As we approach Easter, I am thinking of lost loved ones. Before Christ was risen, he first had to die. Anyone would be sad to lose a loved one, especially when faced with the reality that we will not see our loved ones on this earth again as they leave us to appear before the Creator.
In February, my wife and I took our then-1 month old son to Indonesia with the purpose of introducing him to our family. At first, we just wanted to make this introductory event simple, but one of my sisters, Yanti Rinawati, insisted on making it a big event because it coincided with her birthday. We are very happy because all went well. The event was nice, we were able to introduce our son to the family, and the overall trip went smoothly.
One week after our return to the United States, I received news that that same sister, Yanti Rinawati, was admitted to the hospital in critical condition because of heart failure. We were not able to talk to her even by phone because her condition was so critical. A few days later, Yanti Rinawati left us and the earth forever. My wife and I felt so sad; we cried for many days, remembering Yanti’s kindness.
Indeed, I lost my sister, but I am grateful my family and I were `prepared` more than a week before her departure; we had a warning that her time on earth was coming to an end. I cannot imagine the feeling of Abdulhamid al-Yousef who lost his wife and 9 month old twin babies in the Syrian chemical attack last week. He had no warning. I also cannot imagine the feelings of 8 year old Jonathan Martinez’s parents, as they lost Jonathan in the North Park Elementary School shooting in San Bernandino just a few days ago. We could make a long list of the people we love who have departed from us without warning. The loss of a loved one can be devastating, with or without a warning.
2000 years ago, it was foretold to Mary. She was warned by the Holy Spirit that she would give birth to a son who would be the Savior. Her son, Jesus, healed the sick, released people from the bondage of the devil, brought positive change to the lives of many people through his teachings and the miracles he performed. Then came the day that we do not know if Mary had a warning for. The day she watched her innocent, sinless son treated like a criminal; stripped, spat on, given a crown of thorns, whipped 39 times, forced to carry the cross he would then be crucified to death on. What makes his story different from the others I have mentioned, different from yesterday, today and tomorrow, is that Jesus did die, but Jesus then rose from the grave on the third day. The tomb left empty to prove he was alive.
But Jesus’ story may not be that different from the others, as the word of the Lord says of Jesus that, “he who believes in him will not perish, but will have everlasting life” (John 3:16). As we remember Jesus’s death and resurrection, may we commemorate the loved ones who have left us, remember that one day we too will leave this world, but the good news is for those who believe in Jesus, we will rise up and live eternally with him in heaven.
Aldo Siahaan is pastor of Philadelphia Praise Center, and on staff at Franconia Conference as a LEADership Minister.
The Friday following the presidential election, leaders from Franconia Conference’s south Philadelphia churches asked for representatives from the conference to be present with them on the following Sunday for worship. Each of these congregations — Centro de Alabanza, Indonesian Light, Nations Worship Center, and Philadelphia Praise Center –have members who have immigrated to the United States. Some have been here for decades, others only a few months. Regardless of the length of time, there is a new sense of anxiety and fear following the recent elections. Many brothers and sisters in Christ no longer feel welcome, some fear for their safety, separation from family, and continue “praying so that God gives us the peace and wisdom to get through all of this situation.”
As representatives of Franconia Conference, Mary Nitzsche, the Franconia Conference Ministerial Committee Chair, and Jenifer Eriksen Morales, a Franconia Conference LEADership Minister, attended all four worship services to offer support and prayer. Some of the words they shared include:
We are here today on behalf of the sisters and brothers of Franconia Conference. We are here today to remind you that you are not alone. We are in this together. Our commitments to your congregation are un-wavered. We will walk through this time together…We are here with love, to recognize that you might be feeling particularly vulnerable. We do not have all the answers. We do have the words that the Bible repeatedly says, “to not be afraid.” We recognize that those words can seem hollow, without a real sense of support. We are here today to offer that support, to make sure that you know that you are loved. That the God who promises to not leave us is with us for sure. But that we are also in this time together. Your pastors and leaders have access to Conference staff for questions, for support. Other persons in Franconia Conference congregations have already begun to ask how they can support you in prayer and in other more tangible ways. In the meantime, we are committed to being part of the work that God has begun with us. We will seek the peace of the city, and of this land where God has sent us. We want to offer a prayer with you…that God might keep you in perfect peace.
Mary stated, “Our south Philly churches warmly welcomed us and offered generous hospitality. Appreciation was expressed in word, facial expression, and hugs for our presence and support. The worship was vibrant and hopeful even as fears for the future were expressed. I was reminded of our need for each other as Christ’s ambassadors of love, peace, and hope.”
“In spite of their feelings they worshiped with gusto and sincerity. Placing their hope and trust in Jesus, the King of Kings,” said Jenifer. “I was blessed by the opportunity to be a small beacon of hope to my brothers and sisters during this tumultuous and uncertain time.”
Pastor Aldo Siahaan, Philadelphia Praise Center, stated that their presence and words reminded him and his congregation that they are “part of a big family” and it made them feel cared for.
As this time of uncertainty moves forward, ways to express support can be through prayer, words of encouragement to the leadership of the congregations, visiting their worship times and taking part in activities the communities host. Become informed about immigration laws and offer a voice for our brothers and sisters with legislatures. Support New Sanctuary Movement and maybe even have your meetinghouse become a sanctuary.
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself,” Leviticus 19:33-34a.
“Yo, I am here do not write me a ticket.” I came at the exact time my meter was expiring, I told to the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) member.
Living in a big city such as Philadelphia has its challenges, namely parking a car. On a daily basis, I spend a large part of my time driving people in need to the hospital, the lawyer, bringing people to the welfare office and many more. Most of my time is spent in South Philadelphia or Center City. Yet, parking is a problem almost anywhere you go in the city, making your chances to get a ticket pretty high!
Although, about 50% of the members at Philadelphia Praise Center (PPC) walk to the church building, the other 50% who come by car often have to park 4-5 blocks away as that’s the only place they can find parking on a Sunday morning. For me, even though I live in South Philadelphia often I have to circle my block 5 to 7 times just to get a parking space, especially at night. When planning to go out as a group to dinner, usually we are looking for a restaurant that has a parking lot otherwise we could spend a half an hour looking for parking.
Parking for me is one of many stresses I come across. We all have stress in our lives and for various reasons. How do you react when under stress? What would be your reaction, if you find a ticket on your car`s windshield? Silent, angry, screaming or smiling. To be
honest, a lot of times I was silent but angry when receiving the ticket.
Twice in my experience, after receiving a ticket, I wait 2 hours from the scheduled hearing time before being seen. In the court room, other people that came like me were angry or some form of upset. When my turn was called, the officer did not give me a chance to talk or hear my explanation. I was very disappointed and annoyed and confused.
As Christians, in times of stress we need to remember to call on the Lord. To lay it in God’s hands. Like the parking situation in the city, a constant issue I have to deal with, we all have stresses that we have to learn to cope with. Let us remember that even if we feel rejected or unheard, like I did in the parking hearing, in contrast, as a believer we are so blessed because we are not just save but heard and accepted by God. That is the power of grace that I learned from parking war.
As a part of an annual event of Kingdom Builders network of Philadelphia, the Pentecost Worship service was held at Philadelphia Praise Center on July 2, 2016. The service started with a fellowship over different traditional meals. There was a Vietnamese noodles and meatball dish, traditional tacos, Indonesian empanadas, sushi and much more. We did not expect to have a big crowd because it was a holiday weekend. Yet, to our surprise so many people came and brought food to the point where we were overflowing.
We opened the service at 6:30 pm with a prayer, followed by songs in Creole, Spanish, English, and other languages. We listened to a short message by Chantelle Todman Moore, Philadelphia Program Coordinator at Mennonite Central Committee. The service was divided into 3 sections. The first was, “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, then “Thy Kingdom Come”, and lastly “Thy Will Be Done”. During the service, Fred Kauffman, Methacton Mennonite, and Calenthia Dowdy, Professor and Director of Faith Initiatives at Eastern University, led occasional conversations by throwing a question to discuss in small groups about why our ancestors came to the United States. Some reasons given were “escaping persecution”, “economic opportunities”, “education”, and “slavery”. A big lesson learned was that we are all displaced (desplazados, terlantar, verschoben). We closed the service with a holy communion led by Bernard Sejour, pastor at Eglise Evangelique Solidarite and Harmonie, and Fernando Loyola and Leticia Cortez, co-pastors at Centro de Alabanza.
I am very grateful to be a part of a diverse community in the city of Philadelphia that can give me a little sneak peak of Heaven.
Note: The Kingdom Builders Network is a Mennonite Anabaptist Network around Philadelphia. They have meetings every month on the second Thursday. During the meetings, they read scriptures, discuss the word of God, and pray for each other. They have meetings in different locations although most of the time the meeting is held in Oxford Circle Mennonite Church.
Aldo Siaahan is a LEADership Minister and Pastor at Philadelphia Praise Center.
Each of us involved in ministry are often faced with serious situations and/or situations that we do not know the answer to. Each person and situation we encounter has different challenges and their own uniqueness. For me there is one situation I often face that I want to share with you, one of the toughest parts of my ministry.
One afternoon, I was enjoying the nice weather in Philadelphia, running errands. I came out of the bank and noticed an Indonesian man I occasionally meet within a stairwell off Broad street. I asked him – What are you doing here?
He told me, “Oh nothing, my feet hurt and I had to sit for a while before I can continue my walk home. I cannot walk too far.”
I ask him why this is so.
The man answered, saying “Probably because I am too tired from work. I have to send money to my children and grandchildren in Indonesia. My son is working but not enough to support his family. So I have to send him money for himself and my grandchildren. I long to be together with them.”
I saw there were tears in his eyes as his longing to be together with his family was deep. I stood with him and listened to him tell stories about his family.
Another time, a woman knocked on my house door to ask me a question. She has been apart from her two daughters for 16 years. She left both her daughters in Indonesia when they were little. For 16 years their grandfather has cared for them. The day the woman came to visit me, her first child had graduated from school and is working, the second is finishing her Bachelor’s degree. 16 years is a long time when we are apart from our families. She asked me, “Aldo, is this the time for me to return to Indonesia?”
A tough question to answer, because I realized that everybody has different needs and different situations. This woman decided to return to Indonesia to be with her daughters.
Both the Indonesian man and woman were dealing with family separation. It is something I can relate to as an immigrant, and a situation I often have to help others walk through as a pastor to fellow immigrants. Very often I hear these kinds of stories in my ministry. For me, this is one of the toughest parts of my ministry as each person and situation is unique. However, I thank God that these people are willing to share their struggle and stories with me. I am grateful, we are all part of the family of God and God is in control for the families here in the United States, in Indonesia, and anywhere were families are separated. May we continue to entrust God with our families, especially when we are apart from one another.
Aldo Siahaan is a LEADership Minister for Franconia Conference, and pastor at Philadelphia Praise Center.
Following the terrorist attacks in Paris, France in November, and in San Bernardino, California in December, many have struggled with the question of how we should relate to our Muslim neighbors. Tensions have remained high, exacerbated by the election season, and the answer to this question has reared its head in the form of some ugly anti-Islamic sentiment, including harassment and acts of vandalism against mosques in the Philadelphia area and around the country. Several congregations in Franconia Conference have asked this question in a different way: How can we relate to our Muslim neighbors in a way that is Christ-like?
Philadelphia Praise Center (PPC) is one congregation that has a long history of interacting with its surrounding Muslim community. Shortly after PPC was first started in 2006, Pastor Aldo Siahaan, himself an immigrant from Indonesia, reached out to the Imam of a group of Indonesian Muslims and offered them the use of the church building for evening prayers during Ramadan. They didn’t accept his invitation that year, but called back the following year and asked to use the space, beginning a longstanding friendship between PPC and what is now Masjid Al Falah.
Lindy Backues, an elder at PPC, joined the church when he and his family were deported from Indonesia after living there for 18 years. “I’ve been ‘sent home’. I know what that feels like,” he says in response to national comments against Muslim immigrants. “I don’t want to send Muslims ‘home’. They’re my friends. So at PPC, we’re trying to be different—to reach out to visitors and guests and the sojourner in our midst. In the process of receiving the other, we become who we are, because God received us when we were the other.”
Salford Mennonite Church also has a longstanding relationship with its Muslim neighbors which began when Salford reached out to them in friendship after the events of 9/11. Out of that gesture began a close relationship with a family from Lebanon who lives nearby. And in turn, that family has walked alongside and assisted Salford as it has resettled Muslim refugees from Iraq and Iran.
After recent Islamophobic rhetoric hit national news, Salford contacted the Imam of North Penn Mosque. “We had a meeting to express that as Christians we desire to have a relationship with him and his community,” says Joe Hackman, Lead Pastor. “We want to let them know that we’re there for them to offer support in whatever form they might need. As Anabaptists, we know what it is to be persecuted because of our faith. So it makes sense that we would want to protect other religious minorities who are experiencing persecution.”
For Doylestown Mennonite Church, which has recently become a co-sponsor for a Muslim refugee family from Afghanistan, the decision to reach out was simply an act of love, says KrisAnne Swartley, Minister for the Missional Journey. “This is just a way for us to live out faithfulness to Jesus.”
The Bible is full of verses regarding loving our neighbors. In Mark 12 as Jesus is questioned by the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem they ask what the greatest commandment is, to which Jesus answers in verse 30-31, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” It is great to see Franconia Conference churches living their faith by loving their neighbors.
Esther Good is a member at Whitehall Mennonite Church.
Over the last month Philadelphia has been abuzz with the news that Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter planned to reverse the city’s “sanctuary order” that has been in place since April 2014. The sanctuary order protects Philadelphia residents from deportation by preventing the police from collaborating and sharing information with the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. This news impacts the Conference’s city-based congregations, particularly those with significant numbers of recent immigrants including Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, Indonesian Light Church, Nations Worship Center and Philadelphia Praise Center (PPC).
Pastor Aldo Siahaan, Philadelphia Praise Center and Conference LEADership Minister, stated that the reversal of this order “affects the safety of our congregation and community.”
As a largely immigrant congregation, Philadelphia Praise Center became a member of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia more than five years ago. The New Sanctuary Movement is a faith-based immigrant rights organization whose mission is to “build community across faith, ethnicity, and class in [their] work to end injustices against immigrants regardless of status, express radical welcome for all, and ensure that values of dignity, justice, and hospitality are lived out in practice and upheld in policy.”
Pastor Aldo said, “The New Sanctuary Movement is answering and helping with the needs of PPC in terms of immigration matters.”
On December 11, when Mayor Nutter was to sign the reversal of the sanctuary order, New Sanctuary Movement called on faith leaders to join an action at City Hall to show the disagreement with the reversal of the sanctuary order which organizers of the action said puts families at risk of being torn apart and the language used by the Mayor’s administration about the reversal has perpetuated Islamaphobia that is currently widespread in the country.
Pastor Aldo, along with others from PPC, Fred Kauffman, interim pastor at Methacton congregation and Amy Yoder McLaughlin, pastor at Germantown Mennonite Church, with many others from Philadelphia and the surrounding area, immigrants and non-immigrants, documented and undocumented, answered the call.
Bam Tribuwono, a member of PPC and a photojournalist, was one of those who answered the call to action on December 11th. He said, “As an immigrant and Christian, I have been in situations where I’ve faced the possibilities of being deported. The immigration system is so broken. For me it’s pretty simple, let’s get back to what Jesus said in Ephesians 2:19-22. Jesus clearly said that we are no longer strangers and foreigners but fellow citizens and members of the household of God. We are all family and we have to protect each other. To give sanctuary for those who need protection.”
The action included speakers at a rally in front of City Hall, along with a time of prayer. A few New Sanctuary Movement leaders went into City Hall and requested to speak with Mayor Nutter. At that time, others in the movement blocked the entrances to the building to raise awareness about the possibility of Mayor Nutter signing the reversal of the sanctuary order.
“I’ve been attending a few New Sanctuary Movement rallies,” said Pastor Aldo, “but at this one the police were very harsh and I had never seen this before, how the police pulled on the protestors.”
When asked about his reasons for attending the action, Pastor Aldo said, “As a Christian this is the way that we show our care about foreigners and strangers. From Matthew 25, we are told to welcome strangers and foreigners; maybe we are entertaining angels or Jesus. As a Mennonite and a Christian we need to act the words of God — not just read them and meditate on them. That is why it is important for Christians to support this kind of movement, standing with our immigrant brothers and sisters.”
Fred Kauffman, stated the he had heard of the action being planned at City Hall but had not planned on going until the night before at a Kingdom Builders Network Bible study when he learned of Pastor Aldo’s involvement with the organization coordinating the action. He said, “At that point I knew that I had to go, because this was an important action to Pastor Aldo and the people in his congregation. At the action I was pleased to see Pastor Amy Yoder-McGlaughlin as well as Pastor Aldo and other friends that I knew. I prayed for the protesters risking arrest, ‘May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’”
Mayor Nutter did not sign the reversal on December 11th, but did do so three days later. Without the sanctuary order, Pastor Aldo says, “we live in fear and live under the radar. We hide. I need to comfort and protect my congregation and make sure they are ok. How can I tell them to be a blessing if they live in fear and hide themselves?”
With a new year, came new hope, and a new mayor. Mayor Jim Kenney took office on Monday, January 4th and one of his first actions as mayor was to reinstate the sanctuary order. Many rejoiced over this news.
Pastor Aldo has said it is important that those among us who are immigrants feel welcome and supported. This can be done through prayer, fellowship and supporting the efforts of people like the those in the New Sanctuary Movement.
A current campaign of the New Sanctuary Movement that could use support is their efforts to have driver licenses accessible to undocumented people in Pennsylvania. Eleven states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico currently offer driver licenses to those who are undocumented. Not having access to a driver’s license means that a person undocumented risks deportation anytime they drive — whether to go to work, school, to access health care, or to buy groceries.
To learn more about New Sanctuary Movement visit: http://www.sanctuaryphiladelphia.org/. To visit PPC, Indonesian Light Church, Centro de Alabanza or Nations Worship Center, visit the conference directory here for service times and locations; all are willing to translate their services into English as needed.
Every Thursday, I attend a Bible study among pastors and leaders of the Anabaptist Network in Philadelphia, commonly called Kingdom Builders Network. In November, 25 to 30 leaders discussed the scripture from Hebrew 11:32 – 12:3; it talks about faith. One of the questions in the discussion that morning was “who are your faith heroes?” I heard someone say “my mom and my grandma are my faith heroes”; “one of the leaders in my church – he was a quiet person but had a strong faith, regardless of all the struggles he was facing”; “Mother Teresa – I worked with her for a couple of months and I saw her faith “. Someone from the group asked “How about you Aldo? Who are your faith heroes?”
My journey of Christianity started with my parents. My parents were the ones who introduced Jesus into my life; not only that, they really put
their faith in Jesus. As a family, we would have our regular prayer meetings; my dad had his personal time with God in his room, where my mom always had her time with God at our dinner table. Sometimes I would see my mom’s prayer list that she would put in her Bible. Many times, when our family had difficult situations and struggled, my parents always used their “powerful weapon”: prayer. So, to answer the question, I can say that my parents are my faith heroes.
On the way back home from the Bible Study, God reminded me of another person that I have learned so much about faith from. He’s name is Stefanus and he is incarcerated. During the eight years he has been in prison, if we talk over the phone or meet in the prison, he has a positive attitude most of the time. Not only that, but he has given testimony to me and his cell mates on how God has worked in many situations in his life, especially during his imprisonment. Every day is a busy day for Stefanus. He works taking care of those who are incarcerated and disabled, he does school work for his International Business major from Ohio University, he helps with the church service every Wednesday and Sunday, and helps others with their problems; many young and old cell mates like to share their problems th Stefanus, they feel comfortable with him and trust him. He is also an artist, and keeps busy with the more-than-20 drawing orders he has from others who are incarcerated. Stefanus has shared many stories that encourage my faith. I can say Stefanus Santoso is my faith hero. I will continue to pray for him so that he can be released soon, and if God has another plan, I believe He will strengthen Stefanus for another 12 years.
Our faith heroes come into our lives in many different ways and from many different places. Who are your faith heroes? And are you living out your faith that you may be someone’s faith hero too?
Aldo Siahaan is pastor of Philadelphia Praise Center, and on staff at Franconia Conference as a LEADership Minister.
What will motivate you to get out of bed this Saturday morning?
“I am excited about this event because anytime I have the opportunity to discuss the Scriptures with other people and we are all open to the leading of the Spirit, God always speaks to me,” says Mike Clemmer, pastor of Towamencin Mennonite Church. “So I look forward to the opportunity to hear God’s voice speak into my life.”
Aldo Siahaan pastors Philadelphia Praise Center and is one of the conference’s LEADership ministers, and says, “As a Christian and pastor who is a ‘new’ Anabaptist/Mennonite, I am always eager to learn more about understanding the Bible from an Anabaptist perspective.”
“I am excited about this event,” says Sandy Landes, prayer minister with the Doylestown congregation. “So many voices clamor for attention in our world and the Bible, as a message for our lives today, sometimes gets lost at sea. I look forward to hearing and learning about reading the Bible with faith. I want to grow with my brothers and sisters in our understanding of ways to interpret the Bible that will compel us to dig deeper, ask more questions and to increase our faith in God at the same time. I pray that we can learn to communicate with each other, increasing our trust as we respect the differences we bring to the table.”
Three Anabaptist biblical scholars—Laura Brenneman, Terry Brensinger and Dennis Edwards—will headline the event.
The event, this Saturday, 9 a.m.–3 p.m., is free. Registration is required on the conference website or by calling 610-277-1729; donations for lunch will be accepted. Penn View Christian School is located at 420 Godshall Road, Souderton.
Sharon K. Williams is a musician, editor and congregational/non-profit consultant. She serves the Lord with the Nueva Vida Norristown New Life congregation as minister of worship.
“There are many immigrant like us in this city, why don’t we reach out to them so they can also know Christ?” “We’re immigrants too, so we can serve each other.” “Let us win many souls for Jesus in this city!”
This conversation emerged among some Indonesian friends in early 2005 when we started Philadelphia Praise Center. We began recognizing the many immigrants in South Philadelphia and longed to have a House of Prayer for all people.
A year later, Philadelphia Praise Center began to build a relationship with Franconia Mennonite Conference through connections with Mennonite World Conference that reached back to Indonesia. That relationship kept growing until Philadelphia Praise Center officially became part of the conference in 2008.
The weather this past Sunday morning was very cold with strong winds, but many different people showed up for our anniversary worship service: Latinos, Vietnamese, Burmese, Korean, Malaysian, and Indonesians, who have the same purpose: to celebrate God’s work through Philadelphia Praise Center over the last 10 years.
A decade went so fast. There are many things that God has done, but most noticeable are the relationships with Christians who come from different nations and ethnicities. In one part of worship led by Bobby Wibowo, we sang in Indonesian, Spanish, Mandarin, and English. Similarly, when blowing out the birthday candles on our celebratory cake, representatives of the different countries that worship with Philadelphia Praise Center all came forward to blow out the candles together. We are different backgrounds but one goal. Yes, we come from different nations with different languages, but we are worshiping the same Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
“To God be the glory, to God be the glory, to God be the glory, for the things He has done”—This is the song that we sang to end the worship celebration at PPC. We believe in the next 10 years, God will reveal even more amazing work
Aldo Siahaan is a Franconia Conference LEADership minister and pastor at Philadelphia Praise Center.