Refugees from all over the world, speaking two hundred or more languages, flooding to the Triangle area of Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, North Carolina, find in The Point International a place they belong, together.
They see God’s love for them expressed through the multi-hued faces of the volunteers who serve them, and are drawn to God as a result, church planter/pastor Sang Hyun “Sammy” Joo told SBC LIFE.
“It’s really a drawing point,” Joo said. “They see the Kingdom diversity and say, ‘Okay, maybe I can belong here.’”
What started in 2011 as an outgrowth of collegiate ministry to international students, NET Church—Nations Engaged Together—merged in August with The Point Church to become The Point International, where nearly one hundred people from at least sixteen nations come together each Saturday for worship in simplified English.
NET Church’s growth started when a volunteer helped a Pakistani family move. That family liked what they heard of NET Church, and told their friends. Since then, the church has grown by word of mouth to include people of every age group from Pakistan, Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Malaysia, China, Korea, and the Hmong people group from Vietnam and Laos.
NET Church merged with The Point Church after Pastor Chris Hankins approached him, Joo said. “He sees the value of cooperation with me. He has a vision to plant thirty churches by 2025, and for ten of those to be in another language. That vision and my vision—to reach as many as possible of the people who speak two hundred languages in this Triangle area—came together.
“This is my first-ever church plant,” Joo continued. “I started with the state convention in 2007 as international student ministries coordinator in the Triangle area. My ministry was sharing the Gospel with non-believing international students and I saw the need of discipling the students coming to Jesus. But how?”
He determined starting a church would be the answer. His wife and children would help, they assured him during mealtime conversations. Today, his wife Hyun Kyung “Debbie” Kim prepares—with help 40 percent of the time—a Saturday dinner for the continually growing congregation, and the family continues mealtime conversations about refugees and their needs.
Gracie Joo was fifteen when she started a tutoring program other volunteers have now taken up. Enoch, thirteen, plays percussion in the worship band. Noah, ten, evangelizes other children; and Joy, now eight, “makes people happy,” Joo said. “She’s playful and welcoming.”
Joo preaches in “very slow and easy English with visual aids” that appear on a screen behind him. He uses Christ-centered storytelling in his preaching because he has learned “storytelling is the most effective and strategic way of communication,” Joo said.
Three other pastors work with him, from Kenya, Korea, and Pakistan. The Pakistani pastor teaches a Bible study in Urdu that follows the English service. “He’s going to plant a Pakistani church after six months,” Joo said. “We are an incubator. When we see leaders, we match them to congregations to start another church.”
His wife has learned which foods the multicultural, multiethnic, multilingual congregation will eat. “Chicken is like the universal meat,” Joo said. “Sometimes the Pakistani ladies bring their own Pakistan food, and sometimes the African ladies bring what they eat in Africa, like boiled potatoes.”
Worship is followed by dinner, then volunteer-led classes in English as a Second Language and tutoring in math, reading, art, high school equivalency (GED), driver’s education, and American culture. Ministry to refugees often includes transportation to worship services as well as throughout the week.
“Basically we meet their needs and share the Gospel,” Joo said. Clothing is available every week, and soon, so will be a food pantry, thanks to the recent merging of NET Church into the ninth congregation in The Point Church network.
“If they have a calling from God to the nations we welcome more volunteers,” Joo said. “This is not something one person or one church can do.”
From the beginning, The Point International was led by volunteers, starting with Joo who serves “covocationally” without pay, depending on his employment with the North Carolina Baptist Convention, where today he is Asian ministries consultant.
“Covocational” is the new word coined by NAMB for those pastors who are dependent on an external income source for their livelihood. It refers to the fact that the pastor’s ministry continues in both endeavors.
“The biggest help is teamwork,” Joo said. “It’s like the Cooperative Program: I see it works. When we cooperate together, we accomplish so much more of what God has for us to do to fulfill His Great Commission.”
Karen L. Willoughby is national correspondent with SBC LIFE and Baptist Press and is a member of First Baptist Church in Pleasant Grove, Utah.