Tag Archives: intercultural

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.

Going to the Margins: A 10 year experiment in South Philly

by Stephen Kriss

south phillyI’ve been in a lot of meetings where there’s discussion about decline in the church.  But every time I hear it, I think about the churches I work alongside.   While I know numbers are down in a lot of places, that is not the reality in most of Franconia Conference churches in Allentown and Philadelphia. In South Philadelphia alone, among three conference churches we have 500 members, almost 10% of the conference.  This past Sunday I spent the day visiting these congregation.

First I worshipped with Philadelphia Praise Center (PPC), which is my home congregation.   I was the oldest person on the platform during worship.   There’s a growing number of children and lack of Sunday school space.   Worship was energetic and bilingual.   The congregation counts about 150 people as part of the community.

After worship, I migrated down to the new building for Nations Worship Center (NWC).  The long delay with the permitting process is frustrating, so the congregation continue to meet in rented space on South Broad Street.   Worship attendance can go as high as 150 people not including special programs.  They’re anxious to finish the building on Ritner, about six blocks South of PPC’s building.   While they will be close to PPC, both churches reach different demographics among the 5000 or so Indonesian speakers in South Philadelphia.

After conversations at NWC, my next meeting was to explore a new facility for Centro de Alabanza.  Officially a conference member congregation only since this fall, the church needs to relocate again after outgrowing their worship space just off Passyunk.  It looks like they’ll move to purchase an old United Methodist building on Snyder Avenue.   Under the capable leadership of their pastors and a leadership team from across Latin America, the church continues to grow with over 100 adults and 50 children under the age of 18.

Just up north of these three properties is Indonesian Light Church.  It’s the smallest of our South Philly congregations and just joined the Conference this past fall.  Our Executive Minister, Ertell Whigham, was preaching this Sunday.  Emily Ralph Servant is serving as an interim pastor as they immerse themselves further in Anabaptist identity, and Bobby Wibowo from PPC is serving his seminary internship with the church.  Most of the church is from the Batak tribe from Sumatra, though they speak Indonesian as well as their tribal tongue with most members from the neighborhood, with others driving from New York to attend.

Over the last decade, unexpectedly, God has built a connection between Franconia Conference and the growing immigrant population in South Philadelphia.  This is what fruitful investment and going to the margins of our communities might mean over the long haul.  It’ll have meant purchasing about $1 million in property in the city and 500 members in the neighborhood.  But this work takes time and patience.  We’ve learned some things along the way.  And we’ll keep learning.

As we explore going to the margins again, as our churches in the Lehigh Valley and in South Philly begin to fill up and to represent increasing percentages of our Conference population, we’ll be required to rethink and reimagine what it means for us to be together.   And we’ll discover, hopefully, again the God who brings about transformation and even resurrection.

Women Meet to Tell Their Sacred Stories

By Anne M. Yoder, Coordinator, EDC/FMC Sistering Committee
On March 12, over 35 women met together for a Day Apart, held at Towamencin Mennonite Church. Attendees came from various Mennonite churches in Eastern District and Franconia Mennonite Conferences. A large group coming from Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, a South Philadelphia congregation that is made up primarily of immigrants from Mexico, Central America, and Latin America.

This gathering was a bilingual retreat that gave the oSistering1pportunity to reflect on the theme “Sistering for Life.” The term “sistering” refers to a practice in carpentry in which structural repairs are made by attaching new wood beams to weak (sagging, cracked or twisted) joists to make the original stronger. All of us are strong at times and can help those who are weak; all of us find it difficult to make it on our own at times and need others to support us. Sistering is a gift that we embody as God’s women who are following Jesus throughout our lives.

The program’s theme was fleshed out in various ways. Songs were led in Spanish and English by a team from Centro de Alabanza and by Dorothy Beidler from Norristown New Life. A meditation was given by Ana Rosa Hernandez, a member at Centro de Alabanza, on Proverbs 17:17 (“A friend loves at all times, and a [sister] is born for a time of adversity.”) and Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor; if either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”) Four women — Linda Esh, Dania Hernandez, and Ligia Canavan, from Centro de Alabanza, and Jenny Duskey of Ambler Mennonite – were designated to tell a story of being sistered. From them came accounts of loss, sexual abuse, stepping into unknown territory during a move, and finding faith in the midst of struggle, along with the spiritual, emotional and physical help they found along the way.

Sistering3A children’s story, “Four Feet, Two Sandals”, was read to illustrate how something as simple as sharing a pair of sandals at a refugee camp can build sisterhood. Leticia Cortes, pastor at Centro de Alabanza, led us in activities that required teamwork and seeing how we felt in each other’s shoes. A sandal was given to each participant to decorate and to write a message on; these were then exchanged with another woman, with whom a prayer and blessing were shared.

Throughout the day we sat in table groups getting to know six or seven other women in a deeper way as we reflected together on our experiences of being sistered by Jesus and by girls/women at different stages of our lives. Women who could interpret between Spanish and English were each assigned to a table so that all of us could understand each other.

Sistering4I felt great joy in spending time with the women who gathered on March 12th. Not knowing Spanish, I had the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be in the minority for once, but also to listen to a beautifully expressive language. Hearing the stories of women often moved me to tears and to laughter, and I marveled at the deep, and often exuberant faith that has emerged in spite of, or perhaps because of, difficult circumstances in their lives. Each year, this event challenges my faith journey and stretches my world-view. The Holy Spirit is alive and well and very evident as we meet. It is a privilege to take part in creating a holy space for this gathering to happen and to take part in it.

The Sistering Committee is working to hold annual gatherings like this and are planning for another one in 2017 Keep watch for announcements about it!

The Sistering Committee is especially grateful to Mike Clemmer and his team at Towamencin Mennonite Church for allowing us to use their facility and giving so much help in bringing our event to fruition. And I, Anne Yoder, want to thank the other members of the Sistering Committee for their wisdom and prayers and efforts: Marta Castillo, pastor at Norristown New Life, Leticia Cortes, pastor at Centro de Alabanza, and Doris Diener, of Franconia Mennonite Church.

The Sistering Committee represents Mennonite Women USA for eastern Pennsylvania (and the conferences’ outlying congregations) and looks forward to serving the women of our area. If you are interested in serving on the committee, please contact Anne Yoder at ayoder1@swarthmore.edu.

One of the Hardest Parts of My Ministry

By Aldo Siahaan

Aldo Siahaan
Aldo Siahaan

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.

Aldo Siahaan and his family
Aldo Siahaan and his family

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.

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.