Tag Archives: Inquiry Participants

Church Lives

By Ben Sutter, benjamins5@goshen.edu

What is Church? This summer, as a ministry inquiry intern with Franconia Conference, I have seen Church live in so many ways. I’ve interacted and reacted to people, thoughts, and spiritual movements around me. I’ve asked questions. I have seen the incredible similarities and vast differences between what people call ‘Church.’

Can a conference be Church? What about a denomination? Can one person start Church? Can Church be one person? What is Church anyway? Am I a part of Church? How do I even start to define it?

The first encounter I had with Church this summer was at a Fund for Theological Education Conference in New Orleans. I spent five days with other undergraduate and graduate students talking about the role of Church in our lives and how it will continue to shape our futures.

During a tour of the city, we visited First Grace Methodist Church, a post-Katrina congregation born in the merging of a historically black congregation with a historically white congregation. One of our guides suggested that Church is like gumbo. She described this gumbo-Church as a bunch of stuff all thrown together that makes something wonderful—butyou don’t really want to know what’s in it.

Church can feel like that sometimes.

Pittsburgh convention this July offered another view of Church, this time within the denominational structure of Mennonite Church USA. People joined together from across the country to define where the denomination now finds itself. There were discussions, conversation rooms, and delegate sessions full of people sharing their stories. Many of these stories included pain. People and institutions can habitually and unintentionally harm those around them.

Does Church hurt people?

After convention, I traveled to Baltimore to visit Nueva Esperanza Baltimore, a Spanish-speaking church plant. The neighborhood of the church plant was desolate; it didn’t take much effort to spot a drug deal, a fist fight, or a prostitute—all in the middle of the day. Ubaldo Rodriguez, Nueva Esperanza’s pastor, hopes to build something from that desolation. But when does it become more than a pastor trying to build a congregation?

When does it become Church?

I also traveled with a group to Mexico City to build relationships with Church. The Bible School we helped with was an outreach that impacted the neighborhood. Alicia Alvarez and Ariel Avila, our hosts, had hearts for God and an incredible work ethic. But Fraternidad Christiana Prensa, their congregation, is in the midst of conflict. The long-time families of the church find themselves on opposing sides of many different issues and unable to agree.

Does Church argue?

Last Sunday evening I was driving home with my roommate, Ardi. When I told him I was writing a blog post about Church, he chimed in.

“Many people think that church is the building, that it’s just what they do on Sunday morning,” he said. “Each one of us is Church. Church happens every day, all the time, whenever we connect with God. We become sanctuaries for God, the Church.”

Cutting through all my questions, an unanticipated comment provides an answer. What is Church? These moments are Church. Church is something beautiful, something beautiful that lives.

We are Church.

Reflections from a long internship: Four summers, one title, diverse experiences

Sheldon Good, Salford

Sheldon, second from left corner, on assignment for for a story on Gospel Alliance Church in Charleroi, Pa.

Many of my college friends have worked their same respective summer jobs for years. Though I worked for the same company through four years of high school, I have considered my summer arrangements quite varied.

But I came to a striking realization this summer: I have been a Franconia Conference intern for four straight summers. Most interns serve somewhere, process their experience, and move on. For me, after four years, I’m still serving, processing, and only beginning to move on.

All I’ve done every summer since my first year at Goshen College is work as a Franconia Conference intern. I mean this in the best way possible. My work has varied, though my title as an intern has not. Some would say I’m an internship addict. Maybe I am. But through what other organization could I gain such diverse experience?

I road-tripped through numerous cities including Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Pittsburgh; New York City; Bethany, Ver.; New Haven, Conn.; Goshen, Ind.; Minneapolis; Des Moines, Iowa.

Sheldon sits at the new desk at ABC's New York studio.

I sat at the desk of Peter Jennings and Charles Gibson (the closest I will likely get to my childhood dream of becoming a television news anchor).

I served meals and listened to stories from homeless persons in downtown Toronto

I sloshed through the rain with Anglican brothers and sisters in England, and spent more time getting to than being in Northern Ireland.

I heard prayers in Spanish and Arabic as I visited Ancient Andalusian mosques, synagogues, and cathedrals.

I sipped sugary mint tea with fellow interns along the southern coast of Spain and deserts of Morocco; and I sipped cafe con leche with a Bergey brother in Barcelona.

I commuted through traffic, toll booths, and potholes, from my house in Telford to ASSETS Montco in Norristown almost every day for eight weeks during summer 2008.

I worshipped with an emerging congregation of Indonesian immigrants at a house church in Western Pennsylvania

I revisited my roots with trips to the historic Germantown Mennonite Church; and the Mennonite Heritage Center in Harleysville, a place I had never been, even though I knowingly pass by it every Sunday on my way from Telford to Salford Mennonite Church.

A pit stop in Wisconsin on a road-trip from Minneapolis to Des Moines.

I agonized through the pains of a sore back, wrists, and rear-end after countless hours in front of my computer at home and at the conference office in Souderton.

I spent more time in Philadelphia than along the Route 113 corridor.

I caught glimpses of God through these experiences (and many others which go unnamed), a testimony to the work of the Holy Spirit.

I have been part of four different groups of interns, but none as cosmopolitan as the summer 2009 crew. This summer, we spoke English, Spanish, Indonesian, and Burmese. We served from South Philly, up the Northeast Extension to the suburbs, and out Interstate 80 to Goshen and Denver. The females outnumbered the males for the first time in my interning career.

Some interns have completed one year of college, while others will soon hold graduate degrees. Some are considering what it means to be Mennonite, while others are considering how to explain what it means to be Mennonite. Our vocational aspirations vary as well, though we have all confirmed the possibility of ministry.

Though initial forecasts were down, Franconia Conference supported 18 young adult interns this summer, which matches the same record-setting number from summer 2008. We are the summer 2009 class of interns. We caught glimpses of God. At times, we wondered where God was. Hear our voices:

A scene from the Camino del Santiago pilgrimage trail in northern Spain. Photo by Emily Derstine.

Jordan Delp…I was out for a walk and felt that I should walk up a street. I turned the corner, and saw what looked like a man sitting on a chair on his porch. I figured I would go talk to him. As I approached, it became clear that the person was a woman. She was on the phone. I walked past the house, crossed the street, and turned around. As I loitered, unsure of what to do, she finished her conversation and called out to me, beginning a very wisdom-filled conversation that was exactly what I needed. Two days later, I returned to this woman. The previous day, she had told me to soul-search and ask God for direction, because I told her that I was confused about important things (heaven, God’s will, integrity). I returned with a general idea, but sure it wasn’t what she was looking for. It didn’t matter, she was under the influence of something and had trouble stringing sentences together. As I left, I think she yelled to me that I’m a “lost soul.”

Bianca Prunes…I saw God in one child in the camp whose name is Lee. Lee consistently got into fights. At one point is was daily; he saw any chance to fight. Then one day, an argument broke out, and Lee just turned away and said, “I dont want to fight you. Fighting is stupid.” Lee walked away from the fight. It was amazing. After that, Lee was the first to break up fights and inform counselors if one was starting. Total transformation. However, I didn’t see God when a young man in the neighborhood was shot and killed in a drive-by.

Yonathan Setiewan…While at PPC, God gave me the chance to help others and share my belief in Christ. I worked as a translator, in the church office, with the ESL ministry, and with immigration. I know I am following God. The love of God and a way to minister through it all, God fills me so full every time I serve people and the Lord. Living in a big city like Philadelphia felt so crowded to me. I cannot think and live in a big city. In Indonesia I grew up in a suburb. And now I go to a small college. I feel more comfortable and see God in the small town rather than in the big city.

Danilo Sanchez…I was asked to help with the Community Outreach program on Thursday nights. I soon learned that not many kids are interested in coming during the summer. One night I was surprised to have about eight or ten kids. Things quickly got out of hand. They rode their bikes in the gym, went into the kitchen, and beat up on each other. They didn’t feel like listening to me and thought they could take over the place. It was a challenge for me to establish authority and control. I felt abandoned being the only one there, but I did my best to remain calm. I was glad to have help come later but left that night wondering if I was really cut out for youth ministry. It had been a long week, and I felt very overwhelmed and helpless. Afterward, I went to the prayer room. I needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit again and find rest in God. It felt good to be wrapped in his arms and be reminded that I don’t have to rely on my own strength, but can accomplish all things by his power.

Crystal Zook…I saw God in the people of the church. In the little boy who would give me a thumbs up and say “chido” (cool) when I asked how he was doing. In my host family who let me share their house for two months. In the many conversations we had with the ladies of our English class. In the blending of languages and cultures in Philadelphia Praise Center. In all the members of the church who accepted me as part of the family, and graciously helped me when I forgot my Indonesian and Spanish. In all the smiling faces at church on Sunday morning and throughout the week, even though their lives are much harder than mine. In working with other interns and seeing how we changed over the summer as we got to know each other better. I saw God in each and every person I interacted with this summer.

Stories of faith: Experiences that change what we care about

Maria Byler

july1609-copy.jpgI have been hard pressed to find a clear and concise way of saying what I did for my Ministry Inquiry Program assignment.

I worked for the Mennonite church –– but I didn’t work in a church. I worked with a group of people of faith who care about recent immigrants and I worked with immigrants who are people of faith. I tried to help discover how Franconia Conference congregations can align their practices regarding immigrants with their values of welcoming the stranger and loving our neighbor as ourselves. And I tried to fit my own thoughts into the already buzzing conversations in this diverse and changing conference.

Though I can’t express the work I did in a few sentences, one theme keeps calling my attention: issues are more real to us when we live them or when people we know live them.

Here are some examples from my summer…

Part of my time was spent listening to stories of people of faith who are from other countries.

The people in our churches who have come here themselves from Mexico, Indonesia, China, India, El Salvador, the Congo can give those of us who were born in the U.S. a lot of insight. They have personal knowledge of values and customs that we can benefit from. Their stories of coming to the United States and experiences of the immigration process give our conference areas to act. I saw all of this happening this summer.

Through hearing these stories, I became friends with the tellers. Through our relationship, the stories became more significant to me. The excitement they bring and the problems they face have shaped what I care about.

One example in particular has affected me very much. I got to know one church family very well. I heard about the village in Mexico where they grew up, and the difficulties they faced that drove them to leave. I heard about their struggles with English, with immigration, and with paying their rent. That relationship is a huge part of why I care about immigration. It’s also a huge part of why I think personal experiences are important.

I also spent a lot of time hearing what experiences move those born in the United States to care about the issue of immigration. Some who are born in the U.S. see the issue through the teachings and stories of the Bible, which emphasize hospitality. Some want fairness for immigrants because of the experience of their ancestors – many Mennonites share a history of immigration in search of religious freedom, and feel they can personally identify. And others who are from the U.S. have relationships with immigrants as I did, hear their life experiences, and are moved.

We each have had different experiences, and we know different stories. Even the experiences we have move us to see issues differently.

What experiences have you had that have changed what you care about? What stories have you heard that have changed what you care about?

I thank God for the ways we are changed by the stories of our brothers and sisters, and I pray that our individual experiences shape us as a body to be more and more Christ-like.

Maria Byler served as a Ministry Inquiry Program participant this summer through Franconia Conference working on issues of immigration awareness and solidarity. Nearly half of Franconia Conference congregations are faced with issues of immigration and migration on a daily basis. She worked with a variety of initiatives based in Philadelphia and worshiped with Cento de Alabanza de Filadefia (Philadelphia Praise Center) who helped provide housing for her this summer.

Franconia Conference Summer 2009 Class of Interns

Blooming Glen

• Benjamin Bergey (Blooming Glen) spent his summer with his home congregation as part of his studies at Eastern Mennonite University. Bergey will enter his junior year at EMU as a double major in church music and vocal performance.

Church of the Overcomer

• Julianne McDonald (Church of the Overcomer) interned with the Church of the Overcomer this summer. McDonald will begin her sophomore year this fall at Cabrini College, where she studies business management and social work.

• Morgan Moore (Church of the Overcomer) was an Ministry Inquiry Program participant this summer with the Church of the Overcomer. This fall, Moore will be a senior elementary education major at Kutztown University.

First Mennonite of Denver

• Jordan Delp (Swamp) spent his summer at First Mennonite Church of Denver through the Ministry Inquiry Program. Delp will enter his fourth year at Goshen College, where he is an English education major.

Franconia Conference

• Sheldon Good (Salford) spent his fourth consecutive summer as a Franconia Conference intern. Good graduated in May from Goshen College with degrees in communication (public relations concentration) and business. He is currently an intern with Sojourners Magazine in Washington, D.C.

• Maria Byler (Benton Mennonite, Goshen, IN) interned this summer with Franconia Conference through the Ministry Inquiry Program. This fall, Byler began her senior year at Goshen College as a social work major.

New Hope Fellowship/Nueva Esperanza

• Claudia Esmerelda Sanchez (New Hope Fellowship/Nueva Esperanza) served for the second summer with New Hope Fellowship/Nueva Esperanza in Alexandria, Virginia through Mennonite Central Committee. Sanchez is a student in international relations at Northern Virginia Community College. She plans to attend George Mason University after graduation.

• Monica Solis (New Hope Fellowship/Nueva Esperanza) is a high school student who learned and served through Eastern Mennonite University’s LEAP365 program. This summer she traveled to New Orleans to learn of the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the community. During the school year she will participate in a mentorship and a service project next summer.

Oxford Circle

• Bianca Prunes (Oxford Circle) served at Oxford Circle this summer through the Mennonite Central Committee summer service program. Prunes will graduate next year from Carver High School of Engineering and Science.

• Annali Smucker (East Chestnut Street Mennonite, Akron, Pa.) interned this summer at the Oxford Circle congregation and Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association through the Ministry Inquiry Program. Smucker will return to Goshen College this fall to finish her degrees in art and interdisciplinary studies (Bible and religion, history, and psychology).

Philadelphia Praise Center

• Evelyn Kurniadi (Philadelphia Praise Center) served at Philadelphia Praise Center this summer through Mennonite Central Committee. Kurniadi is a graduate student at Philadelphia Biblical University.

• Yonathan Setiawan (Kudus/Central Java/Indonesia, Muria Indonesia/GKMI) was an Ministry Inquiry Program participant at Philadelphia Praise Center this summer. Setiawan will begin his senior year this fall at Bluffton University, where he studies youth ministry.

• Crystal Zook (James Street Mennonite, Lancaster, Pa.) interned this summer at Philadelphia Praise Center through the Ministry Inquiry Program. This fall, Zook will be a senior at Goshen College, where she is a double major in history and peace, justice, and conflict studies.

• Pa Yaw (Myanmar, Baptist) was an intern at Philadelphia Praise Center this summer. Yaw is a graduate student at Princeton Theological Seminary.

• Mun Pan (Myanmar, Baptist) interned at Philadelphia Praise Center this summer. Pan is a graduate student in theological studies at Princeton Theological Seminary.


• Danilo Sanchez (Boyertown) interned for his second consecutive summer with Franconia Conference, this time with the Souderton congregation through the Ministry Inquiry Program. Sanchez will graduate in May 2010 from Eastern University with degrees in youth ministry and theology.

Walnut Hill

• Lauren Derstine (Blooming Glen) lived in Goshen, In. this summer as an intern with the Walnut Hill congregation. Derstine will remain in Goshen this fall as she begins her junior year at Goshen College as an American sign language interpreting major.


• Greg Yoder (Perkasie) was an intern at Zion Mennonite Church this summer through the Ministry Inquiry Program. Yoder graduated in May with a music education degree but will return to Goshen this fall to complete his student teaching.

Changing expectations: Invoking God after a hard summer

John Tyson

Soon it will be four months since I left my summer Ministry Inquiry Program experience in the Midwest. Before I left last May, I was never so positive, so sure about a decision in my life. The pegs fit perfectly in the holes, both squares. It was a done deal, and I was about to have the benefit of spending my summer days working in an invigorating setting.

The experience wasn’t easy for me, though. I was a circular peg and I didn’t fit the square hole. I often hear of people who struggle with doubts and feelings of anger towards God after difficult or episodic experiences. I think that’s reasonable and healthy. In my case, how I invoke or call upon God is evolving. But what I am realizing is that my experience this summer will forever impact my images of God and the church.

While working with the church this summer, I realized that I like liturgy. It’s beautiful how the Eucharist blurs our economic inequalities by letting us share together without reserve. But we mess it up when we believe that what results from liturgy and worship forms is a God that we can use on our own terms to control our own reality or even to control the community itself. If we’re not careful, our forms of worship become formulaic and thus we expect God to respond accordingly. We think we have our God made in the right traditions, the right words, rightly done ritual.

I find myself believing in and worshiping a God who surprises us. Maybe more than we are comfortable with at times. After all, God does have a sense of humor, God does laugh. So why wouldn’t God surprise us? Is it not surprising that South Philadelphia is home to our conferences fastest growing congregations? This summer I was moved by listening to a student stumble through the words of a text of the Old Testament Prophets. It was the surprise of hearing a young person’s voice that shattered my images of perfect worship and opened space for God to move.

By invoking God in hopes of surprise and mystery and diversity, we make space for God to lead us into places we otherwise might not journey. We don’t need to have a flawless worship service and attempt to invoke God by doing everything “the right way.” It becomes less about what we’re doing and more about what God’s doing, and what God is doing is going to surprise us in mysterious ways.

My suspicion is that invoking the God of surprise will ultimately lead us to unity, not uniformity. I think we are on the right path. My hope is that we can continue to walk that path and that the path begins overflowing with the people journeying alongside us, the gifts God continues to surprise us with.

John Tyson is a junior at Eastern Mennonite Universityand a graduate of Christopher Dock Mennonite High School. He attends Souderton Mennonite Church and is looking forward to his spring semester cross-cultural study experience in the Middle East.

I stopped counting my hours

Andrew Liemon

My typical summer days usually began at 10 AM, thinking ahead of time when I will be home after spending ‘8 hours’ of work. My mom and I talked about how the working hours at church should go by easily. I expected to be playing ping-pong, surfing the internet, opening and closing the church building as it is used a lot during the day. I was looking forward to traveling (going to San Jose 2007, particularly) With no surprise, that’s how I came to the conclusion to take part of Ministry Inquiry Program Summer 2007 without knowing a single clue of what was really ahead, not even a glimpse.

The very first task I did was accompanying Mr. Freddy for a post-surgery visit at Jefferson Hospital at 9 o’clock in the morning. I got up assuming that I ‘d get to leave an hour early, since I started the day earlier. For the next several weeks, I tried to keep count of my working hours. I was always calculating everything and weighing all the things necessary to accomplish the assignments for that day and to reach my 440 hours for the end of the summer.

As we got further into the summer, we started doing more things around church and that included staying longer in order to finish the to-do-list for that day. I got frustrated with the effort of keeping track of my working hours while still trying to keep up with my errands. Until one day I began asking myself…

I am only required to work for 40 hours a week, yet it seems that there’s never enough time in our daily schedule. I thought that I decided to do his is only to spend a relaxing summer time and getting paid at the same time. Pretty good deal, I thought. But looking back the last couple weeks, it didn’t go as I had in mind. Not even close. During those times, God spoke vividly to me of how Jesus never counts the time he has spent with us.

Can you imagine how much we owe if God would’ve counted the time?
Can you imagine if we could ever repay?
Can you imagine our lists of complaints to God?
Yet, can you think of how much time we spend for God’s kingdom?

I stopped counting the hours after that moment. Though I still looked forward for any break or a nap, working in God’s kingdom became more rewarding when we gave back our time to Christ. There’s no such thing as a long and tiring day. There’s always something to look forward to in the next day. And since then, I am just grateful I don’t have the haunting task of tallying my working hours as service to God

Andrew Liemon attends Philadelphia Praise Center in South Philadelphia and is a student at Penn State Delaware County. He served in the Ministry Inquiry Program this summer through a grant from Eastern Mennonite University.