Tag Archives: MAMA Project

Together Once More

by Sue Conrad Howes, Eastern District Conference (West Swamp congregation), with Emily Ralph Servant, Franconia Conference (Director of Communication)

It was a potentially historic day for two Mennonite conferences that split over 170 years ago. 

Photo by Cindy Angela

On November 2, 2019, delegates from Franconia Mennonite Conference and Eastern District Conference met together at Souderton (PA) Mennonite Church to determine if reconciliation, which seemed unattainable in 1847, would now be possible.

It was hard to imagine that these two groups had been divided at all, as animated conversations and joyful reunions happened throughout the crowded fellowship hall as the delegates arrived. There was even an audible groan when it was announced that the Eastern District Conference delegates needed to move to another gathering room for their morning delegate session.  And so, for the morning, the two groups met separately, with the possibility of reconciliation on the afternoon horizon.

During Eastern District’s morning delegate session, leaders facilitated a discussion over the future and publicly recognized that the vote toward reconciliation was just the beginning of a new journey.  They thanked everyone who had helped to bring them to this point and then led in a time of sharing stories about where delegates were seeing God working in their congregations and ministries. 

Photo by Cindy Angela

Franconia’s morning delegate session included affirming Rose Bender Cook (Whitehall congregation) for a third term and KrisAnne Swartley (Doylestown congregation) for a second term on the Credentials Committee. Chris Nickels (Spring Mount congregation) was affirmed for a third term and Janet Panning (Plains congregation) for a first term on the Ministerial Committee.  Swartley and Panning will serve as committee chairs.  John Goshow (Blooming Glen congregation) and Beny Krisbianto (Nations Worship Center) were thanked for their nine years of service on the Conference Board.

Franconia also welcomed four new Conference Related Ministries: Peace Proclamation Ministries International (out of Plains congregation), Healthy Niños Honduras (birthed out of MAMA Project), Ripple Community Inc (out of Ripple congregation), and Taproot Gap Year (out of Philadelphia Praise Center).  The delegates welcomed a new congregation, Iglesia Menonita Ebenezer (Souderton, PA) and released West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship to transfer to Allegheny Conference.

Photo by Cindy Angela

After a meaningful joint worship in the morning, when credentialed leaders of both conferences who had passed away during the past year were remembered and newly credentialed leaders were introduced, anointed, and then commissioned to anoint others, the two conferences joined together for the afternoon session. Joy Sutter, moderator of Mennonite Church USA (Salford congregation), expressed gratitude to the delegates for demonstrating the path of reconciliation. “You are modeling a new and inspiring path for the future. As you move forward…, may you be blessed,” said Sutter.

The three-year process toward reconciliation, led almost exclusively by conference volunteers, was introduced by the Structure and Identity Task Force.  Sherri Brokopp Binder (Ripple congregation) & Rina Rampogu (Plains congregation) explained the process, the changes proposed, and the next steps, if the delegates voted affirmatively for reconciliation.

The task force had done its work, as few delegates posed questions or expressed any sense of hesitation with the proposal. The two conferences divided, for the last time, to discern and vote.

Photo by Cindy Angela

With the delegates reunited after the vote, John Goshow, Franconia Conference moderator, and Jim Musselman, Eastern District moderator (Zion congregation), shared the results of the historic vote: together, the conferences had voted unanimously for reconciliation.

Spontaneous applause and cheers of affirmation from the delegates erupted while leaders from both conferences shared hugs and broad smiles.  Together, the enthusiastic group sang, “Hosanna, Let Jesus be Lifted Up” and “Praise God from Whom” with gusto and gratitude.

Scott Roth (L) and Steve Kriss (R) lead the Conferences into a time of communion. Photo by Cindy Angela

Following the singing, Steve Kriss, Franconia Conference executive minister, and Scott Roth, Eastern District conference minister, spoke.  “I am rarely speechless,” Kriss admitted. “But we are about to do something that could not happen 150 years ago. We are about to sit together and take communion. For some of you, this split divided families, for some of you this split divided congregations. Today we celebrate the ministry of reconciliation that has been and will continue to be our life’s work.”

Roth reminisced about being charged with the ministry of reconciliation as a youth by adult leaders who knew that the reality of such a merger would be through the work of future generations. Roth shared his joy that the dream he had heard about as a youth was now being realized. “Remember,” Roth said; “although the paperwork is not completed, we are one in the Spirit and we are one in Jesus’ blood.”

Jessica Miller (Perkasie congregation). Photo by Cindy Angela

In the front of the fellowship hall, a pile of rocks had sat all morning, without mention. This column was reminiscent of the Old Testament practice of raising an Ebenezer, commemorating God’s help or celebrating memorable events. This rock structure was not to remain, however.  Instead, each church was instructed to take a rock home, paint it, and return with it to next year’s first assembly as a new conference. The rocks will then be formed into a fountain, representing the new conference, flowing with life.

Conference moderators, John Goshow (Franconia) and Jim Musselman (Eastern District) prepare to celebrate the reconciliation! Photo by Cindy Angela

The day’s events closed with a traditional action, which has been spoken by Franconia delegates to conclude their assemblies for more than a hundred years. On this day, however, delegates of both Franconia and Eastern District made the commitment together, as one gathered body:

“We affirm our desire to continue in and witness to the nonresistant and simple faith in Christ, looking for the blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

“Kami menegaskani keinginan untuk terus ikut dan menjadi saksi kesederhanaan iman dalam Kristus dan menjadi pembawa damai, terus mencari kepada berkat pengharapan serta memperlihatkan kemuliaan dari kebesaran Tuhan dan juru selamat kami, Yesus Kristus.”

“Afirmamos nuestro deseo de seguir testificando con la fe de no resistencia y sencilla en Cristo, mirando a la esperanza bendita y la venida gloriosa de nuestro gran Dios y nuestro Salvador Jesucristo.”

“Chúng tôi xin xác nhận nguyện-vọng của chúng tôi là tiếp tục và làm chứng cho giải pháp ôn-hòa và đức-tin chân thật trong Ðấng Christ, tiềm kiếm sự hy-vọng hạnh phước, và sự vinh quang của Ðức Chúa Trời đại quyền hiện ra và Ðấng Cứu Chuộc của chúng tôi là Ðức Chúa Giê-xu Christ.”

”我們重申我們的意願是繼續以和平及純正信仰去見證基督的生命,懷著美好的盼望,等候我們偉大的神及救主耶穌基督的榮耀顯現。”

Deep Run East joins MAMA Project in Honduras

Deep Run & MAMA Project
The dedication service at Iglesia Evangelica del Principe de Paz.

by Barb Rice, Deep Run East

Ken Burkholder, pastor of Deep Run East congregation (Perkasie, Pa.), joined the 27th MAMA Project Team that Deep Run East has sent to Honduras since 2001.  Over the years, Pastor Ken had heard from teams reporting on their experiences and had met some of the MAMA Project partners on their visits to the US, but on March 15-22, he joined the team in Honduras.

On March 16, one day after arrival in San Pedro Sula, the team arrived at Iglesia Central Menonita (the largest Mennonite Church in the city) for an inspired and holy time of worship.  Wow… talk about a worship team and praise music!  Pastor Ken was invited to preach and his sermon followed worship, focusing on II Cor. 5: 17-21, “In Christ—New Creation.”  In the context of violence and poverty in Honduras, the call to reconciliation and being ambassadors and coworkers with Christ was powerful to all who were listening.

After the worship service it was good to play a little “Mennonite game,” meeting Honduran young persons who had been part of the Mennonite Central Committee IVEP program and also discovering that the worship band leader had attended Eastern Mennonite University’s Peace Institute.  What a blessing to fellowship with other believers around the world; Pastor Ken and another team member were visiting so long that the rest of the group left them behind!

Pastor Adalid Romero, president of the Honduran Mennonite Church, met with our team and explained how life in Honduras was lived in the midst of organized crime and corruption, with much illegal immigration to the US, Mexico, and Spain.  He shared that “the situation here would be that much worse than it already is, if it wasn’t for the presence of the churches in Honduras!”  The Honduran Mennonite Church works to teach peacemaking in schools where guns and knives show up routinely, introducing students to a different way of problem solving without violence.

That Sunday evening, the team headed to Iglesia Evangelica del Principe de Paz, a church in a poor community at the edge of the city.  The church is located in the middle of drug traffic and gang tensions, but the community loves our teams and helps to ensure we are protected.  Deep Run East and Swamp congregation (Quakertown, Pa.) have partnered with the pastor of this church, Juan Angel Ramirez, to work in this community.  A new church has been built over the last two years and, as we arrived, everyone was waiting outside for the “big reveal.”  The dedication service included ribbon cutting, with eight children dressed in rented wedding clothes holding the ribbons.  Pastor Ken, as the honored guest, was given the scissors.  The new building is an amazing testament of God’s desire for the church to be a beacon of hope, sitting up on the hill for all in the community to see.

Deep Run &  MAMA Project
The worship space at Maranatha Menonita church.

That week we traveled to a remote community each day, setting up a clinic to give parasite medicine and vitamins and do medical consults.    In addition, a work project was planned in each community.  Our team organizer, Irma Dinora Molina, an involved member in the Honduran Mennonite Church, suggested working in some of the poor struggling Mennonite communities around San Pedro Sula.  This plan was a perfect fit for a team with a Mennonite pastor.  It was a highlight to see Ken connect, pray, and worship with the pastors in these communities.  These are some of Ken’s comments after our trip:

  • The Church is the Hope of the World – In the midst of the poverty, suffering, and brokenness that we encountered in Honduras, we witnessed how the church is a beacon of light and hope. I greatly enjoyed interacting with the pastors. They love the Lord, they love their communities, they believe in the power of prayer, and some of them are literally risking their lives to be pastors!
  • Power of Prayer – The people of Honduras pray often and fervently! We prayed together before beginning our work for the day, we laid hands on and prayed for a vehicle that wasn’t running well, and we experienced answered prayers from our Deep Run East and Honduran friends in various ways throughout the week.
  • Spontaneous Worship/Prayer Experience – Words simply cannot capture the one experience I had of spontaneous worship and prayer among a group of Hondurans as we were finishing a painting job. I clearly witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit and I would describe this as a “modern-day Pentecost experience.”

If worship experiences like these seem intriguing, think about joining even more powerful worship services at Mennonite World Conference in Harrisburg, PA, July 2015.  Our friends in Honduras are anxious to come too…please pray for the visa process.

Peace Mug Awarded to Dr. Priscilla Benner, MAMA Project

Becky Felton (right) presents Dr. Benner with the Peace Mug

Feb. 11, 2012 – Dr. Priscilla Benner received this year’s Franconia Conference Peace Mug Award during the Winter Peace Retreat at Spruce Lake.  Dr. Benner has been involved since the early 1980’s in the visioning and creation of the organization named MAMA Project. MAMA, which stands for Mujeres Amigas (Women Friends) Miles Apart, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

MAMA grew out of what Ruth Cole, Dr. Benner’s sister, and others witnessed for themselves during mission trips to Honduras in 1983 and 1984. Her pictures and stories were shared in eight Mennonite Churches in the Franconia and Eastern District Conferences, and with women’s mission groups which then reached out to the Mennonite Women’s Organization of the Honduran Mennonite Church, and a partnership was formed.

Dr. Benner grew up in a community where all the influential people in her life were intensely nationalistic.  She was introduced to the Mennonite peace perspective when she married David Benner, but the horrible things she witnessed in Central America – extreme poverty, war and militarization, fueled by her beloved country – shattered her world view and transformed her life.

From the outset MAMA has focused on families with children living at risk for early death from malnutrition, beginning with the “Superbar” and “Super Cookies” projects. Since then, MAMA has grown significantly, being involved in direct aid with food supplements, nutrition and childcare education, literacy, scholarships; and when crises such as floods occur, rescue, relief, and reconstruction projects. At times, MAMA’s work has included loans, home construction, latrine and water projects, but today most construction is focused on cementing floors in poor homes.

MAMA has also had a significant role to play in the sphere of national health policy and has had influence in Honduras and in other countries by partnering with others and sharing its materials, systems, and perspectives. Dr. Benner says, “We take teams to work in and experience Honduras, and hope and pray that the fire of their own passion for service will be fueled by this experience.”

Peace Mugs, provided by the Peace and Justice Support Network (PJSN) of Mennonite Church USA and awarded by our conference Peace & Justice Committee, honor those among us who demonstrate a lifelong commitment to peace and justice.