By Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister
My first trip in my role with Franconia Conference over a decade ago was to Guatemala. I traveled with a group of persons from our Conference who began to invest in the lives of communities in rural indigenous villages through Agros International. It was my first glimpse into the global-mindedness of our Conference in both official programs as well as through individual or familial relationships. Though we are rooted firmly in Bucks and Montgomery County, wedged between the metro areas of Allentown, New York City and Philadelphia, we think often like global citizens.
Thomas Friedman, in his well-known book about global economics, The World is Flat, suggests that to survive and flourish into the new millennium, organizations will need to think of themselves as both global and local. This is not new for us. Our immigrant and settler mindset remains with us in many ways, though we’ve been in Pennsylvania for hundreds of years and in some areas the road names bear our familial surnames and reference even our own congregations and faith (see Mennonite Road in Collegeville).
In a time of America first, we know and live otherwise. We live with a sense of the reality of “to whom much is given much is required”. For us in Franconia Conference, as the world became more accessible, we became more aware. Our unusual geography and clusters near major cities on the East Coast provide us ready access to transportation that can take us around the world in 24 hours. With the massive migration of the last decades, the world has also come to us. Sometimes these changes make our heads and hearts spin as we listen to unfamiliar languages in the aisles while shopping at Landis Supermarkets.
As a community in Franconia Conference, we honor the legacy of those from our heartlands who in the early 20th Century, saw the world coming closer and felt compelled to take and live the story in places like Norristown, Rocky Ridge and Bristol. We honor the story of people like Clayton Kratz who in the early 20th century, disappeared in the Ukraine while trying to find ways to assist Mennonites in a time of intense realities. We tell the story of Lois Gunden Clemens, who is recognized as “Among the Righteous” by the state of Israel for her work among refugees during World War II in France. These are our stories and our blessed heritage.
We have invested heavily in the Anabaptist community in Mexico City. Through the MAMA Project, we continually support the health and wellness of communities in Honduras. We’ve built bridges with Anabaptist communities in Indonesia that have transformed us here in the States. We support workers in diverse places through various organizations, as well as regularly sending and supporting longer term initiatives through Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Central Committee. Currently, we have four credentialed pastors who are working outside of the United States in Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia and Mexico. We regularly produce publications in English, Indonesian, Spanish and Vietnamese and all of the translation is done by partners who live in Asia.
This is one of the things that continues to intrigue me about us. It makes me wonder how we might continue to use these legacies of global connection and our ready points of access through increased ease of transportation and communication, financial resources, along with our communal and individual astuteness and acumen, in our sense of calling as followers of Christ to be both wise as serpents and as innocent as doves in extending the Good News to all people.
This week I returned from London, building on relationships that we have cultivated through the Anabaptist community there. I was there days after the Manchester bombing and preached in London the morning after the incident at London Bridge. The Gospel of Christ’s peace that we know, that we have been given, continues to be brilliantly relevant in these tough times.
God has uniquely situated us at Franconia Conference with global connections and global capacities, hearts provoked to love and care for the places where we are from like Bally and Bridgewater Corners, Souderton and South Philly, while at the same time connecting us to places, people and possibilities globally. In a time when much of the world retreats into fear, we remain people of hope, continually willing to share with neighbors both nearby and faraway, to share this peace that goes beyond comprehension with family, with friends, and even with those who might be called our enemies.