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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
by Aldo Siahaan, Leadership Minister, with Chantelle Todman Moore, Intercultural Coach
We walked silently through the streets of South Philadelphia.
Pastor Joshua and Anita So from San Francisco and I focused on praying for the people and for the city. No interruption of cell phones. No chatting. We built our relationship with one another through our prayer. It was a dream come true for me.
A couple of years ago, when I was representing Franconia Conference on the board of Mennonite Central Committee, we held a gathering where the people of color who served on the board could talk and share our thoughts.
After this wonderful experience, I dreamed that we could do something similar for leaders of color in Franconia Conference to strengthen our relationships with one another and think together about how we could participate and experience inclusion more in the life of the conference. On November 1, 2018, this dream became reality.
The Renewing Nations & Generations gathering met at Nations Worship Center (NWC) in Philadelphia for an afternoon and evening of prayer, worship, visioning, and connecting a diverse group of ministers, some of whom identify as Chinese, Indonesian, Mexican, Black, and persons of color within Franconia Conference. For the first time, ministers of color in Franconia Conference had a space to hear from each other as we listened to the Holy Spirit together.
Beny Krisbianto (NWC), Kiron Mateti (Plains Mennonite Church), Marina Stevan (Indonesian Light Church), and Emmanuel Villatoro (Philadelphia Praise Center) took turns leading worship in English, Indonesian, and Spanish. It was a taste of heaven as people from different nations sang together in different tongues.
We played together, laughing as we tried to draw portraits of one another. We connected over Indonesian and Mexican foods. Those of us who arrived feeling tentative or shy found courage as we made new friends and discovered that this was a safe space to be honest about our experiences in the past and our desires for the future.
We spent time in small groups, discussing our hopes, dreams, and fears. What makes us excited about the future of the Church and our conference? What are our dreams for our communities, our congregations, and our conference? What do we lament? How could our conference invest in young millennial leaders and credentialed ministers of color? Our conversations were only the beginning, but it was a good start for ministers of color to get to know each other and dream together.
We ended the day with a hope that this could become an annual event and a commitment to value one another across generational differences: seeing and honoring our elders as we love and respect emerging leaders, co-laboring together, with God, in the mission of the Church.
As we continue our ministry in Franconia Conference in the days and months to come, I hope that all of our brothers and sisters will see that the presence of ministers of color and ethnic churches are a gift from God. These gifts are deeply needed to complete the work that God is doing in our conference and in our world.
por Marta Castillo – Conferencia de Franconia Ministra de Liderazgo de la Formación Intercultural
Cuando yo era niña, vivimos en Indonesia. Me gustaba mucho la celebración de Navidad allá en el pueblo. Nos levantábamos en la mañana para ir a la iglesia, a escuchar la palabra de Dios, y a cantar las canciones de Navidad y juntos comer dulces de arroz con café. En la tarde, saliamos con todo el pueblo para jugar fútbol, voleibol, correr y ganar premios. Allá era caliente y podíamos salir a celebrar en las calles con los demás. Alla nadie tenía la costumbre ni el dinero para comprar regalos para su familia. Me recuerdo que mi mamá quería apartar tiempo para abrir regalos en familia siguiendo la tradición de los EEUU, pero nosotros (mi hermano y yo) queríamos estar con nuestros amigos en la comunidad.
Ahora que vivo aquí en los EEUU, la cultura de Navidad es muy diferente. La mayoría de las familias celebran entre familia. El frío nos impide salir a celebrar en las calles con la comunidad. Hay muchas expectativos promocionadas en las redes sociales y la mezcla de tradiciones de Santa Claus, arbolitos, regalos y decoraciones. Las iglesias tienen servicios y celebran la Navidad con canciones y con la palabra de Dios en los días antes del día de Navidad.
De mis hermanos latinos aqui en EEUU, he aprendido algunas canciones de Navidad que me hacen recordar la importancia de celebrar la cultura navideña cristiana.
//Que bueno llego la navidad// Trayendo paz y alegría.
//Cristo es la navidad Y el que tiene a Cristo, Tiene alegría.//
La paz y la alegría vienen de Dios a través de Cristo Jesús. Hay cosas bonitas en todas las culturas. Podemos mezclar e intercambiar las celebraciones culturales de Navidad si no intercambiamos a Jesucristo por ninguna de ellas.
“De Cristo es la Navidad, El mundo te ofrece engaño, No cambies a Jesucristo, Por fiesta del Fin de Año, El te ha dado paz, no cambies a Cristo en la Navidad.
El propósito de la Navidad es adorar a Dios y darle gracias por el regalo de Jesús y la salvación.
//Que bonito es cantar al Señor en la Navidad.//
//Hermanos, vamos a cantarle! Que bonito es cantar al Señor en la Navidad.//
by Marta Castillo – Franconia Conference Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation
When I was a girl, we lived in Indonesia. I really enjoyed the Christmas celebration we had in the village. We got up in the morning to go to church, to hear the word of God, sing Christmas songs, and eat rice cakes and drink coffee together. In the afternoon, the whole village played soccer and volleyball, ran races and won prizes. It was hot there and we could go out to celebrate in the streets with others. Nobody had the tradition or the money to buy gifts for their families. I remember that my mom wanted to set time to open gifts as a family like our tradition here in the US. My brother and I loved being with our friends in the community.
Now that I live here in the US, the Christmas culture is very different. The cold weather prevents us from going out to celebrate in the streets in the community. Most families celebrate within family units. There are many expectations promoted in social media and the mix of US traditions of Santa Claus, trees, gifts, and decorations. The churches often have services and celebrate Christmas with songs and the word of God in the days before Christmas Day.
From my Latin brothers here in the US, I have learned Christmas songs that remind me of the importance of celebrating the Christian Christmas culture.
Song translation – “How Good is Christmas, Bringing peace and joy,
Christ is Christmas and He who has Christ has joy.”
Peace and joy come from God through Jesus Christ. There are beautiful traditions in all cultures. We can mix and exchange the cultural celebrations of Christmas if we do not exchange Jesus Christ for any of them.
Song translation – “Christ is Christmas, The world offers you deception,
Do not exchange Jesus Christ, For the New Year’s party,
He has given you peace, do not exchange Christ at Christmas.
The purpose of Christmas is to worship God and give thanks to God for the gift of Jesus and salvation.
// How beautiful it is to sing to the Lord at Christmas time//
// Brothers and sister, let’s sing to God ! How beautiful it is to sing to the Lord at Christmas time.//
by Sharon Williams, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, with Carrie Hagen
One hundred years ago, the Franconia Mennonite Conference planted its first mission in Norristown, Pennsylvania. The Norristown Mission began with an awareness that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for all people. Today, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life Mennonite Church draws from twelve different countries. Earlier this fall, Norristown New Life was honored as the first Mennonite congregation accepted into The National Fund for Sacred Places, a national historic preservation grant-making program launched by the Lilly Endowment. Norristown New Life was one of 13 congregations selected from a field of 178 for the 2018–19 cohort.
Norristown New Life’s capital campaign, “Enlarging Our Place in God’s World,” includes the restoration of its 1907 Gothic Revival building, located in Norristown’s historic district, one block from the county courthouse. Built from Valley Forge marble, the sanctuary features two large stained glass windows and seventeen smaller ones. In addition to restoring the windows, the building needs stone pointing, new flooring, a new roof, interior and exterior painting, and HVAC work. Norristown New Life also seeks to make the meetinghouse more accessible to those with physical disabilities by installing new restrooms and an elevator.
The congregation purchased the historic Bethany United Methodist Church building for its meetinghouse in 1990, when three independent Mennonite congregations—First Mennonite, Bethel Mennonite, and Fuente de Salvación—came together to form Nueva Vida Norristown New Life Mennonite Church.
Since 1990, three associate pastors representing the three major ethnic groups represented in the church body—Hispanic, African American, and Caucasian— share all pastoral duties. This leadership system of power-sharing is Anabaptist, a key commitment for the congregation’s leadership model. Bilingual worship services are shared in English and in Spanish.
The National Fund for Sacred Places team, says Director Chad Martin, was struck not only by the congregation’s history of interracial and intercultural membership and leadership but also by its community ministries.
Norristown New Life has developed partnerships with Precious Life Childcare Center, the Montgomery County Association for the Blind, Narcotics Anonymous, and the county’s addiction counseling services. It operates a discipleship housing ministry for single women and trains adults and youth in restorative justice practices utilized by the school district. At the photo ID clinic held in the congregation’s youth center, trained volunteers assist people with the paperwork and money orders they need to acquire state-issued IDs, birth certificates, and Social Security cards in order to obtain jobs, medical services, bank accounts, and apartment rentals.
Prior to its admittance into the National Fund, the congregation had raised over $500,000 of their capital campaign’s $2 million target. Its goal now is to leverage the highest matching grant offered by The National Fund—$250,000—as part of the effort to raise the remaining $1.5 million. The grant requires 2:1 matching funds of $500,000.
Acceptance in the National Fund program, says Pastor Ertell Whigham, is a gift for Norristown New Life’s mission to serve its community.
“As ambassadors of reconciliation, the gift of this grant enables our congregation to offer our place of worship as a continued presence for community partnerships, service, commitment, and hope.”
To learn more about Enlarging Our Place in God’s World or contribute to Norristown New Life’s capital campaign, CLICK HERE.