When Ray McCrary came to Indianapolis, Indiana, Southside Church of the Nazarene in 2012, he quickly realized the challenges of pastoring an aging white congregation in a community undergoing rapid social change [click here to read more].
“If we were to continue ministering to the south side of Indianapolis, we had to become multicultural,” McCary said.
Nothing in his previous ministry experience prepared him for this.
A neighboring pastor, Steve Rhoades of The Point Church of the Nazarene in Greenwood outside of Indianapolis, had begun an outreach to refugees who fled the ethnic and religious persecution in Chin State in Myanmar (Burma). Since the early 1990s, nearly 20,000 Chin have settled in the south part of Indianapolis. Steve introduced Ray to Pastor Kuihon Zozum of Bethlehem Matu Church, one of the many churches established by the Chin.
The Christian gospel came to Chin State in March 1899, nearly a century after Adoniram Judson, the U.S.'s first foreign missionary, arrived in Myanmar in 1813. The first Chin conversion occurred in 1905, and the gospel spread rapidly through the community. Today, more than 90 percent of the Chin identify as Christian.
After meeting Zozum, McCrary spent several weeks introducing the Chin pastor to the Church of the Nazarene, explaining its doctrines and holiness message. In March 2014, Southside invited Bethlehem Matu Church to begin meeting in the Nazarene facility. The two congregations have drawn close to each other through personal fellowship and a monthly Sunday evening worship time. The two pastors take turns preaching in English while someone else interprets the message in Burmese. After a year, Southside began hosting ESL classes as well as other outreach classes for the Chin community.
Zozum, along with his congregational leaders, prospective pastors, and other church leaders in the Chin community expressed a need for formal biblical and pastoral training.
Bill Kwon, chancellor of Southeast Asia Nazarene Bible College in Bangkok, Thailand, came to Indianapolis for the 2017 General Assembly and met with McCrary and Zozum. Kwon is also the Myanmar country coordinator for the Church of the Nazarene and has established contacts with Chin communities across southeast Asia. He helped draw up plans for an extension center in Indianapolis that will provide the ministerial courses needed to prepare pastors for new church plants among the Hoosier Chin community.
Convocation singing group
On 29 October 2017, Southside Church hosted a convocation led by Indianapolis District Superintendent Ron Blake and attended by two Southeast Asia Nazarene Bible College (SEANBC) visiting professors, Gerald Duff and Carlton Harvey. Both congregations participated in the occasion, with Harvey preaching the message.
The first course, “Survey of the Bible,” began 15 January. Amos Enkawl, SEANBC faculty member in Bangkok, teaches the weekly lectures online in Burmese. Chin student classes in Singapore and South Korea join the pioneer class of six Indiana students (including Pastor Zozum). The Bible school offers 24 courses, meeting the academic requirements for ordination in the Church of the Nazarene.
The students view the lectures individually, and each Friday morning the class meets with McCrary. With Zozum serving as interpreter, McCrary reviews each lesson and leads a discussion related to the call to pastoral ministry. The Bible school is open to all Chin church leaders, whether they are within the Nazarene denomination or not.
“This gives us a wonderful opportunity to spread the Wesleyan message beyond our own ranks,” Blake said.
The new ministry is also changing the lives of those leading the ministry.
“This has transformed my life and my ministry,” McCrary said. “Our congregation has gained an outward focus we did not have before. This has influenced the way we think about immigrants and their needs. We paid a price for these new opportunities and priorities, but it has made us healthier and stronger. I praise God for giving us this privilege of getting to know our neighbors and serving our changing community.”
Within the past four years, SEANBC has grown greatly. In the 2014-2015 school year, SEANBC had 189 students in their Course of Study program. By 2016 they were up to 200 students. In 2017, SEANBC had 600 students enrolled and increased the number of learning centers from five to 20. This number continues to grow as local churches are empowered to host students at the certificate level or higher, and students are provided financial support through endowments and scholarships.