FARGO - In an unassuming strip mall-like building at 2402 Seventh Ave. N., the River of Life Church is preparing to officially open its doors to the public on Sept. 1 - setting up in a new location for the fourth time in just two years.
"There's nothing like your own place, I'll tell you that," Pastor Barnabas says.
The River of Life Church officially began in the community in late 2016. However, Nenkawah Gbeintor began his work earlier than that across the Atlantic.
"When I first got called it was 2015," says Gbeintor, who goes by his middle name Barnabas as a pastor. "I went back to West Africa, Liberia, where I am originally from. I was able to raise money through car washes and I went back to my native village."
Once back, Gbeintor helped to construct a place where orphans could eat and go to church. Upon his ordination by the elders and pastors in his native village in Liberia, Gbeintor came back to the United States to create a branch of his church, which was established in late 2016 and gathered at the Holiday Inn hotel.
On the move
The River of Life Church spent only four months at the hotel before the growing number of congregants forced a move.
"We've always just had numbers," Gbeintor says. "People would always gravitate to the church and come to the church in its initial stage. People started being excited for the church."
After leaving the Holiday Inn, the church rented a West Fargo apartment community center where congregants worshipped for five months. After outgrowing that community center, River of Life Church next called the New Life Center, a men's shelter located in north Fargo.
"At the time I worked (at the New Life Center)," Gbeintor says. "There was a chapel that was vacant, so I asked if we could worship there. The guys could roll right out of bed and we would have Bible study and prayer service there and then they would come and join this service. It was so wonderful. It was always packed."
Considering itself a church of compassion, River of Life accepts anyone who may want to worship with them.
"There should never be a distinction when humans are involved," he says. "Everyone is equal. A guy right off the street will come and sit in the front and just have a good time and worship."
New Life Center was the church's home for about a year, a period that saw River of Life baptize about 70 homeless men into the church.
After outgrowing the New Life Center chapel, Gbeintor and his congregation moved once again to Temple Baptist Church, holding an afternoon service at the building along north Fargo's Broadway to accommodate the existing congregation's already established morning services.
However, their stint at Temple Baptist was only temporary.
"We went all the way around to come back," Gbeintor says.
No place like home
Now, River of Life Church is ready to open in a new spot again. But this time, congregants will gather along Seventh Avenue North just a short walk away from the New Life Center, where River of Life spent the majority of its existence so far.
Gbeintor says the roaming congregation shows that a church isn't just a building - it's the people that make it home.
"Everyone is really excited; everyone is motivated," he says. "Just because they know us and know how we started and to see what God is doing. And with the opportunity with such a big building, in no time we can bust these walls down and just keep going."
The church's operating hours will change with this move, too. What was once an afternoon service will now be a Monday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. operation, with a special prayer service planned for 7 p.m. on Fridays and Bible study at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays.
Gbeintor's wife, Victorious Gbeintor, who goes by Prophetess Victorious, says the time change will help.
"Now we can actually sit around after church and have food and talk and be a family. This is kind of like a home away from home to be able to hang out with our church family," she says.
One of the 70 men baptized during the church's New Life Center days says he is looking forward to the move as well.
Born a Muslim in Somalia, Mohamed Abdillahi found himself in the arms of the Lord after being hit by a semi near Valley City, N.D. He soon found a job and was baptized into the church, where he served as an usher and later a minister. Abdillahi, who is known for often being the first to show up and last to leave at each service, will soon take on the role of youth pastor, proving the power of baptism and fellowship.
"I am looking forward to serving the Lord," Abdillahi says. "We got our own home and we are serving the Lord."
That excitement about serving the Lord and the community is a common feeling these days around the Seventh Avenue North building where congregants will soon start gathering. Pastor Barnabas says is excited to make the move and let the community know they are welcome and the church is here to help in its new location.
"It's like living with a roommate for a long time and finally getting your own place," Pastor Barnabas says. "It's like ah, I can finally sit here with my shoes off!'"