ST. LOUIS – The 2018 General Assembly ended June 23 as it began, with worship — proclaiming though song: “To God be glory forever. Alleluia! Amen!”
The service included a dramatic reading of Luke 18:1-8, the parable of the widow and the unjust judge, led by narrator Hannah Dreitcer, associate pastor of Webster Groves Presbyterian Church in Webster Groves, Missouri. Joshua Noah, pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Crystal City, Missouri, adapted the text that was used.
Along with the text, the participants acted out the meaning of the widow’s persistence in demanding justice from the judge. Their litany: No justice. No peace. Black lives matter. Speak up.
What do we want?
When do we want it?
The preacher, Ekram Kachu, a native of Sudan, is pastor of First Arabic Presbyterian Church in Waukee, Iowa — and she preached about “the persistent prayer.”
Kachu came to the United States in 2001, fleeing violence in her homeland. She sees widows all around her.
“We see it in the news. There are kids, refugees, homeless, but nobody cares. Also among us there are many widows. … They are crying. They want somebody to listen, to hear their story. To ask.”
The widow kept praying, believing that with God’s help the light of justice would shine on her, Kachu said. “She never gave up, she never lost hope. … God is listening to chosen people who cry day and night. And he will hear us, who are praying and trying to make a difference. God promised that he will make a difference if we pray. … Prayer is about trusting God while we are living in difficult times,” waiting for the Son of God to return.
When she came to the United States with her family, the transition was difficult, Kachu said – telling the story of many refugees. “It is not easy to come to the United States. We were assuming when we came to the United States, everything would be nice. But we missed our home, our people,” worshipping in their own language.
They formed their own worshipping community, and Kachu enrolled in the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, graduating in 2015. The ordination exams were difficult – they are offered in English, Spanish and Korean, Kachu said, but not in Arabic. She said she had just been ordained, three years after graduating, on June 2. Some Africans graduate from seminary, “but they never got jobs, because the door is not open,” she said.
Her congregation has found difficulty too, Kachu said.
“We don’t fit in the Book of Order.” One member said, “It is easier to go to heaven than to be a Presbyterian.” The congregation that housed them got smaller and smaller, eventually closing. The pastors and elders cried when they told Kachu the building was being sold. “We felt we were part of their stuff, or property,” Kachu said. “It hurt us badly.”
They got help too, from the Presbytery of Des Moines and from the 1001 New Worshipping Communities program of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). They have an outreach center, offer tutoring, fill worship each Sunday with children and people from around the world — from Egypt, Sudan, Australia, Canada. “We are people from everybody.”
And Kachu offered a vision of heaven where all are together – refugees, widows, orphans and strangers. “Pray for South Sudan. Pray to move a mountain,” she preached to the commissioners. “These are my people.”
The service began with the choir from Pendo Presbyterian Church in St. Louis singing a traditional Kenyan hymn, translated as “Praise Be To God.”
And hymns sung as communion was being served – “Nearer, My God, to Thee” and “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine!” – were sung in Kikuyu, the traditional language of the Pendo congregation.
“Go in to the world confident that God has been in this place,” Lorenzo Clayton, a ruling elder from First United Presbyterian Church of Belleville, Illinois.
“Strive first for the kingdom of God, and the righteousness of God, and all these things will be given to you as well.”