Most Saturdays, Muna Salih, a Sudanese native and Lorton, Va. resident, can be found relaxing at home or taking her daughter to soccer games. Salih put those activities on hold when she was invited by her friend Veronica Chollette, a member of Community Praise Church (Alexandria, Va.), to attend the church’s annual International Day. “It was my first time in a church,” says Salih, “A lot of my friends are Adventist and I’m impressed with the charity work they do in the community. So when Veronica called, I was ready to go.”
story by Mark Young
During the service, Senior Pastor Bron Jacobs announced nearly 70 countries by name while people from those countries stood or paraded to the front of the church to display their native clothes and colors. When Jacobs called Sudan, Salih, dressed in a long, wrap-around cloth called a Toob, the national dress for Sudanese women, was they only one who stood. “If there were more Sudanese people there, I would have walked down to the front of the church with them,” she said. “But my country was celebrated by the church and I was welcomed and hugged by so many.” When asked if she would return to CPC, Salih says, “Yes, I think I would. It’s a holy place with a lot of love and kindness.
International Day at CPC was started at the suggestion of longtime elder, Glen Palmer in the 1980s. He shared that he saw it as a means to invite people to church. Over the years, it’s developed into a treasured experience that draws members, past and present, visitors and friends far and near together while others, unable to attend, watch online. “It allows us to celebrate the rich diversity of our church,” says Elaine Arthur, minister of worship and music. “Members are able to represent their countries and share their culture through dress, language and food. While we celebrate these differences and enjoy the fellowship afforded, we rejoice and share in the common love and sacrifice made for us by our Lord and Savior.”
Over 700 people came out to celebrate this fall. Elder Jacob Conte, a native of Sierra Leone, prayed in his native language of Timne and in English. Higher Calling, one of the church’s choirs, sang in Spanish and English and presented other selections with the support of African drums, creating a vibrant cultural experience. The celebration is not complete without “Taste of Nations,” which allows attendees to enjoy the traditional foods from the represented countries.