DUNDALK — While some area churches are closing their doors due to poor attendance, the charismatic, multi-ethnic GraceWay Church hosted a celebration last Sunday to commemorate its second year, with guest speakers and worship music aimed to uphold the sense of openness and welcoming that Pastor Yakubu Bakfwash, his wife Diana and his congregation embody.
The Dundalk Eagle recently sat down with Bakfwash, who hails from northern Nigeria and completed seminary in Texas, to learn more about his bold vision for Dundalk and the church and reflect on the past two years.
Bakfwash is nothing if not led by scripture. “Matthew,” he said. “Chapter 28, verse 19 and 20.”
The father of three is talking about The Great Commission. He perks up when I ask, “Is that, ‘Go ye therefore...’?”
“The vision of the church is to have people of different nations and different countries all worshipping God,” he said.
GraceWay, which is affiliated with Church of the Brethren, is the only congregation of its kind in the Atlantic region. The pastor and his family feel called to make community outreach and integration one of the central tenants of the evangelical church.
So important is this mission that Bakfwash and the congregation welcomed a donation of more than half a dozen computers from Dennis and Peggy McCartney, who are not members of the church. Charles Hammett donated his time to install the computers and network them, as well.
The computer lab functions as a center for church members and others to build English skills, job training and seeking skills, and otherwise integrate into the community. Bakfwash celebrates the rich and diverse background, but sees participation in the larger community and good citizenship as a key part of his ministry. Each Saturday, there are formal classes for several hours.
“It is a community classroom,” he said. “You don’t even have to worship in GraceWay. The vision of GraceWay is to serve the people of Dundalk. This is a church that understands the needs the of the community.”
The classroom partnered with Baltimore County Public Libraries last year, providing three librarian-led trainings on how to access library resources online.
Bakfwash hails from the city of Jos in northern Nigeria, and has been in the United States for eight years. He studied seminary in Texas, and settled in Dundalk after he felt called to establish the first multi-ethnic focused Church of the Brethren in the Atlantic region here.
”I think on the day of the launch there were eight nations represented,” he said, listing Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Nigeria, the U.S., Congo and Tanzania. “We have gone up to 12 nations currently attending GraceWay. That’s the dream. That’s our vision, to see all the nations. As the scripture says in Revelation 7:9, ‘Behold, I see the nations.’ We want people of different languages and ethnic groups coming to the throne of God to worship.”
Two years in, Bakfwash says the congregation is led by the mission of making Christ known to all nations. “The reason for the multi-ethnic focus in the congregation is to reflect what eternity is going to look like. Eternity is going to be about everyone, not one particular group of people. If we have to have a test of eternity, let’s begin it right here.”
The cheerful reverend is lit from within, and joyously answers community concerns. His wife, Diana, serves as Welcome Director for the church and also provides helpful information and fellowship to members and guests.
”After two years, everybody’s still asking me, ‘Why Dundalk?’,” he says with a laugh. “Part of the reason is there’s so much drug addiction and other issues. To be here helps us connect to the community to see the dangers of drug addiction for our congregation.”
He says he’s working to get a Christian-centered Celebrate Recovery program started in his church of just over four dozen members. In the coming year, the church will also focus on creating a coffeehouse culture with live music weekly.
The church leader also says that “God himself” led his family’s heart to Dundalk.
”The church is about the community,” he said. “We want to be able to work in the community, to bring spiritual revival to the lives of people in the community. If there’s no community, there’s no church. Whatever we do, we are looking into the needs of those around us. They are our brothers and sisters who are caught in this drug addiction. Our sisters, our children, our parents, our wives — it affects everybody.”
On Sunday, GraceWay celebrated their second anniversary with a theme of ‘God’s Amazing Grace.’ Dr. Paul Mundey, a member of the charismatic church who recently attended the National Prayer Breakfast, provided the sermon, based on 1 Peter 5:10.
”We are grateful for God’s amazing grace because what has God has done for us in the last year,” said Bakfwash. “We don’t want to blind our eyes at all. Waking up in the morning, going to the store and coming back, and you’re not shot in the back? Even that is a miracle. Even waking up and driving to church is the grace of God.”
Bakfwash’s congregation also has a ministry for the hearing impaired, as many in the community and one of his own daughters, aptly named Faith, are hearing impaired.
”That’s all the message is,” he says, smiling. “God has been good to me. To us. It’s a blessing to be in Dundalk. I have had wonderful opportunities to be in other big congregations, but we started the church with no membership. The keys of the church were handed to me — a new ministry, a new church with a vision of the multi-ethnic community. We want to know Christ and make him known to the nations. It’s simple.”