Life with a Kingdom Focus

As Rebecca Makayi works on her third degree from Bethel, she’s also deeply involved in ministry as senior pastor of Praise Covenant International Church. What began as a small group of immigrants gathering for prayer and worship in Makayi’s basement is now a church of 300, and Makayi hopes to continue expanding the impact.

By Cherie Suonvieri '15, content specialist

June 01, 2021 | 8:30 a.m.

Rebecca Makayi, student and graduate of Bethel University

Rebecca Makayi CAPS’14, SEM’19

Pastor Rebecca Makayi CAPS’14, SEM’19 says she ran away from the call of God for almost 20 years. She’d always loved people and was passionate about serving in the church—but becoming a pastor? She laughed at the thought. 

However, God proceeded to pull at Makayi’s heart for two decades, beginning at her home church in Zimbabwe and carrying on through her family’s immigration to the United States in 2011. There were several reasons she avoided the call, especially after settling in the U.S. “I was a woman, with an accent, in a foreign country,” she says. “I said to God, ‘How is this going to work?’ But you know, doors began to open, and I started ministering to people.”

It began with a small group of people meeting in the basement of Makayi’s St. Paul home. There, immigrants from different nations came to meet, pray, and worship God together. The group continued to develop and eventually outgrew Makayi’s basement, so they sought out a new place to meet. At the time, Makayi says, she didn’t even realize that the ministry had started—but today, she’s the senior pastor of what has become Praise Covenant International Church, whose congregation is made up of around 300 people from 18 different nations.

As the church was growing, Makayi was working her way through her education at Bethel. She completed her B.A. in Human Services in 2015 and continued on to earn her M.A. in Christian Thought at Bethel Seminary in 2019. Now, she’s studying for her Doctor of Ministry in Biblical and Theological Engagement.

“The way courses were taught at Bethel showed that they wanted people to know God. Even [in the human services program], when we weren’t studying anything that had to do with the Bible, the way professors taught their curriculum, it was fully integrated in the Word. That’s what moved me to come back for seminary.”

— Rebecca Makayi CAPS’14, SEM’19

During Praise Covenant International Church’s early years, Makayi found Bethel Seminary’s focus on transformational leadership to be instrumental in helping her develop the organizational structure for the church. “Those classes helped me to imagine what the leadership could look like and understand what we, as a church, needed,” she says.

In 2018, Makayi left her full-time job as a social citizen director to make pastoring at Praise Covenant International Church a full-time commitment. “I realized I didn’t have enough time to attend to people,” she says. She tells a story of a time when she picked up her phone to find she had 21 missed calls from the family of a church member who was hospitalized and died before she was able to return the call. “Losing that person broke my heart. I don’t know if prayer would have made a difference, but to know that person went without prayer—that was my breaking point.”

As pastor of Praise Covenant International Church, Makayi founded the Immigrant Women Coalition, a group at the church designed to support immigrant women as they adjust to life in the United States. “I struggled a lot when I got to America,” says Makayi, reflecting on the reasons she founded the program. “I didn’t have someone to help me navigate the system, someone to help me adjust to the culture shock, or someone to tell me about credit cards. Everything here was different, and it was hard. I had to stumble and make mistakes, which sometimes cost a lot.” The group provides resources and invites professionals in to assist the women as they navigate finances, the education system, and their career paths.

Bethel University graduate and current student Rebecca Makayi

Rebecca Makayi believes there is a purpose in everything God does. “God does not just uproot you from your country and bring you to a foreign country for no reason,” she says. “It is not an accident.”

Makayi says the biggest challenges her church faces are financial. Praise Covenant International Church is made up of immigrants who are still establishing their lives in the U.S., and young international students' need for support has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Schools have closed, and the students can’t go back to Africa because their parents have sent them here hoping that these kids would bring hope for their family,” she explains. “And these kids, they need food, they need a place to stay during the summer. So, our ministry has been working with them to find them accommodations, food, clothing, and also transportation to come to church on Sundays.” 

Until recently, Makayi had been pastoring fulltime without a salary, but now the church is able to provide her with compensation. One thing that keeps her going, despite the financial challenges, is the great need she sees and the impact the church is able to make in the lives of people “It’s not a normal ministry,” she adds. “Because of the nature of employment that immigrants get, we have one group of people on one Sunday and another group the next. We can never all come together. It’s challenging, but God has been giving us the ability and strength.” 

Makayi says her calling in life is to help people rediscover their purpose on earth. “I really feel that God has called me in this area to especially help African people to understand that they matter in the eyes of God and that as we live in the Kingdom, we live together with everyone. It’s not just us, it’s not just them, but together, as one,” she says.

Once she finishes her doctoral program at Bethel Seminary and after she feels the church well-enough established, Makayi intends to return to Africa. “I think I need to get back to Africa to help people understand that Christianity is not a white man’s religion. It’s all about understanding the Kingdom,” she says. “I feel that I have a lot to do—not only here, but back in Africa. And I feel that is a call the Lord has put upon my life to do.”

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