Christian Fellowship Church tries to provide place for refugees, immigrants

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 | 6:16 p.m. CST; updated 8:08 a.m. CST, Thursday, March 1, 2012

COLUMBIA — Christian Fellowship Church has been striving to provide a place where foreign refugees and immigrants new to Columbia can feel welcome.

Tara Freemen, deaconess of refugees at the church, estimates that about 30 percent of the church's population is made up of people who are originally from another country.

The church regularly holds small group sessions where an average of eight to 16 people of different backgrounds can meet to discuss Christian beliefs. But the church has been attempting to reach out to the international community during its regular Sunday service, too.

In the past, people who didn't speak English attended the Sunday service in a separate room where they could hear the sermon in their own language. Recently, all services have been combined so that non-English speakers can sit with other members of the church. During the service, they use headsets to hear the sermon in their own language.

On Feb. 12, the church held a special service that showcased the diversity of the congregation more than usual. The church held an international communion where people from other countries served communion and said in their own languages, "Body of Christ. Blood of Christ."

After the communion, an African choir took the stage to dance and sing worship songs in Kirundi.

One member of the church, Burmese refugee Vung Lun Cing, said she appreciated the church's effort to welcome people from other countries and help them adjust to life in America. For Cing, the most difficult part of moving to the United States was learning English.

"The important thing is language," Cing said. “Now we've been here two years, I feel a little bit better. I can speak a little bit more. Before, we did not know how to speak. We cannot go ourselves shopping or something like a restaurant. It's very hard. Very, very hard."

Cing, her husband and her two daughters have been living in America for two years.

Cing took English classes at Douglass High School for two months when she first arrived but decided she needed the time to care for her two daughters. Still, Cing said she has been able to pick up the language with the help of friends she has met at Christian Fellowship. Cing said settings such as the church's small group discussions gave her the opportunity to practice her English.

"When we get to Columbia, I don't have a friend," Cing said. "So I know Lori and she invited (me) to go to Christian fellowship, and I went with her, and I love it."

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