Tag Archives: intercultural

The Beauty of an Intercultural Childhood

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

by Andres Castillo, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


La Belleza de una Niñez Intercultural

por Andres Castillo, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The One Who Knocks

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

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

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

I’ve seen refugees before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Home for Christmas

by Emily Ralph Servant, Interim Director of Communication

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating Nations and Generations in South Philly

by Aldo Siahaan, Leadership Minister, with Chantelle Todman Moore, Intercultural Coach

We walked silently through the streets of South Philadelphia.

Pastors and leaders gather after the prayer walk.

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.

Hendy Stevan, pastor at Indonesian Light Church, and Chantelle Todman Moore, Franconia Conference Intercultural Leadership Coach

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.

 

Culturas Navideñas/Christmas Cultures

(English below)

Culturas Navideñas

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.//

Christmas Cultures

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.//

Feliz Navidad!


Selamat Hari Natal!

Norristown Congregation to Receive Sacred Places Grant

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.  

 

A Community of Sisters for the Journey/Una Comunidad de Hermanas en el Camino

By Marta Castillo, Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation

She thought for a moment then pulled off her bright pink scarf and laid it down in the rough form of a cross on the narrow space between the beds.  Then she instructed one of us to go outside and get some dirt to place by the cross.  The two symbols, the bright pink cross and the dirt lay there together as a powerful visual of life, death, salvation, and freedom.  We began to pray, attentive to the Spirit and to our sister, as she talked, wept, and prayed through a process letting go of the crippling guilt she carried after her father’s death five years before.  We anointed her with oil and with our prayers of blessings, believing that the power of Jesus would bring transformation and freedom in her life and walk with God.  I suppose we could have listened to her story and prayed for her without the symbols but there was power in the visual and physical additions to the accompaniment of her sisters. This is one story of many from a powerful weekend of sisters walking alongside one another. 

During the weekend of the Cuidandonos Entre Mujeres (Sister Care) Retreat attended by 72 women from 15 congregations, Pastor Ofelia Garcia filled our hearts and minds with powerful teaching through shared activities and symbols.  We walked in each other’s’ shoes, determined the boundaries of our personal space, and committed ourselves to caring for each other in the safety, wisdom and confidentiality of the red tent (a symbolic place of sisterhood and caring for each other we used throughout the weekend).  On Saturday night, we dressed up, celebrated our beauty as women, decorated crowns, and then gave our uniquely created crown to a sister in Christ with words of affirmation and blessing.  Then on Sunday morning, we celebrated communion together and in a ceremony of blessing we blessed one another.  I was reminded of how Jesus used parables, symbols, and ceremony to deeply root the truth in people’s hearts and minds.  The holistic ministry of teaching and practice using our spirit, mind, and body will leave an impact greater than teaching alone. 

This was the first all-Spanish SisterCare Retreat held in the United States. It was more than we had hoped for, a true experience of the joy of seeing God’s Spirit going above and beyond what we could have hoped for or imagined.  Since our own training in Sister Care (in Spanish) with Mennonite Women USA last year, Pastor Letty Castro of Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, and I had dreamed of an event where Spanish-speaking women in Franconia and Eastern District could come, relax, share their stories, pray together, and receive teaching about healing and self-care.  It was truly a team effort.  Pastor Ofelia Garcia agreed to come from Mexico City to be the speaker since she helped develop and present Sister Care materials in many places. Franconia Conference agreed to support our efforts to reach women within the churches of the conference and Eastern District.  Congregations like Zion, Salford, Doylestown, Centro de Alabanza, and Nueva Vida Norristown New Life supported us with scholarships for women to attend.  Pastors helped to get the word out to their Spanish speaking members.  A group from Centro de Alabanza worked hard to bring the program and details together.  Staff from Spruce Lake Retreat Center supported us through the registration process and retreat planning. 

Within hours of being together, women from over fifteen different churches and at least ten different countries were sharing with a depth that took us by surprise.  When we shared in small groups, we heard stories of parental and spousal abandonment, verbal, physical, sexual abuse, marriage difficulties, un-forgiveness, anger, loss of a child, and so much more.  We heard faith stories of God’s grace and love reaching down to bring forgiveness, freedom, healing, hope, love, and a future.   We cried, we smiled, we laughed, we hugged, and we listened.  We were encouraged not to give counsel or advice unless it was asked for specifically so we listened some more and we prayed for ourselves and for each other.  The space felt safe and we surrendered ourselves to the experience and the community.

The invitation was extended and the women came.  We enjoyed the beauty of the mountains, trees, and God’s creation.  We stepped away from our work, homes, families, and responsibilities to care for ourselves and others women like us.  We shared deeply and encouraged each other.  As we left and went home, we will continue to invite each other to “Come, walk with us. The journey is long.” 

Luke 10:27 (NIV)  He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Por Marta Castillo, Ministro de Liderazgo en Formacion Intercultural

La pastora pensó por un momento, luego se quitó la bufanda rosada brillante y la tendió en forma de una cruz en el espacio estrecho entre las camas. Luego, ella nos pidió a una de nosotras que saliera y consiguiera algo de tierra para colocar junto a la cruz. Los dos símbolos, la cruz de color rosada brillante y la tierra yacen juntos como una poderosa imagen de la vida, la muerte, la salvación y la libertad. Comenzamos a orar, atentas al Espíritu y a nuestra hermana, mientras ella hablaba, lloraba y oraba para dejar ir la culpa paralizante que llevaba después de la muerte de su padre cinco años antes. La ungimos con aceite y con nuestras oraciones de bendición, creyendo que el poder de Jesús traería transformación y libertad en su vida y caminaría con Dios. Supongo que podríamos haber escuchado su historia y haber orado por ella sin los símbolos, pero había poder en las adiciones físicas y visuales al acompañamiento de las hermanas.  Esta es una historia entre muchas historias de un fin de semana poderoso de hermanas acompañando una a la otra. 

Durante el primer retiro (solamente en español) de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres asistieron 72 mujeres de 15 congregaciones, la Pastora Ofelia García llenó nuestros corazones y mentes con una enseñanza poderosa a través de actividades y símbolos compartidos. Caminamos en los zapatos de los demás, determinamos los límites de nuestro espacio personal y nos comprometimos a cuidarnos mutuamente en la seguridad, la sabiduría y la confidencialidad de la tienda roja (un lugar simbólico de hermandad y cuidando una a la otra que usamos durante el fin de semana).  El sábado por la noche, nos vestimos, celebramos nuestra belleza como mujeres, decoramos coronas y luego entregamos nuestra corona de creación única a una hermana en Cristo con palabras de afirmación y bendición. Luego, el domingo por la mañana, celebramos juntas la comunión y nos bendijimos mutuamente con una ceremonia de bendición. Recordé cómo Jesús usó parábolas, símbolos y ceremonias para enraizar profundamente la verdad en los corazones y las mentes de las personas. El ministerio holístico de enseñanza y práctica que usa nuestro espíritu, mente y cuerpo dejará un impacto mayor que la enseñanza sola.

Fue más de lo que esperábamos, una verdadera experiencia de la alegría de ver al Espíritu de Dios ir más allá de lo que podríamos haber esperado o imaginado. Desde nuestro taller de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres (Sister Care) con las Mujeres Menonitas EEUU el año pasado, la pastora Letty Castro de Centro de Alabanza, Filadelfia y yo habíamos soñado con un evento en que las mujeres de habla hispana en Franconia y el Distrito Este pudieran venir, relajarse, compartir sus historias, orar juntas y recibir enseñanza sobre la curación y el cuidado personal. Fue realmente un esfuerzo de equipo. La pastora Ofelia García aceptó venir de la ciudad de México para ser la presentadora porque ella había apoyado el desarrollo de los materiales de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres y tenía mucha experiencia en presentarlos en diferentes países. La Conferencia de Franconia acordó apoyar nuestros esfuerzos para alcanzar a las mujeres dentro de las iglesias de la conferencia y el Distrito Este. Congregaciones como Zion, Salford, Doylestown, Centro de Alabanza y Nueva Vida Norristown New Life nos apoyaron con becas. Los pastores ayudaron a correr la voz a sus miembros que hablan español. Un grupo del Centro de Alabanza trabajó duro para reunir el programa y los detalles. El personal del Spruce Lake Retreat Center nos apoyó a través del proceso de registro y la planificación del retiro.

A las pocas horas de estar juntas, setenta y dos mujeres de más de quince iglesias diferentes y al menos diez países diferentes compartían con una profundidad que nos sorprendió. Cuando compartimos en pequeños grupos, escuchamos historias de abandono de padres y cónyugues, abuso verbal, físico, sexual, dificultades matrimoniales, falta de perdón, enojo, pérdida de un hijo y mucho más. Escuchamos historias de fe de la gracia y el amor de Dios que se acercan para traer perdón, libertad, sanidad, esperanza, amor y un futuro. Lloramos, sonreímos, reímos, nos abrazamos y escuchamos. Nos animaron a no dar consejos ni sugerencias a menos que se pidiera específicamente, así que escuchamos un poco más y oramos por nosotras mismas y por los demás. El espacio se sintió seguro y nos entregamos a la experiencia y la comunidad.

Se extendió la invitación y llegaron las mujeres. Disfrutamos de la belleza de las montañas, los árboles y la creación de Dios. Nos alejamos de nuestro trabajo, hogares, familias y responsabilidades para cuidarnos a nosotras mismas y a otras mujeres iguales que nosotras. Compartimos profundamente y nos animamos mutuamente. Cuando nos fuimos y regresamos a casa, continuaremos invitándonos mutuamente a “Ven, camina con nosotros. El viaje es largo.”

Lucas 10:27 (NVI) ….“Ama al Señor tu Dios con todo tu corazón, con todo tu ser, con todas tus fuerzas y con toda tu mente”, y: “Ama a tu prójimo como a ti mismo”

Encouragement in the Bay

by Jerrell Williams, Associate for Leadership Cultivation

Joshua So, pastor of San Francisco Chinese Mennonite Church, second from left, along with his wife, Anita So, with Steve Kriss, Leadership Minister Jeff Wright, and Jerrell Williams. 

(Reprinted with permission from The Mennonite)

This past week I got the chance to accompany Steve Kriss, Franconia Mennonite Conference executive minister, and Jeff Wright, Franconia Conference Leadership minister, on a trip to San Francisco to visit San Francisco Chinese Mennonite Church (SFCMC). This is a Cantonese-speaking congregation of around 35 members that is considering joining Franconia Mennonite Conference.

After worship, we talked with Pastor Joshua about his expectations of Franconia Conference and how he envisioned the relationship. The theme of encouragement came up repeatedly. Pastor Joshua wanted encouragement and support from Franconia Conference. He wanted to know if Franconia Conference would be in relationship with his church and continue to encourage the members, even though they are far away. If it joins Franconia Conference, SFCMC would be the only Cantonese-speaking congregation in the conference. We attended worship with the congregation and spent a day with Pastor Joshua and Anita, his wife, in the Bay area. The congregation was lively and hospitable; everyone greeted us when we came. We met several members of the congregation during lunch and heard their stories and experiences in the United States.

This experience showed me the importance of encouragement for churches. SFCMC has felt alone for a long time. Its biggest request from us on this trip was that we check in with them and encourage them. Whether we’re there physically or we send them a text on a Sunday morning, they want to know we are praying for them and thinking of them.

Worship at San Francisco Chinese Mennonite Church.

 

Hearing of the needs of this congregation made me think of Paul and how he wrote letters to different churches. These letters sometimes were ones of correction for when the church lost its way, but many of them included words of encouragement to congregations. Paul saw it as important to send encouragement to the church whenever he got the chance.

All churches at times need support and encouragement from other churches. Franconia Conference can play a huge role in encouraging and connecting its congregations. Being a conference isn’t only about keeping churches in order or in line. Most of the work is being willing to be present with them. Churches need to know they are being prayed for, thought of and loved. Sometimes a reminder is all we need.

A Journey Towards Intercultural Engagement

by Mike Clemmer, Leadership Minister

One of the priorities of Franconia Conference as put forth in 2012, is to be more focused in our congregational work on intercultural engagement. Specifically, as stated on our website, it is “networking and cultivating intercultural ministry relationships that work cross-culturally while building further capacity toward mutually-beneficial relationships among ministries and congregations.” I wondered, as I read this statement, “How are we doing at that?”

My mind goes to the early church in Acts. They modeled this same type of intercultural engagement that is envisioned by our Conference leaders. Along the way, the Church in Acts experienced some messiness and struggled in areas of communication, arrogance, and life practice as they worked at developing mutually-beneficial relationships that cared for people of all cultures equally. Indeed, they were aided greatly by an amazing filling of the Holy Spirit, but as they engaged with their call to make disciples of all nations, the result was that the church grew quickly. Is the church in Acts an accurate model as to what our intercultural engagement in Franconia Conference is supposed to look like?

There is no doubt that the make-up of our Conference has changed dramatically in the past several decades. We are becoming more and more urban, more white-collar, less “white” then before and definitely less Swiss-German – at least ethnically speaking. These changes have caused 

some small bumps in the road for Conference, related to communication and the practice of worship amidst the diversity, but it has also led to some rich new understandings of our faith and life together. I believe this diversity is a direct result of the vision put forth from the Conference. I applaud many of our congregations for their intentional approach to connecting with other churches that are completely different, culturally. Indeed, we have worshipped together, ate together, and prayed together – and everyone involved is better for our continued work at intercultural engagement.

My congregation, Towamencin Mennonite Church, recently partnered with Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia for an outdoor baptism service. Centro’s pastors – Fernando and Letty – and I spent a lot of time working out the details of the worship, translation,  transportation needs and the details of a joint meal together. There seemed to be so many hurdles to jump over in the planning process. Yet, we all desired to be together and believed that through this service, both of our congregations would experience God in a powerful way. The commitment of the Centro congregation to this service touched the people of Towamencin greatly, as 130 persons made the trek from South Philly to Telford and joined another 130 persons from Towamencin. The balance in the attendance numbers may have just been a coincidence, but for us as pastors, it was God’s reminder that we both bring value to the table in equal ways and we have a lot to learn from each other.

We baptized 10 persons in the Branch Creek on that beautiful July morning. We had earlier agreed that the words spoken during the baptisms would not be translated as to not disrupt the flow of the event. So, we all watched and cheered each other on in English and in Spanish, as persons declared publicly their commitment to Jesus. Then the Spirit interrupted the service in a powerful way. Just as Pastors Fernando and Letty were preparing to baptize their own daughter, Pastor Fernando abruptly stopped speaking in Spanish and with a tear-soaked face spoke in English and said, “I am sorry for my emotion – but you must understand how great this event is for us: to baptize our own daughter!” Every person from Towamencin connected instantly with the human condition of being a parent and seeing our children make a public faith commitment. At that moment, there were no intercultural differences, no struggles with language – only a coming together fully as two churches, one without any barriers.

Following the baptisms we enjoyed a feast together: chicken BBQ along with the best guacamole ever and salsa. We also agreed together that this will be a yearly happening.

In the weeks after this service, I have been talking to many pastors and congregations who have had similar awesome experiences of intercultural engagement. My question to them is, “Now what?” Do we just go back into our weekly routines as individual churches serving in our local communities, or do we dare to be more regular with our interactions with one another? The Acts church certainly broke down many cultural barriers along the way, yet still displayed many incidents where the church flourished in its own cultural space. In fact, for the early church, intercultural engagement was still always a work in progress.

Perhaps that is how we should look at the vision of our Conference towards intercultural connectedness – as a continual, ongoing work in progress. There is no question that we have much to learn from one another. I think we simply need to recognize the value of being with one another, and then the opportunities to do things together will happen. Most of all, we need to see each other as partners in the same vision with all sides bringing the gifts and abilities to the table equally, on a level playing field. This is the biggest part of the journey of bridging cultures together. It is a necessary one, and at times a messy one. I am thankful that our Conference reminds us all that it is a highly valuable and important journey for our Conference churches to engage in. 

Immigration Community Day Held in Philadelphia

The story of Franconia Conference is rooted in faith and migration. These stories have helped shape us as a community, sensitive to the struggle of others who were also seeking a place of peace.  Currently our Conference is comprised of about 10 percent recent immigrants who have come to the United States in the last decade, and this percentage is likely to continue to grow and to shape our future.  As this is our story together — past, present, and future as God’s people – Franconia Conference recently co-sponsored Mennonite Central Committee’s Immigration Community Day in Philadelphia. Pastor Aldo Siahaan of Philadelphia Praise Center participated in the morning panel discussion. Centro de Alabanza hosted the event and assisted in providing a noon time meal. Many from across the region came to learn and celebrate. Abigail Shelly reflected on her experience at the day’s event below, in an article original published online with The Mennonite.   

(reprinted with permission)

by Abigail Shelly, Philadelphia Praise Center summer intern

As I stepped onto the upper floor of Centro de Alabanza, a humble church building in the heart of South Philly, I encountered a flood of color; blue, purple, green and orange hues hung from the ceilings and walls as lively decor, and a spectrum of dark brown to beige smiling faces filled the room. I felt the buzz of energy as people from various walks of life arrived throughout the morning to take part in Mennonite Central Committee’s Immigration Community Day on August 4 — a day set aside to gather, inform and celebrate immigrant communities in the Philadelphia area.

Saulo Padilla – photo courtesy of Dr. Calenthia Dowdy

To begin the day, Saulo Padilla, MCC immigration coordinator, gave a keynote address in which he shared his story as an immigrant and urged the audience to take seriously current issues, particularly the separation of families. Following was a panel with five active members in the Philadelphia community, all with recent immigrant backgrounds or in positions of immigrant advocacy. Topics included personal stories, experiences with the legal system and basic rights one should know about.

Chinemelu (ChiChi) Oguekwe, MCC Philadelphia program coordinator, said the morning was “about providing a space to have a discussion about what it means to be an immigrant for our community.” Considering the current administration’s immigration policies, she said, “there has been a legitimate amount of fear among immigrants in our community. And we know that a fearful community is not a healthy one.” She added that this “is why we gathered together to hear from our immigrant neighbors, leaders in the community [and] churches — to hear from one another, inform and educate each other. It’s in educating each other that we are set free, free from fear. Education empowers us.”

Volunteers from Centro de Alabanza prepare food for the event.

After a morning of education came a time of celebration. A lunch of tostadas, nasi goreng and djon djon (traditional food from Latino, Indonesian and Haitian community churches, respectively) primed the audience for spoken word, traditional Aztec and Indonesian dancing and an uplifting rhythm from the “Best African Drummer in Philadelphia.” For me it was beautiful to watch the freedom that came for these people groups with their traditional expressions. It allowed those from various backgrounds in the audience to enjoy a part of these cultures that too easily gets lost in the noise of navigating life in a completely new country while lacking basic rights.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Calenthia Dowdy

For the past 10 weeks, I have had the opportunity to live and learn with the Indonesian immigrant community here in South Philly. I have learned the power of holistic care for the “strangers” in our midst. On the one hand, it is important to know how to help someone through the new space they have entered: navigating the legal system, marching in advocacy, providing access to health care, educating them on basic rights. On the other hand, it is just as vital to spend time learning and celebrating what these cultures have to offer in this new space: language, dance, music, food and ways of worship. Learning holistic care has allowed me to see each of my immigrant neighbors not just as a set of needs to be met but as a person I am called to be a partner with in their new journey, whatever that may look like. Some days it may look like facing a daunting court date or navigating an impossible health-care system. Other days it may look like trying new foods or learning to dance or laughing at my attempts with Bahasa Indonesia. It’s a new and sometimes uncomfortable form of celebration that somehow makes sense and the “stranger” in our midst becomes a new brother or sister. 

Photo courtesy of Dr. Calenthia Dowdy

MCC’s Immigration Community Day resonated with my experience here because it held up the heaviness of the immigrant community’s reality while providing a space for celebrating these cultures. Oguekwe remarked, “My hope was that the Immigration Community Day would raise awareness on the immigrant experience, connect immigrant families to local service providers and resources, see and value the contributions of immigrants to our community and unify and strengthen our community through caring for one another.” It did exactly that.

Abigail Shelly is originally from Meridian, Mississippi, and attends Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where she studies TESOL education and liberal arts. This summer she has been learning from and serving through the Ministry Inquiry Program with the Indonesian community at Philadelphia Praise Center, a congregation of Franconia Mennonite Conference.