Tag Archives: Healing

It starts in Heaven: a ministry of prayer

by Sharon Williams, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life

Noel Santiago (left) leads Franconia Conference’s prayer ministry.

What if we could focus our prayers to God by starting where God starts, with God’s good and perfect will? Like Jesus said, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10 NRSV). What does this mean, especially when we pray about earth’s troubling situations or illnesses that don’t exist in heaven?

Noel Santiago, Franconia Conference’s LEADership Minister of Spiritual Transformation, remembers his early years in the intercessory prayer ministry. A young girl was in an endless coma. Persons who felt drawn to intercessory prayer gathered at the conference center weekly. They wondered, what is God teaching us?

As they prayed, they began to hear the invitation to leave the situation at the altar, to praise God for what God was doing, and to find peace and rest in their spirits. They also realized that they were standing in the gap to pray for those who could not pray about this situation with a spirit of peace. Through grateful worship and silent listening, they noticed that Lordship of Jesus Christ over their lives, congregations, and communities was becoming a theme. They also sensed that God wanted the girl and her family to acknowledge Jesus’ lordship in their lives.

After three weeks of individual and corporate praying, the girl came out of the coma. At the end of six weeks, she and her family stood before their congregation to give thanks to God and to testify about what God had done in their lives. Then they sang a song that acknowledged the lordship of Jesus over their lives. God had used everyone’s prayers to bring about one of the key activities of heaven, echoed on earth.

Noel can recount many similar stories. One time, Claude Good of the Worm Project came to ask for prayer for one million deworming pills. Distribution of the pills had been tied up in red tape for three months. The intercessors sought God’s heart. A week later, the red tape was gone and the pills were released to their appointed place on earth, as it was the desire of heaven.

Why are we so amazed when we pray and God moves heaven and earth on our behalf?

An important lesson for the intercessors was to move forward by celebrating what God has done and is doing, rather than banging on heaven’s door with a report of what God has not done. We don’t need to beg God for what is needed. The purpose of prayer is to fervently align our hearts and purposes with God’s heart and purposes.

The intercessors—persons called within and beyond Franconia conference—learned by praying together and carefully observing what happened. When the intercessory prayer ministry started, some churches or Sunday school groups had functioning prayer chains for sharing prayer requests and praises. The intercessors encouraged congregations to form their own intercessory prayer teams and to create prayer rooms.

The intercessors stay connected by email for receiving and responding to prayer requests. Occasionally, they come together for special requests and events, such as the situation at Spruce Lake Retreat last fall and conference assemblies. They teach and equip intercessors for this ministry in Sunday school classes, Bible studies and conference meetings. Noel also incorporates intercessory prayer into his LEADership ministry with pastors and elders, teaching them to pray for each leader’s ministry and for the community. The team regularly intercedes for congregations, leaders, and anyone seeking God’s guidance.

The intercessors are eager to connect with others who are drawn to this ministry. To learn more, contact Noel (nsantiago@franconiaconference.org, 267-932-6050).

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 minister of worship.

Brokenness and healing in Doylestown

Chaplain George Lindsey and KrisAnne Swartley at Doylestown congregation’s Veteran’s Day prayer service. Photo by Randy Heacock.

by KrisAnne Swartley, Doylestown congregation

On Sunday evening November 10th, a group of people from the community and from Doylestown congregation gathered to reflect on the painful parts of life and to seek hope in God’s Presence.

Chaplain George Lindsey of the local VFW, spoke honestly and with vulnerability about the depression he felt while deployed in Iraq, as well as the PTSD he struggled to overcome when he arrived back home. He also spoke with great confidence about God’s comfort and the many ways God has healed and continues to heal him.  George led us in singing “Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand!”

Ron and Robin Miller also spoke about the hope they find in Jesus as they continue to grieve the loss of their son, Brett. They read from Psalm 22, “from birth I was cast upon you, God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near.”

In the candlelight and silence, with broken pieces of slate in our hands to symbolize how broken we sometimes feel, we waited on God. We could hear one another weeping. And then we prayed that God in Jesus would make all things well, even in the midst of suffering.

After the service was over, many of us stayed to talk and pray with one another. It was a healing time of honesty and hope, this beautiful evening that broke down barriers between “church” and “community.”

Introducing Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship

TaftsvilleTaftsville Chapel Mennonite Fellowship is a small, stable congregation in mid-central Vermont.  We meet in an old school house in the rural village of Taftsville, which is situated in the Ottauquechee River valley between the tourist towns of Woodstock and Quechee, along the US Route 4 corridor.

The congregation was formed by Mennonite families who had all temporarily moved into the area for 1-W Alternative Service to the draft (most working at a local teaching hospital) in the late 1950s to early 1960s. Many of these families decided to stay, and the congregation has grown into a vibrant, healthy body. Our congregation has remained stable at around 60 members, with some ebb and flow as families move into and out of the area for school and work.  Currently, we are about 50% ethnic Mennonites, mostly from Pennsylvania, and the rest represent a wide diversity of spiritual backgrounds.  The majority of our members are employed in the fields of medicine or education.  We range in age from newborn to 94.

Our geographic area is called “The Upper Valley,” which is simply a convenient and loosely defined term referring generally to the middle section of the states of Vermont and New Hampshire bordering along the Connecticut River.  We have dedicated members who travel as much as an hour to worship with us at Taftsville.  We are not a ‘community’ church as such, since none of our members live in the immediate village of Taftsville.  Instead we represent a wide geographic area of rural communities, home towns and workplaces.  Even with the geographic challenges, our community at Taftsville is a close-knit one, and we look for ways to be involved in each others’ lives.

Currently, the leadership at Taftsville is shared among several small teams, and individuals on those teams are either volunteers or appointed by group discernment according to strengths and giftings.  The Administrator serves as leader of the Church Council, which is made up of annual voluntary slate positions and is concerned mostly with the programs and finances of the church.  The Pastoral Care Team is invited by the Pastor to share the pastoral care needs of the community.  The Leadership Team is discerned by the congregation, serving alongside the Pastor to oversee the vision, teaching, and sermon direction and other spiritual needs of the group.

We have discovered that our mission in the Upper Valley is primarily a place of healing.  We describe this as being “preparers of good soil.”  We have found that many people’s hearts are unable to receive the gospel because of hurts, traumas, and confusion, sadly often at the hands of other Christian churches.  We provide a safe place of welcome, rest, and grace and delight to find that broken people who become part of our faith community begin to learn to trust again and grow in their own discipleship and faith.

Introducing Taftsville Chapel Mennonite Church (pdf)

Imagine Church as Healing Space

EMS SLT 2013
Vice President and Seminary Dean Michael A. King addressed the gathering crowd during opening worship at the 2013 School for Leadership Training.

by Joan & Michael King, Salford

We tend to see mental illness as something that happens out there, to stigmatized strangers on the fringe of our churches, when in fact mental illness affects our families, friends, loved ones, congregants, and many of us personally. In short, mental illness is experienced by everyone in church communities – by “us” and our loved ones, not just by “them.”

This was a theme of the 2013 School for Leadership Training (SLT) at Eastern Mennonite Seminary (EMS), Jan. 21-23, which was titled “Imagine Church as Healing Space.” The event attracted over 270 participants and resource persons who sought to “hear, hold, and hope” amid mental health challenges.

Hosted and planned by EMS, the event felt historic: multiple participants said this was the first time in a public church context they had felt part of the group, not in spite of but because of their depression, anxiety, bipolar diagnosis, schizophrenia, and more. This was the first time they had felt normalized, not stigmatized, with their journey held in love, not primarily met with silence or marginalization. We see that experience, so easy to report but so rarely experienced, as a key gift the 2013 SLT offered.

Hearing from those with mental and those who love them

A second gift was space to tell and hear the pain mental illness causes both its sufferers and those who love them. Earl and Pat Martin offered searingly moving glimpses of their journey through their son Hans Martin’s development of symptoms of schizo-affective disorder.

Earl shared journal entries he had written during the sleepless nights after Hans was first hospitalized. In these contemporary psalms of lament, Earl raged at a pitiless God who treats his creatures like vermin, snapping off their limbs, leaving them soaked in their own blood. Earl railed at this God as the sick one who should get treatment for insanity. He reported that after he stopped writing of his own volition, spent, his pen kept going and offered words from God, who said that God’s own son was in fact in treatment and was the roommate in a neighboring bed whom Earl had feared would hurt Hans.

Not a cheap hope

A third gift was hope. This was not a cheap hope. Many at SLT, from participants through resource persons, told of confronting the anguish caused by suicide. To name just one example, in a laughter-yet-tear-stirring blending of drama and storytelling, Ted Swartz told of his journey through his comedy partner Lee Eshleman’s battle with depression and of how the suicide to which it drove Lee so shattered Ted’s own life and career that years have gone into rebuilding. Yet precisely in this heartrendingly open naming of the torment, Ted offered hope—hope for himself and hope for those still grieving the loss of their own loved ones.

Hope was also movingly offered through stories of persons seeking to live recovery-focused lives even amid the diagnosed illnesses once thought to be themselves virtual death or at least imprisonment-in-miserable-conditions sentences. John Otenasek, himself a “consumer,” as he put it, in recovery, led a panel of men (including Hans Martin) and women who told of enduring addictions, joblessness, homelessness, and more. Yet they also spoke of finding hope—often from peers confronting their own illnesses—enabling them to live meaningful and even joy-tinged lives while navigating ongoing bi-polar episodes or hearing voices.

And hope was offered when Tilda Norberg modeled what can happen when we attend to the “God icons” in our lives and dreams. She risked a live Gestalt pastoral counseling session with a courageous Sherill Hostetter. Drawing on insights from one of Sherill’s recent dreams, Norberg led Sherill in working through how her mother’s undiagnosed and untreated mental illness had affected her as a child and even now as a leader.  She more fully claimed her own empowered voice as a recently ordained minister and congregational consultant.

Recovery, love and acceptance

Fittingly enough, just days after the 2013 SLT concluded, the New York Times published a hope-filled article on Jan. 27, 2013 by Elyn R. Saks, diagnosed with schizophrenia yet a successful law professor at the University of Southern California. As did many at SLT influenced by the recovery movement in mental health, Saks stressed, “An approach that looks for individual strengths, in addition to considering symptoms, could help dispel the pessimism surrounding mental illness. Finding ‘the wellness within the illness,’ as one person with schizophrenia said, should be a therapeutic goal.”

In a conclusion that movingly echoes the convictions SLT participants took with them, Saks reported: “’Every person has a unique gift or unique self to bring to the world,’ said one of our study’s participants. She expressed the reality that those of us who have schizophrenia and other mental illnesses want what everyone wants: in the words of Sigmund Freud, to work and to love.”

Claiming our stories

When we checked with the Martins to make sure our references to their stories were acceptable, Pat said, “One of the SLT statements that stuck with me… pulled us all into the common task of being human: ‘Recovery is about claiming one’s story. The tools are the same for all of us whether struggling with mental illness or an overwhelming job.’” At EMS we’ll continue to ponder how, whatever the details of our stories may be, we help each other claim them.

Joan K. King is senior integration consultant, The National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, and owner of Joan K. King Consulting and Counseling LLC. Michael A. King is dean of Eastern Mennonite Seminary and a vice president of Eastern Mennonite University.

Franconia Conference board and staff gather together to listen, dream and heal at Blooming Glen

by Emily Ralph, eralph@franconiaconference.org

Blooming Glen, Pa—Franconia Mennonite Conference board and staff gathered at Blooming Glen Mennonite’s pavilion on August 22 for a time of healng prayer, sharing and dreaming for the future.

According to Conference Executive Minister, Ertell Whigham, the retreat was designed to develop a common sense of ownership and understanding of the conference’s purpose.  “Strategy without passion or commitment doesn’t get an organization anywhere,” he told the group, inviting them to share experiences that have excited them about Conference life and direction.

Noah Kolb (right) laughs with Ertell Whigham and Marta Castillo at the Franconia Conference board and staff retreat. Photo by Emily Ralph.

“Part of my deep passion is seeing young leaders develop and do all that God has created them to do,” said Noah Kolb, pastor of ministerial leadership.  He smiled across the room at Joe Hackman of Harleysville, Pa, board member-at-large.  “I look across here and see Joe, who I blessed as a baby—I followed his fascinating growth in leadership.  It’s that kind of thing that just really excites me.”

Finance Committee chair, Randy Nyce of Hatfield, Pa, sees that kind of formation as central to the church’s purpose.  “The core problem in society is our separation from God,” he said.  The role of the church is to “help people to build healthy relationships, both with each other and with God.”

Noel Santiago, LEADership Minister for spiritual transformation, asked each person to imagine that they were walking their dogs and heard someone in the park sharing a testimony of Christ’s transformation in his life.  “That’s John’s story,” he said, smiling broadly.  Just two days before, John and seven others had decided to follow Jesus after hearing the Good News at GodQuest’s Souderton (Pa) Worship in the Park (photo gallery).

And these are only some of the lives that have been touched as Franconia Conference congregations have stepped beyond their walls and entered their communities.

For Philadelphia Praise Center, said Steve Kriss, director of leadership cultivation, being missional means that, “at their block party [last week], vegans were flipping burgers for their neighbors.”

Board member Beny Krisbianto prays blessings over Conference staff. Photo by Emily Ralph.

Many of these kinds of events are made possible through conference missional grants.  Conrad Martin, director of finance, oversees the grant process.  Each grant application includes the congregation’s desired outcomes, he told the group.  “This little grant that we’re giving them,” he said excitedly, “if it’ll end in their ‘expected results,’ was well worth it!”

Rina Rampogu, board member-at-large from Quakertown, Pa, reflected on how apathetic she was to the conference’s work when she was a lay leader.  All that changed when she was nominated to her current position, she said.  “When I became a board member, it became vibrant for me. . . .  God has brought us together to see what congregations are doing.”

The board members have been introduced to congregational activities through individual gatherings with church leadership teams.  “Congregational visits are huge,” agreed Nelson Shenk of Bally, Pa, Ministerial Committee chair.  “Those visits have made us a better board,” added Jim Longacre of Barto, Pa, board member-at-large.

The conference board and staff were particularly struck by the width of cultural differences within the conference, beyond those of ethnicity: cultures of wealth, technology, generation, or theology.  “We have many different paradigms for how we understand God’s work in the world,” said Joe Hackman, “yet we can still partner together.”

“We don’t need to think alike,” pointed out LEADership Minister, Ray Yoder, “but we do need to think together.”  This means open, candid, and often difficult conversations, he added.

The foundation of these conversations is developing a culture of prayer—which could be an intercultural experience in itself, suggested Marta Beidler Castillo of Norristown, Pa, board member-at-large.  “This is a growing cultural edge for us,” she said.

Conference board and staff gather for healing prayer as the sun sets. Photo by Emily Ralph.

Conference board and staff gathered for a prayer of healing and commissioning together as a step toward a hopeful future, recognizing the last months of conflict, struggle and leadership transitions.  As the sun set quietly over Bucks County fields, board member Beny Krisbianto of Philadelphia prayed that the Conference would recognize together that a new day was beginning.  A final blessing included Ertell Whigham’s prayer, which was based in Philippians 1: 9-11: that love would overflow and that knowledge and understanding would increase toward continued fruitfulness in a way that brings glory to God.