 1000-3rd St. NE, Minot, N.D., 58701.
"We are just trying to help them get comfortable faster," she said.
The ministry team formed to provide warm winter clothing, furniture and food for the immigrants.
"They basically need everything," said Penny Dahlquist, who has helped in shopping for supplies. "The need is always there."
The ministry team has coordinated services to help African residents obtain drivers' licenses, complete tax forms, receive needed medical care and language education, apply for work permits, network with the police department and generally learn the ropes involved in living in Minot. The African children typically speak English but adults may have limited functional command of the language or no knowledge of it at all.
First Presbyterian took the lead in organizing the international ministry team after member Linda Medina, a home health and hospice worker, learned of Burundi refugees through contact with Minot's free clinic. Through the clinic, she also connected with Endeiki, who had been enlisted to help with translation. Endeiki speaks both English and Swahili, spoken throughout portions of East Africa.
Endeiki, a retired government administrator and a pastor in Kenya, brought his ministry to Minot after an unsuccessful, four-month search for a supporting job in the Minneapolis area. He and Josephine, a nurse, found jobs as certified nursing assistants with Trinity Health.
Endeiki is part of a Thursday gathering of more than 20 local pastors.
"God spoke that I should unite with other pastors to work together," he said. "I thank God especially for the pastors of Minot because they can come together and unite to preach Christ to all nations. Many cities, you don't find pastors having fellowship, even in Africa where I came from."
However, he added, in his city of Nitale, a group of pastors met over lunch every day. This interdenominational gathering grew to involve ministers from more than 50 churches.
"When I came to this place, I thought that fellowship was a good fellowship to bring over. We prayed, and God opened a way," he said.
Also, through his Unlimited Global Gospel Ministry, he hosts a weekly fellowship in his home.
"We have seen God work through that fellowship because we pray for the sick. We believe in praying for the sick because that was a command to us from Jesus Christ," he said.
When First Presbyterian asked Endweiki to help with the Saturday morning African services that started in February, Endeiki knew the gatherings would need to serve worshippers who come from a variety of church backgrounds. The people also come from different tribal backgrounds, some of which have not been friendly to each other.
"The spirit of Christianity is going to have to help them learn to love one another," Edwards said.
The Presbyterian Church has a ministry in Kenya, and Edwards and others from First Presbyterian have been in the country to assist with projects. Other church denominations also have ministries in East Africa, but the immediate focus of the local congregations is the international ministry in their backyard.
Medina is spearheading the creation of the Minot pocket guides in Swahili, French and Spanish. The first guide will include information on housing, schools, medical care and food.
"We have to educate the people on how to assimilate," Medina said. "As a community, we have to help these people assimilate. That way they become a part of our community, not a burden."
Without searching for them, the ministry team has drawn members who bring particular skills or knowledge into its efforts, she said.
"It's God's plan," Endeiki said. "God is really doing great things, and I believe God is going to help us work with the pastors of Minot and the United States as a whole to enable God's word to be spread all over."