Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2011, 9:40 am

Church grows by Swahili words of mouth

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By Leon Lagerstam, leon@qconline.com

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Photo: Brooks Canaday
The Rev. Vitalis Kyulule stands in front of Calvary International Revival Church in Rock Island on Thursday, Aug. 11. The new congregation, which consists largely of refugees, recently acquired the building formerly owned by House of Fire Ministries.
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Photo: Brooks Canaday
The Rev. Vitalis Kyulule sits in a pew at Calvary International Revival Church in Rock Island on Thursday, Aug. 11. The new congregation, which consists largely of refugees, recently acquired the building formerly owned by House of Fire Ministries.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Brooks Canaday
The Rev. Vitalis Kyulule sits inside Calvary International Revival Church in Rock Island on Thursday, Aug. 11. The new congregation, which consists largely of refugees, recently acquired the building formerly owned by House of Fire Ministries.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Brooks Canaday
The Rev. Vitalis Kyulule preaches during a service at Calvary International Revival Church in Rock Island on Sunday, Aug. 14. The new congregation, which consists largely of refugees, recently acquired the building formerly owned by House of Fire Ministries.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Brooks Canaday
The Rev. Vitalis Kyulule, standing at bottom left, poses with members of his congregation after a service at Calvary International Revival Church in Rock Island on Sunday, Aug. 14. The new congregation, which consists largely of refugees, recently acquired the building formerly owned by House of Fire Ministries.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Brooks Canaday
Members of the congregation sing and dance during a service at Calvary International Revival Church in Rock Island on Sunday, Aug. 14. The new congregation, which consists largely of refugees, recently acquired the building formerly owned by House of Fire Ministries.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Brooks Canaday
Burundi native Ndikumana Aline, left, sings during a service at Calvary International Revival Church in Rock Island on Sunday, Aug.t 14. The new congregation, which consists largely of refugees, recently acquired the building formerly owned by House of Fire Ministries.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Brooks Canaday
Left to right on stage, Jeselyne Nimpaye, Odette Niyonsaba and Concilie Ntiranyibagila, members of Evangelism Through Music, sing and dance during a service at Calvary International Revival Church in Rock Island on Sunday, Aug. 14. The new congregation, which consists largely of refugees, recently acquired the building formerly owned by House of Fire Ministries.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Brooks Canaday
Concilie Ntiranyibagila, left, and Odette Niyonsaba, right, members of the church choir Evangelism Through Music, sing and dance during a service at Calvary International Revival Church in Rock Island on Sunday, Aug. 14. The new congregation, which consists largely of refugees, recently acquired the building formerly owned by House of Fire Ministries.
ROCK ISLAND -- The rapid growth of a Rock Island church comprised mostly of African refugees is thanks to word of mouth, its pastor says.

And words from those mouths generally are spoken in Swahili.

''Huduma Ya Injili Kwa Mataifa Yote,'' for example, appears on the yard sign in front of Calvary International Revival Church, at 518 13th Ave.

So does the English translation of: "A Ministry of the Gospel to All Nations.''

Visitors to the church also can expect translations during worship, the Rev. Vitalis Kyulule said.

Most of the congregation is refugees from Tanzania and other parts of Africa, he said. ''We've quickly become a central collection point for the refugee community.''

The church formed about a year ago with seven people, but now 70 to 100 people regularly attend services, Rev. Kyulule said.

The church will mark its first anniversary on Tuesday, Aug. 23.

Rev. Kyulule said he believed his church would fill a need, but never expected such rapid growth.

''The growth essentially has happened due to others telling others about our church,'' he said. ''Another reason for such a quick growth is because of the formation of a choir, consisting of 34 young people, between the ages of 15 and 17, whose hearts have been captured as if in a whirlwind.''

Rev. Kyulule said the sudden growth gives him and the seven founding members ''a sense of humility and excitement. 'We certainly think it's a testimony to God's grace.''

It's no wonder why he's been preaching a lot lately about the importance of giving to God, and His blessings.

''Perhaps the greatest miracle of them all was being able to buy the building we're now in so soon,'' Rev. Kyulule said. ''We thank House of Fire Ministries more than we can say.''

House of Fire has relocated to 2365 11th St., as part of an Embassy Square Mall faith-based redevelopment project led by co-pastors the Rev. Darryl and Kim Thompson, and their congregation.

''Right after we bought the church at the end of April, we saw an increase of 30 to 40 people,'' Rev. Kyulule said. ''Soon after that, we had another growth spurt of 40 to 60 people.''

When it first started, the church held two services at First Lutheran Church in Rock Island, then gathered in church administrator Patrick Noya's basement, before meeting at the new location.

''We want to stay in this location for many years to come because of its proximity to the African refugee community,'' Rev. Kyulule said of the church, which is within sight of Century Woods apartment complex.

"Absolutely, we are here to stay,'' he said. ''This is where my heart is, and by God's grace is where we hope to make a big difference in peoples' lives.''

Rev. Kyulule understands that the building is quite old, and needs repairs. ''Our plans eventually are to tear it down and build a new three-story building.''

His hopes include a refugee outreach center in the basement of a new church. The second floor would be used as a worship center, and the third floor would be a type of hostel for new refugees.

''We're beginning to make some financial plans and discuss how to do it,'' Rev. Kyulule said. ''Of course, we'd also welcome anyone who has a piece of land to give us, so we could build a new church, and then we'd convert this building into a training facility.''

He can be reached at (309) 857-1004.

Reports from Africa, particularly the ongoing tragedy in Somalia, fills Rev. Kyulule with heartache, and proves how turbulent the country is, he said.

''I don't know when we'll ever see Africa turn the corner, and all we can do is pray,'' he said. ''But I also think God has given us these people here and we have to do our best to make them comfortable and support them; and my passion is for helping people.''

Rev. Kyulule came from Tanzania in 1997, so knows well what refugees are going through.

''Coming from there absolutely gives me an understanding of them, and everything that has happened to me has prepared me for this,'' Rev. Kyulule said. ''Before I do anything, I always start by thinking of myself being in their shoes.''

However, he said his attention isn't solely on African refugees.

''We're called international because we're for all people. We are not out to discriminate. We're open to all races, all nationalities.''





The Rev. Vitalis Kyulule

Address: Moline.

Birth date: April 20, 1950.

Education: Doctorate in agriculture.

Native country: Tanzania.

Favorite Scripture: Romans 8:35-39.

Favorite Biblical character I'd like to meet: ''Jacob is my man.''

Hobbies: ''Listening to Christian music.''

Peak experience: ''When my wife was able to join me in Australia. She had stayed in Africa while I was in Australia for about a year.''

Pit experience: ''The loss of my wife. She died of cancer in January.''

One thing I feel strongly about: ''Helping humanity in all of its facets of life.''

I wish I knew how to: ''Help everybody.''