Tag Archives: Kirk Hanger

Building God’s Community Together

by Steve Kriss, executive minister

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Kiron Mateti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going to the Margins with a Missional Lens


by Noel Santiago

noel article photoFrom February 25 to March 1, 2016, I had the privilege of visiting Mexico for the first time in four years. The occasion, the Annual Red de Iglesias Misioneras Internacionales (RIMI) Leaders Conference. Translated into English, RIMI means the International Network of Missionary Churches. This network was founded by Kirk and Marilyn Hanger, of New Hope Fellowship along with Ruben and Guadalupe Mercado, Mennonite Church leaders from Bolivia.

When asked about RIMI Kirk shared: “In 2003, after 11 years of church planting ministry in Mexico, Franconia Conference encouraged me to continue as a mentor to the churches that had emerged from our ministry with a vision of continued church multiplication. This is when RIMI was born. Counsel and encouragement from Franconia Conference, were critical in the birth and continued growth of RIMI. Over the years, I’ve made regular trips back to Mexico.

Today, RIMI is made up of 28 churches and church plants in Mexico from the states of Oaxaca to Jalisco. In addition to the churches, RIMI also includes a radio ministry, a Bible Institute, a short term mission’s school and a leadership school, both affiliated with Global Disciples, a medical ministry, a prayer network and two rehabilitation centers. RIMI uses the Mennonite Confession of Faith and has a vision of continued church multiplication, leadership development, and the sending of missionaries to the least reached parts of the world.

Every February, we have our RIMI Conference in Mexico. Pastors and leaders from Mexico and other countries will gather for a time of worship, teaching, fellowship and planning together. Last year, Pastor Charles Ness, from Perkiomenville Mennonite Church, was one of our conference speakers, along with Pastor Bob Stevenson, from Iglesia de la Tierra Prometida (also known as Monte Maria).”

Noel article verseThis is what I had the privilege of attending and sharing in, the RIMI’s leaders conference. Connecting and hearing the stories of God’s moving and transformation was powerful! Those marginalized because of addictions, abuses, crime, pain, trauma, but also those who lived religiously empty lives, living good but unsatisfied lives, living without purpose or meaning, having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof; then discovering through the Gospel message being shared with them that they can draw near to God through the good news of the transforming work of Jesus Christ.

Indeed, the call to go to the margins is a missional call; a call to not only share the transforming Gospel message of Jesus Christ, but to share an intimately lived experience of this relationship; a call to be transformed ourselves as we go to the least of these.

Franconia Conference has had a tremendous legacy of disciple making through church planting, evangelism, and missional engagement. In recent years it seems that Franconia Conference has necessarily tended to its internal life. As this internal tending has now brought clarity of direction, is it time to once again continue the legacy of disciple making through missions, evangelism, church planting and the sharing of the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

I came away with the deepened assurance and eye witness accounts of the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to save that which was lost; to live a life after the Kingdom of God that set’s the captives free, to die on the cross and shed his blood to forgive us of our sins, to be raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of God where we too are seated, so that we are once again restored to our relationship with our heavenly Father. Then we go to share this good news of restored relationship through Christ to a hurt and dying world.

Going to the margins with a missional lens isn’t just about the present but also the future. So the question I ask us all is: What legacy do we want to leave the next generation?

This past year we saw the credentialing of some of our youngest leaders, including the ordination of our first millennial, with these young leaders coming on board is it time for Franconia Conference, to once again put out a call to the next generation of young people to consider their call and purpose in life like these have? Is it time to identify the next generation of disciple makers to be raised up, equipped and sent on a mission to share the good news of Jesus Christ through starting new churches, evangelism and missional engagement?

Jesus said in John 20:21 (NIV) – “…Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” I believe it’s time. So if you are interested in learning more how you can engage in missions, if you feel a call to make disciples of all nations through evangelism, starting new churches or being engaged in missions, be in touch with your conference LEADership Minister or myself, so we can start a conversation and explore the possibilities of connecting.

Noel Santiago is a LEADership Minister for Franconia Conference.


More information from Kirk on RIMI: “Strategic relations have developed with churches in other countries as well. In addition to Mexico, RIMI now has churches in Guatemala, Cuba, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay, Chile and the United States. The vision is that networks of churches will develop in these countries as we support each other in our common vision. Two years ago, we started an international youth conference called “Generación Sana” (Healthy Generation). In 2014, the event was held in Bogota, Colombia with about 80 young people from several countries. In 2015, the event was held in Vina del Mar, Chile and in August 2016, it will be held in Quito, Ecuador.”

God Multiplies the Small Things

by Stephen Kriss

I was struck by the powerful words of the songs that we were singing together on Sunday in this former-thrift-store-turned-worship-space packed to nearly overflowing: we are not afraid… we believe… The words were punctuated with amens, raised hands, “Gloria A Dios.” This is Centro De Alabanza, an outgrowth of Philadelphia Praise Center, now a congregation of its own among the growing Spanish-speaking population in South Philadelphia. We were singing redemption songs that add strength and meaning to immigrant life in this thriving and sometimes dangerous city.

Centro 8On Sunday we celebrated the pastoral licensing of Fernando Loyola and Letty Cortes as ministers in Franconia Conference. Letty was radiant, clothed elegantly with gifts she said were from women in the congregation. Fernando, steady, firm, serious as usual in the task of leading. They lead together as a team, the boomerang of the fruit of Mennonite mission efforts from Franconia Conference to Mexico City in the 90’s.  No one would have expected that support for Kirk Hanger, who left his role at Methacton Mennonite to work at church-planting in Mexico City, would have meant that Centro de Alabanza would emerge to join Franconia Conference.

God multiples the small things and the licensing of Fernando and Letty are proof of that.  Fernando tells the story of his conversion as one that takes a lifetime. Letty is the first woman of color recognized as a pastoral leader in Franconia Conference, over 25 years after the first woman (Marty Kolb-Wycoff) was credentialed for ministry in Vermont.

Centro 1In working with credentialing new leaders and in the slow work that we do in establishing new congregations, I cannot help but see all of the connections that make new things possible.  I notice the small things along the way that when invested in the dream of God, result in unexpected blessing and possibility. It is the widow’s mite given in faith and generosity, the mustard seed that grows into a tree, the leaven that transforms the whole loaf of bread.

We ate together after the two-hour plus worship. There was chicken, rice and beans, Coke along with orange, grape and pineapple soda.  I thought of how similar it felt to the times I’ve visited with Mennonite Churches in Mexico City, yet I was still in my home city in the state where I was born.  I fumbled through conversations in Spanish, but remembered best the words that I learned from Ruth Hunsberger, my Spanish teacher at Johnstown Christian School, who learned Spanish herself while working in Puerto Rico in the 40’s.  My Spanish will thus always sound both a bit Pennsylvania Dutch and a bit Puerto Rican.

Centro 3We bring all of those gifts and parts, all of who we are, all of the possibilities and relationships into the great Matrix of God … and they are used. Nothing is lost, everything is found and even the smallest thing can mean real transformation.  Kirk told the story of meeting Letty while washing dishes in Mexico City. A wholly ordinary conversation that has led eventually to this new community flourishing in South Philadelphia and the naming of the first Latina Mennonite minister in Franconia Conference.  And for those small things, which become eternally significant, and the ability to notice them later and to celebrate together over pollo, frijoles y arroz, I am grateful.

Stephen Kriss is Director of Leadership Cultivation & Congregational Resourcing at Franconia Conference.

Building Bridges Across Cultures and Continents

An Interview with Ubaldo Rodriguez and Kirk Hanger
on the Occasion of Ubaldo’s Ordination – September 9, 2015

by Noel Santiago

ubaldo 2 9-24-15On August 2, 2015, I had the privilege and honor of officiating at the ordination service of Campo Ubaldo Rodriguez at Iglesia Nueva Esperanza that meets at Wilkens Avenue Mennonite Church located in Baltimore, Maryland. Ubaldo Rodriguez, originally from Colombia, educated at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, who is now serving with SEND International in Manila, the Philippines returned home for his ordination as he continues to build bridges between cultures and continents.

Iglesia Nueva Esperanza is a church plant initiative of Pastor Kirk Hanger. Pastor Kirk is the pastor of New Hope Fellowship in Alexandria, VA a partner congregation with Franconia Mennonite Church. Pastor Kirk has been a mentor to Ubaldo over the years, as Ubaldo began pastoring at Iglesia Nueva Esperanza in 2011 and did so there for 2 years before moving to the Philippines, the home country of his wife, Joy, as a missionary with SEND International.

Following Ubaldo’s ordination, I had the opportunity to ask both Ubaldo as well as Kirk Hanger, mentor to Ubaldo, a few questions about embracing God’s call and life in the Philippines.

What has this ordination meant for you?

Ubaldo: The recognition of my calling and ministry by the Franconia Conference gives me encouragement and I feel the support of the Mennonite community even though I am in the Philippines.

Ubaldo, what is it you and Joy do in the Philippines?

Ubaldo: We promote missions awareness, training Filipino missionaries to send others into the world to reach those who have never heard of Jesus and the Good News.  We help churches to fulfill the Great Commission by doing missions training for them.  We intentionally disciple people for them to disciple others (2 Timothy 2:2).

Who is SEND?

Ubaldo: SEND is an international mission organization based in Michigan that sends missionaries to do church planting among the least reached peoples in about 20 countries. Currently, SEND has about 550 missionaries in the world.

As their website states, “About 1/3 of the world’s population lives outside the reach of the local church—they have no opportunity to hear the gospel. SEND International, an interdenominational mission, mobilizes missionaries to engage them with the gospel and establish reproducing churches.”

What brings you the greatest joy?Ubaldo: It brings me great joy to see people come to Christ and see their transformation as disciples for the Kingdom of God.

Kirk, what has been your relationship with Ubaldo over the years?

ubaldo 1 9-24-15Kirk: I first met Ubaldo at a Church Planter’s Retreat at Highland Retreat in Virginia some years ago as he was finishing his studies at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. We later met at the Atlantic Northeast Conferences (ANEC) Regional Church planters gathering. Soon after that, Ubaldo called me to see if I might have a place where he could serve. At that point, I was looking for someone to lead Nueva Esperanza in Baltimore meeting at Wilkens Avenue Mennonite Church. Ubaldo came and pastored the church for about two years. I’ve been a mentor and pastor to Ubaldo since then. I had the opportunity to travel to the Philippines two years ago to preach at Ubaldo and Joy’s wedding.

What have you appreciated about Ubaldo?

Kirk: Ubaldo is a man of deep faith, humility and integrity. Ubaldo is a prayer warrior and spends much time in intercession. I appreciate his intercession for me, especially when I travel. His is also a gifted pastor and teacher and now along with Joy is making the church more aware of the importance of reaching the least reached in the world and mobilizing people for missions.

What has the partnership between Nueva Esperanza and Wilkens Avenue Mennonite Church been like?

Kirk: Wilkens Avenue Mennonite Church is part of Lancaster Mennonite Conference. While Nueva Esperanza has grown out of New Hope Fellowship in Alexandria and through me connects with Franconia Conference, Wilkens Avenue shares the vision of a Spanish speaking church in the community. Wilkens Avenue provides a free space for the church to meet and occasional financial support for Nueva Esperanza. A couple of times a year Wilkens Avenue and Nueva Esperanza have a joint, bilingual outdoor evangelistic service. When Ubaldo lived in Baltimore, he related closely to the Wilkens Avenue congregation.

Ubaldo has bridged cultures and conferences, he has also play a role in RIMI (Red de Iglesias Misioneras Internacional/International Network of Missionary Churches), what will his ongoing relationship be with RIMI and you?

Kirk: RIMI is a network of churches in eight countries that work together in church multiplication, leadership development and missionary mobilization. Ubaldo was instrumental in helping RIMI expand in South America. He and I visited his home church in Bogota, Columbia where I met Ubaldo’s pastor, Islandes and the co-pastor Eduardo. That visit began their relationship with RIMI. Recently, Pastor Eduardo was sent out to start a daughter church in Bogota and last year they hosted Generacion Sana / Healthy Generation, RIMI’s annual international youth event.

 Ubaldo also helped RIMI expand into Quito, Ecuador. Pastor Dairo Rubio had been pastor of Ubaldo’s church before Pastor Islandes many years ago. Pastor Dairo went to Quito to work with Trans-World Radio and while there started two churches. Dairo stays in close contact with the church in Colombia. Through Ubaldo, we met Dairo and he is now part of RIMI. Dairo is an excellent teacher and his experience in radio has helped RIMI’s radio ministry in Mexico expand.

RIMI has an international network of intercessors and Ubaldo is one of the intercessors of the network. RIMI has a coordinator in Mexico who sends out prayer requests to intercessors in several countries who together pray for needs from around the globe.

 Ubaldo, Joy and I are developing a plan for young adults from Latin American to go to the Philippines to learn English and be equipped in the region for missions in Southeast Asia and beyond. We have people in Latin America interested in going and are praying for funding for this project. The goal is that some would commit to long term missions among the least reached.

It seems that God’s purposes for Ubaldo and I meeting were much larger than Baltimore as Ubaldo has helped make important connections with Colombia, Ecuador and now South East Asia that we pray will result in the multiplication and training of many followers of Jesus.

Franconia Mennonite Conference is delighted to have Ubaldo as one of our credentialed leaders as he continues to connect the body of Christ across cutlutres and continents.

For more information or to send words of encouragement you can reach Ubaldo at: ubaldor@pscsend.org. To support Ubaldo and Joy’s ministry you can send checks payable to SEND International at this mailing address: 36216 Freedom Road, Farmington, MI USA 48332, or setup direct deposit by calling 800-SEND808 or 1-248-4774210.


Partnership with MCC builds diverse leadership

by Lora Steiner, managing editor

Mikah Ochieng was a Summer Service Worker this year at Philadelphia Praise Center.

When people think “urban,” chances are pretty good that Doylestown, Pennsylvania is not a place that comes to mind. Thirty years ago, it was a traditional farming community; now, it’s a well-off, artsy, suburban Philadelphia town. And yet, one congregation, Doylestown Mennonite, is incorporating a program traditionally geared towards urban congregations—the Mennonite Central Committee Summer Service Worker Program—to also reach out to a radically-changed surrounding community.

For the Doylestown congregation, having an MCC summer service worker is one of a number of initiatives they’ve begun in order to meaningfully connect with people in the community, moves that have at times felt stretching, and even risky. Over the last several years, says Pastor Randy Heacock, the church has opened its doors to various local initiatives, including a community garden and a peace camp, taking place this month. Derrick Garrido, who attends Doylestown Mennonite and is a student at Cairn University, spent the summer connecting with artists in the community, working to create space for artistic expression within the community and connect with those who might not have a faith community.

MCC started the summer service program in the ’80s, with the same focus it has today: To work in urban areas and provide employment and leadership opportunities to people of color. The goal, says program coordinator Danilo Sanchez (Whitehall congregation), is to allow people opportunities to stay in their home communities and churches and make a difference where they’re living now. Participants must be a person of color between the ages of 18 and 30, preferably enrolled in a university or college, and be connected with a constituent church of MCC, such as Mennonite Church USA or Brethren in Christ members. Some participants come through Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite colleges. Generally, a congregation submits a proposal first, and regional MCC coordinators review the application. If it is approved, applicants are then invited to apply to the MCC U.S. program. In the past, both Franconia and Lancaster Mennonite conferences have contributed financial support, and a number of congregations, such as Philadelphia Praise Center, have had someone in the program for the last several years.

This year, Mikah Ochieng worked at Philadelphia Praise Center, under the supervision of pastor Aldo Siahaan. Ochieng says he’s grateful for the opportunity to have been both a learner and a teacher in a community that has been so hospitable to him, and the one he calls home. When asked about challenges, Ochieng said that of course there had been obstacles, such as a small number of volunteers, but his experience has been that “what we lack in such resources we make up in our commitment to serve one another.”

“It’s a quality-over-quantity type of thing.”

Derrick Garrido kneels beside soccer camp participant Ben Swartley.

New Hope Fellowship, in Alexandria, Virginia, has also participated in MCC’s Summer Service Program for many years. This year, Alex Torres worked with the church’s kid’s club, helped a friend of the congregation with a hip hop school, and assisted the Spanish-speaking community in a variety of ways.

Torres says he’d known others from the congregation who had participated in the summer service worker program, and wanted to make an impact in his community. He says his favorite part was working with the kids, and that he wanted to show them a different, more positive route than the one that’s laid out for many children in his community.

“Where I come from, there’s always a lot of not-so-good things happening… I pay a lot of attention to the youth around here.”

Over the last seven years, summer service worker participants at New Hope have chosen different areas: One worked in a homeless shelter, in part because that’s where he lived. Others who are bilingual have helped people navigate the system.

For New Hope’s pastor, Kirk Hanger, the one of the many benefits of the program is that thepeace camp 2 young adults are from the congregation—they know the context, the congregation and the community, and when it’s done, they stay.

“We get to continue to walk with these young adults and mentor them… and experience more of the fruit of what they’ve learned and done.”

Heacock says that his congregation has worked hard to figure out what it means to be missional—both in the community with relationships that already exist, but also, as he puts it, “How do we not just preserve it for us, but also use our space to be an outpost for the kingdom?”

“If the goal is to learn what God has for us in the midst of it, I really think there’s very little failure.”

Learning & Loving God in MCC Summer Service Program

by Ben White & Millie Penner, Mennonite Central Committee

Cesar Solis
Cesar Solis is serving at New Hope Alexandria through MCC East Coast’s Summer Service Worker program. Photo provided.

When asked what he was looking forward to as he began his Summer Service Worker term with MCC East Coast, Cesar Solis said, “I’m looking forward to learning . . . the best thing about being a Christian is you get to learn new things every day.”  A recent graduate of high school, Cesar is working to discern both what he will do and who he will be.  This young man is committed both to learning and to loving God.

Cesar will have plenty of opportunity to learn and love both God and God’s people this summer at New Hope Fellowship in Alexandria, Virginia. Working with a kids club and youth group is one part of his job, but he also has the opportunity to think with others about supporting another church in New Jersey through a significant transition. Cesar has a willing spirit and seems to thrive on taking risks. His pastor Kirk Hanger is working to give Cesar many opportunities to learn.  Cesar’s God-given enthusiasm will make his Summer Service term enjoyable. The grant from Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) East Coast Summer Service Worker program makes it possible.

The MCC East Coast Summer Service Worker program is a short term leadership development program for young adult people of color between the ages of 18-30. This Summer Service Worker program partners with churches and other organizations to provide leadership opportunities for young people.  The church or organization, along with MCC East Coast, work together to pay Summer Service workers for their efforts. Franconia Conference also contributed to Cesar Solis’ grant.

Summer Service Workers 2012
This year’s participants in MCC East Coast’s Summer Service Worker program. Photo provided.

In June, MCC East Coast and MCC Great Lakes Summer Service Workers participated in a week of orientation in Philadelphia, PA. Participants learned from largely urban speakers about MCC and what it means to be a young Christian leader of color. Summer Service Workers also form friendships among themselves during the orientation. These bonds of friendship and support are strengthened through regularly scheduled conference calls in which they share their joys and frustrations during their terms of service.

This summer there are eleven East Coast Summer Service Workers from New York City to Puerto Rico who are learning much about leadership and taking risks.

Please pray that East Coast Summer Service Workers see themselves as God sees them—gifted individuals with much to offer the world.

The MCC East Coast Summer Service progam considers new partnerships each year.  Interested churches or organizations should visit the website for further details.