Tag Archives: intercultural

Preparation for the Way Ahead

by Marta Castillo, LEADership Minister

In a recent article, “On Scattering, Gathering and California Dreamin”, Steve Kriss wrote regarding the inquiries we have received from congregations requesting to join our conference. I was struck by his last statement: “the one thing that I know about Franconia Conference is that the Spirit is relentless in inviting us to be transformed anew … I invite your prayers as we together consider and discern God’s best direction while honoring our past, accepting our limitations, and trusting also the Spirit’s movement … to give us a future with great hope.”

In times of decision-making and Spirit nudging to move forward in a new space, it helps to revisit “the calling and vision” that God has already put into place and that we have already proclaimed.  “The conference’s mission is to equip leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission.”  In 2012, the conference board discerned that our conference work is focused on three priorities.  “We are called to be missional, intercultural, and formational.”  Congregations are invited take risks for the sake of the Gospel through creative partnerships and new possibilities for missional engagement.  They are invited to network and cultivate intercultural ministry relationships.  The people of the conference are recognized as our greatest resource and we are committed to build leadership capacity across geographies and generations.  In these priorities, God already laid a strong foundation, preparing us in 2012 for what was coming in 2017.  God is like that, always graciously preparing the way ahead of us and preparing us for the way ahead.

Our preparedness to move into a new space, in my opinion, is limited not by money or distance or human resources but may be limited by attitudes and beliefs ingrained in our system.  I invite you to consider that we as a conference must overcome a historical tendency “to maintain what is” and to keep what is different from truly changing or impacting our systems and procedures.  Ethnic Mennonite culture is often curious and welcoming to an international person from Latin America or Africa or Asia but we struggle to allow for the African American, the more recent immigrant Latin American or Asian American voices to bring about change and revival.

We are limited by a sense of many leaders and congregations in our conference, that they are on the margins of conference life.  This sense comes from leaders and members from churches all over the conference.  How can we all be on the margin?  If a Franconia area church feels like it is on the margin, what about the churches who may join us from far away in California?  I believe that we must embrace our participation in the conference and learn to say, “We are Franconia Conference.  God is the center that pulls us ever closer together through the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus.”

Biblical Model of Healthy Multi-Cultural Relationship

by Virgo Handojo, Pastor  ofJemaat Kristen Indonesia Anugerah, Sierra Madre, CA

One of the challenging tasks the children of God face today is how to build a healthy relationship within culturally diverse churches. A story of how the early church worked at this can be seen through the Council at Jerusalem in Acts 15:1-21.

Act 15: 1-2 shows some of the tensions in the culturally diverse early church as it says, “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them.”

The early church’s challenging task here is how they relate with the emergent church that has a different culture and tradition. The issue centers on the question of finding a balance between maintaining the ethnic identity, and acculturation identification with the dominant church as required by the Moses law through the circumcision ritual.

There is a tension between the Jerusalem church under James and Peter and the Gentile converts under Paul and Barnabas, between Jerusalem’s dominant group and the new emergent Antioch and Galatia churches. The core issue is the definition of Christian identity. The dominant church argued that the Gentile converts should be turned into good Jews under the Mosaic law before they were accorded full Christian-status. On the other hand, Paul and Barnabas hold an attitude that argues for the ethnic Gentile converts church.

Hypothetically, we can develop four different models of balancing ethnic identity and acculturation.  It depends on whether the demand of maintaining ethnic identity is strong or weak and whether the demand of identification with the dominant culture is strong or weak.

The church that adopted an assimilation model has a strong attitude toward acculturation, but is weak in maintaining their culture of origin. For them, “You live in America, you have to be American.”

A Separatists church will have a strong ethnic identity but be weak in acculturation. For an Indonesian church, Indonesian is first. “I am betraying my cultural identity if I join the US Mennonite church. The US Indonesian church should be tied only to the Indonesian church in Indonesia.”

The marginalized church will choose to be independent. They have both weak ethnic identity and acculturation. For them, “God built our church here; we should be independent from anybody.”

A Bicultural church will choose to have strong ties both to their ethnicity and to the dominant culture. “I am proud to be Indonesian, but we need to learn and relate with the US church.”

Interestingly, in Acts God led the early church to choose the Bicultural or salad-bowl model as an ideal relationship for the early church (Acts 15:13-19). The Gentile convert church intentionally rejected the circumcision required by the Law of Moses in order to maintain their own identity. But they also chose to build strong ties with the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:20). Each group maintains their identity and uniqueness, but they also intentionally build strong ties with each other.

I believe we should adopt the Biblical ideal model as a public policy to build a healthy relationship with emergent churches, allowing us all to maintain our identities while also building relationships with one another that we may learn from each other.

On Being Both Local and Global

By Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

My first trip in my role with Franconia Conference over a decade ago was to Guatemala.  I traveled with a group of persons from our Conference who began to invest in the lives of communities in rural indigenous villages through Agros International.   It was my first glimpse into the global-mindedness of our Conference in both official programs as well as through individual or familial relationships.   Though we are rooted firmly in Bucks and Montgomery County, wedged between the metro areas of Allentown, New York City and Philadelphia, we think often like global citizens.

Thomas Friedman, in his well-known book about global economicsThe World is Flatsuggests that to survive and flourish into the new millennium, organizations will need to think of themselves as both global and local.  This is not new for us.  Our immigrant and settler mindset remains with us in many ways, though we’ve been in Pennsylvania for hundreds of years and in some areas the road names bear our familial surnames and reference even our own congregations and faith (see Mennonite Road in Collegeville).

In a time of America first, we know and live otherwise.  We live with a sense of the reality of “to whom much is given much is required”.  For us in Franconia Conference, as the world became more accessible, we became more aware.  Our unusual geography and clusters near major cities on the East Coast provide us ready access to transportation that can take us around the world in 24 hours.  With the massive migration of the last decades, the world has also come to us.  Sometimes these changes make our heads and hearts spin as we listen to unfamiliar languages in the aisles while shopping at Landis Supermarkets.

Lois Clemens
Lois Gunden Clemens (1915-2005)
Clayton Kratz (1896-1920)

As a community in Franconia Conference, we honor the legacy of those from our heartlands who in the early 20th Century, saw the world coming closer and felt compelled to take and live the story in places like Norristown, Rocky Ridge and Bristol.   We honor the story of people like Clayton Kratz who in the early 20th century, disappeared in the Ukraine while trying to find ways to assist Mennonites in a time of intense realities.  We tell the story of Lois Gunden Clemens, who is recognized as “Among the Righteous” by the state of Israel for her work among refugees during World War II in France.  These are our stories and our blessed heritage.

We have invested heavily in the Anabaptist community in Mexico City.  Through the MAMA Project, we continually support the health and wellness of communities in Honduras.  We’ve built bridges with Anabaptist communities in Indonesia that have transformed us here in the States.  We support workers in diverse places through various organizations, as well as regularly sending and supporting longer term initiatives through Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Central Committee.   Currently, we have four credentialed pastors who are working outside of the United States in Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia and Mexico.  We regularly produce publications in English, Indonesian, Spanish and Vietnamese and all of the translation is done by partners who live in Asia.

This is one of the things that continues to intrigue me about us.  It makes me wonder how we might continue to use these legacies of global connection and our ready points of access through increased ease of transportation and communication, financial resources, along with our communal and individual astuteness and acumen, in our sense of calling as followers of Christ to be both wise as serpents and as innocent as doves in extending the Good News to all people.

London skyline from Shadwell Basin

This week I returned from London, building on relationships that we have cultivated through the Anabaptist community there.  I was there days after the Manchester bombing and preached in London the morning after the incident at London Bridge.  The Gospel of Christ’s peace that we know, that we have been given, continues to be brilliantly relevant in these tough times.

God has uniquely situated us at Franconia Conference with global connections and global capacities, hearts provoked to love and care for the places where we are from like Bally and Bridgewater Corners, Souderton and South Philly, while at the same time connecting us to places, people and possibilities globally.   In a time when much of the world retreats into fear, we remain people of hope, continually willing to share with neighbors both nearby and faraway, to share this peace that goes beyond comprehension with family, with friends, and even with those who might be called our enemies.

Palestinian and Jewish Voices for Peace

By Peder Wiegner, member at Norristown New Life and of the Conference Israel/Palestine Taskforce

Franconia Mennonite Conference (FMC) together with Living Branches hosted the Palestinian and Jewish Voices for Peace Tour on Saturday, April 22. The FMC Israel Palestine Task Force was key to organizing this event together with Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA).

Jonathan Kuttab, a Palestinian Mennonite and human rights lawyer, together with Rabbi Linda Holzman of Jewish Voices for Peace and organizer of the social justice community in Philadelphia called Tikkun Olam Chavurah, shared their stories, experiences, and analysis of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. This was a key time to hear their stories and experiences as in July, Mennonites from around MCUSA will be voting on an important resolution at the MCUSA Convention in Orlando, FL.

The FMC Israel Palestine Task Force’s Preston Bush welcomed the thirty or so guests to the event and introduced the speakers, while everyone enjoyed a delicious breakfast.

Rabbi Holzman spoke of her journey in the Jewish community as it relates to the context of Israel and Palestine. Holzman highlighted that there are a wide range of views about Israel/Palestine among the Jewish community, while speaking of some of the things she was taught as a child she had to unlearn in order to be able to see the reality of the oppression of the Palestinian people. One of those teachings was that the land of Palestine was empty before the Jewish settlers arrived in Palestine, and another was that the Palestinians left their homes voluntarily, giving the land as a gift to the newly arriving Jewish settlers. Both of which she later learned to be false, as Palestinians were living there and had been working the land for centuries. Those who fled what is now Israel proper had their land taken from them, forcing them to become refugees never allowed to return home.

Rabbi Holzman reminded those present that criticism of the oppressive Israeli government does not come from Anti-Semitism; on the contrary, there is a wide variety of opinions and views within the Jewish world about Israel and Palestine. Not everyone is on board with supporting the oppressive regime.

She affirmed something that we Mennonites often declare. She said, “What I learned as a Jew was that everyone is created in the image of God and that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. The Jews were enslaved in Egypt, and so we should never let others be enslaved. The Jews were strangers in the land and so we should treat strangers well.”

Rabbi Holzman closed by talking about intersectionality being the recognition of oppression of different kinds as being connected and also layered. For example, being a woman in a male-dominated society brings certain disadvantages, but those disadvantages are compounded for women of color in a society dominated by white privilege such as the U.S., or for a Palestinian woman in Israeli society. We need to open our eyes and see that the struggles of Palestinians are like those of people of color in the U.S. and like the struggles of indigenous groups all over the world.

Jonathan Kuttab then spoke about the current situation in Palestine today, the Kairos Palestine Document, the MCUSA Israel Palestine Resolution, the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality holding to the principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity. Palestinian civil society organizations have called for a nonviolent resistance strategy to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Part of this strategy includes the BDS movement. Yet many in the West are critical of this approach despite the fact that it is nonviolent. The BDS movement is a moral and ethical critique that bothers Israel. It bothers Israel so much that Israel has dedicated three government ministries to fighting it. That seems to be an indicator of the capacity of BDS.

Mr. Kuttab observed that Western Christians tend to hold Palestinians accountable when it comes to violence but often turn a blind eye to the violence perpetuated by Israel. Yet, they still have not supported the Palestinian-led non-violent strategies.

Many Palestinian Christians were shocked when the Mennonite church – a peace church – failed to pass a resolution in Kansas City in 2015, addressing the injustices perpetuated against the Palestinians. However, the new resolution being presented for the 2017 Convention provides an opportunity for Mennonites to end their silence on this issue and commit to being part of a just and peaceful solution in Israel/Palestine while at the same time speaking out against Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and other hateful ideologies in our churches and society.

This June marks the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Will we sit back and let the oppression of Palestinians continue without making a statement? We, the Task Force, invite our Franconia Conference delegates to Convention to support the Seeking Peace in Israel Palestine Resolution.

You can listen to a recording of the April 21st Palestinian and Jewish Voices for Peace Tour event at Germantown Mennonite Church here.

Board Welcomes Smita Singh

By Angela Moyer, co-pastor at Ripple and Conference Board Member

Smita Singh was appointed to the Franconia Conference Board by delegate affirmation at the Fall 2016 Assembly, beginning her first term with the Board in January, 2017. Smita is a member at Whitehall Mennonite Church in the Lehigh Valley since 2000, when she immigrated to the United Stated with her husband Naveen and son Ronak.

Growing up in Nagpur, India, Smita was raised in a Christian home with church and faith as an integral part of her upbringing. She was actively involved with her church youth group, Youth for Christ (YFC), Evangelical Students Union (EU), children’s ministry, National Council of Church’s in India (NCCI) and Maharashtra Village Ministries (MVM). She has led women’s groups and youth groups through BSF International (Bible Study Fellowship), and as a member of Whitehall, Smita has worked in children’s ministry, helped with fundraisers and served on the budget committee and worship planning committee.

She graduated from Nagpur University with a Bachelors in Computer Science. She then received her Master’s Degrees in Business Administration specializing in finance and marketing. Smita has experience as a Google Quality Rating Consultant and also owns an Etsy business, “Rosmina Collections.” Recently, she began working in the Customer Service Department at Nestle.

Janet Byler, Smita Singh, and Ron Bender finished out a long line of blessings and anointing for Pastor Rose Bender at her ordination in 2012.

Initially, Smita was not interested in being on the Board at Franconia Conference, but after prayer, both she and Naveen sensed that this was a call to move out of her comfort zone, especially after having an encouraging conversation with Steve Kriss, then the Director of Leadership Development.  Now, she is looking forward to discovering how she can use her gifts and experience to serve in this role and hopes to fulfill God’s calling.

Her favorite passage of Scripture is Isaiah 41:10, “Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” She says she connects to God best by having her quiet time praying and seeking His word for discernment.

Smita describes Whitehall Mennonite as an eclectic group of people filled with hospitality, diverse in speech and culture, with a common goal to serve the Lord and care for each other. Something she has learned at Whitehall is that God is faithful and always provides in unexpected ways. Transformation happens one person at a time and many times the transformation takes place years after the seed was planted.

Rose Bender, Pastor at Whitehall Mennonite Church says, “Folks at Whitehall appreciate Smita’s creativity, generosity, and delicious cooking!  Because of her life experience and background, Smita often has a different perspective to add to the conversation – a part of the rich fabric of diversity at Whitehall Mennonite Church. She is a joy to pastor and work alongside in ministry.”

Smita lives in Breinigsville, PA with her husband, and now 14-year-old son.  In her free time, she enjoys making cards, helping her son with his school projects, volunteering at church, and as a volunteer coach for Springhouse Middle School Science Olympiad Team.

 

Cuidándonos entre Mujeres / Sister Care

por Marta Castillo

La experiencia de sentarse, aprender, reír, llorar y compartir en un grupo de 30 líderes y pastoras de habla hispana es una experiencia que no tiene comparación. El Espíritu del Dios viviente fluía libremente y poderosamente, las voces se elevaban en ánimo, las oraciones se hablaban y las experiencias de vida fueran compartidas en alegría a través del dolor. Tuve el privilegio de ser incluida en la invitación y estoy agradecida de que la Conferencia de Franconia me apoyara,  Pastora Marta Castillo (Nueva Vida Norristown Nueva Vida) y Pastora Leticia Cortes (Centro de Alabanza), en nuestro viaje a Oregón el mes pasado para participar en el taller Cuidándonos entre Mujeres  en español. El entrenamiento trajo sanación y el encuentro de líderes de mujeres hispanas fuertes de todo Estados Unidos, incluyendo Florida, Texas, California, Iowa y Pennsylvania fue una fuente de inspiración.


Como dice el sitio web de Menonite Women USA, “los talleres proveen a las mujeres con herramientas para la sanación personal continua, el reconocimiento y la celebración de la gracia de Dios en sus vidas, y respondiendo con más confianza y efectividad a las necesidades de otros en sus familias, congregaciones y comunidades”. Se ha sido utilizado en todo el mundo y se ha traducido en varios idiomas, pero esta es la primera vez que se imparte el curso en español con la esperanza de llevar los materiales y habilidades a nuestras conferencias y congregaciones.  La Pastora Leticia Cortes Castro y yo estamos comprometidas a compartir lo que hemos aprendido con otras mujeres en nuestras iglesias y en nuestra  conferencia.

La Pastora Leticia envió una nota a la Conferencia de Franconia para expresar su agradecimiento. Como miembros de la Conferencia de Franconia aquí están sus palabras para ustedes:

Para la Conferencia de Franconia:

Por este medio quiero agradecer todo el apoyo que se nos dio a Marta Castillo y su servidora, para viajar a Portland Oregon, y poder tomar el taller de “Cuidado de mujeres” que fue de gran bendición para nuestras vidas, en lo personal me siento fortalecida y animada para compartir con otras lo aprendido, los temas son de gran interés para nuestra comunidad Hispana, y pudimos identificar que muchos de los temas que se compartieron, son necesarios para ayudarnos entre nostras como mujeres, me toco la lectura bíblica de la samaritana, y algo paso en ese tiempo de compartir ese pasaje,  fue algo especial para mí, me sentí tan identificada con la mujer samaritana, de sentir el perdón y amada directamente por el Mesías, otra parte del taller fue maravilloso porque los temas fueron  en mi idioma, lo extraordinario fue que lo aprendido lo pude poner en práctica con una Hermana que se sentía mal espiritualmente, y pude compartir con ella y orar juntas, y sentimos como Dios uso ese momento para darle paz , y gozo en su vida, quedamos tan agradecidas con Dios, que vamos a continuar con nuestra hermandad y amistad a la distancia,

Gracias nuevamente, en Cristo
Pastora Letty Cortes Castro
Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia

by Marta Castillo

Sitting, learning, laughing, crying, and sharing in a group of 30 Spanish-speaking women leaders and pastors is an experience that is unrivaled.  The Spirit of the living God flowed freely and powerfully, voices were raised in excitement, prayers were spoken, and life experiences shared in joy through the pain.  I was privileged (as a white Spanish-speaking woman) to be included in the invitation and I am thankful that Franconia Conference supported myself, Pastor Marta Castillo (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life), and Pastor Leticia Cortes (Centro de Alabanza), in our trip to Oregon last month to participate in the Sister Care Seminar in Spanish.  Going through the training was healing and meeting strong Hispanic women leaders from all over the United States, including Florida, Texas, California, Iowa, and Pennsylvania was inspirational.

As the Mennonite Women USA website says, “seminars provide women with tools for ongoing personal healing, recognizing and celebrating God’s grace in their lives, and responding more confidently and effectively to the needs of others in their families, congregations and communities.” It has been used all over the world and been translated in several languages, but this is the first time that the training was held in Spanish with the hope that we would take the materials and skills to our conferences and congregations.  Pastor Leticia Cortes Castro and I are committed to sharing what we have learned with other women in our churches and in our conference.


Pastor Leticia sent a note to Franconia Conference to express her appreciation. As members of Franconia Conference here are her words to you:

I want to thank all the support that was given to Marta Castillo and me, God’s servant, to travel to Portland, Oregon, and to be able to take the workshop “Sister Care” in Spanish. That was a great blessing for our lives.  Personally, I feel strengthened and encouraged to share with others what I learned.  The topics are of great interest to our Hispanic community and we were able to identify that many of the themes that were shared are necessary to help us as women.   I shared a monologue of the biblical reading of the Samaritan woman and it touched me deeply.  Something happened during that time that I shared that passage and it is very special for me.   I identified with the Samaritan woman, feeling forgiveness and loved directly by the Messiah.  Another part of the workshop that was wonderful was that the teaching was in my own Spanish language.  The extraordinary thing was that what I learned I could put into practice immediately with a sister in Christ who felt bad spiritually and I could share with her and pray together.  We felt like God used that moment to give her peace and joy in her life.  We are so grateful to God for all the wonderful women that we met and that we will continue our sisterhood and friendship at a distance.

Thank you again, in Christ
Pastor Letty Cortes Castro
Centro de Alabanza

 

Loss of a Loved One

by Aldo Siahaan

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.

What is the Significance of the Church Building?

By Marta Castillo, Franconia Conference LEADership Minister and Pastor at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life

Several years ago we almost lost our church building to a sheriff’s sale (a type of auction on properties that have either been repossessed by a lender or seized to satisfy judgment liens or tax liens). We said to ourselves, “the church is people; the church is not the building.”  Thankfully, by God’s grace and support from Franconia Conference, we did not lose our church building .  However, as I attended two building-centered events this past weekend, I was paying careful attention to the question, “If the church is people, what is the significance of the church building?”

For churches that have been in existence for 100 years or more, buildings may be a given and are rarely given a second thought, except for repairs and additions. For a congregation just starting out and growing, buildings are more than just a location; they are central to mission, identity, and community.

On Saturday evening, we celebrated with Centro de Alabanza (Center of Praise) in Philadelphia at the dedication of their building. A much-needed larger space in a Spanish neighborhood, this was made possible by Centro de Alabanza’s fundraising efforts include tamale sales and a car raffle, along with generous support from other Franconia Conference congregations. It was a joyful event of thanksgiving and praise, renewed covenant, and anointing before the Lord. Families brought forward wooden blocks inscribed with their family’s name to construct a building showing community, committing themselves to build on the foundation that “has already been laid, which is Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 3:9-11).

Pastors Fernando Loyola and Letty Cortes said of their new building, “First of all, we feel honored and thankful for the mercy and backing of God in this Hispanic ministry and for us to have a building means to have a place to worship the Lord in freedom and in power concentrating on the mission work of extending the Kingdom of God.  It will help us be more responsible in stewardship, and the location is an area where there are many Latino groups. We believe that God has sent us here to be an example and to reach more souls for Christ.”

The following day, Sunday, January 29, members from Bethel Mennonite, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life and Christian Community Baptist came together for a time of celebration and remembrance. Over 29 years ago, Bethel Mennonite and Nueva Vida Norristown New Life joined together, selling the original Bethel building to Christian Community Baptist.  Members of all three congregations celebrated together in a time of remembrance and worship in the same building where former Bethel members had put down their spiritual roots.  Christian Community Baptist members thanked Nueva Vida Norristown New Life and Franconia Conference for sharing with them a well-cared-for building that was already filled with the Holy Spirit.

As the first church in Acts met in homes, today, we see that God’s provision of these physical spaces — church buildings — allow “the church” to worship, be together and do mission for God. They provide space where more of us are able to join in fellowship with one another, and often are used to bless our surrounding communities as our doors are open for other groups to utilize the space. We thank God for these physical spaces that allow us — “the church” — to worship and do the work of God’s Kingdom.

Standing with our Immigrant Family in the Body of Christ

by Barbie Fischer

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 immigration-2situation.”

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.

immigration-1Mary 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.

Photo by Bam Tribuwono
Photo by Bam Tribuwono

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.

 

Nations Worship Center Celebrates Mission: I’m Possible

By Sharon Williams

nations-1Joyful, heartfelt praise to God filled the new home for Nations Worship Center (NWC) on Sunday afternoon, November 20. The house was packed as the congregation gathered with sister congregations and friends to dedicate their newly renovated building at 1506 Ritner Street in south Philadelphia. Pastor Beny Krisbianto and the NWC worship team led a full house of worshipers in songs and prayers.

The congregation has faced many challenges in establishing a home base for worship, discipleship, and mission in their south Philly neighborhood. In August 2012, they purchased Paradise Gardens, a catering hall with offices and an apartment on the 2nd and 3rd floors. The building had been abandoned and empty for 12 years. With much prayer and faith, NWC faced strong opposition from the local community, red tape from city government, contractor woes, and financial challenges. Each step was embraced with grace and dignity, trusting that God would accomplish the impossible mission.

nations-2Steve Kriss, Franconia Conference Director of Leadership Cultivation and Congregational Resourcing, offered a greeting from the conference. He connected the congregation’s testimony to that of the first immigrant Mennonites in Philadelphia who embraced an ethic of “work and hope” as part of their witness. In a recent meeting with community residents, someone inquired about the use of government funds for the building’s transformation. “Oh no,” Kriss replied, “this is a result of the congregation’s hard work, prayers, and partnerships — all made possible by God’s grace.”

nations-3Pastor Timotius Hardono, Beny’s pastor from Indonesia, shared a message about God’s impossible missions made possible through immigrants such as Moses and Daniel, and Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38). NWC will continue to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission, making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). Many worshipers rededicated themselves to being used for God’s mission: I’m possible!

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.