The French Ministry of Sioux City celebrates a year of growth and connection
“I have a feeling of joy in my heart, and a feeling of celebration. It has been a journey,” marvels Rev. Michel Okitakoyi Lundula. On September 22, 2019, he was worshipping with over 100 others of the French Ministry of Sioux CIty at First United Methodist Church as they celebrated the 1st year anniversary of the unique congregation of French-speaking United Methodists.
The rapidly growing French Ministry began simply by meeting in people’s homes, before graduating to the chapel at First UMC. Since June, though, the congregation has moved to the church’s sanctuary, where they meet every Sunday from 2 pm to 3:30 pm. The larger space leaves them room to expand further. “There are many more sisters and brothers who need to come and be here in this community,” says Rev. Lundula, “and we have places waiting for them.”
A joyful, energizing new ministry
Rev. Lundula leads the UMC of Le Mars but felt a calling to minister to his fellow French-speakers as well. “The first feeling was, how am I going to start it? I looked at my other commitments, my church in Le Mars, and I thought this is going to be another big responsibility on my shoulders,” he says. But he has found his work with the French Ministry to be energizing. “And the support I’m getting from Le Mars makes me feel really great and stronger to move forward.”
Click here to view a photo album of the worship celebration
Though Rev. Lundula preaches in English at Le Mars, the French Ministry gives him the opportunity to preach in his native tongue, which allows him to bring a different style and energy to the way he communicates. This mirrors the more expressive worship style of the French Ministry congregation, which is largely made up of immigrants from French-speaking African nations like Congo.
“Dancing is a part of our culture,” says Rev. Lundula, who is himself Congolese. “In that way, we express our feeling. Whether a feeling of joy, a feeling of pain, we can express it through the dance and singing. When we are in the presence of God, we pour out our heart before the Lord.”
First UMC’s pastor, Rev. Roger Madden, is a true partner to the French Ministry, frequently participating in bilingual services where he preaches in English and someone interprets for him into French. He sees great value in these congregants being able to engage in the dance and music-filled worship style that they are accustomed to. Noting that many members of the congregation are immigrants who have come to work at a new food plant in the area, Rev. Madden says, “For an hour and a half a week, they can come and just be themselves and what they grew up with.”
“I always say music touches the soul in a way nothing else can,” he continues. “This type of worship touches their lives the way nothing else can—and there’s no other opportunity in the Siouxland area.”
It’s also a beautiful opportunity for younger or second-generation immigrants participating in the French Ministry. “I talk to parents, and they say, ‘My kids are experiencing something I grew up with’,” explains Rev. Madden. “So it’s a part of their culture, yes, but it’s part of their ancestry too.”
“We have been blessed by Pastor Roger. He’s getting the African spirit. He has the African mood,” Rev. Lundula affirms. “He knows what’s needed to make people from different cultures comfortable and supports us in many ways.”
Building the community
A feeling of isolation is a risk for members of the French Ministry, as many of them come from backgrounds where they are used to living in very close community with others. They crave the fellowship and connection that this ministry provides. They also may come to Rev. Lundula for help in dealing with work issues, relationship issues, or faith-based concerns. “If I don’t have the answer, I will direct them to the right place. Sometimes I would say, ‘I don’t know much about this, let me also check with Roger. He is more Iowan than I am,” laughs the reverend.
To further nurture the community, the French Ministry also has prayer meetings at First UMC on Saturday evenings, and Rev. Lundula devotes one day of his week to visiting these parishioners. He also turns to technology to help keep everyone connected by using a WhatsApp group to send regular messages like announcements and prayer requests.
What’s next for this thriving ministry?
Having grown from a small group to a vibrant congregation in its first year, the plan now for the French Ministry is to focus on developing leaders. “We’re trying to prepare people who can help us do the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” says Rev. Lundula. “The first year we committed ourselves with all our energy, but this year I’m trying to focus more on training leaders who can move forward with this group.”
Rev. Lundula is grateful for the embrace of the larger UMC family and the connections that are being created. “We have many partners beyond this community who love us and support us.”