In a time of significant changes with youth ministry staffing and high school age youth demographics, last month Franconia Conference began a Youth Ministry Review/Visioning taskforce. The Taskforce will be working on a six month process reflecting on our Conference’s youth ministry initiatives. The members were by the Conference Board to review past and present youth ministry staffing and work at setting a vision for Conference youth ministry in the near future.
Taskforce members include Mary Keller (Zion/Eastern District representative), Jim King (Plains/Conference Board representative), Joe Hackman (Salford, facilitator), Brooke Martin (Franconia), Danilo Sanchez (Ripple/Whitehall) and Adrian Suryajaya (Philadelphia Praise Center). The diverse team seeks to understand current and emerging needs for congregations and youth across our conference community.
“I am glad to do this work because the youth are the future of our Church (as in the whole Christian body, not just denomination),” said Adrian. “We need to cultivate and guide them to fulfill the purpose of the Church in the future.”
In a time of changing demographics and priorities, the review and visioning process gives space to appreciate what past and current work while imagining upcoming possibilities and challenges.
As debate around human sexuality continues to leave many church leaders wondering what binds together people with diverse beliefs, at least four Franconia Conference congregations are partnering to advocate for basic human rights, declaring that human beings shouldn’t be abused, raped, and sold.
The four Pennsylvania congregations – Doylestown, Finland, Franconia, and Philadelphia Praise Center – independently of each other became aware of the issue of human trafficking, commonly defined as the illegal movement of people, often for the purposes of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation.
These congregations are each comprised of members with diverse theological perspectives, racial makeup, and socio-economic status, making their shared interest in addressing human trafficking unique and important at a time when conversations around homosexuality have polarized many churches.
Each congregation has taken its own steps toward becoming informed about the impact of human trafficking internationally, nationally, and locally, and toward advocating for victims of human trafficking everywhere. It wasn’t until recently, however, that leaders from the four churches realized their shared conviction at a seemingly surprising location: a delegate meeting.
In February, as Franconia Conference leaders conducted business and wrestled with questions related to homosexuality, Josh Meyer, associate pastor of Franconia congregation, stood up and appealed to church leaders, “What are the more important matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness that we can gather around?” For example, Meyer suggested, despite differing opinions about homosexuality, doesn’t everyone agree that human beings shouldn’t be abused, raped, and sold into slavery?
“That was the appeal that sparked a quick, on-the-spot poll of pastors and leaders present to ask, ‘which congregations want to be in conversation on this, want to get together to work on this?’” said Samantha Lioi, Franconia Conference minister of peace and justice.
After the delegate meeting, leaders from the four congregations, plus Lioi, formed an informal task force “to explore what it would look like to work together and make responding to human trafficking a priority in our Conference,” Meyer said. The task force organized a resourcing breakfast focused on human trafficking, held in September, and organized an anti-trafficking workshop to be held during Conference Assembly on November 15. The task force is planning a day of public witness, where people will be invited to gather and pray outside popular trafficking spots in southeastern Pennsylvania.
“Moving forward, we’re excited about making more congregations aware of the issue, and providing practical, tangible ways for churches to respond together,” Meyer said.
The Finland congregation has been addressing human trafficking for several years, hosting local speakers including Debbie Wright, an activist who is producing a documentary about sex trafficking in southeastern Pennsylvania. Pastor Kris Wint first encountered trafficking while in Cambodia. “To do nothing is to keep people enslaved and live contrary to the One we claim to follow,” Wint said.
Franconia congregation has focused a Sunday morning service on trafficking, hosted an awareness night, heard from guest speakers, and provided resources on how to get involved in combatting trafficking. “My sense is many congregations don’t even realize the extent to which human trafficking is a reality in our world,” Meyer said. “There are more slaves in the world today than at any other time in human history. Churches need to know about this … My other sense is that many churches are aware of the situation but don’t know what to do in response. It seems like such a big issue; it’s hard to know how to engage. If we can find ways to help churches act in practical, tangible ways, that would be a great thing.”
About three years ago, Doylestown staff members KrisAnne Swartley and Sandy Landes began prayer walking around Hilltown. As they walked, they became aware of area businesses that profit from the sex trade: adult bookstores, strip bars, massage parlors.
“It deeply troubled us, but we weren’t sure what we could do about it, other than continue to pray,” said Swartley, Doylestown’s minister for the missional journey.
Eventually, the Doylestown congregation connected with local advocates: Worthwhile Wear and The Well. With this kind of partnering, Swartley sees advocating for an end to human trafficking as missional.
“Individually, we can do very little to end modern day slavery,” she said. “As we partner together, we can accomplish so much more – each person and congregation offering different gifts as we have them, for this ministry.”
Adrian Suryajaya agrees. Some members of his congregation, Philadelphia Praise Center, have been victims of forced labor and wage theft.
“It is important that we work together on this issue because it is such a big, overwhelming issue to tackle alone,” he said. “We need a lot of resources and teamwork.”
The diversity of the Franconia Conference congregations partnering to end modern day slavery shows this teamwork is already happening. Lioi hopes more join in, and hopes the upcoming conference assembly will provide ample opportunity to do so.
“I don’t know why, but it seems this injustice, this oppression in particular, has drawn a more diverse group of leaders together than any other I have seen,” she said. “I believe we can be publicly present in standing against traffickers and standing with survivors, especially since we have information about places close to our congregations that have been centers for trafficking.”
Tom Albright, lead pastor of Ripple, an emerging Anabaptist missional faith community in Center City Allentown was recognized by the Lehigh County Council of Churches with the Ecumenical Service Award for 2012. According to the Council, “the award is not to glorify the individual, but to give witness to the important work of affirming and strengthening Christian unity. The award is given to well-known and little-known individuals, to people deeply involved in the life of the Conference and to those who have offered their gifts elsewhere.”
Ripple is a church-plant that was birthed from Franconia Conference congregation, Whitehall Mennonite Church, just outside of the city. Tom and his wife Carolyn were honored with this award for “hearing God’s call and moving into the city.” He accepted the award on behalf of the emerging community at Ripple, suggesting that this award wasn’t only about him but also about the community of people who gather weekly and who live the Good News every day in their hearts and on the streets of Allentown.
Earlier this year, Ripple called two additional pastors–Ben Walter and Angela Moyer—to serve alongside the Albrights in leading this growing congregation of approximately 100 people. Albright is the first Mennonite pastor recognized by the Council with this award, given since 1981. The award presentation was marked with a dinner on May 15 at Allentown’s Dieruff High School.
As part of WPVI ABC-TV’s celebration of Asian American Heritage month in Philadelphia, Aldo Siahaan, lead pastor of Philadelphia Praise Center, was honored for his commitment to the Indonesian immigrant community since arriving in Philadelphia over a decade ago, part of a wave of approximately 10,000 immigrants from Indonesia who settled in Philadelphia in the last 15 years, the majority of whom were Christians escaping religious persecution in their homeland. Siahaan is the first Mennonite pastor to receive this award.
Siahaan was honored for his work in community service and communication among the immigrant community in South Philadelphia along with approximately ten other leaders from the diverse Asian communities in the city. He is the founding pastor of the now multilingual, multiethnic urban Anabaptist congregation of Philadelphia Praise–approximately 250 people, the largest Mennonite Church USA congregation in the city.
An award celebration was held at the historic Joy Tsing Lau restaurant in Philadelphia’s Chinatown section on May 22. The celebration included cultural celebrations of the Delaware Valley’s Asian communities, from Pakistani dance to Japanese Kobuki-style drama.
For Siahaan, the honor was unexpected. But for members of the congregation at Philadelphia Praise, the honor was appropriate and even missional. According to Adrian Suryajaya, a young adult leader from Philadelphia Praise who attended the event along with Siahaan, “The time has come for Godly leaders to rise and be recognized, to be salt and light. Christians are called to being God’s love, passion and Good News to the community where we are placed.”
“There is not one culture that fully knows who Jesus is. That is why we need another culture to complete the character of Jesus.” That is the heart of the message Mennonite World Conference’s new executive secretary Cesar Garcia gave the congregation at Philadelphia Praise Center (PPC).
On January 29, Garcia made his Franconia Conference debut at PPC–a growing multiethnic and multilingual congregation in South Philadelphia that worships in English, Indonesian and Spanish. “I am amused to see the little print on the bulletin that says ‘Multiethnic Church’,” said Garcia. “By being a multicultural church, you can be an example to other churches in North America.”
His message, affirming the call of multiethnic congregations, became a form of confirmation for the congregation according to Aldo Siahaan, PPC’s lead pastor. “As a pastor of a multiethnic church, I felt that Pastor Garcia’s message was an affirmation of what the church has been doing and it will always be a vision of Philadelphia Praise Center,” he said. “It is not easy and each culture needs to learn from one another. However, this will not become a hindrance because we believe that this is God’s plan for the church.”
Garcia offered God’s vision in Revelation 7:16-17 about what could happen if the church heeds God’s calling and remains faithful. “We will find consolation and satisfaction in God,” he said. “There will be no more emptiness in our life as long as we are faithful to heed his calling.”
Lindy Backues, a member of the congregation’s elder team, also felt the resonance of God’s plan for Philadelphia Praise Center through Pastor Garcia’s message. “I am very, very, very enthusiastic about the message!” Backues said. “Cross-cultural congregations are very rare [and] relevant today because it forces us out of our comfort zone. . . . It is easy to love people from the same culture. However, if we can reach out and love our brothers and sisters from other cultures, then the love that Jesus speaks about is fulfilled.”
Garcia, born in Colombia, is the first executive secretary for Mennonite World Conference who is a native of the 2/3rds world. He began this position this spring and recently completed graduate studies in California. Garcia and his family, along with the main offices of Mennonite World Conference, are now relocating to Bogata.