Tag Archives: Philadelphia Praise Center

From Sea to Shining Sea?

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

Four congregations have requested to join our Conference in time to be considered for membership at assembly this fall. This has been – and is – a season where many communities are looking for new alignments related to changes across the Anabaptist landscape. We’ve been in conversation with a dozen different communities stretched from Queens (NY) to San Francisco (CA). For me, it’s been a challenging wave to ride for the first months of my work as executive minister.  It’s been both an invigorating and exhausting time. While I believe the Spirit is at work in this time of tumultuousness, it’s hard to know exactly where it’s all going.

This is adaptive change and paradigm change. This kind of growth wasn’t in any strategic planning. Though change sometimes comes upon us and we find ourselves testing what the Spirit is doing in the midst of it all. Finding our hearts “strangely warmed” as the disciples did on the Emmaus Road with the resurrected Jesus.

As we approach assembly this fall, we will be inviting delegates to affirm four new congregations as members in our Conference.   These four congregations have some familiarity with us already and their leaders have already established relationships with other leaders in our Conference.  These churches (one in Queens, New York and three in the Los Angeles, California area) will add to our urban and multi-ethnic realities.   These congregations will continue to enrich and challenge our life together as Franconia Conference into the future. I’m hoping that we’ll find ways to embrace all that means as we seek to share God’s amazing grace and peace together.

Members of Jemaat Kristen Indonesia Anugerah (JKI) at the Mennonite Festival & Sale

The three California congregations seek to be admitted as a group together.  This enables us to provide better accompaniment and assistance along with them.  All three had been previous members of Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference until earlier this year when the conference reorganized and these three congregations sought a new affiliation.  The three churches –Jemaat Kristen Indonesia Anugerah (JKI or Grace Indonesian Christian Congregation) in Sierra Madre, Indonesian Worship Church in San Gabriel, and International Christian Community Fellowship in San Bernardino – have strong and long-term Anabaptist commitments.   Each congregation worships in a mix of Indonesian and English.

These congregations have strong ties to our Philadelphia Indonesian speaking congregations as Nations Worship Center and Philadelphia Praise Center have found a sense of home and family within our Conference.  Leaders of our Philadelphia Indonesian-speaking congregations have shared their experiences with their West Coast colleagues which has made the California congregations wonder if they too might find family with us in Franconia Conference.  For many within the Indonesian community, the idea of relationships that span the continent seems easy to maintain; it’s only half as far away as Indonesia.

In our age of ready communication technologies and easy bi-coastal travel, I believe that we can effectively, though differently, accompany and partner with these congregations.   We’ve estimated a cost of about $10,000 in annual expenses to begin this partnership with the California congregations, which would include some staffing support and the hiring of an additional stipend leadership minister to work specifically with these congregations.   We’d intend to review this within three years together.

In the past, we have worked at church planting in Hawaii.  We have maintained long term partnerships with congregations in Mexico City.  For 50 years we have traveled the six-hour trip back and forth to our congregations in Vermont.  This will have some similar characteristics; there will for sure be challenges, but I believe that we’ll learn and be stronger by cultivating these partnerships together.  Each of these congregations brings vibrant gifts of leadership and service.  They’ve been invited to share their resources with us as we seek to multiply our gifts together for the sake of the God’s Kingdom on earth.

Steve Kriss & Aldo Siahaan with Hendy Stevan (top row, 3rd from left) and some of the leaders of Bethany

The fourth congregation, Bethany New York – a congregation in Queens – has been in a dating relationship with our Conference for over a year.   The congregation’s founding pastor has moved toward retirement and the emerging pastoral leader, Hendy Stevan, is currently a full-time student at Eastern Mennonite Seminary (EMS).  Though planted in affiliation with the Church of God, the church identifies with Anabaptism and has completed a teaching period on the seven core convictions of Mennonite World Conference.

Though this would be our first congregation in New York City, we’ve had previous conference member congregations in Long Island that were planted out of mid-20th century initiatives, connecting with alternative service for conscientious objectors.   With Hendy’s ongoing studies at EMS and ongoing strengthening of relationships with other Pennsylvania congregations, along with the broader Mennonite Church USA body at Convention, Bethany is ready to become a full conference member and to participate in our life together.

These four churches total a membership of approximately 400 people and would add approximately 12 possible additional delegates to our discernment body.   Each church has been invited to consider sharing 3-10% of their annual income with the Conference.   We commit, then, to walking together, to giving and receiving counsel and to extending the right fellowship which we have maintained for hundreds of years in our Conference community.

These new member congregations will continue to re-shape our Conference community.  Each is seeking the broader relationships that are accessible through membership in Mennonite Church USA and our connections with Mennonite World Conference.   I believe that this is God’s invitation for us to continue to be transformed and to continue to live together in seeking justice, with a great love of mercy and a willingness to walk humbly toward God’s dream.

Congregational Profiles for each of these churches mentioned will be coming out in the weeks leading to assembly. In addition, look for stories from our Philadelphia Indonesian communities regarding their connections to the California congregations.

Delegates will have a time to discuss and discern affirming these congregations for membership at our annual Assembly Scattered Meetings. If you are a delegate please be sure to register and attend one of those. For dates, locations, and registration visit: FranconiaConference.org/Assembly-Scattered-Meetings.

Also, please feel free to contact me anytime for more conversation as we move toward this time of further discernment together.

 

God is at Work

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.

 

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.

 

Parking Wars

by Aldo Siahaan

“Yo, I am here do not write me a ticket.” I came at the exact time my meter was expiring, I told to the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) member.

parking_ticketLiving in a big city such as Philadelphia has its challenges, namely parking a car. On a daily basis, I spend a large part of my time driving people in need to the hospital, the lawyer, bringing people to the welfare office and many more.  Most of my time is spent in South Philadelphia or Center City. Yet, parking is a problem almost anywhere you go in the city, making your chances to get a ticket pretty high!

Although, about  50% of the members at Philadelphia Praise Center (PPC) walk to the church building, the other 50% who come by car often have to park 4-5 blocks away as that’s the only place they can find parking on a Sunday morning. For me, even though I live in South Philadelphia often I have to circle my block 5 to 7 times just to get a parking space, especially at night. When planning to go out as a group to dinner, usually we are looking for a restaurant that has a parking lot otherwise we could spend a half an hour looking for parking.

Parking for me is one of many stresses I come across. We all have stress in our lives and for various reasons. How do you react when under stress? What would be your reaction, if you find a ticket on your car`s windshield? Silent, angry, screaming or smiling. To be
honest, a lot of times I was silent but angry when receiving the ticket.

Twice in my experience, after receiving a ticket, I wait 2 hours from the scheduled hearing time before being seen. In the court room, other people that came  like me were angry or some form of upset. When my turn was called, the officer did not give me a chance to talk or hear  my explanation. I was very disappointed and annoyed and confused.

As Christians, in times of stress we need to remember to call on the Lord. To lay it in God’s hands. Like the parking situation in the city, a constant issue I have to deal with, we all have stresses that we have to learn to cope with. Let us remember that even if we feel rejected or unheard, like I did in the parking hearing, in contrast, as a believer we are so blessed because we are not just save but heard and accepted by God. That is the power of grace that I learned from parking war.

Thy Kingdom Come

By Aldo Siaahan

 As a part of an annual event of Kingdom Builders network of Philadelphia, the Pentecost Worship service was held at Philadelphia Praise Center on July 2, 2016. The service started with a fellowship over different traditional meals. There was a Vietnamese noodles and meatball dish, traditional tacos, Indonesian empanadas, sushi and much more. We did not expect to have a big crowd because it was a holiday weekend. Yet, to our surprise so many people came and brought food to the point where we were overflowing.

 We opened the service at 6:30 pm with a prayer, followed by songs in Creole, Spanish, English, and other languages. We listened to a short message by Chantelle Todman Moore, Philadelphia Program Coordinator at Mennonite Central Committee. The service was divided into 3 sections. The first was, “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, then “Thy Kingdom Come”, and lastly “Thy Will Be Done”. During the service, Fred Kauffman, Methacton Mennonite, and Calenthia Dowdy, Professor and Director of Faith Initiatives at Eastern University, led occasional conversations by throwing a question to discuss in small groups about why our ancestors came to the United States. Some reasons given were “escaping persecution”, “economic opportunities”, “education”, and “slavery”.  A big lesson learned was that we are all displaced (desplazados, terlantar, verschoben). We closed the service with a holy communion led by Bernard Sejour, pastor at Eglise Evangelique Solidarite and Harmonie, and Fernando Loyola and Leticia Cortez, co-pastors at Centro de Alabanza.

I am very grateful to be a part of a diverse community in the city of Philadelphia that can give me a little sneak peak of Heaven.

Note: The Kingdom Builders Network is a Mennonite Anabaptist Network around Philadelphia. They have meetings every month on the second Thursday. During the meetings, they read scriptures, discuss the word of God, and pray for each other. They have meetings in different locations although most of the time the meeting is held in Oxford Circle Mennonite Church.

Aldo Siaahan is a LEADership Minister and Pastor at Philadelphia Praise Center.

 

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.

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.

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.

 

 

Standing for the Safety of Brothers and Sisters in Philadelphia

By Barbie Fischer

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

Over the last month Philadelphia has been abuzz with the news that Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter planned to reverse the city’s “sanctuary order” that has been in place since April 2014. The sanctuary order protects Philadelphia residents from deportation by preventing the police from collaborating and sharing information with the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. This news impacts the Conference’s city-based congregations, particularly those with significant numbers of recent immigrants including Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, Indonesian Light Church, Nations Worship Center and Philadelphia Praise Center (PPC).

Pastor Aldo Siahaan, Philadelphia Praise Center and Conference LEADership Minister, stated that the reversal of this order “affects the safety of our congregation and community.”

As a largely immigrant congregation, Philadelphia Praise Center became a member of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia more than five years ago. The New Sanctuary Movement is a faith-based immigrant rights organization whose mission is to “build community across faith, ethnicity, and class in [their] work to end injustices against immigrants regardless of status, express radical welcome for all, and ensure that values of dignity, justice, and hospitality are lived out in practice and upheld in policy.”

Pastor Aldo said, “The New Sanctuary Movement is answering and helping with the needs of PPC in terms of immigration matters.”

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

On December 11, when Mayor Nutter was to sign the reversal of the sanctuary order, New Sanctuary Movement called on faith leaders to join an action at City Hall to show the disagreement with the reversal of the sanctuary order which organizers of the action said puts families at risk of being torn apart and the language used by the Mayor’s administration about the reversal has perpetuated Islamaphobia that is currently widespread in the country.

Pastor Aldo, along with others from PPC, Fred Kauffman, interim pastor at Methacton congregation and Amy Yoder McLaughlin, pastor at Germantown Mennonite Church, with many others from Philadelphia and the surrounding area, immigrants and non-immigrants, documented and undocumented, answered the call.

Bam Tribuwono, a member of PPC and a photojournalist, was one of those who answered the call to action on December 11th. He said, “As an immigrant and Christian, I have been in situations where I’ve faced the possibilities of being deported. The immigration system is so broken. For me it’s pretty simple, let’s get back to what Jesus said in Ephesians 2:19-22. Jesus clearly said that we are no longer strangers and foreigners but fellow citizens and members of the household of God. We are all family and we have to protect each other. To give sanctuary for those who need protection.”

(Click on thumbnails to see images — all photos courtesy of Bam Tribuwono; used with permission © bambang tribuwono photography)
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The action included speakers at a rally in front of City Hall, along with a time of prayer. A few New Sanctuary Movement leaders went into City Hall and requested to speak with Mayor Nutter.  At that time, others in the movement blocked the entrances to the building to raise awareness about the possibility of Mayor Nutter signing the reversal of the sanctuary order.

“I’ve been attending a few New Sanctuary Movement rallies,” said Pastor Aldo, “but at this one the police were very harsh and I had never seen this before, how the police pulled on the protestors.”

When asked about his reasons for attending the action, Pastor Aldo said, “As a Christian this is the way that we show our care about foreigners and strangers. From Matthew 25, we are told to welcome strangers and foreigners; maybe we are entertaining angels or Jesus. As a Mennonite and a Christian we need to act the words of God — not just read them and meditate on them. That is why it is important for Christians to support this kind of movement, standing with our immigrant brothers and sisters.”

Fred Kauffman, stated the he had heard of the action being planned at City Hall but had not planned on going until the night before at a Kingdom Builders Network Bible study when he learned of Pastor Aldo’s involvement with the organization coordinating the action. He said, “At that point I knew that I had to go, because this was an important action to Pastor Aldo and the people in his congregation. At the action I was pleased to see Pastor Amy Yoder-McGlaughlin as well as Pastor Aldo and other friends that I knew. I prayed for the protesters risking arrest, ‘May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’”

Mayor Nutter did not sign the reversal on December 11th, but did do so three days later.  Without the sanctuary order, Pastor Aldo says, “we live in fear and live under the radar. We hide. I need to comfort and protect my congregation and make sure they are ok. How can I tell them to be a blessing if they live in fear and hide themselves?”

With a new year, came new hope, and a new mayor. Mayor Jim Kenney took office on Monday, January 4th and one of his first actions as mayor was to reinstate the sanctuary order. Many rejoiced over this news.

Pastor Aldo has said it is important that those among us who are immigrants feel welcome and supported. This can be done through prayer, fellowship and supporting the efforts of people like the those in the New Sanctuary Movement.

A current campaign of the New Sanctuary Movement that could use support is their efforts to have driver licenses accessible to undocumented people in Pennsylvania.  Eleven states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico currently offer driver licenses to those who are undocumented.  Not having access to a driver’s license means that a person undocumented risks deportation anytime they drive — whether to go to work, school, to access health care, or to buy groceries.

To learn more about New Sanctuary Movement visit: http://www.sanctuaryphiladelphia.org/. To visit PPC, Indonesian Light Church, Centro de Alabanza or Nations Worship Center, visit the conference directory here for service times and locations; all are willing to translate their services into English as needed.