Trinity International University receives $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment

Lilly Endowment Inc. has awarded a grant totaling $1 million to Trinity International University to establish its Thriving Immigrant Congregation Initiative (TICI), a program of Trinity’s Paul G. Hiebert Center for World Christianity and Global Theology.

The program is funded through Lilly Endowment’s Thriving Congregations Initiative. The aim of the national initiative is to strengthen Christian congregations so they can help people deepen their relationships with God, build strong relationships with each other and contribute to the flourishing of local communities and the world.

Lilly Endowment is making nearly $93 million in grants through the initiative. The grants will support organizations as they work directly with congregations and help them gain clarity about their values and missions, explore and understand better the communities in which they serve, and draw upon their theological traditions as they adapt ministries to meet changing needs.

“I’m grateful to God because this is the grant money that will allow us to develop its infrastructure,” the Hiebert Center’s faculty associate Peter Cha said. “This is important seed money for our Center.”

“This is such an exciting and worthwhile project because it brings the best of Trinity’s international, theological and intercultural expertise to bear on difficult challenges faced by many churches,” Provost H. Wayne Johnson said. “It’s also exciting because it approaches its mission not as a one-way flow of information but through the collaborative insights of a learning community of church leaders, seeking to help one another develop effective ministry practices while acknowledging and respecting the importance of spiritual and cultural traditions.”

The TICI plans to bring 15 churches of different sizes, backgrounds, and ethnicities together in the hopes of working through two key challenges that immigrant churches face.

The first is to help first and second-generation immigrants in the church form healthy partnerships. The goal is to help them work through the natural conflict that stems from cultural variances found in different generations.

The second challenge is to encourage and equip immigrant churches to reach beyond their own ethnic group and share the gospel with all peoples. Immigrant churches have often been effective in their own communities but isolated from ethnicities outside of their own.

“A lot of younger pastors have been having a difficult time with first-generation pastors, which is why some pastors leave ministry altogether,” Cha said. “I hope the model we create will be an encouragement to pastors coming into immigration churches. I hope the fruits will be a source of encouragement and hope for future pastors of immigration churches.”

“If these congregations thrive, then their own congregation’s missions will be supported and, whether they do gospel work in this country or beyond, the key is for congregations to thrive,” Hiebert Center Director Tite Tiénou said.

This project will bring the wisdom and experience of people from all different backgrounds and cultures. They will be united in their effort to address the problems that immigrant churches face with the goal of effectively sharing the gospel with all nations, including our own. The wisdom gained from this intentional fellowship will be recorded in the hopes that the TICI will form a helpful model for immigrant churches everywhere.

The ultimate goal is to help make immigrant churches more effective within their own communities and outside of it. With close to 60,000 immigrant churches in the U.S., it’s a “no-brainer” to Tiénou.

“To focus on the immigrant congregations themselves so they can thrive is a no-brainer, which is why I’m glad Trinity can make its own contribution to it,” he said. “There is no better time to do this than this particular season of strife in this country.”

“By strengthening, equipping, and resourcing immigrant churches through this project we hope to find and develop certain approaches to ministry that will strengthen other immigrant churches so they can flourish and spread out beyond their own ethnic boundaries,” Cha said.

Trinity International University is one of 92 organizations taking part in the initiative. They represent and serve churches in a broad spectrum of Christian traditions, including Anabaptist, Baptist, Episcopal, evangelical, Lutheran, Methodist, Mennonite, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Reformed, Restoration, Roman Catholic and Orthodox, as well as congregations that describe themselves as nondenominational. Several organizations serve congregations in Black, Hispanic and Asian-American traditions.

Lilly Endowment launched the Thriving Congregations Initiative in 2019 as part of its
commitment to support efforts that enhance the vitality of Christian congregations.

The Hiebert Center for World Christianity and Global Theology was started in 2017 and is one of four centers at Trinity. It is named after former faculty member and missionary Paul Gordon Hiebert (1932–2007), who was born and raised in the mission field and dedicated his life to pursuing missiology.

Tiénou, the Dean Emeritus of TEDS and Research Professor, Theology of Mission has been the director of the Hiebert Center from the beginning. Cha, TEDS Professor of Church, Culture, and Society, has also been involved from the start as its faculty associate, and he has been the driving force behind TICI.

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