By Aldo Siahaan, LEADership Minister and pastor at Philadelphia Praise Center
Each year Philadelphia Praise Center (PPC) holds Summer Peace Camp, a program similar to Vacation Bible School. This four-week camp led by a Mennonite Central Committee Summer Service Worker is a program that supports young people of color in developing their leadership skills through working with their local churches and communities. This year Amos Himawan was PPC’s summer service worker and he took on the challenging responsibility of assisting me in coordinating and running the Summer Peace Camp. There were two situations that happened during Peace Camp that showed me God is at work among us, if we will look to him. Thankfully, Amos was keeping God as his focus during these difficult moments at Summer Peace Camp.
Amos put so much thought into preparing a good program with various activities that the 40 children, ages 7 to 12 years old, did not want to miss a moment. One day we took the kids to visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art where they have Art Splash programs, which are drop-in creative play activities. Amos contacted the museum to ensure that he could bring a large group, and the museum instructed him to just come, there was no need to make a reservation. The morning we arrived at the window to check in for Art Splash, the museum officer noticed 40 children and said that space was limited and not all the kids could join. Amos was silent because he did not know how to explain this situation to the kids. In his silence, Amos also prayed to God for help. In the middle of his silent prayer, the same officer said that since they were there, they could not turn them away and so some of the kids could explore the museum while others took part in the Art Splash. Not only that, but as an apology the officer gave us free tickets for all the kids and their families. Wow, God is at work.
Another story of God at work took place when we brought the Summer Peace Camp kids to the pool for swimming. There are two pools that are not far from PPC, so we chose the pool that had a good playground. That morning, the vans dropped the kids off to play at the playground as they awaited their turn to swim. As their turn quickly approached, a pool staff member came and said that we had too many kids and would not be allowed to swim. Some of the kids who heard the rejection were disappointed and began to cry and express their anger. God gave Amos wisdom to take the kids to the other pool immediately, but did not have big enough vans to take them. After Amos made a few calls, God sent a driver with a big van to bring the kids to the pool. Indeed, God is at work.
From these two stories, through the example of our Summer Service Worker, Amos, God has taught me a basic and yet deep attitude of putting my trust in Him. One Bible verse from Philippians 2:13 comes to mind, as it says, “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” May we all continue to look for moments God is at work and may we continue to allow God to work in and through us.
I remember Michael J. Sharp (MJ) as a rambunctious junior high kid from the time we overlapped life at Laurelville Mennonite Church Center and Scottdale in Western Pennsylvania. I’ve been aware of his work and life thereafter mostly through social media and Mennonite publications. MJ and I share a lot of geography, relationships and institutions in common.
MJ represents much of the best of us as Mennonites, an image of what a Washington Post article calls “courageous but not reckless.” He was a millennial, a son of the church. MJ was shaped by an array of Anabaptist communities which includes time in Franconia Conference when his dad was a pastor at Salford Mennonite Church. Afterward MJ went to Scottdale (PA) and Goshen (IN), then to college at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg (VA) and according to an article in the Albuquerque Journal, had just begun to entertain the idea of settling down into a life at The Plex, a unique apartment complex that housed other similarly-aged and valued Mennonite young adults in that city connected with Albuquerque Mennonite Church (NM).
MJ had worked in Europe for several years as a counselor for conscientious objectors. Most recently he had worked in the Congo, first as a staff person with Mennonite Central Committee, then for the United Nations as a human rights investigator. MJ and several colleagues went missing two weeks ago. His body was found this week in a shallow grave along with his colleague Zaida Catalan — a Swedish investigator — and their Congolese interpreter, Betu Tshintela.
Washington Post further went on to say, “Sharp, 34, was a ‘standard deviations above the norm’ when it came to integrity and compassion. ‘He just deeply cared about everyone and saw no difference between people of different nationalities,’ said Rachel Sweet, a Congo-based researcher.”
MJ’s death is a reminder that our work and calling is both relevant and risky in volatile times. He’s a reminder of the powerful witness of faith lived out in practice with integrity, kindness and dedication, and that some of our millennial generation shaped by life in our families, churches and institutions have heard what we have said about faith, life and peace and intend to live it out. Even unto death.
MJ’s life glimpses the best of who we are as Anabaptist/Mennonites, in a time that we are sometimes confused about who we are, in front of a watching world, in the Congo, one of the countries with the most Mennonites in the world. MJ exemplifies Jesus’ words: “greater love has no one than this . . than to lay his life down for his friends.”
To the Sharp family, MJ’s friends and community of colleagues and to Albuquerque Mennonite Church, we share the hope of Christ’s peace at this time when words are inadequate. With much love, we are still willing to bear witness of the nonviolent way of Christ, until the full intention of God comes on earth.
by Barbie Fischer, communications manager & administration coordinator
Those living in Nepal still tremble following a magnitude 7.8 earthquake that hit on Saturday, April 25. It was centered less than 50 miles from Kathmandu.
Dale and Bethsaba Nafzinger, who have ties to Vincent Mennonite Church (Spring City, Pennsylvania), own and operate Top of the World Coffee, a café in Kathmandu. The Nafzigers reported they are all well, with little to no damage to their home and shop. However, the region is severely devastated, including several buildings in their town that crumbled.
Since the initial earthquake, there have been several aftershocks that continue to rock the region, including a 6.7 magnitude quake.
Dale says that growing up towards the end of the Vietnam War, he occasionally heard the term “shell-shocked”; now, he is experiencing it firsthand. Every time a loud jet passes overhead, causing the building to shake, or loud thunder crashes in the distance, he and others find themselves scrambling for safety.
In the midst of this, the coffee shop re-opened on Wednesday, and so far, response has been far greater than anticipated. When the Nafzigers opened the coffee shop, one of their goals was to offer a space of refuge, with comfort food and a comfortable environment in the middle of a very intense city. They are grateful, they say, to see their vision coming to life in a way they’d never imagined.
As recovery continues, Dale and his family have extended an invitation to the shop staff welcoming them to “both ‘live with us’ and ‘eat with us’ until things reach a state of normality, albeit, a ‘new normal.’”
In other areas, aid workers have struggled to reach several communities, such as those in the district of Gorkha, where the earthquake was centered, due to the mountainous terrain and devastation from the quake. The death toll has now risen to over 5,000, with thousands more injured. There is still hope, though: Not only have the Nafzingers reopened Top of the Mountain Coffee, recently a young man was pulled from the rubble after spending over 80 hours buried under what had been the Kathmandu Hotel.
Many are wishing to offer aid and support to brothers and sisters in Nepal as they tremble in the aftermath of this tragedy. Recovery will be a long process, and as Dale notes, it will be important not only to give immediate humanitarian aid but also invest in long-term initiatives to rebuild communities in the region.
If you would like to support recovery and rebuilding efforts in Nepal you can do so through Mennonite Mission Network’s Earthquake Response in Nepal or to Mennonite Central Committee’s fund for Nepal. If you want to follow the progress of Top of the World Coffee, you can do so on their Facebook page.
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is recognized around the world for its stellar work, as its tagline says, in “relief, development and peace in the name of Christ.” MCC’s distinct commitment to following biblical principles of peace, justice, and nonviolence makes it somewhat unique. Other organizations aspire to MCC’s example and are grateful for MCC’s partnerships. MCC staff and workers are attracted and committed to the clear articulation of these principles.
But MCC staff persons of color have had a different experience within the organization. When problems or disagreements arise, they often find themselves bound by a system that refuses change, and maintaining the status quo so as not to disturb some constituents becomes more important than following MCC’s own just policies. This is especially the case for persons who are called to lead antiracism and anti-oppression ministries within the institution.
Ewuare Osayande, MCC US’s anti-oppression coordinator, has experienced this firsthand. In a public meeting held at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life (Norristown, Pennsylvania) on January 31, Osayande spoke of a “crooked path” where people of color and some white people as well have often been the focal point of practices within MCC that contradict its stated values and policies.
Osayande was aware of MCC’s justice commitments when he applied for the position. He also came to MCC with his eyes “wide open,” knowing of the previous struggles of people of color who have worked there. When another person was dismissed without due process last summer, Osayande had already been documenting stories from as far back as the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s, as well as MCC’s broken relationships with Vincent and Rosemarie Harding, the first MCC staff persons of color. Osayande began to draw the leadership’s attention to the overall lack of integrity in the employment relationships and processes—this call to accountability is one of the stated roles in the anti-oppression coordinator’s job description. Osayande’s concerns were met with attempts to silence him, and a letter of reprimand was placed in his personnel file without due process.
Osayande carefully followed the organization’s grievance policy step-by-step over a two-month period. Requests for conversation and explanation of the charges in the letter were denied. Left with no recourse, he began to go public with this situation and the historical experiences of people of color inside MCC. Only then did the leadership respond. Thus far, it’s been positively. Conversations have begun, and the letter has been removed.
During his talk Osayande identified three tiers of white privilege inside MCC. People who are white, Mennonite, and connected in the local area of the MCC offices generally receive the benefits of Matthew 18:15-18 principles of reconciliation and of giving and receiving counsel when problems arise. Persons of color, those from other Christian traditions, and who are not from the local MCC community often do not experience the same spirit of welcome and respect. People of color and white people who have called MCC toward a more authentic witness for justice within its own house are met with a double standard of expectations and micro acts of aggression that often result in burnout and/or dismissal.
As Osayande clarified throughout his presentation, this is not unusual behavior for Christian organizations and churches that are predominantly white in leadership and constituency. Addressing the hidden roots of systemic racism and oppression that still rise up is one of the greatest challenges. Few do it well. The most painful part, for those caught in its sweep, is the unawareness, silence, denial and oppression that results from unjust in-house practices.
“People of color are not looking for perfect white people, but for white people who are so connected to their hearts, who are willing to make mistakes and ask for forgiveness, knowing God’s grace is sufficient,” Osayande explained.
“It’s about the quality of white people’s hearts, about building capacity for a willingness to work for change, to truly create the ‘beloved community,’” he said, referencing a phrase coined by Vincent Harding and preached by Martin Luther King, Jr.
“The commitment of people of color in MCC is to follow our God, whose power is greater than white supremacy. Our commitment is to follow Jesus, to extend mercy, to show God’s love, to honor the God who spoke to the prophets saying, ‘I love justice.’ Isn’t this at least part of what it means to be Anabaptist?
“MCC leadership has shown signs of the possibility of change in the past few weeks. I am committed to establishing a more appropriate accountability process as long as MCC and its constituents are committed to it.”
Osayande encouraged MCC constituents to pray for the leaders of MCC, and to commit our support for just practices within the organization. The call to MCC is to “be true to what you said on paper” (Martin Luther King Jr., “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” April 3, 1968). Constituents understand that maintaining healthy employer/employee relationships can be difficult, because people’s very lives are affected by decisions made. It’s important to acknowledge that constituents do not agree on everything. But MCC supporters can strengthen MCC’s witness by humbly holding leaders accountable for justice with integrity, and encourage the organization as it works toward becoming antiracist and anti-oppressive in every aspect of its work—even when it’s uncomfortable. It’s work for the sake of God’s kingdom.
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.
This fall, four young adults from around the globe will use their gifts and time to support various Franconia Conference-related ministries. All four are participants in Mennonite Central Committee’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP), a year-long exchange that brings Christian young adults to the United States and Canada. Participants live with host families and volunteer with MCC partner agencies.
Rubina Budha, from Nepal. She will work at the retirement community Living Branches. Her host family for the first part of the year attends Souderton Mennonite Church, and her host family for the second half attends Zion Mennonite.
Ntsena Martha Masilo, from Lesotho. She will be working at Ten Thousand Villages. Her host families attend Plains Mennonite and Zion Mennonite.
MCC encourages church members to reach out to IVEP participants and welcome them into the community, and pray for them, that their time in service with MCC proves fruitful and life-giving, as they work and serve in the name of Christ.
AKRON, Pa. – For years Keshia Kay Littlebear of Billings, Mont., was certain where her path would take her when she was older and the summers rolled around. She was going to be an MCC U.S. Summer Service worker.
From 2002 to 2005 she was just that – spending 10 weeks of her summers serving at White River Cheyenne Mennonite Church in Busby, Mont. She worked with recreational activities and as youth ministry coordinator.
Eventually she supervised the church’s Summer Service program while honing leadership skills that, she said, she uses to this day as a board member of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Central States and other service in her church and denomination.
The Summer Service program is a short-term MCC U.S. initiative that supports young people of color in their development of leadership skills through working with their local churches or communities. The program partners with churches that are members of MCC U.S.’ supporting denominations and related organizations. Since the program’s 1982 inception, 1,387 people have participated. (Franconia Conference’s Philadelphia Praise Center has been a participating congregation on more than one occasion.)
A 2013 review of the Summer Service program led by MCC U.S. Anti-oppression Coordinator Ewuare Osayande elicited feedback from participant churches, former and current Summer Service workers, and MCC staff and board members.
Survey participants consistently affirmed the program for providing service and leadership development opportunities for youth of color. As a result, the U.S. board increased funding for the program and expanded the position of national coordinator to half time. Danilo Sanchez, Whitehall congregation, will start in that position in late February.
Sarah Thompson was a Summer Service worker for nearly three months in 2004 at Prairie Street Mennonite Church, Elkhart, Ind., where she is a member. She worked with children’s programs and as a community organizer.
“I had just taken a community organizing course at Spelman College,” said Thompson. “Meanwhile, MCC Summer Service was about developing leadership in home communities. So it was a perfect fit.
“Prairie Street created my Summer Service position because of a pressing need in the community to organize to resist city hall’s decision to destroy a local school building rather than renovate it,” said Thompson. Since the decision was made without the input of local residents, Thompson’s job empowered her to canvass the neighborhood and discover what the community wanted. At the end of the summer the community reported the findings to city hall, which “initially halted the wrecking ball,” she said.
The work catalyzed the next few years of community organizing that made it possible for the building to be saved; it is now on the state historical register. In addition, the project brought together members of the community from diverse backgrounds to work collaboratively, she said. Today the building serves as housing and an active community center.
As a college student, working with her home church and community in the summer helped her to stay grounded even during the school year, she said. That connection continues today for Thompson, who has stayed involved with MCC in numerous ways since Summer Service and was recently appointed executive director of Christian Peacemaker Teams. She lives in Chicago.
Last year, Hannah Nursalim, of Los Angeles, served with her church, Maranatha Christian Fellowship, in Northridge, Calif., and with Christian Legal Aid of Los Angeles (CLA-LA), based in Inglewood. At church, she performed support tasks related to worship and a fundraising event. Nursalim studies at University of Washington in Seattle.
Seeing CLA-LA colleagues assist people needing legal advice on immigration, crime-related matters and more “definitely made me want to pursue a career in helping people,” she said.
Lani Prunés was a Summer Service worker for three summers at Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association (OCCCDA) in Philadelphia, a ministry of Oxford Circle Mennonite Church, her home congregation. Prunés is a senior at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va.
Prunés was co-director in 2009 and 2010 and sole director in 2011 of OCCCDA’s Summer Art and Enrichment Program, a day camp for children. She supervised campers and counselors, assisted in hiring and facilitated conflict resolution among campers. In addition, she contacted parents when necessary, helped set curriculum and schedules and created pamphlets.
“I think being in Summer Service showed me ways to use the gifts God gave me – even before I realized I had them,” she said. Prunés added that she can see how God used her to do good, but also used others to provide spiritual guidance to her that set her along her current paths.
“Summer Service was … crucial to the summer camp’s development,” she said. “The camp really needed leaders who could put the time into all the work that it takes, and being a service worker meant being able to commit fully and entirely to projects and more importantly, to the campers.”
Churches too benefit from Summer Service, said Kim Dyer of MCC East Coast, former national coordinator of the program. “Through the grant support of MCC, churches are able to further their dreams for ministry and outreach by utilizing the skills and gifts of a young adult from their congregation.”
Prunés recommended the Summer Service program, with one helpful hint. “Absolutely,” said Prunés when asked, “but only to those who are willing to be vulnerable and commit themselves to the people they encounter and the mission they hope to fulfill.”
Nursalim agreed. “In the summer months, it’s easy to be home, hanging out with friends, but Summer Service allows you to do something meaningful with your time.”
Ewuare Osayande, anti-oppression coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee, joined us Thursday for a pastors breakfast entitled “Proactive Pastorship: On Becoming a Church Invested in Racial Justice.”
Ewuare challenged congregational leaders to understand the concept of “race:” a social construct emerging out of colonialism and slavery. Once congregations understand race, they can begin to have a conversation about racism and the impact racism has had on all people.
Ewuare also encouraged pastors to study the way that race has impacted the development of the Mennonite church in the United States and the communities that Mennonite immigration displaced. Mennonites have their own history of suffering but somewhere along the way, they became the “Quiet in the Land.” When they came to the “New World,” the Quiet in the Land were silent in the face of injustice and benefited from it. “This is also a part of your history,” he said.
Hear Ewuare’s entire presentation, his suggestions on steps congregations can take to invest in racial justice, and an insightful question and answer time:
by Millie Penner, Mennonite Central Committee East Coast
“We eat together, sing together in both English and Chichewa, go on our nightly walks together, and laugh together like a family of hyenas,” says Eric Bishop of his family’s relationship with Madalitso Kaputa. Eric and Linda Bishop, Souderton congregation, have opened their home to Madalitso, a participant in the International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP). IVEP is a program of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) that brings young adults from other countries to live and work in Canada and the United States for a year. Madalitso is far from his home in Malawi, Africa this year, yet clearly he also has found a family with the Bishops.
During the day Madalitso volunteers at the Dock Woods and Dock Meadows campuses (Lansdale, Pa.) of the Living Branches retirement community. It is clear to his host family and both his supervisors that this work is far more than a short term volunteer assignment. For Madalitso, this work is a part of the calling God has on his life, a calling he works to fulfill with joy and passion. He says, “When I first arrived in the United States, the food, the time change and the people were all new to my life, and I wondered if I would be able to hold on to my sense of mission. But after a month, I feel like I’m at home as my wonderful host family has helped me to remember my mission goal. Through my work at Dock Woods and Dock Meadows, I have come to understand the great call that the church has in taking care of people, especially the elderly. Indeed, this is now the time that the church should be inviting and welcoming all the elderly into her caring and protective service as the salt and light of the world.”
Gerry Moore, who supervises Madalitso at Dock Meadows, agrees that he is focused and effective. “He is eager to visit with each resident and learn their stories. He wants them to know they have a life time of experience to share, a wealth of wisdom and much he can learn from them.”
Dock Meadows and Dock Woods have hosted IVEPers for several years and have seen good fruit from the cross-cultural exchanges that happen through this program. Eileen Burks of Dock Woods says, “A resident just received an email from one of our past IVEPers from Indonesia. They have been in contact for over seven years, and this clearly is one of many great bonds that were formed through this program. Another way that we are enriched is when the IVEPer brings the world to our residents through a cultural class, sharing about their country … family, faith, foods and languages.”
Madalitso will take many gifts with him when he leaves the IVEP program, not the least of which is a better sense of the world community. Linda Bishop, his host mother, says that he already refers to the world as his home, not just Malawi, since he is willing to go wherever God sends him.
And Madalitso will leave just as many gifts with those whose lives he touches here in Pennsylvania. Living Branches residents, his supervisors and his host family will have formed many good memories, relationships and connections that will last a lifetime.
by Mimi Copp Johnson, Mennonite Central Committee East Coast
Gary Lebo was on his cell phone 117 miles away in Dillsburg, Pa. Item number 104, a cultivator mattock (hand tool used to break up the soil), was up next at the Philadelphia Festival & Auction, which benefits Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).
Lebo was determined to bid on this garden tool even though he could not be there in person. On the other end of the line, was an auction volunteer standing at the back of the room at West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship ready to place bids for Lebo.
Not just any old garden tool, this cultivator was constructed, in part, from a handgun, at a Philadelphia blacksmith workshop devoted to turning “swords into plowshares” and “spears into pruning hooks.” These visionary words are from the Biblical prophet, Isaiah.
Cherie Ryans, a mother whose child had been killed with a handgun in Philadelphia, helped make the tool. She forged the metal from a gun on anvils loaned by conservative Mennonite farmers. Fred Kauffman, former MCC staff person, shared with the auction audience that with each strike of the hammer on the red-hot iron, Ryans said a word, “This….is….for….my…son.”
With the tone set from this story, the bidding began at $300. It climbed to $500, $600, $700.
“I am sick and tired of hearing on the news almost every evening about someone else expressing violence by using a handgun,” said Lebo explaining why he kept bidding. “The idea of pouring energy into gardening rather than violence is exhilarating for us!”
The final bid was for $850 by Gary and Gloria Lebo of Dillsburg Brethren in Christ Church. Another person added a $150 donation to make the total $1,000.
“I thought it was all over,” Lebo recounts, until he received a call from Kimberly Tucker, a friend from Dillsburg Brethren in Christ Church, who was at the auction. “She was scolding me for buying it out from under her, and then she kindly offered to bring it home for me and charge me mileage!”
Tucker said she had her eye on the tool because she “wanted to purchase it to use throughout the year at church as a symbol of peace—turning swords into plowshares.”
The blacksmith workshop was done by RAWtools and was sponsored by Shane Claiborne, Heeding God’s Call, Kingdom Builders Network and MCC East Coast. RAWtools Inc.’s mission is to repurpose weapons into hand tools to be used in the creation of something new and to prevent the weapon’s use for violence.
A similar tool had been donated by RAWtools to the Rocky Mountain Mennonite Relief Sale the weekend before in Colorado that went for $675.
Now the tool is also a storytelling piece. The Lebos have had several opportunities to share the story and hope to have more.
“Another dream I have,” Lebo says, “is to return it to the auction next year to be sold again so someone else can enjoy the experience, share with others and raise more money for MCC.”
Mennonite Central Committee: Relief, development and peace in the name of Christ
Why would these 8 people from three different churches in our conference choose to spend 5 of their lazy days of summer vacation together, being NOT-lazy?
They enjoy making the wheels on a bike go round and round.
They wanted to help raise money to support Mennonite Central Committee’s project of planting trees in Haiti.
Biking is their favorite way to stay in shape.
They enjoy meeting other people from across North America who are making the same vacation choice!.
They’re WILLING to sleep in tents for a week.
They like to eat good food at the beginning and end and in-betweens of a good, hard day of biking.
They know what an incredible gift it is to experience the beauty of God’s world, intersecting with healthy bodies and wholesome fellowship, all wrapped up in a good cause.
When I say that “All of the above” are the true answers, you’re likely asking, “Who WOULDN’T want to use their vacation to do that and how can I join this great endeavor?” Well, know that you, too, are welcome to join this ride the next time around! Read on to learn some of the possible benefits.
Every year for the past 20, Mennonite Central Committee has sponsored a bicycle trip as one of its fund-raisers, alternating routes on the east and west coast. Michigan and Ohio have also run similar trips of their own. This year, during the first week of August, the East Coast MCC ride was in the beautiful hills, under the voluptuously clouded skies, surrounding three of the Finger Lakes in northern New York. The group of 50-some bikers, including members of Souderton, Salford, and Blooming Glen congregations, plus another dozen staff who took care of the trip details of eating, sleeping and getting from place to place, raised over $60,000.00 – an exciting new record! Thank you to each of you who sponsored one of us and to everyone who shares our passion for spreading God’s love throughout the world through the ministries of MCC.
I loved that bikers from 16 to 81 years of age, at all skill levels, could enjoy the same roads, worship in all of our different ways of noticing God’s presence, sing and pray together, and find out about each other’s families and the ministries we were returning to at the end of the week. Uniting around the things we had in common was energizing. Sharing the tasks of camping was fun. Hearing new ways, from each other, of being God’s messengers in the world was inspiring. And pedaling 300+ miles of roads that were hardly ever flat, was downright exciting, often exhausting and occasionally exhilarating!