Urban + Suburban: Churches Partner in Apartment Ministry
Rev. Hannah Terry shares how Westbury UMC Houston and St. Peter’s UMC Katy is being transformed in relationship with refugees, immigrants and others.
When Rev. Hannah Terry, met them in 2013, they did not know English. But these middle school boys from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda responded to her smile and motion to join the others in the apartment community for a potluck dinner. That dinner set the stage for life changing events to follow. Even in the midst of different tribes, dialects and languages ranging from Swahili to Kirundi to French, Hannah has seen neighbors respond to the genuine relationships that have been budding within this unique multicultural residential setting where she lives in intentional community.
“The families of FAM, Fondren Apartment Ministry, are very much on the margins and the youngest children are often the ones translating English for the older siblings and parents,” adds Hannah, the pastor of FAM, a community of Westbury UMC in conjunction with St. Peter’s UMC in Katy.
“In the last two years, we have built trust with several dozen folks who are now participating in our ESL classes and attending Westbury UMC even though they do not understand all the words spoken in the worship services. They respond to the love they feel from the congregation and to the worship experience where they sense the presence of God,” she explains. One of the most exciting stories unfolding within this eclectic community involves two boys named Samuel. Explains Hannah, “Samuel and Samuel started attending Westbury’s confirmation classes last September, and Sebantu from the Democratic Republic of the Congo was participating as well. Youth director Josh Lemons was faced -- for the first time-- with a multilingual, multicultural confirmation class with boys of rival tribes, based on their country’s cultural history. What happened next is a story of incredible reconciliation as they experienced the healing God provides for deep hurt.”
Soon, these three boys invited another friend from the FAM community, Hassan, to join the confirmation class, and he latched on quickly. “Four of the 10 students confirmed this Easter,” shares Hannah, “and baptized as new members of the church are from our FAM family, which demonstrates that we are truly building bridges between the world and the church and making new disciples in profound ways.”
St. Peter’s UMC Becomes Covenant Partner with FAM
St. Peter’s member Russell LaGrone discovered FAM on assignment in his evangelism
class and immediately felt a growing passion for ministry as a pastor rooted in a
neighborhood. “I was instantly compelled by the way FAM works. You discover what
true community is like, and God is at the center of it all,” shares Russell. “Russell and his fiancé Erin drove here from Katy for months, and relocated into our community once they were married last August,” shares Hannah. “They keep their membership at St. Peter’s and continue to share with their home church about this story – a new model of evangelism and mission that St. Peter’s now supports as our Covenant partner through prayer, presence and resources.” To tighten the bond between the two congregations, the churches helped host a Christmas party with the FAM community. Additionally, several months later, 1) a small group at St. Peter’s Skyped with the FAM intentional community, 2) Hannah served as a guest preacher to share stories of transformation, and 3) Russell and
Erin began leading conversations about FAM with Sunday school classes.
Westbury UMC is celebrating fruitfulness within the FAM ministry, and watching history in the making. Shares Hannah, “Some of our families have been attending Westbury UMC for three years and Sunday, April 19 was their first time to hear God’s word at Westbury in their native language when Thony Ngumbu and I preached together—I preached in English, and Thony preached in Swahili.”
One of the biggest milestones unfolding is the “empowerment ministry model” that is visibly at work. “Most of our families did not have cars when they arrived here in southwest Houston,” she adds, “and now through the consistency of encouragement and love of Christian community, they work hard in growing as Christian disciples, maintaining jobs, learning English, and taking care of their families. Some friends are driving themselves to church and offer neighbors a ride Sunday morning, too.”
Additionally, FAM is building new bridges with local nonprofits including Plant it Forward Farms, Martha’s Way of Christian Community Service Center, International Emergency and Development Aid Relief, Literacy Advance of Houston, and Houston Center for Literacy. Rev. Hannah Terry witnesses to Westbury UMC leaning into its identity as “a church for all people with more than enough love to go around” by connecting and growing deep relationships in the city. Under the leadership of Texas Methodist Foundation in a two-year peer learning cohort, she is studying how the Church can address systemic issues related to poverty by embracing a “primary mission [in making] disciples of Jesus Christ among those with household incomes less than $30,000 a year. Adds Hannah, “I am honored to be in ministry with a church family that tries experiments and longs to be in sync with God’s dream for them and the world.”