Rev. Rob Cook and Rev. Eric Mulanda offered the keynote for the Teaching Session Saturday at the 2019 Annual Conference Session. Pastor Rob is from Michigan and Pastor Eric from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

The pastors serve together at the “global faith community” of Mt. Hope United Methodist Church in Lansing, Michigan. The community of Mt. Hope UMC is derived from more than a dozen nations who “are transforming our corner of the world by following the teaching of Jesus and helping each other live a life that reflects his values.”  Together the community engages the world through a ministry that values love for all, family, service, community and relevance.

“God is doing a new thing in our world and I think all of our churches can be a part of that.” Cook said.

Mt. Hope has members from more than a dozen nations, including Africa, the Middle East, Mexico and the US. Beginning nearly 15 years ago with an influx of primarily African refugees – some 40 children and 20 adults, Cook explains, the congregation has grown to be “nearly a full-third from Africa, either refugees or international students at Michigan State University…and we also have people who are in their 80’s and 90’s who were born into this church and still come and sit in the second or third pews.”

“We strive to be open and welcoming,” said Cook. 

The church community is something that Mulanda calls, “a little bit of heaven.” 

“I’m hoping that we’re going to share with our colleagues Jesus’ way of loving and enriching,” Mulanda said. “God is already doing something, even if we are not seeing it yet.” 

The two men first met when Mulanda came as a student of Africa University to visit Mt. Hope. He was visiting churches throughout West Michigan seeking funds for a new retreat center at the University, which was to be called the Ubuntu Center.  

“Now why would a church in West Michigan give money to build a two-million dollar retreat center thousands of miles away in Zimbabwe, Africa? “Cook asked. “Because my boss had encouraged us to. My District Superintendent was Rev. Laurie Haller, and I always listened to Laurie long before she was a bishop.”  

After she visited Africa, he said, Bishop Laurie was given a dream, a vision, not only of what Africa could be but also of what the world could be.  

Cook and Mulanda showed an older video that was used in West Michigan to promote the building of the Ubuntu Center at Africa University to illustrate the vision for the community.

“That was less than ten years ago,” said Cook. “Since then, the Ubuntu Center has been built. Eric completed his theology degree at Africa University, got his Master of Divinity degree at Garrett Evangelical, and was appointed to our church.”  

“Eric has been serving as a missionary from Africa to America,” he said. “How that happened is a story worth telling, so I’m going to let my brother tell us how God led him from the Congo, to Africa University, to America.”

Mulanda shared some of his background, including studying Agronomics and earning his state diploma, and working in a shop selling clothes when approached by his uncle about attending Africa University. Obtaining his passport to attend the University was a big challenge.

He shared how his father had to work for many months with no pay so he could get the passport as per an agreement with the company where he worked. 

“My Dad used to walk to work every single day,” he said, walking for two hours and half back and forth.”

After finally getting his passport, Mulanda would bike for two days to meet with his uncle to hear advice about studying in Zimbabwe at Africa University. He would continue from Zambia to Zimbabwe by bus. He arrived struggling with his English.

Once at Africa University, Mulanda would receive scholarship assistance and eventually graduate with two undergraduate degrees, one in Agriculture and another one in Theology. 

“I would say that my journey up to today is about Jesus Christ who is the anchor of my faith,” Mulanda told the congregation. “It has been only about Jesus Christ who has taken me where I am today.” 

He came to the U.S. in 2012 to study again at Garrett, and now finds myself in the U.S to tell the world the message about Jesus Christ.

Mulanda said there was “unfinished work ahead of us left by our Lord Jesus Christ,” and expressed gratitude toward the missionaries who served the Lord in Africa, risking their lives. 

“So, today I stand here as the result of your forefathers and foremothers’ prayers and I call myself as “ Reverse Missionary.” 

Cook shared Mount Hope’s story as a one-hundred-year-old congregation just south of the capitol building in downtown Lansing. For most of the church’s history, the congregation was mostly Caucasian, he said, most families were born and raised in Lansing.

“God is doing something new,” he said. “Eric was appointed as one of the pastors of our church, a missionary to American from Africa. In the four years that Eric and I have served together as pastors, we have been growing as a multiethnic church. We are growing younger and more diverse. We are singing in many different languages and praising God in many different ways.”

After showing another to help illustrate the church’s success, Cook said, “God is doing something new, not only in our church, but in Iowa and all over the world.”

He referenced findings that Storm Lake, Iowa, unlike some American communities, is vibrant, and growing younger and more diverse.

“The same thing can happen in many of our communities and many of our churches,” he said. “Our church was already growing more diverse before Eric was appointed as the pastor—even before I was appointed as the pastor.”

Cook shared various anecdotes that underscore the growth and diversity of the church, telling the congregation that what is happening in the church and community is happening in other churches and communities, and it’s happening in Iowa.  

“We just need to be willing to embrace the new thing God is doing in our churches, in our communities, and in our world,” Cook said. “To do that, we need to step outside our comfort zones.  We need to be open to cross-cultural experiences.”

He explained that it’s not always easy or comfortable, but it is fun.

Cook shared video of his recent wedding, which was a traditional African wedding, and also spoke about his ancestry traced back to the pilgrims on the Mayflower, to show there are varying examples of pilgrims.

He discussed the importance of the Ubuntu Retreat Center at Africa University and racial reconciliation.

“We have come so far, and yet we have so far to go,” said Cook. “Your church can overcome prejudice, privilege, and racism. Your church can open its doors to the whole human family.  Your church can celebrate one human race.”

Cook shared how Mt. Hope has several choirs and they sing in several different languages; English, French Swahili and Shona.

“A few Sundays ago, they all sang together. I want you to hear them,” he said in conclusion before sharing a video of the choirs singing. “I want you to catch the vision for what God can do in all our churches.”

“It’s a whole new world,” said Cook. “Praise the Lord.”

An offering for Mt. Hope UMC and its outreach ministries was planned for collection during the Ordering Service on Sunday.