Tag Archives: Marta Castillo

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.

Marta Castillo Joins Conference LEADership Ministry Team

Franconia Conference welcomes to the LEADership ministry team Marta Castillo, a woman with a deep love for the kingdom of God both inside the walls of the meeting house and beyond. Marta is the daughter of Franconia Conference-rooted mission workers.  She also has been shaped by all four of our linguistic cultures in Franconia Conference: Marta grew up in both Vietnam and Indonesia, is a primary English speaker and lives in a bilingual family and community of English/Spanish speakers.  Marta has been a member at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life since 1994 and joined their pastoral team in 2009.

Marta loves to hear the stories of God’s work and how God is growing the church and growing individuals. With broad mission experiences internationally and in a US urban location, Marta is committed to prayer along with active engagement of diverse neighborhoods with the message of Christ’s Good News.  She is passionate about the intercultural work of unity in cultural diversity, antiracism, and racial reconciliation.

She will begin her work as a member of the conference LEADership Ministry Team working with Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia and engaging with another Spanish speaking congregation that is interested in relating to the conference. Marta speaks fluent Spanish and has a strong love for the hospitality and generosity within the Hispanic culture. With her upbringing in other countries and living in Norristown, she relates with other cultures every day. Marta is looking forward to walking with not just Spanish speaking congregations, but all congregations – hearing the stories of what God is doing in their midst and walking alongside of them, paying attention to God’s spirit helping to develop vision and mission.

After almost five years serving on the conference board, Marta resigned her seat to join the LEADership ministry team. Two of those five years was spent serving as assistant moderator for the conference. She graduated from Eastern Mennonite College (1992) with a major in Elementary Education and is currently taking classes at Eastern Mennonite Seminary.

Lifegiving to Marta is one-on-one conversations, as she love to hear people’s stories. She also enjoys time in solitude, reading, walking, and exercising. She can also be found spending time hiking and camping with her husband Julio and their two teenage children, Andres and Daniel.

While serving with the LEADership Ministry team, Marta will continue as Associate Pastor at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life.

That’s What the Church is Supposed to Do

By Marta Castillo, Pastor at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life

“My mom just said that she can’t handle it!  She is not willing to take care of the kids. She is afraid that it is going to be too much for her. What am I going to do?  I have to go to rehab or I am going to lose my children.  This is my last chance.”

God’s Spirit nudged me so hard I almost fell out of the chair I was sitting in.  The words that came out of my mouth surprised me.  “We will do it.  We will form a team from people at the church and we will support your mother and take care of the children so you can go to get the care that you need.  Don’t worry.  That is what church is supposed to do.  We will work it out.”

helping-handsAnd amazingly, yes, we did.  I sat down with my sister in Christ, the social worker, the boyfriend, and the grandmother and we worked out a schedule of care that included having me sleeping on the living room floor several nights a week so the children could stay in their own home overnight.  The boyfriend covered the nights that he wasn’t working, and the grandmother covered afternoons and early evenings.  We signed the children up for half day summer camp at the program where I worked.  Church members planned special trips to the park, to their houses, and the zoo for the weekends and picked the children and their grandmother up for church on Sundays.  There were offers to help buy groceries, prepare meals, and provide transportation.  The whole team supported the core figure, the grandmother, as best as we could for three weeks.

Last Sunday, my sister in Christ told me that in June she will celebrate her one year anniversary of being drug-free.  She faithfully attends Narcotics Anonymous meetings, has a job and a car, and has no fear that her children will be taken away.  She is outspoken about the wonderful works God has done in her life and thankful to the team who made caring for herself possible.  Challenges remain, but she knows that she is not alone, her mother is not alone, her family is not alone.  She has company on the hard, long journey.

There are times when acts of hospitality make no logical sense in our culture and even in our church thinking.  Being hospitable is inconvenient and stretches us beyond our comfort zones.  We are not sure of the “how” but we are sure of the “why”.  We must be hospitable to represent the hospitality of our Lord who welcomes all in the name of Jesus.

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.

Celebrating 25 years of Unity In Christ

By Marta Castillo

Norristown12 Corinthians 1:20-22 says, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God.  Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”

During the weekend of July 11, 2015, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life (NVNNL) celebrated 25 years of life together since integrating three Mennonite churches of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds in Norristown. We celebrated with a worship service by acclaimed pianist James Crumbly, a concert with Crumbly and Friends and a pig roast and fiesta.

Norristown2As the body of believers at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, family, friends, and community celebrated 25 years of God’s faithfulness  and goodness to us and marveled again at the beauty of God’s promise to provide everything that we need to fulfill the calling that we have been given.  Our calling is to be a diverse body of believers who: Worship the Lord in unity; Experience the transforming power of the Holy Spirit; and Proclaim the gospel of reconciliation through Jesus Christ in word and deed.

Norristown3Together, we speak the “amen” to the promises that God has given us and the “yes” in Jesus.  We speak the “amen” when we serve and proclaim in our community.  We speak the “amen” when we pray and seek to do God’s will.  We speak the “amen” as we continue to love the Lord and allow God’s love to flow through us to others.  We speak the “amen” as we commit to speaking against injustice and racism and to be a witness to the power of God for unity and peace.  Amen, amen, and amen!

Norristown4Now, as Nueva Vida Norristown New Life moves beyond the 25 years, we look to God for new vision and strength.  We commit ourselves to living God’s promises together, anointed and sealed by the Holy Spirit until Jesus comes.

Norristown5

 

A special thank you to the NVNNL planning committee, to those who provided the funds and food to make this celebration possible, and to those who traveled from near and far to join us in the celebration.

Marta Castillo is one of three pastors as NVNNL.

SisterCare Offered Time to Encounter God in Each Other in Spanish & English

By Marta Castillo, associate pastor Nueva Vida Norristown New Life & Franconia Conference board member

Marta CastilloMirror, mirror, what do you see?
Women made in the image of Thee
Woman, woman, what do you see?
I see You in me.

Rarely do I get a chance to see God orchestrating events in such a way as for the Women’s Gathering this spring  “Shattering our Mirrors, Reclaiming Ourselves”.  I imagine that the Sister Care planning committee faithfully and purposefully chose the theme, the location, the date, and carefully planned for speakers and program.  At some point in the process, the Holy Spirit began nudging them towards attempting to be more inclusive and intercultural.  It all began by the simple decision to send out the event information in Spanish.

Intercultural efforts and events have a way of stripping away our illusions of control and allowing us to “let go and let God.”  When the flier went out in Spanish, God moved quickly in a new direction and from my viewpoint, the planning committee with some uncertainty yet graciously followed the Spirit’s lead as their well organized plans went sideways.  Very quickly over 20 Spanish-speaking women had eagerly signed up but many of them could not attend without the provision of childcare during the event.  The committee had decided not to provide childcare during past events or even this year but willingly obedient to the flow of the Spirit, they agreed to try to provide childcare.  God provided people who volunteered to help care for the children but now they realized the original space was too small for all the children and a meeting place for the women.  Very close to the date of the gathering, the committee had to consider an alternative space that could accommodate everyone.

Reflecting2aAfter a visit and several conversations with me, the Sister Care Committee settled into moving the whole event to Nueva Vida Norristown New Life.  I couldn’t have been happier.  I could see that God was doing a new thing and I was honored to be a part of it.  For several years, I had carried a desire in my heart to see a repeat of the original event, in which Spanish-speaking women participated and had thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  I wanted to see an event that I could invite all the sisters of color in my church to participate in.

The nudging of God’s Spirit continued.  Since there were as many Spanish-speaking women signed up as English-speaking women, why not make it a fully bilingual event?  With translated documents, side-by-side translation, and sharing from everyone in Spanish and in English.  Why would more than half of the women sit there with ear buds waiting for the Spanish to come through while the English speakers talked on and on without pause?  Kudos to the committee members, speakers, and presenters who said “Yes”, they would be willing to try a new method.  Thanks be to God who provided translators!  One of the comments on the evaluation sheets expresses the importance of making languages equal.  “I liked everything because there were no divisions of languages because we are equal before the eyes of God and thank you for the word.”

TestimonyaOn the day of the event, women came early, with eager hearts and a hunger for time spent in the company of sisters in Christ.  From the greeting, to the worship, the meditations, the sharing, and the final prayer of blessings, English and Spanish words flowed back and forth like a beautiful dialogue.  Sandy Drescher Lehman talked about her calling as a pastor, shared her story of her beautiful skirt made from her father’s ties, and encouraged us to go down deep but to emerge in a new place.  Table groups talked and shared about the things that hinder them from knowing themselves and God and things that help them draw closer to God and know themselves better.

After a shared meal of tostadas, Christine Waanders walked us through a process of better getting to know ourselves and our personalities.  The culminating event of washing each others’ hands brought tears, hugs, love, prayer, and laughter to many women as well as the bittersweet feeling that a day of blessing, healing, and sisterhood was about to end.

Afterward, I received a card signed by 20 of our sisters in Philadelphia, thanking the committee again for the invitation, the experience, and expressing thanks to God.  “The time we spent together was glorious.  Thank you.”  As tears of joy sprung again to my eyes, I am amazed how God orchestrated the events as my faithful sisters chose to follow the leading of God’s Spirit.

Franconia Conference & Eastern District Women Gather  

by Doris Diener 

TestimonyaOn the morning of Saturday, March 7, approximately fifty women joined together at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life congregation to “set the day apart” for worship, learning, and fellowship. The theme of the day was “Shattering Our Mirrors,” releasing the false image we see and embracing the image God sees when our Creator looks at us. Sandra Dresher-Lehman shared that God’s creativity in His creation of women may not always fit the mold the community has prepared for us and encouraged each to be authentic followers of Jesus. Christine Waanders challenged each to own her personality and to see positive possibilities in what may considered our downsides.

Reflecting2aOther speakers included Kristi Wile, Donna Merow, and Ana Giron. Thanks to Marta Castillo and Karisa Barlow who translated, everyone was able to understand. During the time together, the women learned to know new friends, made origami boats, sang, discussed, prayed, looked inside themselves and were challenged on their journeys of faith, washed hands together, and blessed each other. The women enjoyed a delicious lunch, provided by the congregation, over lots of chatter and laughter. What a refreshing, insightful, delightful day!WorshipDancea

The conference Sistering Committee is made up of Anne Yoder (chairperson), Donna Merow, Bobby Smisko, Kristi Wile, and Doris Diener. This event was the fourth Franconia/Eastern District Conference Women’s gathering since the 2012 Sister Care event.

Waiting and hoping on the One who is faithful

by Marta Castillo, assistant moderator (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life)

Marta CastilloI have been delighted to read the previous blogs in this series, “Esperando: Waiting and Hoping.” When the leadership group chose this theme of waiting and hoping, we imagined that it would take some explaining and enlarging. There was the potential for delegates expressing concern, believing that now is the time to act and respond rather than wait and hope. After all, isn’t waiting and hoping like delaying and wishing? Isn’t waiting and hoping what one does when one is unsure how to proceed?

In this series, the writers have created a wonderful way for all of us to consider the breadth, depth, and potential of waiting on God in hope. If you have not read this blogs series and plan to attend the joint conference assembly with Eastern District Conference, I encourage you to read them in preparation for our time together.

John Stoltzfus wrote about waiting in the cold in community and noticing signs of hope. Michael Meneses focused on waiting in the pain, noting that “even as we hurt and carry what seems to be unbearable pain in our lives, we remain steadfast with great expectancy.”

Beny Krisbianto told a story about how Indonesian Christians were waiting for the impossible, encouraging us to “continue our prayer and hope in God until those impossible prayers are answered.”

Krista Showalter Ehst reflected on waiting when it’s hard to explain why and her hope for the church. “Because it is only in experiencing small-yet-profound tastes of a kin-dom where God’s love abounds and all find wholeness that we can muster the patience to wait for that kin-dom to be realized in full.”

Danilo Sanchez reminds us that waiting is often accompanied by doubt but even when we doubt, God is faithful to fulfill His promises.

We are esperando: waiting and hoping on GOD. It is not like waiting in the doctor’s office, alone and unsure. When we wait on God, God is present with us. It is not like waiting with anxiety for the other shoe to drop. When we wait on the Lord, we can expect to be led in the right direction and God’s will to be done. It is not like waiting to see what other people will do so we can follow them. When we wait on the Lord, God’s Spirit can do a transforming work in us.

Waiting on God is expectant and hopeful. Waiting on God is active. We pray, read our Bibles, and listen for God’s voice. Waiting on God is believing in the assurance of things hoped for, with a conviction of things not seen. Waiting on God helps us go deeper into God’s reality and gives the permission to let go of our anxiety and choose God’s peace. Waiting on God is an act of surrendering to God’s will.

You may know that Nueva Vida Norristown New Life bought a building in 2008 in faith that we were acting in obedience to God’s call and vision. For five years, we waited on the Lord. The tenants that we had moved out, the economy went downhill, and our church ran out of money. As we waited, God did sustain us with hope and manna provision, unexpected gifts here and there from churches and individuals. We prayed. The situation became progressively worse. In December 2013, our buildings were up for sheriff’s sale. We still waited. We wondered. We did everything that we could think of doing. We surrendered. We hoped, believing that God is faithful.

In the winter of 2013, God’s Spirit moved hearts and minds of church leaders, business persons, and other people and miraculously our wait was over. The night of the sheriff’s sale, we held a service of thanksgiving. Our minds were blown by the way that God answered our prayers and had honored our waiting on Him.

In our conferences, we are not sitting around delaying and wishing that things will all work out. People are praying. Churches are actively moving forward with the mission and vision for what God is calling them to do and to be. The conference is moving forward by supporting congregations in ministry through missional operational grants, church transitions, credentialing new persons, supporting current pastors, and connecting congregations with common callings.

We are hopefully waiting for God to work all things out according to God’s will and purposes. When we meet together, let’s remember to celebrate what God is doing and let us wait on God together in the cold and the pain, for the impossible, even if we aren’t quite sure why and have doubts. Hebrews reminds us to hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.

Our theme for this year’s joint Conference Assembly with Eastern District Conference is “Esperando: Waiting & Hoping.”  Conference Assembly will be held November 14-15 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa.  For more information: assembly.franconiaconference.org.

Introducing Nueva Vida Norristown New Life

Nueva Vida Norristown New Life

Nueva Vida Norristown New Life Mennonite Church is located in Norristown, Pa., on the corner of Marshall and Swede streets, about a block from the Montgomery County Courthouse.

The intercultural, multilingual, urban Mennonite church that exists today was formed by God in 1990 through the joining together of three Mennonite congregations in Norristown—one Latino, one African American, and one Anglo and African American. The vision of God’s healing work of restoration, reconciliation, and transformation brought us together to become a living house of prayer for all peoples.

Nueva Vida Norristown New Life has three associate pastors: Ertell Whigham, Angel Tamayo, and Marta Castillo. The three associate pastors—there is no senior pastor—serve on a leadership team that represents the diversity of the congregation.

The calling of Norristown New Life is to be a diverse body of believers who

  • Worship the Lord in unity
  • Experience the transforming and gifting power of the Holy Spirit
  • Proclaim the Gospel of reconciliation through Jesus Christ in word and deed

Our witness to the gospel of Christ includes but is not limited to: bilingual services twice a month; outdoor services and picnics once a month in the summer; an internet café; voter ID clinics; translation services; The Benefit Bank (which connects people to social services and tax prep); Backyard Bible School; small group activities; and more.

Ministerial Update (April 2014)

Hadi Sunarto
Hadi Sunarto was licensed as a deacon at Philadelphia Praise Center in March.

Steve Kriss, Director of Leadership Cultivation, provided this update from the March & April meetings of the Credentials and Ministerial Committees:

Hadi Sunarto (East Rutherford, NJ) was approved for a license for specific the ministry of deacon at Philadelphia Praise Center.

Krista Showalter Ehst (Bally, PA) was approved with a license toward ordination to serve as pastor at Alpha (NJ) Mennonite Church.

Bill Martin was approved with a license toward ordination and to serve as associate pastor at Towamencin Mennonite Church.

Danilo Sanchez (Whitehall congregation) was approved to serve as Allentown area youth minister with a license toward ordination.

Donna Merow was approved for ordination and continues to serve as pastor at Ambler (Pa) Mennonite Church.

Several new members have been added to the Ministerial and Credentials committees.

Mike Clemmer (Towamencin) and Marlene Frankenfield (Salford) have been named to the Ministerial Committee.   Heidi Hochstetler (Bally) resigned her position from the committee earlier this year.   Continuing Ministerial Committtee members include:  Verle Brubaker (Swamp), Ken Burkholder (Deep Run East), Carolyn Egli (Whitehall), Janet Panning (Plains), Mary Nitzsche (Blooming Glen), Jim Williams (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life).

Aldo Siahaan (Philadelphia Praise) and Marta Castillo (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life) have been named to three year terms on the credentials committee.    Continuing committee members include:  Rose Bender (Whitehall), Verle Brubaker (Swamp) and Mike Clemmer (Towamencin).

Steve Kriss began serving as Conference staff liaison for both committees since the retirement of Noah Kolb late in 2013.