Tag Archives: Global News

Christianity: A Religion of Travel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PHOTO GALLERY (click to see larger images)

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

Cristianismo: una religión de viajes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interspace – Courage to Stand Between

By Marta Castillo, Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation

“Inter” words are familiar to most of us – interact, interdependent, intermission, intertwine, international, intercede, intercultural, etc.  Based on the Latin, “inter” means “between,” “in the midst of,” “mutually,” “reciprocally,” “together”.  Interspace is an adventure of new learnings, a place of possibility, sharing, rest, and reconciliation, but it is also a space that is unnerving, humbling, uncomfortable, and challenging.

Since the end of 2017, when I resigned from a pastoral role at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, I have been living in the space between church homes and between work roles. It was strange and exciting to know that in this in between space, I could visit other churches and experience worship and Word in new ways. However, there was no church home because I was “in between”. The ministry that I was involved in was my responsibility no longer and it was freeing to dream and envision what shape my role will take as Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation with Franconia Conference, but hard to leave behind the relationships that I had nurtured for years. In the first two months of 2018, I was in interspace, in between, waiting for my new role to begin. Then in the beginning of March, I began my international adventure with a trip to Indonesia with the purpose of studying Indonesian, a language that I had once learned and spoken as a child, to enhance my future intercultural ministry within the conference.

What an experience! The food, the culture, the language, and the people brought my childhood in Indonesia flooding back. I kept moving between being so comfortable and so uncomfortable, so quickly it was disorienting. I was delighted to experience familiar tastes, words, and culture while feeling so humbled as a person who was learning a language and speaking it so poorly and who didn’t know the cultural expectations, so I embarrassed myself. This interspace of being in a different country required courage, creativity, willingness to fail, and engagement with people who were different. It was the perfect connecting space between my past experiences and my future hopes and ministry.

A young friend of mine shared with me recently of her journey towards learning to stay in the interspace, the space between, like the Saturday between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, holding onto the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross while celebrating the power of the resurrection.  It takes courage to stand “between”.  Isn’t that exactly what Jesus has done through his life, death, and resurrection?  Even now, Jesus “intercedes” comes and goes between God and us, to keep that interspace holy and righteous.  Romans 8:34, “Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”

Furthermore, we are invited to share the same interspace of intercession, interrelationship, and interconnectedness for deeper relationship with others.  1 Timothy 2:1-3, I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

In our conference, we have a shared priority to be intercultural, meaning that we seek to connect, stand, and live in the space between the cultures represented in our conference and the world.  This is different than being multicultural which advocates for equal respect and promoting cultural diversity.  When “multi” is not enough, we seek “inter”. With multicultural, we still have a sense of “us and them”.  With intercultural, a between space is created where “we” belong. Our conference priority is for networking and cultivating intercultural ministry relationships. This process is described as “including an assessment of current and emerging relationships that work cross-culturally while building further capacity toward mutually-beneficial relationships among ministries and congregations. Increasingly, these relationships will be defined by reciprocity and transformation rather than paternalism and patronization.  Relationships will be built around both work and celebration, both doing and being together.” Read this and other priorities hereread more about some of Franconia Conference’s intercultural and multicultural work here.

Christian Peacemaker Teams Nonviolence Training

As Mennonites, we have a strong heritage of nonviolence, often referred to as pacifism, as we work to embody and live out the words of Christ to “love our enemies,” Matthew 5:44. In an age where violence is seen all around, on television (even in cartoons), in actions and words, it can be difficult to know how to live out the value we hold to, especially if we face the threat of violence ourselves.

Christian Peacemaker Teams will be at Salford Mennonite Church on Saturday, February 17 to train those who are interested in how to live our nonviolence. From 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, for a registration fee of $10, participants will learn the spiritual roots of nonviolence, what nonviolence is, protest as a form of nonviolence, and what it means to live nonviolence.

Formed in the mid-1980s out of a gathering of historic peace churches, Christian Peacemakers “seeks to embody an inclusive, diverse, multi-faith community of spiritually guided peacemakers.” They place teams at the invitation of local peacemakers to accompany and support the confrontation of situations of lethal conflicts around the world. If you are interested in being in trained in nonviolence, these are the people to learn from.  They have worked alongside local peacemakers and human rights workers in Colombia, Iraq, Palestine, Democratic Republic of Congo, the US/Mexico Borderlands, and various places across the United States, among others.

For more information about the training, check out the flyer here.

To register for the February 17th training, click here.

Digging Deep in Faith

By Paula Marolewski, Perkiomenville Mennonite Church

“As we got ready to drill the well, people just shook their heads. ‘There’s no water there; you’re wasting your time,’ they said. They didn’t even stay to watch us drill. But I thought to myself, many people are praying back home. We will find water.”

Gwab Mpofu has been shining that light of faith in the Perkiomenville Mennonite Church family ever since he first came to the United States in 2000 from the village of Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. Like many immigrants, Gwab maintains close ties with his family overseas. He has a deep understanding of the needs the village faces, and a clear vision of how to meet those needs. Over the years, he has communicated that understanding and vision to the congregation at Perkiomenville. So, when he decided to send a container the size of a semi-trailer to Zimbabwe, the church was behind him 100%. Gwab raised money and sent a much-needed tractor, truck, and plow to his village, along with clothing and other supplies. Church members not only helped with funds and donations, but also worked with Gwab to pack the huge container to be shipped overseas.

Three years later, Gwab did it a second time – this time, with a backhoe and other farm equipment filling the container.

In 2016, Gwab voiced a plan for his most audacious goal yet: to drill a well for the village. “The villagers have to walk three to five kilometers each day to get water,” Gwab explained. “A few years ago, my mother’s health was endangered when she became seriously dehydrated. So I thought, why can’t we drill a well?”

For many people, the obstacles would be overwhelming. Drilling a well requires paperwork, time, equipment, workers, and – of course – money. But Gwab had already raised thousands of dollars to send the two containers to Zimbabwe. He had gone over both times to shepherd the containers through customs, past countless officials and red tape. He knew the ropes.

Perkiomenville was again ready to stand with him. Members donated money and encouraged Gwab when the going got tough. Most important of all, they prayed. “Without my church family’s emotional support, friendship, and prayer, I could not have done any of this,” said Gwab.

In all, Gwab raised over $15,000 from the church, his workplace, and the community. He went back to his village this summer to drill. “The people did not believe we would find water,” he noted. “They had drilled a well several years ago, going down 80 meters and finding nothing. They pointed to that dry well and told us we were wasting our time.”

Gwab didn’t have the money for an official site survey, but he knew that his church family in the U.S. was praying. “I believed that God would guide us to the place to drill,” he affirmed.

At 70 meters down, Gwab’s drill team hit water. “Suddenly, the villagers took notice. They were thrilled. It was amazing – they were literally coming with buckets while we were still drilling!”

Gwab’s team went down a full 90 meters to ensure a reliable supply of water. A solar pump was put in place to draw the water up and deliver it to a 1300 gallon holding tank.

The well has been transformative to the lives of the villagers. But it has also been transformative to the lives of the people at Perkiomenville. “Gwab has expanded our understanding of conditions in Africa and the plight of our brothers and sisters there,” said Charlie Ness, pastor at Perkiomenville. “Previously, we had no connections in Africa – now, we do. His bishop came and preached here a few years ago, and we hosted several pastors here for a Mennonite conference. We continue to have ongoing relationships with them.”

Paula Marolewski, a member of Perkiomenville, affirmed, “Gwab’s faith and generosity and perseverance have been a model and an inspiration for me. When I think ‘I can’t do this,’ I remember what he has done. He doesn’t know the word ‘quit’ because he truly understands how powerful and faithful God is.”

Biblical Model of Healthy Multi-Cultural Relationship

by Virgo Handojo, Pastor  ofJemaat Kristen Indonesia Anugerah, Sierra Madre, CA

One of the challenging tasks the children of God face today is how to build a healthy relationship within culturally diverse churches. A story of how the early church worked at this can be seen through the Council at Jerusalem in Acts 15:1-21.

Act 15: 1-2 shows some of the tensions in the culturally diverse early church as it says, “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them.”

The early church’s challenging task here is how they relate with the emergent church that has a different culture and tradition. The issue centers on the question of finding a balance between maintaining the ethnic identity, and acculturation identification with the dominant church as required by the Moses law through the circumcision ritual.

There is a tension between the Jerusalem church under James and Peter and the Gentile converts under Paul and Barnabas, between Jerusalem’s dominant group and the new emergent Antioch and Galatia churches. The core issue is the definition of Christian identity. The dominant church argued that the Gentile converts should be turned into good Jews under the Mosaic law before they were accorded full Christian-status. On the other hand, Paul and Barnabas hold an attitude that argues for the ethnic Gentile converts church.

Hypothetically, we can develop four different models of balancing ethnic identity and acculturation.  It depends on whether the demand of maintaining ethnic identity is strong or weak and whether the demand of identification with the dominant culture is strong or weak.

The church that adopted an assimilation model has a strong attitude toward acculturation, but is weak in maintaining their culture of origin. For them, “You live in America, you have to be American.”

A Separatists church will have a strong ethnic identity but be weak in acculturation. For an Indonesian church, Indonesian is first. “I am betraying my cultural identity if I join the US Mennonite church. The US Indonesian church should be tied only to the Indonesian church in Indonesia.”

The marginalized church will choose to be independent. They have both weak ethnic identity and acculturation. For them, “God built our church here; we should be independent from anybody.”

A Bicultural church will choose to have strong ties both to their ethnicity and to the dominant culture. “I am proud to be Indonesian, but we need to learn and relate with the US church.”

Interestingly, in Acts God led the early church to choose the Bicultural or salad-bowl model as an ideal relationship for the early church (Acts 15:13-19). The Gentile convert church intentionally rejected the circumcision required by the Law of Moses in order to maintain their own identity. But they also chose to build strong ties with the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:20). Each group maintains their identity and uniqueness, but they also intentionally build strong ties with each other.

I believe we should adopt the Biblical ideal model as a public policy to build a healthy relationship with emergent churches, allowing us all to maintain our identities while also building relationships with one another that we may learn from each other.

On Being Both Local and Global

By Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

My first trip in my role with Franconia Conference over a decade ago was to Guatemala.  I traveled with a group of persons from our Conference who began to invest in the lives of communities in rural indigenous villages through Agros International.   It was my first glimpse into the global-mindedness of our Conference in both official programs as well as through individual or familial relationships.   Though we are rooted firmly in Bucks and Montgomery County, wedged between the metro areas of Allentown, New York City and Philadelphia, we think often like global citizens.

Thomas Friedman, in his well-known book about global economicsThe World is Flatsuggests that to survive and flourish into the new millennium, organizations will need to think of themselves as both global and local.  This is not new for us.  Our immigrant and settler mindset remains with us in many ways, though we’ve been in Pennsylvania for hundreds of years and in some areas the road names bear our familial surnames and reference even our own congregations and faith (see Mennonite Road in Collegeville).

In a time of America first, we know and live otherwise.  We live with a sense of the reality of “to whom much is given much is required”.  For us in Franconia Conference, as the world became more accessible, we became more aware.  Our unusual geography and clusters near major cities on the East Coast provide us ready access to transportation that can take us around the world in 24 hours.  With the massive migration of the last decades, the world has also come to us.  Sometimes these changes make our heads and hearts spin as we listen to unfamiliar languages in the aisles while shopping at Landis Supermarkets.

Lois Clemens
Lois Gunden Clemens (1915-2005)
Clayton Kratz (1896-1920)

As a community in Franconia Conference, we honor the legacy of those from our heartlands who in the early 20th Century, saw the world coming closer and felt compelled to take and live the story in places like Norristown, Rocky Ridge and Bristol.   We honor the story of people like Clayton Kratz who in the early 20th century, disappeared in the Ukraine while trying to find ways to assist Mennonites in a time of intense realities.  We tell the story of Lois Gunden Clemens, who is recognized as “Among the Righteous” by the state of Israel for her work among refugees during World War II in France.  These are our stories and our blessed heritage.

We have invested heavily in the Anabaptist community in Mexico City.  Through the MAMA Project, we continually support the health and wellness of communities in Honduras.  We’ve built bridges with Anabaptist communities in Indonesia that have transformed us here in the States.  We support workers in diverse places through various organizations, as well as regularly sending and supporting longer term initiatives through Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Central Committee.   Currently, we have four credentialed pastors who are working outside of the United States in Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia and Mexico.  We regularly produce publications in English, Indonesian, Spanish and Vietnamese and all of the translation is done by partners who live in Asia.

This is one of the things that continues to intrigue me about us.  It makes me wonder how we might continue to use these legacies of global connection and our ready points of access through increased ease of transportation and communication, financial resources, along with our communal and individual astuteness and acumen, in our sense of calling as followers of Christ to be both wise as serpents and as innocent as doves in extending the Good News to all people.

London skyline from Shadwell Basin

This week I returned from London, building on relationships that we have cultivated through the Anabaptist community there.  I was there days after the Manchester bombing and preached in London the morning after the incident at London Bridge.  The Gospel of Christ’s peace that we know, that we have been given, continues to be brilliantly relevant in these tough times.

God has uniquely situated us at Franconia Conference with global connections and global capacities, hearts provoked to love and care for the places where we are from like Bally and Bridgewater Corners, Souderton and South Philly, while at the same time connecting us to places, people and possibilities globally.   In a time when much of the world retreats into fear, we remain people of hope, continually willing to share with neighbors both nearby and faraway, to share this peace that goes beyond comprehension with family, with friends, and even with those who might be called our enemies.

Palestinian and Jewish Voices for Peace

By Peder Wiegner, member at Norristown New Life and of the Conference Israel/Palestine Taskforce

Franconia Mennonite Conference (FMC) together with Living Branches hosted the Palestinian and Jewish Voices for Peace Tour on Saturday, April 22. The FMC Israel Palestine Task Force was key to organizing this event together with Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA).

Jonathan Kuttab, a Palestinian Mennonite and human rights lawyer, together with Rabbi Linda Holzman of Jewish Voices for Peace and organizer of the social justice community in Philadelphia called Tikkun Olam Chavurah, shared their stories, experiences, and analysis of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. This was a key time to hear their stories and experiences as in July, Mennonites from around MCUSA will be voting on an important resolution at the MCUSA Convention in Orlando, FL.

The FMC Israel Palestine Task Force’s Preston Bush welcomed the thirty or so guests to the event and introduced the speakers, while everyone enjoyed a delicious breakfast.

Rabbi Holzman spoke of her journey in the Jewish community as it relates to the context of Israel and Palestine. Holzman highlighted that there are a wide range of views about Israel/Palestine among the Jewish community, while speaking of some of the things she was taught as a child she had to unlearn in order to be able to see the reality of the oppression of the Palestinian people. One of those teachings was that the land of Palestine was empty before the Jewish settlers arrived in Palestine, and another was that the Palestinians left their homes voluntarily, giving the land as a gift to the newly arriving Jewish settlers. Both of which she later learned to be false, as Palestinians were living there and had been working the land for centuries. Those who fled what is now Israel proper had their land taken from them, forcing them to become refugees never allowed to return home.

Rabbi Holzman reminded those present that criticism of the oppressive Israeli government does not come from Anti-Semitism; on the contrary, there is a wide variety of opinions and views within the Jewish world about Israel and Palestine. Not everyone is on board with supporting the oppressive regime.

She affirmed something that we Mennonites often declare. She said, “What I learned as a Jew was that everyone is created in the image of God and that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. The Jews were enslaved in Egypt, and so we should never let others be enslaved. The Jews were strangers in the land and so we should treat strangers well.”

Rabbi Holzman closed by talking about intersectionality being the recognition of oppression of different kinds as being connected and also layered. For example, being a woman in a male-dominated society brings certain disadvantages, but those disadvantages are compounded for women of color in a society dominated by white privilege such as the U.S., or for a Palestinian woman in Israeli society. We need to open our eyes and see that the struggles of Palestinians are like those of people of color in the U.S. and like the struggles of indigenous groups all over the world.

Jonathan Kuttab then spoke about the current situation in Palestine today, the Kairos Palestine Document, the MCUSA Israel Palestine Resolution, the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality holding to the principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity. Palestinian civil society organizations have called for a nonviolent resistance strategy to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Part of this strategy includes the BDS movement. Yet many in the West are critical of this approach despite the fact that it is nonviolent. The BDS movement is a moral and ethical critique that bothers Israel. It bothers Israel so much that Israel has dedicated three government ministries to fighting it. That seems to be an indicator of the capacity of BDS.

Mr. Kuttab observed that Western Christians tend to hold Palestinians accountable when it comes to violence but often turn a blind eye to the violence perpetuated by Israel. Yet, they still have not supported the Palestinian-led non-violent strategies.

Many Palestinian Christians were shocked when the Mennonite church – a peace church – failed to pass a resolution in Kansas City in 2015, addressing the injustices perpetuated against the Palestinians. However, the new resolution being presented for the 2017 Convention provides an opportunity for Mennonites to end their silence on this issue and commit to being part of a just and peaceful solution in Israel/Palestine while at the same time speaking out against Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and other hateful ideologies in our churches and society.

This June marks the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Will we sit back and let the oppression of Palestinians continue without making a statement? We, the Task Force, invite our Franconia Conference delegates to Convention to support the Seeking Peace in Israel Palestine Resolution.

We Are Still Willing

By Steve Kriss, Executive Minister

Courtesy of John Sharp

I remember Michael J. Sharp (MJ) as a rambunctious junior high kid from the time we overlapped life at Laurelville Mennonite Church Center and Scottdale in Western Pennsylvania.  I’ve been aware of his work and life thereafter mostly through social media and Mennonite publications.  MJ and I share a lot of geography, relationships and institutions in common.

MJ represents much of the best of us as Mennonites, an image of what a Washington Post article calls “courageous but not reckless.”  He was a millennial, a son of the church.  MJ was shaped by an array of Anabaptist communities which includes time in Franconia Conference when his dad was a pastor at Salford Mennonite Church. Afterward MJ went to Scottdale (PA) and Goshen (IN), then to college at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg (VA) and according to an article in the Albuquerque Journal, had just begun to entertain the idea of settling down into a life at The Plex, a unique apartment complex that housed other similarly-aged and valued Mennonite young adults in that city connected with Albuquerque Mennonite Church (NM).

MJ had worked in Europe for several years as a counselor for conscientious objectors.  Most recently he had worked in the Congo, first as a staff person with Mennonite Central Committee, then for the United Nations as a human rights investigator.   MJ and several colleagues went missing two weeks ago.  His body was found this week in a shallow grave along with his colleague Zaida Catalan — a Swedish investigator — and their Congolese interpreter, Betu Tshintela.

Michael Sharp visited Elizabeth Namavu and children in Mubimbi Camp, home to displaced persons in the Democratic Republic of Congo, during his time in the country. Jana Asenbrennerova/Courtesy of MCC

Washington Post further went on to say, “Sharp, 34, was a ‘standard deviations above the norm’ when it came to integrity and compassion.  ‘He just deeply cared about everyone and saw no difference between people of different nationalities,’ said Rachel Sweet, a Congo-based researcher.”

MJ’s death is a reminder that our work and calling is both relevant and risky in volatile times.   He’s a reminder of the powerful witness of faith lived out in practice with integrity, kindness and dedication, and that some of our millennial generation shaped by life in our families, churches and institutions have heard what we have said about faith, life and peace and intend to live it out.  Even unto death.

MJ’s life glimpses the best of who we are as Anabaptist/Mennonites, in a time that we are sometimes confused about who we are, in front of a watching world, in the Congo, one of the countries with the most Mennonites in the world.  MJ exemplifies Jesus’ words: “greater love has no one than this . . than to lay his life down for his friends.”

To the Sharp family, MJ’s friends and community of colleagues and to Albuquerque Mennonite Church, we share the hope of Christ’s peace at this time when words are inadequate.   With much love, we are still willing to bear witness of the nonviolent way of Christ, until the full intention of God comes on earth.

In the Eye of the Storm

Over the first week of August, a tropical storm (and at a time, Hurricane Earl) wreaked havoc across Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Central America, and Mexico, deeply impacting the Mexican state of Pueblo where Monte Maria Church has several church plants.

In 1988, Franconia Conference sent Pastor Bob Stevenson to Mexico for church planting and evangelism. Bob became connected with Monte Maria Church in Mexico City and currently is the second pastor of the congregation since its formation in 1979. The Conference continues to hold Bob’s credentials and his ministry and Monte Maria Church continue to connect with various conference congregations. Perkiomenville Mennonite Church has maintained a partner in mission relationship with the Monte Maria Church through mission trips and teaching in the School of Ministry.  Last fall Perkiomenville pastor, Charlie Ness, spoke at the Monte Maria leaders’ conference and made connections with the pastors.

Five of Monte Maria’s church plants were severely damaged by tropical storm Earl in the villages of Ahuacatlan, Huauchinango, Xaltepec and Chicahuxtla. The congregation in Xaltepex experiencing the worst. The pastor of the congregation, Pastor Ramiro and his wife Lucy, along with several church members lost their homes and all of their belongings due to the landslides and flooding caused by Earl.  Among the many who lost their lives due to the storm, six children are nieces and nephews of Pastor Ramiro.

In a letter received from Bob last week, he writes “We have sent teams and basic supplies. However, the need is enormous. Therefore, I am asking for special offerings to rebuild, bedding, towels and clothing and if possible, workers. There are still persons unaccounted for and risks of more damage. Please pray the mercy of God over these villages.”

The need is far beyond what Perkiomenville Mennonite Church is able to meet and is appealing to others to help bear the burden of our brothers and sisters in Mexico. They are currently in conversation with Mennonite Disaster Services and are appealing for financial contributions to buy building materials to rebuild the pastor and congregation members’ homes and also to help assist in purchasing a vehicle for the pastor, as his only means of transportation was washed away by the storm.

Financial contributions can be sent to Franconia Conference (1000 Forty Foot Rd, Lansdale, PA 19446) marked for Monte Maria Rebuilding Efforts.

If you or your congregation are interested in sending workers, please contact Charlie Ness as he will be coordinating work teams over the next several months. He can be reached at Charlie@perkmc.com.

Going to the Margins with a Missional Lens

 

by Noel Santiago

noel article photoFrom February 25 to March 1, 2016, I had the privilege of visiting Mexico for the first time in four years. The occasion, the Annual Red de Iglesias Misioneras Internacionales (RIMI) Leaders Conference. Translated into English, RIMI means the International Network of Missionary Churches. This network was founded by Kirk and Marilyn Hanger, of New Hope Fellowship along with Ruben and Guadalupe Mercado, Mennonite Church leaders from Bolivia.

When asked about RIMI Kirk shared: “In 2003, after 11 years of church planting ministry in Mexico, Franconia Conference encouraged me to continue as a mentor to the churches that had emerged from our ministry with a vision of continued church multiplication. This is when RIMI was born. Counsel and encouragement from Franconia Conference, were critical in the birth and continued growth of RIMI. Over the years, I’ve made regular trips back to Mexico.

Today, RIMI is made up of 28 churches and church plants in Mexico from the states of Oaxaca to Jalisco. In addition to the churches, RIMI also includes a radio ministry, a Bible Institute, a short term mission’s school and a leadership school, both affiliated with Global Disciples, a medical ministry, a prayer network and two rehabilitation centers. RIMI uses the Mennonite Confession of Faith and has a vision of continued church multiplication, leadership development, and the sending of missionaries to the least reached parts of the world.

Every February, we have our RIMI Conference in Mexico. Pastors and leaders from Mexico and other countries will gather for a time of worship, teaching, fellowship and planning together. Last year, Pastor Charles Ness, from Perkiomenville Mennonite Church, was one of our conference speakers, along with Pastor Bob Stevenson, from Iglesia de la Tierra Prometida (also known as Monte Maria).”

Noel article verseThis is what I had the privilege of attending and sharing in, the RIMI’s leaders conference. Connecting and hearing the stories of God’s moving and transformation was powerful! Those marginalized because of addictions, abuses, crime, pain, trauma, but also those who lived religiously empty lives, living good but unsatisfied lives, living without purpose or meaning, having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof; then discovering through the Gospel message being shared with them that they can draw near to God through the good news of the transforming work of Jesus Christ.

Indeed, the call to go to the margins is a missional call; a call to not only share the transforming Gospel message of Jesus Christ, but to share an intimately lived experience of this relationship; a call to be transformed ourselves as we go to the least of these.

Franconia Conference has had a tremendous legacy of disciple making through church planting, evangelism, and missional engagement. In recent years it seems that Franconia Conference has necessarily tended to its internal life. As this internal tending has now brought clarity of direction, is it time to once again continue the legacy of disciple making through missions, evangelism, church planting and the sharing of the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

I came away with the deepened assurance and eye witness accounts of the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to save that which was lost; to live a life after the Kingdom of God that set’s the captives free, to die on the cross and shed his blood to forgive us of our sins, to be raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of God where we too are seated, so that we are once again restored to our relationship with our heavenly Father. Then we go to share this good news of restored relationship through Christ to a hurt and dying world.

Going to the margins with a missional lens isn’t just about the present but also the future. So the question I ask us all is: What legacy do we want to leave the next generation?

This past year we saw the credentialing of some of our youngest leaders, including the ordination of our first millennial, with these young leaders coming on board is it time for Franconia Conference, to once again put out a call to the next generation of young people to consider their call and purpose in life like these have? Is it time to identify the next generation of disciple makers to be raised up, equipped and sent on a mission to share the good news of Jesus Christ through starting new churches, evangelism and missional engagement?

Jesus said in John 20:21 (NIV) – “…Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” I believe it’s time. So if you are interested in learning more how you can engage in missions, if you feel a call to make disciples of all nations through evangelism, starting new churches or being engaged in missions, be in touch with your conference LEADership Minister or myself, so we can start a conversation and explore the possibilities of connecting.

Noel Santiago is a LEADership Minister for Franconia Conference.

 

More information from Kirk on RIMI: “Strategic relations have developed with churches in other countries as well. In addition to Mexico, RIMI now has churches in Guatemala, Cuba, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay, Chile and the United States. The vision is that networks of churches will develop in these countries as we support each other in our common vision. Two years ago, we started an international youth conference called “Generación Sana” (Healthy Generation). In 2014, the event was held in Bogota, Colombia with about 80 young people from several countries. In 2015, the event was held in Vina del Mar, Chile and in August 2016, it will be held in Quito, Ecuador.”