Connecting our Stories: Imagining our Future

by John Stoltzfus

What are the stories of race that you were taught? How did these stories shape your identity? How do these stories shape your ministry today?

These were some of the questions raised by Felipe Hinojosa during the recent annual Youth Ministry Council (YMC) at Spruce Lake Retreat Center, April 19-22. The event’s theme was “Connecting our Stories: Imagining our Future.”

Over 40 youth pastors, leaders, and sponsors from across Mennonite Church USA gathered at Spruce Lake Retreat Center for the annual Youth Ministry Council (YMC). Franconia Conference churches were well represented including Mike Ford from Blooming Glen Mennonite Church what said:

“I always appreciate time to network and learn from other youth workers, and Youth Ministry Council is a great time of catching up with old friends, making new friends, and asking questions and sharing details of how each of us does youth ministry in our churches.  I come away from such times refreshed, and often with a new idea or two to try in my ministry.”

john stoltzfus 5-21-15Felipe Hinojosa who serves as an assistant professor of history at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas drew on stories and examples from his book, Latino Mennonites: Civil Rights, Faith and Evangelical Culture.

“How are you talking — or not talking — about things shaping our culture like Ferguson, the U.S.-Mexico border, demographic changes and social media?” said Hinojosa. “Each of our stories is powerful. We need to keep telling these stories and learning how to re-frame them to provide hope for the future and to get past the paralysis that history can sometimes bring us to.”

One of the interesting little known stories we heard was of the Cross Cultural Convention held in 1972 where Mennonite youth from diverse backgrounds came together to work for “the politics of the possible,” and invited us to consider ways in which the Church can today step forward to work for equity, justice, dismantle systematic oppression, and work towards reconciliation. Drew Hart and Yvonne Platts also shared stories from their lives and ministries as people of color in the Mennonite Church.

We spent time in worship led by Danilo Sanchez. We engaged the story of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10 to consider the question, “Who is my neighbor?” We ended our time together with an anointing service where we anointed one another to continue the work of reconciliation we each are called to do.

If you have not attended a Youth Ministry Council gathering, you are invited to attend the next one! The invitation is open to any youth worker/sponsor, pastor, agency leader, credentialed or not. It will take place Jan. 29–31, 2016, in Orlando, Florida in anticipation of the Mennonite Church USA convention to be held there in 2017.

John Stoltzfus is the Franconia Conference Youth Minister.