LANCASTER, Pa. — When Rhoda and Art Yost sold their 39-year-old hardware business in 2013 and bought the building where RiversEdge Fellowship gathers today, they did not bargain for the hidden costs involved in their interracial church-planting adventure.
A few months after the Yosts, in their early 60s, followed Jesus into this new venture, life as they knew it — and planned it — unraveled.
Art Yost was diagnosed with a non-Alzheimer’s dementia. He slowly declined, leaving him unable to support the call to mission as he had hoped.
Rhoda Yost, a retired music teacher, was serving at West End Mennonite Fellowship when she received the church-planting call. Accepting the call, she had a new vision, a new building and a new challenge.
“Art had gifts of serving and giving,” she said. “He saw what needed to be done and went about doing it. The building was going to be a project for him after retirement. He would have cared for it and would have been the one welcoming people at the door and making sure they had a good place to sit.
“The rest of the year [after the building purchase] was the most difficult of my life. I was trying to figure out what was wrong with Art, and now I had this building to take care of and no clue how to do it. I felt abandoned, isolated and overwhelmed. What was I supposed to do now?”
As a Mennonite who grew up at Stumptown Mennonite Church in Lancaster County, she has learned God is faithful and has a plan, even when she doesn’t. That plan included nurturing a vibrant group of predominantly Nepalese and Caucasian believers.
“This part of our journey was a wild and crazy God story,” she said.
Menuka Tamang, who had come out of Buddhism, helped to lead a group of about 50 first-generation Nepalese believers, some of whom had been Hindu.
“Our first year of meeting together was wonderful and chaotic,” Yost said. “We were baptizing many people and visiting people in their homes.”
After about a year, because of language difficulties in the mixed group, as well as members having to work Sunday shifts, the Nepalese members began meeting on Saturdays. Yost and a group of Caucasians continued to meet on Sundays, though that group began to struggle.
“I was trying to establish new vision for this group, and yet I was not at the place that I could be directive about a vision because I was involved in the business side of things, given Art’s health issues,” she said.
“We had only five families at that time, and two of them ended up moving out of the area for different reasons. That only left a few families in our group, and most of those were in life-changing situations. Some were restless, and some wanted to return to more traditional churches.”
Refusing to give up
Despite the dwindling, Yost felt unsettled about dropping everything, though the LMC (formerly Lancaster Mennonite Conference) Bishop Board had released her to consider that a season of God’s work there might be ending.
“In 2014, because I wanted to continue to pursue a vision for building interracial community in that neighborhood, when everyone scattered, we kept having Bible studies,” she said.
Michael Booth, also on staff at Water Street Mission for the homeless, came to assist Yost and brought some folks from the mission to the Bible study.
“When Michael brought people from the mission, we would have a big group,” she said. “But because we were a community Bible study and not a typical church, many of them didn’t consider this their home church and went to Sunday morning church elsewhere, and we didn’t establish a committed core.”
Even so, the community Bible study continued on Sunday afternoons until mid-2018. Once again, Yost stood at a crossroads.
“I kept telling God that I needed some Joshua-types to help hold things up and to help infuse new vision,” she said.
An answer to prayer
God answered her prayer by bringing new people to RiversEdge — a congregation of LMC — last year. Today, they form the core of the leadership team.
Exemplifying Yost’s passion for a “church for the nations,” they include African-Americans, Kenyans and Caucasians. Team members include co-pastors Yost and Booth (wife, Eliza); Rayvon and Misty Jordan; Gordon Reason; and Joel Ngarama.
“The team began envisioning what it would mean to restart as an actual church,” she said. “It would not forget its founding principles regarding missional community but would evolve into a regular church service.”
RiversEdge held its first new church service last Thanksgiving weekend.
The church, with about 30 members, is again on the move. In addition to Sunday afternoon services, it has English classes Mondays through Wednesdays, Taco Thursday — supper, Bible study and youth group — and engagement with a city program, “Love Your Block.” It is awarding mini-grants for neighborhood improvement projects.
“It has always been my passion to not just serve one ethnic group but to break down barriers and be part of the heart of this community,” Yost said.
‘I was up to no good’
Team member Rayvon Jordan is in the center of that heartbeat. Booth, his spiritual father, brought Jordan as his guest to RiversEdge, and it became Jordan’s home. As a result, Jordan, incarcerated multiple times and formerly involved in drugs, has found a new address in his old neighborhood.
“We all have dreams, and one of mine is to help bring change on this block, which is very poor and full of drugs,” Jordan said. “In the early 2000s, on this exact same block where the church is now, I was up to no good. It is such a God thing for me to walk up and down the street praying for people and loving on people on the same corner where I once was causing a lot of issues.
“God is showing us there is a difference between having a church building and being church in the community. . . . I really believe that God is growing us up at RiversEdge, not to be just a lamp but a lighthouse.”