When current Franconia Conference Board member Jim King invited him over for dinner, the idea of filling a seat on the Board was not on Kiron Mateti’s radar in the least bit. Being new to the Conference, it wasn’t a proposition he was expecting or a position that he was seeking out. With a life journey that started – figuratively speaking – quite far from Anabaptism, Kiron brings a perspective and insight that will be a welcomed addition to Conference leadership should he be affirmed as a board member. Kiron Mateti is being presented to the delegates at the fall Assembly as a nominee by the Conference Board for affirmation to join them as a first term Conference Board Member-at-Large.
Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, Kiron’s early faith life was shaped by varying degrees of Hindu belief and practice by his parents, who immigrated from India. However, through the influence of Christian neighbors and a job in a Presbyterian church nursery, Kiron’s mother learned about the Christian faith, cleared the house of Hindu statues and began to talk to her sons about Jesus. As a result, Kiron and his brother felt caught in the middle between their parents.
“My brother and my dad had a pretty terrible relationship, and [my brother] got into drugs and alcohol really early on in life, and then I followed in his footsteps.” The brothers were able to sustain that lifestyle and still do well in high school and college, but eventually, tragically, the substance abuse caught up with them. “In my 2nd semester (of grad school at Penn State), my brother died drinking and driving. That was a turning point in my life,” Kiron says. He took a semester off, returned home to Ohio … and for some reason, picked up a nice, leather-bound Bible from his mom’s shelf. “I started reading the New Testament, and read it rather quickly. I had so many questions.”
When the day came to empty out his brother’s apartment, Kiron was expecting a group of his mom’s church friends to come help out. “I show up and it was just me and another guy!”, Kiron laughs. “I think he planned it, because he and I talked the whole day! He was really strong in his faith, and we went through Genesis to Revelation. I asked him all kinds of questions.”
With the planted seeds of faith taking root, Kiron returned to Penn State, sought out a friend who was a Christian, and began tagging along to the Christian Student Fellowship (CSF) gatherings, various campus ministry functions and to Sunday church services. On his first day visiting Christ Community Church in State College, he caught the eye of a fellow Indian man. “He was really easy to talk to, and wanted to know more about me,” Kiron recalls. “We met up, and then we started meeting up weekly and doing one-on-one Bible studies.” Kiron remembers this as an intense time of formation and growth in his faith. “It was just me and him, and we were going through some of the same tough questions, and we’d dig in. We’d have four- or five-hour Bible studies!” Eventually friends started coming along, and by the time Kiron left Penn State, there were around 40 people attending!
Kiron’s involvement with CSF introduced him to more than just Jesus; one of the first people he met at a CSF gathering was his future wife, Rachel, originally from the Reading, PA. area. After getting married, they began attending University Mennonite Church, where various Anabaptist values resonated with Kiron. “I saw a contrast … it’s not ‘American Christianity’; it’s just following Jesus, it’s outside of nationalities or allegiance to a country. That is something that I respected.”
In 2016, Kiron and Rachel committed to moving their family closer to Rachel’s extended family, and Kiron took a position at JBT Automated Guided Vehicles in Chalfont, PA., as a Research and Development Engineer. Settling in Telford, they visited most of the area Mennonite churches, but were invited to Plains Mennonite Church by Anya Williamson, a friend from Penn State. Kiron’s mom, who now lived with them, immediately connected with the Thalathodi and Rampogu families, who also spoke her native Telugu language. Kiron and Rachel also made connections, particularly with other families with small children, and got involved with the worship team, teaching Sunday School and leading adult classes.
As an unofficial mentor to Kiron and Rachel, Jim King connected with them through Sunday School, men’s breakfasts, and together spearheading an intercultural, multi-church picnic this past Fourth of July, and saw something in Kiron that he felt would be an asset to the Board, and approached him with the idea. “Kiron’s presence radiates joy, curiosity and openness wherever I have been with him,” Jim says. “I just have to smile when I think of how the rest of the board will receive him.”
Those who know him tend to agree. “Kiron is a thoughtful, independent thinker with a deep commitment to the church, his family, and the way of Jesus,” says Plains’ Pastor Mike Derstine. “While new to our congregation and conference, he is eager to learn, meet new people, and further the mission of God in our community and world.” Executive Minister Steve Kriss also anticipates the contributions Kiron will bring. “He’s bright, engaged, will ask good questions and help us find our way into new spaces, places, possibilities,” says Steve.
Kiron feels up for the task. He anticipates hard work, a lot of listening and learning, and hopefully the ability to contribute as one who didn’t grow up in the church. “I feel empathetic towards people who are ‘different’,” he says. “Maybe that can provide a perspective that’s needed on the board.”
Kiron and his wife Rachel (Zimmerman) are the parents of 5-year-old Asha and almost-3-year-old Jaya, and as a family, they enjoy music, the beach, camping and are a self-proclaimed “nerdy family” who like to visit libraries when they travel.