Tag Archives: Marta Castillo

Darkness Unfolding As Light

On April 14 approximately 80 women from across Franconia and Eastern District Conferences joined together at Towamencin Mennonite Church for the annual Sister Care Gathering. The theme was “Darkness Unfolding as Light,” with the book of Ruth as the Biblical text.  Cathy Spory, Elementary Principal at Johnstown Christian School, took on the character of Naomi and gave insightful first-person monologues.  Marilyn Bender, one of four co-pastors at Ripple Church in Allentown and Rose Bender Cook, Marilyn’s sister-in-law and a bi-vocational pastor at Whitehall Mennonite Church, shared their personal and Biblical reflections including speaking of the illness and loss of Marilyn’s husband John, Rose’s brother.

The women were invited to string beads, with knots representing the rough places and the iridescent beads representing those light-filled moments. There was time for conversation and prayer with each other at our tables, and an opportunity to experiment with different ways to pray including praying with color, walking prayer, healing prayer and anointing.

Pastor Letty Cortes from Centro de Alabanza led the women in activities to get to know  one another. There was much singing together and the women enjoyed a delicious lunch including a wonderful cake gifted to them from MCUSA out-going Executive Director, Ervin Stutzman, from his retirement party the night before.  It was bi-lingual day, with everything presented in English and Spanish, and was a deeply moving day, culminating in the women giving testimony as to where God had unfolded their darkness into light.

Many thanks to the planning committee: Anne M. Yoder, Coordinator; Pastor Donna Merow; Pastor Doris Diener; Pastor Letty Castro; and Pastor Marta Castillo. Special thanks to Pastor Marilyn Bender, Pastor Rose Bender Cook and Cathy Spory for all their energy and all they shared with the women of our Conferences.

Interspace – Courage to Stand Between

By Marta Castillo, Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation

“Inter” words are familiar to most of us – interact, interdependent, intermission, intertwine, international, intercede, intercultural, etc.  Based on the Latin, “inter” means “between,” “in the midst of,” “mutually,” “reciprocally,” “together”.  Interspace is an adventure of new learnings, a place of possibility, sharing, rest, and reconciliation, but it is also a space that is unnerving, humbling, uncomfortable, and challenging.

Since the end of 2017, when I resigned from a pastoral role at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, I have been living in the space between church homes and between work roles. It was strange and exciting to know that in this in between space, I could visit other churches and experience worship and Word in new ways. However, there was no church home because I was “in between”. The ministry that I was involved in was my responsibility no longer and it was freeing to dream and envision what shape my role will take as Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation with Franconia Conference, but hard to leave behind the relationships that I had nurtured for years. In the first two months of 2018, I was in interspace, in between, waiting for my new role to begin. Then in the beginning of March, I began my international adventure with a trip to Indonesia with the purpose of studying Indonesian, a language that I had once learned and spoken as a child, to enhance my future intercultural ministry within the conference.

What an experience! The food, the culture, the language, and the people brought my childhood in Indonesia flooding back. I kept moving between being so comfortable and so uncomfortable, so quickly it was disorienting. I was delighted to experience familiar tastes, words, and culture while feeling so humbled as a person who was learning a language and speaking it so poorly and who didn’t know the cultural expectations, so I embarrassed myself. This interspace of being in a different country required courage, creativity, willingness to fail, and engagement with people who were different. It was the perfect connecting space between my past experiences and my future hopes and ministry.

A young friend of mine shared with me recently of her journey towards learning to stay in the interspace, the space between, like the Saturday between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, holding onto the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross while celebrating the power of the resurrection.  It takes courage to stand “between”.  Isn’t that exactly what Jesus has done through his life, death, and resurrection?  Even now, Jesus “intercedes” comes and goes between God and us, to keep that interspace holy and righteous.  Romans 8:34, “Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”

Furthermore, we are invited to share the same interspace of intercession, interrelationship, and interconnectedness for deeper relationship with others.  1 Timothy 2:1-3, I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

In our conference, we have a shared priority to be intercultural, meaning that we seek to connect, stand, and live in the space between the cultures represented in our conference and the world.  This is different than being multicultural which advocates for equal respect and promoting cultural diversity.  When “multi” is not enough, we seek “inter”. With multicultural, we still have a sense of “us and them”.  With intercultural, a between space is created where “we” belong. Our conference priority is for networking and cultivating intercultural ministry relationships. This process is described as “including an assessment of current and emerging relationships that work cross-culturally while building further capacity toward mutually-beneficial relationships among ministries and congregations. Increasingly, these relationships will be defined by reciprocity and transformation rather than paternalism and patronization.  Relationships will be built around both work and celebration, both doing and being together.” Read this and other priorities hereread more about some of Franconia Conference’s intercultural and multicultural work here.

New Members Join the Conference Team

As 1 Corinthians 12:14 states, “For the body is not one member, but many,” and as it is said in Ecclesiastes 4:9, “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor.” So too, is it with Franconia Conference. Each member of the Franconia Conference team being a vital piece, bringing their gifts and talents to further the work of the Lord. This month Franconia Conference welcomed several new members to the team including two new board members and new staff.

At the March 19 Conference Board Meeting, Yvonne Platts of Nueva Vida Norristown New Life and Cory Longacre of Souderton Mennonite Church were welcomed as new board members. Yvonne was affirmed by board vote. Cory was affirmed by the board to replace the assembly-appointed board member Smita Singh who resigned this past fall. He will therefore be on the ballot at the fall 2018 Assembly for delegate affirmation. Both Yvonne and Cory bring long-standing Anabaptist roots within Franconia Conference and deep connections to their local communities.

Yvonne Platts was baptized at an early age in the Mennonite church and has grown up at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life. Yvonne serves within her congregation on the Enlarging Our Place in Gods World Leadership Team. Her primary work is with Family Services of Montgomery County as a Community Outreach Worker with the Norristown Violence Prevention Initiative, from whom she received the Outstanding Service Award in November 2017.  She is also a member of Roots of Justice Inc. which addresses issues of racism and other oppressions, creating awareness, understanding and knowledge toward building a just society for people groups in churches, organizations, and community. Currently, she is actively working within the Norristown School District to train Circle Keepers for Restorative Justice Peace Circles. Training and equipping community members to become Circle Keepers is a deep passion of Yvonne’s, as she hopes for the establishment of community based alternatives to juvenile detention.

Yvonne is a graduate of The Center for Urban Theological Studies and holds a Master of Science in Restorative Practices and Youth and Family Counseling from The International Institute of Restorative Practices. There is no doubt that Yvonne Platts has a deep drive for peace and justice and will bring her dedication to social justice to her work with Franconia Conference.

Pastor Angela Moyer of Ripple in Allentown and a member of the Conference Board stated that she has volumes of admiration and respect for the work Yvonne does in the community. Executive Minister Steve Kriss says, “Yvonne is well equipped to think and respond in the best interest of the whole of the Conference with her long history at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life.”

Cory Longacre comes to the Conference Board recently finishing his third-and-final three year term on the Souderton Mennonite Church Board where he spent the last three years as chair. Cory grew up at Swamp Mennonite Church,  settling in after college at Souderton with his wife Linda. He first accepted Jesus at Spruce Lake Camp around the age of 13 and was then baptized at age 15 at Swamp. He is a graduate of Dock Mennonite Academy, both the former Penn View Christian School and Christopher Dock Mennonite High School. He also received his Bachelors in Business Management from Eastern Mennonite University where he met his wife Linda, whom he married in 1993. They have 3 children: Olyvia, age 19, Davry, age 15, and Zeke, age 11.

Cory currently co-owns TNC Self Storage and is Fleet Operations Manager at Perkiomen Tours. Previously he spent 20 years with Farm & Home Oil Company where he started in sales, then after 4 years transitioned to management, moving his way to Vice President where he spent several years before ending his time with the company.

“Cory brings a wealth of experience as both a community and business leader. He is both reflective and entrepreneurial — assets for our Conference,” said Steve Kriss.

Cory is grateful for the opportunity to serve.  “I look forward to joining Franconia Conference Board,” he says, “to help guide and discern as our conference continues to grow and evolve while maintaining our Anabaptist values.”

Joining the Franconia Conference in staff roles, are Jeff Wright as a LEADership Minister, Chantelle Todman Moore as Intercultural Leadership Coach, and current LEADership Minister Marta Castillo, who is increasing her time with the Conference and becoming the LEADership Minister of Intercultural Formation.

Jeff Wright will serve as a LEADership Minister, specifically working with Franconia Conference’s three congregations in Southern California: Indonesian Community Christian Fellowship, International Worship Church, and Jemaat Kristen Indonesia Anugerah (JKIA or Grace Indonesian Christian Fellowship). Jeff has served in a dual role as pastor of Madison Street Church, a Brethren-in-Christ congregation in Riverside, California and as president of viaShalom, a small not-for-profit, since 2009. viaShalom is a not-for-profit missional resource agency that currently operates three ministries: commonGood, a local, asset-based community development effort; viaGLobal, which support St. Francis Primary School located in Morsul, Rajshahi in Bangladesh serving approximately 80 Christian families belonging to the Santal minority; and Urban Expression North America, “a consultancy specializing in creating and sustaining urban incarnational experiments, and affiliated with similar ministries across Europe.” Bike and Sol, run by Pastor Scott Roth of Perkiomenville Mennonite Church, is a project of Urban Expression and has worked closely with Jeff. Jeff has also done consultancy work with various congregations both in Franconia and Eastern District Conferences.

Jeff holds a Bachelor of Arts from Tabor College, a Master’s of Divinity from Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary and earned his Masters of Business Administration with a focus in church management from the Graduate Theological Foundation. In addition, he has a Post-graduate Diploma in Applied Theology from Spurgeon’s College in London. He lives in Riverside, California with his best friend/wife Debbie. They have two adult children who he said also married their best friends. Jeff enjoys time with three grandchildren and the “church mascot/beagle-terrier puppy, Madison”, who lives with them and constantly digs up their backyard!

Steve Kriss says, “Jeff has long term relationship working as a Mennonite Church USA Conference leader. His experience and commitment to California and his capacity at developing new leaders will be a gift to our Conference, as we live into our bi-coastal reality.”

Jeff says, “I’m very excited to be part of a larger and diverse team that works collaboratively toward a common vision of being the church. It is a unique privilege to work with Franconia Conference among the new member Indonesian churches in Southern California.”

Chantelle Todman Moore comes to Franconia Conference as Intercultural Leadership Coach, where she will focus her work with our 15 urban congregations, looking at cultivating next generation leaders, focusing on persons age 15-35. She has also been tasked to think about what it takes for persons of color in ministry leadership to flourish and how that can be cultivated within Franconia congregations.

In addition to taking on this role with Franconia Conference, Chantelle is the co-founder of unlock Ngenuity a consulting, coaching and therapy business. She previously served as the Philadelphia Program Coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and as a Program Director at both Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association and Eastern University. Chantelle holds a Bachelors of Arts in International Community Development from Oral Roberts University, a Masters of Business Administration in International Economic Development from Eastern University, and is a Qualified Administrator for the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI).

She says she is “passionate about embracing diversity and difference as a gift, seeking justice as a mandate and being moved to act by love.” Chantelle lives in Philadelphia with her spouse, Sam, and their three daughters.

Pastor Aldo Siahaan of Philadelphia Praise Center and a member of the Conference LEADership Minister team was on the board of MCC East Coast at the time of Chantelle’s employment there. He says, “Chantelle is a hard worker, full of creativity and always mixes her work with laughter.”

When asked about bringing Chantelle on in this new role for Franconia Conference, Steve Kriss stated, “Our Conference has become increasingly urban and intercultural over the last decade. Chantelle’s experience in working with urban leaders and congregations will strengthen our capacities in cultivating and accompanying current and emerging leaders. Her energy, honesty, commitment to the church, and willingness to ask hard questions are traits I appreciate about her and look forward to her bringing to her work with Franconia.”

Marta Castillo is not new to the Franconia team, but will be increasing her time. After serving almost five years on the Conference Board, Marta joined Franconia Conference as a LEADership Minister in in 2016, while simultaneously serving as co-pastor at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life.  She stepped away from the position at Nueva Vida in December, as she felt the Spirit leading her elsewhere.  At the time she did not know that “elsewhere” would include increased time with Franconia Conference. The Conference is grateful to have Marta move into the role of LEADership Minister of Intercultural Formation. The daughter of Franconia Conference-rooted mission workers, she has been shaped by all four of the linguistic cultures in Franconia Conference, growing up in both Vietnam and Indonesia. While being a primary English speaker, she lives in a bilingual family and community of English/Spanish speakers.

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 graduated from Eastern Mennonite College with a major in Elementary Education and is currently taking classes at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. Marta lives in Norristown, PA, with her husband, Julio and two teenage children, Andres and Daniel.

“Marta’s flexibility and linguistic capacity, her depth of spiritual practice and her experience working with pastoral teams combine to make her a uniquely gifted leader in our Conference,” said Steve Kriss.  You can read more about Marta here.

The staff and board of Franconia Conference are well-equipped to continue to lead the Conference into whatever God has in store. As Executive Minister, Steve Kriss stated, “these additions complement an already strongly gifted staff and strengthen our capacity to serve our growing Conference.”

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.