Tag Archives: CIEAMM

Standing in the Gap at the Border and at Home

by Emily Ralph Servant, Director of Communication

For the last month, Philadelphia Praise Center pastor Aldo Siahaan has been reminding his congregation of their rights during each Sunday morning worship service.

In expectation of, and response to, a recent wave of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids, immigrants in Philadelphia and other US cities—both documented and not—are living in fear.  “I’ve been like them,” reflects Siahaan, who migrated to the United States in 1998 after riots in Indonesia: “I know what they feel like, living like this.”

Questions and concern around immigration have become increasingly important for members of Franconia Conference, which has seen a increase in immigrant congregations over the past decade.  Currently, close to fifteen percent of the conference are first-generation immigrants, many coming from Indonesia, Mexico, Tanzania, Myanmar, Hong Kong, and India.

Some of Franconia’s Latin brothers and sisters originally entered the US by way of the southern border.  Recent news reports have highlighted tragic conditions in detention camps there, where some families are separated, and others are turned away before they can even apply for asylum.  Many Franconia congregations have been asking what they can do to help.

A Direct Response

MCC is collecting Immigrant Detainee Care Kits with supplies that will provide immigrants who are being released from detainment centers along the US’ southern border with basic hygiene supplies. Photo provided by MCC Central States.

“Having been to the border several years ago to see key Mennonite partners there, I recognize that there are some basic practical needs that people require after they’ve been released from detention,” reflects Franconia’s executive minister Steve Kriss.  Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is meeting some of these needs by making and distributing Immigrant Detainee Care Kits.  “The kit response feels hands-on and important as the kind of thing Mennonites do to directly respond to human needs,” observes Kriss.

In order to provide additional kits, Franconia’s board has allocated a $5000 grant to match contributions from Franconia and Eastern District congregations to the MCC East Coast’s Material Resource Center (MRC) in Harleysville, PA.   The MRC will make the care kits to send for distribution in Texas and New Mexico through MCC Central States.  The grant will also match gifts given by Franconia congregations to MCC West Coast for transporting kits distributed in California and Arizona.  The deadline for matching is August 31.

Already at Work

Even as Franconia and Eastern District congregations raise financial support around the border crisis, we remember that the struggle continues closer to home. “We ARE immigrant communities,” Kriss acknowledges.  “We are communities that are responding on a regular basis to the challenges of receiving people who are seeking safety and asylum in places across the country.”  Many pastors in our congregations are regularly responding to crises of migration, he observes.  In these cases, these are not programs of the church; they are pastoral responses to real needs in our communities.

The border fence between Tijuana and California adjoins a city neighborhood and is covered in lively artwork and graffiti. Photo by Steve Kriss.

When a large migrant caravan began making its way through Mexico in 2018, the Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México (CIEAMM), a Franconia Partner in Ministry, decided to open their arms and hearts to the “temporary refugees” in Mexico by providing aid.  “We take seriously the teaching of Jesus, who invites us to the [kind of] love and solidarity that feeds the hungry, dresses the naked, gives water to the thirsty, protects the helpless, takes care of the sick, and visits the incarcerated,” described moderator Carlos Martínez García at Mennonite World Conference’s Renewal 2019 event in Costa Rica.  “We did a work of compassion, putting ourselves in the place of needy migrants, and acting to bring some accompaniment and comfort.” (Read his full remarks.)

Fernando Loyola and Letty Cortes pastor Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, a congregation of Latinx immigrants, and have seen a recent wave of immigrants from Guatemala arriving in their neighborhood.  Their congregation provides food, clothing, funds, and help navigating the new American culture.  They refer families to immigration lawyers and to Juntos, a community-led immigrant non-profit that fights for human rights in South Philly.

Philadelphia Praise Center has been renovating its building to become a sanctuary church, where immigrants fearing deportation can live safely during ICE raids.  Siahaan has walked with many individuals and families who need help navigating the complex legal channels involved in applying for visas or green cards.  Just this last week, he was called to help someone from the community who was picked up in an ICE raid.

Unfortunately, once someone has been detained by ICE, there isn’t much that can be done, he explains—within a couple of weeks, they’ll be deported.  The need is greater before that happens; what immigrants need most, he suggests, is for their Franconia brothers and sisters to be their voice: “Call or write to your congressperson and say, ‘Hey, you need to do something about this situation, these immigration raids!’”

Advocacy to Prevent Tragedy

Advocacy work includes contacting representatives on both state and national levels.  Steve Wilburn, teaching pastor at Covenant Community congregation in Lansdale, PA, has been involved with International Justice Mission (IJM) since he traveled to Cambodia and Vietnam in seminary and saw IJM’s work in battling human trafficking.  Currently, he’s partnering with IJM to advocate for the “Central American Women and Children Protection Act of 2019,” which is legislation that commits US funds, in partnership with the governments of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, to help them restore their justice systems in order to protect women and children from abuse.  Several Franconia Conference leaders have signed a letter in support of this legislation.

Most US government efforts in those countries have been focused on drugs and gang violence, Wilburn explains, but that doesn’t help protect children and women: “Those are some of the reasons that people are leaving and trying to escape violence there, becoming refugees,” he says.  Most would rather stay home if home were a safe place for them and their children.

Real People, Real Suffering

Siahaan recently went on an MCC borderlands tour to meet migrants and see the situation for himself.  On his trip, he met a young mother with two children who were waiting to apply for asylum.  They had fled Colombia after her husband had been shot by a gang.

It was eye-opening for Siahaan.  He had read books and heard stories but meeting real people on the border face-to-face affirmed for him that the work the South Philly congregations were doing mattered.  It encouraged him to keep going.

Beny Krisbianto, pastor of Nations Worship Center in Philadelphia, is a member of the conference executive board.  The decision to allocate the funds for the matching grant was easy for him when he considered the children who are daily affected by both the “border crisis” and the local ICE raids.  It’s not a political issue, he emphasizes, but a call to care for real children who had no control over the decision to come in the first place.  “These are real people, who are already here, who are suffering and may die,” he says.  “These kits will help.”

His congregation supports conference advocacy for migrants at the southern border because they, too, are daily experiencing the fear and uncertainty of the country’s broken immigration system.  It’s not just a story you see on CNN or ABC News, he reminds the conference community; for immigrants in South Philadelphia, “It’s our everyday life.”

Ways to Help

  • Pray for migrants on the southern border, for immigrants living in our communities, and for those who are working alongside them for health, healing, and wholeness. Pray for just immigration laws, merciful immigration practices, and a path to citizenship that will keep families together.
  • To receive a matching grant for the making and/or transporting of Immigrant Detainee Care Kits, send checks labeled “Immigrant Detainee Care Kits” directly to the MCC Material Resource Center of Harleysville, 737 Hagey Center Drive, Unit C, Souderton, PA 18964 OR directly to West Coast MCC Office, 1010 G Street, Reedley, CA 93654. For West Coast donations only: email Conrad Martin (ccmartin@franconiaconference.org) at the conference office with the date and amount of the gift.  Deadline for matching funds is August 31.
  • Read the Churchwide Statement on the Abuse of Child Migrants passed at Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City (July 2019) and Carlos Martínez García’s full reflection on CIEAMM’s ministry caring for some of the migrants traveling through Mexico.
  • Advocate with your legislators to support asylum seekers and the American Dream and Promise Act and to restrict ICE raids.
  • Sign a faith leaders’ letter of support for the “Central American Women and Children Protection Act of 2019” or become an IJM volunteer by contacting Steve Wilburn at swilburn@ijmvolunteers.org. Register for a 2-day advocacy summit in Washington D.C. in October.
  • A significant focus of MCC East Coast’s domestic work is related to immigration advocacy: in Miami, through the New York Mennonite Immigration Program, and in direct services to those who have been trying to find a legal pathway to stay in the US. Find out moreWest Coast MCC is in the process of offering “Know Your Rights” trainings for Franconia’s West Coast congregations.

Abrir Los Brazos y El Corazon Los Migrantes / Open Arms and Hearts to the Migrants

(scroll for English)

por Carlos Martínez García

Un decenio de celebración y ejercicio reflexivo. El Congreso Mundial Menonita eligió la década 2017-2027 para evaluar tanto la Reforma protestante como la Reforma radical y la influencia de ambos movimientos en el surgimiento del anabautismo constructor de paz. Durante el mencionado decenio, cada año, ha tenido y tendrá lugar en distintos lugares del mundo el ejercicio llamado Renovación. En el 2017 la reunión se llevó a cabo en Augsburgo, Alemania; el año pasado en Kisumu, Kenia; y en el presente la sede es San José, Costa Rica.

 El tema para el evento en Costa Rica es “Justicia en el camino: migración y la historia anabautista-menonita”. Los anabautistas/menonitas del siglo XVI, y subsecuentes centurias, debieron migrar constantemente en búsqueda de libertad para difundir y practicar sus creencias. Estas migraciones se hicieron en condiciones muy adversas. Además del marco histórico y bíblico teológico que se presentará en Costa Rica, se solicitó a distintos ponentes referir experiencias sobre el tema migratorio actual y cómo están respondiendo las comunidades de fe identificadas con el anabautismo. En mi caso me requirieron para compartir “cómo mi iglesia, o iglesias en mi región, han experimentado la migración o formas en que están respondiendo a las necesidades de los desplazados”. A continuación reproduzco lo compartido en Renovación 2019:

A finales del 2018 llegaron en caravana miles de migrantes centroamericanos a México. Aunque desde hace muchos años el país ha sido ruta de paso para quienes migran de América Central con la esperanza de llegar a Estados Unidos de América (EUA), por primera vez grupos organizados demandaban se abriera la frontera mexicana para que pudieran entrar y transitar por el país con seguridad.

En términos generales la población comprendió las razones de los migrantes para huir de sus países y buscar un mejor futuro. Históricamente millones de mexicanos han migrado hacia EUA. En la actualidad un alto porcentaje de ellos y ellas viven allá con temor ya que no tienen papeles de residencia. Su contribución a la economía estadounidense es importante, cálculos de hace dos años mostraron que diez por ciento de la economía depende de la fuerza laboral de los migrantes mexicanos. Además de su contribución económica, estos migrantes aportan diversificación cultural a los EUA. La segunda ciudad con más mexicanos, después de la ciudad de México, es una urbe norteamericana: Los Ángeles, California.

Aunque hubo sectores que tuvieron pensamientos y acciones hostiles hacia las caravanas de migrantes que llegaron a México a finales del 2018 y primeros meses del presente año, el sentimiento más amplio fue el de solidaridad y la realización de campañas para levantar ayuda y proveer a los migrantes de ropa, alimentos, medicinas, atención médica y acompañamiento en su caminar hacia el norte.

En la Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México (CIEAMM), por medio del ministerio Sendas de Justicia, se hicieron llamados a coordinarse con otras organizaciones e iglesias que deseaban dar ayuda en las necesidades expresadas por los migrantes. Este es un punto importante, es necesario escuchar a quienes se quiere servir para que la solidaridad sea relevante y centrada en las carencias de los migrantes y no en la buena voluntad de las personas que a veces dan ayuda pero no es la que necesitan los migrantes. Una vez que se detectó qué tipo de ayudas requerían los refugiados temporales en México, por distintos medios se compartió la información y direcciones de centros de acopio para hacer llegar los paquetes de ayuda.

El coordinador del ministerio Sendas de Justicia de la CIEAMM es miembro de la Iglesia Fraternidad Cristiana/Vida Nueva, en la que soy pastor junto con Óscar Jaime Domínguez. Su nombre es Fernando Sandoval, él invito y animó a la comunidad para levantar fondos y poder adquirir productos que necesitaban los migrantes. Para conocer dichas necesidades visitó el lugar que abrió el gobierno de la Ciudad de México para albergar a miles de desplazados centroamericanos, principalmente de Honduras y El Salvador.

 Fernando conversó con hombres y mujeres de distintas edades. Les solicitó permiso para grabar su testimonio con el teléfono celular, con el fin de compartir la grabación en Fraternidad Cristiana/Vida Nueva. Lo que escuchó y vio nuestra comunidad fue conmovedor, ya que cada historia contada era una tragedia de sufrimiento que permitía comprender por qué las personas decidieron abandonar su hogar con el fin de intentar cruzar hacia Estados Unidos. Además de la pobreza como causa para salir, mencionaron la violencia padecida y el miedo a ser víctimas de todo tipo de abusos que denigran la dignidad humana.

La hermandad dio aportes que Sendas de Justicia llevó a los migrantes. Fue sorprendente la respuesta de la comunidad que decidió abrir sus brazos y el corazón a quienes estaban vulnerables en su paso por México. Tomamos en serio la enseñanza de Jesús, quien nos invita al amor solidario que alimenta al hambriento, viste al desnudo, da agua al sediento, protege al desvalido, cuida al enfermo, visita al encarcelado (Mateo 25:35-36). Hicimos un ejercicio de compasión, ponernos en el lugar de los migrantes necesitados y actuar para llevar algo de acompañamiento y consuelo.

En la tarea de llevar ayuda a los migrantes tuvo lugar una linda cooperación entre Sendas de Justicia y un grupo de profesores y estudiantes del Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary de Elkhart, Indiana. Allá se enteraron de lo que estaban haciendo la CIEAMM y la Iglesia Fraternidad Cristiana/Vida Nueva para servir a los migrantes, entonces el profesor Jamie Pitts compartió la información y el resultado fue una ofrenda que enviaron a Sendas de Justicia para que se usara de la manera que se considerara más conveniente. El ministerio Sendas de Justicia compró implementos que entregó a los migrantes e informó a los donantes de cómo se usó el donativo. Creemos firmemente que en la mayordomía cristiana es indispensable la rendición de cuentas y el buen uso de los recursos que hermanos y hermanas en la fe nos confían.

La solidaridad con los migrantes tiene antecedentes en la Iglesia Fraternidad Cristiana/Vida Nueva. Desde hace algunos años la comunidad contribuye con donativos en especie (alimentos, artículos de higiene personal) a la Casa Tochán, que es un refugio y lugar de defensa legal de migrantes que buscan protección mientras están en México y tienen por objetivo ingresar a Estados Unidos. Los hermanos y hermanas llevan distintos productos que se entregan a Casa Tochán, son muestras de que entendemos que somos seguidores de un migrante como Jesús, quien nació en condiciones muy similares a las vividas por familias que emprenden el éxodo obligadas por los poderes que tienen el corazón duro.

Abrir los brazos y el corazón a los migrantes es parte del discipulado cristiano. Entre ellos y ellas viajan personas que, como la mujer sirofenicia, nos ayudan a descubrir dimensiones de la fe que solamente vemos cuando somos frágiles  y marginados. De ésa mujer Jesús dijo que era muy grande su fe y la puso de ejemplo de confianza en Dios (Mateo 15:28). Y hemos encontrado esta fe en los migrantes.


by Carlos Martínez García, CIEAMM

It was a decade of celebration and reflective exercise. The Mennonite World Conference chose the 2017-2027 decade to evaluate both the Protestant Reformation and the radical Reformation, and the influence of both movements in the emergence of peace-building Anabaptism. During the mentioned decade, every year,  Renewal will take place in different parts of the world. In 2017 the meeting was held in Augsburg, Germany, last year in Kisumu, Kenya, and right now the headquarters are in San José, Costa Rica.

The theme for the event in Costa Rica is “Justice on the Way (Road): migration and Anabaptist-Mennonite history”. The Anabaptists / Mennonites of the sixteenth century and subsequent centuries had to constantly migrate in search of freedom to spread and practice their beliefs. These migrations were made under very adverse conditions. In addition to the historical and biblical theological framework that will be presented in Costa Rica, different speakers were asked to share experiences on the current issue of migration and how the communities of faith identified with Anabaptism are responding. In my case they asked me to share “how my church or churches in my region have experienced migration, or ways in which they are responding to the needs of the displaced.” Please find below what I prepared to share at Renovación (Renewal 2019):

Caravans of thousands of Central American migrants arrived in Mexico at the end of 2018. Although for many years the country has been a transit route for those who migrate from Central America with the hope of reaching the United States of America (USA), for the first time organized groups demanded that the Mexican border be opened so that they could enter and travel safely through the country.

In general terms, the Mexican people understood the reasons of the migrants to flee their countries and look for a better future. Historically, millions of Mexicans have migrated to the United States. Currently, a high percentage of them live there with fear because they do not have residence papers. Their contribution to the US economy is important; calculations two years ago showed that ten percent of the economy depends on the labor force of Mexican migrants. In addition to their economic contribution, these migrants bring cultural diversification to the USA. The city with more Mexicans, second only to Mexico City, is a North American city: Los Angeles, California.

Although there were sections of Mexico that had hostile thoughts and actions towards the caravans of migrants that arrived in Mexico at the end of 2018 and the first months of this year, the broadest sentiment was solidarity. There were campaigns to raise aid and provide migrants  with clothes, food, medicines, medical attention and accompaniment in their walk to the north.

In the Conference of Anabaptist Mennonite Anabaptist Churches of Mexico (CIEAMM), through the Pathways to Justice Ministry, calls were made to coordinate with other organizations and churches that wished to give assistance to respond to the needs expressed by the migrants. This is an important point; it is necessary to listen to those who we want to serve so that solidarity is prevalent and focused on the needs of migrants and not on the goodwill of people who sometimes give help when it is not what migrants need . Once the type of aid required by temporary refugees in Mexico was determined, the information and addresses of collection centers were shared by different means to send the aid packages.

The coordinator of the Ministry of Justice of the CIEAMM is a member of the New Life Christian Community Church, where I am a pastor along with Óscar Jaime Domínguez. His name is Fernando Sandoval. He invited and encouraged the community to raise funds and purchase products needed by migrants. To meet these needs, he visited the place opened by the government of Mexico City to house thousands of displaced Central Americans, mainly from Honduras and El Salvador.

Fernando talked with men and women of different ages. He requested permission to record his testimony with the cell phone, in order to share the recording in New Life Christian Community Church. What he heard and saw moved our community, as each story told was a tragedy of suffering that allowed us to understand why people decided to leave their homes in order to try to cross into the United States. In addition to poverty as a cause to leave, they mentioned the violence suffered and the fear of being victims of all kinds of abuses that denigrate human dignity.

The church community gave contributions that Pathways to Justice (Sendas de Justicia) took to the migrants. The response from the community was surprising as they decided to open their arms and hearts to those who were vulnerable in their passage through Mexico. We take seriously the teaching of Jesus, who invites us to the love of solidarity that feeds the hungry, dresses the naked, gives water to the thirsty, protects the helpless, takes care of the sick, visits the incarcerated (Matthew 25: 35-36). We did a work of compassion, putting ourselves in the place of needy migrants and acting to bring some accompaniment and comfort.

In the task of bringing the help (materials) to the migrants, there was cooperation between Pathways to Justice (Sendas de Justicia) and a group of teachers and students of the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana. There they found out what CIEAMM and New Life Christian Community Church were doing to serve the migrants, and Professor Jamie Pitts shared the information with the group at AMBS.  The result was an offering that they sent to Pathways to Justice to use in a way that would be most effective and convenient. The Sendas de Justicia ministry purchased the items that were given to migrants and informed donors of how the donation was used. We firmly believe that in Christian stewardship, the accountability and proper use of the resources that conference and brothers and sisters in the faith entrust to us is indispensable.

Solidarity with migrants has a history in the experience of New Life Christian Community Church. For some years, the community has contributed donations in kind (food, personal hygiene items) to Casa Tochán, which is a refuge and legal defense for migrants whose goal is to enter the United States and are seeking protection while in Mexico. In the past, the brothers and sisters have collected different products that are delivered to Casa Tochán.  These are a product of our understanding that we are followers of a migrant like Jesus, who was born in conditions very similar to those lived by families that undertake the exodus, forced by the hard-hearted powers of this world.

Open arms and hearts to migrants is part of Christian discipleship. Among the migrants, people travel who, like the Syrophoenician woman, help us discover dimensions of faith that we only see when we are fragile and marginalized. Jesus said that that woman’s faith was very great and she set an example of trust in God (Matthew 15:28). And we have found this great faith in migrants.         

 

Meeting Neighbors Near and Far

by Kiron Mateti, Franconia Board Member (Plains congregation)

As a relatively new board member with below average Spanish skills, I was surprised, but honored, when Franconia’s Executive Minister Steve Kriss asked me to join him and a Pennsylvania contingent to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Anabaptist churches in Mexico City.

A portion of our Pennsylvania contingent: Mary & Danilo Sanchez, Steve Kriss, and Kiron Mateti (not pictured: David Yoder and Cathy Godshall).

I boarded the plane with the stress of work still looming over me, and the mixed feelings that come with leaving a pregnant wife and two girls at home in PA while going on an exciting trip to Mexico.  With strong encouragement from my lovely and thoughtful wife, however, we agreed that this trip would be an opportunity to meet the real people of Mexico, to put faces to the impersonal news stories I often hear, and to allow God to recalibrate my ideas of who His people are in the world.

Our gracious host Oscar drove Steve, Danilo & Mary Sanchez (Ripple congregation), and me around Mexico City in Carlos Martinez Garcia’s Toyota Avanza.  I had previously met Carlos, moderator of the Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México (CIEAMM) at the “Renewing Nations & Generations” gathering before 2018 Fall Assembly.  I enjoyed getting to know Carlos more and meeting Oscar for the first time, and greatly appreciated their hospitality.

Oscar’s heart reminded me of my Uncle Ravi in India.  One day, as we were driving to someone’s house for lunch, I mentioned how fresh the fruit in the road-side stand looked.  After we arrived and greeted everyone, we didn’t notice Oscar slip out.  Then, suddenly, Oscar had come back with fresh papaya, and proceeded to cut it and personally serve me a bowl with Tajin and fresh squeezed lime.  Que bien!

My mom’s native tongue is an Indian language called Telugu.  It is one of my life’s regrets that I can’t speak Telugu. In my defense, some of my hesitation to even try stems from instances of uncontrollable laughter when attempting to speak Telugu with my mom.  I guess I have an American accent.

But with Spanish I determined it would be different.  Spanish was not new to me—I had taken four years in high school.  But that was almost two decades ago!  I decided that I would speak what little Spanish I knew, and I would welcome the laughter.

But the laughter never came.

Instead my new amigos y hermanos appreciated my feeble Spanish, and I was amazed and thankful for how many people were willing to teach me along the way. And also, thank God for Google Translate!

The celebration services at El Buen Pastor, Luz y Verdad, and Cristiana de Paz congregations were a wonderful glimpse into a thriving Anabaptist church presence in Mexico City.  I was thankful to worship with my fellow believers, my neighbors from afar, and thankful to build relationships with the churches there.

Members from Iglesia Menonita Ebenezer at the Fourth of July “You Are Welcome” event.

Back home, at our 2nd annual “You are Welcome” Fourth of July picnic, Plains Mennonite Church and the Evangelical Center for Revival joined with Iglesia Menonita Ebenezer to enjoy music, food, and games in the sun at Plains Park.  Following my trip to Mexico, I found newfound courage that day to interact with fellow believers across the language and cultural divide. God used this trip to teach me that I don’t need to travel far to meet my neighbors—I can build relationships with my neighbors right here at home.

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.

Christianity: A Religion of Travel

Desplácese hacia abajo para la traducción al español  / Scroll down for Spanish translation

By Gwen Groff, Pastor at Bethany Mennonite Church, and FMC Board Member

We were just one or two days into our Mexico trip when Steve Kriss, Executive Minister of Franconia Conference, said, “I think all they really are asking for from us is for relationship.”

(L to R) Isai Sanchez, Diana Salinas, Gama Sanchez, Angela Moyer, Gwen Groff and Steve Kriss on top of Monte Alban in Oaxaca.

In the end, I believe that was the purpose of our Franconia Conference visit to Mexico: exploring and deepening relationships. Two Franconia Conference board members, Angela Moyer and I, and our Executive Minister, Steve Kriss, traveled to Mexico City,  Puebla, Oaxaca, and Toluca and visited various congregations, pastors and leaders of Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México (CIEAMM) for a week.

Franconia Conference had helped to create CIEAMM in 1958, but the formal relationship ended about a decade ago. Our hosts for the week were CIEAMM’s conference moderator, Carlos Martinez Garcia and one of CIEAMM’s pastors, Oscar Jaime Dominguez Martinez. Together we visited congregations that had been planted and supported by Franconia Conference sixty years ago, as well as new ministries that have been emerging.

We first worshiped with Iglesia Maranatha in Puebla. Children and youth were fully involved in leading the service. Over a meal of tostadas they enthusiastically invited Franconia Conference youth to please come and help them with their summer Bible School this July.

The following day we traveled to Casa de Esperanza in Oaxaca, where the congregation meets in the home of Luis R. Matias. We sang and had a short Bible study and a long meal of the local tortilla-based, tlayudas. We met with college students and young adults who are strongly committed to working for justice.  We heard about their dream of a place to help meet the needs of Central American refugees passing through their town. The Oaxacan leaders wish for more training in conflict transformation. The musical gifts in this community were abundant, and their warmth and joy were immense. We ended the day with tea with Luis at a cafe where his daughter Paloma was singing and playing guitar. Luis said, “How good is this? My daughter is being paid to sing to me while I eat!”

The following day was a travel day back to Mexico City ending with a taco meal with the congregation at Fraternidad Cristiana Nueva Vida Espartaco.

On Sunday, we worshiped with six of the congregations of CIEAMM. Steve shared a sermon on 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 “In the body of Christ, there are different parts, but not walls.” As usual, our worship concluded with a delicious meal together, and gifted musicians sang, drummed, bowed, plucked and strummed while we fellowshipped. We were overjoyed to see Ofelia Garcia and Victor Pedroza who had recently returned from 8 years of ministry in Chihuahua with colony Mennonites. Ofelia will be coming to Franconia Conference this September to share a weekend Sistering retreat with our Spanish-speaking sisters. During our time here, one seasoned Mennonite agency staff person shared with Steve some concrete advice about partnerships between the United States and Mexican church groups: Always relate as equals; never make the relationship about money; if money is exchanged, let it pass through conferences and congregations, not individuals; if you visit with a group, always include youth in the group.

Juan Carlos Maya and Sara Zuniga, leaders at Centro Cristiano in Toluca.

A visit to Toluca was our last journey. We met with Juan Carlos Maya and Sara Zuniga, leaders at Centro Cristiano. Sara’s mother was one of the first Mennonites Ken Seitz baptized, just before Sara was born. In the evening, we relaxed together, a small group of Anabaptists, sitting around an outdoor table in the plaza, listening to a band, watching the dancers, reminiscing about parents who gave up rumba and salsa dancing when they became Mennonites. At breakfast Sara showed us photo albums of her family that included Mennonites we know as Franconia Conference missionaries.

On Monday, we visited their community center and listened to a passionate power-point presentation (it’s not an oxymoron). These Anabaptists in Toluca teach children to play musical instruments as a part of an orchestra, as a way of understanding the body of Christ. With group music lessons they are building a community. Juan Carlos and Sara showed us plans for their building expansion and introduced us to a neighbor with a brick-making operation. When Juan Carlos walked the dusty streets of Toluca, children ran to him and hugged him and walked arm in arm with him. Angela observed, “He is what Jesus would have been like if Jesus had made it to 60.” His understanding of ministry is a movement from “solidarity first, then Jesus Christ, ultimately Koininia.” He said the opposite of this is “ego first, then hedonism, which ultimately leads to capitalism.”

Elders in these Anabaptist congregations who have been in leadership positions in their churches since they were young are intentionally stepping back in order to make space for new young leaders and to mentor them.

(L to R) Alberto Bielma, Pastor Carlos Martínez-García, Pastor Oscar Jaime Domínguez Martínez, Steve Kriss, Angela Moyer and Gwen Groff, eating pasole (a traditional Mexican soup).

Our visits ended Monday evening with a meeting and meal with leaders from the congregations in Mexico City. They talked about their dreams for their congregations. Women pastors were especially warm in their welcome and enthusiastic about sharing their work and interest in receiving more training in theology and ministry.

What if all we want is relationship? People repeatedly told us, “You have to come back. I can’t visit you, you must come here.” This was Angela’s fourth trip to CIEAMM congregations in Mexico, Steve’s third visit, my first. I learned much from my more fluent Franconia traveling companions. We three were grateful for the generous, meticulous planning of our CIEAMM hosts, Carlos and Oscar. We in Franconia Conference have much to learn much from our Anabaptist sisters and brothers in Mexico.

I was grateful for one theological observation Carlos made in passing. He said, “Christianity is a religion of travel.” A cynical person might suggest that Carlos’ assertion is a bit self-serving. After all, he is a well-traveled Mexican Conference Moderator, journeying through Mexico, visiting churches with a group of Mennonites from the United States, about to embark on a visit to Kenya next week; of course he would believe Christianity is a religion of travel. A cynic might also suspect that my enthusiastic agreement with Carlos is colored by the fact that I’m the Franconia Conference board member from Vermont, grateful for a trip to sunny Mexico in early April when there’s still a foot of snow on the ground at home. Of course we all want to believe Christianity endorses travel!

But I believe without cynicism that Carlos is right. Christianity started with journeys. Jesus walked hundreds of miles, and he and his disciples got in a boat and “crossed over to the other side” of the lake far more often than was strictly necessary. Think of the apostle Paul, Carlos said, who undertook many missionary journeys to spread the good news of Christ. In addition to what we bring when we visit, travel puts us in a new position to receive.

Traveling makes us curious, vulnerable, and open to being wrong. Our bodies get tired. We may get a bit sick. We do not fully understand the language. We listen hard. We may break cultural rules we don’t even know exist. We laugh at our mistakes. All this is a good posture for sharing the story of the self-emptying Christ, for deepening our own faith, and for building relationships.

PHOTO GALLERY (click to see larger images)

A volcano en route to Toluca
Culto Unido: gathered worship in Mexico City with various leaders from 6 different congregations.
Steve, Carlos Martinez Garcia, Gwen and Sara Zuniga enjoying some elote!
A fraktur presented by Salford Mennonite Church to Dios con Nosotros.
PIcking out our ears of corn for elote in a village of Toluca.
Flowers from a market in Oaxaca.
The church building of Luz y Verdad.
Angela having fun with girls from Centro Comunidad, learning songs in English and Spanish.
All towns have cathedrals in the plazas.
The 4 cities that we visited: Mexico City, Puebla, Oaxaca, and Toluca.

Cristianismo: una religión de viajes

Por Gwen Groff, pastor de la Iglesia Menonita Bethany y miembro de la Junta de la FMC. (traducción Luis Rey Matías-Cruz)

Teníamos apenas uno o dos días en nuestro viaje a México cuando Steve Kriss, Ministro Ejecutivo de la Conferencia de Franconia, dijo: “Creo que todo lo que realmente piden ellos/ellas es una relación”.

(De izquierda a derecha) Isai Sánchez, Diana Salinas, Gama Sánchez, Angela Moyer, Gwen Groff y Steve Kriss en la cima de Monte Albán en Oaxaca.

Al final, creo que ese fue el propósito de nuestra visita de la Conferencia de Franconia en México: explorar y profundizar las relaciones. Dos miembros de la junta de la Conferencia de Franconia, Angela Moyer y yo, y nuestro Ministro ejecutivo, Steve Kriss, viajamos a la ciudad de México, Puebla, Oaxaca y Toluca y visitamos varias congregaciones, pastores y líderes de la Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México (CIEAMM) durante una semana.

La Conferencia de Franconia había ayudado a crear CIEAMM en 1958, pero la relación formal terminó hace una década. Nuestros anfitriones de la semana fueron el moderador de la conferencia de CIEAMM, Carlos Martínez García y uno de los pastores de CIEAMM, Oscar Jaime Domínguez Martínez.  Juntos visitamos congregaciones que habían sido plantadas y apoyadas por la Conferencia de Franconia hace sesenta años, así como nuevos ministerios que han estado surgiendo.

Primero alabamos al Señor en la Iglesia Maranatha en Puebla. Los niños y los jóvenes se involucraron completamente en dirigir el servicio. Durante una comida de tostadas, invitaron con entusiasmo a los jóvenes de la Conferencia de Franconia a venir y ayudarlos con su Escuela Bíblica de verano este julio.
Al día siguiente viajamos a Casa de Esperanza en Oaxaca, donde la congregación se reúne en la casa de Luis R. Matias. Cantamos y tuvimos un breve estudio de la Biblia y una larga comida de tlayudas, una tortilla local. Nos reunimos con estudiantes universitarios y adultos jóvenes que están fuertemente comprometidos con trabajar por la justicia. Escuchamos acerca de su sueño de un lugar para ayudar a satisfacer las necesidades de los refugiados centroamericanos que pasan por su pueblo. Los líderes oaxaqueños desean más capacitación en la transformación de conflictos. Los dones musicales en esta comunidad eran abundantes, y su calidez y alegría eran inmensos. Terminamos el día con el té con Luis en un café donde su hija Paloma cantaba y tocaba la guitarra. Luis dijo: “¿No es esto muy bueno9? A mi hija le pagan para que me cante mientras yo como “.

El día siguiente fue un día de viaje de regreso a la Ciudad de México, terminando con una comida de tacos con la congregación Fraternidad Cristiana Nueva Vida Espartaco.
El domingo, rendimos culto seis de las congregaciones de CIEAMM. Steve compartió un sermón en 1 Corintios 12: 12-26 “En el cuerpo de Cristo, hay diferentes partes, pero no paredes”. Como de costumbre, nuestra adoración concluyó con una deliciosa comida en conjunto, y los músicos talentosos cantaron, tocaron, hicieron una reverencia, puntearon y rasguearon mientras nosotros compartíamos. Nos llenó de alegría ver a Ofelia García y Víctor Pedroza que habían regresado recientemente de 8 años de ministerio en Chihuahua con colonos menonitas. Ofelia vendrá a la Conferencia de Franconia este septiembre para compartir un retiro de hermandad de fin de semana con nuestras hermanas hablantes del español. Durante nuestro tiempo aquí, un miembro experimentado de la agencia menonita compartió con Steve algunos consejos concretos sobre las asociaciones entre los Estados Unidos y los grupos eclesiales mexicanos: relacionarse siempre como iguales; nunca hagas la relación en base al dinero; si se intercambia dinero, déjalo pasar por conferencias y congregaciones, no por individuos; si visitas con un grupo, siempre incluye a los jóvenes en el grupo.

Juan Carlos Maya y Sara Zuniga, líderes en el Centro Cristiano en Toluca.

Una visita a Toluca fue nuestro último viaje. Nos reunimos con Juan Carlos Maya y Sara Zuniga, líderes del Centro Cristiano. La madre de Sara fue una de las primeros menonitas bautizados por Ken Seitz, justo antes de que Sara naciera. Por la tarde, nos relajamos juntos, éramos un pequeño grupo de anabautistas, sentados alrededor de una mesa al aire libre en la plaza, escuchando a una banda, mirando a los bailarines, recordando a los padres que abandonaron la rumba y la salsa cuando se convirtieron en menonitas.  Durante el desayuno, Sara nos mostró álbumes de fotos de su familia que incluían menonitas que conocemos como misioneros de la Conferencia de Franconia.  El lunes, visitamos su centro comunitario y escuchamos una apasionada presentación en power-point  (no es un oxímoron).  Estos anabautistas en Toluca enseñan a los niños a tocar instrumentos musicales como parte de una orquesta, como una forma de entender el cuerpo de Cristo. Con lecciones de música en grupo, están construyendo una comunidad.  Juan Carlos y Sara nos mostraron los planes para la expansión de sus edificios y nos presentaron a un vecino con una operación de fabricación de ladrillos. Cuando Juan Carlos caminó por las polvorientas calles de Toluca, los niños corrieron hacia él, lo abrazaron y caminaron cogidos del brazo con él. Ángela dijo acerca de Juan Carlos: ” Él es lo que Jesús hubiera sido, si Jesús hubiera llegado a los 60.”  Su comprensión del ministerio (de Juan Carlos) es un movimiento desde la “solidaridad primero, luego a Jesucristo, en última instancia a Koininia”. Dijo que lo opuesto a esto es “ego” primero, luego el hedonismo, que finalmente conduce al capitalismo “.

Los ancianos en estas congregaciones anabautistas que han estado en posiciones de liderazgo en sus iglesias desde que eran pequeños están retrocediendo intencionalmente para dejar espacio para nuevos líderes jóvenes y para ser mentores de ellos.

Nuestras visitas finalizaron el lunes por la noche con una reunión y comida con los líderes de las congregaciones en la Ciudad de México.  Estos hablaron sobre sus sueños para sus congregaciones. Las pastoras fueron especialmente cálidas en su acogida y entusiastas de compartir su trabajo y su interés en recibir más capacitación en teología y ministerio.
¿Qué pasa si todo lo que queremos es una relación? La gente repetidamente nos dijo: “Tienes que volver. No puedo visitarte, debes venir aquí “. Este fue el cuarto viaje de Angela a las congregaciones de CIEAMM en México, la tercera visita de Steve, la primera para mi. Aprendí mucho de mis compañeros de viaje más francos de Franconia. Los tres estábamos agradecidos por la planificación generosa y meticulosa de nuestros anfitriones de CIEAMM, Carlos y Oscar. Nosotros en la Conferencia de Franconia tenemos mucho que aprender mucho de nuestras hermanas y hermanos anabautistas en México.

(izquierda a derecha) Alberto Bielma, Pastor Carlos Martínez-García, Pastor Oscar Jaime Domínguez Martínez, Steve Kriss, Angela Moyer and Gwen Groff, comiendo pozole.

Agradecí una observación teológica de pasada que hizo Carlos: “El cristianismo es una religión de viajes”. Una persona cínica podría sugerir que la afirmación de Carlos era un poco egoísta. Después de todo, es un Moderador de la Conferencia Mexicana muy viajado, viaja a través de México, visitando iglesias con un grupo de menonitas de los Estados Unidos, a punto de emprender una visita a Kenia la próxima semana; por supuesto, él creería que el cristianismo es una religión de viajes. Un cínico también podría sospechar que mi entusiasta acuerdo con Carlos está teñido por el hecho de que soy miembro de la junta directiva de Franconia Conference de Vermont, agradecida por un viaje al soleado México a principios de abril, cuando aún queda un pie de nieve en el suelo en casa. . ¡Por supuesto, todos queremos creer que el cristianismo aprueba el viaje!

Pero creo, sin cinismo, que Carlos tiene razón. El cristianismo comenzó con los viajes. Jesús caminó cientos de millas, y él y sus discípulos subieron a un bote y “cruzaron al otro lado” del lago con mucha más frecuencia de lo necesario, estrictamente hablando. Piensa en el apóstol Pablo, dijo Carlos, quien emprendió muchos viajes misioneros para difundir las buenas nuevas de Cristo.  Además de lo que traemos cuando viajamos, viajar nos pone en una nueva situación para recibir.

Viajar nos hace curiosos, vulnerables y abiertos a estar equivocados. Nuestros cuerpos se cansan. Podemos ponernos un poco enfermos. No comprendemos completamente el lenguaje. Escuchamos mucho. Podemos romper las reglas culturales que ni siquiera sabemos que existen. Nos reímos de nuestros errores. Todo esto es una buena postura para compartir la historia del Cristo que se vació a si mismo, para profundizar nuestra propia fe y para construir relaciones. (traducción Luis Rey Matias-Cruz)

Young leaders build relationships with Mexico City churches

Benjamin Sutter, Franconia Conference Communications Intern, benjamins5@goshen.edu

Rockhill Mennonite (Telford, Pa) youth pastor, Angela Moyer, had taken groups of high school youth to Mexico City to do mission work before, but this time was different. This time, Moyer wanted to bring young adults and focus on building relationships. This past July, she traveled with a Franconia Conference-sponsored team to do just that.

(from left to right) Benjamin Sutter, Rachel Spory, Janine Bergey, Oliver, Deanne Delp, Hezrael, and Angela Moyer.

Moyer was joined by Janine Bergey, also from Rockhill, Deanne Delp, from Laurel Street Mennonite in Lancaster, Pa., Rachel Spory, from First Mennonite in Johnstown, Pa., and Benjamin Sutter from Kern Road Mennonite in South Bend, Ind. Although most of the team spent their time at Iglesia Anabauptisa Menonita Fraternidad Christiana Prensa, Moyer and Spory also traveled to Iglesia Anabauptisa Menonita Fraternidad Christiana Espartaco for five days of the trip to assist with a shortened Bible School week there.

“Espartaco was a joyful and kind church,” said Moyer. They even moved the site of their Bible School to a location closer to a community with more children, she said.

While in Prensa, the group connected with Alicia Alvarez Uzcango and Ariel Avila Muñoz, a couple who serve on the Prensa leadership team. Alvarez and Avila, who also organized Bible School, emphasized lives of Christian service, along with the importance of Scripture.

“We understand that we need to have a balance of both the theology and living it out,” said Muñoz, through a translator.

“Service is something that has characterized this church,” Alvarez added through translation. “In spite of not having a lot of money resources, [in the past, the church was] able to hand out food, clothes, and help to refugees. … We’re in the process of helping others [in the church] to understand, to make it part of their lives.”

Hosting a week of Bible School during the summer is one way the church is reaching out to the surrounding neighborhood; only five of the forty kids who participated in Bible School attend the church regularly.

“Bible School is not just for the kids, it’s for the families of the kids,” said Alvarez.

Kids from the bible school color paper cakes to attach to paper aprons and chef hats.

One man who attends the church, Manwell, brought his sobrinos (nephews and nieces) to Bible School for the first time. He told Avila that they sang the Bible School songs at home all evening.

“I told him, ‘God is using you, because you are bringing your sobrinos [to church],’” Avila said. “’What would your life have been like if you would’ve known Jesus as a child? This is your responsibility, so that they won’t go through the same things.’ And he got it!”

Overall, the relationships left an impact on the Franconia Conference group.

“Each time I visit the churches in Mexico City, I’m overwhelmed by their generosity, hospitality, and love for the people in their communities,” Moyer said. “I’m encouraged by their passion for the Anabaptist and Mennonite witness in their communities and world.”

“[Prensa is] a small congregation with much potential for growth, impact and outreach in their community,” added Bergey.

The team, as well as leadership in both churches, is hopeful about future relationships between Franconia Conference and CIEAMM.

“Each conference has gifts that God has given to the people there,” said Delp.

“I’m encouraged that each conference, as a whole, is interested in a continuing relationship with the other,” Bergey added. “There is much to be learned from each other in areas of vision, mission, hospitality, outreach, and more. I’m eager to see what dreams may come from the interactions between the CIEAMM and Franconia Conference.”

Mi familia es tu familia,” said Avila. “We are all a part of the Body of Christ.”

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Intersections Winter 2010

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Reflections from Mexico City: CIEAMM celebrates fifty years

J. Mark and Emma Frederick

dscn1963-copy.jpgFrom Emma . . .On a November Sunday morning, J. Mark and I sat in an auditorium in the center of Mexico City surrounded by brothers and sisters, many of whom we hadn’t seen for a long time. It is seven years since we left Mexico. We’ve been back a few times and have been in contact with many of them now and then. But in this setting whole families gathered together and it felt like a family reunion. The children I taught in Sunday School are teenagers and I had to concentrate on their faces to recognize them. The teenagers are now adults and leaders in the church. Young couples have reached middle age, and some gray hairs have snuck in among the black ones. A few more wrinkles tell me that years have passed.

Mexicans are very relational people and I saw the same warmth I always remembered as we greeted one another and rejoiced in God’s goodness to us. The worship of God together was energetic to say the least. Booming voices now and then behind us shouted out ”Gloria a Dios!” or “Aleluya!” There was no doubting that these people were there to celebrate. As they called out the names of churches and their people stood up, everyone cheered. We felt at home!

The day before, we joined pastors and lay leaders as we spent a day reflecting on the struggles of the past, identifying where they are now and looking toward the future. Many questions were asked about what it means in their present reality to be Anabaptist Mennonites in Mexico. Young pastors and leaders, who had been teenagers when we left, now led out with vision and energy with a new wave of enthusiasm demonstrating their hope for the future.

dscn1959-copy.jpgWe rejoiced as they glorified Jesus and spoke of new initiatives to reach out to youth and families. There is no doubt that they have encountered Jesus in new ways and God’s Spirit has been working among them. The seeds that had been planted 50 years ago in such an imperfect way were bearing fruit, and God is building the church. All along the way and throughout the years God’s Spirit has been there and Jesus has walked with them to create a new sense of community in that huge metropolitan reality. Much diversity among them and the many difficult realities of the city, such as the distances between the churches, all add to the challenges that face them. We were impressed, however, with the maturity of leadership that is in place to face these challenges and experience the growth of the Kingdom of God in the metropolitan area of Mexico City and Puebla.

From J. Mark . . .We want to thank Swamp Mennonite Church and Franconia Conference for making it possible to attend the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México (CIEAMM). We were also pleased to represent both Franconia Conference as well as Mennonite Mission Network in gatherings that took place.

We come back with the certainty that God’s kingdom purposes are being worked out in the Mennonite congreagtions of CIEAMM because of the faithfulness of our brothers and sisters. To God be the glory!