The Lehigh Valley is home to some of Franconia Conference’s thriving congregations that operate on very limited funds. In order to aid those congregations work in music ministry and with children and youth, Franconia Conference provided a Missional Operations Grant (MOG) to both Whitehall Mennonite Church and Ripple-Allentown to aid them in maintaining an MCC East Coast service worker to provide music and youth ministry.
This service worker, Danilo Sanchez, has been an asset to the Lehigh Valley and the broader conference. Here is what Pastor Rose Bender of Whitehall had to say about the work this MOG is supporting:
“Whitehall Mennonite Church (WMC) is a small but vibrant congregation with an increasing Karen refugee population. Some Sundays, it feels like the children and youth outnumber the adults! It is a great ‘problem’ to have, but it has continued to be a challenge for me as a pastor that is only to work 20 hours a week to navigate this and support our youth. When we dreamed about working with other small Anabaptist congregations several years ago, we still weren’t sure how we would financially be able to support anyone who could be a youth minister to our young people. We are so grateful for Danilo Sanchez’ work with the Lehigh Valley Youth. With the support of RIPPLE, WMC, Franconia’s Matching Grant, and MCC East Coast, we have been able to support Danilo for this missional experiment with the Lehigh Valley Youth. He is able to work with youth from RIPPLE, Vietnamese Gospel, WMC, and the broader Karen Community. He has also done volunteer work in the community to connect with kids outside the church. Urban youth ministry is very different from other youth ministry and we are learning together how to start a relational, intergenerational youth ministry from the ground up. It’s challenging and messy. It requires flexibility and contextualization. This is work and these are kids who would not be getting the attention, support, and pastoring without the support of MCC and Franconia Conference. We are grateful for this on-going commitment to support folks on the margins! And look forward to what God will do in year 3 of this experiment!”
by Rachel Sommer for Mennonite Central Committee East Coast and Mennonite Church USA
In a letter to Jerusalem’s exiled leaders, the prophet Jeremiah called on them to work for the welfare of Babylon, the city to which they had been deported. “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city,” he wrote. “Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer. 29:7).
From October 2-4, nearly 100 Anabaptist leaders gathered in Philadelphia to discuss what responding to Jeremiah’s charge looks like in the 21st century.
Participants came from cities including New York; Hampton, Virginia; Philadelphia; and Washington, D.C., to attend the Urban Anabaptist Ministry Symposium organized by Glen Alexander Guyton, chief operating officer for Mennonite Church USA, and Chantelle Todman Moore, Philadelphia program coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) East Coast.
The symposium invited urban leaders to discuss practical Anabaptist ministry in their cities. “Being a peace church isn’t just about not going to war – it’s about manifesting God’s kingdom in our own communities,” said speaker Addie Banks, executive director at The Groundswell Group in the Bronx, New York.
Banks said the symposium provided opportunities for her to learn from colleagues in new ways. “Each of us has a tool. We all need tools to do our work, and gathering here with one another is like assembling a toolkit.”
During plenary sessions, Banks along with Al Taylor, pastor of Infinity Mennonite Church (Harlem, NY), and Ertell Whigham, associate pastor of Nueva Vida Norristown New Life (Norristown, Pa.) and executive minister of Franconia Mennonite Conference, shared “best practices” from their ministries.
Whigham spoke about the need to develop personal connections in culturally diverse contexts. “To be intercultural in the church of God today means that I will recognize how God has blessed you in your life, and I will recognize the gift that you are to me,” he said. “I will allow the Jesus in you to be the Jesus in me.”
Workshop leaders drew from first-hand experience to facilitate sessions on youth and young adult ministry, education for urban leaders, immigration, developing community partnerships and dismantling oppression.
Additional event sponsors included the African American Mennonite Association, Cookman at Emerging Ministries Corporation, Franconia Mennonite Conference, Goshen (Indiana) College, Kingdom Builders Anabaptist Network of Greater Philadelphia, Mennonite Mission Network and Philadelphia FIGHT.
Symposium organizers hope that participants will continue to connect and collaborate with one another. “I’m excited about the relationships that were forged here,” said Guyton. “This gathering showed that we can all benefit from the expertise of Anabaptist leaders who are carrying out practical ministry in their own contexts.”
Ben Walter, one of the pastors at Ripple, in Allentown, Pennsylvania, said the conference was one of the best he’d ever attended. He appreciated that voices often on the margins were given ample space and emphasis, and found it “helpful and enlightening” to hear the diverse perspectives and experiences represented among attendees.
Todman Moore hopes that urban Anabaptist leaders will convene in other cities in coming years. “We’d love to hear from Anabaptist leaders in other urban areas who are interested in discussing practical ministry in their contexts,” she said. She invites leaders to contact her (215-535-3624, ChantelleTodmanMoore@mcc.org) or Guyton (574-524-5282, GlenG@MennoniteUSA.org) to discuss planning similar initiatives in other cities.
HARLEYSVILLE, Pa. – Some of the most diverse growth in Anabaptism along the East Coast is occurring in Allentown, Pennsylvania’s fastest growing city and now a city that is majority Hispanic. Even so, none of the city’s broad range of Anabaptist congregations has enough resources or even youth to maintain a youth pastor. That’s why Franconia Conference, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) East Coast, and six Lehigh Valley congregations have come together to hire a half-time youth worker, Danilo Sanchez, to minister across the various Anabaptist communities.
Through this role, Sanchez, who graduated this spring from Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg, Va., is involved regularly with a diverse combination of congregations unlike those served by just about any other Anabaptist minister in the U.S.: Karen Fellowship, Iglesia Menonita Evangelica Restoracion, Christ Fellowship, Vietnamese Gospel Mennonite Church, Whitehall Mennonite Church, and Ripple. Franconia Conference, MCC East Coast, Whitehall, and Ripple share financial support of the position.
Sanchez is primarily responsible for organizing gatherings for Lehigh Valley youth, leading worship at the Whitehall and Ripple congregations, organizing after-school youth activities, and engaging the myriad Lehigh Valley Anabaptist congregations.
“I’m excited to join the vision of creating a context where next-generation intercultural Anabaptist leadership can flourish and strengthening relationships across Anabaptist communities in the Allentown area,” Sanchez said. “While I have experience working with youth in many types of Mennonite churches, this will be a new challenge. I never expected myself to be in urban ministry, but that seems to be where God is calling me, and I’m willing to follow the Spirit’s call in my life.”
Youth have a reputation for being an especially challenging demographic for people in ministry, and Sanchez’s experience in Allentown will likely be no different. The youth of Whitehall and Ripple, though few, come from challenging, high-need situations, including coming to Allentown as refugees and being born into cycles of poverty, according to Whitehall pastor Rose Bender, who is Sanchez’s supervisor. “As a part-time pastor,” she said, “I am already feeling stretched beyond what I can give. So, the idea of adding a youth worker that would connect with Whitehall as well as some of the other congregations is very exciting.”
The partnership of so many groups and congregations makes sense to Bender. She noted that many people from Whitehall and Ripple in particular are neighbors, and some people worship with both groups. The connection with Franconia Conference and MCC East Coast, she said, is yet another example that people “are looking for ways to connect here and make a difference.” Many congregations already partner with Ripple by cooking meals or sending youth groups to work with children in the city.
Angela Moyer, co-pastor of Ripple, wants all different types of people feel like they are welcomed and wanted in the Ripple community, and she hopes Sanchez’s leadership will help Ripple work toward that.
“Danilo has a deep compassion for youth who typically are on the margins in their schools, families, and communities,” she said. “With Danilo, the teenagers at Ripple hopefully will find a place where they belong, are nurtured, and supported in their specific life stage.”
Thanh Pham, a pastor from Vietnamese Gospel, echoed Moyer’s hope that Sanchez will help youth to flourish. Pham said he prays the youth’s parents will “see our community as a place they can trust to send their children to learn more about God.”
A partnership between MCC and local congregations isn’t commonplace, though it does exist elsewhere. Sanchez’s position is one that “resonates deeply” with ongoing MCC work related to youth, urban ministry, collaboration with churches representing diverse ethnic backgrounds, and leadership development, said Kim Dyer, young adult program coordinator of MCC East Coast. “We are excited to be able to respond to an initiative coming from the church in a local context that connects so deeply to MCC’s areas of focus.”
“This new collaboration is a creative way to build on both strengths and possibilities,” said Steve Kriss, director of leadership cultivation for Franconia Conference. “Danilo has been shaped through numerous points of engagement within Franconia Conference. This work provides space for something new to emerge alongside the congregations of the Lehigh Valley. We’re grateful for the opportunity to work together through MCC’s Community Service Worker initiative.”
Sanchez, who is also working half time at MCC as national director for their Summer Service Worker program, said what makes him most excited and hopeful about the new position is that he can serve alongside the next generation of Anabaptist leaders who God is raising up.
“I don’t know what the church will look like, but I trust that the Spirit is leading and at work in the lives of these young people in Allentown,” he said.
by Millie Penner, Mennonite Central Committee East Coast
“We eat together, sing together in both English and Chichewa, go on our nightly walks together, and laugh together like a family of hyenas,” says Eric Bishop of his family’s relationship with Madalitso Kaputa. Eric and Linda Bishop, Souderton congregation, have opened their home to Madalitso, a participant in the International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP). IVEP is a program of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) that brings young adults from other countries to live and work in Canada and the United States for a year. Madalitso is far from his home in Malawi, Africa this year, yet clearly he also has found a family with the Bishops.
During the day Madalitso volunteers at the Dock Woods and Dock Meadows campuses (Lansdale, Pa.) of the Living Branches retirement community. It is clear to his host family and both his supervisors that this work is far more than a short term volunteer assignment. For Madalitso, this work is a part of the calling God has on his life, a calling he works to fulfill with joy and passion. He says, “When I first arrived in the United States, the food, the time change and the people were all new to my life, and I wondered if I would be able to hold on to my sense of mission. But after a month, I feel like I’m at home as my wonderful host family has helped me to remember my mission goal. Through my work at Dock Woods and Dock Meadows, I have come to understand the great call that the church has in taking care of people, especially the elderly. Indeed, this is now the time that the church should be inviting and welcoming all the elderly into her caring and protective service as the salt and light of the world.”
Gerry Moore, who supervises Madalitso at Dock Meadows, agrees that he is focused and effective. “He is eager to visit with each resident and learn their stories. He wants them to know they have a life time of experience to share, a wealth of wisdom and much he can learn from them.”
Dock Meadows and Dock Woods have hosted IVEPers for several years and have seen good fruit from the cross-cultural exchanges that happen through this program. Eileen Burks of Dock Woods says, “A resident just received an email from one of our past IVEPers from Indonesia. They have been in contact for over seven years, and this clearly is one of many great bonds that were formed through this program. Another way that we are enriched is when the IVEPer brings the world to our residents through a cultural class, sharing about their country … family, faith, foods and languages.”
Madalitso will take many gifts with him when he leaves the IVEP program, not the least of which is a better sense of the world community. Linda Bishop, his host mother, says that he already refers to the world as his home, not just Malawi, since he is willing to go wherever God sends him.
And Madalitso will leave just as many gifts with those whose lives he touches here in Pennsylvania. Living Branches residents, his supervisors and his host family will have formed many good memories, relationships and connections that will last a lifetime.
by Mimi Copp Johnson, Mennonite Central Committee East Coast
Gary Lebo was on his cell phone 117 miles away in Dillsburg, Pa. Item number 104, a cultivator mattock (hand tool used to break up the soil), was up next at the Philadelphia Festival & Auction, which benefits Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).
Lebo was determined to bid on this garden tool even though he could not be there in person. On the other end of the line, was an auction volunteer standing at the back of the room at West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship ready to place bids for Lebo.
Not just any old garden tool, this cultivator was constructed, in part, from a handgun, at a Philadelphia blacksmith workshop devoted to turning “swords into plowshares” and “spears into pruning hooks.” These visionary words are from the Biblical prophet, Isaiah.
Cherie Ryans, a mother whose child had been killed with a handgun in Philadelphia, helped make the tool. She forged the metal from a gun on anvils loaned by conservative Mennonite farmers. Fred Kauffman, former MCC staff person, shared with the auction audience that with each strike of the hammer on the red-hot iron, Ryans said a word, “This….is….for….my…son.”
With the tone set from this story, the bidding began at $300. It climbed to $500, $600, $700.
“I am sick and tired of hearing on the news almost every evening about someone else expressing violence by using a handgun,” said Lebo explaining why he kept bidding. “The idea of pouring energy into gardening rather than violence is exhilarating for us!”
The final bid was for $850 by Gary and Gloria Lebo of Dillsburg Brethren in Christ Church. Another person added a $150 donation to make the total $1,000.
“I thought it was all over,” Lebo recounts, until he received a call from Kimberly Tucker, a friend from Dillsburg Brethren in Christ Church, who was at the auction. “She was scolding me for buying it out from under her, and then she kindly offered to bring it home for me and charge me mileage!”
Tucker said she had her eye on the tool because she “wanted to purchase it to use throughout the year at church as a symbol of peace—turning swords into plowshares.”
The blacksmith workshop was done by RAWtools and was sponsored by Shane Claiborne, Heeding God’s Call, Kingdom Builders Network and MCC East Coast. RAWtools Inc.’s mission is to repurpose weapons into hand tools to be used in the creation of something new and to prevent the weapon’s use for violence.
A similar tool had been donated by RAWtools to the Rocky Mountain Mennonite Relief Sale the weekend before in Colorado that went for $675.
Now the tool is also a storytelling piece. The Lebos have had several opportunities to share the story and hope to have more.
“Another dream I have,” Lebo says, “is to return it to the auction next year to be sold again so someone else can enjoy the experience, share with others and raise more money for MCC.”
Mennonite Central Committee: Relief, development and peace in the name of Christ
by Ben White & Millie Penner, Mennonite Central Committee
When asked what he was looking forward to as he began his Summer Service Worker term with MCC East Coast, Cesar Solis said, “I’m looking forward to learning . . . the best thing about being a Christian is you get to learn new things every day.” A recent graduate of high school, Cesar is working to discern both what he will do and who he will be. This young man is committed both to learning and to loving God.
Cesar will have plenty of opportunity to learn and love both God and God’s people this summer at New Hope Fellowship in Alexandria, Virginia. Working with a kids club and youth group is one part of his job, but he also has the opportunity to think with others about supporting another church in New Jersey through a significant transition. Cesar has a willing spirit and seems to thrive on taking risks. His pastor Kirk Hanger is working to give Cesar many opportunities to learn. Cesar’s God-given enthusiasm will make his Summer Service term enjoyable. The grant from Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) East Coast Summer Service Worker program makes it possible.
The MCC East Coast Summer Service Worker program is a short term leadership development program for young adult people of color between the ages of 18-30. This Summer Service Worker program partners with churches and other organizations to provide leadership opportunities for young people. The church or organization, along with MCC East Coast, work together to pay Summer Service workers for their efforts. Franconia Conference also contributed to Cesar Solis’ grant.
In June, MCC East Coast and MCC Great Lakes Summer Service Workers participated in a week of orientation in Philadelphia, PA. Participants learned from largely urban speakers about MCC and what it means to be a young Christian leader of color. Summer Service Workers also form friendships among themselves during the orientation. These bonds of friendship and support are strengthened through regularly scheduled conference calls in which they share their joys and frustrations during their terms of service.
This summer there are eleven East Coast Summer Service Workers from New York City to Puerto Rico who are learning much about leadership and taking risks.
Please pray that East Coast Summer Service Workers see themselves as God sees them—gifted individuals with much to offer the world.
The MCC East Coast Summer Service progam considers new partnerships each year. Interested churches or organizations should visit the website for further details.