“The Indo-Pak community is scattered in Southern California,” said Eric Sarwar, pastor of Artesia City Church, a Resonate Global Mission church plant.
That makes it difficult for believers to gather in one space to worship together. As a result, many believers don’t have the opportunity to worship God in ways that express their heart—and those seeking faith don’t have the opportunity to hear the Word of God in a language that speaks to their heart.
With Sarwar’s leadership, Artesia City Church is changing that.
Connection to the CRC
Born and raised in Pakistan, Sarwar was ordained in the nation’s Presbyterian Church. He was passionate about worship and established the country’s Tehillim School of Church Music & Worship. That’s how he met Dr. Emily Brink, a resource development specialist for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, and was invited to speak at the Calvin Worship Symposium in 2010.
He boarded a flight to the United States and, when he arrived, got his first taste of the Christian Reformed Church in North America community. “It was like first-sight love,” he said. “I was embraced with holistic hospitality, heartwarming compassion, and gracious generosity of the Church of the Servant and other CRC churches.”
Sensing that God was calling him to join the denomination, Sarwar enrolled at Calvin Theological Seminary to finish his master of theology in liturgical worship studies.
That was when he realized there were no Indian-Pakistani churches in the CRC. Dr. John Witvliet, his mentor and professor, said: “Maybe you are the answer.”
Sarwar felt a strong sense of calling to plant a church.
Searching for an Indo-Pak Community
After graduating, he moved to Southern California to pursue a Ph.D. in intercultural studies at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. There, he searched for a Pakistani community and church. But because first and second generation Indian-Pakistani newcomers are scattered throughout Southern California, Sarwar didn’t just have trouble finding a CRC church where he could worship in his heart language—he couldn’t find a church at all.
But then Sarwar learned of one congregation.
Syd Sybenga, former mission leader in Classis Greater Los Angeles, told Sarwar about an Indian-Pakistani congregation in a nearby city planted by another denomination. Believers traveled up to 50 miles (about 80 kilometers) for worship, but the pastor had passed away and the congregation was falling apart.
“I met with the family, and it seems that the Holy Spirit was working ahead of me,” said Sarwar.
Worshipping in a Heart Language and Culture
Soon after, Sarwar was called by Bethany CRC in Bellflower, Calif., to pastor Artesia City Church. He was ordained in the CRCNA in December 2016. With Sarwar’s leadership and support from Resonate, Artesia City Church is becoming a strong and vibrant congregation.
The church plant not only seeks to provide a welcoming space for believers, but to also invite those who don’t know Christ into the community. A man from a Hindu background was recently baptized.
“Connecting Christians and non-Christian South Asians with each other and providing a place for them to worship in their language is a big part of our mission for our city,” added Roger Williams, whose father planted and served as the minister before passing away.
In an effort to engage other believers and welcome seekers into the community, Artesia City Church hosts community events and hands out free chai to thirsty people at fairs. They collaborate with members of Bethany CRC to adapt English songs like “10,000 Reaons” into Hindi-Urdu. With a grant from Resonate, they hosted a summer Bible club for children in their community.
“Artesia City Church is important to me because of how the church strives to include South Asian culture and values into church life for all members,” said Williams.
Praise God for working through Resonate church plants and ministry leaders like Sarwar to provide spaces where all people can worship in their heart languages! “I see it is God’s hand and direction that led me to connect with the CRCNA,” said Sarwar.