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When Ministry Meets Need

Dr. Randy Cloud wants students in his Introduction to Ministry course to think beyond the traditional church setting for their ministry careers. So he brought Greater Iowa City Church of the Nazarene Pastor Michael Lynch to campus to speak to the students this month. Rev. Lynch leads a dynamic, diverse parish in the town that’s home to the University of Iowa. With seven congregations, an immigration center and numerous compassionate ministries, this church has reinvented itself to be the center of ministry to more than 30 different cultural groups around them.  

According to Cloud the church had found itself in decline a few years ago. The neighborhood and the congregation had changed. Attendance was waning. If it was going to survive, the church had to adapt. Entering that scenario, Rev. Lynch and the congregation sought to let the community know that the church’s doors were open to everyone.

“The minute the community gets wind that you mean it, they will come,” Lynch says. “People just want to know that there’s a God who cares. Absolutely everyone is welcome. Transexual individuals, former drug addicts, illegal immigrants, I wasn’t sure how it would work, but I was certain that it was what we were supposed to do.”

And it works because, as Lynch says, the Holy Spirit is supernatural. When one is ministering to another on behalf of Christ it works even if it doesn’t seem like it should.

The congregants and those they serve have enormous needs. Some are hungry, some need clothing, gas or transportation, others children have been removed from the home by authorities, and some are illegal immigrants. While Lynch says he knew his little church did not have the resources necessary, he also knew they had to help, they had to serve.

“It’s not about resources,” he says. “It is about one thing, choosing to love everyone. It doesn’t matter who you are. Do you care about these folks? Find people at their point of need and you will be ministering.”

Since Rev. Lynch has been in Iowa City, the church has started IC Compassion (ICC), a compassionate ministry center that offers immigration assistance, food assistance, community education, preschool and a parish nurse among other programs. Former hospice nurse Teresa Stecker is the parish nurse and serves the community in ways beyond healthcare.

“Parish nursing is about the whole person and promoting their wellbeing,” she says. “At first it was a job for me. Now it is a calling.”

Stecker’s day might include accompanying a client to a doctor’s appointment or assisting them with a legal issue. Many days she spends her time just being with the clients as they deal with problems. She describes the needs as overwhelming. But says one should never overestimate the power of just being present in another’s life.

“One woman I work with is an immigrant and her son is autistic. I went with her to doctor’s appointments when he was being diagnosed, just to help her to understand. Now she’s a key leader at ICC.”

It might seem counterintuitive to think there are 31 different countries represented by individuals in this Midwestern town, but according to Stecker, Iowa City has jobs, so it draws in people who are looking for work and a better life. Neither Stecker nor Lynch ever thought they would be doing this work.

“I’m a farm girl from northern Iowa,” Stecker says. “I’m no expert in immigration or foreign language.”

But becoming a resource for others and just loving people has led her to the most fulfilling job she’s ever had.  

“ICC is now an immigration center that is accredited by the Department of Justice,” she shares. “It is the first Nazarene Compassionate Ministry to achieve this accreditation.”

This achievement gives immigrants and refugees confidence in the center and hope that they will someday be able to better their lives in a stable, more permanent way.

ICC Exercise class planking in the park. “If you can imagine being in a country where you don’t know the language, you don’t know how to work our system; how to go to the store; what better place to come than to a church?” she adds.

Cloud and Lynch have partnered so that MNU students can experience the ministries at this diverse church. One group of students has already visited and during spring break a group of 10 will go to Iowa City to at IC Compassion. Stecker says they will tailor the experience to the students’ area of interest allowing them to work with children, immigration issues, food assistance, English as a Second Language classes and more. Students have already responded to the call and are making plans to spend their vacation assisting clients at ICC.

For more information about ministry education at MNU visit mnu.edu/undergraduate/academics/ministry.

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