All posts by Conference Office

Irwan’s Story

By Aldo Siahaan, Leadership Minister

(Names in this article have been changed for the individuals’ protection.)

That morning Irwan opened his eyes and slowly got up from his bed, getting ready for work. As always, his wife looked busy in the kitchen preparing breakfast and a lunch for him to take. Before he left the house, he kissed Sarah, age 11 and Diana, age 7.

Irwan arrived at work at 7:00 am, a car workshop where he has worked for more than 10 years. He grabbed the work orders for his first car of the day and immediately got to work. Without knowing it, his hands and clothes were getting dirty in the first 90 minutes he worked. Irwan continued his work. Suddenly he heard a voice calling “Irwan!”; when he turned his head, he saw 3 people with jackets that had the word “ICE” across them. The three people approached him and his face turned pale, his legs became weak and his hands trembled. Irwan replied “yes, I am Irwan”. Two ICE officers immediately took him to their car. Irwan’s colleagues and supervisor were shocked and could do nothing. They were silent and witnessed the sadness on Irwan’s face as if to say “help me, help me”. In the car, he immediately grabbed his cell phone and texted his wife , “I was arrested by ICE officers. You and the children leave the house now.” After sending the text, he immediately turned off his cell phone.

A few hours later, Irwan was in York County Prison in York, PA wearing an orange uniform. The first thing he wanted to do was to contact his wife and his daughters. Irwan tried to contact his wife by making a collect call from the prison, but they were always disconnected because both Irwan and his wife did not understand that in order to receive the phone they had to pre-pay. Irwan did not despair. He tried up to 45 times to be able to talk to his wife, always failing to reach her until finally he cried because he could not bear the events that separated him from his wife and children. While he was crying alone on the wall, someone approached him. “Hi, I am a social worker in this prison, why are you crying? How can I help you?” they asked. Irwan replied “I tried to call my family. I tried more than 40 times and always failed. I miss them.” The social worker answered, “come, follow me. You can use a phone from my office.” For Irwan, this social worker was like an angel sent by God. After he got to the office of the social worker, he contacted his wife and immediately connected. Irwan said “Hello”, and the next thing he heard was his wife’s cry. For the first 5 minutes they just cried on the phone. Then his wife said, “the children and I are sad. Papa, you need to stay strong. We do not know what God’s plan is from this incident. I have contacted Pastor Aldo and some other friends. They will help our families. They also advised us to prepare for the worst, for deportation to Indonesia. There will be many people who will pray for our families.”

For 2 weeks, the social worker gave an opportunity for Irwan to contact his wife for 10 minutes every day. On the 13th day, Irwan said to his wife “I have been told that tomorrow I will be deported. You need to renew your Indonesian passport. Go apply for an American passport and Indonesian passport for our children. After all the affairs are finished, we will gather as a family again in Indonesia. Prepare our children for entry into new environments in Indonesia and new languages of Bahasa Indonesia. I love you all.”

This is the true story of a person I was asked to help. It is an all-too-common story these days for anyone not born in the United States. Franconia Conference is full of immigrant stories. Franconia Conference is a story of faith and migration. This has helped shape us as a community, sensitive to the struggle of others who were also seeking a place of peace and flourishing like we have found rooted in Southeastern Pennsylvania for 300 years. The Gospel of Christ’s peace has reminded us that “to whom much is given, much is also required.” If you are interested in learning more about the more recent immigrant stories in our Conference, the stories of your brothers and sisters, contact the Franconia Conference office and request the immigration stories. You will receive in the mail a DVD including a discussion guide you can use in your congregation. Irwan’s story and all the stories of our brothers and sisters is our story together — past, present, and future as God’s people.

A Prayer for Immigrants and Families
By Rabbi Mark B Greenspan, Oceanside, New York

We have stood outside the walls
Having experienced the cruelty to “No.”
We have been the illegal immigrants
Having fled from oppression,
Searching for a better life
For ourselves and our families;
Give us strength and courage
To speak out for those in need of
Our advocacy.
Our memories are long and indelible;
We were a people without a land,
We watched as children were torn
From parents, only a generation ago
Some to the left, others to the right.
How can we be silent, when
We too were told, “You have no home.”
Let us speak out for those who have no voice.
Let us welcome those who have no place to go.
Help us to live up to the best of our ideals
Both as Americans and as Jews. And
Remind us of the words of Your Prophet:
“Turn the hearts of parents to their children
And the hearts of children to their parents
Lest your land become a curse.”

Hot, Humid and Hope Building

Despite temperatures in the high 90’s and extreme humidity volunteers from the Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey MDS Unit began a Partnership Housing Project (PHP) on June 30 and continued working on the home through one of the hottest weeks of the year.  Read the full article printed on the MDS website HERE

Commemorating the United States the Right Way

by Jerrell Williams, Associate for Leadership Cultivation

This Fourth of July I gathered with Plains Mennonite Church and Evangelical Center for Revival, a predominantly Congolese Mennonite congregation, which held a joint July Fourth commemoration. This was the first time both of the churches got together for this kind of commemoration. The event displayed the willingness of both congregations to think about how they can collaborate together and embrace diversity.

There was a picnic with everything from hot dogs and hamburgers to coconut curry. There were games of corn hole followed by games of cricket. Both sides seemed to walk into the space a little hesitant, but as things got going and people got talking (and eating), folks became more comfortable with each other.

Evangelical Center for Revival blessed everyone with music. They sung worship songs in their native languages as people clapped, sang and danced along to the music. They played a beautiful rendition of “How Great Thou Art” in their native language and integrated English so everyone could sing along. Also present was a free immigration clinic in the church building. They had two lawyers present to help people get advice and information about their immigration status.

All in all I believe the event was a great step in trying to embrace diversity. The congregations, to me, seemingly had little in common coming into the Fourth of July. At the beginning of the event things were awkward and, quite frankly, uncomfortable, though eventually people began to loosen up and have a great time enjoying each other’s company.

This event showed me that it takes willingness to embrace the other within our midst. Things might not always be smooth or go just as planned, but we as people of faith have to be willing to celebrate diversity and help our neighbors.  Said event coordinator Rachel Mateti, “The event has been months in the making and came out of our winter quarter Sunday School class focusing on hospitality and welcome and the call of God’s people to live it out. The members of the class saw this as a way to connect with people in a meaningful way on a day that ideally commemorates values like equality, freedom, and opportunity.”  

In our current political climate I believe this is of the utmost importance. While there has been rhetoric and laws created to destroy the beautiful diversity that we have in the United States, we have to remember to love and show hospitality to all people. This Fourth of July commemoration with Plains Mennonite Church and Evangelical Center for Revival is what I believe the United States is all about.

Jerrell Williams is a Master of Divinity student at Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) Theological Seminary and is interning this summer with Franconia Mennonite Conference and The Mennonite.  Reprinted with permission by The Mennonite.

Teaching Healthy Sexuality for Faithful Living

By Maria Hosler Byler, Pastor for Youth and Family Faith Formation, Salford Mennonite Church

To live out our faith requires helping our children grow into healthy, knowledgeable, and faithful adults – and this is not just for parents; this task is for the whole church. This involves how we use our money, how we treat our neighbors and how we live our lives as sexual people. As Pastor for Youth and Family Faith Formation at Salford, my role is to help families in this task. That meant opening a conversation with parents around sexuality and our human capacity for sexual feelings.

I don’t know if the participants at Salford’s “Beyond the Talk” parents’ gathering were apprehensive before we met, but I sure was. I had planned this conversation for parents about talking with their kids about sexuality with the help of some knowledgeable and experienced congregation members. I was confident we had solid, faith-based resources to offer parents about sexuality and child development. But beyond that, I had so many questions. Were parents even interested in guidance from the church as they teach their kids about sexuality? What was the guidance of the church for parents anyway? Would parents be willing to share, or would we just sit in awkward silence? Would they even come?

We ended up with a spread of parents of kids of all ages, dedicated to raising their kids in healthy sexuality and eager to interact. The night had moments of seriousness and laughter as well as lots of food for thought.

Beth Styer, a congregation member with experience teaching sexuality education, talked about all the different ways kids pick up information about sexuality. We teach them by how we hold them, by how we talk about private parts and human relationships. Then Ron Souder, a pediatrician, brought some sobering statistics about teens and sexuality. He reminded us all that kids learn about sexuality in one way or another, and it’s up to parents what kind of influence they will add to the mix. He also showed a hilariously awkward video clip of parents trying to tell their kids where babies come from – a cringe-worthy reminder that this is a topic lots of people stumble on. He followed that by giving some practical information on developmentally appropriate information for kids as they grow.

Sexuality is anything that has to do with living life as a sexual person. Like anything else in our faith lives, healthy sexuality isn’t a one-time conversation – it’s a way of life that we address over and over again. Can you imagine parents having one conversation with their kids about how to pray, for example, and then checking it off the list with a sigh of relief? Kids learn from our own attitudes and behaviors, so healthy sexuality education starts with us. Thankfully, these little teaching moments happen throughout our kids’ lives, so we have lots of chances to try again.

Throughout the evening, parents shared their own challenges and successes in teaching their kids about sexuality. They shared poignant and off-the-wall comments their toddlers made. They shared moments of confusion and trauma from their own past, and their desires to teach their kids better than they were taught.

My favorite part was when parents shared their hopes for their kids’ sexuality. Some of the hopes that were named: that their kids know deeply God’s love for their bodies and treat their own and others’ bodies with respect; that their sexuality be important to their faith, not something to be scared of but something to discern seriously. Then parents shared ways they help their kids learn these values – giving each other ideas and reminding themselves of the process that is already underway.

That evening barely scratched the surface of the topic. Just like it’s impossible to communicate everything a kid needs to know about sexuality in one talk, it’s impossible to cover everything with parents in an evening. In the end I was left with gratitude for the work that is already happening. Parents are considering where they come from and what we believe, growing in their own sexuality, and intentionally passing on their faith values to their kids. God is already working to heal our places of pain and brokenness and walk with us as the new generation grows up.

The conversation continues, and the work continues. My prayer is that this gathering be only the start of much thought, prayer, and care for human bodies as we raise up little ones in faith.

For some age appropriate books to talk to kids about sexuality, check out “Talking to Kids About Bodies and Boundaries” by Kris and Ginger Wint from the Spring 2017 issue of Intersections or find the list under the “Books to Use With Children” heading on Franconia Conference’s Church Safety webpage

 

 

Creating Space for All of God’s Children

By Jerrell Williams, Associate for Leadership Cultivation

Autism specialist Stacy McGowan

On June 13 I had the opportunity to attend a workshop offered by Franconia Conference on Sensory Sensitive Sacred Spaces, resourcing people on how churches can create space for those within their congregations who have autism. The workshop was organized by Pastor Chris Nickels of Spring Mount Mennonite Church who recently completed his Master’s Thesis on this topic, in conjunction with Heather Gingrich, Children and Youth Minister at Plains Mennonite Church. Led by Autism Specialist Stacey McGowan from the North Penn School District and Candy Nixon of Joni & Friends Greater Philadelphia, we spent a lot of time not only getting facts about how autism affects the people around us, but also receiving practical tools on how our churches can become more inclusive of those who are autistic, as well as their families.

Stacey McGowan spoke first on the facts about autism and how it affects our communities. We were informed that autism now affects 1 in 88 children. McGowan also mentioned that of the children who have autism, 40% of them cannot speak. These numbers helped me to realize that autism affects more children then I had imagined. McGowan then went into detail on how autism affects each child differently. Some children have meltdowns when there is a sensory overload with noises. Some children need to have toys or blankets to keep their minds busy. Some children need to be able to see colorful visuals to learn effectively. 

McGowan also showed us several tools that she uses within her own classes. We circled around the back of the room as she passed around different items that we could use within our churches with children with autism. There was a wig for children who like to touch and pull hair. There was a weighted blanket and vest for children who like to be bundled and wrapped up. There were even items such as silly putty and slime for children to use. McGowan suggested that we create a box in the back of the sanctuary where these items could reside, for children to use .

Candy Nixon of Joni & Friends Greater Philadelphia

Candy Nixon then helped us tear down some of the common myths around children with autism. Nixon called on us to eliminate our stereotypes and to replace them with different teaching practices. She gave us more practical tools that we could use in our churches that will help to engage children on the autism spectrum. She suggested visual schedules, visual parameters, having children act out Bible stories, etc.

I am happy that I had the chance to attend this workshop. I always advocate for inclusivity within the church, but have fallen short when thinking about how to include those with disabilities. As the church, we must realize that there are those within our congregations that have disabilities that affect them in different ways. We must be open to trying new things so that they are getting the opportunity to participate in worship as well. Whether that be using better visuals while preaching or adding motions or signs while singing hymns, we must be willing to be flexible and figure out how to include all people. As Candy Nixon said, “It takes someone with a willing heart and hands who has the love of Jesus to share.” May our hearts be willing as we try to create space for all of God’s children.

Joni and Friends provided participants with a set of 10 small books to educate and aid in caring for families with disabilities. The Conference office has a limited supply available to anyone interested in having a set for your congregation. If you are interested please email office@FranconiaConference.org. These will be distributed on a first come, first served basis. The Conference will also have one set of the books in our library, available for anyone to sign out.  

 

Stoltzfus Resigns Conference and Dock Mennonite Academy Role

John Stoltzfus, Conference Youth Pastor and Campus Pastor for Dock Mennonite Academy, announced his resignation from both roles effective July 31.  John has served in this capacity for six and a half years in a joint appointment between the school and both Franconia and Eastern District Conferences.  He and his wife Paula, along with their children, will relocate later this summer to Harrisonburg, Virginia, where Paula will join the pastoral team of Park View Mennonite Church.

John’s steady work in accompaniment with our Conference youth pastors and acumen in working with the changing context of youth ministry has been key in the ongoing work of Anabaptist faith formation across the generations.  John’s depth of commitment to pastoral presence, thoughtful engagement in our congregations and commitment to bridging the life of our Conference and Dock Mennonite Academy have helped to cultivate healthy relationships and honest open-handed collaboration. 

John was the second person to serve in this joint appointment.  Both the Conference and Dock Mennonite Academy anticipate interim appointments for the upcoming school year for campus ministry and conference ministry roles respectively.  A Conference Youth Ministry Task Force report commissioned by the Franconia Conference Board is expected to shape the future trajectory for the role and responsibilities when released later this summer.  

John wrote in his resignation letter, “This announcement is not an easy one to make as I have deeply appreciated the life and work of both the conference and school environment. It has not been without its challenges but I am so grateful for the privilege of working with a wonderful group of colleagues and friends. I have learned much in this role and I will take with me significant insights and skills learned here.   I am confident of the good work that will continue here and of the way God’s Spirit will continue to raise up new leaders and empower you and the broader community for the work God has called us to do.”