Tag Archives: Souderton Mennonite Church

Five Signs of Hope in a 300 Year Old Community

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

At our board retreat last week, our California-based consultant, Jeff Wright, suggested that we are living in a time when we often say, “that hasn’t happened before.”  For a 300 year old Conference community to contend with rapid changes requires flexibility and nimbleness that isn’t always characteristic of mature organizational systems.  However, we are more than an organization; we are the people of God.  This is both a challenge and a hope in times where change is rapid, confusing and often disorienting.  Here are five signs of change we haven’t seen before that give me hope and assure me that even though we don’t know a way, there is a way that the Spirit is working out for our ancient faith to thrive into the future.

  1. The summer ministry internship program that was envisioned by Souderton Mennonite Church pastor Tim Bentch and is staffed by Sarah Freeman from the Souderton congregation is giving opportunities for young adults from our Conference and Eastern District Conference to serve alongside their congregations and in nearby communities to extend the peace of Christ. This year’s group of women and one young man remind me that God is still calling and that opportunities to connect to each other are always around us no matter our neighborhood.
  2. In the last weeks, Bethany Church in Queens, New York officially requested membership with our Conference. We are in the midst of a teaching series on Global Anabaptism with the congregation and I had the privilege of preaching there last month on the centrality of Jesus.   The congregation’s pastor is a full-time Eastern Mennonite Seminary student, Hendy Matahelemual, who brings energy, passion and deep care.  If affirmed as a new member this fall, it will be our Conference’s first worshipping community in New York City.
  3. At our Conference Board Retreat, this past weekend, we spent time praying through the lists of our member churches, our Conference Related Ministries (CRMs) and our nearly 100 active credentialed leaders. Reading these lists reminds me of the gifted leaders, our diverse congregations, and the vibrant ministries that receive support and encouragement mutually through our life together.  It was a bit of an old school practice brought to new life with the diversity of who we are becoming, visible on paper.
  4. Franconia congregation pastor Josh Meyer’s recent doctoral research took a glimpse at the callings of millennial pastors in our Conference community. At this time across Mennonite Church USA, we have one of the highest percentages of younger pastors.  At the end of our morning time together, Josh invited us to pray with the millennial pastors who had gathered that morning at Perkiomenville Mennonite’s Christian Life Center.  The tenderness and care of our experienced pastors as they gathered around the five young pastors who were there was moving and beautiful.
  5. Next week a delegation from our Conference is spending time listening to the congregations in California who have sought to become new members of our Conference. We are seeking to spend some time together, to understand past wounds and to imagine new possibilities.  As we go, we will eat, listen, preach and continue to build on the relationships already established.  What might the Spirit be calling us toward as we consider these bi-coastal relationships?

There is growth and challenge across our Conference community these days.   A new thing is becoming; on a daily basis, I am increasingly aware of it.  At the same time, God’s intention is to continue the transformative work that Christ has done in each of us through these things that haven’t happened before.  There is new possibility, each day, for us to encounter the Risen Christ through the things that haven’t happened before in our world.  And there is assurance that there are things that will remain; faith, hope, love.

Are We Driving Our Children Away from God?

By Tim Bentch, Pastor at Souderton Mennonite Church (originally published in the Souderton Mennonite Church November 2016 newsletter)

As I write, this article, I am already feeling guilty about my own deficiencies as a parent – all the ways I could have helped my children excel in sports, music, and academics. I could do more!  All the missed opportunities to help my children become successful in life! We parents are plagued by guilt and we also feel the constant pressure from our society to be super parents and to turn out super kids.

But, are these pressures and expectations in balance with what we know is the ultimate goal of Christ-following parents – to help our children find Jesus? Are we helping our children find God and doing all we can to model a pursuit of God for them?

One area we need to take a strong look at is the current sports obsession (though there are many obsessions in other areas). With this in view, I ask the question: Are you driving your children away from God – literally? When you drive your child to a soccer match or practice on Sunday mornings, what is that teaching your child?

My wife and I served in Eastern Europe beginning a few years after the fall of Communism. In many of the countries under Soviet domination, Christians faced discrimination and persecution. In Moscow, I met a talented young musician who played the clarinet beautifully. He was in his late twenties. Why, I asked, didn’t he go to the conservatory of music or to a university for formal studies? He looked at me with a puzzled expression that said, don’t you know? Under Communism, there was no way he could be accepted into a conservatory or a university because he was active in the church – automatic disqualification. But, he chose to be faithful to God by staying active in the local church even though it meant that ‘success’ for him in a musical career or in any other field that required a college education was not possible.

I met an outstanding singer in Timisoara, Romania. He had one of those voices you usually only find in the east – a deep, dark, profound, resonant voice. When I heard him sing, I was incredulous. “Why aren’t you a leading soloist in the opera?” I asked. Again, that puzzled look; don’t you know?  He told me that when he finished conservatory, he was offered a contract to be a soloist with the opera. But, they said, there’s one thing, “You will have to give up going to church. A soloist in the opera cannot be known to be a Christian.” He told them immediately, “No way,” and turned down the contract. Instead, he took a position with the choir of the philharmonic – not nearly as prestigious, but he stayed active in his local church.

I think about many others who made huge sacrifices in order to be faithful to Jesus and to honor him by serving in church. Yet, we choose sporting events over church? Really? When we are driving our children to a practice or a game instead of worship or instead of a Wednesday night youth meeting, what message does that send to our children? Are we saying, we only go to church when there’s nothing better to do?  Are we placing sports, or work, or leisure, above knowing and serving God?  The Bible calls this idolatry.

Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” The patterns that we give to our children will stay with them the rest of their lives. If we are communicating that church is not important now, how can we expect that they will go to church when they are older? If we are modeling for them a faith that requires no sacrifice, then what good is it? What could be more important than our children’s eternal destiny?

Creating Space

By Jenifer Eriksen Morales

teddy bear picnicMy 4-year-old daughter invited me to join her picnic, complete with plastic fruit.  I looked at the stuffed animal guests, “Wow, you have very different friends.  Aren’t you afraid the bear will eat the dogs or the dogs will eat the cats?” She patiently responded, “No Mommy.  That is not going to happen because Jesus is with us.” She pointed to a doll wrapped in white lying on the edge of the picnic blanket. “See?”

What a prime example of hospitality according to Henri Nouwen’s definition, quoted in last week’s Intersectings. “Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place…”

My role as a LEADership minister offers me many opportunities to witness hospitality at its finest within Franconia Conference.  Here are just a few ways in which congregations or members of congregations are “creating space.”

West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship is partnering with Redemption Housing to purchase a recovery home in West Philadelphia that is designed to encourage and support returning citizens. Not only are they collaborating in ministry with this organization, but the congregation will spend the next year preparing themselves to better understand, welcome and build relationships with citizens returning from prison to the broader community and congregation.  This will happen through trainings, Sunday school studies, and guest speakers who will help them grow in understanding the prison system/mass incarceration, and intercultural competencies.

A year ago, a man in the Spring Mount congregation told me about multiple new neighbors who are Muslim.  He asked me to recommend books he could read to learn more about this faith tradition.  Recently, he returned a book I lent him and told me about his on-going learning about Islam and the comfortable friendships he is forming with his neighbors from Pakistan, Egypt and Bangladesh.

Souderton Mennonite Church recently turned an extra Sunday school room into a warm, living room-type space where parents can retreat and connect with each other.  I spent some Wednesday evening club nights there drinking coffee and visiting with others.  I was able to get to know a woman from the Congo. Thanks to the provided space, our family has new friends.

Plains Mennonite Church has a beautiful park which often serves as space for people to connect.  Members of the congregation hang out at the park to have conversation and build relationships with neighbors who gather there for basketball, soccer, disc golf, or just to play at the playground. One member of the congregation carries dog treats in his pocket and takes a couple minutes to greet people and their pets.  This summer the congregation is hosting Art in the Park.  They will hold concerts, movies, and line dancing.  This July, a simple meal will be served each week in the pavilion followed by an art of living class on different topics such as gardening, or cooking/preserving in season foods. This is all free and open to the community. The goal is for all to feel welcomed and comfortable, including those with special needs. To prepare for this time, the congregation will devote June Sunday school classes to raising sensitivity and awareness and learning how to embrace and reach out to the special needs community.

5 years ago, the Perkasie congregation received a Franconia Conference grant to aid in their endeavor to create a safe place for people from the community to gather with faith-related questions or to talk about different ways of understanding the Bible.  The friendships formed there have been lasting.  This group of people still meet and are currently studying Phyllis Tickle’s video series around the theme of Emergent Christianity.

I could write pages about the different ways I see congregations and individuals intentionally creating space where strangers can come together.  As followers and worshipers of Jesus, we live in Jesus’ promise to be with us always.  The space we create in the name of Jesus, where lives and love are shared and transformed is ordinary and sacred.  Because Jesus is with us.  See?

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

The Gathering: Multi-congregational, Intercultural Worship Service

by Colin Ingram

Six Franconia Conference congregations banded together to organize an intercultural worship service called “The Gathering”. Several hundred people from different ethnic backgrounds, speaking different languages, gathered for this worship service at Souderton Mennonite Church on Sunday, July 19. In attendance were other Franconia Conference Church members, the members of Indonesian Light Church, along with the host families and around 30 participants from the Global Education Conference, a week-long Mennonite World Conference global educators’ meeting that was held the week before at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School.

Gathering photo 1-webPeople gathered to worship, hear Scripture, listen to a sermon, and fellowship over food.

The service included Indonesian, Spanish, and English languages with the call to worship and sermon both being translated. The scripture reading was done in Hindi, French, and English. The event was a chance to “learn other cultures,” according to Carlos Aguirre, from Centro de Alabanza. He was impressed by the other Christians in attendance.

“I will take away the joy that I have in my heart, to know that there’s other people helping the body of Christ to grow,” Aguirre said.

The Gathering was organized by Bally Mennonite Church, Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, Nations Worship Center, Philadelphia Praise Center, Salford Mennonite Church, and Souderton Mennonite Church. It was sponsored by the Franconia Mennonite Conference.

Gathering photo 2-webThe sermon was given by Dr. Paulus Wadjaja, professor and program director at Universitas Kristen Duta Wacana in Indonesia and member of the Mennonite World Conference Commission.

“I think we all left the service sensing God’s presence, realizing how God speaks in multiple ways through multiple people and recognizing that even if we’re not hearing our own language we can still lift our hands and be able to worship together knowing we’re worshipping the same God,” pastor Jim Laverty, Souderton Mennonite Church, said.

Worship songs, including English hymns led by Rob Yoder, Salford Mennonite, and Spanish contemporary songs lead by the Centro de Alabanza worship team, were among the worship sets. Nations Worship Center closed out the service by leading the congregation in “How Great Thou Art.” The first verse was sung in Indonesian. The tune was familiar enough for English-speakers to sing along in English, or they could join in by reading the Indonesian words from two large screens. The team then led the second verse in English.

Gathering photo 3-webHerald Bazuki, Nations Worship, said, “It was very good [to gather in a multicultural environment] because we came from a very small Indonesian community, so mostly we speak our own language and now we can hear other languages as well. But everybody speaks the same ‘Christ’.”

Juanita Nyce, Salford, said, “I have an 11-year-old son and I think that sometimes the church doesn’t look like the world actually is, and I want him to stay in the church. Today I think this is a vision of what’s possible.”

Following the worship service, all were invited to partake in a fellowship meal that included some Indonesian and Hispanic foods. People fellowshipped with one another while enjoying music played by members of Philadelphia Praise Center, Centro de Alabanza, and Indonesian Light.

A multi-congregational event like this is a possibility for next year and following years, according to Laverty, who helped plan The Gathering.

Franconia Mennonite Conference is looking forward to continuing to support churches in multi-congregational worship services throughout the year.

Barbie Fischer, Franconia Mennonite Conference, said, “This time together has made me even more excited for our conference assembly worship service this fall.”

The conference assembly worship service is a time for Franconia Mennonite and Eastern District Conference members to join together in worshiping the Lord. This year’s conference assembly worship is scheduled for 7:00 pm, Friday, November 13th at Penn View Christian School.

For photos from The Gathering visit the Franconia Mennonite Conference Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/FranconiaMC

Neighbors and coffee make kairos in chaos

by Sharon Williams

A pretty marvelous thing happens around this time of the year: It snows, and cabin fever-weary neighbors find each other on the sidewalks and streets, shovels in hand. They talk together and share a common battle with the elements. They laugh, and play with the kids and the dogs in the snow. But then the snow goes away (yes, it always does) and everyone gets back to their isolated, hustle-bustle routines.

After about a year of living in a new neighborhood, Jenifer Eriksen Morales, Franconia Conference LEADership minister and minister of transitional ministries, realized that she really didn’t know her neighbors. She tried prayer walking. Occasionally she would deliberately stop and talk with people. Then she decided to invite some of the women with young children for coffee once a week. It was quickly dubbed “coffee and chaos.”

Participants share coffee at their weekly "coffee and chaos" gatherings.
Participants share coffee at their weekly “coffee and chaos” gatherings.

Always curious about how other people experience God, Jenifer began to gently ask questions. She discovered that most of her neighbors were unchurched. She began to watch for kairos moments—when God’s time meets our time and the Holy Spirit moves. “So, where do you see God in the chaos of your life?” she asked. Now when coffee and chaos meets, women often start conversations with, “I had a Kairos moment!”

People continued to come to for coffee and chaos. They started a book club, using mostly secular titles, but always sharing requests and simple prayers together. Souderton Mennonite Church provided child care so the meetings were not quite so, well, chaotic.

As people learned to know each other, they began to host gatherings for the whole neighborhood. They celebrate Tres Reyes (Three Kings Day) on January 6 with rosca, a special sweet bread cake that has a baby Jesus hidden in it. Other events include a salad party and a summer solstice ice cream party. Each event has a faith aspect built into it.

Children also participate in "coffee and chaos"--or at least the chaos. Childcare is provided.
Children also participate in “coffee and chaos”–or at least the chaos. Childcare is provided.

One of Jenifer’s favorite celebrations is the back-to-school barbeque. Every household in the neighborhood, whether they have school-age children or not, is invited to eat and play yard games. During the meal, the adults write blessings for the children and youth, and post them on the garage door. At the end of the meal, the blessings are read, and they pray together. “We want the children to understand that we love all of them, Jesus is with them, and that they can come to us anytime,” Jenifer explains.

More recently, a small group, who named itself Kairos Community, has begun meeting for worship twice a month in Jenifer’s home on Sunday evenings. They tell a story from the Bible in a way that adults and children can understand. They talk about how this scripture is meaningful/relevant to their lives, share prayer requests, pray together, and enjoy a simple soup meal.

“It’s exciting to journey with people at various stages in their journeys with Jesus,” says Jenifer. “I’m inspired by what I learn from them. People who wouldn’t be friends under normal circumstances are learning to care for each other.”

As one neighbor told a friend, “Things have changed around here for the better.”

Leadership is emerging from among the neighbors. Some of the women have worked with Jenifer to co-lead presentations for churches that are interested in starting similar ministries in their neighborhoods. One of the men has a vision for a soccer ministry with children. Their experience has been featured on Fresh Expressions, a ministry in the United Kingdom that “seeks to transform communities and individuals through championing and resourcing new ways of being church.”

Interested to learn more about reaching out to in your neighbors with the love of Jesus? Jenifer’s neighbors would be happy to encourage you. Bring coffee, join the chaos, and watch for the God moments.

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.

Conference group prays, crochets

by Jenifer Eriksen Morales

The first Sunday Michelle came to worship with Kairos Community, she reached into her bag and pulled out a beautiful purple hand crocheted shawl. “I hope it’s ok if I wear this,” Michelle said as she draped it over her shoulders. “I use it all the time,” she added. “It helps me feel close to God; like I’m wrapped in God’s warm beautiful love.”

I recognized the prayer shawl. Michelle and her family had a difficult year. In December I invited her to join me in attending Souderton Mennonite Church’s longest night service for those experiencing loss and pain. During that service, Michelle received anointing, prayer, and the shawl from pastors Sandy Drescher-Lehman and Tami Good. As Michelle gathered for worship in our “home church” that evening, I felt incredibly grateful to the women in Souderton Mennonite’s prayer shawl ministry who blessed my friend by gifting their time and hands to lovingly and prayerfully crochet these shawls, a source of art, beauty and comfort. I wondered if the creators had any idea how many lives and hearts they warm.

Michelle and her niece, Sage, read the Bible wrapped in God’s love together at a recent Kairos Community gathering.
Michelle and her niece, Sage, read the Bible wrapped in God’s love together at a recent Kairos Community gathering.

I never learned to sew. My grandmothers tried to teach me to knit and crochet. Those lessons didn’t go well. But even someone with clumsy hands can admire the quilts, wall hangings, embroidery and wide assortment of cloth items produced by Mennonite women and a few men. Quilting and sewing is a colorful piece of our rich heritage. Although not a part of my personal experience, I feel a sense of loss when, in my work with congregations, I hear that quilting and sewing circles are declining in number. I understand the core of these gatherings to have been a time of fellowship, community building, prayer and ministry. Items made were donated to those in need, given as gifts by the congregation or sold at auction to raise money for mission and ministry. Yet, recently I have come to realize the Spirit is knitting something new but perhaps not all that different into being.

I was thrilled to receive an e-mail from Tiana Martinez, a member of Methacton Mennonite Church. Tiana was stirred to action by a sermon delivered by guest speaker, Pastor Juan Marrero from Crossroads Community Center in Philadelphia. Crossroads provides safe and educational space for children and youth, but also has a food assistance program and a thriving prison ministry, which has given birth to a new congregation, Christ Centered Church, attended by many ex-offenders and their families. Pastor Juan noted a need for blankets, and Tiana felt the Spirit’s nudge. She set a goal to donate 100 afghans to Crossroads by December 2015, thus launching “One Stitch at a Time Ministry.” Tiana wondered if others across Franconia Conference would be interested in joining her in this endeavor. So far, members of Methacton, Alpha, and Garden Chapel are working together to meet this goal. Plans are being made for participants to gather together to crochet and fellowship with each other, building relationships based in ministry between congregations.

Tiana’s email opened my eyes. I realized there are a number of people across Franconia Conference who knit and crochet. Some congregations have an established and growing knit/crochet ministry, where people gather together to crochet blankets, prayer shawls, hats and scarves. The soft, warm, brilliantly colored items are donated to those in need or given as gifts from the congregation to newborns, people in the hospital or as lap blankets for the elderly. In fact, Souderton Mennonite gifted me with a prayer shawl for my ordination. Often, the teams of people who create these gifts spend time praying together in advance for those who will receive them. Though the products are different, it seems to me, the crochet/knit ministries and sewing circles share the same core values of ministry, prayer, and fellowship.

A funny thing happened when I told some people in a congregation about Tiana’s ministry. A woman piped up, “I don’t knit or crochet, but I can quilt and knot, would that be helpful?” Of course!

This cold winter and especially as March comes in like a lion, I am inspired by those across Franconia Conference who are quietly wrapping people in God’s warm, comforting, beautiful love, “one stitch at a time.”

If you’re interested in getting involved, Tiana Martinez invites individuals and congregations to help share God’s love “One Stitch at a Time” by crocheting or knitting afghans or donating any color 4-ply yarn. For more information please contact Tiana: tmartinez65@gmail.com.

Jenifer Eriksen Morales is the minister of transitional ministries and LEADership minister with Franconia Mennonite Conference.  

New IVEP participants join Conference communities

IVEP Participants 2014
IVEP participants pose for a photo during last week’s orientation. Front: Kim Dyer (MCC East Coast IVEP Coordinator), Solger Kim (Korea), Linlin Wang (China), Crecensia Wasama Mwita (Tanzania), Rubina Budha (Nepal), Sambath Nget (Cambodia).  Back: Luis Torres Diaz (Colombia), Elisante Lulu (Tanzania), Binod Gaire (Nepal), XiaoHua Wen (China), Martha Masilo (Lesotho), Gavi Luna Barguan (Colombia), Musa Manbefor Koreri Wambrauw (Indonesia)

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.

This year, local IVEPers include:

Binod Gaire, from Nepal. He will serve at Quakertown Christian School and his host family attends Rocky Ridge Mennonite Church.

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.

Solger Kim, from Korea. She will serve at Lutheran Children & Family Service in Allentown, and will connect with Whitehall Mennonite Church and Ripple Allentown

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.

Reaching out across cultures in Souderton

Souderton--Wendy & students
Wendy (far left) has been hosting a small group for Chinese exchange students since 2011.

by Alyssa Kerns, Souderton

When Wendy Wong came to the United States from Hong Kong 22 years ago, she was befriended by a Chinese woman who worked with Wendy’s husband Kim.

Fast forward to March 2011 when Wendy met Peter, a Chinese exchange student staying with Martin and Rebecca Reeser. “I wanted to provide a community for Peter and other Chinese students in the area, just as Kim’s coworker did for me,” Wendy said. She arranged to take Peter to a Chinese church in Bluebell. The Chinese church connected Wendy with other host families in the area and the International Chinese Student Outreach began to take shape.

Working with AnneMarie, who is from the church in Bluebell and speaks different Chinese dialects, Wendy developed a monthly Bible study for the students. Currently, about 16-20 Chinese exchange students from Christopher Dock Mennonite High School and Faith Christian Academy come to Souderton Mennonite Church once a month for an afternoon and evening of games, cooking, worship, Bible study, and discussion.

Wendy and the students have learned from each other in the meetings. “The students asked to have authentic Chinese food at our meetings,” said Wendy. “I grew up in Hong Kong, in the southern part of China and most of the students are from the northern part, which has different food. So I bought the ingredients and they offered to help cook and teach me.”

“Christianity is not taught in China and is a very different concept to the students,” Wendy explained. So she uses the Bible Study time to reinforce what the students are learning about Christianity at school and from their host families and to discuss what they are learning within the context of their cultural background.

In the fall of 2012, Wendy was looking for another adult fluent in Mandarin who could help with small group discussions. She met Jimmy and Lisa Kuo, a brother and sister studying at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield. “We heard from a seminary classmate that Wendy needed help from people who could communicate with the students in Mandarin. Since we are fluent in Mandarin and passionate about sharing the Good News with people, there was no reason why we would not get involved in helping the Chinese students experience the love of God in Jesus Christ through genuine relationships,” said Jimmy and Lisa.

Souderton--Chinese students cookingThe monthly meetings give Jimmy and Lisa an opportunity to connect with the students in several different ways. “We do things from cooking and Bible studies to just casual conversations with the students,” Jimmy and Lisa explained. “We make sure that everything we do is relational, incarnational, relevant, and intentional. The purpose of the outreach for us is to create an environment for the students to encounter God in every little thing we do as a community.”

“We enjoy building relationships with the students, and we appreciate that they continue to challenge us and move us outside our comfort zone,” Lisa and Jimmy added. “Although we were born in Taiwan, we were raised in New Zealand. Therefore, we have had to learn much from the Chinese students about their culture and worldview. Only when we value people by taking the time to listen to their stories do we know where God is already working in their lives and where God wants us to partner with Him to bring in the story of Christ to make their stories complete.”

Wendy is already looking ahead to fall 2013. “Jimmy and Lisa graduate in July and AnnaMarie won’t be able to help in the fall, so I am praying for God’s guidance in how to continue this ministry,” said Wendy.

The students also are encouraging Wendy in this ministry. “There are three seniors at Faith Academy who have accepted Jesus since the beginning of this outreach. Their faith is strong and they experience God in person. It is God’s grace that gives me the opportunity to witness His marvelous love through these students. They have even encouraged me to keep hosting this program so other Chinese students will come to Christ.”

Beauty, Mosquitoes & Service in Alaska

From June 2-9, 22 a group of 22 people from Souderton Mennonite Church and 6 friends traveled to Alaska to serve at two summer camps. The Victory Bible Camp group included Glenn Bauman, Wendy Clemmer, Linda Gehman, Steve Halteman, Alan Landis, Merrill & Nancy Landes, Earl & Betty Mininger, Keith & Dottie Reed; and friends – Phil Gehman, Linda’s son, and Debbie Landis, Alan’s sister. The Camp Li-wa group included Ed Brubaker, Don Housel, Austin & Julie Landes, Drew Mininger, Dottie Mininger, Jon Moyer, Merrill Moyer, Tim Moyer, Gary & Phyllis Sellars; and friends, Justin & Melissa Metzler and Dave & Ruthie Mumbauer from East Swamp Church. Click here to see more photos from their trip.  Members of each group wrote reflections on their experiences.

Working in God’s Beautiful Wilderness at Victory Bible Camp

By Dottie Reed

Alaska Victory Camp backhoe
Phil Gehman used the track hoe to backfill a trench at Victory Bible Camp in Alaska.

The thirteen participants who arrived at Victory Bible Camp (a two-hour ride from Anchorage) were awed by the creative splendor of our Lord in this area. Though it was cool and often rainy, the group worked hard, many times outside in the weather. We built three flower beds, constructed an outside bench, fixed benches around the fire rings, built a box around the phone in the gym, weeded a very large rock garden, cleaned the chapel and Miracle Lodge (dining and conference rooms, restrooms), relocated switches in restrooms, wired exhaust fans, replaced light bulbs, cut holes and framed areas for exhaust fans, cleaned the kitchen, cut croutons from frozen bread, unloaded the large truck full of groceries and supplies since they only go to Anchorage once a week… and anything else they asked us to do!

On Sunday we all attended Glacier View Church where our group of 50 counselors and staff from the camp made up more than half of the congregation. Devotions were held for us every morning at 7:30 a.m. on the camp theme, Truth.

Since it never gets very dark during the summer, we were able to do a number of fun activities after dinner. We toured the four smaller camps that make up Victory Bible Camp. We enjoyed dessert with Earl and Elaine Anders and Nadine Gillespie (92) who founded the camp with her husband. Many of us also visited and walked on a glacier, hiked to Inspirational Point, rode on a river ride in the rain, hiked many trails and mountains, and observed loons, muskrats, swans, curly-horned sheep, and many moose and their babies.

The first group of campers arrived on Wednesday for a short week. They seemed to enjoy themselves and some even went swimming in the beautiful lake in 38 degree water! All of the camp counselors and staff are volunteers who are supported by their friends and home churches. Our week was a great experience working in God’s beautiful wilderness.

Faith in Action… Swatting Mosquitoes

By Austin & Julie Landes

Alaska Liwa Wood
Ed Brubaker, Drew Mininger, and Phyllis Sellars split and stack firewood at Camp Li-Wa in Fairbanks, Alaska.

We are in the throes of parenting, so it felt almost like a vacation to head 4,300 miles to Fairbanks, Alaska to serve at Camp Li-Wa for a week. Leaving our two little girls in the care of their wonderful grandparents, we boarded three flights and exchanged our duties as mom and dad for almost constant daylight, moose sightings, and swatting mosquitoes–otherwise known as the state bird, according to Don Housel!

Our group reinforced and extended a hay loft 60 feet, built a fence around a petting zoo, split and stacked firewood, helped finish a new log cabin for the campers, sewed curtains, worked in the dining hall, and accomplished many other tasks around the camp. The highlight of our week was a day trip to Denali National Park – it was simply a surreal experience viewing some of God’s most amazing creation.

And then, three long flights back home…exhausted and back to parenting, back to work, back to our responsibilities. Why?

“So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” James 2:17 (NLT)

Service projects have been part of our yearly routine since we were married. It is faith in action for us. At first, they were almost built-in to our schedule when we were senior youth advisors for seven years, but now we intentionally fit them in. Serving is worth the expense. It is worth the sacrifice of your time and your finances. It has strengthened our marriage and united us as a couple. It has helped to adjust our perspective.  And there is something about traveling and living with a random group of people from your church that is just plain fun. If you ever get the chance – whether it’s serving a zip code or a country away – take it, you will be blessed.

Plans move ahead to improve Souderton playground

By Emily Morris, emorris@montgomerynews.com
Reprinted from the Souderton Independent

Souderton Park
Gerry Clemmer, pastor of Souderton Mennonite Church, Jen Ruggiero, and Tara Cupitt stand inside the gazebo at the playground at Chestnut Street and Wile Avenue in Souderton. They are working to revitalize the park through fundraising events in the Souderton community. Souderton Independent photo - SUSAN KEEN

Plans to improve the public playground at Chestnut Street and Wile Avenue in Souderton are moving along, with a group of volunteers working on the project hoping to tag on to some of the momentum of the borough’s 125th anniversary.

“We’re partnering together and inviting the community to join us in this project,” said Gerry Clemmer, pastor of Souderton Mennonite Church.

Clemmer and fellow volunteers Tara Cupitt and Jennifer Ruggiero, both neighbors of the playground, are working under the name Chestnut Street Playground Community CARES to bring new, safer equipment to replace the aging existing features at the park. In addition, they’ll be refurbishing the gazebo that sits in the park.

The small corner playground, which has been there as long as anyone at the church can remember, Clemmer said, has not been updated in years, housing largely old steel equipment. Clemmer said the church donated one newer piece of equipment in 1999, which still exists and would remain as part of the plan. That was the last time the park was updated.

One of the primary goals is to create a safe and accessible playground for the numerous children who live in the neighborhoods surrounding the playground.

“The neighborhood is filled with school age kids,” Cupitt said.

To meet the safety goal, one of the key elements will be handicapped accessible equipment, including swings. There will also be a music station, which is an interactive piece of playground equipment that is appealing to all children, but also particularly good for children with autism and Asperger’s, Ruggiero said.

“Our goal is to encompass all children that might have some kind of disability,” Ruggiero said.

In addition, the playground will be designed to appeal to a wide age range, rather than just smaller children as the equipment does now. The goal is to get a larger playground structure that will appeal to those aged 7 to 12, and several other pieces to meet the age ranges below that. The playground is also visited regularly by children from the nearby Head Start program and other nearby nursery and preschool programs.

Cupitt, whose sons are 12 and 14, said her sons often go to the park to play football or baseball in the field below, and that field will remain for those purposes.

The group is currently working with the borough’s engineering firm, Boucher & James, to analyze the park property and create a master plan that can then be used to work on fundraising for the new equipment. Plans for the new park may include improvement of grading so that it is more accessible for both children or parents who may be in wheelchairs or handicapped in other ways.

Fundraising will be a key part of the project in the coming months, Ruggiero said. The goal is to raise a minimum of $65,000, though the group has plans that could incorporate more elements if more funding is raised. The group will be reaching out to larger companies in the area, along with smaller businesses, which may be able to support the project in other ways. For example, Ruggiero said, Action Karate recently donated the profits from the sale of gis — the outfits its students wear for karate — to the playground project.

The group is looking for large structure sponsors at $20,000 or more, smaller structure sponsors of $10,000 or more, $5,000 for a handicapped accessible swingset, $1,000 for the merry-go-round and spring rider, $500 for picnic tables and benches and $250 for trees and landscaping. Sponsorships over $500 will have their names placed on a recognition board in the park. Ruggiero said several businesses have already expressed interest in helping, including Moyer Indoor Outdoor, which has said it will help to maintain the trees and landscaping in the playground. Plans for the playground will preserve the existing trees.

For individual fundraising, the group hopes to have a number of events that may include a pancake breakfast and basket Bingo, and it will be hosting a block party in conjunction with the June 23 parade that will be part of the Souderton 125th celebration this summer.

The group hopes to begin fundraising in earnest after receiving a final plan for the park to show potential donors. The borough has said it will pull out some of the older pieces of equipment beginning in the spring, Ruggiero said, and the new equipment could be purchased piece by piece as money is raised. The goal is for the project to be completed by early fall.

“What we’re really wanting to do with this is to build a sense of community,” Ruggiero said.

Donations to the playground can be made Attention: Chestnut Street Playground to Souderton Mennonite Church, 105 W. Chestnut St., Souderton PA 18964 or Souderton Borough, 31 W. Summit, St., Souderton PA 18964. Checks and donations should note that they are to be earmarked for the playground project.

To learn more about the playground project or get involved, contact Pastor Gerry Clemmer, Tara Cupitt, or Jennifer Ruggiero.

© 2012 Montgomery News, a Journal Register Property; Reprinted by permission.