November 27, 2013

"Velkommen" from a Norwegian congregation to Togolese immigrants

For many of the political refugees from the Togolese Republic, or Togo, who resettled in the Minneapolis area in recent years, participating in worship has not always been easy. Language and cultural barriers abounded. But the members of Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer in southwestern Minneapolis—founded as a Norwegian congregation and now an increasingly diverse group—saw to it that the Togolese would feel at home.

“When I arrived at Christ the Redeemer 10 years ago,” recalls the Rev. Mary Albing, “I invited these worshipers to become members of our congregation.” But becoming members would not change the fact that many of these immigrants from the West African country of Togo did not speak English. Albing was determined to reach out with a sincere welcome, so she introduced French—Togo’s official language— into worship and educational classes. Before long, the once wholly Scandinavian and German congregation was enjoying diverse music, too, with influences not only from Togo, but also from Spain, Cambodia and other cultures.

These Togolese faithful, many originally Roman Catholic, had fled their home country following years of violence and human rights violations stemming from unethical election practices and political disruptions. As many as 40,000 Togolese fled to neighboring countries, Europe and the United States. The Minneapolis area in particular has become a special home to people displaced from Togo and other African countries. Clearly, this small group of Togolese took great comfort in having found such a welcoming congregation in Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer.

LCCR’s welcome extends beyond church. Since 1997, LCCR has been renting its affordable housing units to Togolese families. Recently, the congregation focused its attention on refurbishing its low-income rental property, which was in serious need of repairs and upgrades.

Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer turned to the Mission Investment Fund for a loan for the repairs. “I promote the value of the larger church,” Albing says. “I didn’t want to go through an outside institution if I could work within the church. We like investing in the church, and we like that MIF reinvests in the church as well.”

Over time, the congregation has taken out several MIF loans to continue improving its rental units that currently house two Togolese families. With the help of MIF loans, the apartments now have improved windows, freshly painted walls, a new parking area and a beautified backyard. “We’ve done chunks of work at a time,” Albing says, “so we can keep our loans manageable.”

And while it was important for the congregation to work with MIF, the congregation’s financial team did its research before finalizing the loans. What the team found reinforced its allegiance to MIF. Says Albing: “We are watchful of our funds, and we appreciate MIF’s competitive rates and thoughtful underwriting. Outside institutions don’t understand how a church functions. MIF does understand us and offers service that other institutions can’t provide. If we ever need another loan, we’ll borrow from MIF again.”