Pastors of NOW Youngstown share message of collaboration in Kenya
By LINDA M. LINONIS
Pastors Rolando Rojas and Al Yanno traveled 15 hours by air and 61/2 hours by car and covered some 7,500 miles to reach their destination in Eldoret, Kenya, in Africa.
They were on a mission trip to share resource materials with pastors there on how NOW Youngstown works as a collaboration among churches, city government and police. They did that and more, but emphasized they were the ones who really learned something.
“I came back with a different point of view. ... I realized we’re too caught up in trying to do too much. Being more relaxed lets you appreciate life,” said Pastor Rojas of Spanish Evangelical Church.
Pastor Yanno said, “I have a new appreciation of people and relationships ... it’s what makes life rich.” He leads Metro Assembly of God.
The pastors took the trip to Africa from July 29 to Aug. 9 on the mission arranged by evangelist Cornell Jordon of Ravenna, who attends Ravenna Assembly of God, and takes teams on missions about four times a year. This group numbered 21, with most from Youngstown, and formed four teams. The pastors’ wives, Ruth Rojas and Paris Yanno, were on the team.
Pastor Rojas explained that Jordon spoke to youth at Spanish Evangelical; later, conversation turned to Jordon’s projects and trips to Kenya. “We thought there would be different opportunities in Ohio and New York but that didn’t pan out. This took us beyond that,” he said.
Pastors Rojas and Yanno said they wanted to share how NOW Youngstown can be an entity for change. “The churches there have worked individually but haven’t engaged in a collaborative effort,” Pastor Yanno said.
He said that although the Christian church is well-established in Kenya and has outreach programs, it faces dealing with tribalism.
“Here we call it racism; there, it is tribalism,” Pastor Rojas said.
“In America, racism might provoke protests and even riots, but in Kenya, it leads to mass murder,” Pastor Yanno said. “That’s the big issue.”
The pastors said a goal of the mission was to share how NOW Youngstown works. It sponsors summertime rallies in neighborhoods where crime and violence have happened and brings community resources in. The two said they worked with pastors on how to engage churches into working together and with government leaders and the police to better communities. “They have a lot of corruption there, so this isn’t easy,” Pastor Yanno said. At Global University, the Youngstown pastors led seminars on “Church and Community Collaborative Impact” attended by their Kenyan counterparts.
“Within the churches, there are different tribes, and they get along,” Pastor Rojas said. That has to be expanded into the community where it “will set an example,” he said.
Mission team members also presented vacation Bible schools, visited schools and churches. The pastors noted they learned that public and private schools have chaplains, and children attend daily chapel. “They do not have behavior problems,” Pastor Rojas said, adding that at least no problems were visible. Chaplains speak about God without denominational influence to students who are Christian and Muslim.
The pastors said they visited schools with students numbering 800 to 900, and at one assembly, there were some 1,300 students. They brought puppets for a show, school supplies and electronics. At schools, they distributed candy with each student getting one piece. The pastors marveled at the children’s patient behavior as they waited in line.
Pastor Rick and Carol Koetz, missionaries for 40 years in Kenya, hosted the team. He is senior pastor of Kapsoya Pentecostal Church and Sirikwa Pentecostal Fellowship, Eldoret.