All posts by Emily

Through the Valley of Shadows

(Đọc tiếng việt)

Give to the
Shalom Mutual Aid Fund*


Steve Kriss

by Steve Kriss, Executive Minister

My last article was about 10 days ago. We were beginning to glimpse the seriousness of the coronavirus.  We slowly began to reconsider and reschedule events.

To be honest, I wasn’t prepared for the rapid change in the situation that would mean that nearly all our member congregations, from California to Vermont, wouldn’t physically gather. Then, I wrote that I’d still get tacos and pho and go to the gym.  For now, those of us who live in Philadelphia can still get take-out, but, with non-essential businesses closed, I’m doing my workouts in the basement at home.

Leadership is tested in changing situations.  We continue to prioritize localized decision-making across our Conference that is responsive to the needs of the community, emphasizing love of God and love of neighbor.  Pennsylvania Governor Wolf said that our commonwealth has not seen this kind of disruption since the Civil War.  Yet God is with us and the Spirit empowers us to be and share the Good News, even when the best thing we can do is to remain in our homes as much as possible.

In the meantime, nearly all our energy is going into bracing for what might come, honoring our government’s suggestions on best practices around gathering and distancing.  Financial needs have emerged quickly among vulnerable individuals and communities in our Conference.  We will need to act together to share our resources well in the weeks and months ahead.

Across our Conference, we are still meeting.  Many congregations are finding ways to use new technology (like Zoom and Facebook) as well as renewing older technology (like phone calls) to stay connected.  We really do need each other in this time, both to make it through and to maintain hope that there will be life after the crisis.  Conference staff are gathering pastors virtually to dialogue together in English, Spanish, and Indonesian.  We are gathering for prayer weekly and are offering online equipping as well.  We are in this struggle together.

Yet Asian American neighbors are experiencing acts of aggression and racism in this time.  We cannot be people of fear but rather people of love who speak and act in ways that don’t allow racism to flourish in our midst.  I am committed to ongoing accompaniment and advocacy for the Asian American members and communities across our Conference: the peace of our land is dependent on the recognition of God’s imprint on each person.    I encourage all of us to choose our words and actions wisely and sensitively so that we are people of healing and hope.

While many of our Conference Related Ministries have shut down, our human service providers are experiencing higher degrees of need.  Our retirement communities are especially vulnerable and operating at high levels of vigilance.  We will do well to remember Frederick Living, Living Branches, and the Community at Rockhill in prayer.   Ripple Community Inc in Allentown has committed to remaining open and accessible to those people who need food and accompaniment; they’re looking for partners to prepare sandwiches and to help supplement the sudden influx of needs in the community center there.  Crossroads Community Center in Philadelphia has also seen an increase in needs, particularly for food.  As a long-term ministry presence in the Fairhill neighborhood, Crossroads has credibility to provide resources during this time. Together as a conference community, we’ll look for ways to support both of these urban ministries in the coming weeks.

The familiar words of Psalm 23 have become a guide for me in these days: “Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil …. Surely goodness and love will follow us all the days of our lives, and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  We trust in God’s care, even in this overwhelming time, and we look for ways to express our trust in God while extending God’s love and care for our neighbors.

Watch the video of Executive Minister Steve Kriss on Facebook Live Tuesday, March 24, talking about living our formational, missional, and intercultural priorities in a time of crisis.

*The Shalom Fund supports pastors, congregations and ministries in direct response to the Coronavirus and the ensuing economic crisis.   We will seek to respond to the most vulnerable within our membership and neighborhoods by empowering local ministries to meet real needs with Christ’s love and generosity in a time of fear and anxiety.

Tes Iman Disaat Krisis

Sebagai immigran yang tinggal di Amerika Serikat,Krisis Corona virus semakin menambah beban yang harus dipikul hari demi hari. Krisis ini adalah ujian iman untuk tetap menaruh harapan kepada Tuhan.
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Test of Faith in the Time of Crisis

As immigrants living in the United States, the Corona Virus Crisis adds to the burden that must be borne day after day. This crisis is a test of faith for us immigrants to keep putting hope and trust in God.

Updates from Eastern District & Franconia Conference

Give to the
Shalom Mutual Aid Fund*



During this time of responding to the public health emergency of COVID-19 (coronavirus), Conference leadership has encouraged localized decision-making that prioritizes both love of God and love of neighbor. 

Many of our congregations have chosen to experiment with new technologies (and many have successfully been using these technologies for a while now!).  As you experience God in the challenges and inspiration of these creative worship spaces, please share your stories by emailing communication@franconiaconference.org or posting on our Facebook page!

***

(Updated as of March 26, 2020 at 10:00am EST)

Congregations:

  • Alpha (Alpha, NJ) – shared, at-home worship service
  • Ambler (Ambler, PA; Montgomery Co.) – worship service by Zoom (or join by phone at
    312-626-6799)
  • Bally (Bally, PA; Berks Co.) – worship services canceled 
  • Bethany (Bridgewater Corners, VT) – worship services canceled  
  • Bethany Elevation (Queens, NYC) – online streaming
  • Blooming Glen (Blooming Glen, PA; Bucks Co.) – worship service recorded and posted on website;  4/4 Easter Egg Hunt is cancelled; 4/5 Pathways, Passion and Promise is cancelled
  • Boyertown (Boyertown, PA; Berks Co) – worship services canceled  
  • Centro de Alabanza (Philadelphia, PA) – live streaming worship service
  • Christ Fellowship (Allentown, PA; Lehigh Co.) – worship services canceled  
  • Church of the Good Samaritans (Holland, PA; Bucks Co.) – worship services canceled  
  • Covenant Community Fellowship (Lansdale, PA; Montgomery Co.) – worship services canceled
  • Deep Run East (Perkasie, PA; Bucks Co.) – online worship service
  • Deep Run West (Perkasie, PA; Bucks Co.) – Facebook Live
  • Doylestown (Doylestown, PA; Bucks Co.) – March 29 service cancelled; 4/5 Sam Sandler presentation cancelled; 4/12 Easter breakfast cancelled
  • Ebenezer (Souderton, PA; Montgomery Co.) – worship services canceled  
  • Fairfield (Fairfield, PA; Adams Co.) – worship services canceled 
  • Finland (Pennsburg, PA; Montgomery Co.) – worship services canceled 
  • Franconia (Telford, PA: Montgomery Co.) – Scriptures, prayers, & sermon posted online
  • Frederick (Frederick, PA; Montgomery Co.) – worship services canceled  
  • Garden Chapel (Dover, NJ) – worship service by Zoom
  • Indonesian Community Christian Fellowship (Colton, CA) – worship services canceled  
  • Indonesian Light Church (Philadelphia, Pa) – online streaming
  • International Worship Church (San Gabriel, CA) – worship services canceled  
  • Jemaat Kristen Indonesia Anugerah (Sierra Madre, CA) – streaming sermon
  • Lakeview (Susquehanna, PA; Susquehanna Co.) – Zoom worship service
  • Line Lexington (Line Lexington, PA; Bucks Co.) – live streaming, via YouTube; all activities cancelled until further notice
  • Mennonite Bible Fellowship (Morris, PA; Tioga Co) – worship services canceled 
  • Methacton (Norristown, PA; Montgomery Co.) – shared, at-home devotionals
  • Nations Worship Center (Philadelphia, PA) – Facebook Live
  • Nueva Vida Norristown New Life (Norristown, PA; Montgomery Co)
  • Perkasie (Perkasie, PA; Bucks Co.) – Zoom worship service
  • Perkiomenville (Perkiomenville, PA;  Montgomery Co.) will livestream services on Facebook at 10:15 am
  • Philadelphia Praise Center (Philadelphia, PA) – dispersed worship
  • Plains (Hatfield, PA; Montgomery Co.) – recording of worship service online, connecting through Zoom on Wednesday, March 25 at 2:00 pm
  • Providence (Collegeville, PA; Montgomery Co.) – Zoom worship service
  • Rocky Ridge (Quakertown, PA; Bucks Co.) – virtual worship with interactive blog
  • Salem (Quakertown, PA; Bucks Co.) – worship services canceled  
  • Salford (Harleysville, PA; Montgomery Co.) – simulcasting online with children’s activities
  • San Francisco Chinese (San Francisco, CA) – YouTube sermon
  • Souderton (Souderton, PA; Montgomery Co.) – live streaming
  • Spring Mount (Spring Mount, PA: Montgomery Co.) – Facebook Live
  • Swamp (Quakertown, PA; Bucks Co.) – all activities canceled through May 3
  • Taftsville Chapel (Taftsville, VT) – Zoom worship service
  • Towamencin (Kulpsville, PA; Montgomery Co.) – live streaming on website
  • Upper Milford (Old Zionsville, PA; Lehigh Co) – Zoom worship service
  • Vietnamese Gospel (Allentown, Pa; Lehigh Co.) – worship services canceled  
  • Vincent (Spring City, PA; Chester Co.) –  worship service on Facebook Live (10am)
  • Wellspring Church of Skippack (Skippack, PA; Montgomery Co.) – Zoom worship
  • West Swamp (Quakertown, PA; Bucks Co.) – worship services canceled 
  • Whitehall (Whitehall, PA; Lehigh Co.) – Facebook Live
  • Zion (Souderton, PA; Montgomery Co.) – live streaming (9am)

Partners in Ministry:

  • 7 Ways Home Fellowship (Bowie, MD) – Zoom gatherings
  • Arise (Harleysville, PA; Montgomery Co.) – worship services canceled 
  • Homestead Mennonite Church (Homestead, FL) – worship services canceled 
  • Iglesia Evangelica Menonita Shalom (Tampa, FL) – gathering in small prayer groups
  • Iglesia Menonita Luz y Verdad (Lakeland, FL) – worship services canceled 
  • Iglesia Menonita Seguidores de Cristo (Sarasota, FL) – YouTube worship service
  • Nueva Esperanza New Hope Fellowship (Alexandria, VA) – worship services canceled 

Conference Related Ministries:

  • Care & Share Thrift Shoppes (Souderton, PA) – closed through March 28
  • City School (Philadelphia, PA) – closed through March 30
  • Dock Mennonite Academy (Souderton & Lansdale, PA) – closed through March 30
  • MCC Material Resource Center (Harleysville, PA) – closed through March 30; MCC Meat Canning is cancelled
  • Mennonite Heritage Center – closed through March 30
  • Penn Foundation see info here
  • Quakertown Christian School – closed through March 30
  • Retirement Communities – Almost all retirement communities are restricting visitors and have cancelled any large group gatherings or services. If you plan to visit, please be sure to call ahead. Please call residents of the retirement communities to stay in contact with them rather than visiting during this time, if at all possible. 
  • Spruce Lake/Pinebrook – closed until April 1

Other Conference events that have been cancelled (rescheduled, TBA):

  • “Women of Remarkable Faith” Gathering (March 28)

We know that this list will continue to grow and change. We hope to keep you updated as much as possible–if you have updates or changes to this list, please send them to communication@franconiaconference.org.

*The Shalom Fund supports pastors, congregations and ministries in direct response to the Coronavirus and the ensuing economic crisis.   We will seek to respond to the most vulnerable within our membership and neighborhoods by empowering local ministries to meet real needs with Christ’s love and generosity in a time of fear and anxiety.

It’s Time to Plant a Garden

by Emily Ralph Servant, Leadership Minister & Director of Communication

Just this morning, the president of our Baltimore city neighborhood association posted in our local gardeners’ group on Facebook.  She encouraged us to take advantage of the early spring to start planting our container gardens with vegetables.

In the midst of the constant barrage of news about COVID-19 (coronavirus), I doubt she was aware of how much her words resonated with those of another prophet, thousands of years ago.

God’s people were in exile, in a world they no longer recognized, and they had been crying out to God to send them home.  God responded that rescue would come—eventually.  But, in the meantime, God’s people were to settle in … because it was gonna be a while.

Build homes, the prophet Jeremiah encouraged them, foster relationships, plant gardens.  Pray and work for the well-being of the cities where you live.

This cheerleading feels timely this week, as we face a growing awareness that the coronavirus isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  In my association president’s words and in Jeremiah’s plea, I hear God’s invitation to settle in.  It’s gonna be a while.

The thing about working in the garden (or going for a walk around the block), is that we can encounter our neighbors in safe space and at a leisurely pace.  It’s amazing how many meaningful conversations can happen across fences or between the sidewalk and the stoop.

Those of us on the east coast have been experiencing an early spring—a gift from God for such a time as this.  The unusually warm weather allows us to get out of our houses and be the Church in our neighborhoods: checking in on neighbors and handing out our phone numbers to those who don’t already have them; extending and accepting help with yard work, trash cleanup, or grocery pickup; visiting with new and old friends as we commiserate together.

And if you haven’t already joined neighborhood groups on social media, now is a perfect time to do so.  Many of these groups—formed around shared geography, hobbies, the “gift economy,” and local advocacy—are increasing their connection to community right about now.  They are creating spreadsheets of vulnerable neighbors who need help, offering to pick up food on trips to the grocery store, sharing information about school lunches, medical care, and the latest in neighborhood closings.  This is community at its best.

Jeremiah reminds us that our well-being is tied up with the well-being of our neighborhoods.  We can pray and work and advocate for our government leaders to make wise and just decisions.  We can pray and work and advocate for neighbors who are at risk.  We are called to pray diligently, even as we build, plant, and make new friends.

[Join a Conference-wide online prayer meeting this Wednesday at 12pm EST/9am PST. RSVP by emailing Noel Santiago.]

Tomorrow morning, you are invited to login to your virtual church service, interact with your congregation on Facebook, read your email devotional (whatever ways of participating in corporate worship that your hardworking pastor has been creating for you!) … and then join your neighbors in the streets and on the sidewalks of your community.  Together we will pray for an end to this pandemic.  And, together, we will settle in for the long haul.

Thanking God for new offices, my Mac and Skype

by Stephen Kriss, director of leadership cultivation

transpacific interview
Steve, Mary, Aldo, and Verle Skype with Ubaldo for his credentialing interview.

In less than a decade, the Mennonite Conference Center has moved to its third location.   With increasingly dispersed staff, the Center has downsized to serve as a hub and back office for activity out and about.

My first day in the offices at Dock High School this week included crowding around my MacBook Pro with Verle Brubaker (Swamp) Mary Nitzsche (Blooming Glen), and Aldo Siahaan (Philadelphia Praise Center) for our first transpacific ordination interview by Skype.  We were interviewing Ubaldo Rodriguez, originally from Colombia, educated at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, who is now serving with SEND International in Manila, the Philippines.  Ubaldo is there to support and train mission workers from the 2/3rds world, hoping to build connections between Latin America and Asia.

Ubaldo is connected with a one of our partner congregations, New Hope Fellowship in Alexandria, VA, begun by Kirk Hanger after returning from a long term assignment with Franconia Mennonite Missions in Mexico City over a decade ago.   As a community, we keep being shaped and reshaped by our relationships and engagement in the world.  And now some of those connections are more easily sustained through technology like Skype, which we thanked God for in our interview.

Franconia Conference keeps changing and moving.  It’s not just our desks and cabinets, but it’s how we’re following the Spirit, paying attention to the pillar of fire that urges us to follow in the way of Jesus that moves us to be a part of God’s great redemption story in Souderton, Harleysville, Lansdale, Alexandria, Mexico City and Manila.

It starts in Heaven: a ministry of prayer

by Sharon Williams, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life

prayer
Noel Santiago (left) leads Franconia Conference’s prayer ministry.

What if we could focus our prayers to God by starting where God starts, with God’s good and perfect will? Like Jesus said, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10 NRSV). What does this mean, especially when we pray about earth’s troubling situations or illnesses that don’t exist in heaven?

Noel Santiago, Franconia Conference’s LEADership Minister of Spiritual Transformation, remembers his early years in the intercessory prayer ministry. A young girl was in an endless coma. Persons who felt drawn to intercessory prayer gathered at the conference center weekly. They wondered, what is God teaching us?

As they prayed, they began to hear the invitation to leave the situation at the altar, to praise God for what God was doing, and to find peace and rest in their spirits. They also realized that they were standing in the gap to pray for those who could not pray about this situation with a spirit of peace. Through grateful worship and silent listening, they noticed that Lordship of Jesus Christ over their lives, congregations, and communities was becoming a theme. They also sensed that God wanted the girl and her family to acknowledge Jesus’ lordship in their lives.

After three weeks of individual and corporate praying, the girl came out of the coma. At the end of six weeks, she and her family stood before their congregation to give thanks to God and to testify about what God had done in their lives. Then they sang a song that acknowledged the lordship of Jesus over their lives. God had used everyone’s prayers to bring about one of the key activities of heaven, echoed on earth.

Noel can recount many similar stories. One time, Claude Good of the Worm Project came to ask for prayer for one million deworming pills. Distribution of the pills had been tied up in red tape for three months. The intercessors sought God’s heart. A week later, the red tape was gone and the pills were released to their appointed place on earth, as it was the desire of heaven.

Why are we so amazed when we pray and God moves heaven and earth on our behalf?

An important lesson for the intercessors was to move forward by celebrating what God has done and is doing, rather than banging on heaven’s door with a report of what God has not done. We don’t need to beg God for what is needed. The purpose of prayer is to fervently align our hearts and purposes with God’s heart and purposes.

The intercessors—persons called within and beyond Franconia conference—learned by praying together and carefully observing what happened. When the intercessory prayer ministry started, some churches or Sunday school groups had functioning prayer chains for sharing prayer requests and praises. The intercessors encouraged congregations to form their own intercessory prayer teams and to create prayer rooms.

The intercessors stay connected by email for receiving and responding to prayer requests. Occasionally, they come together for special requests and events, such as the situation at Spruce Lake Retreat last fall and conference assemblies. They teach and equip intercessors for this ministry in Sunday school classes, Bible studies and conference meetings. Noel also incorporates intercessory prayer into his LEADership ministry with pastors and elders, teaching them to pray for each leader’s ministry and for the community. The team regularly intercedes for congregations, leaders, and anyone seeking God’s guidance.

The intercessors are eager to connect with others who are drawn to this ministry. To learn more, contact Noel (nsantiago@franconiaconference.org, 267-932-6050).

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.

KC2015 registration opens; presenters, exhibitors announced

MCUSA-AlanDebHirsch
Alan and Debra Hirsch, currently of Los Angeles, will offer several presentations on church planting and building missional movements.

Although it’s still more than five months away, Mennonite Church USA’s 2015 biennial convention is taking shape.

Registration opened Jan. 15 for the June 30–July 5 event in Kansas City, Mo. Hotel registration opens March 3.

Convention planners are lining up special presenters and exhibitors in addition to a full slate of worship speakers.

Recent decisions made in consultation with the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board have included accepting the Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Interests’ (BMC) application for exhibit space at KC2015, as well as allowing convention planners to work with leaders of the Pink Menno campaign to negotiate rental of a meeting room on site at the convention center.

“My team and I are ready and excited for everyone to join us in Kansas City this summer,” says Glen Alexander Guyton, chief operating officer and convention planning director for Mennonite Church USA. “We want everyone who attends KC2015 to be able to engage in worship and experience the healing power of Christ at some point during convention.”

Speakers Alex Awad, Drew Hart, and Alan and Debra Hirsch will share with participants at KC2015:

MCUSA AwadA04

Alex Awad of Jerusalem, pastor of East Jerusalem Baptist Church and a professor at Bethlehem Bible College in Palestine, will be a featured speaker throughout the convention week. Awad and Bethlehem Bible College are longtime Mennonite partners in Palestine.

“Alex Awad is an evangelical Christian deeply committed to Jesus and to the way of peace in the midst of intense suffering and injustice,” says André Gingerich Stoner, director of interchurch relations and holistic witness for Mennonite Church USA. “He and Bethlehem Bible College are a sign of hope. We have much to learn from their witness.”

After KC2015, Awad will travel to Harrisburg, Pa., to participate in Mennonite World Conference’s Assembly Gathered. Awad’s presence at convention is also made possible by support from Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

Drew Hart

Drew Hart will be available throughout the convention week, offering several seminars focused on liberation theology and strategies for addressing racism in local congregational settings. Hart is a Ph.D. candidate at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and his research focuses on intersections between black theology and Anabaptism. He is a part-time pastor and a regular blogger for The Christian Century.

Alan and Debra Hirsch, currently of Los Angeles, (photo above) will offer several presentations on church planting and building missional movements. The Hirsches are the founding directors of the Forge Mission Training Network.

Alan also co-leads Future Travelers, a learning program to help churches become missional movements, and is co-founder and adjunct faculty for the M.A. in Missional Church Movements at Wheaton (Ill.) College. He has written The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church, among other books.

Exhibit space granted for BMC
The Brethren Mennonite Council has applied for exhibit space at previous conventions; this is the first year that their request has been approved. Pink Menno applied to be an exhibitor at convention for the first time this year; the group’s request for exhibit space was denied, although convention planning staff members hope to work with the group to negotiate the rental of a meeting room inside the convention center.

“The decision to grant exhibit space to BMC is not a radical one,” says Guyton. “BMC has long been part of our conventions. They are an established organization with clear points of authority. We have had good conversations with BMC leaders about our shared expectations for the exhibit hall at convention.”

All convention attendees are expected to abide by the expectations for convention attendees and exhibitor guidelines.

“Conversations about sexuality are happening all across the church right now,” says Ervin Stutzman, executive director for Mennonite Church USA. “Our leadership team felt it was the right time for the Executive Board to revisit our policies about the use of convention space. We desire to be proactive, rather than reactive, in the conversations that need to take place among us as followers of Jesus Christ.

“This move does not represent a change in our church’s commitments but grows out of our desire to remain in loving conversation with people who have been a part of our church and our conventions for many years. We desire that every person who attends our convention will be treated with respect and care, in the exhibit hall and everywhere else.”

Other approved exhibitors include all of the Mennonite Church USA agencies and higher education institutions, as well as Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Disaster Service, Mennonite Economic Development Associates, and a variety of other faith-based organizations.

The convention offers programming for people ages 0 and older. Special programs are planned for infants, preschoolers, elementary-school students, junior high youth and high school youth. For more information about convention events and speakers, and to register on Jan. 15, visit convention.mennoniteusa.org.

Finding hope at the border

by Steve Kriss, reposted by permission from Mennonite World Review

Steve KrissThere are never enough winter jackets in the stacks of sorted clothes in the salon de fiestas (fellowship hall) at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, Texas. The stream of Central American refugees who arrive there after detention by the Department of Homeland Security rarely come with warm enough clothes to head further north. The 100 or so parents and children who stream through this makeshift refugee center daily leave behind the well-worn clothing they came in — and bundle up for the journey by Greyhound to new homes on this side of the Rio Grande’s America.

Though the tide has slowed a bit, the same issues that pushed refugees from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador persist, and when warmer weather returns there will likely be a resurgence.

Current policy at the border is to remove adults, sending them back whence they came. But parents with children, and minors under 18, are allowed to remain. As a result, the “unaccompanied minor” crisis is largely one of our own government’s making. According to those on the front lines in South Texas, very few under 18 are actually unaccompanied when they arrive on the U.S. border. Most of them traveled with someone who was turned away — a family member, a friend or, sometimes, disturbingly, a trafficker.

Some refugees immediately seek asylum. Others travel within the U.S. to join family and friends as they move through a legal process. The morning I visited, several 20-something women had arrived from Honduras with a 7- or 8-year-old child in tow.

I spoke with a representative at the center from McAllen who said the city is committed to being hospitable but orderly. Everyone is offered soup designed for nutrient-deprived people, new clothes, a shower and a chance to see one of the medical volunteers. The showers were in trailers from the Salvation Army. Refu­gees can rest in an army tent on long-term loan until a bus is ready to take them north — but not for more than 24 hours.

Catholic Charities staffs the center with a combination of Catholic religious workers, professionals and local volunteers. Alma, a Tejana who teaches prayer in the Brownsville diocese, explained the operation of the refugee center. She said the Franciscans in charge of the parish facilities have said it can remain as long as needed. Alma described her charge and interacted with the volunteers and refugees with sincerity, grace and deep love. She said, “I treat everyone who comes in here as if they were the living Christ. Sometimes when we pick out clothes for the children, we give them clothes that they don’t really like. I invite them to come back to the pile to pick clothes they want, because with each boy or girl it’s like I’m dressing Jesus.”

I expected to come back from my border excursion with frustration and sadness. Instead, I returned with hope, having witnessed great love. The border responses aren’t perfect. The political and economic realities are complicated. Recent refugees are being equipped with ankle monitors to track their movements once inside the U.S. The refugees call the detention centers “freezers.”

But at the same time I was glad the U.S. government was admitting some of the most vulnerable arriving at our southern doorstep, escaping violence, feeling more pushed to leave their home than pulled by the possibility that is the U.S. I’m grateful that they’re given opportunity to state their case, to be reunited with family or friends while the process moves forward. I hope we’ll find a humane way through this situation.

The solution is a long haul of U.S. policies that might strengthen Central American economies and governments and help build healthy civil societies. But until then, the Franciscans will keep the doors open. And Tejanos like Alma will keep receiving newcomers as if they were Jesus, with open arms, clean shirts, new shoes, warm showers and instructions written in English to give to anyone who might help them land at their new, though possibly temporary, home.

Stephen Kriss is a teacher, writer, pastor, student and follower of Jesus living in Philadelphia.

We were made for life

by Emily Ralph, associate director of communication

Church of the Brethren crisis response has been working with refugees in Nigeria; thousands of their members have been killed and nearly a hundred thousand have been displaced. In all, three million Nigerians have been affected by the outbreak of violence. Photo courtesy of Church of the Brethren.

When a young teacher was murdered in her home down the street from my house last month, I was shocked, horrified, and scared.  So I can understand why the Western world has responded with such vehemence to the terrorist attack on a French satirical magazine.  It happened in the West, after all, to people who, in some ways, feel very much like “us” living under the protection of a democratic government.

But even as I faced my new reality of a neighborhood that no longer felt safe, I sensed a dawning awareness that my shock at violence committed against someone “like me” in my “backyard” was a privilege.  Others in my city and around the world live under threat of violence every day; it shouldn’t happen in my neighborhood but it shouldn’t happen in anyone’s neighborhood.

Our grief is right and good.  I grieve the senseless death of this young teacher not because she is like me but because her life matters.  And as I grieve her death, I become aware of other losses in my city—in neighborhoods a little farther away to people that don’t feel as familiar.  And I’m challenged to consider whether I value some lives more than others, whether identification and “sameness” somehow determines worth.

As I see reports online about #IAmCharlie and “I don’t agree with what you say but I’ll defend your right to say it,” I wonder if I would.  Because it seems to me my faith is less about protecting the right to free speech and more about protecting you.  Free speech doesn’t give anyone the right to live.  But being made by and in the image of God does.

And God weeps.  Over a schoolteacher murdered in her home, over journalists executed in their office, over thousands of women, children, and elderly massacred on the streets of Nigeria, over each target and victim of a U.S. drone strike.  God weeps, not because they are heroes, not because they are innocent or guilty, not because violence shouldn’t happen in their neighborhood, not for any other reason than that human life is precious and we are made to live.

I am not Charlie.  I am not a child in Nigeria.  I am not a neighborhood schoolteacher.  But I am a follower of Jesus, the divine “other” who so valued the treasure of human life that he came to earth to stand in solidarity with humans everywhere.  We are made by God for life and life abundant.

In this week, like every other, God grieves lives lost.  And so do we.  Together, we stand in solidarity with this God who stands in solidarity with us.

Conferences end Peace and Justice Minister role

by Stephen Kriss, Franconia director of communication

Samantha LioiAfter a two-and-a-half-year experiment with a new model for peace and justice ministry in Eastern District and Franconia Conferences, conference leaders ended the contract with Samantha Lioi (Whitehall congregation) as Peace and Justice Minister on November 30, 2014 due to lack of funds. The peace and justice role relied on above-budget giving to the two conferences from individuals and congregations.  Contributions did not match ongoing expenses, leading to the position’s termination.

After consulting with leaders from both conferences, Franconia Conference issued a 90-day intent to discontinue Lioi’s contract in August 2014 if sufficient funds were not raised within that timeframe.  According to Franconia executive minister Ertell M. Whigham, there was a strong desire to find a way to keep the position funded and the conferences appreciated a last-ditch effort from numerous congregations to bridge the funding gap.

Both conferences hope to continue the important work that Lioi began in this experimental position. The role will be further reimagined within both Conference structures and alongside the Peace and Justice Committee serving both conference communities.

Lioi was appreciated by many congregations and leaders in her pastoral presence, work at initiating congregational peace representatives, and collaboration around important issues.  Both Whigham and Eastern District conference minister Warren Tyson expressed words of appreciation for Lioi’s ministry.  “We intend to find another way to extend Samantha’s good work,” said Whigham.  “She contributed passionately toward the ministry of Franconia Conference congregations. Her work is appreciated and her presence among conference staff will be deeply missed.”