Once referred to as “the most diverse square mile in the country” by TIME magazine, every face in Clarkston, Georgia, carries a story. As a designated refugee resettlement area assigned by the United Nations, Clarkston has become a haven for those driven out of their homelands.
Each year, PrayerLink—a collaborative network of prayer leaders representing SBC entities, state conventions, and other groups in Southern Baptist life—hosts a bus tour of local area ministries to foster a Great Commission mindset among Southern Baptists and other Christ-followers. Participants walk the neighborhoods and pray. In 2017, Marty Youngblood with the Georgia Baptist Mission Board included Clarkston as a PrayerLink stop.
“Clarkston is at the intersection of what’s known as the green mile and the red path,” said Lorna Bius, North American Mission Board (NAMB) Send Relief missionary in Clarkston who joined the PrayerLink group on their tour of her neighborhood.
“The red path has literally been created by the nations and runs right through the property of Clarkston International Bible Church,” Bius told the group during its Saturday morning prayer tour, asking for their prayers as NAMB and SBC entities work to build more ministry at this unique crossroad.
The red path is a hard-packed clay trail that crosses the railroad tracks separating the neighborhoods from the business district where many shops and restaurants are located. The green mile is a stretch of bicycle trail that cuts through Atlanta and leads right to Clarkston International Bible Church.
“The bicyclists are on the green path and the nations are on the red path . . . and Clarkston International Bible Church is right in the middle of it!” Bius said.
“What’s so amazing about this is when the church was established in the 1880s, no one could imagine that the nations of the world would be coming right here. But God knew,” Bius told the group as they walked and covered the streets in prayer.
“So, He placed a Kingdom outpost right where He knew this path would one day be. It’s an amazing reminder of John 3:16. . . . He really does love the world,” she said.
PrayerLink participants met, served, and prayed over people like Fatmata Bayoh, who began a new life in the United States at age eight after fleeing a ten-year war in Sierra Leone.
“My mom told me, ‘Hey, we’re coming to the United States,’” Bayoh said. “I wanted to tell everybody but [my parents] said, ‘No, don’t tell everybody.’ We came as refugees and my parents just wanted to wait until that moment we were leaving. You know how people are. They can wish bad will on you, so it remained a secret.”
Bayoh arrived in the United States in New York City on September 28, 2004.
“It was snowing,” said Bayoh. “The first snow I’d ever seen. It was in my eyes . . . I loved it. A lot of people say, ‘Oh, you were eight. You don’t know anything.’ But I remember. I was so excited.”
Her excitement, however, waned after just a few days. Bayoh and her family had escaped the tyranny that followed Sierra Leone’s civil war, yet she faced a different set of challenges in America when her family moved to a resettlement community in Clarkston, Georgia.
“My mom made me go to school,” Bayoh says. “At first, school was really hard. I went to Indian Creek Elementary School in Clarkston. I was in school but I was not ‘into the system’ yet. I hated being classed as different. I hated the prejudice growing up.”
Seeing how her daughter was struggling to fit into western culture, Bayoh’s mom sent Bayoh to an after-school program run by native Nigerian Bennet Ekandem.
“Mr. Bennet was the first African we met in the United States,” says Bayoh. “He understood me. His after-school program helped me with my schoolwork and gave me the opportunity to take violin lessons. Music is what actually made me want to be a Christian.
“I come from a Muslim background. I grew up Muslim. I remember hearing worship music back home; I remember it inside a church, but we were not allowed inside. When I came to the United States, I knew I could come inside church. I learned about Christianity and wanted to become a Christian. I love it. I love that it is who I am now . . . not a refugee, not some ‘poor thing’ people pity, but a person. His,” she said, speaking of the Lord.
Ekandem currently runs his after-school program at the Clarkston International Bible Church.
“What really turned things around for me is to see what I’m doing today,” said Ekandem. “This is what I usually tell people who don’t know much about God; He’s the greatest chess player ever. See, I’m from Nigeria. I ran from missionary work in Nigeria. I came to the United States for money and opportunity. I came to be somebody.
“But God was moves ahead of me the whole time,” Ekandem continued. “Now my wife and I work for the Lord here in Clarkston. And He is amazing for that.”
During PrayerLink’s walk through Clarkston, participants also saw how NAMB is partnering with the church to encourage and equip other churches for refugee ministry.
Clarkston International recently became one of Send Relief’s first ministry hubs. NAMB’s Send Relief Hubs are designed to model and multiply ministry by providing a location where other churches can see ministry in action and offering training for them to replicate similar ministry efforts in their neighborhoods.
With more than fifty nations represented in Clarkston, this community truly is a global community, NAMB Send Relief Vice President David Melber said. “It is the perfect place for ministry and for churches and individuals to learn how to minister among such diversity.”
The hub, a wholly-owned and operated ministry of NAMB, was purchased from Clarkston International Bible Church in May 2017. The hub continues to serve as a worship facility for the church and to provide daily services to the Clarkston community.
Roger “Sing” Oldham, vice president for convention communications and relations for the Executive Committee of the SBC, was on the PrayerLink tour and marveled at the ministry work being done with refugees and internationals in Clarkston.
“Who would have thought in 1883 that this church [Clarkston International Bible Church] would one day stand at the intersection of the green mile and the red path?”
And yet, it does, standing ready to equip those hoping for a better life and looking for a greater hope.
Josie Bingham writes for the North American Mission Board and is a member of First Baptist Church in Cumming, Georgia.