Tag Archives: Marta Castillo

Studying and Remembering Calling

(Estudiando y recordando llamada)

by Steve Kriss, Executive Minister

I’ve studied Spanish off and on for nearly 40 years. My initial introduction happened via Sesame Street on TV with some Spanish interspersed between Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird. I then learned some basics at West End Elementary School. Much of that remains readily in my brain — even the crayons that were adhered to the wall of my classroom at West End Elementary.

For two years in high school, I studied Spanish with Ruth Y. Hunsberger, who after her time serving at Academia Menonita Betania, added a PA Dutch and Boricua accent to my Spanish pronunciation. I picked up more Tejano Spanish in San Antonio after serving a summer with Mennonite Mission Network in San Antonio which catapulted me into a more advanced Spanish class than probably was appropriate at Eastern Mennonite University where I studied as an undergraduate. I never got my language construction quite right after that.

Since then, I’ve studied several other languages a bit. I grew up in a household where my Grandpa spoke Slovak and snippets of other European languages. I was raised with an understanding that knowing some of the language of the neighbors could be valuable. Today, my immediate next door neighbors speak Spanish.

Earlier this year, for three weeks, I took the time to re-immerse myself in Spanish.  I chose a school removed from familiar communities so that I’d have to be a student only.  Though I did some work from Mexico, my immediate environment was school and navigating through an attempted Spanish upgrade. It was both humbling and invigorating.

After three weeks, my comprehension has improved. My colleague Noel Santiago and I are able to have conversations we haven’t had before in Spanish. I’m trying to practice every day, which so far has more often seemed endearing than annoying to those who’ve had to endure my commitment to keep practicing, even if it’s only when I’m ordering enchiladas.

While studying, I was reminded of the beauty and brokenness of the world. As a student in a secular language school, I found many people seeking and searching. My co-learners came from all over the world to a small city in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula to learn, to relax, to find something. I was invigorated by learning alongside them in their search. Admittedly, more often than not, the church was far from conversation and their search. Some were curious about my work and spirituality. Others avoided the conversation even when it surfaced.

But in these three weeks, I was reminded of my own call to serve the church as a pastor. It was a reminder of the commitments that I made to search out ways that the Gospel might really mean hope, freedom, and redemption for persons who are seeking and stumbling, for those who need comfort as well as those who need to be discomforted. It was a reminder to pay attention to all that is beautiful and broken, to find times when I might also be able to say as Jesus did, “the reign of God is near.”

I’m back with better Spanish, but I’ll have to struggle every day to maintain it. Next month, Marta Castillo will head to Indonesia to get an upgrade on her Indonesian language skills, so that she’s better able to accompany our Indonesian speaking communities as well. As a Conference, we are committed to having a multilingual ministry team, not only because it’s chido (cool) but because it also represents the work of the Spirit at Pentecost to bring the Good News to all people.

It’s our ongoing commitment as disciples, as leaders, as pastors, to extend the Good News to all people, until God’s reign comes in it’s fullness.  We are in it together.  Bersama.  Juntos. cùng với nhau. The beautiful and broken world is waiting to hear us.

Already and Not Yet

Recognizing What is and Hoping for What is Yet to Come –  Revelation 7:9-14

by Marta Castillo

When a baby is born, even when still in the womb, they already are a person, with physical traits, personality, and family.  What we don’t know yet is how this baby will grow, and learn, and who she will become.  She is already a person … but she is not yet all that she will become.  In a baby, we recognize what is and we hope for what is yet to come.

Our hope this Christmas season and in our everyday lives is built on what we already believe to be true about God, true about Jesus, and true about ourselves in Jesus Christ … while trusting that what we do not yet experience or see will be fulfilled as promised by God.

Jesus, the promised Messiah, was already born in this world. He already lived. He already died. He came back to life to save us and yet the world is still waiting for full restoration, healing, and shalom.  When Jesus was born, he was already the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, and Messiah who had come to save the world.  When we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we celebrate the birth of a baby … we celebrate that the Word (Jesus) became flesh to dwell among us … we celebrate “Emmanuel” (God is with us).  As he grew and learned about this world, he became all that God intended him to be – a teacher, healer, mentor, friend, and Lord.  He was just, loving, true, faithful, and righteous. We celebrate what has already happened: the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  We celebrate in hope, looking forward to the “not yet”, the things that have not yet happened but are promised to be.  We wait for the day when Christ comes back for us and we can experience what we read here in Revelation 7.

In Franconia Conference, we already live the reality of worshiping together in unity and diversity and yet we have not experienced the glorious, full worship before the throne with the multitude.  In some ways, we in Franconia Conference already have a head start.  We have learned to worship God through the cultures, preferences, and languages of others. We have learned to continue to worship even when the assembly is singing in a different language.  We have learned to pray along when the person is praying in a language that we can’t understand with our own knowledge.

In a book called, Apocalypse and Allegiance, Nelson Kraybill writes, “True worship of God transcends time, culture, language, and nation. “  He says that when we worship God, we join a vast multitude of saints from all peoples and all eras of history.  When we see “ourselves as part of this multitude, it makes us less likely to idolize our countries.  We are less likely to let issues and perspectives of our own generation eclipse the shared wisdom of saints through the ages.”  One day, none of these things will matter, we will simply worship before the throne of our salvation and the victory already won.

We have already chosen to be faithful and receive the righteousness of God through Jesus Christ but we still continue our journey and have not yet received our reward.  The call of Revelation is to be faithful.  When we receive salvation, we are set free by the blood of the Lamb and clothed in righteousness.  We are redeemed to be faithful only to God and not to the other gods of this world.   We are to be faithful to God in times of persecution and turmoil.  If we are faithful, we still stand before the throne, robed in white and made worthy of heavenly existence.

We already experience the presence of God in our lives and church community and yet we have not experienced the fullness of the shekinah glory of God dwelling among us.  Oh, the wonder of being in the very presence of God! At Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, we sing a song “Holy Spirit, fill this room, shekinah glory, sweet perfume.  We need your presence, we need you. Shekinah glory fill this room”  Shekinah glory is the very presence of God.  And yes, there are times that we already “feel/experience/know” in our spirits that God is present with us.  It may be during times of prayer or worship or when we are attentive to God’s Spirit, whether we are alone or in communion with others.  Shekinah is God’s presence and glory dwelling with us.  It is already with us.  And yet one day, we will know the fullness of God’s Shekinah glory.  Revelation 21:3 “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.  To dwell with God is to be fully sheltered.

We already are shepherded by Jesus and cared for by God and led by the Holy Spirit but we have not yet experienced the hunger-free, thirst-free, tear-free life that we will one day experience in the new heaven and new earth.  We already know the comfort, the peace, the joy, and love of walking with Jesus, our shepherd.  And yet, there are many of us who are experiencing sickness in our bodies and in our minds.  We live with sorrow and brokenness of relationships and loss.  We feel like we don’t have “enough”.  We are bound by circumstances, addictions, and sins.  We already know that Jesus came to earth to set us free and allow us to become new creation and yet, we are still thirsting for the spring of the water of life. We are waiting for completion, for shalom.

We walk in hope today, in a hope rooted in the “already” and looking forward to what God has “not yet” done but what God has promised to do.  The call is to be faithful…stand firm…and continue to worship God and Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.  I am confident of this, that the one who “already” began a good work among you will bring “what is not yet” to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)

 

 

Partial Vision

By Marta Castillo, LEADership Minister

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” When faced with new situations, unexpected challenges, decision-making, or new information, my mind starts to try to make sense of it using my senses, my past experiences, and my knowledge. It is natural for us to try to problem solve and to find a space for information within our framework of understanding.

However, as followers of Jesus Christ, children of God, and saints led by the Spirit, we are called to look beyond our own understanding and to trust in the Lord and submit to God’s wisdom and way. When we look at the gospels, we see how many times Jesus says to people, “You do not understand.” As he washes the disciples’ feet, Jesus says in John 13:7, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” To Nicodemus, in John 3, Jesus answers, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” When Jesus told parables, and talked about his upcoming death to the disciples, the ones closest to Him, did not understand. John 12:16 says, “His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.”

Richard Rohr uses the term “partial vision”, the need to recognize that we understand only in part. Our acknowledgement that we know only in part (1 Corinthians 13:12) allows us to “lean not on our own understanding,” to trust in God, and to submit our ways to God so that God can direct our paths. Our confession that we have “partial vision” humbles us and allows us to listen to others who have “partial vision” and seek God who fully sees and knows all things.

In Franconia Conference, we are facing all kinds of new situations, receiving new congregations, facing unexpected challenges, deciding about possible reconciliation, and making new kinds of decisions. I believe that we will all benefit from confessing together that we have “partial vision” and that there are numerous ways that God is working that are outside of our understanding and comprehension. I believe that we will benefit in committing and submitting together to walk in trust of the Lord, following the footsteps of Jesus, and relying heavily on the lead of the Holy Spirit.

I  Corinthians 13:12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

 

Preparation for the Way Ahead

by Marta Castillo, LEADership Minister

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.”

Cuidándonos entre Mujeres / Sister Care

por Marta Castillo

La experiencia de sentarse, aprender, reír, llorar y compartir en un grupo de 30 líderes y pastoras de habla hispana es una experiencia que no tiene comparación. El Espíritu del Dios viviente fluía libremente y poderosamente, las voces se elevaban en ánimo, las oraciones se hablaban y las experiencias de vida fueran compartidas en alegría a través del dolor. Tuve el privilegio de ser incluida en la invitación y estoy agradecida de que la Conferencia de Franconia me apoyara,  Pastora Marta Castillo (Nueva Vida Norristown Nueva Vida) y Pastora Leticia Cortes (Centro de Alabanza), en nuestro viaje a Oregón el mes pasado para participar en el taller Cuidándonos entre Mujeres  en español. El entrenamiento trajo sanación y el encuentro de líderes de mujeres hispanas fuertes de todo Estados Unidos, incluyendo Florida, Texas, California, Iowa y Pennsylvania fue una fuente de inspiración.


Como dice el sitio web de Menonite Women USA, “los talleres proveen a las mujeres con herramientas para la sanación personal continua, el reconocimiento y la celebración de la gracia de Dios en sus vidas, y respondiendo con más confianza y efectividad a las necesidades de otros en sus familias, congregaciones y comunidades”. Se ha sido utilizado en todo el mundo y se ha traducido en varios idiomas, pero esta es la primera vez que se imparte el curso en español con la esperanza de llevar los materiales y habilidades a nuestras conferencias y congregaciones.  La Pastora Leticia Cortes Castro y yo estamos comprometidas a compartir lo que hemos aprendido con otras mujeres en nuestras iglesias y en nuestra  conferencia.

La Pastora Leticia envió una nota a la Conferencia de Franconia para expresar su agradecimiento. Como miembros de la Conferencia de Franconia aquí están sus palabras para ustedes:

Para la Conferencia de Franconia:

Por este medio quiero agradecer todo el apoyo que se nos dio a Marta Castillo y su servidora, para viajar a Portland Oregon, y poder tomar el taller de “Cuidado de mujeres” que fue de gran bendición para nuestras vidas, en lo personal me siento fortalecida y animada para compartir con otras lo aprendido, los temas son de gran interés para nuestra comunidad Hispana, y pudimos identificar que muchos de los temas que se compartieron, son necesarios para ayudarnos entre nostras como mujeres, me toco la lectura bíblica de la samaritana, y algo paso en ese tiempo de compartir ese pasaje,  fue algo especial para mí, me sentí tan identificada con la mujer samaritana, de sentir el perdón y amada directamente por el Mesías, otra parte del taller fue maravilloso porque los temas fueron  en mi idioma, lo extraordinario fue que lo aprendido lo pude poner en práctica con una Hermana que se sentía mal espiritualmente, y pude compartir con ella y orar juntas, y sentimos como Dios uso ese momento para darle paz , y gozo en su vida, quedamos tan agradecidas con Dios, que vamos a continuar con nuestra hermandad y amistad a la distancia,

Gracias nuevamente, en Cristo
Pastora Letty Cortes Castro
Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia

by Marta Castillo

Sitting, learning, laughing, crying, and sharing in a group of 30 Spanish-speaking women leaders and pastors is an experience that is unrivaled.  The Spirit of the living God flowed freely and powerfully, voices were raised in excitement, prayers were spoken, and life experiences shared in joy through the pain.  I was privileged (as a white Spanish-speaking woman) to be included in the invitation and I am thankful that Franconia Conference supported myself, Pastor Marta Castillo (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life), and Pastor Leticia Cortes (Centro de Alabanza), in our trip to Oregon last month to participate in the Sister Care Seminar in Spanish.  Going through the training was healing and meeting strong Hispanic women leaders from all over the United States, including Florida, Texas, California, Iowa, and Pennsylvania was inspirational.

As the Mennonite Women USA website says, “seminars provide women with tools for ongoing personal healing, recognizing and celebrating God’s grace in their lives, and responding more confidently and effectively to the needs of others in their families, congregations and communities.” It has been used all over the world and been translated in several languages, but this is the first time that the training was held in Spanish with the hope that we would take the materials and skills to our conferences and congregations.  Pastor Leticia Cortes Castro and I are committed to sharing what we have learned with other women in our churches and in our conference.


Pastor Leticia sent a note to Franconia Conference to express her appreciation. As members of Franconia Conference here are her words to you:

I want to thank all the support that was given to Marta Castillo and me, God’s servant, to travel to Portland, Oregon, and to be able to take the workshop “Sister Care” in Spanish. That was a great blessing for our lives.  Personally, I feel strengthened and encouraged to share with others what I learned.  The topics are of great interest to our Hispanic community and we were able to identify that many of the themes that were shared are necessary to help us as women.   I shared a monologue of the biblical reading of the Samaritan woman and it touched me deeply.  Something happened during that time that I shared that passage and it is very special for me.   I identified with the Samaritan woman, feeling forgiveness and loved directly by the Messiah.  Another part of the workshop that was wonderful was that the teaching was in my own Spanish language.  The extraordinary thing was that what I learned I could put into practice immediately with a sister in Christ who felt bad spiritually and I could share with her and pray together.  We felt like God used that moment to give her peace and joy in her life.  We are so grateful to God for all the wonderful women that we met and that we will continue our sisterhood and friendship at a distance.

Thank you again, in Christ
Pastor Letty Cortes Castro
Centro de Alabanza

 

Carrying Grandmother’s Purse

by Anne M. Yoder

On March 18, 2017, I had the privilege of meeting with a large group from area Mennonite churches at the 6th annual Eastern District and Franconia Conferences’ Women’s Gathering. Every year at this event I think about who will attend, what joys they will have experienced in the last year and what difficulties they may have encountered. I pray for us all that we may meet the Lord in and through each other when we gather. And each year I am again greatly heartened by being among so many sisters in Christ.

Once again the hard work of the planning committee and especially our miracle-working God made a way where there seemed to be no way, and we were able to enjoy a sacred day of fellowship, worship, and learning. We had the biggest group ever, with 80 registrants from 15 different churches. The largest contingent of over 20 women came from Centro de Alabanza de Fildelfia.

The theme for the gathering was “Carrying Grandmother’s Purse”, a metaphor for the views and messages we often carry from our families and culture that may or may not help us to be the women God created us to be (see the meditation here for more on the metaphor). Our speaker was Pastor Tami Good from Swamp Mennonite Church, who led us in looking at several Biblical women who needed to hear new messages about themselves in order to live abundantly. First they had to shed some of the messages they had heard in the past about themselves, setting aside “Grandmother’s Purse,” as it were before they could accept the messages Christ had for them.

We were asked to reflect on three questions throughout the day: Who do they (culture, family, etc.) say that I am? Who do I say that I am? Who does God say that I am? Pastor Tami told about her own journey of letting go of some of Grandmother’s purse as she stepped into God’s calling on her life to be a pastor.

Probably the most moving for all of us was hearing stories from those who shared candidly about their struggles and their hopes for the future, and time spent praying in groups of two or more for each other. In the morning we had blue paper purses that we named as our grandmothers’, and in them we placed slips of paper on which we had written things we had heard about ourselves through our lives that we wanted to release. Part of our prayer time was taking those purses up front to a basket where they joined all the others to be discarded. In exchange for these “old” purses, we were given change purses on a keychain in which we had placed positive messages to remember in the future including scripture verses reminding us of God’s messages to us.

We were blessed by songs of worship led by women from Centro de Alabanza de Fildelfia, expert translation between Spanish and English by several women, wonderful snacks donated by a dozen registrants, a delicious luncheon prepared by Marta Castillo, and by the faith witness of those who attended.

As one participant wrote, when asked what they found most meaningful about the Gathering: “Connecting with sisters of a different culture and learning from their examples – I noticed how many shared, and how they usually began with ‘God is good’ even as they described hardship in their lives.” Similarly, another wrote in answer to the same question: “Joining of all cultures, all sisters, seeing tears, prayer, and sincerity.”

All in all, it was a delightful and very meaningful day. We look forward to gathering together again next year.

Much gratitude goes to all who helped make the day possible, including Pastor Mike Clemmer for his generosity in helping to set up and clean up Towamencin Mennonite Church before and after our use of the facility, and the members of the Eastern District and Franconia Conference Sistering Committee who helped plan this year’s event: Pastor Letty Castro (Centro de Alabanza de Fildelfia), Doris Diener, Pastor Tami Good (Swamp Mennonite Church), Pastor Marta Castillo (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life), and Anne Yoder.

What is the Significance of the Church Building?

By Marta Castillo, Franconia Conference LEADership Minister and Pastor at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life

Several years ago we almost lost our church building to a sheriff’s sale (a type of auction on properties that have either been repossessed by a lender or seized to satisfy judgment liens or tax liens). We said to ourselves, “the church is people; the church is not the building.”  Thankfully, by God’s grace and support from Franconia Conference, we did not lose our church building .  However, as I attended two building-centered events this past weekend, I was paying careful attention to the question, “If the church is people, what is the significance of the church building?”

For churches that have been in existence for 100 years or more, buildings may be a given and are rarely given a second thought, except for repairs and additions. For a congregation just starting out and growing, buildings are more than just a location; they are central to mission, identity, and community.

On Saturday evening, we celebrated with Centro de Alabanza (Center of Praise) in Philadelphia at the dedication of their building. A much-needed larger space in a Spanish neighborhood, this was made possible by Centro de Alabanza’s fundraising efforts include tamale sales and a car raffle, along with generous support from other Franconia Conference congregations. It was a joyful event of thanksgiving and praise, renewed covenant, and anointing before the Lord. Families brought forward wooden blocks inscribed with their family’s name to construct a building showing community, committing themselves to build on the foundation that “has already been laid, which is Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 3:9-11).

Pastors Fernando Loyola and Letty Cortes said of their new building, “First of all, we feel honored and thankful for the mercy and backing of God in this Hispanic ministry and for us to have a building means to have a place to worship the Lord in freedom and in power concentrating on the mission work of extending the Kingdom of God.  It will help us be more responsible in stewardship, and the location is an area where there are many Latino groups. We believe that God has sent us here to be an example and to reach more souls for Christ.”

The following day, Sunday, January 29, members from Bethel Mennonite, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life and Christian Community Baptist came together for a time of celebration and remembrance. Over 29 years ago, Bethel Mennonite and Nueva Vida Norristown New Life joined together, selling the original Bethel building to Christian Community Baptist.  Members of all three congregations celebrated together in a time of remembrance and worship in the same building where former Bethel members had put down their spiritual roots.  Christian Community Baptist members thanked Nueva Vida Norristown New Life and Franconia Conference for sharing with them a well-cared-for building that was already filled with the Holy Spirit.

As the first church in Acts met in homes, today, we see that God’s provision of these physical spaces — church buildings — allow “the church” to worship, be together and do mission for God. They provide space where more of us are able to join in fellowship with one another, and often are used to bless our surrounding communities as our doors are open for other groups to utilize the space. We thank God for these physical spaces that allow us — “the church” — to worship and do the work of God’s Kingdom.

Marta Castillo Joins Conference LEADership Ministry Team

Franconia Conference welcomes to the LEADership ministry team Marta Castillo, a woman with a deep love for the kingdom of God both inside the walls of the meeting house and beyond. Marta is the daughter of Franconia Conference-rooted mission workers.  She also has been shaped by all four of our linguistic cultures in Franconia Conference: Marta grew up in both Vietnam and Indonesia, is a primary English speaker and lives in a bilingual family and community of English/Spanish speakers.  Marta has been a member at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life since 1994 and joined their pastoral team in 2009.

Marta loves to hear the stories of God’s work and how God is growing the church and growing individuals. With broad mission experiences internationally and in a US urban location, Marta is committed to prayer along with active engagement of diverse neighborhoods with the message of Christ’s Good News.  She is passionate about the intercultural work of unity in cultural diversity, antiracism, and racial reconciliation.

She will begin her work as a member of the conference LEADership Ministry Team working with Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia and engaging with another Spanish speaking congregation that is interested in relating to the conference. Marta speaks fluent Spanish and has a strong love for the hospitality and generosity within the Hispanic culture. With her upbringing in other countries and living in Norristown, she relates with other cultures every day. Marta is looking forward to walking with not just Spanish speaking congregations, but all congregations – hearing the stories of what God is doing in their midst and walking alongside of them, paying attention to God’s spirit helping to develop vision and mission.

After almost five years serving on the conference board, Marta resigned her seat to join the LEADership ministry team. Two of those five years was spent serving as assistant moderator for the conference. She graduated from Eastern Mennonite College (1992) with a major in Elementary Education and is currently taking classes at Eastern Mennonite Seminary.

Lifegiving to Marta is one-on-one conversations, as she love to hear people’s stories. She also enjoys time in solitude, reading, walking, and exercising. She can also be found spending time hiking and camping with her husband Julio and their two teenage children, Andres and Daniel.

While serving with the LEADership Ministry team, Marta will continue as Associate Pastor at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life.

That’s What the Church is Supposed to Do

By Marta Castillo, Pastor at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life

“My mom just said that she can’t handle it!  She is not willing to take care of the kids. She is afraid that it is going to be too much for her. What am I going to do?  I have to go to rehab or I am going to lose my children.  This is my last chance.”

God’s Spirit nudged me so hard I almost fell out of the chair I was sitting in.  The words that came out of my mouth surprised me.  “We will do it.  We will form a team from people at the church and we will support your mother and take care of the children so you can go to get the care that you need.  Don’t worry.  That is what church is supposed to do.  We will work it out.”

helping-handsAnd amazingly, yes, we did.  I sat down with my sister in Christ, the social worker, the boyfriend, and the grandmother and we worked out a schedule of care that included having me sleeping on the living room floor several nights a week so the children could stay in their own home overnight.  The boyfriend covered the nights that he wasn’t working, and the grandmother covered afternoons and early evenings.  We signed the children up for half day summer camp at the program where I worked.  Church members planned special trips to the park, to their houses, and the zoo for the weekends and picked the children and their grandmother up for church on Sundays.  There were offers to help buy groceries, prepare meals, and provide transportation.  The whole team supported the core figure, the grandmother, as best as we could for three weeks.

Last Sunday, my sister in Christ told me that in June she will celebrate her one year anniversary of being drug-free.  She faithfully attends Narcotics Anonymous meetings, has a job and a car, and has no fear that her children will be taken away.  She is outspoken about the wonderful works God has done in her life and thankful to the team who made caring for herself possible.  Challenges remain, but she knows that she is not alone, her mother is not alone, her family is not alone.  She has company on the hard, long journey.

There are times when acts of hospitality make no logical sense in our culture and even in our church thinking.  Being hospitable is inconvenient and stretches us beyond our comfort zones.  We are not sure of the “how” but we are sure of the “why”.  We must be hospitable to represent the hospitality of our Lord who welcomes all in the name of Jesus.

Women Meet to Tell Their Sacred Stories

By Anne M. Yoder, Coordinator, EDC/FMC Sistering Committee
On March 12, over 35 women met together for a Day Apart, held at Towamencin Mennonite Church. Attendees came from various Mennonite churches in Eastern District and Franconia Mennonite Conferences. A large group coming from Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, a South Philadelphia congregation that is made up primarily of immigrants from Mexico, Central America, and Latin America.

This gathering was a bilingual retreat that gave the oSistering1pportunity to reflect on the theme “Sistering for Life.” The term “sistering” refers to a practice in carpentry in which structural repairs are made by attaching new wood beams to weak (sagging, cracked or twisted) joists to make the original stronger. All of us are strong at times and can help those who are weak; all of us find it difficult to make it on our own at times and need others to support us. Sistering is a gift that we embody as God’s women who are following Jesus throughout our lives.

The program’s theme was fleshed out in various ways. Songs were led in Spanish and English by a team from Centro de Alabanza and by Dorothy Beidler from Norristown New Life. A meditation was given by Ana Rosa Hernandez, a member at Centro de Alabanza, on Proverbs 17:17 (“A friend loves at all times, and a [sister] is born for a time of adversity.”) and Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor; if either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”) Four women — Linda Esh, Dania Hernandez, and Ligia Canavan, from Centro de Alabanza, and Jenny Duskey of Ambler Mennonite – were designated to tell a story of being sistered. From them came accounts of loss, sexual abuse, stepping into unknown territory during a move, and finding faith in the midst of struggle, along with the spiritual, emotional and physical help they found along the way.

Sistering3A children’s story, “Four Feet, Two Sandals”, was read to illustrate how something as simple as sharing a pair of sandals at a refugee camp can build sisterhood. Leticia Cortes, pastor at Centro de Alabanza, led us in activities that required teamwork and seeing how we felt in each other’s shoes. A sandal was given to each participant to decorate and to write a message on; these were then exchanged with another woman, with whom a prayer and blessing were shared.

Throughout the day we sat in table groups getting to know six or seven other women in a deeper way as we reflected together on our experiences of being sistered by Jesus and by girls/women at different stages of our lives. Women who could interpret between Spanish and English were each assigned to a table so that all of us could understand each other.

Sistering4I felt great joy in spending time with the women who gathered on March 12th. Not knowing Spanish, I had the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be in the minority for once, but also to listen to a beautifully expressive language. Hearing the stories of women often moved me to tears and to laughter, and I marveled at the deep, and often exuberant faith that has emerged in spite of, or perhaps because of, difficult circumstances in their lives. Each year, this event challenges my faith journey and stretches my world-view. The Holy Spirit is alive and well and very evident as we meet. It is a privilege to take part in creating a holy space for this gathering to happen and to take part in it.

The Sistering Committee is working to hold annual gatherings like this and are planning for another one in 2017 Keep watch for announcements about it!

The Sistering Committee is especially grateful to Mike Clemmer and his team at Towamencin Mennonite Church for allowing us to use their facility and giving so much help in bringing our event to fruition. And I, Anne Yoder, want to thank the other members of the Sistering Committee for their wisdom and prayers and efforts: Marta Castillo, pastor at Norristown New Life, Leticia Cortes, pastor at Centro de Alabanza, and Doris Diener, of Franconia Mennonite Church.

The Sistering Committee represents Mennonite Women USA for eastern Pennsylvania (and the conferences’ outlying congregations) and looks forward to serving the women of our area. If you are interested in serving on the committee, please contact Anne Yoder at ayoder1@swarthmore.edu.