WhenGod leads us, we need to obediently follow and simply say “Yes”. A Methodist Church in the town I grew up in … a building I must have passed by thousands of times … had gone unnoticed up until now. This morning I wasn’t simply passing by. This morning was different. God lead me to turn into the parking lot and enter through the doors of this familiar site, and it was God’s perfect timing for me to finally meet the people of Living Hope United Methodist Church.
There was such a sweet presence of God and a strong sense of community here. Pastor Danyal Mohammadzadeh arrived just in time for the 11 am service. He also pastors at Valley Falls United Methodist Church, preaching there at 9 am and then making the 15-minute drive to Waterford. He jokingly blamed his last-minute arrival on the cheesecake that had been offered to him … he simply could not resist.
Having just met Pastor Danyal, I was curious to find out more about who he was. Born and raised in Iran, he served as a human-rights activist and journalist. He was often arrested for reporting on the lack of human rights for minorities there. It was political asylum that brought him to the United States in 2011. While taking a Bible study course at SUNY, he realized that Jesus was also a human rights activist and journalist who was persecuted for His views. It was then he realized that the teachings of Jesus were the real asylum he had been seeking. He was in a new land with no friends and was basically homeless. The Times Union did a special story about his situation, and a woman who read the story was so touched. Pam Skripak did not know Danyal personally, but God’s love shown through her as she reached out to someone who was “different”. She was a member at Delmar United Methodist Church. Through the loving help of this church, Pastor Danyal and his wife were able to get settled and grow in the Lord. He was baptized in 2014 and ordained soon after. And in July of 2017, he became the pastor of both Valley Falls UMC and Living Hope UMC.
The 11 am service began with announcements followed by a time to greet one another with the peace of Christ. As we made our way around the room, we recognized a few faces from our hometown. The organist, Marcia Dawson, began to play and sing the hymn, “God is Here Today”. As part of their Fall Sermon Series entitled “The Dynamic Women of Faith”, today’s message was on Hannah (1 Samuel 1-20). Pastor Danyal spoke of how Hannah had been rejected by her community because she was barren. She was made fun of and ignored, but she never lost hope. Hannah wasn’t just a childless woman … she represents all minorities. She represents our neighbors. God loves diversity and we are to show the love of Christ to all people. Pastor Danyal then posed a challenge to everyone present. He asked that we think of one person we know who is rejected in our community. Then he encouraged us to reach out to that person and show them the love of Christ.
Following the message, we sang the hymn, “Help us to Accept Each Other”, followed by a time of prayer requests and testimonies from the people. As I listened to the requests being made, I contemplated how my church journeys really are a way for me to show God’s love to so many different churches and denominations. The diversity within the Body of Christ is certainly vast and sometimes it can be a challenge for us to reach out to those who are not like us. This morning was a turning point for me. I watched as Pastor Danyal approached the altar on bended knee and poured out his heart to God with one of the most sincere prayers I have ever heard. I realized at that moment that this divine connection was one of great significance. Even though we are different in so many ways, there is one thing that is not different … we both worship and praise the same Lord … our Father, Jesus Christ.
Sharing the love of Christ with those who are “different” is Pastor Danyal’s passion. It’s what Jesus did as an example for all of us. It’s what Pam Skripak did for Danyal when he first came to the U.S., changing the course of his life forever. Come to Living Hope UMC and you will truly be loved with the love of the Lord.
Church Website – www.livinghopeumc.org
By Donna Hansen Munafo