Agape International Baptist Church is a covenant for those in the community and above else to serve as an example of God’s unconditional love. The Greek word agape (ah-GAH-pay) is often translated into a form of love embodying self-sacrifice, forgiveness and divine love as opposed to the romantic or even familial love we usually think of.
With this word in mind, the Rev. John C. GBlah formed Agape on July 9, 2006 with a group of 10 adults. They met in the basement of his home with the goal of organizing a church for the proclamation of the Gospel and to provide an environment that not only made a difference but very welcoming.
“When I came from Liberia, I was a member of Bible Way Baptist Church. It’s an African-American church, and I served in that church as assistant pastor for almost 15 years. So, each time an immigrant comes form Liberia or other parts of Africa, when I take them to the church, they don’t stay there,” Gblah said.
“Then the Lord led me to open the church where they can feel at home; where they can beat their drums and dance and do all the other things and language wise too. After thinking about it a long time, I was convinced that the Lord was calling me to get into this work. I’ve been in ministry since 1970. I was ordained in 1970.”
Agape's International is not only for Africans but for everyone. Gblah said that at the heart of Agape’s ministry is their outreach into the community. The church currently hosts quarterly men’s breakfast and prayer walks, women’s trainings and youth outings. He wanted the church to expand even more to help fulfill their great commission.
“The vision for the church is that we will one day have a place of worship for ourselves where we have multiple rooms, classrooms for educational purposes and literacy classes for our older folks who cannot read or write,” he said.
“Christ came not to be served but to serve, and that’s a challenge. We have to serve mankind and if we can do that then we will have made a contribution to the society because if we help people then we will be able to help others.”
Jackie Wlea is a youth leader at Agape and concurred about the church’s desire to be a help to its neighborhood and beyond.
“It’s a church that’s all about the community, always involved in people’s lives, always reaching out to people. So, my experience there has been beautiful,” Wlea said.
Wlea said the church wanted to exemplify the meaning of its name at every opportunity.
“The church has mindset that if I’m hungry, I cannot preach God to you unless I can address that hunger,” he said.
“So, let me show you the love I have for God towards you, and then you’ll hopefully be able to want to know more about that kind of love.”
Wlea also praised Gblah’s leadership as helping to keep Agape focused through leading by example.
“Not only is he a good spiritual leader, but he’s such a people person, always reaching out to people,” he said.
“He’s a very humble individual. The youth can relate to him. The older ones can relate to him. So, basically, he gets along with everybody.”
Amos T. Suah, who is an assistant to the pastor, also echoed the sentiments.
“He’s a God-fearing man. He’s committed to the work of God,” Suah said.
Suah felt that Gblah’s dedication has strengthened Agape’s resolve to be a resource in addressing community concerns and the needs of its residents.
“It’s a good church that caters to the need of the community and doing what the Lord and savior has asked us to do, to minister to our people in the community and win souls for Christ,” he said.
Agape’s efforts have led to a gradual growth of its members. The church is looking to move to bigger facilities and has started a building fund. The donations have also provided food baskets for families. Gblah said it is crucial for the Bible to be connected to the issues of the day.
“Come to our church because we preach, and we live what we preach. We don’t say, do what I say do, but don’t do what I do,” he said.
“There are any of us as ministers where we preach one thing but live another thing, but at Agape, we want to be an example.”
Gblah stressed that living up to Agape’s name was to continually live out their name.
“We say we love, but we try to put love into action,” he said.
“We not only love you but we will show you that we love you. So, our church is putting love into action, the agape unconditional love.”
Agape International Baptist Church
8648 Elmwood Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19142
Service: 11 a.m.
Rev. John C. Gblah
Contact Tribune staff writer Stephanie Guerilus at (215) 893-5725 or firstname.lastname@example.org.