A Fence Between Neighbors

2018 n04

Sundays are different at Lennon-Seney U.M.C. these days. Swahili songs bounce off the beautiful stained-glass windows, and people greet a few church members as “Teacha” when they pass.

Just one year ago, Pastor McLain and others looked across the chain-link fence separating their church property from an apartment complex full of African refugees. How could they reach these new neighbors? How could they tangibly love them? How could they break through the figurative fence separating the two cultures?

They tried a few things, but none of their international neighbors would come around the fence onto the church property. At the same time, KIN was praying for a ministry partner near this apartment complex. Finally, God brought the church, Great Schools Partnerships (now Knoxville Education Foundation), and KIN together.

A Great Schools leader from the nearby school used his existing relationships to find people willing to enter the church for English classes, then three faithful volunteers from Lennon-Seney joined KIN’s representative to launch the class in March 2018. At their first meeting, only five students showed up, but when these five realized the value of the classes, the number of students grew quickly. The volunteers also built relationships that included early access to a yard sale and a community garden available to their neighbors.

Ten months later, the bonds are strong. These refugees have a new community, and Knoxville feels a little more like home for them. The church has an expanded community, too! On the request of one ESL student, they have invited the Swahili church to use their facilities on Sunday afternoons.

Now that fence, which once felt like an insurmountable wall, is nothing but a bit of chain-link to walk around.


This church in East Knoxville realized the nations were--literally--next door. By partnering with KIN, they found a way to welcome and help their international neighbors. When you're ready to engage the nations already around you, let us know. We'd love to walk that journey with you or your church! Find out more at www.kin-connect.org.

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