North Carolina Church Opens Its Doors to Immigrants and Refugees

The Church: Waypoint Church in Durham, North Carolina
The Challenge: To provide immigrants and refugees with a place of belonging.
One Big Idea: With 30 nations represented in the services, everybody is a minority at this church.

When Eric and Laeticia Nsengi first came to America as Congolese refugees, they were weary, wary and wondering about life’s new journey. When they stepped inside Waypoint Church in Durham, North Carolina, however, the couple immediately felt welcome.

“What unites people is not how they look but rather the mission God has placed on their hearts,” says Lawrence Yoo, Waypoint’s lead pastor.

From the get-go, the vision of this 2014 church plant of Summit Church was to invite and embrace immigrants and refugees.

“Our tagline is, ‘Reach Durham, Reach the Nation,’” says Yoo, who knows firsthand what it’s like to grapple with belonging, having come from an immigrant family himself. Though his parents were Korean, he grew up in the South.

“I wasn’t Korean, yet I wasn’t American, so I didn’t really know where I belonged,” explains Yoo. “Waypoint Church is for people who feel that same way.”

With an average weekend attendance of around 170, and 30 nations represented in the services, Yoo notes that the church has many Korean-Americans, African-Americans and Haitian-Americans who find their niche at Waypoint.

Waypoint looks for ways to build and sustain those essential connections. They do so by involving themselves in the Durham branch of the World Relief organization, where they formulate “good neighbor teams.” These teams introduce refugees to American life by settling them in to housing, plugging them in to schools, taking them to church and helping them obtain driver’s licenses and set up bank accounts.

In addition, 22 congregation members currently participate in “intentional living,” in which they share an apartment complex with refugees (95 percent of the dwellers are foreign-born). It may not be glamorous living, but the friendships they build are real and life-changing due to fellowship opportunities created through such things as running clubs, homework groups and soccer ministries that members have established.

The church is also heavily involved with the International Friends student ministry. They host a Thanksgiving meal, English language partners, Discovery Bible study and, prior to the semester, shopping trips to Target.

Since it’s impossible to provide a specific style and language for so many different cultures, the services are conducted in English. Stylistically, they keep things simple in terms of lighting and music.

“There’s nothing fancy about what we do,” says Yoo. “We’re just here, enjoying a glimpse into God’s beautifully diverse kingdom.”

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Durham, North Carolina

Christy Heitger-Ewing
Christy Heitger-Ewing

Christy Heitger-Ewing is a contributing writer for Outreach magazine. In addition, Christy pens the “Now & Then” column in Cabin Life magazine. She also writes regularly for Christian publications such as Encounter, Insight, and the Lookout. She is the author of Cabin Glory: Amusing Tales of Time Spent at the Family Retreat.