Tag Archives: Bob Stevenson

Building God’s Community Together

by Steve Kriss, executive minister

I’m writing on my last night in Mexico City after celebrating the 60th anniversary of Mennonite churches here.  Over the last months, we’ve been reacquainting ourselves with one another between conferences and reconnecting the strong cords that have, for years, tied our communities together across language, culture, and country.

60th anniversary United Worship of the congregations of CIEAMM at Iglesia Christianas de Paz. (Photo by Kiron Mateti)

It was humbling to stand in front of hundreds of Mexican Mennonites who had come to follow in the way of Christ through the hopeful actions of mission workers—men and women who had left the familiarity of Mennonite congregations in Pennsylvania to build community in the emerging neighborhoods of Mexico City.   As we gathered at Iglesia de Christianas de Paz, I offered a greeting from 1 Corinthians, a reminder that different people have different roles but God brings forth fruit. Together we are building God’s community.

El Buen Pastor – the first Mennonite congregation in Mexico City. (Photo by Kiron Mateti)

But in the midst of that gathering, I was struck most by how going across the boundary to Mexico had changed our conference.   Early stories suggest that Franconia Conference leaders had been waiting for an opening to send international workers.  With a letter of invitation from a woman in Mexico, and after some discernment between various Mennonite mission organizations, Franconia Conference took the lead in Mexico.

Photo by Kiron Mateti

I believe these actions 60 years ago enlarged our hearts and understandings of the world and our connections within it.  Young leaders left familiar community for impactful service and leadership; they learned new foods, spoke Spanish, and tried to understand what essentials should be shared in a new cultural context.  Our understanding of what it meant to be Mennonite had to change.

Celebrating the 60th anniversary of El Buen Pastor congregation, the first Mennonite congregation in Mexico City. (Photo by Kiron Mateti)

And the church in Mexico grew – and is still growing.  The CIEAMM network represents our historic connection, but new connections — the Red de Iglesias Missioneras International led by Kirk Hanger; Iglesia de la Tierra Prometida, where long-term mission workers Bob and Bonnie Stevenson remain; and Centro de Alabanza de Philadelphia, pastored by Fernando Loyola and Leticia Cortes from Iglesia de Christianas de Paz — are ongoing parts of our shared witness.  Along with the Bible translation work of Claude Good that ensured the availability of the Holy Text in the Triqui language, we have made significant contributions to the family of Christ’s followers in Mexico.  The community that makes up these various networks is likely similarly sized to our current Franconia Conference membership.

The view from the top. (Photo by Steve Kriss)

As part of our visit, we visited the Torre LatinoAmericana in central Mexico City.  I stared out from atop the 44-story building, built in the same era that our earliest mission workers arrived. I looked toward the Cathedral of our Lady of Guadeloupe, where the story of a visit from the Virgin Mary to a farm worker in the field would change the trajectory of faith toward Roman Catholicism.

This global city sprawls in every direction around the tower: Mexico City is the size of New York, with 20 million people in the metro area.  There are Starbucks and Walmarts, as well as lots of traffic, and omnipresent cell phones.

Closing prayer at Luz y Verdad congregation, the 2nd congregation begun 60 years ago in Mexico City. (Photo by Kiron Mateti)

I prayerfully wondered what the next years will hold for us together, recognizing each other as sibling communities, and honoring together the Good News of Christ’s peace as we celebrate the possibilities of a faith that crosses boundaries.  This faith changes us in our giving and receiving and, ultimately, changes the world in ways that are both big and small.

In the Eye of the Storm

Over the first week of August, a tropical storm (and at a time, Hurricane Earl) wreaked havoc across Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Central America, and Mexico, deeply impacting the Mexican state of Pueblo where Monte Maria Church has several church plants.

In 1988, Franconia Conference sent Pastor Bob Stevenson to Mexico for church planting and evangelism. Bob became connected with Monte Maria Church in Mexico City and currently is the second pastor of the congregation since its formation in 1979. The Conference continues to hold Bob’s credentials and his ministry and Monte Maria Church continue to connect with various conference congregations. Perkiomenville Mennonite Church has maintained a partner in mission relationship with the Monte Maria Church through mission trips and teaching in the School of Ministry.  Last fall Perkiomenville pastor, Charlie Ness, spoke at the Monte Maria leaders’ conference and made connections with the pastors.

Five of Monte Maria’s church plants were severely damaged by tropical storm Earl in the villages of Ahuacatlan, Huauchinango, Xaltepec and Chicahuxtla. The congregation in Xaltepex experiencing the worst. The pastor of the congregation, Pastor Ramiro and his wife Lucy, along with several church members lost their homes and all of their belongings due to the landslides and flooding caused by Earl.  Among the many who lost their lives due to the storm, six children are nieces and nephews of Pastor Ramiro.

In a letter received from Bob last week, he writes “We have sent teams and basic supplies. However, the need is enormous. Therefore, I am asking for special offerings to rebuild, bedding, towels and clothing and if possible, workers. There are still persons unaccounted for and risks of more damage. Please pray the mercy of God over these villages.”

The need is far beyond what Perkiomenville Mennonite Church is able to meet and is appealing to others to help bear the burden of our brothers and sisters in Mexico. They are currently in conversation with Mennonite Disaster Services and are appealing for financial contributions to buy building materials to rebuild the pastor and congregation members’ homes and also to help assist in purchasing a vehicle for the pastor, as his only means of transportation was washed away by the storm.

Financial contributions can be sent to Franconia Conference (1000 Forty Foot Rd, Lansdale, PA 19446) marked for Monte Maria Rebuilding Efforts.

If you or your congregation are interested in sending workers, please contact Charlie Ness as he will be coordinating work teams over the next several months. He can be reached at Charlie@perkmc.com.

Global Missional Blessings

by Charles A. Ness

The email read, “There is a young man from our church who would like to live in the United States for several months to sharpen his English. He is also a good piano player and willing to assist in ministry. His father is an elder in our church. Would Perk be interested in hosting him?” The email was from Bob Stevenson who is credentialed through Franconia Conference, and is pastor of the Monte Maria Church in Mexico City with whom Perkiomenville Mennonite Church has had a long relationship.

We were excited about the possibility of having a young adult from the Monte Maria church be part of our worship ministry and so, after discussion with the elder team, we gave an enthusiastic “Yes!”

There were various logistics that needed to be worked out, such as housing and finances, but we were confident that they could be addressed. Initially, a local business offered full-time employment, but because the young man did not have a work visa, we had to look for other means of support.

TonyReyesTony Reyes arrived from Mexico City at the end of May in 2015 and we quickly learned to appreciate his musical talents and passion for the Lord. He plays keyboard and writes music for several groups in Mexico, so we planned a fundraising concert. Tony enlisted the help of his friends, the Linker Sanchez family (who are church planters in Maryland from Monte Maria Church). We had a great night of Spanish and English praise and worship with a combined worship team made up of Tony, plus members of Perkiomenville and the Sanchez family. The funds raised helped support Tony during his stay in the United States.

Our LEAD Minister, Noel Santiago, also suggested applying for a Franconia Conference Mission Operational Grant, and we are thankful it was approved.  The partnership of the conference in this way was a very important contribution to Tony’s support.

Tony lived with Charlie Ness, pastor at Perkiomenville, and his wife Janet while searching for long-term housing arrangements. Tony’s housing need was met when Pastor Scott Roth of Perkiomenville Mennonite Church began a discipleship house in Pennsburg and had a room available. Scott was able to benefit from Tony’s assistance with the discipleship house known as The Gathering Place, a ministry to youth in the Perkiomenville area.

From June to November, Tony lived in Pennsburg assisting the community-based ministry there and playing regularly on the Perkiomenville worship team. His presence brought a spiritual and cultural diversity that was a blessing.

This unique, enriching ministry was made possible because of the global relationship we have with the church in Mexico. For years, members of Perkiomenville have gone to the Monte Maria Church for teaching and construction-related ministry opportunities. This was the first time someone from Monte Maria came here for an extended time of ministry. It is a great example of the value of cross-cultural partnering in mission relationships. These relationships are encouraging to all who are involved.

In reflecting on his experience Tony wrote the following: My name is Tony Reyes. There are no words to describe how thankful I am with the Lord, with Pastor Charlie Ness, with his beautiful church, and with all of you at the Franconia Conference. You all have given me a lot of support and you have been a blessing in my life.

 There are many things that I would like to share with you about the wonderful experience that the Lord gave me with all of these amazing people in the Perkiomenville Church, but I will share them with you in the next few sentences.

First of all, I did not know what to expect when I first arrived to Perkiomenville, but I was trusting the Lord and the purpose for which He was sending me to that unknown place. He took me little by little, and showed me many things as the time went by. From the time I integrated to the worship team and played the piano, to time I spent working with Pastor Scott Roth in the different activities in the church and in the community of Perkiomenville, and to the time I spent remodeling the house I was staying at, I could only see God’s love and grace pour out in life. I learned many things from my brothers and sisters, and from Pastor Charlie and all the people I met, who allowed me to become a part of their life. I keep everyone in my heart and prayers, and I hope in the Lord I will see you soon. 

May the Lord bless you in every area of your life. 

Kind regards,
Tony Reyes

Additional partner-in-mission relationships are possible with the Monte Maria Church. Contact Pastor Charlie Ness at charlie@perkmc.com for more information.

Delegates commit to waiting, hoping, discerning at Assembly

Bob & Bonnie Stevenson
Charlie Ness (Perkiomenville) and Bonnie Stevenson pray for Bob Stevenson before he brings the message during Friday night worship. Photo by Emily Ralph

by Emily Ralph, associate director of communication

“Waiting on God is expectant and hopeful,” declared Marta Castillo, Franconia Conference’s outgoing assistant moderator, at the opening of the United Franconia and Eastern District Conferences’ 2014 Assembly.  The theme of this year’s gathering, held November 14-15 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa., was “Esperando: Waiting & Hoping.”

“We’re not waiting for something, we’re waiting for somebody,” added Bob Stevenson during Friday evening worship.  “Waiting is not just a passive sitting back.  And so the word I have is that we wait ‘until’ [we receive the power of the Spirit] and then we get up and go!”

Stevenson and his wife Bonnie were called and commissioned as missionaries to Mexico at a Franconia Conference Assembly 26 years before.  They were celebrated Friday night as they reached a milestone in their ministry: the transition from raising missionary support from the States to full funding through their congregation.  “I thank the Lord for allowing us to be a part of this conference,” Bonnie responded after she and Bob were presented with a Spanish fraktur created by Salford congregation member Roma Ruth.  “There are many times on Friday morning when we have our prayer together … that we pray for each one of your congregations by name.”

praying for Danilo Sanchez
Conference leaders pray for Danilo Sanchez, Whitehall, one of this year’s newly credentialed leaders. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

The theme of leaders raised up and called from within the Conference continued on Saturday during the joint delegate session, when the gathering recognized a number of newly credentialed leaders who were licensed out of Franconia congregations.  “Where do our pastors come from?” asked Steve Kriss, Franconia Conference director of leadership cultivation.  “They come because you invite them.”

This year also saw the credentialing of leaders from other conferences and denominational backgrounds, adding to Franconia’s increasing diversity.  “Diversity is a catalyst for growth,” reflected Jessica Hedrick, Souderton congregation, during table feedback.  Her table encouraged conference delegates to prioritize prayer and, as corporate discernment continued, to recognize “the opportunity to learn from each other instead of necessarily trying to get everyone to agree.”

KrisAnne Swartley praying
KrisAnne Swartley, Doylestown, joins in prayer for the other congregations at her table. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

The theme of listening well and together wove through many of the stories and hopes shared throughout the weekend.  Danilo Sanchez, Whitehall congregation, named three areas that it seemed the majority of delegates were wrestling with: “Listening to the Spirit, how to sit with our differences, and how to love like Christ.”

The Franconia Conference Board asked delegates to consider what kind of conversations needed to be planned leading up to the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City next summer, knowing the likelihood that Convention will include decisions about denominational structure and human sexuality.  Many delegates agreed that the questions of structure and sexuality only skimmed the surface; perhaps there were other questions that should be asked instead.

delegates conferring
Delegates discussed difficult issues around tables with grace and laughter. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

Josh Meyer, Franconia congregation, wondered how the upcoming dialogue could form those participating into the image of Christ.  “How we have this conversation is just as important as any decisions that we make,” he said.  “It doesn’t matter what we decide in Kansas City; if we don’t treat each other as sisters and brothers in Christ, then we’ve missed the point.”

Throughout the weekend, conference leadership encouraged delegates to actively wait on the Spirit, to take time for stillness and listening, and to collaborate in acts of justice and mercy.  “We must not become paralyzed by the issues of the day,” encouraged Eastern District moderator Brenda Oelschlager, “but move forward in love … as God leads us along new paths.”

Several new paths highlighted included a new Lehigh Valley collaboration in hiring Sanchez as youth minister, welcoming two new Philadelphia congregations (Centro de Alabanza and Indonesian Light Church) into an exploration of membership in Franconia Conference, and the move of the Mennonite Conference Center to the campus of Christopher Dock Mennonite High School in Lansdale (Pa.).

Aldo Siahaan introduces new congregations
LEADership Minister Aldo Siahaan introduces two new congregations exploring membership in Franconia Conference: Centro de Alabanza and Indonesian Light Church. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

Although 2014 saw the beginnings of new ministries and the licensing of many new pastors, it also brought the deaths of three influential church leaders: Paul Lederach, John Drescher, and Israel Bolaños.  In reflecting on their legacies, Kriss encouraged delegates to remember them by carrying on their work of teaching, writing, and mission.

“The gospel isn’t good news until someone takes it and goes with it,” Bob Stevenson agreed.  The power which sends the church is not political or force, but “a power that is a ‘preach the gospel to the poor’ power, it’s a ‘healing the broken heart’ power….  What will change this world is us, God’s people.”