New church welcomes international members

Matt Martin participates in worship at Journey Church in Bowling Green on Sunday, Oct. 1. “He’s brought me a long way,” said Martin. Journey Church’s mission is “to be a movement of churches made up of those from every nation and tribe and people and language” according to the church’s website.

Laryn Hilderbrandt

Tucked back in a neighborhood surrounded by trees is a new church dedicated to welcoming all nationalities, languages and people.

Located on Old Barren River Road in Bowling Green, Journey Church shares the International Ministry Center with Nueva Vida and Zo Baptist Church. According to the website, Journey’s mission is “to be a movement of churches made up of those from every nation and tribe and people and language.”

The smell of Krispy Kreme donuts and coffee greets the guests upon entering the ministry center. Inside the main room, red upholstered chairs are in three even rows facing a stage equipped with instruments for live worship. A plain wall is to the right where PowerPoint slides and lyrics are projected. After a song begins the service, Matt Betts, the pastor at Journey, welcomes everyone with a wide smile on his face.

“In whatever language you speak, let’s say hello,” Betts said at the beginning of Sunday’s service after playing a video from Buzzfeed titled “Greetings in Different Languages.”

According to statistics by Data USA from 2015, 17.1 percent of Bowling Green citizens are speakers of a non-English language, nearly four percent lower than the national average.

“How do you bridge the language barriers?” Betts said regarding the biggest challenges launching Journey. “How do you get beyond just doing an English-based service?”

Officially launched Sept. 17, Journey branches off from Woodburn Baptist Church, which celebrated its 150th anniversary this year. Prior to being the pastor at Journey, Betts served as the youth and young adult pastor at Woodburn for five and a half years.

The two-year period prior to the first service consisted of a launch team getting together with the local community and neighborhood to plan, spread their mission and extend the invitation to join them on Sundays at Journey. They started out participating with Curbside Ministries, which provides programs to local neighborhoods. After building relationships, they began meeting with refugee and international families inside their homes.

Dawn Betts, the wife of Matt Betts, said the first time she went to a house was because of a child. They wanted to make sure the parents knew all the options available to them in the area. After getting a translator, the family shared their story and she learned they were taken care of.

“When I left there, I drove home and bawled my eyes out,” Dawn Betts said with a slight shake of her head. “These people have lost family members, been near wars.”

One day, Dawn went with a girl to a school health fair and they talked about the girl feeling safe in America.

“I would ask her, ‘don’t you miss Africa?’ She had said she remembered the sound of gun fire and the light from it,” Dawn retold with a frown.

Both Dawn and Matt Betts described the surrounding area as diverse, specifically referencing a local apartment complex called Lee Pointe Condos, where vans stop to provide transportation to Journey for services and events. There are residents living there that have backgrounds from at least five different countries in Africa, they said.

“You also have a lot of families that both parents work, but the kids aren’t used to that here. They are coming here, and they not only don’t know the language but their whole family dynamic changes,” Dawn Betts said. “They want to learn it, it’s an issue of just the opportunity. It’s more expensive here.”

Since some parents had to work during the weekdays, Journey began offering free beginner and advanced English as a Second Language, or ESL, classes on weekends as well as promoting the usage of a free Bible app that has over 1,100 languages available. On the slides projected during services, multiple translations were provided under the English verses.

Journey isn’t the only location in Bowling Green offering free ESL classes. St. James United Methodist Church provides basic level ESL and has a Swahili interpreter present, Living Hope Baptist Church offers ESL, homework help and language partners for trips to the grocery store, Eastwood Baptist Church provides ESL to Japanese students and KCTCS offers eight levels from beginning to advanced English along with citizenship and GED classes.

Louisville sophomore Margee Kassel attended Journey Church for the first time Sunday from an invite by her friend Kate, who picked her up so they could go together. They sat toward the middle and Kassel, along with others, participated in a drawing activity that Matt Betts used to compare imagination and vision.

“I loved it,” Kassel said. “I really enjoyed the fellowship that was created. Everyone was friendly and welcoming.”

Journey will be hosting an event called Starting Point at 11:45 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 8 for those interested in learning more about the church, it’s mission and programs available.

Reporter Laryn Hilderbrandt can be reached at 270-745-2655 and [email protected].