The inpouring of immigrants, the influx of international students and the impressive medical community make Rochester, New York, a microcosm of diversity. The streets and marketplaces are alive with multiple languages. Observing this daily, Reverends Sam Abraham and Phalkun Nov long to hear these many languages come together to praise Jesus Christ.
Both men traveled to the United States, Pastor Abraham from India and Pastor Nov from Cambodia. Like many Rochester residents, they understand the challenges of immigrating to a new land with new customs.
These challenges did not overcome them. They held to the promise that God would be with them wherever they were. Recognizing their own experiences in other Rochester residents, they desired to share God’s promise. The idea of Inspire Wesleyan Church was born.
“That every ethnicity and people group would feel accepted and welcome (in the church) is important,” says Rev. Nov’s wife, Janell. “We want to be a church that welcomes ‘mixed’ families as well; families that don’t always feel welcome in ethnically homogeneous churches. We want them to know that it is okay to speak multiple languages; it is okay that their children look different. Jesus is for everyone .”
The Penn York District had been home to the Nov family for years, where they led a ministry at Spencerport Wesleyan Church to the Nepali community in Rochester. When District Superintendent Dr. Matthew Pickering learned of the Abrahams’ desire to plant a church, he believed the two families might be a good match for planting in Rochester.
The families were soon introduced and with the help of the Penn York District, plans for the church plant were established. Before long, the church website launched, leadership meetings began, and Rev. Abraham and his family moved from their home an hour outside of Rochester into the city to join the Novs. Just one day after the Abrahams’ move, in March 2020, New York City shut down.
COVID-19 blanketed the globe with New York City as the United States’ hotspot. Panic erupted in Rochester. Before long, toilet paper flew from the shelves of every store. The death rate soared. Isolation brought deep loneliness. For the international community in Rochester, this time presented unforeseen challenges, adding to their already heavy load of trying to learn how to function in American society. With stringent restrictions and citywide quarantine, plans halted. Or so it would seem. As is his way, while the pandemic closed doors, God opened new ones.
Reverends Abraham and Nov, and their families, met over video calls for Bible studies and planning. They conferred with community members, praying and offering them hope. While the world stood still, the seeds of the church grew.
When asked how they held onto hope, Reverend Nov answered, “The power of God encouraged us. God is still faithful to provide connection.”
When COVID restrictions lessened, both pastors returned to their workplaces. Both found their colleagues showing increased interest in Christ. Both suspect pandemic-related trauma has awakened understanding of the brevity of life. People are ardently seeking hope.
Reverend Abraham said, “God is connecting people randomly. Church planting is not like an ordinary campaign; we can’t rely on corporate methods. God’s kingdom building is always through his own intervention.” In a way only God can, he is leading people to himself.
As restrictions continue lifting in Rochester, Reverends Abraham and Nov organize fellowship opportunities for those interested in Inspire Wesleyan Church. Monthly, they meet for outdoor worship, maintaining social distance. On Easter Sunday, though they feared no one would come, 27 people celebrated Jesus’ resurrection. Eight nations were represented at the service: India, Cambodia, Bhutan, Jamaica, Ghana, the Philippines, Ukraine and the USA. This incredible blessing confirms Inspire Wesleyan is on the right path.
“The Penn York District is excited to partner with Pastors Sam and Phalkun in the Inspire Wesleyan Church plant,” said Dr. Pickering. “We share their vision for reaching the City of Rochester for Christ and specifically the international population in and around West Henrietta. Sam and Phalkun’s love for the Lord and heart for people, coupled with their humility and dedication, make them a blessing to work with. I’ve no doubt that through their ministry the Lord will touch the lives of many and lay the foundation for a thriving church.”