by Jerrell Williams, Associate for Leadership Cultivation
This Fourth of July I gathered with Plains Mennonite Church and Evangelical Center for Revival, a predominantly Congolese Mennonite congregation, which held a joint July Fourth commemoration. This was the first time both of the churches got together for this kind of commemoration. The event displayed the willingness of both congregations to think about how they can collaborate together and embrace diversity.
There was a picnic with everything from hot dogs and hamburgers to coconut curry. There were games of corn hole followed by games of cricket. Both sides seemed to walk into the space a little hesitant, but as things got going and people got talking (and eating), folks became more comfortable with each other.
Evangelical Center for Revival blessed everyone with music. They sung worship songs in their native languages as people clapped, sang and danced along to the music. They played a beautiful rendition of “How Great Thou Art” in their native language and integrated English so everyone could sing along. Also present was a free immigration clinic in the church building. They had two lawyers present to help people get advice and information about their immigration status.
All in all I believe the event was a great step in trying to embrace diversity. The congregations, to me, seemingly had little in common coming into the Fourth of July. At the beginning of the event things were awkward and, quite frankly, uncomfortable, though eventually people began to loosen up and have a great time enjoying each other’s company.
This event showed me that it takes willingness to embrace the other within our midst. Things might not always be smooth or go just as planned, but we as people of faith have to be willing to celebrate diversity and help our neighbors. Said event coordinator Rachel Mateti, “The event has been months in the making and came out of our winter quarter Sunday School class focusing on hospitality and welcome and the call of God’s people to live it out. The members of the class saw this as a way to connect with people in a meaningful way on a day that ideally commemorates values like equality, freedom, and opportunity.”
In our current political climate I believe this is of the utmost importance. While there has been rhetoric and laws created to destroy the beautiful diversity that we have in the United States, we have to remember to love and show hospitality to all people. This Fourth of July commemoration with Plains Mennonite Church and Evangelical Center for Revival is what I believe the United States is all about.
Jerrell Williams is a Master of Divinity student at Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) Theological Seminary and is interning this summer with Franconia Mennonite Conference and The Mennonite. Reprinted with permission by The Mennonite.
On April 14 approximately 80 women from across Franconia and Eastern District Conferences joined together at Towamencin Mennonite Church for the annual Sister Care Gathering. The theme was “Darkness Unfolding as Light,” with the book of Ruth as the Biblical text. Cathy Spory, Elementary Principal at Johnstown Christian School, took on the character of Naomi and gave insightful first-person monologues. Marilyn Bender, one of four co-pastors at Ripple Church in Allentown and Rose Bender Cook, Marilyn’s sister-in-law and a bi-vocational pastor at Whitehall Mennonite Church, shared their personal and Biblical reflections including speaking of the illness and loss of Marilyn’s husband John, Rose’s brother.
The women were invited to string beads, with knots representing the rough places and the iridescent beads representing those light-filled moments. There was time for conversation and prayer with each other at our tables, and an opportunity to experiment with different ways to pray including praying with color, walking prayer, healing prayer and anointing.
Pastor Letty Cortes from Centro de Alabanza led the women in activities to get to know one another. There was much singing together and the women enjoyed a delicious lunch including a wonderful cake gifted to them from MCUSA out-going Executive Director, Ervin Stutzman, from his retirement party the night before. It was bi-lingual day, with everything presented in English and Spanish, and was a deeply moving day, culminating in the women giving testimony as to where God had unfolded their darkness into light.
Many thanks to the planning committee: Anne M. Yoder, Coordinator; Pastor Donna Merow; Pastor Doris Diener; Pastor Letty Castro; and Pastor Marta Castillo. Special thanks to Pastor Marilyn Bender, Pastor Rose Bender Cook and Cathy Spory for all their energy and all they shared with the women of our Conferences.
Desplácese hacia abajo para la traducción al español / Scroll down for Spanish translation
By Gwen Groff, Pastor at Bethany Mennonite Church, and FMC Board Member
We were just one or two days into our Mexico trip when Steve Kriss, Executive Minister of Franconia Conference, said, “I think all they really are asking for from us is for relationship.”
In the end, I believe that was the purpose of our Franconia Conference visit to Mexico: exploring and deepening relationships. Two Franconia Conference board members, Angela Moyer and I, and our Executive Minister, Steve Kriss, traveled to Mexico City, Puebla, Oaxaca, and Toluca and visited various congregations, pastors and leaders of Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México (CIEAMM) for a week.
Franconia Conference had helped to create CIEAMM in 1958, but the formal relationship ended about a decade ago. Our hosts for the week were CIEAMM’s conference moderator, Carlos Martinez Garcia and one of CIEAMM’s pastors, Oscar Jaime Dominguez Martinez. Together we visited congregations that had been planted and supported by Franconia Conference sixty years ago, as well as new ministries that have been emerging.
We first worshiped with Iglesia Maranatha in Puebla. Children and youth were fully involved in leading the service. Over a meal of tostadas they enthusiastically invited Franconia Conference youth to please come and help them with their summer Bible School this July.
The following day we traveled to Casa de Esperanza in Oaxaca, where the congregation meets in the home of Luis R. Matias. We sang and had a short Bible study and a long meal of the local tortilla-based, tlayudas. We met with college students and young adults who are strongly committed to working for justice. We heard about their dream of a place to help meet the needs of Central American refugees passing through their town. The Oaxacan leaders wish for more training in conflict transformation. The musical gifts in this community were abundant, and their warmth and joy were immense. We ended the day with tea with Luis at a cafe where his daughter Paloma was singing and playing guitar. Luis said, “How good is this? My daughter is being paid to sing to me while I eat!”
The following day was a travel day back to Mexico City ending with a taco meal with the congregation at Fraternidad Cristiana Nueva Vida Espartaco.
On Sunday, we worshiped with six of the congregations of CIEAMM. Steve shared a sermon on 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 “In the body of Christ, there are different parts, but not walls.” As usual, our worship concluded with a delicious meal together, and gifted musicians sang, drummed, bowed, plucked and strummed while we fellowshipped. We were overjoyed to see Ofelia Garcia and Victor Pedroza who had recently returned from 8 years of ministry in Chihuahua with colony Mennonites. Ofelia will be coming to Franconia Conference this September to share a weekend Sistering retreat with our Spanish-speaking sisters. During our time here, one seasoned Mennonite agency staff person shared with Steve some concrete advice about partnerships between the United States and Mexican church groups: Always relate as equals; never make the relationship about money; if money is exchanged, let it pass through conferences and congregations, not individuals; if you visit with a group, always include youth in the group.
A visit to Toluca was our last journey. We met with Juan Carlos Maya and Sara Zuniga, leaders at Centro Cristiano. Sara’s mother was one of the first Mennonites Ken Seitz baptized, just before Sara was born. In the evening, we relaxed together, a small group of Anabaptists, sitting around an outdoor table in the plaza, listening to a band, watching the dancers, reminiscing about parents who gave up rumba and salsa dancing when they became Mennonites. At breakfast Sara showed us photo albums of her family that included Mennonites we know as Franconia Conference missionaries.
On Monday, we visited their community center and listened to a passionate power-point presentation (it’s not an oxymoron). These Anabaptists in Toluca teach children to play musical instruments as a part of an orchestra, as a way of understanding the body of Christ. With group music lessons they are building a community. Juan Carlos and Sara showed us plans for their building expansion and introduced us to a neighbor with a brick-making operation. When Juan Carlos walked the dusty streets of Toluca, children ran to him and hugged him and walked arm in arm with him. Angela observed, “He is what Jesus would have been like if Jesus had made it to 60.” His understanding of ministry is a movement from “solidarity first, then Jesus Christ, ultimately Koininia.” He said the opposite of this is “ego first, then hedonism, which ultimately leads to capitalism.”
Elders in these Anabaptist congregations who have been in leadership positions in their churches since they were young are intentionally stepping back in order to make space for new young leaders and to mentor them.
Our visits ended Monday evening with a meeting and meal with leaders from the congregations in Mexico City. They talked about their dreams for their congregations. Women pastors were especially warm in their welcome and enthusiastic about sharing their work and interest in receiving more training in theology and ministry.
What if all we want is relationship? People repeatedly told us, “You have to come back. I can’t visit you, you must come here.” This was Angela’s fourth trip to CIEAMM congregations in Mexico, Steve’s third visit, my first. I learned much from my more fluent Franconia traveling companions. We three were grateful for the generous, meticulous planning of our CIEAMM hosts, Carlos and Oscar. We in Franconia Conference have much to learn much from our Anabaptist sisters and brothers in Mexico.
I was grateful for one theological observation Carlos made in passing. He said, “Christianity is a religion of travel.” A cynical person might suggest that Carlos’ assertion is a bit self-serving. After all, he is a well-traveled Mexican Conference Moderator, journeying through Mexico, visiting churches with a group of Mennonites from the United States, about to embark on a visit to Kenya next week; of course he would believe Christianity is a religion of travel. A cynic might also suspect that my enthusiastic agreement with Carlos is colored by the fact that I’m the Franconia Conference board member from Vermont, grateful for a trip to sunny Mexico in early April when there’s still a foot of snow on the ground at home. Of course we all want to believe Christianity endorses travel!
But I believe without cynicism that Carlos is right. Christianity started with journeys. Jesus walked hundreds of miles, and he and his disciples got in a boat and “crossed over to the other side” of the lake far more often than was strictly necessary. Think of the apostle Paul, Carlos said, who undertook many missionary journeys to spread the good news of Christ. In addition to what we bring when we visit, travel puts us in a new position to receive.
Traveling makes us curious, vulnerable, and open to being wrong. Our bodies get tired. We may get a bit sick. We do not fully understand the language. We listen hard. We may break cultural rules we don’t even know exist. We laugh at our mistakes. All this is a good posture for sharing the story of the self-emptying Christ, for deepening our own faith, and for building relationships.
PHOTO GALLERY (click to see larger images)
Cristianismo: una religión de viajes
Por Gwen Groff, pastor de la Iglesia Menonita Bethany y miembro de la Junta de la FMC. (traducción Luis Rey Matías-Cruz)
Teníamos apenas uno o dos días en nuestro viaje a México cuando Steve Kriss, Ministro Ejecutivo de la Conferencia de Franconia, dijo: “Creo que todo lo que realmente piden ellos/ellas es una relación”.
Al final, creo que ese fue el propósito de nuestra visita de la Conferencia de Franconia en México: explorar y profundizar las relaciones. Dos miembros de la junta de la Conferencia de Franconia, Angela Moyer y yo, y nuestro Ministro ejecutivo, Steve Kriss, viajamos a la ciudad de México, Puebla, Oaxaca y Toluca y visitamos varias congregaciones, pastores y líderes de la Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México (CIEAMM) durante una semana.
La Conferencia de Franconia había ayudado a crear CIEAMM en 1958, pero la relación formal terminó hace una década. Nuestros anfitriones de la semana fueron el moderador de la conferencia de CIEAMM, Carlos Martínez García y uno de los pastores de CIEAMM, Oscar Jaime Domínguez Martínez. Juntos visitamos congregaciones que habían sido plantadas y apoyadas por la Conferencia de Franconia hace sesenta años, así como nuevos ministerios que han estado surgiendo.
Primero alabamos al Señor en la Iglesia Maranatha en Puebla. Los niños y los jóvenes se involucraron completamente en dirigir el servicio. Durante una comida de tostadas, invitaron con entusiasmo a los jóvenes de la Conferencia de Franconia a venir y ayudarlos con su Escuela Bíblica de verano este julio.
Al día siguiente viajamos a Casa de Esperanza en Oaxaca, donde la congregación se reúne en la casa de Luis R. Matias. Cantamos y tuvimos un breve estudio de la Biblia y una larga comida de tlayudas, una tortilla local. Nos reunimos con estudiantes universitarios y adultos jóvenes que están fuertemente comprometidos con trabajar por la justicia. Escuchamos acerca de su sueño de un lugar para ayudar a satisfacer las necesidades de los refugiados centroamericanos que pasan por su pueblo. Los líderes oaxaqueños desean más capacitación en la transformación de conflictos. Los dones musicales en esta comunidad eran abundantes, y su calidez y alegría eran inmensos. Terminamos el día con el té con Luis en un café donde su hija Paloma cantaba y tocaba la guitarra. Luis dijo: “¿No es esto muy bueno9? A mi hija le pagan para que me cante mientras yo como “.
El día siguiente fue un día de viaje de regreso a la Ciudad de México, terminando con una comida de tacos con la congregación Fraternidad Cristiana Nueva Vida Espartaco.
El domingo, rendimos culto seis de las congregaciones de CIEAMM. Steve compartió un sermón en 1 Corintios 12: 12-26 “En el cuerpo de Cristo, hay diferentes partes, pero no paredes”. Como de costumbre, nuestra adoración concluyó con una deliciosa comida en conjunto, y los músicos talentosos cantaron, tocaron, hicieron una reverencia, puntearon y rasguearon mientras nosotros compartíamos. Nos llenó de alegría ver a Ofelia García y Víctor Pedroza que habían regresado recientemente de 8 años de ministerio en Chihuahua con colonos menonitas. Ofelia vendrá a la Conferencia de Franconia este septiembre para compartir un retiro de hermandad de fin de semana con nuestras hermanas hablantes del español. Durante nuestro tiempo aquí, un miembro experimentado de la agencia menonita compartió con Steve algunos consejos concretos sobre las asociaciones entre los Estados Unidos y los grupos eclesiales mexicanos: relacionarse siempre como iguales; nunca hagas la relación en base al dinero; si se intercambia dinero, déjalo pasar por conferencias y congregaciones, no por individuos; si visitas con un grupo, siempre incluye a los jóvenes en el grupo.
Una visita a Toluca fue nuestro último viaje. Nos reunimos con Juan Carlos Maya y Sara Zuniga, líderes del Centro Cristiano. La madre de Sara fue una de las primeros menonitas bautizados por Ken Seitz, justo antes de que Sara naciera. Por la tarde, nos relajamos juntos, éramos un pequeño grupo de anabautistas, sentados alrededor de una mesa al aire libre en la plaza, escuchando a una banda, mirando a los bailarines, recordando a los padres que abandonaron la rumba y la salsa cuando se convirtieron en menonitas. Durante el desayuno, Sara nos mostró álbumes de fotos de su familia que incluían menonitas que conocemos como misioneros de la Conferencia de Franconia. El lunes, visitamos su centro comunitario y escuchamos una apasionada presentación en power-point (no es un oxímoron). Estos anabautistas en Toluca enseñan a los niños a tocar instrumentos musicales como parte de una orquesta, como una forma de entender el cuerpo de Cristo. Con lecciones de música en grupo, están construyendo una comunidad. Juan Carlos y Sara nos mostraron los planes para la expansión de sus edificios y nos presentaron a un vecino con una operación de fabricación de ladrillos. Cuando Juan Carlos caminó por las polvorientas calles de Toluca, los niños corrieron hacia él, lo abrazaron y caminaron cogidos del brazo con él. Ángela dijo acerca de Juan Carlos: ” Él es lo que Jesús hubiera sido, si Jesús hubiera llegado a los 60.” Su comprensión del ministerio (de Juan Carlos) es un movimiento desde la “solidaridad primero, luego a Jesucristo, en última instancia a Koininia”. Dijo que lo opuesto a esto es “ego” primero, luego el hedonismo, que finalmente conduce al capitalismo “.
Los ancianos en estas congregaciones anabautistas que han estado en posiciones de liderazgo en sus iglesias desde que eran pequeños están retrocediendo intencionalmente para dejar espacio para nuevos líderes jóvenes y para ser mentores de ellos.
Nuestras visitas finalizaron el lunes por la noche con una reunión y comida con los líderes de las congregaciones en la Ciudad de México. Estos hablaron sobre sus sueños para sus congregaciones. Las pastoras fueron especialmente cálidas en su acogida y entusiastas de compartir su trabajo y su interés en recibir más capacitación en teología y ministerio.
¿Qué pasa si todo lo que queremos es una relación? La gente repetidamente nos dijo: “Tienes que volver. No puedo visitarte, debes venir aquí “. Este fue el cuarto viaje de Angela a las congregaciones de CIEAMM en México, la tercera visita de Steve, la primera para mi. Aprendí mucho de mis compañeros de viaje más francos de Franconia. Los tres estábamos agradecidos por la planificación generosa y meticulosa de nuestros anfitriones de CIEAMM, Carlos y Oscar. Nosotros en la Conferencia de Franconia tenemos mucho que aprender mucho de nuestras hermanas y hermanos anabautistas en México.
Agradecí una observación teológica de pasada que hizo Carlos: “El cristianismo es una religión de viajes”. Una persona cínica podría sugerir que la afirmación de Carlos era un poco egoísta. Después de todo, es un Moderador de la Conferencia Mexicana muy viajado, viaja a través de México, visitando iglesias con un grupo de menonitas de los Estados Unidos, a punto de emprender una visita a Kenia la próxima semana; por supuesto, él creería que el cristianismo es una religión de viajes. Un cínico también podría sospechar que mi entusiasta acuerdo con Carlos está teñido por el hecho de que soy miembro de la junta directiva de Franconia Conference de Vermont, agradecida por un viaje al soleado México a principios de abril, cuando aún queda un pie de nieve en el suelo en casa. . ¡Por supuesto, todos queremos creer que el cristianismo aprueba el viaje!
Pero creo, sin cinismo, que Carlos tiene razón. El cristianismo comenzó con los viajes. Jesús caminó cientos de millas, y él y sus discípulos subieron a un bote y “cruzaron al otro lado” del lago con mucha más frecuencia de lo necesario, estrictamente hablando. Piensa en el apóstol Pablo, dijo Carlos, quien emprendió muchos viajes misioneros para difundir las buenas nuevas de Cristo. Además de lo que traemos cuando viajamos, viajar nos pone en una nueva situación para recibir.
Viajar nos hace curiosos, vulnerables y abiertos a estar equivocados. Nuestros cuerpos se cansan. Podemos ponernos un poco enfermos. No comprendemos completamente el lenguaje. Escuchamos mucho. Podemos romper las reglas culturales que ni siquiera sabemos que existen. Nos reímos de nuestros errores. Todo esto es una buena postura para compartir la historia del Cristo que se vació a si mismo, para profundizar nuestra propia fe y para construir relaciones. (traducción Luis Rey Matias-Cruz)
By Marta Castillo, Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation
“Inter” words are familiar to most of us – interact, interdependent, intermission, intertwine, international, intercede, intercultural, etc. Based on the Latin, “inter” means “between,” “in the midst of,” “mutually,” “reciprocally,” “together”. Interspace is an adventure of new learnings, a place of possibility, sharing, rest, and reconciliation, but it is also a space that is unnerving, humbling, uncomfortable, and challenging.
Since the end of 2017, when I resigned from a pastoral role at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, I have been living in the space between church homes and between work roles. It was strange and exciting to know that in this in between space, I could visit other churches and experience worship and Word in new ways. However, there was no church home because I was “in between”. The ministry that I was involved in was my responsibility no longer and it was freeing to dream and envision what shape my role will take as Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation with Franconia Conference, but hard to leave behind the relationships that I had nurtured for years. In the first two months of 2018, I was in interspace, in between, waiting for my new role to begin. Then in the beginning of March, I began my international adventure with a trip to Indonesia with the purpose of studying Indonesian, a language that I had once learned and spoken as a child, to enhance my future intercultural ministry within the conference.
What an experience! The food, the culture, the language, and the people brought my childhood in Indonesia flooding back. I kept moving between being so comfortable and so uncomfortable, so quickly it was disorienting. I was delighted to experience familiar tastes, words, and culture while feeling so humbled as a person who was learning a language and speaking it so poorly and who didn’t know the cultural expectations, so I embarrassed myself. This interspace of being in a different country required courage, creativity, willingness to fail, and engagement with people who were different. It was the perfect connecting space between my past experiences and my future hopes and ministry.
A young friend of mine shared with me recently of her journey towards learning to stay in the interspace, the space between, like the Saturday between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, holding onto the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross while celebrating the power of the resurrection. It takes courage to stand “between”. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus has done through his life, death, and resurrection? Even now, Jesus “intercedes” comes and goes between God and us, to keep that interspace holy and righteous. Romans 8:34, “Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”
Furthermore, we are invited to share the same interspace of intercession, interrelationship, and interconnectedness for deeper relationship with others. 1 Timothy 2:1-3, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
In our conference, we have a shared priority to be intercultural, meaning that we seek to connect, stand, and live in the space between the cultures represented in our conference and the world. This is different than being multicultural which advocates for equal respect and promoting cultural diversity. When “multi” is not enough, we seek “inter”. With multicultural, we still have a sense of “us and them”. With intercultural, a between space is created where “we” belong. Our conference priority is for networking and cultivating intercultural ministry relationships. This process is described as “including an assessment of current and emerging relationships that work cross-culturally while building further capacity toward mutually-beneficial relationships among ministries and congregations. Increasingly, these relationships will be defined by reciprocity and transformation rather than paternalism and patronization. Relationships will be built around both work and celebration, both doing and being together.” Read this and other priorities here; read more about some of Franconia Conference’s intercultural and multicultural work here.
On February 9 to 11, around 50 participants gathered at St Mary of Providence Retreat Center in Elverson, PA to participate in the 2018 Eastern District and Franconia Conference Winter Peace Retreat. This year’s theme was “Immigration, Sanctuary, and the Church”.
The weekend began with a family activity led by Tammy Alexander, Senior Legislative Associate for Domestic Affairs in the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Washington, Office: “People on the Move: A Migration Exercise”. The activity sparked conversation around what people go through when they are uprooted from their homelands, the sacrifices they are forced to make, the struggles they endure and the questions they carry with them about safety and what they may encounter in a new land.
Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and Director of New Sanctuary Movement Philadelphia, shared about his own family’s migration journey, his father from Italy and his mother from England. Settling in Hartford, CT, Peter grew up with stories of why his family left Italy and some of the struggles they had when they came to this country. He shared how people often took advantage of his grandmother because she didn’t speak English. This is a frequent experience today for immigrants of color in the U.S. when compared to the relatively privileged status of white immigrants.
Peter also shared the origins of New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, a grassroots organization led by affected immigrants to “win immigrant justice campaigns with our members across nationality, faith, class, and immigration status.” When Peter came to the Philadelphia to join the House of Grace Catholic Worker, it was at a time when there were growing rates of workplace raids and immigrant deportations, and proposed legislation in the U.S. Congress was hostile to immigrants. During this time a small group of clergy, immigrants, and allies started coming together about the situation. They discovered that a lot of people in Philadelphia were engaged with immigration issues, but nobody was organizing in the faith community. So, little by little, they began organizing in coffee shops and in living rooms, until one day they had a movement. Peter then left the Catholic Worker and started to do this full time.
According to their website, New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia is “an interfaith, multicultural immigrant justice movement organizing communities to end injustices against immigrants, regardless of status”. This is done through partnering and educating faith communities. Currently working with 28 congregations including two Franconia Conference congregations, member congregations assist in trainings, workshops, campaigns, and accompanying families facing deportation.
One of the ways presented to participants at the retreat that congregations can get involved is accompaniment – walking with families facing deportation. Accompaniment is not to provide legal representation. People who provide accompaniment aren’t lawyers; what they do is stand in solidarity. Much of it is going to court – just showing up in immigration court or criminal court or probation check-in with a group of 5, 10 or 15 people, as a witness. They form a little prayer circle in front of the court. They come in and wait in front of the court room with two goals in mind: (1) surround the person with community, and really have their back in that situation; and (2) command accountability, because the people in the court know that folks are watching them. It’s not that the presence of NSM will automatically win the case, but there have been occasions when after the person’s case is presented and seven people stand up to leave, the judge asks, “Oh, is that the New Sanctuary Movement?”
There is something uplifting about having that visual representation of God’s presence in the courtroom. Bringing the power of God’s love into that environment does something to bring people hope. There are many times when NSM has seen people win cases that they did not think were possible – when people come out of it saying, “This is a miracle; this is God.” For those of us who are immigrant allies not directly affected by immigration law, this is an opportunity to see how the system works and moves us into exploring why so many people are in detention and deportation.
Immigration is a large part of the Franconia Conference and Eastern District story. Our ancestors were immigrants to the Franconia area and we are honored to learn from and walk with our more recent immigrant brothers and sisters. If you are interested in learning more about the immigration stories in Franconia Conference, contact the Conference Office for a copy of a short documentary complete with discussion guide that can be used in Sunday School or other formats.
Read about Philadelphia Praise Center’s Pastor Aldo Siahaan’s involvement in A New Sanctuary Movement Action HERE.
Read the Pastoral Response from Franconia Conference Leadership Regarding DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) HERE.
By Paula Marolewski, Perkiomenville Mennonite Church
“As we got ready to drill the well, people just shook their heads. ‘There’s no water there; you’re wasting your time,’ they said. They didn’t even stay to watch us drill. But I thought to myself, many people are praying back home. We will find water.”
Gwab Mpofu has been shining that light of faith in the Perkiomenville Mennonite Church family ever since he first came to the United States in 2000 from the village of Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. Like many immigrants, Gwab maintains close ties with his family overseas. He has a deep understanding of the needs the village faces, and a clear vision of how to meet those needs. Over the years, he has communicated that understanding and vision to the congregation at Perkiomenville. So, when he decided to send a container the size of a semi-trailer to Zimbabwe, the church was behind him 100%. Gwab raised money and sent a much-needed tractor, truck, and plow to his village, along with clothing and other supplies. Church members not only helped with funds and donations, but also worked with Gwab to pack the huge container to be shipped overseas.
Three years later, Gwab did it a second time – this time, with a backhoe and other farm equipment filling the container.
In 2016, Gwab voiced a plan for his most audacious goal yet: to drill a well for the village. “The villagers have to walk three to five kilometers each day to get water,” Gwab explained. “A few years ago, my mother’s health was endangered when she became seriously dehydrated. So I thought, why can’t we drill a well?”
For many people, the obstacles would be overwhelming. Drilling a well requires paperwork, time, equipment, workers, and – of course – money. But Gwab had already raised thousands of dollars to send the two containers to Zimbabwe. He had gone over both times to shepherd the containers through customs, past countless officials and red tape. He knew the ropes.
Perkiomenville was again ready to stand with him. Members donated money and encouraged Gwab when the going got tough. Most important of all, they prayed. “Without my church family’s emotional support, friendship, and prayer, I could not have done any of this,” said Gwab.
In all, Gwab raised over $15,000 from the church, his workplace, and the community. He went back to his village this summer to drill. “The people did not believe we would find water,” he noted. “They had drilled a well several years ago, going down 80 meters and finding nothing. They pointed to that dry well and told us we were wasting our time.”
Gwab didn’t have the money for an official site survey, but he knew that his church family in the U.S. was praying. “I believed that God would guide us to the place to drill,” he affirmed.
At 70 meters down, Gwab’s drill team hit water. “Suddenly, the villagers took notice. They were thrilled. It was amazing – they were literally coming with buckets while we were still drilling!”
Gwab’s team went down a full 90 meters to ensure a reliable supply of water. A solar pump was put in place to draw the water up and deliver it to a 1300 gallon holding tank.
The well has been transformative to the lives of the villagers. But it has also been transformative to the lives of the people at Perkiomenville. “Gwab has expanded our understanding of conditions in Africa and the plight of our brothers and sisters there,” said Charlie Ness, pastor at Perkiomenville. “Previously, we had no connections in Africa – now, we do. His bishop came and preached here a few years ago, and we hosted several pastors here for a Mennonite conference. We continue to have ongoing relationships with them.”
Paula Marolewski, a member of Perkiomenville, affirmed, “Gwab’s faith and generosity and perseverance have been a model and an inspiration for me. When I think ‘I can’t do this,’ I remember what he has done. He doesn’t know the word ‘quit’ because he truly understands how powerful and faithful God is.”
The national anthem protests in the NFL this week have brought everyone to the table with opinions, praises, threats, and outrage.
As a US Army veteran, I can understand why many people think it is a big deal that someone would decide to sit or kneel instead of standing for the anthem. Standing up is viewed as a way to honor those who serve in our nation’s military. Participating in the patriotic rituals of our culture is strongly linked to showing respect for the men and women who have died while serving in the armed forces.
However, there is also an inherent element of praise for our country in the singing of and standing for the national anthem. This seems to be at the root of the conflict surrounding this issue. Many Americans view our nation as the example of righteousness in the world, embodying freedom and justice for all. Others, especially people of color, look at their own history in this country and do not see much righteousness, freedom, or justice. In fact, that history is full of terror, violence, theft, and death.
You may read this and want to reply with examples of people of color who have been successful in the United States. We just had eight years with an African American president. Colin Kaepernick and others who kneel are millionaires. Though true, this does not change the fact that black folks across our country still face numerous injustices that are inextricably linked to the color of their skin: housing discrimination, lack of community support and resources, racial profiling, stop-and-frisk, police brutality, the school-to-prison pipeline, and mass incarceration.
These atrocities are part of the system of white supremacy that has been in the DNA of our nation since the beginning. This is our national original sin. Yet, we continue to refuse to confess, repent, and work toward ending this sickness. Until things change, people of color will bear the dire consequences, and those of us who live under the shade of white supremacy continue to dehumanize others and ourselves.
When Colin Kaepernick took a knee last year during the national anthem, these were the things that weighed heavy on his mind. He was refusing to stand in honor of a nation that is failing to live up to it’s ideals of freedom and justice for all. He refused to stand in praise of a nation with police who murder black people and a justice system that allows them to go free. This problem is bigger than a few racist cops. It stretches all the way from the courts to the streets to our minds, and deep into our hearts.
Despite my time in the military, I take no offense when someone kneels in protest during the national anthem. Personally, I view much of our military-focused patriotism as a form of idolatry, worshiping the gods of power and pride. As a Christian, I seek to give my allegiance to God alone. God and country are not one in the same.
Given our nation’s history of racism and ongoing racial injustice I empathize with those who refuse to give it praise. As followers of Jesus, we are called to go beyond empathy and move toward solidarity, specifically with oppressed people and communities. Seeking to understand the protests is just the beginning.
By Mike Derstine, Pastor at Plains Mennonite Church
With illustrations from barren trees in the wintertime and personal stories of frustration around his infant daughter’s eating habits, Pastor Beny Krisbianto reminded a joint gathering of Nations Worship Center and Plains Mennonite Church on Sunday, August 27, of God’s goodness that meets us again and again in times of struggle and adversity. The joint worship service in the Plains Park pavilion was a clear example of God’s good and surprising work.
Plains members, Sharon and Conrad Swartzentruber, have been hosting several Dock Mennonite Academy high school students from Nations Worship Center at their home from Monday to Friday during the school year. Last year, a small group from Nations Worship Center traveled to the Swartzentruber’s home for a picnic and afternoon games. Might Plains Church host a joint worship service and picnic in our pavilion, Sharon wondered? Somewhere along the way, Steve Diehl, Director of Advancement for the Mennonite Heritage Center, received word of our planning, and organized a Perkiomen Bus to provide transportation for many more from Nations Worship Center to attend the joint worship service, potluck fellowship meal, and an afternoon visit at the Mennonite Heritage Center. (Read Steve’s reflections on the visit to Mennonite Heritage Center here.)
In the worship service, a generous offering was received that was divided in half to support the ministries of both congregations, including the renovations of the second floor of the Nations Worship Center building.Preaching from Romans 8:28-39 in his native language of Indonesian, and interpreted into English by Plains member, Dr. Conrad Swartzentruber. Beny spoke about a God who works beside us in every situation we face and who met the needs of Nations Worship Center throughout the long, trying process of buying and renovating their current church building and dealing with obstacles from the city, neighbors, and contractors. But surprisingly, Beny shared, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenny recently attended a congregational service and wants to come back!
All total, by bus, a van, and several cars, 60-70 members from Nations Worship Center in South Philadelphia made the trip to Hatfield and Harleysville. It was noted in the worship service that the Plains congregation would look forward to another joint service with Nations Worship Center, only this time in South Philadelphia, and that many of the Plains members would also appreciate the convenience of bus transportation to ease the challenges of city driving, following directions, and parking. God is good and faithful, a reality we often experience in new situations that stretch us and take us out of our familiar routines.
These last few days I’ve been in California with a delegation of leaders from Franconia Conference. We are here to cultivate further relationships with a group of churches who have expressed a desire to join our Conference. All four congregations are immigrant churches who have been connected with the Anabaptist movement for years. We find ourselves in this space together to build on past informal collaborations, to build relationships and trust.
Meanwhile, at the same time that we are here, all hell seemed to break loose in Charlottesville, Virginia. The east coast felt very far away from this side of the country. Yet, reading on my iPhone and following social media meant that the scenario wasn’t far from my mind as we met together. Most of these initial meetings have involved a lot of listening. As we are listening, I am reminded again that the process of transforming racism and xenophobia begins with a willingness to listen, to be challenged and to be changed.
As the days have built, they’ve also involved a lot of eating together and extensive travel time on the freeways that crisscross the massive urban sprawl of Southern California. Yet in the middle of the conversations, I sensed more and more the possibility that emerges through honest listening that allows some vulnerability. Our delegation, John Goshow (board moderator), Mary Nitzsche (Associate Executive Minister), Aldo Siahaan (LEADership Minister) and I, represent one of the oldest configurations of Mennonite-ness in the hemisphere. Largely shaped by the experience of Germanic people, here we were listening to the experiences of immigrants and people of color on the West Coast. We were challenged to recognize that our systems aren’t always friendly to people who speak English as a second or third language. We were challenged again that our established patterns aren’t always reflective of the movement of the Spirit that had and continues to stir a global movement of people who live in the way of Jesus. In the meantime, we were served lovely meals and received gracious hospitality.
This is not always easy work. Those of us attached to these systems sometimes feel a need to defend them. Taking a listening posture rather than a defensive one allows us to hear both critiques and affirmations. I find that often as a white dude who is leading in this system, I want to protect our organizational process and the validity of the way that we do things. I don’t think that we have constructed systems with an intention to be oppressive or biased, yet often times they are. There is still work to do as we seek to be representative of the reign of God yet to come with persons from every tongue, tribe and nation. Recognizing that the journey toward reconciliation of all people is more than I will ever accomplish doesn’t allow me to sit idly; it requires each of us in our time, place and space to do the work that we are invited toward that represents God’s Pentecost intent.
In the meantime, we are being transformed by relationships with people who open their lives and stories with us. The pain and the celebrations are real. We can bear witness to these things together along with Christ who weeps and who also rejoices.
This fall we will have opportunity to continue to be transformed as a Conference community as at least five immigrant congregations seek to join us as new members. We will have ongoing opportunity to listen together, to extend Christ’s great shalom intended for us and for the whole world. This is will likely be our work for our time as a community together.
NOTE: Stay tuned for more information on the congregations looking to join Franconia Conference. Also, delegates – be sure to register for Assembly Scattered Meetings which will be a time of listening and discerning together regarding these congregations.
In a recent article, “On Scattering, Gathering and California Dreamin”, Steve Kriss wrote regarding the inquiries we have received from congregations requesting to join our conference. I was struck by his last statement: “the one thing that I know about Franconia Conference is that the Spirit is relentless in inviting us to be transformed anew … I invite your prayers as we together consider and discern God’s best direction while honoring our past, accepting our limitations, and trusting also the Spirit’s movement … to give us a future with great hope.”
In times of decision-making and Spirit nudging to move forward in a new space, it helps to revisit “the calling and vision” that God has already put into place and that we have already proclaimed. “The conference’s mission is to equip leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission.” In 2012, the conference board discerned that our conference work is focused on three priorities. “We are called to be missional, intercultural, and formational.” Congregations are invited take risks for the sake of the Gospel through creative partnerships and new possibilities for missional engagement. They are invited to network and cultivate intercultural ministry relationships. The people of the conference are recognized as our greatest resource and we are committed to build leadership capacity across geographies and generations. In these priorities, God already laid a strong foundation, preparing us in 2012 for what was coming in 2017. God is like that, always graciously preparing the way ahead of us and preparing us for the way ahead.
Our preparedness to move into a new space, in my opinion, is limited not by money or distance or human resources but may be limited by attitudes and beliefs ingrained in our system. I invite you to consider that we as a conference must overcome a historical tendency “to maintain what is” and to keep what is different from truly changing or impacting our systems and procedures. Ethnic Mennonite culture is often curious and welcoming to an international person from Latin America or Africa or Asia but we struggle to allow for the African American, the more recent immigrant Latin American or Asian American voices to bring about change and revival.
We are limited by a sense of many leaders and congregations in our conference, that they are on the margins of conference life. This sense comes from leaders and members from churches all over the conference. How can we all be on the margin? If a Franconia area church feels like it is on the margin, what about the churches who may join us from far away in California? I believe that we must embrace our participation in the conference and learn to say, “We are Franconia Conference. God is the center that pulls us ever closer together through the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus.”