Tag Archives: intercultural

Learning to be a Peacemaker / Aprendiendo a ser un Pacificador

by Jennifer Svetlik, Salford congregation

Javier Márquez, IVEP’er serving with Franconia Conference

“One of my greatest dreams is to learn how I can be a peacemaker. But before I go to the peace academy, the best way for me to learn is from other communities. I want to learn about their pain, their happiness, dreams, frustrations, and concerns. So I want to learn about you,” says Javier Márquez, an intercultural communication associate with Franconia Conference this year. 

Javier is a member of Mennonite Central Committee’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP). His placement is to work with the Conference communication team and record immigrant stories. IVEP is a yearlong volunteer work and cultural exchange opportunity for young adults.  

“I have been considering this opportunity with IVEP for a long time. I am so excited to have this amazing work,” Javier shares. 

Celebrating his sister’s birthday with two of his four siblings and his parents at their apartment in Bogotá.

Javier grew up in his ancestral home of Suacha, a city in the center of Colombia. He now lives in Bogotá, the capital. He has four siblings and his family is large, “like most Latin families,” Javier says. He is part of Teusaquillo Mennonite Church in Bogotá, and he is proud of his community because they take very seriously the call to be peacemakers.

Javier has also taken this call seriously; he refused Colombia’s obligatory military conscription for young men, and in doing so entered a two year legal process. With the support of the Mennonite church in Colombia and the nonprofit organization Justapaz, Javier finally won his case as a conscientious objector. “I believe that the nonviolent path of Jesus goes beyond refusing to be a part of wars and violence but also to work for peace with passion and commitment,” Javier reflects. 

Four years ago with friends and the support of the Mennonite church and Justapaz, Javier began an activism project about becoming a conscientious objector. The group is now called CoNova and is comprised of many different kinds of young people: students, writers, nurses, DJs, lawyers, psychologists, and more. 

Javier dancing salsa with Evie, an IVEPer from Canada at Orientation in Akron.

“Colombia is the land of coffee, salsa and Vallenato music, orchids and emeralds, traditional dishes litke sancocho (soup), aguapanela (hot sugary drink), arepas (cheese and corn flour cake), ajiaco (chicken, potatoes, and corn on the cob) and bandeja paisa (fried pork belly, red beans, plantains, and more),” Javier says.  “And it is impossible not to mention that Colombia is the land of Love in the Time of Cholera (a classic novel by Gabriel García Márquez) and of Macondo (the fictional town in another famous work by García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude).”

Javier arrived in Pennsylvania in mid-August and is living in South Philadelphia. Each morning he drinks Colombian coffee and tries to read a poem in English to learn new words. He is still learning what a typical day will look like; so far he has tried to always listen with intense focus and open his eyes to everything around him so that he can understand the different ways of doing things here. 

“I have learned that the streets are too similar here; I say this jokingly because I have gotten lost twice. Never in my life have I learned so many new words, but at the same time, I’ve never been so quiet. I have learned a lot,” Javier shares. 

Javier has been visiting immigrant churches such as Centro de Alabanza, Philadelphia Praise Center, and Indonesian Light, to connect with people and write about their immigrant stories. He hopes to meet others who dance salsa, as he loves to do. When he returns to Colombia after his time with IVEP, Javier would like to work in community-oriented journalism. 


Javier Márquez, “IVEP’er” sirviendo en la Conferencia de Franconia

“Uno de mis sueños más grandes es aprender cómo puedo ser un pacificador. Pero antes de ir a la academia de paz, la mejor manera de aprender es de otras comunidades. Quiero aprender sobre su dolor, su felicidad, sueños, frustraciones y preocupaciones. Así que quiero aprender sobre ustedes”, dice Javier Márquez, un pasante de comunicaciones con la Conferencia de Franconia este año.

Javier es miembro del Programa Internacional de Intercambio de Voluntarios (IVEP) del Comité Central Menonita (MCC). Su colocación es trabajar con el equipo de comunicaciones de la Conferencia y grabar historias de los inmigrantes que son parte de la Conferencia. IVEP es una oportunidad de trabajo voluntario e intercambio cultural de un año para jóvenes adultos.

“He estado considerando esta oportunidad con IVEP por mucho tiempo. Estoy muy emocionado de tener este increíble trabajo ”, dice Javier.

Celebrando el cumpleaños de su hermana con dos de sus cuatro hermanos y sus padres en su departamento en Bogotá.

Javier creció en su hogar en el territorio ancestral de Suacha, una ciudad en el centro de Colombia. Ahora vive en Bogotá, la capital. Tiene cuatro hermanos y su familia es numerosa, “como la mayoría de las familias latinas”, dice Javier. Es parte de la Iglesia Menonita de Teusaquillo en Bogotá, y él está orgulloso de su comunidad porque se toman muy en serio el llamado a ser pacificadores.

Javier también se ha tomado muy en serio esta llamada; rechazó el reclutamiento militar obligatorio de Colombia para hombres jóvenes, y al hacerlo entró en un proceso legal de dos años. Con el apoyo de la iglesia menonita en Colombia y la organización menonita Justapaz, Javier finalmente ganó su caso como objetor de conciencia. “Creo que el camino no violento de Jesús va más allá de negarse a ser parte de guerras y violencia, sino también de trabajar por la paz con pasión y compromiso”, reflexiona Javier.

Hace cuatro años, con amigos y el apoyo de Justapaz y la iglesia menonita, Javier comenzó un proyecto de activismo para que se difundiera el conocimiento sobre el derecho a la objeción de conciencia. El grupo ahora se llama CoNova y está compuesto por muchos tipos diferentes de jóvenes: estudiantes, escritores, enfermeros, DJ, abogados/as, psicólogos/as y más.

Javier bailando salsa con Evie, un IVEPer de Canadá en Orientation en Akron.

Cuando se le preguntó qué deberíamos saber sobre su país, Javier compartió: “Colombia es la tierra del café, salsa y Vallenato, orquídeas y esmeraldas, sancocho, aguapanela, arepas, ajiaco y bandeja paisa. Y es imposible no mencionar que Colombia es la tierra de El amor en los tiempos del cólera (por Gabriel García Márquez) y de Macondo (la ciudad ficticia en otra obra famosa de García Márquez, Cien años de soledad)”.

Javier llegó a Pensilvania a mediados de agosto y vive en el sur de Filadelfia. Cada mañana toma café colombiano y trata de leer un poema en inglés para aprender nuevas palabras. Todavía está aprendiendo cómo será un día típico; hasta ahora ha tratado de escuchar siempre con un enfoque intenso y abrir los ojos a todo lo que lo rodea para poder comprender las diferentes formas de hacer las cosas aquí.

“He aprendido que las calles son muy similares aquí; Digo esto en broma porque me he perdido dos veces. Nunca en mi vida he aprendido tantas palabras nuevas, pero al mismo tiempo, nunca he estado tan callado. He aprendido mucho ”, comparte Javier.

Javier ha estado visitando iglesias de inmigrantes como el Centro de Alabanza, el Philadelphia Praise Center y Indonesian Light, para conectarse con personas y escribir sobre sus historias de inmigrantes. Espera conocer a otros que bailan salsa, como le encanta hacer. Cuando regrese a Colombia después de su tiempo con IVEP, a Javier le gustaría trabajar como periodista o comunicador social. 

Dios está presente: Presentando la Iglesia Menonita Ebenezer / God is Present: Introducing Ebenezer Mennonite Church

(scroll for English)

por Jennifer Svetlik, congregación de Salford

La Iglesia Menonita Ebenezer comenzó en junio de 1958 como parte del ministerio hispano de la Iglesia Menonita Grace en Lansdale. Se inició como una comunidad para puertorriqueños que vinieron al área a trabajar en la agricultura de verano. El Rev. Guillermo Chewing fue el primer pastor y el hermano Earl Stover también tuvo un papel vital en la obra. En 2005, la iglesia se independizó de Grace, se mudó a la Ruta 113 en Souderton con un nuevo pastor y cambió su nombre a Iglesia Menonita Ebenezer. En noviembre de 2009, la iglesia se mudó al edificio de la Iglesia Menonita de Zion donde continúan reuniéndose, con la Escuela Bíblica a las 11:00 am y adoración a al medio día los domingos.

“Dios en su misericordia ha estado presente en nuestra congregación, manifestándose con su poder y su soberanía, en medio de las pruebas en el proceso de cambios en nuestra iglesia” dice Hilda Vince’s, una líder de la iglesia, “ Hemos tenido hermanos enfermos en los cuales Dios ha manifestado su poder al darles sanación, y sentimos su Santo Espíritu en medio nuestro porque nos ha fortalecido en momentos de ver la partida de hermanos a la morada con Dios”.

Sumado, Hilda añade que gracias a la teología  “Ebenezer ha podido llegar a otras personas a nivel internacional. A pesar que la iglesia ha menguado en número de miembros por diferentes razones, el Señor ha traído nuevos miembros. Dios nos ha bendecido por estar firmes en nuestra fe en Cristo”, Hilda comparte.

La Iglesia Ebenezer había sido parte de la Conferencia del Distrito Este anteriormente, pero se fue cuando la iglesia se independizó. Ahora la iglesia desea unirse a la Conferencia de Franconia porque reconocen el valor de relacionarse y estar unidos con otras iglesias Menonitas locales.

“A través de la Conferencia podemos… adquirir recursos que nos ayudarán a crecer como iglesia y aprender de otros y sus ministerios, y aplicar estas ideas, guiadas por el Espíritu Santo, a nuestra propia iglesia”, agrega Hilda.

La Iglesia Ebenezer representa parte del trabajo ministerial inicial en la Conferencia del Distrito Este realizados con hispanohablantes. Nos complace darles la bienvenida como congregación de la Conferencia de Franconia al mismo tiempo que estamos en el proceso de reconciliación con el Distrito Este” reflexiona el ministro ejecutivo Strive Kriss y añade “Todo esto es trabajo de reconciliación, aprender de nuestra historia, honrar nuestra historia compartida y creer que Dios está llevando la congregación y las dos conferencias a realizar algo nuevo juntas haciendo algo nuevo con nosotros juntos .

“La comunidad Latinx continúa creciendo en los condados de Bucks y Montgomery, donde muchas de nuestras congregaciones han estado arraigadas por generaciones. Esperamos que con las hermanas y hermanos en Ebenezer seguiremos cultivando un vibrante testimonio anabautista y una vibrante comunidad juntos ”.


by Jennifer Svetlik, Salford congregation

Ebenezer Mennonite Church began in June 1958 as part of the Hispanic ministry of Grace Mennonite Church in Lansdale, PA. It started as a community for Puerto Ricans who came to the area to work in summer agriculture. Rev. Guillermo Chewing was the first pastor and Earl Stover also played a vital role in the church. In 2005, the church became independent from Grace, moved to Route 113 in Souderton with a new pastor, and changed its name to Ebenezer Mennonite Church. In November 2009 the church moved to the Zion Mennonite Church building in Souderton, PA, where they continue to meet, with Bible study at 11:00 am and worship at noon on Sundays. 

“God in his mercy has been present in our congregation, manifesting his power and sovereignty in the midst of trials, in the process of changes in our church,” says Hilda Vinces, a leader in the church.  “We have had sick members in which God has manifested his power by giving them healing, and we feel his Holy Spirit in our midst because he has strengthened us when church members have passed away.” 

In addition, Hilda shares, through technology, “Ebenezer has been able to reach other people internationally. Although the church has diminished in number of members for different reasons, the Lord has brought new members. God has blessed us for being firm in our faith in Christ.”

Iglesia Ebenezer had previously been a part of Eastern District but left when Grace congregation became independent. Now the church seeks to join Franconia Conference because they recognize the value of relating to and uniting with other local Mennonite Churches. 

“Through the Conference we can … acquire resources that will help us grow as a church and to learn from others and their ministries, and apply these ideas, led by the Holy Spirit, to our own church,” Hilda adds. 

Iglesia Ebenezer represents some of the initial work in Eastern District Conference ministering alongside Spanish speakers. We are glad to welcome Ebenezer as a congregation of Franconia Conference at the same time as we are in the process of reconciling with Eastern District,” Franconia’s Executive Minister Steve Kriss reflects. This is all reconciliation work, he points out—learning from shared history, honoring a shared story, and believing that God is bringing the congregation and the two conferences together to do a new thing.

The Latinx community continues to grow in Bucks and Montgomery counties where many of our congregations have been rooted for generations. We hope that with the sisters and brothers at Ebenezer, we will continue to cultivate a vibrant Anabaptist witness and community together.

God at Work on Our Vacation

by Berdine Leinbach, Souderton congregation

My husband and I bumped into God frequently as we traveled to Tanzania to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary.

His silky white beard was shaped like an Amishman’s. His skin was dark walnut. His eyes crinkled cautiously in greeting.  When the flight attendant was checking seatbelts, his body motions revealed limited neck mobility and vision issues, so I reached across and clicked in his seatbelt.

Later he struggled to put on a brand-new sneaker, which is really hard to do in an airplane seat. I unbuckled and dove under his window seat to loosen the laces and assist. Using my finger as a shoehorn felt oddly akin to foot washing.

Over the course of a long flight, multiple opportunities arose to serve him.  I felt like God had put me there on purpose. As we shared travel plans, I found he was retired professor from Bangladesh and a peace-loving Muslim. We shared our beliefs, respectfully and simply (I need more practice at that).

We prayed blessing on each other.  God was on our plane.

As we traveled along the rim of Ngorogoro Crater, the vehicle in front of us stopped. Our vehicle stopped. Just 20 feet away a huge elephant appeared out of the mist.  Our driver turned off the engine.

We watched, fascinated, as she looked at us, flapped her ears, and lifted her trunk in inquiry. A trumpet sounded from our left as another elephant appeared on that side of the road. The first one moved forward and, behind her, another younger elephant and a baby appeared, then another adult.

We were in awe of these amazing creatures, right there.  Soon the first elephant clambered down the road bank, crossed in front of our vehicle and climbed up the left side. The others soon followed.  Seconds later, nothing could be seen but mist and shrubs.

What a beautiful gift, a holy moment.  God was in creation.

Our tour company arranged for us to stop at Karatu Mennonite Church, a small outreach congregation started in 2010 by the Arusha (Mennonite) Diocese.  When we arrived, children greeted us.  We gave Pastor Peter Ojode a prayer shawl made by women from our home congregation. As I prayed aloud the prayer that goes with each shawl, I got all choked up. I sensed that this gift and prayer were aligning with something much bigger that God was already doing there.

Front row (left to right): Evangelist Nicodemus Malaki, Evangelist Meshack Shabani, Martina Victor (church treasurer), Tasiana Toway (church elder), Berdine and Steve Leinbach (Souderton congregation).  Back row (left to right): Pastor Peter Ojode (KMT Arusha), Sofia Mirobo (church elder KMT Arusha), Pastor Julius Churi (KMT Katesh), Pastor Emmanuel (General Secretary of KMT Arusha Diocese).

When the service began, my heart swelled with joy singing along to “Holy, Holy, Holy” and other songs. Thank goodness Swahili has phonetic spelling. 

When they had heard that we were coming, Pastor Emmanual Maro (general secretary of the entire diocese/conference of churches) and elder Sofia Mirobo traveled three hours on a bus from Arusha to come and translate for us, organize a brief meal, and welcome us. We are still processing the hospitality of this intercultural experience and wondering what God will do next.

Pastor Emmanuel emailed us after we returned home, “We thank God for a wonderful Sunday at KMT Karatu. We really appreciated the opportunity to exchange our views, and we do hope through our relationships with one another we are revealing the face of God to the world and advancing his kingdom in Jesus’ name.”

God is at work. May we all notice and join in.

Staying Connected as Partners in Ministry / Permaneciendo Unidos como Compañeros en Ministerio

(desplazarse por español)

by Andrés Castillo, communication intern

There is power in simply staying connected. The reborn Partners in Ministry emphasizes that.

The revival of what used to be “Partners in Mission,” according to Franconia Conference’s Leadership Minister for Missional Transformation Noel Santiago, are partnerships made between groups with similar values and visions and greatly emphasizes relationships. In the past, the relationships with Partners in Mission were mostly leader-to-leader; as a result, when leaders relocated or moved on, some of those relationships faded. In reviving Partners in Ministry, Santiago continues, the Conference is emphasizing a renewed commitment to engaging and experimenting with diverse communities, not just leaders.

Partners in Ministry with Franconia each have a staff person who can accompany them, if desired, as a coach or listening ear, to help connect them with equipping and resources, and to walk with the community during leadership transitions or times of conflict. Franconia also provides credentialing for the pastors of Partners in Ministry if they need it. Leaders from Partners in Ministry are welcome to attend equipping events, Faith & Life gatherings, and other events that may benefit them as growing Anabaptist groups.

Partners in Ministry relationships are different than Conference-Related Ministries, which include institutions such as Spruce Lake Retreat, Care & Share Thrift Shops, and Camp Men-O-Lan. A Partner in Ministry relationship is more of a connection with communities, who, many times, are on the margins (because of geography, social situation, or as a church plant) rather than established organizations.

New Hope youth and adults getting ready to go to Philadelphia to serve with Centro de Alabanza (courtesy of New Hope Fellowship Facebook page)

“Franconia Conference played an important role in the birth and continued growth of RIMI,” explains Kirk Hanger, pastor of New Hope Fellowship Church (Alexandria, VA).  “In 2003, after 11 years of church planting ministry in Mexico, they encouraged me to continue.”  Today, the RIMI Network includes around 80 churches, church plants, and ministries in 12 countries, with 28 churches and church plants in Mexico. The RIMI Network also includes a radio ministry, a short-term missions school and a leadership school affiliated with Global Disciples, a medical ministry, a prayer network, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, and a microfinance ministry working with some 4000 people in economic development in Paraguay.

Oskar Dom (2nd from L.) and Carlos Martinez Garcia (2nd from R.) of CIEAMM with leaders from Centro de Alabanza in Philadelphia

Franconia has recently renewed relationship with the Conference of Evangelical Anabaptist Mennonite Churches of México (CIEAMM) through the Partner in Ministry program.  Carlos Martinez Garcia, CIEAMM moderator, believes that partnership is essential in order to fulfill Christ’s mission in the world: “We encourage each other, the Word says, to love and do good deeds (Hebrews 10:19-25),” he explains.  “The Christian church is diverse in ability, understanding, and vision. By sharing with one another, we can grow and learn to serve better. In the mission the Lord has given us, we must not isolate ourselves, but connect in order to embed ourselves in the world…. We must try to learn from the different understandings the Lord has given others of his word, as well as how they are fulfilling their mission.”

The relationship between Franconia Conference and CIEAMM has been mutually beneficial: while CIEAMM was birthed out of Franconia mission work 60 years ago, CIEAMM has also trained leaders from Franconia congregations, including Centro de Alabanza de Philadelphia, through the Community of Anabaptist Theological Institutions (CITA).  “The fact that we interact with other organizations makes us feel like more than part of a historic relationship,” says Oskar Dom, director of the Biblical Institute of CIEAMM. “It’s good to know that we are in a position to share what we have learned in these sixty years of existence.”

Partner in Ministry relationships are not highly structured, according to Franconia’s Executive Minister Steve Kriss; many communities may have just been introduced to Mennonite theology or practice. The Partner in Ministry relationship can provide space for these communities to learn what it means to live as Anabaptists in their complex contexts.  With supportive partners, anyone can thrive. It is Santiago and Kriss’ hope that Partners in Ministry will continue to be a space for communities to interact, experiment, and get to know one another.


Permaneciendo  Unidos como Compañeros en Ministerio

Hay poder simplemente en el permanecer unidos. El renacimiento de Compañeros en Ministerio (Partners in Ministry) enfatiza eso.

El resurgimiento de lo que ha sido llamado “Compañeros en Misión,” como dice Noel Santiago, el ministro de liderazgo de transformación misional de Franconia Conference, son relaciones hechas entre grupos con valores y visiones similares que enfatizan las relaciones. A menudo en el pasado, las relaciones con Compañeros en Misión eran entre líderes. Por eso, cuando los líderes se mudaban  o se reubicaban  algunas de las relaciones se terminaban. Por eso, resucitando Compañeros en Ministerio, Santiago continúa diciendo, la Conferencia enfatiza una nueva promesa de empeñarse y experimentar con comunidades diversas, no solamente líderes.

Cada Compañero en Ministerio con Franconia tiene un miembro del personal que puede acompañarlo si quiere para actuar como un consejero, conectarlo con recursos y caminar con la comunidad durante transiciones de liderazgo o tiempos de conflicto. Franconia también provee credenciales para los pastores de Compañeros en Ministerio si lo necesitan. Los líderes de Compañeros en Ministerio son invitados para asistir a eventos para equipar, las reuniones de “Fe y Vida” (“Faith and Life”), y otras actividades que pueden beneficiar a grupos Anabautistas que están creciendo.

Las relaciones de Compañeros en Ministerio son diferentes que los Ministerios Relacionado con la Conferencia que incluyen el retiro Spruce Lake, la tienda de segunda mano Care and Share y el campamento Men-O-Lan. Un Compañero en Ministerio es más como una conexión con comunidades que a menudo son más marginados (por su localización geográfica, situación social o porque son “iglesias plantadas”) que las organizaciones establecidas .

Jóvenes y adultos de Nueva Esperanza se preparan para ir a Filadelfia para servir en el Centro de Alabanza (cortesía de la beca de Facebook de Iglesia Nueva Esperanza)

“Franconia Conference fue una parte importante en el nacimiento y progreso de RIMI,” dice Kirk Hanger que es el pastor de la Iglesia Nueva Esperanza (Alexandria, Virginia, Los Estados Unidos). “En 2003, después de 11 años de ministerio de plantar iglesias, ellos me motivaron a continuar.” Hoy, el sistema RIMI incluye aproximadamente 80 iglesias con 28 en México, iglesias plantadas  y ministerios en 12 países. El sistema RIMI también tiene un ministerio de radio, una escuela de misiones de corto plazo que es asociada a Global Disciples (Discípulos Globales), un ministerio médico, un sistema de oración, un centro de recuperación para drogas y alcohol y un ministerio de microfinanzas que trabaja con aproximadamente 4000 personas para desarrollo económico en Paraguay.

Oskar Dom (segundo desde la izquierda) y Carlos Martínez García (segundo desde la derecha) del CIEAMM con líderes del Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia

Últimamente, Franconia ha renovado su relación con la Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México (CIEAMM) a través del programa Compañeros en Ministerio. Carlos Martinez Garcia que es moderador de CIEAMM cree que la colaboración es esencial para realizar la misión de Jesús en el mundo: “Nos estimulamos unos a otros, como dice la palabra, a las buenas obras. (Hebreos 10:19-25),” el dice. “La iglesia cristiana es diversa en habilidad, entendimiento, y visión. Compartiendo unos con otros, podemos crecer y ser de más utilidad y servicio. Según la misión que el Señor nos ha dado, no debemos aislarnos. Debemos buscar la comunión para incrustarnos en el mundo que nos ha puesto… por eso es importante escuchar a otros y a otras del entendimiento que el Señor les ha dado de su palabra y como están cumpliendo la misión.

La relación entre Franconia y CIEAMM ha sido beneficiosa mutuamente: aunque CIEAMM había nacido por un trabajo misional de Franconia hace 60 años, CIEAMM también ha entrenado algunos líderes de congregaciones de Franconia, tales como Centro de Alabanza de Philadelphia, a través de Comunidad de Instituciones Teológicas Anabautistas (CITA). “El hecho de que nuestra conferencia tenga interacción con otras conferencias nos hace sentir cada vez más que parte  de una relación histórica,” dice Oskar Dom, director del instituto bíblico de CIEAMM. “Es bueno saber que nuestra conferencia ya esta en posicion de compartir lo que nosotros hemos aprendido en estos 60 años de existencia.”

En palabras del ministro executivo Steve Kriss, las relaciones de Compañeros en Ministerio no son muy definidas. Muchas comunidades puede que apenas están siendo introducidas a la teología y prácticas menonitas. La relación con Compañeros en Ministerio puede proveer oportunidades para que estas comunidades pueden aprender qué significa vivir como Anabautistas en sus contextos. Con compañeros comprensivos, cualquiera puede prosperar. Kriss y Santiago esperan que Compañeros en Ministerio  continue de ser un sitio donde comunidades pueden tener interacciòn, experimentar y llegar a conocerse.

The Details of Building Community

by Jennifer Svetlik, Salford congregation

“It is rewarding to see pastors and leaders come together to enjoy one another’s company, to network and build bridges,” Brooke Martin shares about her work as the Youth and Community Formation Coordinator with Franconia Conference. 

The community formation aspect of her job involves planning the conference’s major formation meetings and events. These events include the annual Credentialed Leaders Appreciation gathering, the Conference Related Ministry equipping meals, and leading the team that plans Fall Assembly. Brooke is also an at-large member of the Intercultural Team to keep an intercultural lens at the center of event planning. 

Brooke sees her job as playing a vital role in building community. “Noticing the details and seeing what needs to be done, then taking care of it, is energizing for me,” Brooke says. 

Brooke is also part of Youth Formation Team. In this role she is responsible for connecting with Youth Pastors in the Lansdale area, and helping to plan events that resource and equip all of Franconia’s youth leaders and youth pastors.

Prior to working for Franconia Conference, Brooke was the Interim Youth Ministry Leader for four years at Franconia Church. Brooke was thankful to have the opportunity to stay at home when her second child was born, but when it came time to start looking for work again, she was also grateful to work part-time while continuing to have time with her two children. 

“The opportunity to support the work of the Conference, utilize my gifts in administrative organization and building community, and share my passion for youth ministry while having a schedule that aligns with the needs of my children, has been a gift,” Brooke reflects.  

Brooke’s passion for youth ministry started as a teenager, when Melanie Nofziger was her high school youth pastor. Working at Camp Luz in Ohio with camp director Deb Horst was also a formative time for her, and these experiences led her to an associate degree at Hesston College in youth ministry, studying under Michele Hershberger. 

“Hearing the journeys of other women in ministry, learning from their strengths and how they face challenges in ministry, has been formational for me,” Brooke shares. 

Brooke encourages congregations to provide opportunities for young people to cultivate and meaningfully use their gifts: “Youth are the church now, not the church of the future. We need to give them the opportunity to serve now.” Part of that work is in helping youth identify their gifts and inviting them into leadership roles in the congregation, such as teaching Sunday School, serving on the sound team, as an usher, or in the nursery. 

“I’m excited to be able to meet more with youth ministers and hear their stories, their questions, and their challenges. It is an honor to be a part of empowering people in ministry and of what God is doing in the churches of our conference,” Brooke says. 

Brooke’s faith journey started young; when she was eight, she lost her brother Shaun in a car accident. “God became my sounding board because God was the one who could understand and connect with my young grief,” she remembers.  

Originally from “the cornfields of Ohio,” Brooke felt intimidated when she moved to the suburbs of Pennsylvania because she was unsure of how to build community in her new homeplace. “It’s been beautiful to learn that there is community here, even though it looks different,” she says. 

Outside of work, Brooke finds joy in dance and in parenting. Dance has been an important part of her life since she was three years old and she sees it as a way to worship God. Being a parent has allowed her to “see the world through children’s eyes and witness their pure reliance on God; it is the holiest ground I have been on,” Brooke says.

At Home, Far from Home

By Jennifer Svetlik, Salford congregation

“Even though I am far away from my home, I feel like I am home. I feel welcome and encouraged as I learn from the Franconia Conference culture and work with people from different backgrounds. We have a sense of unity and community here,” says Hendy Stevan Matahelemual, Franconia Conference’s Pastor of Formation and Communication.

Hendy in one of his favorite places: the desert!

Hendy was raised in Bandung, Indonesia, 100 miles south of the capital, Jakarta. He was educated in law and for nearly 10 years he worked in a law office as well as the music entertainment industry. After Hendy found Christ in his community, he was baptized again and made a commitment to dedicate his life to God. In 2008 he started volunteering in his church, Elshaddai Creative Community, in music ministry and leading a cell group. He got married to his wife Marina, got a promotion in his job, and felt ready to settle down. 

“My hometown is a nice city up in the mountains with great weather. Ever since I was born I always expected to stay in Bandung,” Hendy describes. 

But after the transformation in his spiritual life, Hendy felt that God wanted him to move from his city. He prayed to God to understand this feeling and had a sense that he might be called to move to Jakarta to plant a church with other members of his cell group. 

While he was still praying about it, Marina came home one day after her work as a secretary in their church, where she learned from their pastor that an Indonesian pastor in New York City was seeking someone to help do ministry there. “Well let’s go then,” Hendy replied, mostly joking. But later their pastor invited Hendy to seriously consider the idea. 

Hendy and Marina accepted this calling, and Hendy resigned from his job working in the entertainment business. But unexpectedly, for two years in a row, his visa to come to the U.S. was rejected. Patiently he worked as a pastor in their church in Bandung until his visa was finally approved. 

Hendy, Levi, Marina and Judah on a winter road trip to New Hampshire

For over two years Hendy was a pastor at Bethany Church in Queens, also providing counseling and community outreach. Hendy became acquainted with staff and pastors within Franconia Conference and began studies at Eastern Mennonite University toward an MA in Christian Leadership, which he received earlier this year. Hendy received a call to serve as the pastor of Indonesian Light Church in south Philadelphia. So Hendy, his wife Marina and their two children, Judah and Levi, moved once again. 

Hendy has also served in his conference role since May and helps to plan worship services for conference-wide events, shares stories through articles and creating videos, and supports the Conference’s social media work. Hendy is part of the new Youth Formation Team, coordinating events that offer training and resources to youth leaders and youth ministers, and he’s also a member of the Faith and Life Committee, which gathers credentialed leaders together quarterly for theological reflection and dialogue.

Additionally, Hendy serves on the conference’s Intercultural Team which provides training and resources for intercultural formation. “Revelation 7:9 provides a vision of what God wants us to be as a church,” Hendy shares. The scripture says, “There was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” Hendy says that this and other scriptures provide encouragement and a biblical base for how the church can grow and learn from each other, as people of different cultures. 

“This is complicated work; in a conference that is predominantly white, recognizing that every group has its own dominant culture at work, to redefine norms together so that every culture can have a voice, and that each church’s expression of loving God, loving people, and serving the community is lifted up,” Hendy says. 

Hendy has found the mutual transformation of his intercultural work to be a rewarding part of his Conference ministry, as he and colleagues “work together as the family of Christ, even though we come from different backgrounds.”

Hendy is excited to continue to grow in his ministry with Franconia Conference. In his spare time, he enjoys sports, swimming, and going on road trips. Recently, his family drove to MC USA Convention in Kansas City from South Philly—a 17-hour drive! 

 

A Catalyst for Transformation

By Jennifer Svetlik, Salford congregation

Chantelle Todman Moore loves it when individuals or congregations are getting curious and imaginative about what the church can look like.  She sees this work as integral to discipleship, “when people begin to think really deeply about their own identities like they’ve never had to before; this is the first step to transformation.” 

Chantelle Todman Moore is the Intercutural Leadership Coach for Franconia Conference. Over the past year and a half of her time on staff, Chantelle’s work has focused on organizing spaces and conversations for pastoral and lay leaders in the conference who are part of the “global majority,”* though not part of the majority culture of Franconia Conference. 

These conversations are opportunities to pray together, fellowship, share dreams, and express laments. A primary example is the annual Nations and Generations gathering that Chantelle is helping to organize this fall. The gathering is a time of prayer, worship, visioning, and connecting a diverse group of ministers. This year’s gathering will take place on November 1 just before Conference Assembly.

Chantelle is one of the staff leaders of the conference’s Intercultural Team, which seeks to identify what the needs and skills are in the conference for intercultural capacity, and how the conference can more effectively invest in global majority leaders. 

The work that excites Chantelle most is coaching congregations seeking to grow in intercultural capacity and become anti-racist.  Recently, the elders from Plains congregation asked the Intercultural Team to help them think through their next steps in their ongoing movement toward intercultural competency.  “I enjoy working with congregations that are ‘doing the work’ and when I can help them be a catalyst for deepening those efforts,” Chantelle shared. 

Chantelle grew up in south Florida in an Assemblies of God church and received an undergraduate degree in International Community Development and an MBA in International Economic Development. It was in graduate school at Eastern University that she encountered Anabaptism through books by Eloise Meneses as well as the work of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). She began attending Oxford Circle Mennonite with Sam, whom she later married. Chantelle was drawn to the centrality of social justice as a sign of faithfulness within Anabaptism. 

Chantelle quickly began to take leadership roles in Mennonite institutions: working as the Philadelphia Program Coordinator for MCC, serving on the board of Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) and getting involved with the Women in Leadership steering committee of MC USA to co-plan  the Women Doing Theology conferences, helping to organize the Future Church Summit at MCUSA Convention 2017, and speaking at the Hope for the Future conferences. 

Entering into the wider Mennonite Church after her experience in the intercultural reality of Anabaptism in Philadelphia was a bit of cultural whiplash, Chantelle reflected.  This is what makes her work so important.  “Jesus modeled crossing the bounds of what the world labeled as ‘other’ and we should be doing the same. Those who encountered Jesus in the scriptures were transformed but Jesus was also transformed as he crossed boundaries,” she continued. “So yes, it’s about justice and doing what’s right but, most of all, it’s about following Jesus and allowing our whole being and worldview to be transformed.” 

In addition to her work with Franconia Conference, Chantelle is the co-founder of Unlock Ngenuity, a consulting, coaching and therapy business. 

Chantelle and Sam have three daughters. When she’s not coaching and supporting individuals and communities in developing intercultural understanding, she loves to grow food through gardening and dabbling in aquaponics. 

*The term global majority seeks to recognize that the vast majority of the people in the world consider themselves non-white. 

 

Bridge Fatigue

by Chantelle Todman Moore, Intercultural Leadership Coach

(left to right) Hendy Matahelemual, Marta Castillo, and Chantelle Todman Moore, Franconia Conference’s core intercultural team.

The three people in this photo look happy and hot and we are both.

We are also tired, myself in particular.  After I arrived late to our meeting and plopped myself into my chair with a big sigh, I was immediately encouraged to get a coffee by my dear colleagues.  As our conference’s core intercultural team, we are both energized by the work and exhausted by the work.  This mix of energy and exhaustion is part of what it means to be a bridge person or to be doing intercultural bridge work.

What is a bridge person or bridge work, you ask?  Let me unpack this further. First, it would be helpful to define the term “intercultural.” I like the definition given by the Spring Institute:

Intercultural describes communities in which there is a deep understanding and respect for all cultures. Intercultural communication focuses on the mutual exchange of ideas and cultural norms and the development of deep relationships. In an intercultural society, no one is left unchanged because everyone learns from one another and grows together.

There’s another helpful description of intercultural on the conference website. The thing I want to underscore is that to be intercultural is to be grounded in mutual transformation and, if you have ever experienced transformation, you know that it includes work and disruption.

Part of deepening your intercultural work is beginning to function as a bridge between two or more cultural realities or groups. One of my mentors, Dr. Calenthia Dowdy, so wisely told me that one of the challenges of being a bridge person is being walked on by both sides. I would also add that, much like an actual bridge, a bridge person carries and holds a lot of tensions within intercultural work and settings. We are often the ones in the room who first notice the ways we are talking past or at each other, the need for a cultural or linguistic translator, and the creative insight and energies needed to co-create new ways of being together.

Being a bridge person comes with its frustrations and joys; it is at times exhilarating and, when it all comes together, it is a beautiful mosaic. Other times it is disorienting, the challenge of staying firmly grounded in your own sense of identity while being open to and creating spaces for mutual transformation across cultures. My encouragement and reminder for myself and anyone embarking on intercultural work is to tend to your fatigue; don’t try to keep pushing yourself when you are clearly at your limits. 

Here are some signs that you might be experiencing “bridge fatigue” and some ideas on how to restore yourself:

  • Sign: Increase in frustration and irritability and a decrease of enjoying intercultural spaces/work. Restore: Spend time with an intercultural colleague/friend who can encourage and commiserate with you; reconnect to an aspect of your own culture that you value and enjoy; rest—take a break from the work so that you can return with energy.
  • Sign: Increase in apathy or lethargy about the need for and your role as a bridge work/people. Restore: Listen to a podcast or music or read a book or article that celebrates the multi-hued tapestry of humanity and inspires your values for diversity, inclusion, and an intercultural society. REST. Engage something that brings you pleasure just by its existence. 
  • Sign: Increased disconnect between your spirituality and your intellect. This type of spirit and mind/body duality encourages us to see our intercultural work as merely an intellectual exercise instead of as a holistic transformative process. It also cuts off our ability to ground our intercultural work in ways that nourish and replenish us.  Restore: Create a rhythm that ensures time to connect your faith and spiritual life to the interpersonal and systemic intercultural work; take time for practices that ground you in your faith, whether that be prayer, working in your garden, cooking, creating art, or reading a sacred text. 

How to Pray for our New Churches

by Jeff Wright, Leadership Minister

“I desire, then, that in every place [we] should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument…” – 1 Timothy 2.8 (NRSV)

Franconia Conference is amid a lot of transition.  New congregations from across the US are aligning with the traditional core of Franconia congregations in Eastern Pennsylvania.  A merger with Eastern District is in process.  Churches from California and perhaps even Florida are joining the conference or at least exploring relationships.  Ties with international partners are expanding.  These are wonderful days to be a part of this historic body of believers.

Of course, the challenge is always one of communication across the human barriers of language, culture, and geography. Those from the center of conference life in Eastern Pennsylvania might wonder, “What can I do to encourage this growing movement?” It might sound trite, but I believe our prayers are the most powerful and effective offering we can make on behalf of the new expressions of Church that God is aligning with us in Franconia Conference. 

So, how ought we to pray for these new and emerging Franconia Conference congregations?

Wayne Nitzsche (right) prays for Jessica Miller at her installation service, November 2016

First, pray in the simple language of the Lord’s prayer that the Kingdom of God will come to Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Sarasota, Tampa, San Francisco, Mexico City, and elsewhere, just like it does in Souderton and Harleysville and Heaven.  In every place, God is at work.  Knowing that a dedicated band of Jesus-followers are simply praying, “Thy Kingdom Come…” is an amazing encouragement. 

Second, as you pray, remember that many of our new Franconia congregations have experienced significant trauma in recent years.  For example, the church in California came to Franconia out of a painful process.  Furthermore, they live with a constant anxiety regarding immigration status—even though most of our California members hold legal standing in the US.  Other new congregations aligning with Franconia have also experienced trauma of various kinds.  Praying for healing and increased empathy are gifts of hope for our new congregations.

Third, when you pray, be open to the changes God is putting in front of you.  Restoring the 175-year rift between churches in Eastern Pennsylvania will be transformation for Franconia Mennonite Conference.  A new name for this God-movement is coming.  As a conference of churches, we speak many languages.  While, in my experience, Franconia has done an outstanding job in learning to be intercultural and multi-linguistic, we still have room for growth.  New congregations from across the country and around the world will change the way we do church in our local congregation—and that is a blessing!  May we receive it as such.

Finally, pray for our pastors.  A small team of three friends, who encourage me in my work as a Leadership Minister (and pray for me in my role!), join with me in praying each day for a different Franconia Conference pastor that I am privileged to walk with in ministry.  We pray for their health and well-being.  We pray for their marriages and their families.  We pray for them to be resilient and tough.  We pray for them to be tender and broken.  It is the singular honor of my work to offer regular and sustained intercession for the pastors I serve with in Franconia Conference.  Your intercessions on behalf of the pastors and the staff of Franconia Conference are a treasured gift.

Perhaps in our postmodern, busy, overscheduled, hyperactive world, prayer has become a relic of a season past and gone from us.  I hope not!  May we, as an old/new conference of churches from New England, to Florida, to California, and beyond, be linked together by the simple, powerful proposition of praying for one another.

Standing in the Gap at the Border and at Home

by Emily Ralph Servant, Director of Communication

For the last month, Philadelphia Praise Center pastor Aldo Siahaan has been reminding his congregation of their rights during each Sunday morning worship service.

In expectation of, and response to, a recent wave of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids, immigrants in Philadelphia and other US cities—both documented and not—are living in fear.  “I’ve been like them,” reflects Siahaan, who migrated to the United States in 1998 after riots in Indonesia: “I know what they feel like, living like this.”

Questions and concern around immigration have become increasingly important for members of Franconia Conference, which has seen a increase in immigrant congregations over the past decade.  Currently, close to fifteen percent of the conference are first-generation immigrants, many coming from Indonesia, Mexico, Tanzania, Myanmar, Hong Kong, and India.

Some of Franconia’s Latin brothers and sisters originally entered the US by way of the southern border.  Recent news reports have highlighted tragic conditions in detention camps there, where some families are separated, and others are turned away before they can even apply for asylum.  Many Franconia congregations have been asking what they can do to help.

A Direct Response

MCC is collecting Immigrant Detainee Care Kits with supplies that will provide immigrants who are being released from detainment centers along the US’ southern border with basic hygiene supplies. Photo provided by MCC Central States.

“Having been to the border several years ago to see key Mennonite partners there, I recognize that there are some basic practical needs that people require after they’ve been released from detention,” reflects Franconia’s executive minister Steve Kriss.  Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is meeting some of these needs by making and distributing Immigrant Detainee Care Kits.  “The kit response feels hands-on and important as the kind of thing Mennonites do to directly respond to human needs,” observes Kriss.

In order to provide additional kits, Franconia’s board has allocated a $5000 grant to match contributions from Franconia and Eastern District congregations to the MCC East Coast’s Material Resource Center (MRC) in Harleysville, PA.   The MRC will make the care kits to send for distribution in Texas and New Mexico through MCC Central States.  The grant will also match gifts given by Franconia congregations to MCC West Coast for transporting kits distributed in California and Arizona.  The deadline for matching is August 31.

Already at Work

Even as Franconia and Eastern District congregations raise financial support around the border crisis, we remember that the struggle continues closer to home. “We ARE immigrant communities,” Kriss acknowledges.  “We are communities that are responding on a regular basis to the challenges of receiving people who are seeking safety and asylum in places across the country.”  Many pastors in our congregations are regularly responding to crises of migration, he observes.  In these cases, these are not programs of the church; they are pastoral responses to real needs in our communities.

The border fence between Tijuana and California adjoins a city neighborhood and is covered in lively artwork and graffiti. Photo by Steve Kriss.

When a large migrant caravan began making its way through Mexico in 2018, the Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México (CIEAMM), a Franconia Partner in Ministry, decided to open their arms and hearts to the “temporary refugees” in Mexico by providing aid.  “We take seriously the teaching of Jesus, who invites us to the [kind of] love and solidarity that feeds the hungry, dresses the naked, gives water to the thirsty, protects the helpless, takes care of the sick, and visits the incarcerated,” described moderator Carlos Martínez García at Mennonite World Conference’s Renewal 2019 event in Costa Rica.  “We did a work of compassion, putting ourselves in the place of needy migrants, and acting to bring some accompaniment and comfort.” (Read his full remarks.)

Fernando Loyola and Letty Cortes pastor Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, a congregation of Latinx immigrants, and have seen a recent wave of immigrants from Guatemala arriving in their neighborhood.  Their congregation provides food, clothing, funds, and help navigating the new American culture.  They refer families to immigration lawyers and to Juntos, a community-led immigrant non-profit that fights for human rights in South Philly.

Philadelphia Praise Center has been renovating its building to become a sanctuary church, where immigrants fearing deportation can live safely during ICE raids.  Siahaan has walked with many individuals and families who need help navigating the complex legal channels involved in applying for visas or green cards.  Just this last week, he was called to help someone from the community who was picked up in an ICE raid.

Unfortunately, once someone has been detained by ICE, there isn’t much that can be done, he explains—within a couple of weeks, they’ll be deported.  The need is greater before that happens; what immigrants need most, he suggests, is for their Franconia brothers and sisters to be their voice: “Call or write to your congressperson and say, ‘Hey, you need to do something about this situation, these immigration raids!’”

Advocacy to Prevent Tragedy

Advocacy work includes contacting representatives on both state and national levels.  Steve Wilburn, teaching pastor at Covenant Community congregation in Lansdale, PA, has been involved with International Justice Mission (IJM) since he traveled to Cambodia and Vietnam in seminary and saw IJM’s work in battling human trafficking.  Currently, he’s partnering with IJM to advocate for the “Central American Women and Children Protection Act of 2019,” which is legislation that commits US funds, in partnership with the governments of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, to help them restore their justice systems in order to protect women and children from abuse.  Several Franconia Conference leaders have signed a letter in support of this legislation.

Most US government efforts in those countries have been focused on drugs and gang violence, Wilburn explains, but that doesn’t help protect children and women: “Those are some of the reasons that people are leaving and trying to escape violence there, becoming refugees,” he says.  Most would rather stay home if home were a safe place for them and their children.

Real People, Real Suffering

Siahaan recently went on an MCC borderlands tour to meet migrants and see the situation for himself.  On his trip, he met a young mother with two children who were waiting to apply for asylum.  They had fled Colombia after her husband had been shot by a gang.

It was eye-opening for Siahaan.  He had read books and heard stories but meeting real people on the border face-to-face affirmed for him that the work the South Philly congregations were doing mattered.  It encouraged him to keep going.

Beny Krisbianto, pastor of Nations Worship Center in Philadelphia, is a member of the conference executive board.  The decision to allocate the funds for the matching grant was easy for him when he considered the children who are daily affected by both the “border crisis” and the local ICE raids.  It’s not a political issue, he emphasizes, but a call to care for real children who had no control over the decision to come in the first place.  “These are real people, who are already here, who are suffering and may die,” he says.  “These kits will help.”

His congregation supports conference advocacy for migrants at the southern border because they, too, are daily experiencing the fear and uncertainty of the country’s broken immigration system.  It’s not just a story you see on CNN or ABC News, he reminds the conference community; for immigrants in South Philadelphia, “It’s our everyday life.”

Ways to Help

  • Pray for migrants on the southern border, for immigrants living in our communities, and for those who are working alongside them for health, healing, and wholeness. Pray for just immigration laws, merciful immigration practices, and a path to citizenship that will keep families together.
  • To receive a matching grant for the making and/or transporting of Immigrant Detainee Care Kits, send checks labeled “Immigrant Detainee Care Kits” directly to the MCC Material Resource Center of Harleysville, 737 Hagey Center Drive, Unit C, Souderton, PA 18964 OR directly to West Coast MCC Office, 1010 G Street, Reedley, CA 93654. For West Coast donations only: email Conrad Martin (ccmartin@franconiaconference.org) at the conference office with the date and amount of the gift.  Deadline for matching funds is August 31.
  • Read the Churchwide Statement on the Abuse of Child Migrants passed at Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City (July 2019) and Carlos Martínez García’s full reflection on CIEAMM’s ministry caring for some of the migrants traveling through Mexico.
  • Advocate with your legislators to support asylum seekers and the American Dream and Promise Act and to restrict ICE raids.
  • Sign a faith leaders’ letter of support for the “Central American Women and Children Protection Act of 2019” or become an IJM volunteer by contacting Steve Wilburn at swilburn@ijmvolunteers.org. Register for a 2-day advocacy summit in Washington D.C. in October.
  • A significant focus of MCC East Coast’s domestic work is related to immigration advocacy: in Miami, through the New York Mennonite Immigration Program, and in direct services to those who have been trying to find a legal pathway to stay in the US. Find out moreWest Coast MCC is in the process of offering “Know Your Rights” trainings for Franconia’s West Coast congregations.