Informing, Equipping & Connecting African Immigrants in Grand Rapids, Michigan
Published by Calvin Seminary
Early Years in Nigeria: Reverend Dr. Bernard Ayoola is a gifted engineer, pastor, and founder and executive director of the African Resource Center (ARC) in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Ayoola was born and raised in Nigeria – the most populous country in Africa – and hails from the Yoruba people, the third largest ethnic group in Nigeria (See Nigeria country profile below). Raised in a family of nine children, Ayoola attended a university in Lagos where he attained a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, taking after his father who was also an engineer. While in college, he met and later married his wife Adejoke Ayoola. Working for 12 years as a design engineer in Lagos, Ayoola never in his wildest dreams imagined he would leave his engineering profession to become a pastor.
356,669 sq. miles
English (official), Yoruba, Ibo, Hausa, & 250 others
Christianity, Islam, and indigenous beliefs
More than 250 ethnic groups, the largest being Hausa & Fulani, Yoruba, & Igbo
Largest economy in Africa; oil is the main source of foreign exchange; six appearances in the finals of the World Cup.(Source: The World Factbook, BBC News Country Profiles.)
Ayoola’s early influence toward being a pastor came from his grandfather, who was a pastor at the first Baptist church in Ife, where he grew up. He started singing in the choir at his grandfather’s church at the age of six and, as a teenager, played the piano and saxophone and led the choir. While living and serving as the music director in his church in Lagos, his pastor encouraged him to attend seminary to study music. Ayoola says, “I went to the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary to do an MDiv in church music and worship. I went there because I felt it would equip me to be a better church musician.”
Transition to the US: In 2004, Ayoola moved to the US with his three children to join Adejoke who had gone ahead to start a PhD program in nursing at Michigan State University. In Lansing, he started preaching at the University Baptist Church while pursuing an MDiv in pastoral training at Cornerstone University, graduating in 2007. Discerning a closer theological alignment with the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), the Ayoolas joined the CRCNA and the Calvin community, with Dr. Adejoke Ayoola teaching at Calvin College and Bernard Ayoola enrolling at Calvin Theological Seminary in the ThM program. Guided by Dr. John Bolt to study African Christianity, Ayoola enrolled in the PhD program and obtained a PhD in systematic theology in 2017.
Ordained in the Christian Reformed Church in North America: While in the PhD program at CTS, Ayoola was ordained by Classis Grand Rapids as a Ministry Associate in 2009 to serve at the African Community Fellowship CRC as a co-pastor. After three years, he was on loan to Kentwood Christian Church (Kentwood, MI) for two years. Thereafter, he was invited to be a minister in the CRC after completing the Ecclesiastical Program for Ministerial Candidacy (EPMC) in 2013. He was then ordained as the Minister of the Word at Brookside CRC (Grand Rapids, MI) and also became the director and pastor for the ministry of African Resource Center.
The Founding of the African Resource Center: As Ayoola pastored at each of these churches, he realized many of the new African immigrants and refugees that he served not only needed spiritual care and formation, but also help with healthcare access, accommodations, finding employment, and learning the English language, among other social needs. “We needed to have a place that is not a church to serve a wide range of African immigrants from different cultural and religious backgrounds; a place that would be all inviting, all encompassing.” Thus the African Resource Center (ARC) was incorporated as a non-profit by Bernard Ayoola, Kudakwashe Kaseke, and Alison Parham to serve African immigrants and refugees.
The ARC has devoted much attention and effort to serving those most at risk, especially the youth who tend to age out of high school without acquiring a diploma. Ayoola notes that high school-aged teenagers have very limited opportunities for college access due to language and cultural barriers. To this end, the ARC provides after-school tutoring and gives laptops to students who are economically disadvantaged to help them practice English and math at home. Additionally, ARC works closely with parents to invest in their children’s education. The outcomes have been encouraging, with evidence of improved attitudes, social skills, and better school attendance for some. “My vision is that the high school students would start getting admission into various colleges where they can grow and fit into and contribute positively to society. We are on that path,” Ayoola shares.
Through its youth ministry, African ladies fellowship, pastors’ fellowship, couples fellowship, and music ministry, the ARC continues to inform, equip, and connect African immigrants and refugees. For more information, visit the ARC website at www.africanresourcecenter.org/
By Margaret Mwenda
Chief Operating Officer
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