It was a warm October day in Southern California, and the meeting room held a quiet buzz as twenty pastors waited for the course to start. These pastors had gathered from across California, Arizona, and even Japan to attend a BIC U.S. Core Course on the Theology of Salvation at Gateway Karis BIC in Chino, California.
Within the Brethren in Christ, Core Courses help lay the foundation for ministry. Many of these course participants were young pastors from diverse backgrounds, and at the end of this two-day course, they left better equipped for ongoing ministry and more connected with fellow BIC pastors.
While this may seem like an ordinary theology course, the story of Gateway Karis BIC and the growth this Core Course represents is a story worth sharing.
A Foundation of Friendship
Five years ago, Gateway BIC and Karis Church were two separate congregations meeting under the same roof. Land in Southern California is expensive, and smaller congregations frequently rent from larger ones. Karis Church, led by Pastor Peter Song, was an independent congregation made up of younger Korean and Chinese families. In 2017, they began renting space from Gateway BIC.
The congregation of Gateway BIC, one of the oldest BIC churches in the Pacific Conference, was at the time mostly white, Hispanic, and Black. Because of the church’s large facility, it was not uncommon for them to rent building space to other local congregations.
Gateway’s senior pastor Paul Lehman-Schletewitz saw these leases as an opportunity to connect with local church leaders. “The Lord has already brought us together,” he said. “How can we work together?” Paul intentionally built relationships with the pastors of each congregation that shared their space and looked for ways to collaborate in ministry.
Soon after Karis’s rental agreement was finalized, Paul invited Peter to meet for prayer and fellowship. From Peter’s perspective, “This is the guy who controls my church’s lease – how can I say no?” Now, four years later, the church co-leaders laugh about Peter’s initial reaction.
Through monthly meetings, pastors Paul and Peter quickly discovered they had attended the same school and shared some of the same mentors. Soon, the relationship between landlord and leaseholder transformed into one of genuine friendship and camaraderie as brothers in Christ.
Out of Peter and Paul’s friendship, Gateway BIC and Karis Church started partnering in ministry. First, they launched joint preschool and kindergarten programs, and eventually this collaboration expanded to a youth Sunday school class and college outreach initiative.
As the relationship between the two congregations continued to blossom, the seeds were planted for Karis Church to join the Brethren in Christ. In 2018, Pastor Peter called the Karis congregation together for a churchwide meeting to address one question: do we join the BIC? After the congregation voted, the way forward was clear with over 96% of members voting to officially join.
The two now-BIC congregations continued to share the same building and partner in children’s and youth ministry. After a while, they felt led to join as one church body, and in 2019, this unified group of diverse congregants became officially known as Gateway Karis BIC.
A Marriage of Churches
Less than three years after they met, pastors Peter and Paul found themselves jointly leading a multicultural, multigenerational congregation. While Paul says it felt like a breath of fresh air for the two congregations to unite as one, he is frank about the challenges the group faced. Any two congregations coming together will bring their own expectations for worship and fellowship. For Gateway Karis, this melding also included the cultures of the Korean, white, Chinese, Black, and Hispanic individuals that made up the congregation.
For this diverse group of individuals to walk together in life and ministry, Gateway Karis had to rely on the grace of God. Peter and Paul recognized that their relationship could model the unity they wanted the whole church to embrace, and the two men intentionally led with humility and understanding. They encouraged their staff, lay leaders, and congregants to spend time with members of different ethnic backgrounds, learning from each other and growing in faith together.
The congregation’s pursuit of unity can clearly be seen each Sunday morning with services in Korean, English, and live translations into Mandarin. While this multilingual approach means that each congregant can hear a message in their own language, Paul recognized early on that there was potential for the church to become a collection of disjointed ministries separated by language. That idea didn’t fit within the vision for a unified Gateway Karis congregation. The pastors of Gateway Karis now preach on the same subject or passage of scripture each week so all members hear the same message, even if the language is different.
Building for the Future
The future is bright for Gateway Karis. The Core Course they hosted in the Fall is just an early indicator of its potential, and the congregation is positioned to deeply impact its members, the broader Chino, Calif. community, and even individuals an ocean away.
Many of Gateway Karis’ younger staff members participated in the Core Course and are working to become licensed BIC ministers. Pastor Peter has a passion to raise the next generation and closely disciples these emerging leaders, preparing them for their own dynamic leadership and ministry.
Soon, the staff of Gateway Karis will be able to minister to an entirely new segment of the Chino community. Construction for a church building in a developing residential area is underway and will be this growing ministry’s new home. This location is across the street from a junior community college, and Pastor Paul hopes that this move will enable the church to reach more young families and college students.
Additionally, Gateway Karis’ future vision includes international impact. Pastor Mitsuru Ishido of BIC Japan participated in the Core Course this fall. As a pastor in a Christian-minority country, he was deeply encouraged by the fellowship at Gateway Karis, and he returned to Japan rejuvenated for ministry. In the future, Peter hopes to provide more of these training opportunities to international BIC pastors so they can be uplifted by the greater body of Christ.
Pastors Peter and Paul want their story encourages other pastors and churches to build relationships with each other across ethnicities and social barriers. “If we work together with the genuine sense that we want to build the Kingdom – not my ministry or my name – we can find some amazing opportunities for common ministry that are greater than the sum of their parts,” says Paul.
The story of Gateway Karis BIC includes a much bigger dream than just the impact of one diverse congregation. Theirs is a shared vision for a preview of the atmosphere of eternity. Gateway Karis may not have multitudes “from every nation, tribe, people, and language,” but their multicultural, multigenerational, multilingual church is a sweet foretaste of the glory of Heaven (Rev 7:9).
This article was originally published in our 2021 Annual Report.