Tag Archives: intercultural

Going to the Margins with a Missional Lens

noel article photoFrom February 25 to March 1, 2016, I had the privilege of visiting Mexico for the first time in four years. The occasion, the Annual Red de Iglesias Misioneras Internacionales (RIMI) Leaders Conference. Translated into English, RIMI means the International Network of Missionary Churches. This network was founded by Kirk and Marilyn Hanger, of New Hope Fellowship along with Ruben and Guadalupe Mercado, Mennonite Church leaders from Bolivia.

When asked about RIMI Kirk shared: “In 2003, after 11 years of church planting ministry in Mexico, Franconia Conference encouraged me to continue as a mentor to the churches that had emerged from our ministry with a vision of continued church multiplication. This is when RIMI was born. Counsel and encouragement from Franconia Conference, were critical in the birth and continued growth of RIMI. Over the years, I’ve made regular trips back to Mexico.

Today, RIMI is made up of 28 churches and church plants in Mexico from the states of Oaxaca to Jalisco. In addition to the churches, RIMI also includes a radio ministry, a Bible Institute, a short term mission’s school and a leadership school, both affiliated with Global Disciples, a medical ministry, a prayer network and two rehabilitation centers. RIMI uses the Mennonite Confession of Faith and has a vision of continued church multiplication, leadership development, and the sending of missionaries to the least reached parts of the world.

Every February, we have our RIMI Conference in Mexico. Pastors and leaders from Mexico and other countries will gather for a time of worship, teaching, fellowship and planning together. Last year, Pastor Charles Ness, from Perkiomenville Mennonite Church, was one of our conference speakers, along with Pastor Bob Stevenson, from Iglesia de la Tierra Prometida (also known as Monte Maria).”

Noel article verseThis is what I had the privilege of attending and sharing in, the RIMI’s leaders conference. Connecting and hearing the stories of God’s moving and transformation was powerful! Those marginalized because of addictions, abuses, crime, pain, trauma, but also those who lived religiously empty lives, living good but unsatisfied lives, living without purpose or meaning, having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof; then discovering through the Gospel message being shared with them that they can draw near to God through the good news of the transforming work of Jesus Christ.

Indeed, the call to go to the margins is a missional call; a call to not only share the transforming Gospel message of Jesus Christ, but to share an intimately lived experience of this relationship; a call to be transformed ourselves as we go to the least of these.

Franconia Conference has had a tremendous legacy of disciple making through church planting, evangelism, and missional engagement. In recent years it seems that Franconia Conference has necessarily tended to its internal life. As this internal tending has now brought clarity of direction, is it time to once again continue the legacy of disciple making through missions, evangelism, church planting and the sharing of the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

I came away with the deepened assurance and eye witness accounts of the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to save that which was lost; to live a life after the Kingdom of God that set’s the captives free, to die on the cross and shed his blood to forgive us of our sins, to be raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of God where we too are seated, so that we are once again restored to our relationship with our heavenly Father. Then we go to share this good news of restored relationship through Christ to a hurt and dying world.

Going to the margins with a missional lens isn’t just about the present but also the future. So the question I ask us all is: What legacy do we want to leave the next generation?

This past year we saw the credentialing of some of our youngest leaders, including the ordination of our first millennial, with these young leaders coming on board is it time for Franconia Conference, to once again put out a call to the next generation of young people to consider their call and purpose in life like these have? Is it time to identify the next generation of disciple makers to be raised up, equipped and sent on a mission to share the good news of Jesus Christ through starting new churches, evangelism and missional engagement?

Jesus said in John 20:21 (NIV) – “…Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” I believe it’s time. So if you are interested in learning more how you can engage in missions, if you feel a call to make disciples of all nations through evangelism, starting new churches or being engaged in missions, be in touch with your conference LEADership Minister or myself, so we can start a conversation and explore the possibilities of connecting.

Noel Santiago is a LEADership Minister for Franconia Conference.

 

More information from Kirk on RIMI: “Strategic relations have developed with churches in other countries as well. In addition to Mexico, RIMI now has churches in Guatemala, Cuba, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay, Chile and the United States. The vision is that networks of churches will develop in these countries as we support each other in our common vision. Two years ago, we started an international youth conference called “Generación Sana” (Healthy Generation). In 2014, the event was held in Bogota, Colombia with about 80 young people from several countries. In 2015, the event was held in Vina del Mar, Chile and in August 2016, it will be held in Quito, Ecuador.”

Loving Our Muslim Neighbors

by Esther Good

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?

LovingMuslimNeighbors
Photo by Preston Sean Photography, orig. published by Mennonite World Review, Sept. 16, 2013

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.”

lamp-and-peace-sign.jpgFor 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.

God Multiplies the Small Things

by Stephen Kriss

I was struck by the powerful words of the songs that we were singing together on Sunday in this former-thrift-store-turned-worship-space packed to nearly overflowing: we are not afraid… we believe… The words were punctuated with amens, raised hands, “Gloria A Dios.” This is Centro De Alabanza, an outgrowth of Philadelphia Praise Center, now a congregation of its own among the growing Spanish-speaking population in South Philadelphia. We were singing redemption songs that add strength and meaning to immigrant life in this thriving and sometimes dangerous city.

Centro 8On Sunday we celebrated the pastoral licensing of Fernando Loyola and Letty Cortes as ministers in Franconia Conference. Letty was radiant, clothed elegantly with gifts she said were from women in the congregation. Fernando, steady, firm, serious as usual in the task of leading. They lead together as a team, the boomerang of the fruit of Mennonite mission efforts from Franconia Conference to Mexico City in the 90’s.  No one would have expected that support for Kirk Hanger, who left his role at Methacton Mennonite to work at church-planting in Mexico City, would have meant that Centro de Alabanza would emerge to join Franconia Conference.

God multiples the small things and the licensing of Fernando and Letty are proof of that.  Fernando tells the story of his conversion as one that takes a lifetime. Letty is the first woman of color recognized as a pastoral leader in Franconia Conference, over 25 years after the first woman (Marty Kolb-Wycoff) was credentialed for ministry in Vermont.

Centro 1In working with credentialing new leaders and in the slow work that we do in establishing new congregations, I cannot help but see all of the connections that make new things possible.  I notice the small things along the way that when invested in the dream of God, result in unexpected blessing and possibility. It is the widow’s mite given in faith and generosity, the mustard seed that grows into a tree, the leaven that transforms the whole loaf of bread.

We ate together after the two-hour plus worship. There was chicken, rice and beans, Coke along with orange, grape and pineapple soda.  I thought of how similar it felt to the times I’ve visited with Mennonite Churches in Mexico City, yet I was still in my home city in the state where I was born.  I fumbled through conversations in Spanish, but remembered best the words that I learned from Ruth Hunsberger, my Spanish teacher at Johnstown Christian School, who learned Spanish herself while working in Puerto Rico in the 40’s.  My Spanish will thus always sound both a bit Pennsylvania Dutch and a bit Puerto Rican.

Centro 3We bring all of those gifts and parts, all of who we are, all of the possibilities and relationships into the great Matrix of God … and they are used. Nothing is lost, everything is found and even the smallest thing can mean real transformation.  Kirk told the story of meeting Letty while washing dishes in Mexico City. A wholly ordinary conversation that has led eventually to this new community flourishing in South Philadelphia and the naming of the first Latina Mennonite minister in Franconia Conference.  And for those small things, which become eternally significant, and the ability to notice them later and to celebrate together over pollo, frijoles y arroz, I am grateful.

Stephen Kriss is Director of Leadership Cultivation & Congregational Resourcing at Franconia Conference.

 

 

A Conversation On Race

MLK DayThe bill proposing Martin Luther King Jr (MLK) Day as a federal holiday was first introduced to Congress in 1968, four days after Martin Luther King’s assassination. 15 years would pass before that bill was voted into law in 1983. Still not all states recognized the federal holiday. In fact, in 2000, South Carolina became the last state to make MLK Day a paid holiday for all state employees. Previously, employees could choose between celebrating it or one of three Confederate-related holidays. Many states to this day recognize the federal holiday but still do not call it MLK Day, instead opting to refer to it as Human Rights Day, or Civil Rights Day. The contention over recognizing this Federal Holiday seems to highlight the continued tension around race in our country, a topic many shy away form discussing. However, Cyneatha Millsaps, lead pastor of Community Mennonite Church in Markham, Illinois, and Annette Brill Bergstresser, editorial director for Mennonite Church USA, face this topic head on in “Undoing Racism: A Conversation” Posted in The Mennonite Blog this week.

Footnote: Historical information on MLK Day taken from “The History of Martin Luther King Day” by Shmuel Ross and David Johnson

Counterintuitive Solidarity

By Jenifer Eriksen-Morales

“Mom, check this out!”  My son called me to share his interest in a TV show. The host, Jeremy Wade, was underwater, speaking through scuba gear, right next to a giant crocodile!  He explained approaching a crocodile from above, below or directly in front, can be quite deadly as one may be mistaken as a threat or prey.  However, when one approaches a crocodile in cool water from the side or back, imitating them by crawling slowly along the sandy riverbed, “I can get quite close to it,” Wade stated as he reached out and touched the crocodile who didn’t even flinch. (Don’t try this!) He went on to say as a result of this encounter he felt safer in the water.  He went on to comment that to learn about Tiger Fish, it is better to use a crocodilian rather than human perspective.   He then floated next to the croc, narrating as the camera panned.  He drew attention to the plants, critters, light and shadows allowing the world to be observed from the vantage point of a crocodile.  I was flabbergasted; Wade wasn’t studying crocs, he was learning about Tiger Fish from crocodiles!  What he was doing was counterintuitive, courageous, and exciting!

I was reminded of a conversation I had with Mike Derstine, Pastor at Plains, that morning.  Over coffee, Mike shared his learnings about counterintuitive solidarity from a recent Webinar entitled “Neo-Anabaptism and Anablacktivism” offered by AMBS and facilitated by Drew Hart and Greg Boyd.

Mike shared his learnings so enthusiastically I was compelled to do a little research.  Hart writes in his blog, “White intuition and experience (limited by homogeneous networks) is signifying one thing while black experience is claiming an alternative reality. What are people who participate in dominant society to do when their intuition and experience contradict the experiences of oppressed people?”  Hart goes on to call for counterintuitive solidarity, by “trusting the historically marginalized and oppressed perception above one’s own… Jesus’ own solidarity performance is a call to discipleship and imitation as a way of being in the world. It is the cure for privileged blinders that leaves people’s own vision impaired and unreliable. The Spirit is pulling all of us to see things “from below” because that is where God has chosen to move, work, and transform the world (1 Cor. 1:18-31).”

drewhartpic
Drew Hart

While Drew’s blog focuses on racism in the United States, clearly his point is relevant in other contexts where people are marginalized and oppressed.  In the statement, “Going to the Margins, Kingdom Mission Strategy,” adopted by Franconia Conference’s delegate body this fall, “We advocate that Franconia Conference be intentional about identifying those on the margins of our churches and society, and provide resources for the work of mutual transformation according to the good news of Jesus Christ. “  I imagine, if we as a conference, as organizations, as congregations, and as individuals are to take this statement seriously, the dominant culture will need to learn the art of counterintuitive solidarity.  We must find ways to create space to get up close and personal, listen well and trust the perception of “the other” enough to begin to see from their vantage point.

drewhartgraphicThe Perkasie congregation is doing this through a 6 week Sunday school study, “Returning Veterans, Returning Hope,” a curriculum provided by Mennonite Central Committee. As part of this, a veteran will come and share his story with the congregation.  Pastor, Wayne Nitzsche comments, “The Perkasie congregation solidly identifies as a Peace church.”  They wonder what it may mean to be welcoming and inclusive of veterans, to journey with them, and by modeling Jesus share his love, healing and hope.  Pastor Wayne also wonders, “What are we willing to learn from Veterans? How do we listen to their story deep enough to see what we can learn from them about courage, and loyalty and discipline? Veterans have something to offer us, if we are willing to listen.”

andrew_huth_fmc_ed_youth_event_082As we go through the steps of identifying and listening to those who have been marginalized, partnering locally and globally, sharing the gospel and planting churches, how might the Holy Spirit be inviting us to explore beyond our patterns, stereotypes and intuition in order to develop alternate ways of seeing and experiencing reality.  What might we learn from another’s point of view?

To read all of Drew Harts Article quoted above visit: http://drewgihart.com/2013/08/07/400-years-of-white-blinders-counterintuitive-solidarity-and-the-epistemological-advantage-of-the-oppressed/.

For more information and to obtain a copy of Mennonite Central Committee’s “Returning Veteran, Returning Hope,” Sunday School Curriculum visit: https://mcc.org/media/resources/1719.

Jenifer Eriksen-Morales is Minister of Transitional Ministries and a LEADership Minister for eleven congregations in Franconia Conference.

Standing for the Safety of Brothers and Sisters in Philadelphia

By Barbie Fischer

"As a Photojournalist ... I try to freeze the moments so we can look back and see the spirit of freedom and love, the process to be accepted and get a better life. " - Bam Tribuwono
“As a Photojournalist … I try to freeze the moments so we can look back and see the spirit of freedom and love, the process to be accepted and get a better life. ” – Bam Tribuwono

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.”

“We are living in the great country of America and we will work together to make this country even better, and be a blessing to others.” – Bam Tribuwono

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.”

(Click on thumbnails to see images — all photos courtesy of Bam Tribuwono; used with permission © bambang tribuwono photography)
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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.

Global Missional Blessings

by Charles A. Ness

The email read, “There is a young man from our church who would like to live in the United States for several months to sharpen his English. He is also a good piano player and willing to assist in ministry. His father is an elder in our church. Would Perk be interested in hosting him?” The email was from Bob Stevenson who is credentialed through Franconia Conference, and is pastor of the Monte Maria Church in Mexico City with whom Perkiomenville Mennonite Church has had a long relationship.

We were excited about the possibility of having a young adult from the Monte Maria church be part of our worship ministry and so, after discussion with the elder team, we gave an enthusiastic “Yes!”

There were various logistics that needed to be worked out, such as housing and finances, but we were confident that they could be addressed. Initially, a local business offered full-time employment, but because the young man did not have a work visa, we had to look for other means of support.

TonyReyesTony Reyes arrived from Mexico City at the end of May in 2015 and we quickly learned to appreciate his musical talents and passion for the Lord. He plays keyboard and writes music for several groups in Mexico, so we planned a fundraising concert. Tony enlisted the help of his friends, the Linker Sanchez family (who are church planters in Maryland from Monte Maria Church). We had a great night of Spanish and English praise and worship with a combined worship team made up of Tony, plus members of Perkiomenville and the Sanchez family. The funds raised helped support Tony during his stay in the United States.

Our LEAD Minister, Noel Santiago, also suggested applying for a Franconia Conference Mission Operational Grant, and we are thankful it was approved.  The partnership of the conference in this way was a very important contribution to Tony’s support.

Tony lived with Charlie Ness, pastor at Perkiomenville, and his wife Janet while searching for long-term housing arrangements. Tony’s housing need was met when Pastor Scott Roth of Perkiomenville Mennonite Church began a discipleship house in Pennsburg and had a room available. Scott was able to benefit from Tony’s assistance with the discipleship house known as The Gathering Place, a ministry to youth in the Perkiomenville area.

From June to November, Tony lived in Pennsburg assisting the community-based ministry there and playing regularly on the Perkiomenville worship team. His presence brought a spiritual and cultural diversity that was a blessing.

This unique, enriching ministry was made possible because of the global relationship we have with the church in Mexico. For years, members of Perkiomenville have gone to the Monte Maria Church for teaching and construction-related ministry opportunities. This was the first time someone from Monte Maria came here for an extended time of ministry. It is a great example of the value of cross-cultural partnering in mission relationships. These relationships are encouraging to all who are involved.

In reflecting on his experience Tony wrote the following: My name is Tony Reyes. There are no words to describe how thankful I am with the Lord, with Pastor Charlie Ness, with his beautiful church, and with all of you at the Franconia Conference. You all have given me a lot of support and you have been a blessing in my life.

 There are many things that I would like to share with you about the wonderful experience that the Lord gave me with all of these amazing people in the Perkiomenville Church, but I will share them with you in the next few sentences.

First of all, I did not know what to expect when I first arrived to Perkiomenville, but I was trusting the Lord and the purpose for which He was sending me to that unknown place. He took me little by little, and showed me many things as the time went by. From the time I integrated to the worship team and played the piano, to time I spent working with Pastor Scott Roth in the different activities in the church and in the community of Perkiomenville, and to the time I spent remodeling the house I was staying at, I could only see God’s love and grace pour out in life. I learned many things from my brothers and sisters, and from Pastor Charlie and all the people I met, who allowed me to become a part of their life. I keep everyone in my heart and prayers, and I hope in the Lord I will see you soon. 

May the Lord bless you in every area of your life. 

Kind regards,
Tony Reyes

Additional partner-in-mission relationships are possible with the Monte Maria Church. Contact Pastor Charlie Ness at charlie@perkmc.com for more information.

Building Bridges Across Cultures and Continents

An Interview with Ubaldo Rodriguez and Kirk Hanger
on the Occasion of Ubaldo’s Ordination – September 9, 2015

by Noel Santiago

ubaldo 2 9-24-15On August 2, 2015, I had the privilege and honor of officiating at the ordination service of Campo Ubaldo Rodriguez at Iglesia Nueva Esperanza that meets at Wilkens Avenue Mennonite Church located in Baltimore, Maryland. Ubaldo Rodriguez, originally from Colombia, educated at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, who is now serving with SEND International in Manila, the Philippines returned home for his ordination as he continues to build bridges between cultures and continents.

Iglesia Nueva Esperanza is a church plant initiative of Pastor Kirk Hanger. Pastor Kirk is the pastor of New Hope Fellowship in Alexandria, VA a partner congregation with Franconia Mennonite Church. Pastor Kirk has been a mentor to Ubaldo over the years, as Ubaldo began pastoring at Iglesia Nueva Esperanza in 2011 and did so there for 2 years before moving to the Philippines, the home country of his wife, Joy, as a missionary with SEND International.

Following Ubaldo’s ordination, I had the opportunity to ask both Ubaldo as well as Kirk Hanger, mentor to Ubaldo, a few questions about embracing God’s call and life in the Philippines.

What has this ordination meant for you?

Ubaldo: The recognition of my calling and ministry by the Franconia Conference gives me encouragement and I feel the support of the Mennonite community even though I am in the Philippines.

Ubaldo, what is it you and Joy do in the Philippines?

Ubaldo: We promote missions awareness, training Filipino missionaries to send others into the world to reach those who have never heard of Jesus and the Good News.  We help churches to fulfill the Great Commission by doing missions training for them.  We intentionally disciple people for them to disciple others (2 Timothy 2:2).

Who is SEND?

Ubaldo: SEND is an international mission organization based in Michigan that sends missionaries to do church planting among the least reached peoples in about 20 countries. Currently, SEND has about 550 missionaries in the world.

As their website states, “About 1/3 of the world’s population lives outside the reach of the local church—they have no opportunity to hear the gospel. SEND International, an interdenominational mission, mobilizes missionaries to engage them with the gospel and establish reproducing churches.”

What brings you the greatest joy?Ubaldo: It brings me great joy to see people come to Christ and see their transformation as disciples for the Kingdom of God.

Kirk, what has been your relationship with Ubaldo over the years?

ubaldo 1 9-24-15Kirk: I first met Ubaldo at a Church Planter’s Retreat at Highland Retreat in Virginia some years ago as he was finishing his studies at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. We later met at the Atlantic Northeast Conferences (ANEC) Regional Church planters gathering. Soon after that, Ubaldo called me to see if I might have a place where he could serve. At that point, I was looking for someone to lead Nueva Esperanza in Baltimore meeting at Wilkens Avenue Mennonite Church. Ubaldo came and pastored the church for about two years. I’ve been a mentor and pastor to Ubaldo since then. I had the opportunity to travel to the Philippines two years ago to preach at Ubaldo and Joy’s wedding.

What have you appreciated about Ubaldo?

Kirk: Ubaldo is a man of deep faith, humility and integrity. Ubaldo is a prayer warrior and spends much time in intercession. I appreciate his intercession for me, especially when I travel. His is also a gifted pastor and teacher and now along with Joy is making the church more aware of the importance of reaching the least reached in the world and mobilizing people for missions.

What has the partnership between Nueva Esperanza and Wilkens Avenue Mennonite Church been like?

Kirk: Wilkens Avenue Mennonite Church is part of Lancaster Mennonite Conference. While Nueva Esperanza has grown out of New Hope Fellowship in Alexandria and through me connects with Franconia Conference, Wilkens Avenue shares the vision of a Spanish speaking church in the community. Wilkens Avenue provides a free space for the church to meet and occasional financial support for Nueva Esperanza. A couple of times a year Wilkens Avenue and Nueva Esperanza have a joint, bilingual outdoor evangelistic service. When Ubaldo lived in Baltimore, he related closely to the Wilkens Avenue congregation.

Ubaldo has bridged cultures and conferences, he has also play a role in RIMI (Red de Iglesias Misioneras Internacional/International Network of Missionary Churches), what will his ongoing relationship be with RIMI and you?

Kirk: RIMI is a network of churches in eight countries that work together in church multiplication, leadership development and missionary mobilization. Ubaldo was instrumental in helping RIMI expand in South America. He and I visited his home church in Bogota, Columbia where I met Ubaldo’s pastor, Islandes and the co-pastor Eduardo. That visit began their relationship with RIMI. Recently, Pastor Eduardo was sent out to start a daughter church in Bogota and last year they hosted Generacion Sana / Healthy Generation, RIMI’s annual international youth event.

 Ubaldo also helped RIMI expand into Quito, Ecuador. Pastor Dairo Rubio had been pastor of Ubaldo’s church before Pastor Islandes many years ago. Pastor Dairo went to Quito to work with Trans-World Radio and while there started two churches. Dairo stays in close contact with the church in Colombia. Through Ubaldo, we met Dairo and he is now part of RIMI. Dairo is an excellent teacher and his experience in radio has helped RIMI’s radio ministry in Mexico expand.

RIMI has an international network of intercessors and Ubaldo is one of the intercessors of the network. RIMI has a coordinator in Mexico who sends out prayer requests to intercessors in several countries who together pray for needs from around the globe.

 Ubaldo, Joy and I are developing a plan for young adults from Latin American to go to the Philippines to learn English and be equipped in the region for missions in Southeast Asia and beyond. We have people in Latin America interested in going and are praying for funding for this project. The goal is that some would commit to long term missions among the least reached.

It seems that God’s purposes for Ubaldo and I meeting were much larger than Baltimore as Ubaldo has helped make important connections with Colombia, Ecuador and now South East Asia that we pray will result in the multiplication and training of many followers of Jesus.

Franconia Mennonite Conference is delighted to have Ubaldo as one of our credentialed leaders as he continues to connect the body of Christ across cutlutres and continents.

For more information or to send words of encouragement you can reach Ubaldo at: ubaldor@pscsend.org. To support Ubaldo and Joy’s ministry you can donate here: https://apps.send.org/give/missionaries/rodriguez-u-j, Send checks payable to SEND International at this mailing address: 36216 Freedom Road, Farmington, MI USA 48332, or setup direct deposit by calling 800-SEND808 or 1-248-4774210.

 

Our Brothers and Sisters Are Wandering, What Will We Do?

By Barbie Fischer

“Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in;
hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love…”

Psalm 107: 4-8 (ESV)

Over the last several weeks the news has been overwhelmed with stories of people dying as they wander the land looking for a city to dwell in, a city of hope, free from fear of war, persecution and death. These stories can often be overwhelming and easily dismissed. I have even found myself avoiding the news in the last two weeks, especially after three year old Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body washed up on a Turkish shore. His parents had tried to join relatives in Canada, but were denied. Their boat capsized as they fled the war in Syria and Aylan, his five year old brother, and 35 year old mother lost their lives. His father had been coping with the loss of their home and possessions to the war in Syria, now he has lost his wife and children as well. It reminded me of the story of Job.

syria2What is being called the “European Migrant Crisis” has brought to mind many Bible Stories of people forced from their homes because of conflict, persecution, or natural disaster. Even Jesus as a child was forced from his home with his Mother and Father, taking refuge in Egypt from political persecution.

The news stories of refugees dying in a quest for a place of peace and my own mixed reactions to them have lead me to a time of contemplation and two questions keep coming to mind: How are we as Christians responding to this crisis? What do we see when we look at the faces of those fleeing?

syria4In August it seemed most of the people entering Europe were fleeing from Libya, Nigeria, and other conflict ridden countries in Africa. More recently reports are saying the majority of those fleeing are doing so from Syria. The crisis in Syria has been raging for almost five years now and it is one that hits close to home.

syria6As the “Arab Spring” began in the fall of 2010, I had just begun classes at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University. One of my classmates is my brother Mohammed, who had left his family, the comforts of home and his job as a professor at the University of Damascus to study peacebuilding in a foreign land.  Mohammed towers over me, with his height, yet has one of the kindest spirits I have ever encountered. We came to find we share many of the same values, including family, faith and peace. Over the past five years I have watched Mohammed put his own life at risk to help bring attention to the plight of the Syrian people, his brothers and sisters. He has gone days without sleep, and has given close to everything to seek peace for his home land. We do not share a native tongue or home country, yet I count Mohammed as my brother.

Scripture is clear that we are all created by God (Colossians 1:16), and whether we recognize that or not that makes us all brothers and sisters. Mohammed is my brother and in the people I see on the television or my computer screen climbing through barbed wire barricades on the Hungarian border, crying and clutching their loved ones as they climb the shores of Greece, and those detained in “migrant camps” which function as prisons, they too are my brothers and sisters.

I have one biological sister, she is older than me, and very protective of me. I can remember getting hurt as a child and she would run to my aid. Is that our response to the current crisis we see in Europe? Do we see our brothers and sisters in the people fleeing the violence in their homelands? Do we see Christ in them?

syria1Matthew 25:34-40, Jesus speaks of those who will enter the Kingdom of God as those who have fed him when he was hungry, gave him drink when he was thirsty, invited him in when he was a stranger, clothed him, looked after him as he was sick, and visited him in prison. He says in verse 40, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.”

There are stories of people clothing and feeding the refugees, thousands left shoes at a Hungarian train station for refugees; those reaching Munich are being greeted with food and teddy bears; a family has used their own money and time to operate the Migrant Offshore Aid Station, patrolling the waters helping migrants make it to land safely; people around the world are taking a stand saying refugees are welcome here. Yet, I still wonder, how many refugees would our churches take in? How many would you take in? After all they are our brothers and sisters.

While I hope we will do anything and everything we can for our family, one thing we can do is pray for their safety, for God’s guidance in how we can respond, pray for peace. Beyond that may we also act on their behalf, advocating for peace in their countries and giving as we can to agencies working on the ground offering support such as Mennonite Central Committee’s Syria and Iraq Crisis Response.

Romans 15:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” No matter what I do, how I respond, right now I mourn. I mourn with the refugees, my brothers and sisters.

A Glimpse of Heaven: Multi-Congregation Gathering in Allentown

By Esther Good

IMG_4269On Sunday, August 30th, RIPPLE-Allentown, Vietnamese Gospel Mennonite Church, and Whitehall Mennonite Church joined together for worship at Cedar Beech Park in Allentown, PA. As these three congregations spent time getting to know one another and praising the Lord, it was a glimpse of heaven with many nations and languages coming together as brothers and sisters.

Some sat at picnic tables under a pavilion or on the ground under the shade of trees, while others were hard at work around the outskirts of the group, grilling hotdogs and preparing for the potluck meal that would follow.  Children marched around waving brightly colored streamers as we began the service with songs of praise. A choir shared beautiful music in the Karen language, and the scripture was read in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Burmese.  Members from each congregation shared about their walk with God. The sharing ranged from stories of persecution in Vietnam, to a first experience of summer camp at Spruce Lake Retreat.

IMG_4337The service closed with a meaningful time of prayer. Representatives from each church took turns sharing the needs of their congregation. Someone from another congregation then came along side them and prayed for those specific needs.

After the service, there was a time of food, fellowship, and fun.  Members from each congregation participated in weaving of rugs as part of Woven Welcome, a community-based art project started in December by artist Jill Odegaard. IMG_4459 The woven rugs represent the interconnectedness of all individuals. One person would weave a strand of cloth through one side of the rug, and pass if off to a partner on the other side who would complete the process.  This allowed members from different congregations to work together and spend time in conversation.  The finished rugs will be added to the Woven Welcome instillation, which will be on display at the Allentown Art Museum until Sunday, October 11, 2015.

IMG_4528As the adults spent time in fellowship together, the children played joyfully in a nearby creek.  It was a wonderful afternoon spent enjoying God’s creation and the company of brothers and sisters in Christ.

 
Additional Pictures

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