River of Life – Long Prairie | Pastor Josiah & Emily Tonder
Years ago, Pastor Josiah Tonder youth pastored in a church surrounded by multiple Indian reservations. He recalls, “It was a great experience contextualizing ministry into something that we hadn’t previously considered. The youth group was anywhere from 50% to 75% Native [American].” It was a foretaste of multicultural ministry now indicative of many growing rural Minnesota communities. The Tonder family’s time there served them well for Josiah’s current role as the Location Pastor of River of Life – Long Prairie.
The path to River of Life stems from a long-term connection with Pastor Kyle Peterson, Lead Pastor of River of Life – Sauk Centre. After a few years of youth pastoring, Josiah felt the Lord was calling him into more of a lead pastor position. In response to this, he decided to reach out to Kyle. Josiah learned that Kyle was already in the works with a church in Long Prairie to become a PAC, and he was looking for a location pastor. Josiah was an answer to their prayers. It was the perfect scenario for Long Prairie, a diverse and growing community located in the heart of rural Minnesota. Josiah points out, That an interesting thing about Long Prairie is that it’s a town of about 3,500 people. The census would tell us that 40% of Todd County is Latino, and at least 50% of that population is within the Long Prairie school district boundaries.
Pastor Josiah values their status as a PAC church stating, “It’s vastly important that you have a respect, understanding, and knowledge of your parent church, their vision, and if they have a vision for you. At the same time, you absolutely have to know who you are as a leader and be willing to embrace that to do ministry.” That mutual trust has empowered the Tonders to pastor Long Prairie in unique ways. Josiah shares, “We’re trying to see what this looks like to bring the two communities together. I’m trying to bridge some of those gaps.”
A big part of how the church operates is integrating the Spanish speaking community. Rather than having a separate Spanish service, Josiah brings both English speaking and Spanish speaking together. From lyrics projected in both languages, to working on incorporating a translation app, they are seeing their church grow with their town. He emphasizes, “There’s a difference between accommodating another culture and truly being part of it. I really believe that our church’s role in our community is showing Long Prairie what it looks like for these two communities to come together in a healthy way, and not just accommodate, teach, or tolerate each other.”
As rural Minnesota communities are becoming more diverse, Josiah encourages other pastors to build cultural connections in their towns saying, “Things are going to change. You’re going to become uncomfortable, but that’s good because as you become uncomfortable someone else is probably becoming more comfortable. You need to keep that in your heart. In Revelation it says that…the end goal is every tribe, every tongue, and every nation worshiping God.” The goal is for all churches to reflect the heavenly reality of our diverse earthly communities.