calendar May 17, 2012 in Congregations, News

From Liberia to East Lansdowne


It’s a long way from Liberia to East Lansdowne, but over that distance God planted and nurtured a small worshipping community in a refugee camp into a thriving Lutheran Church officially welcomed at the 2012 Assembly.

In 1996, a high-school student named Moses Dennis (right) who fled the Liberian civil war for a refugee camp in Ghana, was organizing a Lutheran worshipping community there. The young man gathered prayer groups house to house, said Thomas Kpanka, a fellow refugee. “He was hard-working, and always evangelizing,” Kpanka said.

"12FaithImmLeitch"Immanuel Lutheran Church had been thriving on Penn Boulevard since 1906, but as the dawn of the 21st Century neared, “we had lost a lot of members,” said former church administrator Virginia Leitch (right). “Some moved, others got older and died. We reached a point where there were not many people coming.”

By the time Immanuel’s leaders asked the synod for help to prevent the church from closing, Dennis had immigrated to Philadelphia where he studied at the Lutheran Theological Seminary. The synod proposed calling Dennis to serve the dwindling Immanuel and to build a congregation of Africans. Kpanka (right) had also resettled to this area, and a small group began meeting in his home for prayer and fasting. “God was very, very wonderful to us,” he said. “God led us to the ministry.”

“When we started there were seven of us in prayer meetings,” Dennis recalls. Soon there were a couple of dozen at prayer, and 70 people gathered for the initial worship. Today the new Faith-Immanuel Lutheran Church averages 160 people at worship.

“I like the way the service is here. I like the activities,” said youth leader Emmanuel Banda. “Sunday is just fun to come to here.”

Praise and worship at Faith-Immanuel Lutheran Church

In addition to a lively African praise service, Pastor Dennis holds traditional worship for a faithful Immanuel remnant twice a month. In addition to a thriving day care and scout groups, the church is home to the Christian Vision Broadcasting Network, an internet radio station linking Liberian immigrants locally with their homeland with a mix of gospel programming, preaching and social justice activism.

“The church really encourages you to grow and to get deeper in Christ,” said Joyce Adams, the new congregation’s vice president.

Though for years the church was known as Faith Worship Center, as time to be officially organized approached the leadership chose the name Faith-Immanuel to emphasize both its past and its future. “There is no way we can separate Faith and Immanuel,” Dennis said. “Just as Immanuel left us a legacy so we have to leave a legacy for the future church that will continue to worship here.”


Moses Dennis gathers worshippers in a Ghanan refugee camp.

“I want to say thank you to the Synod, thank you to the bishop…and also thank you to the whole ELCA for helping us,” said council president Samuel Kolleh. As a token of that thanks the congregation gave the Synod a birthday gift of $5,000.

“We thank God for them every day,” Kolleh said.



Click the image below to watch Faith-Immanuel’s story in video: