The Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II – the first African American elected to this highest office of the denomination – was on hand for the occasion and had this to say about the formation of this new church: “This is one of the highest days in my 32 years of ministry, to be here at this particular time... this is a halleluiah moment!” This was all part of the 508th Stated Meeting of the Presbytery of Des Moines, which was part of the All-Iowa Presbyterians Gathering on June 2-3, 2017 at Collegiate Presbyterian Church in Ames, Iowa.
Dr. Nelson went on to say that this action brings the PC(USA)’s global mission work to full circle. The denomination has long had a missionary presence in Sudan, and many of the Sudanese who came to Des Moines were Presbyterians. One such individual is the new church’s pastor, Ekram Kachu, a graduate of Dubuque Theological Seminary who came to this country to fulfill her life-long dream of becoming a Presbyterian pastor.
Most of the Sudanese who make up this church have come from a background of hardship and struggle. Many fled their homes to escape from civil war that has ravaged their country for many years. In the 1990s, when Sudanese refugees began arriving in Des Moines, bewildered by culture shock and suffering from post-traumatic stress, many made their way to Cottage Grove Presbyterian Church where they found a welcome refuge and a healing community. Cottage Grove soon became known as a “home” for Sudanese refugees, offering worship services and space for a variety of activities. In subsequent years, though the Cottage Grove church struggled to survive and eventually closed in 2014, the Sudanese ministry flourished, attracting more and more Arabic-speaking refugees and immigrants. Today the church’s ministry includes worship services, music and Christian education opportunities, and outreach to those in need, including tutoring and Arabic classes for children, and a support group for refugee and immigrant women adjusting to life in the USA.
First Arabic Presbyterian holds its worship services on Sunday afternoon at 4:00 p.m., followed by Bible study for all ages at 6:00 p.m. The congregation continues to meet in the former Cottage Grove Presbyterian Church building at the corner of 24th and Cottage Grove Avenue in Des Moines.
*Arabic is related to the ancient language of Aramaic, which was used in the some of the original biblical texts.