Tag Archives: formational

A Delightful Surprise

by Mary Nitzsche, Associate Executive Minister

My husband Wayne and I recently attended a benefit event for a local non-profit, which included an auction.  Surveying the silent auction items, Wayne spotted a beautifully-crafted Martin guitar and asked if I had any interest in it.

I had not played a guitar for over 10 years and had donated my old guitar to a thrift store with no intentions of ever playing again.

The Martin guitar’s beauty and three-quarter-size caught my attention. I agreed to add our bid to the sheet.

Periodically, Wayne checked to see if others were adding their bid. Several times he asked my permission to increase our bid.

Doubt began to creep into my mind each time I consented.  Could I relearn the chords? Would playing the guitar aggravate the pain in my hand? Would I gain confidence to accompany singing in my congregation since I was never that accomplished before? At my age, could I improve my skill?

As the bids increased, I wondered about our dollar limit. The five-minute call came for the close of bidding. Wayne noticed a person at the table increasing their bid. One last time he asked me if I wanted the guitar. I was non-committal, but Wayne was determined, yet courteous. He asked the other bidder how badly she wanted the guitar and learned she was not as serious as he thought.

At the conclusion of the benefit, Wayne and I returned home with the guitar, knowing our donation would make a difference in the lives of people.

After arriving at home, I gently lifted my new guitar out of the case. I attempted to tune the guitar and was amazed that I remembered how to tune it without consulting Internet instructions! When I attempted to play a chord, I couldn’t remember any fingerings. Several days later, I printed a chart of the primary guitar chords. I struggled through the first song, looking back and forth from the chart to the song sheet while playing very slowly.  My confidence was rattled, yet I persisted with a different song.

All of a sudden, something clicked.

My long-term memory caught up with my short-term memory. It was an “ah-ha” moment that I couldn’t explain: the C, G, A, Em, and Am chords came naturally, without even looking at the fingering chart! After playing 20 minutes, my hand ached and my fingers were tender (a sign that I needed to develop calluses). That evening I went to bed cautiously optimistic that the purchase was a good thing.

Several days later, I spent an hour playing my guitar. To my surprise and delight, my ambivalence for purchasing a new guitar and the lack of confidence that I would regain the limited skill I once had was fading. Wayne’s persistence, encouragement, and generosity has inspired me to rediscover my love for singing and playing guitar.

This unexpected gift, a nudging of the Spirit, has given me a renewed spiritual practice for expressing and nurturing my faith.

Seeing the New Church

by Danilo Sanchez, Youth Formation Pastor

The doorbell rang and I knew it was time for baptism class. Four energetic youth stumbled through my door, took off their shoes, and found a place to sit.

“Did everyone bring their Bible and homework?”

One youth held up his English Bible while the others went to the Karen Bible app on their phone. We started the class by going over the homework, which was writing their faith story.

Some shared about Bible quizzes and memorizing Scripture in the refugee camps. Others shared about their Buddhist parents and not knowing anything about Jesus. The one experience they all had in common was camp at Spruce Lake last year. Each of them felt like a spark was lit and they desired to know more about Jesus.

I shared parts of my own faith story with the class and it was a humbling reminder that, despite our different upbringings, we were all called to be Jesus’ disciples.

Many topics in the baptism class, which I taught alongside Pastor Rose and Ah Paung (a Karen leader from Whitehall), were new to the group, and they asked so many questions about the person of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the big story of God. The most foreign topics we discussed were Anabaptist values, which come from our unique perspective on Jesus and Scripture. Through this baptism class, I found myself wondering, “What does Anabaptism mean for youth and young adults today?”

In my upbringing, Anabaptism meant daily discipleship, simple living, non-conformity, and non-violence. What that looked like in the day-to-day was a strong emphasis on holiness in my personal relationship with Jesus, not spending too much money on clothes, and being against war and abortion.

The values of discipleship, simple living, and non-violence are still present in Anabaptism today, but I see our youth and young adults express it in different ways. Simple living doesn’t just mean not being materialistic, but is also about sustainable resources and caring for creation. Non-violence isn’t just about protesting war or abortion, but is also about practicing peace in our schools, better gun laws to stop mass shootings, and preventing sexual abuse in the church. Many of the young Anabaptists emerging today want discipleship to include values like justice and community to fight against racism, sexism, and broadening the circle of people included in the kingdom of God.

While not all our youth understand or believe in those ideas yet, I recognize that the face of Anabaptism is changing and that our values are growing and expanding. I want the youth at Whitehall and the youth in our conference to know that there is space for them in the church and that they belong. The way youth and young adults choose to express their faith may not look like mine or the previous generations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t being faithful to Jesus or Anabaptism.

As a pastor and a leader in the church, I need to make space for youth and young adults to express and explore their faith. One thing I know for sure is that I’m not trying to teach “Christian behavior” or even “Mennonite behavior” but, rather, to present the resurrected Jesus and trust that the same Holy Spirit that spoke to me is speaking to them.

At the end of August, we celebrated Than’s baptism. It was a joyous occasion and an honor to welcome a new brother in Christ. I looked upon the smiling faces of the youth and children as they embraced Than and said, “Here is the new church. Isn’t it beautiful?”

God at Work on Our Vacation

by Berdine Leinbach, Souderton congregation

My husband and I bumped into God frequently as we traveled to Tanzania to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary.

His silky white beard was shaped like an Amishman’s. His skin was dark walnut. His eyes crinkled cautiously in greeting.  When the flight attendant was checking seatbelts, his body motions revealed limited neck mobility and vision issues, so I reached across and clicked in his seatbelt.

Later he struggled to put on a brand-new sneaker, which is really hard to do in an airplane seat. I unbuckled and dove under his window seat to loosen the laces and assist. Using my finger as a shoehorn felt oddly akin to foot washing.

Over the course of a long flight, multiple opportunities arose to serve him.  I felt like God had put me there on purpose. As we shared travel plans, I found he was retired professor from Bangladesh and a peace-loving Muslim. We shared our beliefs, respectfully and simply (I need more practice at that).

We prayed blessing on each other.  God was on our plane.

As we traveled along the rim of Ngorogoro Crater, the vehicle in front of us stopped. Our vehicle stopped. Just 20 feet away a huge elephant appeared out of the mist.  Our driver turned off the engine.

We watched, fascinated, as she looked at us, flapped her ears, and lifted her trunk in inquiry. A trumpet sounded from our left as another elephant appeared on that side of the road. The first one moved forward and, behind her, another younger elephant and a baby appeared, then another adult.

We were in awe of these amazing creatures, right there.  Soon the first elephant clambered down the road bank, crossed in front of our vehicle and climbed up the left side. The others soon followed.  Seconds later, nothing could be seen but mist and shrubs.

What a beautiful gift, a holy moment.  God was in creation.

Our tour company arranged for us to stop at Karatu Mennonite Church, a small outreach congregation started in 2010 by the Arusha (Mennonite) Diocese.  When we arrived, children greeted us.  We gave Pastor Peter Ojode a prayer shawl made by women from our home congregation. As I prayed aloud the prayer that goes with each shawl, I got all choked up. I sensed that this gift and prayer were aligning with something much bigger that God was already doing there.

Front row (left to right): Evangelist Nicodemus Malaki, Evangelist Meshack Shabani, Martina Victor (church treasurer), Tasiana Toway (church elder), Berdine and Steve Leinbach (Souderton congregation).  Back row (left to right): Pastor Peter Ojode (KMT Arusha), Sofia Mirobo (church elder KMT Arusha), Pastor Julius Churi (KMT Katesh), Pastor Emmanuel (General Secretary of KMT Arusha Diocese).

When the service began, my heart swelled with joy singing along to “Holy, Holy, Holy” and other songs. Thank goodness Swahili has phonetic spelling. 

When they had heard that we were coming, Pastor Emmanual Maro (general secretary of the entire diocese/conference of churches) and elder Sofia Mirobo traveled three hours on a bus from Arusha to come and translate for us, organize a brief meal, and welcome us. We are still processing the hospitality of this intercultural experience and wondering what God will do next.

Pastor Emmanuel emailed us after we returned home, “We thank God for a wonderful Sunday at KMT Karatu. We really appreciated the opportunity to exchange our views, and we do hope through our relationships with one another we are revealing the face of God to the world and advancing his kingdom in Jesus’ name.”

God is at work. May we all notice and join in.

Jesus is the Center

by Tim Moyer & Diane Bleam, Bally congregation, with Andrés Castillo

Over the last year, Bally (PA) Mennonite Church has been moving toward a “centered-set” rather than “bounded-set” approach to church. After about 6 months of processing on the theory of being centered-set and how it might work, we discovered the book Blue Ocean Faith by Dave Schmelzer. This book offered insights into practical applications of how churches can function as centered-set.  

Pastor Tim Moyer explains centered-set vs. bounded-set to Conference staff at a recent staff meeting held at Bally.

A bounded set can be depicted as a circle with congregational members (us) inside the circle and all other people outside (them).  Congregations spend huge amounts of energy defining and defending the boundaries.  When the boundary needs to be redrawn, people get hurt, angry, and disillusioned.  It creates a split between people.  A bounded set environment is more prone to tension. Since much energy goes into the boundary, accomplishing things can be unnecessarily hard, because some people see defending the boundary as defending their faith.

In a centered-set approach, all energy points towards Christ, who is the center. People are treated as equals and are either moving towards or away from Christ. Everyone is being constantly challenged and supported to draw closer to the center. People feel more comfortable in a supportive environment and tension diminishes.

Centered and bounded sets are not reflective of theological positions, instead, they are mindsets adopted by congregations that guide them in the way that they express their faith.

A diagram demonstrating “centered-set”

Bally congregation has intentionally shifted to a centered-set approach to expressing our faith after significant congregational processing.  For four and a half months we designated our Sunday school hour for congregational input and discussion.  We presented the centered-set concepts, facilitated discussion in small groups, collected ideas from the congregation, and envisioned new ministries.

Since adopting a centered-set model of expressing our faith, we’ve found that spontaneous ministries and changes have surfaced among us. For example, at one of our Council meetings while discussing our facility’s rental fees, we confronted ourselves with the question, “Why do we have lower rates for members than we do for all other people if we are a centered-set church?” We realized that our fees were a boundary and now charge the same for members and all other people who desire to use our facilities.

Another example would be our practice of inviting attendees to share testimonies and short sermons regarding how Christ is working in their lives.  We also launched a monthly Sunday morning breakfast where we started inviting VBS families, our church’s preschool families, and families we encounter from other ministries. The breakfast runs during Sunday School, and people are welcome to attend church; however the main purpose of the breakfasts is to establish relationships.

“Community Outreach” now seems an outdated term at Bally.  “Community Connections” is now the title for that committee which better describes how we interact with the broader community. Not only have we changed our view of the community surrounding our church, but we have also noted changes within our congregation–there seems to be much more energy and enthusiasm for ministries and relationship building.  

In centered-set congregation, the additional energy is used  to encourage all to move toward Christ. Instead of programs and rules, the focus should be on building relationships so that people can walk alongside and support each other in faith. Perhaps the most important part of a centered set, however, is to remember that Jesus is the center.

How to Pray for our New Churches

by Jeff Wright, Leadership Minister

“I desire, then, that in every place [we] should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument…” – 1 Timothy 2.8 (NRSV)

Franconia Conference is amid a lot of transition.  New congregations from across the US are aligning with the traditional core of Franconia congregations in Eastern Pennsylvania.  A merger with Eastern District is in process.  Churches from California and perhaps even Florida are joining the conference or at least exploring relationships.  Ties with international partners are expanding.  These are wonderful days to be a part of this historic body of believers.

Of course, the challenge is always one of communication across the human barriers of language, culture, and geography. Those from the center of conference life in Eastern Pennsylvania might wonder, “What can I do to encourage this growing movement?” It might sound trite, but I believe our prayers are the most powerful and effective offering we can make on behalf of the new expressions of Church that God is aligning with us in Franconia Conference. 

So, how ought we to pray for these new and emerging Franconia Conference congregations?

Wayne Nitzsche (right) prays for Jessica Miller at her installation service, November 2016

First, pray in the simple language of the Lord’s prayer that the Kingdom of God will come to Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Sarasota, Tampa, San Francisco, Mexico City, and elsewhere, just like it does in Souderton and Harleysville and Heaven.  In every place, God is at work.  Knowing that a dedicated band of Jesus-followers are simply praying, “Thy Kingdom Come…” is an amazing encouragement. 

Second, as you pray, remember that many of our new Franconia congregations have experienced significant trauma in recent years.  For example, the church in California came to Franconia out of a painful process.  Furthermore, they live with a constant anxiety regarding immigration status—even though most of our California members hold legal standing in the US.  Other new congregations aligning with Franconia have also experienced trauma of various kinds.  Praying for healing and increased empathy are gifts of hope for our new congregations.

Third, when you pray, be open to the changes God is putting in front of you.  Restoring the 175-year rift between churches in Eastern Pennsylvania will be transformation for Franconia Mennonite Conference.  A new name for this God-movement is coming.  As a conference of churches, we speak many languages.  While, in my experience, Franconia has done an outstanding job in learning to be intercultural and multi-linguistic, we still have room for growth.  New congregations from across the country and around the world will change the way we do church in our local congregation—and that is a blessing!  May we receive it as such.

Finally, pray for our pastors.  A small team of three friends, who encourage me in my work as a Leadership Minister (and pray for me in my role!), join with me in praying each day for a different Franconia Conference pastor that I am privileged to walk with in ministry.  We pray for their health and well-being.  We pray for their marriages and their families.  We pray for them to be resilient and tough.  We pray for them to be tender and broken.  It is the singular honor of my work to offer regular and sustained intercession for the pastors I serve with in Franconia Conference.  Your intercessions on behalf of the pastors and the staff of Franconia Conference are a treasured gift.

Perhaps in our postmodern, busy, overscheduled, hyperactive world, prayer has become a relic of a season past and gone from us.  I hope not!  May we, as an old/new conference of churches from New England, to Florida, to California, and beyond, be linked together by the simple, powerful proposition of praying for one another.

Waiting on That New Thing

by Mike Clemmer, leadership minister

On Sunday, June 30, I preached my last sermon as the pastor of Towamencin Mennonite Church.

I had the privilege of serving at Towamencin for 14 wonderful years, yet, in the past year, my wife and I have sensed the Lord’s call on our lives to transition into a new ministry opportunity. For Towamencin, this means that they will now to need seek out and call a new pastor. For April and me, it is beginning a journey of exploring the unknown lands of the Lancaster area so that we can use our gifts of ministry in a church near our family.

Leaving Towamencin and the Franconia area are certainly big changes for me – but I am also aware that it is a big change for the congregation. We always say, “transition and change are both part of life,” but, in reality, change hits us all hard.

We as Eastern District and Franconia Conferences are also in the midst of change as we move towards a reconciled and merged conference this Fall. Unfortunately, times of change often bring about a period of anxiety and fear.  I have seen some of these emotions at times in my own life, at Towamencin, and within both Conferences.

In the midst of transition, however, I am also amazed at how often I have seen God at work – in my own life, but also growth and renewal at Towamencin – as well as in the Conferences. It is helpful to remember that God is always at work and promises to be with us always. So perhaps, in times of transition, we need to lay aside our anxieties and simply celebrate what God has already done and put more of an effort into anticipating what God is about to do.  

My wife April recently wrote these words in a Lenten devotional regarding change:

On this journey of life, I find myself once again in a place of waiting on God: for direction, for clarity, for peace.  Change is on the horizon, and with that comes excitement, but also some anxiety and fear.  In my humanness, I like to know “the plan,” … to have a picture of what’s ahead … to be in control.  But we don’t always have the luxury of these things. Change isn’t always easy, but I’ve heard it said that growth doesn’t come without change.  During this time of waiting, I see that God is helping me grow by building a deeper trust in Him and a humility in me.  I’m reminded that this isn’t about “me,” but about what God is planning to do. And I’m seeing this as a time of preparation for whatever lies ahead.

The words “waiting” and “preparation” are great words to reflect on as we deal with the emotions that transition and change bring into our life.  Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”  Isn’t it amazing how God knows we often need to hear that reminder twice … Wait for the Lord!

As we continue to pray for our churches and our upcoming reconciliation of Conferences, may we also approach these uncertain times by preparing for what God is about to do by simply waiting on the Lord! Wait … Wait … “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19)

 

Churches of Misfit Toys

by Marta Castillo, Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation

“At this church, we are like the island of misfit toys.”

Since I started attending at Wellspring Church of Skippack, I have heard this comment several times.  I smile when I hear it because a picture forms in my imagination of the rich yet strange collection of people, backgrounds, and personalities that we find at Wellspring—and at most churches, really.  I sigh because I also hear people acknowledging their brokenness and doubting their adequacy and suitability to be together as the body of Christ. 

I had to do a little research on this cultural reference to “misfit toys.”  What I found is that the story of the Island of the Misfit Toys is a tale of a young red-nosed reindeer (Rudolph) who is bullied for being different. He and an elf, Hermey (who wants to be a dentist), set out on an adventure to find a place that will accept them. They discover an island filled with misfit toys that have been tossed aside due to the slight ‘defects’ they possess, including Charlie, who was discarded because, instead of being a Jack-in-the-Box, he is Charlie-in-the-Box and Dolly Sue, a doll who wants to be loved.  In the end, Rudolph saves the day by finding a home for each misfit toy. 

Is there a parallel between the Island of Misfit Toys and churches?  Well, surely your church has people who have been tossed aside by the world because of the defects they possess.  Surely your church has people who have been made to feel inadequate or mislabeled.  Surely your church has people who are lost in this world and feel unsuccessful and unloved.   

In the time that Jesus spent here on earth, he took special interest in the misfits.  In Mark 2, his disciples are asked, “Why does he eat with the tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Abigail Van Buren once said, “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” 

In 1 Corinthians 12 we are reminded, “Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together … that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

In the story, Rudolph saves the day by finding homes for the misfit toys.  As churches, we become “home” for all sorts of misfits (ourselves included), treating those who are weaker as indispensable and those who have experienced little honor with special honor.  We cover those who are unpresentable with special modesty and our presentable parts with clarity and honesty.  We can save the day because all misfits fit in the body of Christ. 

In the body of Christ, together, we can experience belonging, healing, reconciliation, transformation, shalom, and love.  We may continue to be misfits in this world, but in Christ, we are home, accepted, and beloved.

Male and Female, in the Image of God

by Doris Diener, Franconia congregation & Danilo Sanchez, Ripple congregation

On May 8 & 9, credentialed leaders from Franconia conference gathered for a Faith & Life Gathering to talk about women in leadership, with input from Carolyn Custis James.  In response, Danilo Sanchez and Doris Diener reflect on what they heard.

Danilo:
As a family, we often take walks around our Allentown neighborhood. My two daughters love playing “follow the leader.” We each take turns being at the front of the group, calling out commands like “march,” “act like a dinosaur,” and “neigh like a horse.” Everyone must follow what the leader says, and my girls get so much joy out of making mommy and daddy be silly in public. This may seem like a simple game, but I want my daughters to know from a young age that they are leaders. I don’t know if enough young women hear that message of leadership from their fathers or male leaders at home. Unfortunately, the likelihood that they’ll hear the invitation to be a pastor or leader is even less in the church.

Doris:
The impetus for Carolyn Custis James to seek God’s intention for gendered humans emerged when marriage did not appear on the horizon throughout her twenties.  She wondered what God’s purpose was for young females prior to marriage, or those who were single and widowed.  She sought a scriptural answer that is globally relevant for all women everywhere and always.

Carolyn Custis James

Carolyn focused on Genesis 1 and 2 for God’s blueprint for his image-bearers.  She discovered the meaning of ezer (Genesis 2:18) as it is used in twenty-one “warrior” contexts in the Old Testament: an ezer is an active intervening warrior that partners in a battle for God’s people.  The powerful message is the imperative significance of male and female working together for God’s kingdom. 

The incredible ingenuity of the tempter in Genesis 3 destroyed God’s original intentions for this earth: It ruined human potential to be his image-bearers as well as it shattered the “blessed alliance” between male and female.  “This was a spiritual equivalent of a nuclear weapon to destroy what was intended to be God’s kingdom strategy for the life-giving maintenance of the earth,” Custis James said.  Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and His empowering gift of the Holy Spirit provide opportunity for his people to live into his original design.

Danilo:
This makes sense to me. The women and female pastors that I know are warriors. God created male and female in God’s own image (Gen. 1:27). Men and women both carry the image of God and can be God-bearers in the world. This means both men and women have equal worth in the kingdom, equal honor to share the gospel, and equal right to leadership and authority.

From the beginning of creation, we see God reversing cultural norms. But we male pastors and leaders have not carried on a similar empowerment. We have allowed sexism and patriarchy to thrive in the church. I cannot escape culpability because there have been times that I have not spoken up on behalf of women in an all-male room or provided ministry and leadership opportunities for my sisters in Christ. But I am learning and I want to do better because I believe God created male and female in God’s own image. And I believe that God wants to use both men and women for the work of his kingdom.

Our next Faith and Life Gathering will be August 7-8. We will be considering the dynamics of Intercultural Leadership. 

Learning and Celebrating Along the Way

by Randy Heacock, Leadership Minister

In my work both as a pastor and for the conference, one of my greatest rewards is the opportunity to learn from and with others working in God’s Kingdom.

This display from Sandy Landes’ ordination represents God‘s power to transform what was once a barren desert into a lush land.

In the first congregation I served as a young minister in the United Methodist Church, the board of ordained ministry was wise enough to pair me with an older minister (younger than my current age) to mentor me.  Charles and I were very different both in our theological perspective and in our view of worship; however, he taught me the importance of accepting affirmation and “to let it sink deeply into your entire being.  Challenges and criticism will come frequently enough and you will need to have a strong bank account of affirmation to keep your balance.”  Fast forward to my current work, I file notes of affirmation and appreciation with a prayer of gratitude as evidence of God’s grace.

More recently, in working with the pastoral search committee at Towamencin, a person called to share concern regarding our process.  As I listened, I gained a fuller understanding both of what happened at our last meeting and how we could find our way forward.  Grateful for the honest feedback, I reached out to some other people for wisdom and discerned an approach for our next meeting.  The meeting was vastly improved with more vigorous engagement.  On the ride home, I thanked God for the varied gifts people contribute to the church. 

I recently met with Tim Moyer, pastor of Bally congregation, for breakfast at his house.  Let me first say that Tim knows how to fix breakfast!  As we talked, his excitement and energy was contagious.  The Bally congregation is working to learn about and practice a centered-set approach.  Tim shared how this focus is uniting the congregation.  They are also rethinking and reshaping who they are as a church.   I give thanks for the fresh wind of God creating new expressions.  I look forward to what God is yet to do at and through Bally. 

At Doylestown, where I serve as pastor, we recently celebrated the ordination of Sandy Landes.  Sandy’s ordination was a tribute to God’s constant pursuit and Sandy’s willingness to say “yes.”  Many people present would have witnessed Sandy’s transformation through the process of refusing, then reluctantly leading, and now leading boldly in a public setting.  Former members, family, neighbors, colleagues, and friends celebrated Sandy’s faithful example of answering God’s call.   The day after Sandy’s ordination, I rejoiced for the many people who nurtured and participated in this work of God. 

The photo above is a display that was present during Sandy’s ordination.  It represents God‘s power to transform what was once a barren desert into a lush land.  As in the little stories I have shared, it visually reminds us of God’s life-giving power.  May we all give thanks for the ways we have witnessed God’s transformational power.  May we continually learn to wait on God. 

 

 

Jr. High Bash – Practicing His Presence

by Jen Hunsberger, Children/Jr. High Director, Blooming Glen Mennonite Church

The annual Jr. High Late Night Bash took place at Dock Mennonite Academy on Friday, March 15, and the house was packed with 190 youth/adults from 15 churches, near and far. The evening was full of games, recreation, music, food, and spiritual encouragement. The night started out with each of us checking out what activities we wanted to try and which friends we wanted to pal around with. We were soon gathered on the main gym bleachers to get an introduction to the night and our first big group game. The game leaders from Spruce Lake showed us what we should do and all of us got onto the gym floor whether we were ready or not! Soon balls were flying and kids were scattered in all directions.

After a few big group games, we filled Dock’s theater for the worship time. It started out with brave volunteers, youth and sponsors, that played minute-to-win-it type games directed by Kyle Rodgers from Franconia Mennonite Church, with the crowd cheering for their favorite competitor. Believe it or not, there may or may not have been some cheating from a certain competitive male youth leader named Mike from Bally (but of course cheaters never prosper and Jess McQuade, Souderton Mennonite Church Jr. High Director, came away with the win!) We then warmly welcomed Brent Camilleri from Deep Run East Mennonite Church to the stage with his band and some lively worship music. The music resonated well with the youth and they were lifting their voices and clapping their hands in time, or not so much, to the music. It was life-giving to say the least.

Next to take the stage was speaker Todd Pearage. He offered a humorous, real-life, you can’t make this stuff up, story that captivated the audience and had us gasping and laughing out loud. He then shared some of his life story and how God works through him to be a “good youth leader” to those he leads. He encouraged us to “Practice His Presence” according to Psalms 139. God knows us, He knows our thoughts, He knows our hearts, He know our ways! Do we act and speak like God is standing next to us all the time? We concluded our worship time with more singing and encouragement to get to know someone new during the night, and to keep our eye out for those that look like they may need a friend and invite them to play!

All participants had the next chunk of time to pick a game of our choice. The inflatable Gaga Pit, 9 square-in-the-air, soccer, basketball, walleyball, dodgeball, Spike ball, giant Dutch Blitz, Nerf games and the inflatable bubble soccer balls were all buzzing with excitement and competition. Midway through the night the smell of pizza filled the building and the snack area was the place to be! There were also table games taking place as snacks were being inhaled by these growing middle schoolers. After we were fueled, we were ready for round two of games and more sweat. All in all, it was a night of action, relationship-building, worshiping our Creator and being encouraged to take part in being a free-spirited youth, if only for a few hours!