Tag Archives: intercultural

Building God’s Community Together

by Steve Kriss, executive minister

I’m writing on my last night in Mexico City after celebrating the 60th anniversary of Mennonite churches here.  Over the last months, we’ve been reacquainting ourselves with one another between conferences and reconnecting the strong cords that have, for years, tied our communities together across language, culture, and country.

60th anniversary United Worship of the congregations of CIEAMM at Iglesia Christianas de Paz. (Photo by Kiron Mateti)

It was humbling to stand in front of hundreds of Mexican Mennonites who had come to follow in the way of Christ through the hopeful actions of mission workers—men and women who had left the familiarity of Mennonite congregations in Pennsylvania to build community in the emerging neighborhoods of Mexico City.   As we gathered at Iglesia de Christianas de Paz, I offered a greeting from 1 Corinthians, a reminder that different people have different roles but God brings forth fruit. Together we are building God’s community.

El Buen Pastor – the first Mennonite congregation in Mexico City. (Photo by Kiron Mateti)

But in the midst of that gathering, I was struck most by how going across the boundary to Mexico had changed our conference.   Early stories suggest that Franconia Conference leaders had been waiting for an opening to send international workers.  With a letter of invitation from a woman in Mexico, and after some discernment between various Mennonite mission organizations, Franconia Conference took the lead in Mexico.

Photo by Kiron Mateti

I believe these actions 60 years ago enlarged our hearts and understandings of the world and our connections within it.  Young leaders left familiar community for impactful service and leadership; they learned new foods, spoke Spanish, and tried to understand what essentials should be shared in a new cultural context.  Our understanding of what it meant to be Mennonite had to change.

Celebrating the 60th anniversary of El Buen Pastor congregation, the first Mennonite congregation in Mexico City. (Photo by Kiron Mateti)

And the church in Mexico grew – and is still growing.  The CIEAMM network represents our historic connection, but new connections — the Red de Iglesias Missioneras International led by Kirk Hanger; Iglesia de la Tierra Prometida, where long-term mission workers Bob and Bonnie Stevenson remain; and Centro de Alabanza de Philadelphia, pastored by Fernando Loyola and Leticia Cortes from Iglesia de Christianas de Paz — are ongoing parts of our shared witness.  Along with the Bible translation work of Claude Good that ensured the availability of the Holy Text in the Triqui language, we have made significant contributions to the family of Christ’s followers in Mexico.  The community that makes up these various networks is likely similarly sized to our current Franconia Conference membership.

The view from the top. (Photo by Steve Kriss)

As part of our visit, we visited the Torre LatinoAmericana in central Mexico City.  I stared out from atop the 44-story building, built in the same era that our earliest mission workers arrived. I looked toward the Cathedral of our Lady of Guadeloupe, where the story of a visit from the Virgin Mary to a farm worker in the field would change the trajectory of faith toward Roman Catholicism.

This global city sprawls in every direction around the tower: Mexico City is the size of New York, with 20 million people in the metro area.  There are Starbucks and Walmarts, as well as lots of traffic, and omnipresent cell phones.

Closing prayer at Luz y Verdad congregation, the 2nd congregation begun 60 years ago in Mexico City. (Photo by Kiron Mateti)

I prayerfully wondered what the next years will hold for us together, recognizing each other as sibling communities, and honoring together the Good News of Christ’s peace as we celebrate the possibilities of a faith that crosses boundaries.  This faith changes us in our giving and receiving and, ultimately, changes the world in ways that are both big and small.

Plains and Curious

by Jim King, Plains congregation (Lansdale, PA)

Four-year-old Jaya Mateti was immediately aware that the music in the May 19th worship service was different.  It had a beat and it was LOUD!  As soon as she saw everyone standing for the music, she asked to be lifted up so she could see.  With her feet firmly planted on the back of the bench in front of her, she looked around at our guests from Evangelical Center for Revival and exclaimed, “There’s a lot of ‘Indians’ here today and they look like me!”

At the beginning of our worship service, our worship leader Rina Rampogu reminded us that our worship time could possibly have less structure and more spontaneity.  About halfway through the service, smells of Congolese food being heated in the kitchen downstairs wafted up.

How did we get to having a combined worship service with a Congolese congregation?  And what is the point of this interaction?

During the summer of 2017, when U.S. politics seemed to focus on borders, boundaries, and walls, a small group of people met during the Sunday School hour to discuss immigration issues.  We had heard from recent immigrants that Lansdale was an immigrant-friendly community, but we wanted to do more in making people feel welcome in our church.  We noticed that our playground had already become a welcoming place for children of various cultures to come and play together.

This immigration task force, led by Rachel and Kiron Mateti (conference board member), helped us focus on ways we could be more welcoming and culturally aware of our neighbors.  We decided that a July 4 celebration in our church park could help us develop friendships with those who have come to the U.S. more recently.  To ensure that this would truly be a cross-cultural event, we asked Evangelical Center for Revival to co-sponsor this event with us.

Penny Naugle shares a story with children from both congregations.

After this experience, some Plains members indicated that they were curious about how the Congolese congregation worships, so about twelve of us attended their worship service in Elkins Park.  As Pastor Maurice Baruti and I sat together at the fellowship meal, we observed how different groups from Plains ate with members from the Center congregation and we talked about the possibility of doing a joint worship service together at Plains.  At first he wasn’t so sure it would work; their worship service starts at 11:30, ours starts at 10:15.  We ended up with a compromise of 11:00.

Pastor Maurice Baruti (L) and his wife Berthe (R) with Jim King.

Prior to the service, Pastor Baruti asked how long he should speak.  When he was told that we expected about 20-25 minutes, he smiled and said he was comfortable with speaking for an hour.  During the worship he spoke in French and was translated to English by his wife Berthe.  Rampogu said that as she looked out over the audience, “there seemed to be an expression of anticipation and curiosity on the faces of the congregation.”  Several guests from the Center congregation shared that they had just come off working a night shift but that this was a service they didn’t want to miss.

As we at Plains look to fill an Associate Pastor position, this worship service reminded us that we could me be more flexible in how we do worship.  With friendship, food, and fellowship, we will work it out.  Our pastor, Mike Derstine says, “Anytime we worship with another congregation we are stretched by new patterns and ways of doing things, new songs and differences in worship style, and fresh testimonies during sharing time from people in different work and life situations.  Then there was the stretching experience of different foods and table fellowship after the worship service, all of which serves to remind us that our concept and understanding of God is always beyond us.”

We realize we need to continue to change to be more culturally welcoming.  The last verse of our 250th Anniversary song, written by Justin Yoder, says it well: “Teach us new songs, while we hold dear the strains of long ago.  When we sing, the Spirit is here: may it be ever so!”

Summer Interns to Serve and Learn

by Jennifer Svetlik, Salford congregation

Listening for God’s calling. Serving their home communities. Learning from new communities. Cultivating pastoral skills. These are some of the hopes that six interns bring to their time of service and formation with Franconia Conference this summer. They come as part of the MCC Summer Service Program, the Ministry Inquiry Program, as well as the Conference’s own summer placements.

As part of the MCC Summer Service Worker Program, Jessica Nikomang will work at Philadelphia Praise Center. This summer she will direct a Vacation Bible School (VBS) for kids ages 5-12 as well as work with the Indonesian community around the church and her neighborhood, providing translation support and other help. After the summer, she will begin studies at the Community College of Philadelphia as a first-generation college student in pursuit of her dream to be a school counselor.

This will be Rebecca Yugga’s second summer serving at the Crossroads Community Center in partnership with her home congregation, West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship. Rebecca studies Nursing and Spanish Language/Hispanic Studies at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU). She will be planning activities for children and build on leadership skills and strategies she cultivated in the program last year.

Graciella Odelia

Graciella Odelia will serve at Nations Worship Center, which has been her home church since 2013 and where she is an active member of the worship team. Graciella studies Biology and Chemistry at Eastern Mennonite University. She will be organizing the summer VBS program in July and August at Nations Worship Center.

“Seeing kids excited to worship God makes me look forward to what God has in store for the next generation. By participating in the MCC Summer Service program, I hope to discover how God can use me in His church,” Graciella shares.

Andrés Castillo

As the Conference’s summer placement, Andrés Castillo, a member of Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, will serve as a communication intern for the conference. Andrés studies English at West Chester University. More of his writing, photography, and videos will be shared on our website throughout the summer. Andrés is excited to make connections in his communication work between Christ’s teachings and the social issues about which he’s passionate.

Justin Burkholder, who attends Deep Run East, will be working with the conference’s south Philadelphia Indonesian congregations. He will be serving with the peace camp at Indonesian Light Church as well as summer VBS programs at other congregations. Justin is in Intercultural Studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University.

“I grew up traveling into Philadelphia just for ball games or cheesesteaks and I was disconnected from the lives of people living in the city,” Justin shared. “I am looking forward to building relationships and learning what it looks like to serve the church and community in South Philly.”

As part of the Ministry Inquiry Program, Luke Hertzler, who studies Bible, Religion and Theology at EMU, will be working with Whitehall and Ripple Allentown congregations. Luke will help at Ripple’s Community Building Center and garden and test out gifts on Sundays at both Ripple and Whitehall.

“We hope Luke will bring new ideas and energy. Right now we are forming gift groups at Ripple and I hope Luke can give some direction to this new model,” Danilo Sanchez, co-pastor for Ripple Allentown shared. “Internships are important to Ripple because we care about raising up leaders. Ripple is a different kind of Mennonite church and we like to show young adults that pastoring and church can take a variety of forms.”

Summer interns are an important part of Franconia Conference’s commitment to leadership cultivation. “Each year it is a gift to interact with this next generation of leaders. We learn alongside them and contribute to their formation in the way of Christ’s peace,” Franconia’s executive minister Steve Kriss shared.

We are grateful for and look forward to sharing more about the work that these six young people will offer Franconia Conference this summer!

Work and Hope in Florida/ Trabajo y Esperanza en Florida

by Steve Kriss, Executive Minister

Tomorrow I’m leaving for a meeting with Mennonites in Fort Myers, Florida.  Noel Santiago and I will represent our conference in a conversation with congregations who are interested in remaining in relationship with Mennonite Church USA after the withdrawal of their conference.  They are discerning their future together as a community.  

Last month, Southeast Mennonite Conference removed itself from our national body.   In recent years, we have had growing ties to some of these communities in Miami, Tampa, and Sarasota.  Some of us spend part of our winter in Florida; some of us have pastored there; some of us have relatives in these communities.  Florida is an easy flight away from the part of our conference that is rooted in the Northeast corridor.

Several years ago, Angela Moyer (our current conference assistant moderator), Ertell Whigham (then executive minister), and I helped to lead an equipping event with Southeast Conference leaders in Sarasota.  We recognized a resonance between our conferences. There’s been a warmth between some of our conference leaders and these Floridian communities since then.  In the last weeks, we received a request to come alongside a part of what had been Southeast Conference to provide additional leadership resources and accompaniment.

Sandra and Marco Guete worship during a Southeast Mennonite Conference annual assembly. Photo by Andrew Bodden.

Last month, we invited Marco Guete to begin serving as a stipended leadership minister to work alongside the communities in Florida for six months.  Marco joined our conference staff retreat at Spruce Lake last week.  His wisdom, insights, experience, and salsa lessons were a welcome gift to our team while we were together.  I expect these deep, lively, and wise contributions to continue in the months ahead.

Where is this going?  We don’t know.  We anticipate meeting with leaders from about ten congregations in Florida this weekend; these leaders may either decide to form their own group in Florida in order to remain a part of Mennonite Church USA or express a desire to join our conference.  It’s a time of fluidity and change in church structures, with the previously unimagined becoming the new normal.

We want to be open-handed in relating to the communities in Florida.   I believe strongly that “to those whom much is given, much is required.”  We had available financial resources to offer assistance to our sibling communities in Florida from within our budget this year due to unfilled staff roles.  When the need in Florida became clear through a phone call with former MCUSA moderator Roy Williams from Tampa, we responded.  Our multilingual conference staff will continue to work to accompany the Florida communities as they discern their future.  Marco will work in this role for six months.  We are in conversation with Mennonite Church USA leadership about how this may evolve.

The Spirit continues to shake up the structures of the church.  Meanwhile, we are still willing to bear witness to the way of Christ’s peace.  And God continues to bring new possibilities for relationships and renewal that might extend right fellowship to people both near and far.   We will continue to work and hope.  Seguiremos trabajando y esperando.

Jawabannya Ada di dalam Doa / Answering My Desperate Prayer

(scroll down for English)

Hadi Sunarto dan keluarganya

Cerita saya berawal ketika saya baru tiba di negara ini dari Indonesia di tahun 2005. Saat itu saya berrencana mengambil sekolah bisnis di La Salle University, Philadelphia. Seperti kebanyakan orang yang baru pindah ke suatu tempat, adaptasi terhadap segala sesuatu yang baru adalah hal yang sangat sulit. Kehilangan keluarga, kerabat, teman-teman, dan suasana hidup yangbiasa saya nikmati di negara asal membuat saya merasa depresi dan putus asa. Saya hampir memutuskan untuk kembali ke Indonesia saat itu. Tetapi tekanan dari orang tua untuk mendapatkan gelar akademik yang direncanakan memaksa saya untuk terus mencoba bertahan. Kesulitan yang saya alami telah memojokkan saya sampai ke suatu titik dimana saya merasa doa adalah satu-satunya hal yang bisa menolong saya melewati segala persoalan saat itu. Saya berharap Tuhan bisa memberikan jawaban tentang apa yang harus saya lakukan agar masa-masa sulit ini bisa segera berlalu.

Philadelphia adalah kota besar dengan beragam etnis dan budaya. Di kota ini terdapat ribuan orang imigran asal Indonesia. Saya mulai menemui mereka san mencoba untuk mengenal lebih dekat. Dari pertemuan-pertemuan tersebut, terungkap banyak masalah yang mereka hadapi sabagai imigran di negara ini. Mereka bercerita mulai dari terpisahnya mereka dengan anggota keluarga di Indonesia, situasi di tempat kerja mereka yang sulit, masalah status imigrasi, dan yang tak kalah pentingnya adalah masalah keterbatasan bahasa.


Hadi membantu terjemahan bahasa Indonesia selama Konferensi Majelis

Dari situ saya mulai mencoba untuk menlong mereka yang bermasalah dengan bahasa. Saya mengantar mereka ke dokter, dokter gigi, pengacara, dan lain-lain, dengan memberikan terjemahan secara cuma-Cuma. Lambat laun tanpa saya sadari saya secara perlahan-lahan merasakan kelegaan di tengah-tengah permasalahan yang saya hadapi. Saya menemukan fakta-fakta bahwa sebagian orang memiliki persoalan yang lebih berat dari yang saya miliki dan saya tidak sendirian dalam menghadapi persoalah sebagai imigran di negara ini.

Seiring dengan berjalannya waktu saya mulai berpikir mungkin inilah jawaban yang Tuhan berikan atas doa-doa yang saya penjatkan ketika mencari jalan keluar atas keputusasaan saat meninggalkan Indonesia. Saya melakukan kegiatan-kegiatan itu sampai pada tahun 2010 saya menemukan dan bergabung dengan gereja Philadelphia Praise Center (PPC). PPC adalah gereja yang aktif membantu komunitas Indonesia seperti mengurus dokumen-dokumen imigrasi, kartu identitas, memberikan pelajaran bahasa Inggris, dan sebagainya. Saya melibatkan diri dalam kegiatan-kegiatan mereka sejalan dengan apa yang saya lakukan.

Saya mencari tahu visi dan misi PPC. Salah satu misi yang mereka usung selama ini adalah “Menjadi contoh yang hidup akan kasih Tuhan unutk manusia.” Saya berpikir melalui kegiatan-kegiatan yang saya lakukan bersama PC, misi yang satu ini sangat cocok dengan jawaban atas doa-doa saya. Tuhan ingin saya menggunakan apa yang saya bisa untuk menolong orang lain. Itulah yang Tuhan ingin saya lakukan. Akhirnya saya memutuskan untuk bergabung dalam keanggotaan ministry di PPC. Saya secara resmi ditahbiskan tahun 2014 dan saya masih aktif menjalankan tugas-tugas saya sampai saat ini.


Hadi Sunarto and his family

My story began when I arrived in this country from Indonesia in 2005. At that time, I was planning to go to La Salle University in Philadelphia. Just like many other people who moved to a new place, adaptation to all things new was the hardest part. Missing family, friends and colleagues, as well as my day to day life in my home country, made me depressed and hopeless. I almost gave up and decided to go back to Indonesia at that time. But the pressure from my family, wanting me to get an academic degree made me fight and stay put. My hardship pushed me to the point that I felt that only prayer could help me get through my problems at that time. I was praying that God would give me an answer to what I should do, to leave this time of struggle behind. 

Philadelphia is a big city with so much ethnic and cultural diversity. In this city, there are thousands of immigrants from Indonesia. I started to meet them, to try to get to know them closely. From many encounters, it was revealed that there are so many problems that they face as an immigrant in this country. They started telling stories, from the story of separation from family in Indonesia, problems at work, problems with immigration status, and last but not least, language limitations.

Hadi helping with Indonesian translation during Conference Assembly

At that moment, I started helping those with language limitations. I took them to the doctor, dentist or lawyer, and gave them free translation service. Slowly without realizing it, I found peace in the midst of my own problems. I found that half of the people had bigger problems than what I had, and that I’m not alone facing problems as an immigrant in this country.

As time went on, I started to think maybe this was God answering my desperate prayer after leaving Indonesia. In 2010, I found and joined Philadelphia Praise Center Church. PPC is an active church, helping the Indonesian Community in areas such as handling immigration documents and identity cards, English classes, etc. I’m also involved with those activities.

I started to look to PCC for vision and mission. One of their missions is “to become the living example of God’s love for people”. I began thinking that through my activities with PPC, I am living out this mission, which is the answers to my prayers. God wants me to do what I can to help other people. Finally, I decided to become a member at PPC. I was officially ordained in 2014 and I am still actives in my duties today.

A Family Reunited

by Nelson Shenk, Boyertown congregation

Gaby & Kyle with their daughters

In 2005, Maria Gabriella (Gaby) left a dangerous living situation in Mexico and came to the United States to make a better and safer life for herself and her two-year-old daughter Citlalli.  In doing so, she and her daughter came as undocumented persons.  She eventually met and married Kyle Rhoads, who grew up at Boyertown Mennonite Church.  They had 2 daughters, Isabel and Kylene, and settled in Bechtelsville as a happy family unit.

They were attending our church for several months when Gaby and Citlalli decided to apply for their green cards so they could be here legally. That involved returning to Mexico and having an immigration interview at the U. S. Embassy.

In October 2017, she and her daughter returned to Mexico with trepidation.  Her daughter was approved and returned home to Bechtelsville in November, but Gaby was denied.  After the denial of her visa in the interview, she had to re-apply for a waiver.   In February 2018, her husband and 2 younger daughters visited her, and two-year-old Kylene stayed in Mexico with her mother.

Many phone calls were made to lawyers and politicians on her behalf.  Many people at Boyertown church wrote letters requesting her return so the family could be together.

Gaby reapplied and, after spending many months waiting, she went through the interview process again, including another medical exam and paying more money.  After 15 months away from her husband and daughter, her visa was finally approved in October 2018.  She and Kylene arrived home on January 24. 

On January 30th, a big celebration was held at church for her safe return.  Christopher Friesen, a member of the Germantown congregation, works for the law firm that processed Gaby’s paperwork.  He and Gaby finally met as we celebrated that day, which was another joyous occasion.

Gaby’s family is once again living as a family unit in Bechtelsville.  There are still some on-going complications with paper work, so please keep the family in prayer as life goes on and there are adjustments to be made. Our church family at Boyertown praises God for a good outcome for Gaby’s family.

 

 

Embracing God’s Cakrawala

by Jeff Wright, leadership minister

In the last two years, Franconia Conference has welcomed new congregations from California.  Three predominantly Indonesian-speaking congregations and one predominantly Cantonese-speaking congregation have affiliated with the conference.  I’m privileged to work with these churches and I’m sure the future ahead—for both the conference and these congregations—will look very different because these churches are in our midst. 

Celebrating Chinese New Year with Jemaat Kristen Indonesia Anugerah (JKIA).

To be culturally Californian is to be optimistic in general, and to look toward the Pacific for imagination.  Our new California churches are from across the Pacific—young, entrepreneurial, and hard-working immigrants from many Indonesian cultures as well as well-established immigrant families with ties to the always growing, always reinventing city of Hong Kong.

As I work with these churches, they bring to mind five Indonesian words that tell a story of holy imagination: seeing God at work in our many and varied neighborhoods across the Los Angeles basin and the San Francisco Bay area.

The first of these Indonesian words, Cakrawala (cha-kra-waa-la), points to this imagination.  Cakrawala means “horizon.” But more than just a fixed point out there somewhere, Cakrawala also speaks of perspective and outlook.  It invites us into a story, not just an intersection of longitude and latitude. The new churches in California invite us to embrace God’s perspective and outlook – God’s Cakrawala – as we do God’s work together as Franconia Conference.

The second Indonesian word that comes to mind is, “Sahabat (sa-ha-baat).”  In relational cultures, everyone is a friend.  But to be a Sahabat is to take on a deeper level of friendship and relationship: a Sahabat is a best friend.  Jesus describes his followers this way in John 15:12-17.  No longer are disciples of Jesus servants—we now become Jesus’ best friends.  Our new churches in California live with the vital exuberance of people who have discovered a new best friend in Jesus Christ.

Celebrating Chinese New Year with Jemaat Kristen Indonesia Anugerah (JKIA).

Being best friends with Jesus means that, third, we become “Guyab (gu-ye-aab)” to one another.  Jesus’ friendly embrace makes us a people that are “in togetherness”—a people committed to carrying one another’s burdens. Paul’s call to the churches in Galatia (Galatians 6:1-5) embodies the principle of Guyab; a church “in togetherness” is a loving center of God’s mission of burden bearing, forgiving, restoring, and discerning.

Jesus’ befriending of us, and our willingness to be in togetherness has the effect of “Peremajaan (pee-re-maa-ja)” —literally, “Making young again.”  The promise of Revelation 21:5-7 is the promise of God making all things new (young).  The ugly wreckage of sin no longer holds sway.  God’s Cakrawala is to restore, renew, and refurbish that which is broken. God does not abandon us, but makes us Peremajaan—young again, full of life.

As we follow Jesus, our Sahabat, live out God’s missional call to Guyab, and wait for the great repair work of Peremajaan, we must become a Ragan (rah-gan) church – a diverse community of faithfulness.  In the Franconia churches in California, the people speak several Indonesian dialects, Cantonese, Mandarin, Spanish, Dutch, and English.  Most Franconia Conference members in California are bilingual, even trilingual.  They point the rest of us to the great event described in Revelation 7:9-12.  Our Franconia Conference churches in California know that the Church cannot be focused on its mission without being more and more an expert in diversity (Ragan).

God’s outlook for the church is not much different in Indonesian than it is in English: to follow Jesus who seeks to befriend us; to embrace one another in togetherness; to let God’s transforming work make us young again; and to be a church full of diversity.  May such a Cakrawala be shared and true in Souderton, Philadelphia, Southern California, San Francisco, and beyond.

The Beauty of an Intercultural Childhood

(Scroll for Spanish translation / Desplazarse para la traducción al español)

by Andres Castillo, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life

Out of all of the things that I take for granted, my intercultural childhood has to be the most beautiful.

I grew up in Norristown, Pennsylvania as a Hispanic and white child, never really fitting into either demographic, but undoubtedly benefiting from the ability to sit back and watch all ethnic groups interact. This “observation” lifestyle is one commonly picked up by biracial children, and I can confirm this through my own experiences.

Not being able to fit into any single group is a blessing. I grew up mingling with, among others, both white and Latino children, frequently wondering why they were often so completely separate from each other. The close-mindedness of each cluster was puzzling, and even more so was the fact that neither fully accepted me. I realize now after many years of fussing over my place in the world that I have no need to identify with either group—there are plenty of people like me.

This realization enables me to have a better perception of the world and each person, not focusing on anyone’s ethnic background but on what is underneath. I am able to see people for who they are, because I know how it feels to not know who I am or where I belong.

Unfortunately, not every biracial child will come to the same conclusions that I did. To help remedy this, I write this with the dual purpose of sharing my worldview as well as providing some self-security to biracial persons who struggle with their identity.

Making Colombian tamales—a family tradition!  Photo by Marta Castillo

Growing up in Norristown definitely put me in an advantageous situation. Daily exposure to different races and cultures—African American, Caribbean, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Chinese—is healthy for a growing human. I know that I benefited greatly (an understatement) from living my whole life and attending high school in Norristown. I am, no doubt, more knowledgeable of what the world really contains—homeless people walking the streets, gang-related violence, robberies (my house was even robbed once), and overall, a struggle for financial stability.

Of course there are a lot of bad things that exist in the world, but Norristown did reveal many positive things too. Attending Norristown Area High School showed me that Latinos and African Americans, not whites, were the majority in the area where I live.  Contrary to what some people think, the Norristown area school system not only provided me with an adequate education, but also effectively exposed me to more of the world. I attend an absolute melting-pot of a church called Nueva Vida Norristown New Life (NVNNL) and can happily say that our family benefits from the multitude of races within the church and the bilingual capabilities we possess.

 Andres is baptized by Pastors Angel Tamayo and Marta Castillo (his mom) and joins as a member of Nueva Vida Norristown New Life  Photo by Ertell Whigham at Macedonia Baptist Church, Norristown.

Along with these two outlets, my grandparents, who live in the center of Norristown, have been enthusiastic guides to other cultures throughout my lifetime. They not only house people of different races in their small-but-friendly apartment complex but raised their children (my mom and uncle) in Vietnam and Indonesia, where they served for many years as mission workers. As a result, they are completely open-minded people who have taught their children and grandchildren their ways.

Just the other day, I had a job interviewer ask me if I have “had experience in which I have been exposed to many cultures.” Needless to say, that question could probably be nominated for “easiest question of the year.”

I am happy to not be ignorant of the cultures around me, and to have my race be a minimal factor of how I live. I was able to decide for myself that I love people of all races, and, as a result, I can say, with joy, that I am able to fully enjoy this life.

Andres Castillo is a freshman at West Chester University.  He enjoys writing, reading, and playing with the Nueva Vida Norristown New Life Church worship team.

 


La Belleza de una Niñez Intercultural

por Andres Castillo, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life

De todas las cosas que doy por sentadas, mi niñez intercultural tiene que ser la más hermosa.

Crecí en Norristown, Pensilvania como un niño hispano y americano blanco, nunca encajando con ninguno de los dos grupos demográficos, pero sin duda me beneficiaba de poder sentarme y ver a todos los grupos étnicos relacionarse. Este estilo de vida de “observación” es comúnmente adoptado por los niños birraciales, y puedo confirmarlo por mis propias experiencias.

No poder encajar en un solo grupo es una bendición. Crecí mezclándome, entre otros, con niños blancos y latinos, preguntándome con frecuencia por qué a menudo estaban tan separados unos de otros. La mentalidad cerrada de cada grupo fue desconcertante, y más aún, el hecho de que ninguno de los dos grupos me aceptó por completo. Ahora me doy cuenta de que después de muchos años de preocuparme por mi lugar en el mundo, no tengo necesidad de identificarme con ninguno de los grupos, hay muchas personas como yo.

Esta realización me permite tener una mejor percepción del mundo y de cada persona, sin centrarme en el origen étnico de nadie, sino en lo que está dentro. Soy capaz de ver a las personas por lo que son, porque sé cómo se siente no saber quién soy ni a dónde pertenezco.

Desafortunadamente, no todos los niños birraciales llegarán a las mismas conclusiones que yo. Para ayudar a remediar esto, escribo esto con el doble propósito de compartir mi visión del mundo, así como de proporcionar cierta seguridad personal a las personas birraciales que luchan con su identidad.

¡Haciendo tamales colombianos, una tradición familiar! Foto por Marta Castillo.

Crecer en Norristown definitivamente me puso en una situación ventajosa. La exposición diaria a diferentes razas y culturas (afro americana, caribeña, mexicana, puertorriqueña, china) es saludable para un humano en crecimiento. Sé que me beneficié enormemente (una subestimación) de vivir toda mi vida y asistir a la escuela secundaria en Norristown. Sin duda, tengo más conocimiento de lo que realmente contiene el mundo: personas sin hogar que caminan por las calles, violencia relacionada con pandillas, robos (mi casa incluso fue robada una vez) y, en general, una lucha por la estabilidad financiera.

Por supuesto, hay muchas cosas malas que existen en el mundo, pero Norristown también reveló muchas cosas positivas. Asistir a la escuela secundaria del área de Norristown me mostró que los latinos y los afroamericanos, no los blancos, eran la mayoría en el área donde vivo. Contrariamente a lo que algunas personas piensan, el sistema escolar del área de Norristown no solo me brindó una educación adecuada, sino que también me expuso a más partes del mundo. Asisto a una iglesia que es un crisol absoluto llamada Nueva Vida Norristown New Life (NVNNL) y puedo decir felizmente que nuestra familia se beneficia de la multitud de razas dentro de la iglesia y las capacidades bilingües que poseemos.

Andrés es bautizado por los pastores Angel Tamayo y Marta Castillo (su madre) y se une como miembro de Nueva Vida Norristown. Foto de New Life por Ertell Whigham en la Iglesia Bautista de Macedonia, Norristown.

Junto con estos dos canales, mis abuelos, que viven en el centro de Norristown, han sido guías entusiastas de otras culturas a lo largo de mi vida. No solo albergan a personas de diferentes razas en su pequeño pero amigable complejo de apartamentos, sino que también criaron a sus hijos (mi madre y mi tío) en Vietnam e Indonesia, donde sirvieron durante muchos años como trabajadores misioneros. Como resultado, son personas de mentalidad abierta que les han enseñado sus costumbres a sus hijos y nietos.

Justo el otro día, un entrevistador del trabajo me preguntó si tenía “experiencia en la que he estado expuesto a muchas culturas”. No hace falta decir que esa pregunta probablemente podría ser nominada a la “pregunta más fácil del año”.

Estoy feliz de no ignorar las culturas que me rodean y de que mi raza sea un factor mínimo de cómo vivo. Pude decidir por mí mismo que amo a las personas de todas las razas y, como resultado, puedo decir con alegría que puedo disfrutar plenamente de esta vida.

Andrés Castillo es un estudiante de primer año en la Universidad de West Chester. Le gusta escribir, leer y tocar música con el equipo de adoración de Nueva Vida Norristown New Life Church.

 

The One Who Knocks

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

This is the great seriousness of the Advent message and its great blessing. Christ stands at the door. He lives in the form of people around us. Will you therefore leave the door locked for your protection, or will you open the door?
— from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s sermon for the first Sunday in Advent of 1928 in Barcelona

As I write this, thousands of migrants are stranded at Tijuana, one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities. At times they are within shouting distance of peaceful and prosperous San Diego County, CA. There are jobs across the frontera, generated by a booming economy with low taxes and high expectations. And relative safety. They’re fleeing violence and grinding poverty. God only knows what will happen to them by the time you read this.

I’ve seen refugees before.

In Rome, at St. Paul’s in the Walls, straggling in from small boats that made it across the Mediterranean with hopes of prosperity and work.

At Calais, young men who trudged across Central Asia and some fleeing East African violence waiting to hitch a ride on a lorry to jobs at restaurants and with family and friends in the United Kingdom.

One time in a cadre, clutching what seemed like all that they had through Barajas airport at Madrid with bags marked “UNCHR” (UN Refugee Agency), the kind I’d use to carry my groceries.

“The Flight into Egypt” by Henry Ossawa Tanner (c. 1907). Public Domain.

In Mary and Joseph, running away from a violent king, crossing borders and languages and customs to save their son from certain death.

And in Mennonite churches —where the presence of refugees from Myanmar has boosted the futures of dwindling churches, where new congregations have been birthed by Indonesians fleeing violence and seeking asylum, where pews are filled by Nepalis suddenly dislodged from Bhutan, by Vietnamese and Cambodians who arrived a generation ago.

Those who knock at the door and come inside change us, deepening our gratitude and generosity, enriching the possibilities of our future.

We, as Mennonites, have been these folks as well, fleeing the Ukraine and adrift in the Atlantic until someone unlocked the door to Paraguay. Or streaming to new possibilities in North America by homesteading land to lay foundations for colonizing empires by pushing back indigenous people. It’s not always a pretty entrance.

We have at times found the doors locked ourselves. We have been fearful and hopeful, at the end of our rope, the one seeking loving kindness and mercy. We have been running from slaveholders and the legacy of white supremacy, running from abusers, persecution and poverty. We have been outsiders, too.

We have sometimes forgotten ourselves and our wandering stories.  Fear has grown in the space of our forgetting. That fear overshadows our ability to see the stranger as ourselves.

This same kind of fear drove shooters to a black church in Charleston and a synagogue in Pittsburgh.  The fear is a cycle so that we are afraid that the one at door might seek to destroy our very existence.  We become comfortable and culpable by normalizing, “it would have been better if they’d had an armed guard.”  With an armed guard, the stranger never even makes it to the door. 

We are safe.  We survive but become a shell of ourselves, shrouded in fear.  Safe and secure, we strain to hear the knock of the One who seeks shelter to be born again, even in our own hearts, homes, and communities, in this season when love and light broke in.  And we move in faith to unlock the door.

 

Home for Christmas

by Emily Ralph Servant, Interim Director of Communication

The house sits on Emily Street, a three-story, red-brick townhouse whose stoop rests directly on the sidewalk along a narrow city street.

Bethany House, which sits on Emily Street in South Philadelphia, will serve as a conference-owned parsonage.

The third floor windows look out over the surrounding blocks, where brand new rowhomes, nestled between century-old houses, bear witness to the creeping gentrification of this densely populated and diverse neighborhood.  Dotted between the rows of houses are lots that won’t long be empty, neighborhood parks, and the occasional sidewalk garden planted in clusters of multicolored pots.

Its name is Bethany House, and soon this house will become a home.

For a number of years, members of the conference community have been concerned about the rising cost of housing in South Philadelphia.  As the city has experienced an influx of immigrants and a renewal of its urban core, the neighborhoods surrounding Franconia’s South Philly congregations have seen a quick and dramatic increase in housing costs.

This gentrification makes living and ministering locally more and more difficult, especially for credentialed leaders who don’t have the resources to purchase a home.  In response to growing support among the conference constituency, the board decided that now was the time to act, while the purchase could still be considered an investment in the rapidly growing housing market.

In December, upon the review and recommendation of the Properties and Finances Committees, Franconia Conference purchased the house on Emily Street to be used as a conference-owned parsonage.  This home will be available for conference congregations in South Philadelphia to use when, and for as long as, needed.

Bethany House’s first residents will be Leticia Cortes and Fernando Loyola.  The pastoral couple of Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, Cortes and Loyola have been struggling to find a safe and stable living arrangement for their family for eleven years.  Because Bethany House is close to their congregation’s building, Cortes and Loyola anticipate that living there will open up new possibilities for outreach in their community as they get to know their neighbors better.

This dream is shared by the South Philly congregations.  “My hope is that this house can be a blessing for the neighborhood,” said Melky Tirtasaputra, associate pastor at Nations Worship Center, who also served as an advisor during the search.  “We pray that the people of this house will bring change and peace to the people in that area.”

The purchase of this property not only shows conference support of Philadelphia churches, explained conference moderator John Goshow, but also provides an opportunity for the rest of the conference to partner with our South Philly congregations in building God’s kingdom, as “the entire Franconia Conference community works together to point people to Christ.”

The move will also put Cortes and Loyola closer to their church community—this was one of the appeals of the house, Tirtasaputra explained.  Members of Centro de Alabanza are excited about the move and have already been busily at work on the house, making repairs and painting.

Ten percent of Franconia Conference members live and worship in South Philadelphia, which makes it important to start investing in the neighborhood, suggested executive minister Steve Kriss.  While Centro de Alabanza is currently using the parsonage, Tirtasaputra reflected, it’s a gift to all of the South Philly congregations since, in the future, pastors from other congregations may also find themselves in need of a home.

“The Bethany House continues Franconia Conference’s tradition of mutual care for our pastors,” described Kriss.  “It will ensure healthy leadership for what has been a rapidly growing part of our conference community.”  The house was named after the village where Jesus went for rest, care, and friendship (John 12:1-8), Kriss said, “a place of gracious hospitality.”

The Conference’s decision to purchase a Philadelphia parsonage is more than just a financial gift, according to Cortes and Loyola; it also says something about the relationship that the wider conference has with its South Philadelphia brothers and sisters: “We feel like this investment is an affirmation of Franconia Conference’s confidence in our church ministry and in us.”

The pastoral couple’s hope is to move in by the end of the year and, it’s quite possible, they may even be home for Christmas.

Bethany House has been partially funded by estate gifts and individual contributions, but we still have funds to raise!  You or your congregation are invited to participate in this ministry by making a designated contribution to Franconia Conference online or by sending a check with “Bethany House” in the memo line to Franconia Mennonite Conference, 1000 Forty Foot Rd., Lansdale, PA 19446.