Capitol Hill Lutheran Church was founded by Scandinavians almost 150 years ago. Since then it has not only grown in size, but in diversity. The multi-ethnic congregation did not become this way overnight. For many, a dangerous, unthinkable path is what brought them.
The year 1975 marked the end of the Vietnam War, but this did not necessarily guarantee the safety of those involved. Due to their sympathies with the United States, many citizens of South Vietnam were in danger and therefore evacuated from the country. Some ended up in Iowa and were being sponsored by churches and institutions in Des Moines. Capitol Hill Lutheran was one of them.
Now every Sunday morning at 9 o’clock, a Vietnamese service is held for these members. A lay leader performs the service in their native language, and the church has supplied the congregation with hymn books and Bibles printed in Vietnamese. Not only do the members use them during worship, they also collect them to send overseas.
“They have a strong outreach back to their home,” says Senior Pastor Leighton Carlson.
The Sudanese congregation arrived at Capitol Hill in 1990s. One refugee was just walking by and stopped to ask if he could pray inside the church. Carlson, of course, welcomed him inside. The man began bringing his friends and family. Now a segment of the Sudanese congregation is part of Sudan’s “Lost Boys.”
This past March “60 Minutes” did a segment on these young men, telling their harrowing story of unrest and civil war in Sudan in the 1980s. Many parents were killed, leaving their young boys to fend for themselves. The young men banded together and walked across East Africa. Five years later, they came upon a refugee camp in Kenya where 3,000 of them were flown to the United States.
Capitol Hill started out by sponsoring only four of the boys, but that number grew to 20 during the years. The church helped them learn life skills and solidify their English. After all they had been through, they were “behind on learning how to function,” described Carlson. But now they are members of a supportive community.
“It’s always abstract until the individual is right in front of you,” he says.
Regardless of background, everyone joins together for a main worship service, where there is no sense of “us” and “them.”
“We think of ourselves,” Carlson expressed, “just as one family.”
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