Tag Archives: Kiron Mateti

Meeting Neighbors Near and Far

by Kiron Mateti, Franconia Board Member (Plains congregation)

As a relatively new board member with below average Spanish skills, I was surprised, but honored, when Franconia’s Executive Minister Steve Kriss asked me to join him and a Pennsylvania contingent to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Anabaptist churches in Mexico City.

A portion of our Pennsylvania contingent: Mary & Danilo Sanchez, Steve Kriss, and Kiron Mateti (not pictured: David Yoder and Cathy Godshall).

I boarded the plane with the stress of work still looming over me, and the mixed feelings that come with leaving a pregnant wife and two girls at home in PA while going on an exciting trip to Mexico.  With strong encouragement from my lovely and thoughtful wife, however, we agreed that this trip would be an opportunity to meet the real people of Mexico, to put faces to the impersonal news stories I often hear, and to allow God to recalibrate my ideas of who His people are in the world.

Our gracious host Oscar drove Steve, Danilo & Mary Sanchez (Ripple congregation), and me around Mexico City in Carlos Martinez Garcia’s Toyota Avanza.  I had previously met Carlos, moderator of the Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México (CIEAMM) at the “Renewing Nations & Generations” gathering before 2018 Fall Assembly.  I enjoyed getting to know Carlos more and meeting Oscar for the first time, and greatly appreciated their hospitality.

Oscar’s heart reminded me of my Uncle Ravi in India.  One day, as we were driving to someone’s house for lunch, I mentioned how fresh the fruit in the road-side stand looked.  After we arrived and greeted everyone, we didn’t notice Oscar slip out.  Then, suddenly, Oscar had come back with fresh papaya, and proceeded to cut it and personally serve me a bowl with Tajin and fresh squeezed lime.  Que bien!

My mom’s native tongue is an Indian language called Telugu.  It is one of my life’s regrets that I can’t speak Telugu. In my defense, some of my hesitation to even try stems from instances of uncontrollable laughter when attempting to speak Telugu with my mom.  I guess I have an American accent.

But with Spanish I determined it would be different.  Spanish was not new to me—I had taken four years in high school.  But that was almost two decades ago!  I decided that I would speak what little Spanish I knew, and I would welcome the laughter.

But the laughter never came.

Instead my new amigos y hermanos appreciated my feeble Spanish, and I was amazed and thankful for how many people were willing to teach me along the way. And also, thank God for Google Translate!

The celebration services at El Buen Pastor, Luz y Verdad, and Cristiana de Paz congregations were a wonderful glimpse into a thriving Anabaptist church presence in Mexico City.  I was thankful to worship with my fellow believers, my neighbors from afar, and thankful to build relationships with the churches there.

Members from Iglesia Menonita Ebenezer at the Fourth of July “You Are Welcome” event.

Back home, at our 2nd annual “You are Welcome” Fourth of July picnic, Plains Mennonite Church and the Evangelical Center for Revival joined with Iglesia Menonita Ebenezer to enjoy music, food, and games in the sun at Plains Park.  Following my trip to Mexico, I found newfound courage that day to interact with fellow believers across the language and cultural divide. God used this trip to teach me that I don’t need to travel far to meet my neighbors—I can build relationships with my neighbors right here at home.

Plains and Curious

by Jim King, Plains congregation (Lansdale, PA)

Four-year-old Jaya Mateti was immediately aware that the music in the May 19th worship service was different.  It had a beat and it was LOUD!  As soon as she saw everyone standing for the music, she asked to be lifted up so she could see.  With her feet firmly planted on the back of the bench in front of her, she looked around at our guests from Evangelical Center for Revival and exclaimed, “There’s a lot of ‘Indians’ here today and they look like me!”

At the beginning of our worship service, our worship leader Rina Rampogu reminded us that our worship time could possibly have less structure and more spontaneity.  About halfway through the service, smells of Congolese food being heated in the kitchen downstairs wafted up.

How did we get to having a combined worship service with a Congolese congregation?  And what is the point of this interaction?

During the summer of 2017, when U.S. politics seemed to focus on borders, boundaries, and walls, a small group of people met during the Sunday School hour to discuss immigration issues.  We had heard from recent immigrants that Lansdale was an immigrant-friendly community, but we wanted to do more in making people feel welcome in our church.  We noticed that our playground had already become a welcoming place for children of various cultures to come and play together.

This immigration task force, led by Rachel and Kiron Mateti (conference board member), helped us focus on ways we could be more welcoming and culturally aware of our neighbors.  We decided that a July 4 celebration in our church park could help us develop friendships with those who have come to the U.S. more recently.  To ensure that this would truly be a cross-cultural event, we asked Evangelical Center for Revival to co-sponsor this event with us.

Penny Naugle shares a story with children from both congregations.

After this experience, some Plains members indicated that they were curious about how the Congolese congregation worships, so about twelve of us attended their worship service in Elkins Park.  As Pastor Maurice Baruti and I sat together at the fellowship meal, we observed how different groups from Plains ate with members from the Center congregation and we talked about the possibility of doing a joint worship service together at Plains.  At first he wasn’t so sure it would work; their worship service starts at 11:30, ours starts at 10:15.  We ended up with a compromise of 11:00.

Pastor Maurice Baruti (L) and his wife Berthe (R) with Jim King.

Prior to the service, Pastor Baruti asked how long he should speak.  When he was told that we expected about 20-25 minutes, he smiled and said he was comfortable with speaking for an hour.  During the worship he spoke in French and was translated to English by his wife Berthe.  Rampogu said that as she looked out over the audience, “there seemed to be an expression of anticipation and curiosity on the faces of the congregation.”  Several guests from the Center congregation shared that they had just come off working a night shift but that this was a service they didn’t want to miss.

As we at Plains look to fill an Associate Pastor position, this worship service reminded us that we could me be more flexible in how we do worship.  With friendship, food, and fellowship, we will work it out.  Our pastor, Mike Derstine says, “Anytime we worship with another congregation we are stretched by new patterns and ways of doing things, new songs and differences in worship style, and fresh testimonies during sharing time from people in different work and life situations.  Then there was the stretching experience of different foods and table fellowship after the worship service, all of which serves to remind us that our concept and understanding of God is always beyond us.”

We realize we need to continue to change to be more culturally welcoming.  The last verse of our 250th Anniversary song, written by Justin Yoder, says it well: “Teach us new songs, while we hold dear the strains of long ago.  When we sing, the Spirit is here: may it be ever so!”

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.

 

Up For The Task

When current Franconia Conference Board member Jim King invited him over for dinner, the idea of filling a seat on the Board was not on Kiron Mateti’s radar in the least bit.  Being new to the Conference, it wasn’t a proposition he was expecting or a position that he was seeking out. With a life journey that started – figuratively speaking – quite far from Anabaptism, Kiron brings a perspective and insight that will be a welcomed addition to Conference leadership should he be affirmed as a board member. Kiron Mateti is being presented to the delegates at the fall Assembly as a nominee by the Conference Board for affirmation to join them as a first term Conference Board Member-at-Large.

Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, Kiron’s early faith life was shaped by varying degrees of Hindu belief and practice by his parents, who immigrated from India.  However, through the influence of Christian neighbors and a job in a Presbyterian church nursery, Kiron’s mother learned about the Christian faith, cleared the house of Hindu statues and began to talk to her sons about Jesus.  As a result, Kiron and his brother felt caught in the middle between their parents. 

“My brother and my dad had a pretty terrible relationship, and [my brother] got into drugs and alcohol really early on in life, and then I followed in his footsteps.” The brothers were able to sustain that lifestyle and still do well in high school and college, but eventually, tragically, the substance abuse caught up with them.  “In my 2nd semester (of grad school at Penn State), my brother died drinking and driving. That was a turning point in my life,” Kiron says. He took a semester off, returned home to Ohio … and for some reason, picked up a nice, leather-bound Bible from his mom’s shelf.  “I started reading the New Testament, and read it rather quickly.  I had so many questions.” 

When the day came to empty out his brother’s apartment, Kiron was expecting a group of his mom’s church friends to come help out. “I show up and it was just me and another guy!”, Kiron laughs. “I think he planned it, because he and I talked the whole day!  He was really strong in his faith, and we went through Genesis to Revelation.  I asked him all kinds of questions.” 

With the planted seeds of faith taking root, Kiron returned to Penn State, sought out a friend who was a Christian, and began tagging along to the Christian Student Fellowship (CSF) gatherings, various campus ministry functions and to Sunday church services.  On his first day visiting Christ Community Church in State College, he caught the eye of a fellow Indian man.  “He was really easy to talk to, and wanted to know more about me,” Kiron recalls.  “We met up, and then we started meeting up weekly and doing one-on-one Bible studies.” Kiron remembers this as an intense time of formation and growth in his faith. “It was just me and him, and we were going through some of the same tough questions, and we’d dig in.  We’d have four- or five-hour Bible studies!” Eventually friends started coming along, and by the time Kiron left Penn State, there were around 40 people attending!

Kiron’s involvement with CSF introduced him to more than just Jesus; one of the first people he met at a CSF gathering was his future wife, Rachel, originally from the Reading, PA. area.  After getting married, they began attending University Mennonite Church, where various Anabaptist values resonated with Kiron.  “I saw a contrast … it’s not ‘American Christianity’; it’s just following Jesus, it’s outside of nationalities or allegiance to a country.  That is something that I respected.”

In 2016, Kiron and Rachel committed to moving their family closer to Rachel’s extended family, and Kiron took a position at JBT Automated Guided Vehicles in Chalfont, PA., as a Research and Development Engineer.  Settling in Telford, they visited most of the area Mennonite churches, but were invited to Plains Mennonite Church by Anya Williamson, a friend from Penn State. Kiron’s mom, who now lived with them, immediately connected with the Thalathodi and Rampogu families, who also spoke her native Telugu language.  Kiron and Rachel also made connections, particularly with other families with small children, and got involved with the worship team, teaching Sunday School and leading adult classes.

As an unofficial mentor to Kiron and Rachel, Jim King connected with them through Sunday School, men’s breakfasts, and together spearheading an intercultural, multi-church picnic this past Fourth of July, and saw something in Kiron that he felt would be an asset to the Board, and approached him with the idea. “Kiron’s presence radiates joy, curiosity and openness wherever I have been with him,” Jim says. “I just have to smile when I think of how the rest of the board will receive him.”  

Those who know him tend to agree. “Kiron is a thoughtful, independent thinker with a deep commitment to the church, his family, and the way of Jesus,” says Plains’ Pastor Mike Derstine.  “While new to our congregation and conference, he is eager to learn, meet new people, and further the mission of God in our community and world.”  Executive Minister Steve Kriss also anticipates the contributions Kiron will bring. “He’s bright, engaged, will ask good questions and help us find our way into new spaces, places, possibilities,” says Steve.

Kiron feels up for the task.  He anticipates hard work, a lot of listening and learning, and hopefully the ability to contribute as one who didn’t grow up in the church. “I feel empathetic towards people who are ‘different’,” he says. “Maybe that can provide a perspective that’s needed on the board.” 

Kiron and his wife Rachel (Zimmerman) are the parents of 5-year-old Asha and almost-3-year-old Jaya, and as a family, they enjoy music, the beach, camping and are a self-proclaimed “nerdy family” who like to visit libraries when they travel.