Tag Archives: Deep Run East

Life Together Gets More Interesting

Since 2011, Franconia and Eastern District Conferences have come together for an annual fall Assembly holding separate business sessions, yet enjoying joint times of worship on Friday evening and Saturday morning, sharing in the recognition of newly credentialed leaders, and lunch. This year on November 3 and 4, 2017 they gathered at Dock Mennonite Academy in Souderton, Pennsylvania to do the same. However, new this year, a time of joint meeting was held on Saturday afternoon that focused on reviewing recommendations from the Exploring Reconciliation Reference Team that the two Conferences voted to commission at the 2016 Assembly.

The Assembly was centered on Psalm 133:1,3b, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.” The theme was Life Together, as the focus of the Assembly was that while these two conference may have split 170 years ago, they continue to do life together.  A large part of the Assembly business this year was to look at whether these conferences would take the next step in their relationship, to look even more intentionally at reconciliation and what it would look like if they were to merge into one conference.

The weekend began with Friday night worship led by Tami Good of Swamp Mennonite Church, which included a worship team of folks whose first languages were Indonesian, Spanish and English and who came from congregations in South Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Upper Bucks and Montgomery Counties. The opening prayer was given in Indonesian, Spanish, English and even Pennsylvania Dutch. Videos were shown that highlighted  Souderton Mennonite Church’s Vocation as Mission internship program, “for young adults actively pursuing God’s kingdom in local communities.” Highlighted were the fact that the interns come from congregations across both conferences — most not even realizing there were two conferences — and the relationships built between the interns through Bible study, leadership and social issues trainings, as they worked side by side with local non-profits, businesses and ministries. The other video shown was about the ministries of Deep Run East and Deep Run West — one Franconia Conference church and one Eastern District church that happen to be across the street from one another. Their pastors, Ken Burkholder of Deep Run East and Rodger Schmell of Deep Run West, shared about how their congregations do ministry in such close proximity and how their relationship has changed over the years since their initial split. The worship time was followed by the annual ice cream social provided by Longacres Dairy.

Saturday morning, delegates began their day in separate Eastern District and Franconia Conference business sessions. This was a historic day for Franconia Conference as they became bi-coastal and accepted four new congregations as members, one from Flushing, New York and three from the Los Angeles, California area. Bethany Elshaddai Creative Community in New York is pastored by Hendy Stevans and has been connecting with Franconia Conference for about two years. Hendy is currently a student at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, attending classes at the Lancaster, Pennsylvania campus. The congregations in the Los Angeles area consist of Jemaat Kristen Indonesia Anugerah (JKIA) pastored by Virgo Handoyo, Indonesian Community Christian Fellowship pastored by Makmur Halim, and International Worship Church pastored by Buddy Hannarto. All three have had relationships with Franconia Conference for over a decade. The four congregations’ members are largely from Indonesia and joined with Franconia Conference pastors Aldo Siahaan of Philadelphia Praise Center and Beny Krisbianto of Nations Worship Center to share in a song. To learn more about these congregations check out their congregational profiles here. Following the 98% vote of affirmation to welcome these congregations, the delegates joined in singing songs in both English and Indonesian as a welcome.

The joint Franconia and Eastern District Conference Saturday worship was a time of song, remembering those who have passed on in the last year, and anointing 15 newly credentialed leaders. Following the anointing of the newly credentialed leaders, the leaders were dispersed throughout the auditorium and those in attendance were invited to be prayed over by them. It was truly a time of commissioning and sending forth. There was also a time of recognition of the Centennial of Mennonite Women USA and a video celebrating Eastern District and Franconia Conference’s shared Sistering Committee, a local chapter of Mennonite Women USA.

Following lunch by Landis’ Market, the delegates from Eastern District and Franconia Conferences joined one another around tables to hear from the Exploring Reconciliation Reference Team. The team reviewed their report that had been previously sent to the delegates, which can be accessed here. They also highlighted their recommendations. At their tables, the delegates were then invited to discuss any affirmations, concerns or questions they had regarding the report or the recommendations put forth. These were recorded on sheets of paper and submitted to be compiled and shared with those tasked at carrying out the recommendations, should the delegates vote to move forward with them.

The core recommendation from the team is that Eastern District and Franconia Conference “enter a formal engagement process for the purposes of healing and reconciliation and with the intention of becoming a single, unified conference by November 2019.” In order to do this, the team recommended the forming of two teams: one to work intentionally at addressing the “spiritual and emotional components of reconciliation,” known as the “Healing and Reconciliation Team”, and the other being the “Identity Development and Structural Implementation Team,” tasked with managing “the process of forming a single unified conference, with particular attention to the structure, staffing, financial, and cultural realities of creating a single conference from the two existing conferences.”

Nancy Kauffman, Mennonite Church USA Denominational Minister for the two Conferences, closed the joint time in prayer.

After a short break, the conferences gathered in separate rooms where their delegates recorded on flip chart paper their largest affirmations and concerns regarding moving forward with the recommendations. Present were David Brubaker and Roxy Allen Kioko, consultants from Eastern Mennonite University who had been hired in 2016 and were working with the Exploring Reconciliation Reference Team. Following this and some open microphone time for questions and answers, the delegates voted. With a 90% affirmation from Franconia Conference and a 99% affirmation from Eastern District Conference, both agreed to move forward with working at reconciliation and exploring more formally what a merged conference will look like.

This means that over the next few weeks, both Conference Boards will be looking for nominations for the two teams presented in the recommendations. The goal will be to have these teams appointed no later than the end of the calendar year. According to the recommendations, there is a goal for the Healing and Reconciliation Team to hold a Reconciliation service at a Spring 2018 Assembly, and planning will therefore need to begin quickly. The Identity and Structural Development Team will, over the next two years, work to develop a shared mission and vision, a new organization chart and budget to be presented to the delegates in 2019. Therefore, a decision on whether or not these two conferences will merge will not come until 2019. Over the next few weeks, leaders of both conferences will work to address questions raised about the process. Keep your eye out for more information on that. To find out more about what is expected of these two teams and to nominate yourself or someone else for either team, click here. Nominations are due by Friday, December 1 at midnight.

To close this historic day, the two conferences joined together in song as they continue to look forward to Life Together.

For podcasts of the various business sessions and to view the videos shown at assembly, visit the Assembly page at: edc-fmc.org/assembly.

CLICK HERE to see a recap video of Conference Assembly.

 

Junior High Youth Have Late Night Blast

by John Stoltzfus, Franconia Conference Youth Minister

Whose job description includes this clause: Must be willing to have face covered in shaving cream and decorated with cheese curls? If you answered, “Junior high youth sponsor,” you are correct! Junior high youth sponsors are some of the bravest people in ministry.

At junior high youth events, helmets are sometimes necessary...
At junior high youth events, helmets are sometimes necessary…

If you were at the Late Night Blast on March 13, you would have witnessed such a scene and a lot more crazy fun. Close to 150 junior high youth and adult sponsors representing 18 churches gathered for this annual event sponsored by Franconia Conference and Eastern District Conference. It was hosted by Christopher Dock Mennonite High School.

Last year, the event was an all-night lock-in; this year it morphed into a “Late Night Blast,” ending at 11:15 p.m. While some youth lamented the loss of staying up all night, most responses to the evening were still very enthusiastic.

Part of the purpose of this annual event is to give our youth a positive and memorable experience of worshipping together, playing hard, and catching a glimpse of the larger body of Christ that makes up our conference churches. This event also gives a wonderful opportunity for our youth workers to partner together in ministry.

... As are Cheetos.
… As are Cheetos.

The evening started off with some mixer gamers led by staff from Spruce Lake and by Brent Camilleri from Deep Run East Mennonite Church. Justin Hange and a band from Calvary Church in Souderton then turned up the noise for the evening and led in a spirited time of singing and worship.

“That was awesome!” remarked one youth following the singing.

Scott Roth, pastor at Perkiomenville Mennonite Church, kept the energy flowing as he shared stories of how he sees God at work in his life and his community bringing hope and healing. He challenged the youth to bring together a knowledge of God’s Word with an active obedience to God’s Word in everyday life.

The rest of the night was full of fun activities to choose from: soccer, basketball, dodge ball, human Dutch Blitz, Wally ball, Gaga Pit ball, Nerf blasters, and more. One of the popular new games introduced this year was Human Hungry Hippos. It’s the classic board game with a much needed upgrade. One of the perks of being a junior high youth sponsor is the freedom to experiment with wild and crazy games. Of course, the policy is always safety first, and helmets were required.

The evening ended with a shower of giveaways from Mennonite colleges and camps. Thank you to everyone that helped to plan and carry out all the activities and a special thank you to all the youth leaders that commit themselves to serving with their youth. Their commitment was exemplified by one sponsor giving up her shoes to a youth who needed more appropriate athletic shoes to participate in the games.

Deep Run East joins MAMA Project in Honduras

Deep Run & MAMA Project
The dedication service at Iglesia Evangelica del Principe de Paz.

by Barb Rice, Deep Run East

Ken Burkholder, pastor of Deep Run East congregation (Perkasie, Pa.), joined the 27th MAMA Project Team that Deep Run East has sent to Honduras since 2001.  Over the years, Pastor Ken had heard from teams reporting on their experiences and had met some of the MAMA Project partners on their visits to the US, but on March 15-22, he joined the team in Honduras.

On March 16, one day after arrival in San Pedro Sula, the team arrived at Iglesia Central Menonita (the largest Mennonite Church in the city) for an inspired and holy time of worship.  Wow… talk about a worship team and praise music!  Pastor Ken was invited to preach and his sermon followed worship, focusing on II Cor. 5: 17-21, “In Christ—New Creation.”  In the context of violence and poverty in Honduras, the call to reconciliation and being ambassadors and coworkers with Christ was powerful to all who were listening.

After the worship service it was good to play a little “Mennonite game,” meeting Honduran young persons who had been part of the Mennonite Central Committee IVEP program and also discovering that the worship band leader had attended Eastern Mennonite University’s Peace Institute.  What a blessing to fellowship with other believers around the world; Pastor Ken and another team member were visiting so long that the rest of the group left them behind!

Pastor Adalid Romero, president of the Honduran Mennonite Church, met with our team and explained how life in Honduras was lived in the midst of organized crime and corruption, with much illegal immigration to the US, Mexico, and Spain.  He shared that “the situation here would be that much worse than it already is, if it wasn’t for the presence of the churches in Honduras!”  The Honduran Mennonite Church works to teach peacemaking in schools where guns and knives show up routinely, introducing students to a different way of problem solving without violence.

That Sunday evening, the team headed to Iglesia Evangelica del Principe de Paz, a church in a poor community at the edge of the city.  The church is located in the middle of drug traffic and gang tensions, but the community loves our teams and helps to ensure we are protected.  Deep Run East and Swamp congregation (Quakertown, Pa.) have partnered with the pastor of this church, Juan Angel Ramirez, to work in this community.  A new church has been built over the last two years and, as we arrived, everyone was waiting outside for the “big reveal.”  The dedication service included ribbon cutting, with eight children dressed in rented wedding clothes holding the ribbons.  Pastor Ken, as the honored guest, was given the scissors.  The new building is an amazing testament of God’s desire for the church to be a beacon of hope, sitting up on the hill for all in the community to see.

Deep Run &  MAMA Project
The worship space at Maranatha Menonita church.

That week we traveled to a remote community each day, setting up a clinic to give parasite medicine and vitamins and do medical consults.    In addition, a work project was planned in each community.  Our team organizer, Irma Dinora Molina, an involved member in the Honduran Mennonite Church, suggested working in some of the poor struggling Mennonite communities around San Pedro Sula.  This plan was a perfect fit for a team with a Mennonite pastor.  It was a highlight to see Ken connect, pray, and worship with the pastors in these communities.  These are some of Ken’s comments after our trip:

  • The Church is the Hope of the World – In the midst of the poverty, suffering, and brokenness that we encountered in Honduras, we witnessed how the church is a beacon of light and hope. I greatly enjoyed interacting with the pastors. They love the Lord, they love their communities, they believe in the power of prayer, and some of them are literally risking their lives to be pastors!
  • Power of Prayer – The people of Honduras pray often and fervently! We prayed together before beginning our work for the day, we laid hands on and prayed for a vehicle that wasn’t running well, and we experienced answered prayers from our Deep Run East and Honduran friends in various ways throughout the week.
  • Spontaneous Worship/Prayer Experience – Words simply cannot capture the one experience I had of spontaneous worship and prayer among a group of Hondurans as we were finishing a painting job. I clearly witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit and I would describe this as a “modern-day Pentecost experience.”

If worship experiences like these seem intriguing, think about joining even more powerful worship services at Mennonite World Conference in Harrisburg, PA, July 2015.  Our friends in Honduras are anxious to come too…please pray for the visa process.

Franconia Conference gathers to celebrate, pray, confer, listen

Garden Chapel Children's Choir
Garden Chapel’s children’s choir led a rousing rendition of “Our God” at Conference Assembly 2013. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

Franconia Conference delegates and leaders gathered November 2 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa. to celebrate God still at work.   With a packed auditorium for a third united assembly with Eastern District Conference, representatives gathered to listen and pray, to celebrate newly credentialed and ordained pastoral leaders, and to work alongside one another after an over 150-year rift created two separate Mennonite entities.  The theme “God still @ work” was an extension of the 2012 theme, “God @ work.”

With singing in Indonesian, Spanish, and English led by Samantha Lioi (Peace and Justice Minister for both conferences) and Bobby Wibowo (Philadelphia Praise Center) and translation into Franconia Conference’s worshipping languages, delegates and representatives from nearly all of the Conference’s congregations from Georgia to Vermont gathered to confer around a board-crafted statement on the Conference’s increasing diversity in ethnicity, experiences, faith practice, and expression.   The gathering was punctuated with points of celebration including testimony from Peaceful Living led by Joe Landis and Louis Cowell from Salford congregation, a youth choir from the revitalizing Garden Chapel in Victory Gardens, NJ, and a moment to mark the upcoming November retirement of Franconia Conference Pastor of Ministerial Leadership Noah Kolb after 45 years of ministry, which was met with rousing applause and a standing ovation.

Noah blessing 2013
Noah Kolb was recognized and blessed for 45 years of ministry. He will retire in November. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

In a shortened one-day event, delegates spent the morning together around tables with Eastern District Conference to continue to deepen relationships across conference lines.  Business sessions were separate, and Franconia’s included a significant amount of time in conversations among table groups, conferring over the board statement and then reporting on those conversations to the whole body.  Delegates and representatives were encouraged to mix across congregational lines to better hear and experience the diversity of conference relationships.

For many, including Tami Good, Souderton (Pa.) congregation’s Pastor of Music & Worship, who was attending Conference Assembly for the first time, the table conversations were holy spaces.  Each person at her table was from a different congregation.   “I saw God at work in the gracious listening, especially in the time when we talked about the conferring statement,” Good reflected. “There were disagreements, but everyone was graciously listening and hearing.  Everyone actually wanted to hear each other.  It was a beautiful time.”

The conferring time, along with an afternoon workshop led by the Franconia Conference board, focused on prayer and visioning for the Conference into the future.   Conference board members Jim Longacre (Bally congregation), Rina Rampogu (Plains congregation), Jim Laverty (Souderton congregation), and Klaudia Smucker (Bally congregation) served as a listening committee for the daylong event.  They reported seven themes of consistent and continued conversation: engagement, diversity, shared convictions, authority, polity, the role of conference, and the reality of changing relationships and engagement.  Board members noted that there is much response work to do to continue the conversation and discernment process.

Bruce Eglinton-Woods, pastor of Salem congregation (Quakertown, Pa.), said, “The challenge is speaking clearly on what we believe and where we are at, which is often a challenge for Mennonite leaders. My hope and prayer is that we can trust God and release the idea of keeping it all together. We need to let God do the holding together.”

Franconia Conference delegates spent time conferring and praying together.  Photo by Bam Tribuwono.
Franconia Conference delegates spent time conferring and praying together. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

According to Rampogu, one of the longest standing Conference board members, “the hardest part about this kind of meeting is that there isn’t enough time. We want to share and to talk together,” she said.  “That is a positive sign.  People want to connect.  My hope and prayer is that we keep our goal in mind, keeping our mission focused on equipping leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission, with Christ in the center and churches focused on missional activity.”

In business sessions, delegates selected a number of positions by 97% affirmation including a 2nd term for conference moderator John Goshow (Blooming Glen congregation) along with board member Beny Krisbianto (Nations Worship Center), as well as ministerial and credentialing committee members Rose Bender (Whitehall congregation), Ken Burkholder (Deep Run East congregation), Mike Clemmer (Towamencin congregation) and Chris Nickels (Spring Mount congregation).   Randy Nyce (Salford congregation) who is completing a term as finance committee chair and board member reported on Conference finances, noting an 11% decrease in financial contributions from congregations.

“I was surprised and pleased that the attendance at Assembly 2013 was so strong; seeing the room filled to capacity was an affirmation of how much the delegates and guests in attendance care for our conference,” Goshow noted.  “Franconia Conference is all of us who are members of our 42 churches and our Conference Related Ministries.  It is my hope and prayer that together we chart a course that will advance God’s Kingdom in exciting and wonderful ways.”

Listen to the podcast.

Conference Assembly 2013 Highlight Video from Franconia Conference on Vimeo.

Hurricane Sandy leaves destruction and opportunity

by Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

Three days after Hurricane Sandy swept through south-eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, members of Franconia Conference are still cleaning up from massive flooding, downed trees and power lines, and extensive power outages.

Communication has been challenging and reports are trickling in–entire communities are still without power, dealing with road closures, and running short on supplies as gas stations and grocery stores are also without electricity.

Some of the reports we have heard:

  • Power is still out at Deep Run East (Perkasie, Pa.), Doylestown (Pa.), Swamp (Quakertown, Pa.), Methacton (Norristown, Pa.) and Garden Chapel (Dover, NJ) facilities.
  • Most of the Garden Chapel congregation is without power, although there have been no reports of damage to homes or the church building.
  • Methacton had and continues to have flooding in their basement/fellowship hall.  Without electricity, they are unable to pump the water out.
  • Many members of congregations along the Rte. 113 corridor around Souderton, Pa., are without power, as are the Conference Center offices and the Souderton Center, which is owned by Franconia Conference.  Penn View Christian School—the site of next weekend’s Conference Assembly—is also without electricity.   These power outages extend as far north as Allentown and as far east as the Delaware River.
  • Despite reports of wider damage in Philadelphia, Franconia congregations in the city survived the hurricane mostly unscathed.
Zume after Hurricane Sandy
Ben Walter, Ripple (right), and his housemates at the Zume House intentional community in Allentown, hosted their “power-less” neighbors for dinner the night after the hurricane. Luke Martin, Vietnamese Gospel, was among the guests.

In the midst of such wide-spread destruction, conference congregations are finding opportunities to minister to one another and their communities:

  • A young mother at Doylestown congregation made meals and delivered them to members of her congregation who were without power.
  • Salford (Harleysville, Pa.) congregation, once their own electricity was restored, opened their facilities to anyone in the community who needed heat, bathrooms, clean water, or a place to plug in their electronic devices.  They also expanded their weekly Community Meal to include those who needed a hot dinner.
  • Individuals throughout the region have opened their homes to friends and neighbors without power, delivered supplies to those who are stuck at home because of blocked roads, and brought their chainsaws to aid in the cleanup.
  • Members of Ripple Allentown (Pa.) who were without power met at their pastors’ home for a meal and to “warm up a bit,” reported Carolyn Albright. “It was a holy, blessed time together.”

Noah Kolb, Pastor of Ministerial Leadership for Franconia Conference, received two emails from conference congregations encouraging members to share their resources with others in their congregation and neighborhoods.  “Often we try to get beyond these things to get to the work of church,” Kolb reflected, “but this IS church.  This is really the stuff of church.”

Because of the challenges of communication, conference staff has not been able to contact all conference congregations to learn of current conditions, needs, and relief efforts.  If you have any information, please report it to your LEADership Minister or any member of conference staff—don’t assume that the staff already know about it.

If your congregation and neighborhood has made it through relatively unscathed, please check in with other congregations in your region to see how you can help; also consider how your congregation’s facility or aid can help the greater community.

If you are aware of relief efforts or needs, please report these to conference staff so that they can connect needs with resources.  The conference email and phones are up and running.

On Monday, as the hurricane was approaching, Michael King, a member of Salford and the dean of Eastern Mennonite Seminary (Harrisonburg, Va.), sent out an email to seminary students and staff.  “I don’t know precisely how we theologize at a time like this,” King wrote.  “Jesus teaches that the rain falls on the just and the unjust and that tragedies are not signs that we’re out of God’s favor. The Bible is also rich with images of God’s care, of God as the mother who shelters us under tender wings.  My loved ones, your loved ones, and all of us are in my heart and prayers amid the yearnings for God’s shelter.”

Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus

Derek Cooperby Derek Cooper, Deep Run East

If you are anything like me, you struggle with Jesus’ command to his disciples to “put God’s kingdom first.” I struggle with this because I tend to put my own needs first: to satisfy my own desires and interests before thinking about those of others, let alone God’s. I tend to put others’ needs before mine only occasionally, and not always like I really should.

But this is not the way of the kingdom.

Christians do not go their own way. Instead, they are defined by who they serve and, as such, seek to align their desires and interests according to their master’s desires and interests. God wants people who are totally committed to him. God wants people who worship him “in spirit and truth.” God wants people who serve him day and night, seven days a week, four seasons a year. In fact, we have a term for this deep level of commitment and loyalty: it’s called discipleship, and it’s quite challenging.

Over the past few years, pastors and Christian leaders have begun to rethink the importance of discipleship in the lives of North American churches. Although many churches will continue to obsess about attendance numbers and making their budgets, it’s encouraging to see that some are becoming less focused on things like church membership and more focused on making disciples.

Given the importance of this discussion in North American churches, I have recently co-written a book on discipleship entitled Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus. I wrote this book for two main reasons. First, although it is often said, it bears being repeated again: Jesus has entrusted the church with one primary task – to make disciples, not just believers or mere church members. Jesus’ last words, according to the Gospel of Matthew, were not breathed with the intention of his followers sounding good, paying bills, or looking professional; they were breathed to give life to a perpetual generation of Spirit-led, God-loving Jesus-followers (Matthew 28:19). The second reason why I wrote this book is because I have discerned that, despite the growing number of sermons, radio broadcasts, and books that discuss the topic of discipleship, too few spell out the specific costs of discipleship from the perspective of it being a very challenging and demanding enterprise each and every day. In running the risk of oversimplification, it’s far too easy to look upon discipleship like a Disneyworld roller coaster: sure, there are some downs along the way, but the journey is mostly for personal fulfillment and the costs of going on a ride are fairly minimal.

HazardousI agree that there are enjoyable moments on the road to following Jesus, but I think we do a serious disservice to Christians when we paint a picture of discipleship as a joy ride that takes us to our dream job, a bigger house, and a hassle-free existence.

Without denying the jobs and homes many Christians have (and love) and the stress-free lives we enjoy in relation to history and the rest of the world, following Jesus is hard, difficult, and challenging for the very simple reason that the eclipse of God’s kingdom on earth has yet to take place. And to state the obvious in our technology- and comfort-driven society, God is not a vending machine who mechanically and impersonally distributes riches to Christians like a game-show host. On the contrary, if you ask God for patience, you will most likely not be zapped with an abstract attribute; rather, you will be put in challenging circumstances where you will have to demonstrate patience as you rely upon God’s Spirit.

All of this is to say: Discipleship is a hazardous enterprise, and it is a topic that we need to think about with more seriousness and with more biblical and practical depth. If you would like to explore this kind of discipleship for yourself and for your church, I encourage you to read Hazardous and to think anew about what it means to follow Jesus in a culture that constantly competes with relevancy, independence, wealth, busyness, and comfort.

Dr. Derek Cooper is assistant professor of biblical studies and historical theology at Biblical Seminary, where he directs the LEAD MDiv program and co-directs the DMin program. He and his wife Barb are members at Deep Run East Mennonite Church. His most recent book is entitled Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus.

On World Domination and Global Espionage

Derek Cooperby Derek Cooper, Deep Run East

Growing up in the piney woods and ranch-covered hills of East Texas, I deliberated between two potential careers: world domination, that is to say, being a politicking lawyer, and global espionage, perhaps serving as a CIA officer who worked covertly in some ivy-covered medieval castle in Ghent or Prague.

Now snugly in my thirties, it turns out that I have yet to find a way to control the world. Nor have I yet traveled to Ghent or Prague. Instead, my days are comprised of changing dirty diapers on the youngest of my three children, who laughs mockingly every time I mention that toilets are all the rage; leading and participating in a continual cycle of meetings; having lunch at very German-sounding restaurants with local pastors; teaching and counseling seminary students; and writing Christian books whenever I can snatch the time. When I get home after a busy day of work, my wife and I talk about our day and then I play dolls with my two girls. Almost every night, instead of chasing down international gun-smugglers in a black-and-white tuxedo, I run after my son until I fall down from premature middle-age or until I trip over a Barbie Doll who is taking a joyride on a miniature camouflaged jeep.

My life – and the silly daydreams I had as a child – changed for the better when I was a young college student. Armed with the dual majors of Political Science and Spanish, I stood barrel-chested before the world, ready to take over the reins of political control and international malevolence once I graduated.

In the meantime, I met the love of my life during my second year of college. At the exact moment I saw her, something inside of me came alive and the first moment I got, I boldly declared to this Bucks County native: “I’m going to marry you.”

Repulsed at my forwardness, I spent the next three years convincing this beautiful young lady, named Barb, that God sent her down to Texas so that she could marry me. Little did I know that God had, indeed, led her to Texas – to serve as a missionary with Youth with a Mission (YWAM). But about this more important matter of fetching a husband, she was not amused. Although I still stand by my statement – who knew that Texans were bold and swaggering? – God was pleased to use this young woman to remove my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh. Within a matter of months, I dropped that world domination and global espionage business, and began to think like a Christian, that is, outwardly and in a Jesus-centered way. I gave my life to Christ, and it has never been the same.

Before I knew it, I was a college graduate and a full-time seminary student. I was now conjugating Greek verbs, preaching at something called a church, reading the Bible (and learning this was far more interesting than political theory), praying, and thinking of a career in missions.

Eventually I learned that God was preparing me for a career in theological education. In the meantime, not only did I convince Barb to marry me, but I even convinced her that God was calling me to get a PhD – which can be translated in the marriage-ese language as: “I will study for the next several years and make no money. Will you support us as I do so?”

While I was earning the last of my three graduate degrees and generating a very meager income-earning power, Barb gave birth to our three wonderful children – currently aged three, four, and five – and also managed to work full-time as an educator.

Did I mention how great my wife is?

Over the years, God has been extraordinarily kind to us. After years of prayer, Barb is now able to stay at home full-time with our kids, just as she has always wanted. And God has provided many wonderful ministry opportunities for me. Most recently, I served on the pastoral teams of two different churches, and I am now a very busy seminary professor and administrator – filling my professional free time with speaking at different churches and writing books.

But the most recent change Barb and I have experienced is joining the Mennonite community. Through the course of key relationships with Mennonite leaders, pastors, and churches, Barb and I have sensed God’s clear leading for us to become Maronites, I mean, Mennonites (I’m still trying to get that down). What can a Southern transplant from gun-slinging and flag-saluting Texas say about being part of the oldest Mennonite community in North America?

In all honesty, I can say that Barb and I clearly sense that God is active in the Mennonite community. God’s Spirit is really alive and poised to do something amazing. We are excited to be a part of this and can’t wait to see how God will bring everything together.

As I think back upon my former dreams, do I have any regrets? Not a one: Christ fashioned my life into something much more than a career in world domination or espionage ever could have given me. Following Jesus has been the most rewarding journey of my life. Of course, if Jesus happened to take a trip and set up shop in Prague or Ghent, I would not complain.

Dr. Derek Cooper is assistant professor of biblical studies and historical theology at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, PA, where he also serves as associate director of the Doctor of Ministry program. He and his wife Barb are members at Deep Run East Mennonite Church. He can be reached at dcooper@biblical.edu.

Walking together on the road to Easter

by Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

It’s a familiar story, especially for those who have grown up in the church.  So how do we retell the story of Jesus’ passion and resurrection year after year in ways that open us up, once again, to the pain, the beauty, and the wonder of Jesus’ sacrifice and victory over death?

dove scripture picture
Members at Souderton congregation contributed artwork made of scripture. Photo provided.

The season of Lent, celebrated for the forty days leading up to Easter, marks Christ’s journey to Jerusalem.  It invites those who follow Jesus to walk with him by remembering his life, practicing disciplines of fasting and sacrifice, and engaging in deeper commitment to their brothers and sisters in the church.

Souderton (Pa.) congregation began Lent by diving deeper into Mennonite Church USA’s “Year of the Bible” with an art project.  Members of the congregation were invited to choose a word or phrase from scripture on which they wanted to meditate and to write it over and over on a panel using colors to create images.  These panels became banners that hung in the front of their sanctuary during the Lenten season.

Souderton wasn’t the only congregation to celebrate the imaginative Spirit.  Swamp (Quakertown, Pa.) spent Lent exploring God as creator, “littering” the steps of their platform with items created by members of the congregation, symbols of God’s unique creative work in them.  Their children memorized Psalm 139, which they recited on Palm Sunday after leading the entire congregation in a procession, joyfully waving palm branches.

Plains maps
Plains congregation used maps to illustrate their prayers for their region, country, and world. Photo by Dawn Ranck.

Palm Sunday marked the beginning of Holy Week and was the day when Jesus entered Jerusalem to the adoration of the crowds.  The week soon turned more somber, however, as Jesus ate his final meal with his disciples, washing their feet, and predicting his betrayal.  These events are remembered on Maundy Thursday.

Conference congregations reenacted Christ’s humility with their own experiences of footwashing.  Traditionally, Mennonites have practiced footwashing in groups divided by gender.  At Perkiomenville (Pa.) congregation this year, footwashing was one of several stations that members could visit, which, for the first time, allowed married couples or family members to wash each other’s feet.

Good Friday vigil
Franconia Conference members joined Christians from all over the Philadelphia region for a Good Friday vigil outside a gun shop. Photo by Jim McIntire.

In addition to footwashing, Plains (Hatfield, Pa.) congregation acted out Christ’s care and humility by setting up prayer stations with large maps of the world, the country, and their region.  Members could pray for and mark areas on each map with a dot or a heart.

Compassion for the community continued to spread into Good Friday, the day when followers of Jesus remember his death on the cross.  Members of churches all over the Philadelphia region gathered outside a gun shop in the city for a Good Friday vigil.  As these believers stood against violence in the city, others gathered in Good Friday services to remember that Jesus’ death made peace and reconciliation with God, and one another, possible.

Salford power outage
Salford congregation spent part of its Good Friday service in the dark, thanks to an unexpected power outage. Photo by Emily Ralph

Just when Good Friday seemed like it couldn’t get any darker, Salford (Harleysville, Pa.) congregation’s evening service was suddenly interrupted by a power outage.  For just a few, brief moments the congregation was surprised by the darkness and powerless to do anything but sit in the shadow of the cross.

There was a hush in Franconia Conference on the Saturday of Holy Week, as though the Church was holding its breath, waiting for the joy they knew was coming on Easter morning.

And the joy did come—in colors and flowers, in song and story, in food and hope and promise.  Crosses were draped in white and lilies and hyacinths and forsythia decorated sanctuaries.  Congregations met as the sun rose, around breakfast tables, and in their morning services to celebrate an empty tomb.

Philadelphia Praise Center viewed a video in which church members took to the city streets to ask people about the significance of Easter.  Blooming Glen (Pa.) congregation acted out the resurrection story in a chilly sunrise service and a member at Deep Run East (Perkasie, Pa.) built a custom tomb to display on Easter morning. In Vermont, members of Bethany congregation participated in an ecumenical sunrise service on the side of Mt Killington and then, after brunch, were led in worship by a new generation of storytellers–their children.

It’s a familiar story, and yet it’s born fresh each year as we once again walk with Jesus through Lent, Holy Week, and the Easter season.  In this story, we recognize what theologian H.S. Bender once wrote: we live on the resurrection side of the cross.  May we continue to celebrate Christ’s resurrection by living our lives as a resurrected people.

He is risen: He is risen indeed!

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Seeking and finding God’s unfailing love

Brent Camilleri
bcamilleri@deepruneast.org

seeking_love.jpgI was blessed to grow up in a Christian home with parents who loved the Lord and tried to honor Christ in all that they did. As I grew up they continually encouraged my faith, answered questions I had about being a Christian, and made it clear that I was a child who was loved and cared for by God. My father especially encouraged me to not only say that I was a Christian but also live out my faith through words and actions.

In high school I had a teacher who worked part time with a local youth ministry. He was enthusiastic about his faith and a great mentor to my friends and I. He was the first person to speak to me about my leadership gifts and the possibility of going into ministry. Later in high school my youth pastor, Chris, invited me to do an internship with him because he also saw me as a leader. With Chris’ help I truly started to live out my faith. He encouraged and challenged me to seek after God.

Through that relationship I learned a great deal about youth ministry and, for the first time, felt God calling me to pursue it as a career. My youth pastor affirmed that call and I decided to study youth ministry at Eastern University. There I was able to explore the call to ministry through both study and an internship. I developed strong relationships with my professors and fellow students and was further affirmed in my call to ministry.

After college I served as the youth pastor intern at Deep Run East congregation. Through this time I was able to learn more about myself as a ministering person. I have learned that I am a relational person, I am at my best when I can develop relationships with others and minister out of those relationships.

I have also found that I enjoy teaching and discovering ways to relate scriptural truth through relevant or contemporary illustrations. There is no greater feeling than working with a group of students and seeing them begin to “get” what this whole faith thing is about. Visioning for ministry is also something that excites me and I enjoy finding new and interesting ways to help others live out their faith.

There are certainly many things that I have had to learn as I seek to live out the call that God has placed on my life. Delegation is not a skill that comes naturally to me. I feel it is easier for me to take care of everything myself. However, I’ve quickly discovered shouldering every responsibility is an impossible task and that good administration also means good delegation.

As I continue to grow in my leadership abilities and explore my call, I have found that having a strong group of trusted friends and mentors is a key to my ministry. There is so much to be learned from the experiences of others and I feel my ministry is cultivated through these relationships. I have a group of friends from college that holds me accountable and helps me to remember how fun it is to serve the Lord!

I also meet regularly with a pastoral mentor who has already been through all the things I am now experiencing in my ministry. It is helpful to have someone who can point out where I might be able to improve and who can also keep me from making the mistakes they made in their own ministry. As I continue to learn what it means to be in ministry I am constantly amazed by the unfailing love of God. No matter what stresses I have faced and hiccups I have encountered along the way, God has been faithful to lift me up and keep me going. I look forward to the many new ways I will meet God in the coming years as I follow His calling on my life.