Tag Archives: Georgia Praise Center

On the road with LEADership ministers

by Sharon Williams

Aldo_CA2014What comes to mind when you imagine Franconia Conference LEADership ministers and the work they do? You may be surprised to know that the new conference office at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School is probably not the place to find them, although a phone call there will certainly get you connected.

Steve Kriss, Jenifer Eriksen Morales, Aldo Siahaan, John Bender, Noel Santiago, and Ertell Whigham are always on the go. Each one connects with anywhere from three to 12 congregations in Vermont, northern Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley, southeastern Pennsylvania, and Georgia. They give much time and energy to congregations in transition and emerging congregations. An estimated 50 percent of conference congregations are in the midst of transition and/or growth.

Pastoral leadership is a common transition. Some congregations choose to work with an intentional interim pastor who stands in the gap and prepares the congregation to receive a new pastor. The LEAD ministers provide guidance for both search processes, and support elders and lay leaders in managing the congregation’s current and future priorities.

Jenifer Eriksen Morales, minister of transitional ministries, also works with other Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA) conferences on the east coast to train intentional interim pastors, and serves on the MCUSA task force for interim pastoral ministries.

Emerging and growing congregations are another focus. These congregations are high maintenance, but in a very good way. LEAD ministers help to address staffing needs, work with pastors who are new to the Anabaptist faith, and build relationships—in essence, anything that propels the missional vision forward.

The work of the LEAD ministers sometimes crisscrosses when their congregations work together. The Lehigh Valley youth ministry partnership is shared by the Whitehall, Ripple and Vietnamese Gospel congregations and led by Danilo Sanchez. Vietnamese Gospel Church in Allentown and Philadelphia Praise Center are partnering in a joint worship and outreach ministry with the Vietnamese community in south Philly. The LEAD ministers must also nurture their relationships with each other so their collaborations are fluid and fruitful.

Last summer, Aldo Siahaan and Steve Kriss received a “Macedonia call” (Acts 16:9-10). Could they meet with a Mara (Burmese) church during their visit with Georgia Praise Center leaders? This congregation in Atlanta is part of a network of Mara churches in Indianapolis, Indiana, Baltimore, Maryland, and Charlotte, North Carolina. The network is reaching out to Mennonite conferences on the east coast for assistance in establishing pastoral leadership. The exploratory relationship has many possibilities.

“As an immigrant pastor myself, it’s exciting to walk with the Mara Christians, to see them reach their destiny as a people, a church in this country,” says Aldo. “If they choose to join Mennonite Church USA, how will we receive each other and grow in ministry together?”

Each LEAD minister offers her or his unique gifts to their congregations. Noel enjoys helping pastors, elders and lay leaders experience the values and practices of intercessory prayer. Jenifer weaves in a missional focus with unchurched neighbors, adapted from the Kairos in Chaos ministry she’s involved with in Souderton. Aldo enjoys a natural affinity with the Mara church through their similar languages of Indonesian and Malay. Steve and Ertell always bring best practices of intercultural competencies to the mix.

Looking for your congregation’s LEAD minister? She or he may be in a meeting, consulting with pastors or elders in a coffee shop, or in a car on the way to your church.

Sharon K. Williams is a musician, editor and congregational/non-profit consultant. She serves the Lord with the Nueva Vida Norristown New Life congregation as the minister of worship.

Beyond our Christendom, signs of life

by Steve Kriss, Director of Leadership Cultivation
Reposted by permission from Mennonite World Review

I remember wincing when British Anabaptist Stuart Murray Williams suggested wryly in one of his trips to southeastern Pennsylvania that we had managed to create our own Mennonite Christendom.

Steve KrissMurray Williams is likely the world’s pre-eminent scholar on post-Christendom. He’s been writing about it after an encounter with Anabaptism in the U.K., delving into the conversations while believing that an unaligned Anabaptism might provide a path forward in an increasingly secular time when the church moves from the center of culture to the margins.

Murray Williams has been an important guide for me as I live in between that Mennonite Christendom and the ways of being Anabaptist and Mennonite on the margins. In my work with congregations beyond Mennonite Christendom — whether that’s been in Georgia or Vermont or in the urban centers of Philly and Allentown — I’ve come back with a message that feels similar to the dove Noah sent out that returned with an olive branch. There’s life beyond our Christendom.

On my last trip to Georgia I worshiped with the largest Mennonite Church USA congregation there, just north of Atlanta. We celebrated a housewarming for Yunus Perkasa Tjeng and Hui-Lin Kwok. Yunus is the pastor of Georgia Praise Center. He and his wife, Hui-Lin, purchased a spacious house perched at the edge of a cul-de-sac in diverse Lawrence­ville, just north of Atlanta.

It’s a community that was profiled recently in a New York Times article as representing “The New Georgia.” Their house was full of guests to honor the new space with gifts of prayers and presence. It was the biggest house party I’ve ever attended. Conversation flowed from English to Indonesian to Mandarin and Hokian.

Traveling with my colleague, Aldo Siahaan, we set off to make connections with a group of recent Burmese refugees seeking affiliation with MC USA through a network of relationships that spans the borders of the U.S. and Canada.

We went to visit this Atlanta group at the request of Virginia Mennonite Conference staffer Skip Tobin, who is relating to a sister congregation in Charlotte. This particular group of Burmese speak the Mara language, and many work in the poultry plants that ring Atlanta.

We walked into the leader’s sparse apartment, tucked into a large complex on Atlanta’s east side, close to Emory University but worlds apart from it. Entering this gated complex, we witnessed a concentrated diversity of people, many recent refugees from conflict zones.

We sat down for a conversation alongside Joseph Raltong, the key Mara Anabaptist leader on this continent. We spoke through translation between English and Mara. And then we stumbled into a conversation in Malay, which the leaders from Atlanta speak after years in refu­gee camps in Malaysia. Malay speakers can usually understand Indonesian. My colleague Aldo is Indonesian. The conversation moved forward from there easily, and we found our hearts strangely warmed.

After this fairly intense conversation, we met back up with Pastor Yunus for a quick snack at a Korean bakery in Atlanta’s Chinatown. We grabbed coffee and tasty snacks for the journey back to Pennsylvania.

These dispatches from beyond Mennonite Christendom give me life. While I work from within the institutions that make up this very thing, I’m aware our future is quite different. It requires a different fluidity and acumen.

Different leaders will help us to find life in this great beyond — leaders who understand Malay, who have the cultural gifts and skills that will help us navigate and grow. For many of us Euro-American leaders and institutional Mennonite scions, there will be a letting go of control — pleasantly or not. In that letting go is a space where God can work beyond our familiarities, the very place where I suspect we’ll find our hearts warmed by the Spirit who gives life.

Thanksgiving at the beach … and other tales, part 1

by Yunus Perkasa, Georgia Praise Center

GPC at the beachThanksgiving Day at the Panama City Beach was a time for Georgia Praise Center–Atlanta to offer thanks and to gather as a big family.  Our congregation enjoyed dinner and a time of wonderful fellowship together with turkey, Ayam Kalasan (Indonesian-style barbeque chicken), and lots of other foods. It was a day of relaxation surrounded by miles of stunning white sand and emerald green waters. The setting at Panama City Beach made our Thanksgiving a breeze. The beach is a great place to get holiday pictures, and we got some truly unique ones! The day was a chance to enjoy the beaches at perhaps their most lovely or for families to do a little special shopping together.

We counted the blessings of God who has guided us with grace for two years now (November 2010 until November 2012)!  If you had spent the day on Panama City Beach with us, you would have seen how our brothers and sisters are a blessing for each other.   Our members all responded the same way: “We are so grateful for this event!”

A Thanksgiving feast in Harleysville

Salford congregation hosted Nations Worship Center on Thanksgiving day, sharing music, conversation, the Word, and, of course, plenty of food!  Photos by Octavianus Asoka.