One Square Mile: First Baptist Church of Duluth is a multicultural sanctuary

“It was not about acclimation to our ways,” says Pastor Mark Hearn. “It’s about accommodation for theirs.”
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First Baptist Duluth
Jeremiah Buziba (far right) steals the show as the children sing and perform choreography at the First Baptist Church of Duluth.

First Baptist | Duluth | 29 miles northeast of Atlanta
Jeremiah Buziba is five years old. He stands at the end of a line of 11 kids he met less than a month ago, in front of a classroom full of adults he doesn’t know. He doesn’t appear to be overly familiar with the song he’s supposed to be singing, “God Is with You Always.” And yet he’s stealing the show. He jumps up and down, in and out of line, kicks up his legs and spins while peeking around his glasses at the teacher. He was born in Uganda just before his parents, a machinist and a hairdresser, immigrated to Duluth in search of a better life, which they found immediately. What took longer was finding the right Christian church. After five years and five or six churches, they came here to First Baptist Church of Duluth, where Pastor Mark Hearn has made acceptance his mission. In 2010, 92 percent of Hearn’s incoming church members were white, while all around him Duluth was rapidly diversifying. At Duluth High School, he learned, students spoke a total of 57 different languages. Hearn saw that his own neighbors were Vietnamese, Indian, Korean, and Zimbabwean. So he set about hiring nonwhite staff, promoting nonwhite deacons, establishing an ESL program and Bible study for adults. “It was not about acclimation to our ways,” he says. “It’s about accommodation for theirs.” Today service is translated live through headsets into Spanish, Korean, and soon Mandarin, and the flags of 37 countries hang in the sanctuary, including that of the Buzibas’ Uganda. Meanwhile Jeremiah has stopped looking to his teacher and now turns to four-year-old classmate Eugene Son for guidance through the routine. Eugene’s parents came from Seoul. After years at a Korean Baptist church, they started attending service here a few weeks ago. They want Eugene and his brother and sister to learn more about American ways and manners. Tonight Eugene and Jeremiah will find their way through this performance together.

This article originally appeared in our July 2016 issue.

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