by Javier Marquez, intercultural communication associate, with Emily Ralph Servant
On the night of October 18, 2019, a group of adults and children worked for several hours at the Material Resource Center, a part of Mennonite Central Committee’s ministry in Harleysville, PA. The objective of the project was to put together kits of basic supplies that will be delivered to migrants who crossed the border from Mexico. Members of Franconia Conference contributed the helping hands and gave resources to make the project a reality: 370 kits were packed that night, and the rest of the $20,000 donated by the conference (via churches, individuals and a matching grant) will be sent to MCC Central States to purchase additional supplies.
The kits consisted of a set of useful products such as towels, notebooks, pens, water, and other basic necessities for people who have recently been released from migrant detention camps. Although simple, these kits represent a direct and tangible way to contribute to the needs of immigrants who enter the United States looking for a new home.
The work on the 19th was an example of solidarity and mutual help. Thanks to 20 volunteers from three southeast Pennsylvania churches (Indonesian Light Church, and Philadelphia Praise Center, Plains Mennonite Church), the kits were efficiently packed in a large collection of green backpacks and were ready in time to be sent from Harleysville to be distributed through MCC Central States.
Each of these churches, in addition to belonging to Franconia Conference, is a community that includes many first- and second-generation immigrants. Although these immigrants come from different places on the map, such as Indonesia and Mexico, they each have left behind what is familiar to embark on a trip, marked by difficulties and uncertainty. In understanding and solidarity, they gathered to fill backpacks as people who are aware of the pain and joy of migration.
The children were encouraged to share which countries they were from and they diligently helped for the almost-two-hours that the work took. After the backpacks were filled, the workers gathered together to join in a prayer led by Pastor Hendy Stevan Matahelemual of Indonesian Light Center. They prayed specifically for those who would receive the kit and in general for each person who undertakes the trip and who seeks a place that guarantees their rights and, even, saves their lives.
For the last month, Philadelphia Praise Center pastor Aldo Siahaan has been reminding his congregation of their rights during each Sunday morning worship service.
In expectation of, and response to, a recent wave of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids, immigrants in Philadelphia and other US cities—both documented and not—are living in fear. “I’ve been like them,” reflects Siahaan, who migrated to the United States in 1998 after riots in Indonesia: “I know what they feel like, living like this.”
Questions and concern around immigration have become increasingly important for members of Franconia Conference, which has seen a increase in immigrant congregations over the past decade. Currently, close to fifteen percent of the conference are first-generation immigrants, many coming from Indonesia, Mexico, Tanzania, Myanmar, Hong Kong, and India.
Some of Franconia’s Latin brothers and sisters originally entered the US by way of the southern border. Recent news reports have highlighted tragic conditions in detention camps there, where some families are separated, and others are turned away before they can even apply for asylum. Many Franconia congregations have been asking what they can do to help.
A Direct Response
“Having been to the border several years ago to see key Mennonite partners there, I recognize that there are some basic practical needs that people require after they’ve been released from detention,” reflects Franconia’s executive minister Steve Kriss. Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is meeting some of these needs by making and distributing Immigrant Detainee Care Kits. “The kit response feels hands-on and important as the kind of thing Mennonites do to directly respond to human needs,” observes Kriss.
In order to provide additional kits, Franconia’s board has allocated a $5000 grant to match contributions from Franconia and Eastern District congregations to the MCC East Coast’s Material Resource Center (MRC) in Harleysville, PA. The MRC will make the care kits to send for distribution in Texas and New Mexico through MCC Central States. The grant will also match gifts given by Franconia congregations to MCC West Coast for transporting kits distributed in California and Arizona. The deadline for matching is August 31.
Already at Work
Even as Franconia and Eastern District congregations raise financial support around the border crisis, we remember that the struggle continues closer to home. “We ARE immigrant communities,” Kriss acknowledges. “We are communities that are responding on a regular basis to the challenges of receiving people who are seeking safety and asylum in places across the country.” Many pastors in our congregations are regularly responding to crises of migration, he observes. In these cases, these are not programs of the church; they are pastoral responses to real needs in our communities.
When a large migrant caravan began making its way through Mexico in 2018, the Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México (CIEAMM), a Franconia Partner in Ministry, decided to open their arms and hearts to the “temporary refugees” in Mexico by providing aid. “We take seriously the teaching of Jesus, who invites us to the [kind of] love and solidarity that feeds the hungry, dresses the naked, gives water to the thirsty, protects the helpless, takes care of the sick, and visits the incarcerated,” described moderator Carlos Martínez García at Mennonite World Conference’s Renewal 2019 event in Costa Rica. “We did a work of compassion, putting ourselves in the place of needy migrants, and acting to bring some accompaniment and comfort.” (Read his full remarks.)
Fernando Loyola and Letty Cortes pastor Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, a congregation of Latinx immigrants, and have seen a recent wave of immigrants from Guatemala arriving in their neighborhood. Their congregation provides food, clothing, funds, and help navigating the new American culture. They refer families to immigration lawyers and to Juntos, a community-led immigrant non-profit that fights for human rights in South Philly.
Philadelphia Praise Center has been renovating its building to become a sanctuary church, where immigrants fearing deportation can live safely during ICE raids. Siahaan has walked with many individuals and families who need help navigating the complex legal channels involved in applying for visas or green cards. Just this last week, he was called to help someone from the community who was picked up in an ICE raid.
Unfortunately, once someone has been detained by ICE, there isn’t much that can be done, he explains—within a couple of weeks, they’ll be deported. The need is greater before that happens; what immigrants need most, he suggests, is for their Franconia brothers and sisters to be their voice: “Call or write to your congressperson and say, ‘Hey, you need to do something about this situation, these immigration raids!’”
Advocacy to Prevent Tragedy
Advocacy work includes contacting representatives on both state and national levels. Steve Wilburn, teaching pastor at Covenant Community congregation in Lansdale, PA, has been involved with International Justice Mission (IJM) since he traveled to Cambodia and Vietnam in seminary and saw IJM’s work in battling human trafficking. Currently, he’s partnering with IJM to advocate for the “Central American Women and Children Protection Act of 2019,” which is legislation that commits US funds, in partnership with the governments of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, to help them restore their justice systems in order to protect women and children from abuse. Several Franconia Conference leaders have signed a letter in support of this legislation.
Most US government efforts in those countries have been focused on drugs and gang violence, Wilburn explains, but that doesn’t help protect children and women: “Those are some of the reasons that people are leaving and trying to escape violence there, becoming refugees,” he says. Most would rather stay home if home were a safe place for them and their children.
Real People, Real Suffering
Siahaan recently went on an MCC borderlands tour to meet migrants and see the situation for himself. On his trip, he met a young mother with two children who were waiting to apply for asylum. They had fled Colombia after her husband had been shot by a gang.
It was eye-opening for Siahaan. He had read books and heard stories but meeting real people on the border face-to-face affirmed for him that the work the South Philly congregations were doing mattered. It encouraged him to keep going.
Beny Krisbianto, pastor of Nations Worship Center in Philadelphia, is a member of the conference executive board. The decision to allocate the funds for the matching grant was easy for him when he considered the children who are daily affected by both the “border crisis” and the local ICE raids. It’s not a political issue, he emphasizes, but a call to care for real children who had no control over the decision to come in the first place. “These are real people, who are already here, who are suffering and may die,” he says. “These kits will help.”
His congregation supports conference advocacy for migrants at the southern border because they, too, are daily experiencing the fear and uncertainty of the country’s broken immigration system. It’s not just a story you see on CNN or ABC News, he reminds the conference community; for immigrants in South Philadelphia, “It’s our everyday life.”
Ways to Help
Pray for migrants on the southern border, for immigrants living in our communities, and for those who are working alongside them for health, healing, and wholeness. Pray for just immigration laws, merciful immigration practices, and a path to citizenship that will keep families together.
To receive a matching grant for the making and/or transporting of Immigrant Detainee Care Kits, send checks labeled “Immigrant Detainee Care Kits” directly to the MCC Material Resource Center of Harleysville, 737 Hagey Center Drive, Unit C, Souderton, PA 18964 OR directly to West Coast MCC Office, 1010 G Street, Reedley, CA 93654. For West Coast donations only: email Conrad Martin (firstname.lastname@example.org) at the conference office with the date and amount of the gift. Deadline for matching funds is August 31.
A significant focus of MCC East Coast’s domestic work is related to immigration advocacy: in Miami, through the New York Mennonite Immigration Program, and in direct services to those who have been trying to find a legal pathway to stay in the US. Find out more. West Coast MCC is in the process of offering “Know Your Rights” trainings for Franconia’s West Coast congregations.
It took three days to dig the ditch that would divert water away from Gary, West Virginia homeowner Lucretia Ford’s house, but it was worth every second. “It wasn’t fun even though we tried to make it fun,” Bally (PA) congregation’s Jim Longacre admits. “In the same way, serving God sometimes isn’t fun and can be hard work, but in the end is very rewarding.”
The reward for the hard work comes in the form of relationships with those the SWAP volunteers come to help. Congregations haven’t been just serving Appalachian people through SWAP (Sharing With Appalachian People), but mutually sharing gifts with them.
An organization of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), SWAP has endeavored to make houses safer, warmer, and drier for the Appalachian community in the United States for over 30 years. In the summer of 2018, groups from Bally and Blooming Glen (PA) congregations both served at SWAP’s West Virginia location. There, they experienced the one-week service program that emphasizes relationships as much as fixing houses.
For a long time, the West Virginia SWAP ministry typically rented and did not own permanent property. Following SWAP’s move from Elkhorn to Kimball, however, Houston United Methodist Church offered them the opportunity to purchase their own facility. After experiencing this ministry firsthand, both Bally and Blooming Glen stepped in to help. “When we learned of the opportunity extended to SWAP to purchase this residence, it struck us that maybe we could assist them with it,” Bally’s youth leader Mike Gehman says. Since then, members of both congregations, especially youth, have raised funds so that SWAP can purchase the house.
In addition to housing volunteers, the facility will provide more flexibility for SWAP and send a positive message to the community. “By putting this anchor down, it says that we intend to be here with roots that can’t be uprooted,” SWAP’s location coordinator Lee Martin states. The people of Appalachia are important to SWAP, he adds. Every time SWAP and the community members share meals and stories, they touch each others’ lives. They strive to “blow judgmental thoughts [of Appalachian residents] out of the water,” share about Jesus, and build strong relationships with the members of the community.
During one of Bally’s work days, one of their youth, Zack, went missing for some time. He wasn’t escaping the work but was inside talking to Ford. By the end of the day, she had “basically labeled him her adopted grandson,” says Longacre.
“If you have the opportunity to sit down and talk with a homeowner, that isn’t taking you away from your work. That is your work,” says Martin. “The work acts as a venue to build relationships.” This philosophy is one reason the two congregations were moved to work together to help SWAP purchase their new facility.
MCC’s mission to spread “relief, development, and peace in the name of Christ,” as described by Martin, lives on through ministries like SWAP and those who support them. “As odd as it sounds,” he says, “representing Jesus is our job.”
Se necesitaron tres días para cavar la zanja que desvía el agua lejos de la casa de Lucretia Ford que vive en West Virginia, pero valió la pena cada segundo. “Aunque tratamos de divertirnos, no fue divertido.” Jim Longacre de la iglesia Menonita de Bally (PA) admite. “De la misma manera, sirviendo a Dios a veces no es divertido y puede ser mucho trabajo, pero es muy gratificante.”
La recompensa por el trabajo viene en forma de relaciones que los voluntarios de SWAP forman con aquellos que ayudan. Las congregaciones que se ofrecieron a través de SWAP (Compartiendo con la Gente de los Montes Apalaches) no sólo han estado sirviendo a la gente de los montes Apalaches, pero mutuamente compartiendo regalos con ellos.
SWAP, que es una organización del Comité Central Menonita (MCC), ha tratado de hacer las casas más seguras, más cálidas y secas para la comunidad de los montes Apalaches por más de treinta años. En el verano del año 2018, unos grupos de las congregaciones de Bally y Blooming Glen (PA) sirvieron en la ubicación de SWAP en West Virginia. Allí, ellos completaron el programa de servicio de una semana que enfatiza las relaciones tanto como la reparación de casas.
Por mucho tiempo, el ministerio de SWAP en West Virginia normalmente alquilaron propiedades y no las compraron. Sin embargo, después de que SWAP se mudó de la ciudad de Elkhorn para la ciudad de Kimball, la iglesia Metodista Unida Houston le ofreció una oportunidad para comprar un edificio. Porque las congregaciones de Bally y Blooming Glen vieron este ministerio directamente, ellos decidieron ayudarles a comprarlo. “Cuando oímos de esta oportunidad que le dieron a ellos, nos dimos cuenta de que tal vez podíamos ayudarles con esto,” dijo Mike Gehman, que es líder de la juventud. Desde entonces, los miembros de ambas congregaciones, especialmente los jóvenes, han recaudado fondos para que SWAP pueda comprar la casa.
Además de alojar a los voluntarios, la casa proporcionará más flexibilidad para SWAP y enviará un mensaje positivo a la comunidad. “Al poner esto como un ancla, le decimos a la gente que tenemos la intención de quedarnos aquí,” dice Lee Martin, que es el coordinador de ubicación de SWAP. El también dijo que la gente de los Apalaches son muy importante para SWAP. Dondequiera que van, ellos escuchan historias, comparten comida, tocan las vidas y también tienen sus vidas tocadas por los miembros de la comunidad. Ellos tratan de deshacerse de las nociones preconcebidas de la gente sobre los montes Apalaches, compartir acerca de Jesús, y formar relaciones buenas con los miembros de la comunidad.
Durante uno de los días de trabajo de Bally, uno de sus jóvenes que se llama Zack desapareció por algún tiempo. No estaba escapando del trabajo, pero estaba dentro hablando con la sra. Ford. Al final del día, ella lo había “básicamente etiquetado como su nieto adoptivo”, dice el sr. Longacre.
“Si tienes la oportunidad de sentarte y hablar con un propietario, eso no te aleja de tu trabajo. Ese es tu trabajo”, dice el sr. Martin. “El trabajo actúa como un lugar para construir relaciones”. Esta filosofía es una de las razones por las que las dos congregaciones fueron trasladadas para trabajar juntas para ayudar a SWAP a comprar sus nuevas instalaciones.
La misión de MCC de difundir “alivio, desarrollo y paz en el nombre de Cristo”, como lo describe el sr. Martin continúa a través de ministerios como el SWAP y quienes los apoyan. “Por extraño que parezca”, él dice, “representar a Jesús es nuestro trabajo”.
Listening for God’s calling. Serving their home communities. Learning from new communities. Cultivating pastoral skills. These are some of the hopes that six interns bring to their time of service and formation with Franconia Conference this summer. They come as part of the MCC Summer Service Program, the Ministry Inquiry Program, as well as the Conference’s own summer placements.
As part of the MCC Summer Service Worker Program, Jessica Nikomang will work at Philadelphia Praise Center. This summer she will direct a Vacation Bible School (VBS) for kids ages 5-12 as well as work with the Indonesian community around the church and her neighborhood, providing translation support and other help. After the summer, she will begin studies at the Community College of Philadelphia as a first-generation college student in pursuit of her dream to be a school counselor.
This will be Rebecca Yugga’s second summer serving at the Crossroads Community Center in partnership with her home congregation, West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship. Rebecca studies Nursing and Spanish Language/Hispanic Studies at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU). She will be planning activities for children and build on leadership skills and strategies she cultivated in the program last year.
Graciella Odelia will serve at Nations Worship Center, which has been her home church since 2013 and where she is an active member of the worship team. Graciella studies Biology and Chemistry at Eastern Mennonite University. She will be organizing the summer VBS program in July and August at Nations Worship Center.
“Seeing kids excited to worship God makes me look forward to what God has in store for the next generation. By participating in the MCC Summer Service program, I hope to discover how God can use me in His church,” Graciella shares.
As the Conference’s summer placement, Andrés Castillo, a member of Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, will serve as a communication intern for the conference. Andrés studies English at West Chester University. More of his writing, photography, and videos will be shared on our website throughout the summer. Andrés is excited to make connections in his communication work between Christ’s teachings and the social issues about which he’s passionate.
JustinBurkholder, who attends Deep Run East, will be working with the conference’s south Philadelphia Indonesian congregations. He will be serving with the peace camp at Indonesian Light Church as well as summer VBS programs at other congregations. Justin is in Intercultural Studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University.
“I grew up traveling into Philadelphia just for ball games or cheesesteaks and I was disconnected from the lives of people living in the city,” Justin shared. “I am looking forward to building relationships and learning what it looks like to serve the church and community in South Philly.”
As part of the Ministry Inquiry Program, Luke Hertzler, who studies Bible, Religion and Theology at EMU, will be working with Whitehall and Ripple Allentown congregations. Luke will help at Ripple’s Community Building Center and garden and test out gifts on Sundays at both Ripple and Whitehall.
“We hope Luke will bring new ideas and energy. Right now we are forming gift groups at Ripple and I hope Luke can give some direction to this new model,” Danilo Sanchez, co-pastor for Ripple Allentown shared. “Internships are important to Ripple because we care about raising up leaders. Ripple is a different kind of Mennonite church and we like to show young adults that pastoring and church can take a variety of forms.”
Summer interns are an important part of Franconia Conference’s commitment to leadership cultivation. “Each year it is a gift to interact with this next generation of leaders. We learn alongside them and contribute to their formation in the way of Christ’s peace,” Franconia’s executive minister Steve Kriss shared.
We are grateful for and look forward to sharing more about the work that these six young people will offer Franconia Conference this summer!
“Hold each item, one by one,” Marie Kondo instructs families on her Netflix show. Then she says, “Only keep what sparks joy for you.” Everything else can be thanked and let go.
Sparks joy. That concept resonates for me as I have sought to live a whole and abundant life. Yet it’s an idea fraught with danger in a culture that equates happiness with indulgence.
Kondo’s method strikes a chord in me as she practices mindfulness and gratitude. I appreciate the way she gently encourages families to confront their overabundance and to do the hard work of letting go of anything that isn’t life-giving for them.
This technique alone may not be enough to transform American culture, however. I’ve heard stories of people who found the KonMari method life-changing when her book showed up on U.S. bookshelves in 2014 but who discovered that their tidy spaces had already refilled in the years that followed.
Perhaps the act of letting go doesn’t spark enough joy to keep us from accumulating more.
Kondo suggests that most people need practice to recognize what joy feels like. Christian mystics have long agreed that cultivating our awareness of joy can be a spiritual practice, one that draws us closer to the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
Letting go sparks joy for me because it connects to a deeper sense of purpose. God’s dream for our world is that everyone have enough, yet many of us consume more than our fair share of the world’s resources. What would happen if we took Jesus’ teachings seriously, if we truly lived what we say we believe, if we allowed love to drive us to radical, countercultural choices?
For my family, this has led to a journey of mindfulness: finding ways to reduce our waste by limiting what we purchase, avoiding packaging when possible, composting, recycling and reusing; prioritizing second-hand purchases, welcoming hand-me-downs and participating in the “gift economy” through local Buy Nothing groups; choosing to live well within our means in a small house; tapping into our creativity by “upcycling” what we have into what we need; and cultivating a lifestyle that wonders if we can do “more with less.”
And yes, this journey has included simplifying what we own and letting go of things that, a few years ago, we never thought we could release. We’ve found that letting go has grown easier as our motivation has emerged: to make space in our home to expand our family through foster care and adoption. Love for the children we have yet to meet overpowers our sense of loss; we have so much to gain by letting go.
Love motivates and sustains me on this journey. Love for the hurting children in our city and for the children of the world. God’s love compels me to care about how my choices affect the poor, the disenfranchised, the oppressed. We live in an interconnected world where our choices matter.
At the same time, I know our ability to choose is a sign of our privilege. We choose to do more with less. We choose to live in a small house. We choose to buy second-hand items. We can also choose to purchase sustainable products and shop at bulk-food stores. We have an overabundance to give away. We aren’t forced into these choices; we have the privilege of a middle-class income, reliable transportation and free time for hobbies, and we benefit from systems that advantage us at the expense of others.
Letting go also means accepting our responsibility to use our privilege to advocate for and alongside others who don’t have access to those choices. It means allocating part of our grocery budget to bring produce to food deserts in our city. It means advocating for the right to repair and for clean-energy incentives. It means working for safe and walkable neighborhoods. It means opening our home to a child who needs a safe, stable and loving family.
This journey is a long one, and it’s one I’m just beginning. It has led me to let go of my need for speed and embrace patience, to let go of my selfishness and learn kindness and generosity, to let go of my impulsiveness as I practice self-control. It’s a struggle, and I don’t always make good choices. But God’s Spirit is present, shaping me into the image of Jesus, who showed humanity how to let go for the sake of love (Philippians 2).
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a little Marie Kondo on Netflix—I certainly do—but we are called to something more than tidy houses. God’s Spirit is inviting us to commit to our neighborhoods and our world, letting go and embracing so that we love deeply and work for justice.
If Marie Kondo has inspired you to tidy up this spring, consider these tips from Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), which runs a network of thrift shops across the United States and Canada, including the Care and Share Thrift Shoppes, a Franconia Conference Related Ministry.
Do your research. Ask your local thrift shop what items they accept before donating them. Some thrift shops don’t have the resources to accept furniture or electronics. Others may have an “upcycling corner” where they’ll accept items that are broken or missing pieces (like a puzzle or board game).
Clean your items before donating. Many thrift shops, especially those who depend on volunteers, don’t have the resources to clean or repair items. When your items are clean, they have a greater chance of being sold and avoiding the dumpster.
Don’t donate broken items or old TVs. Unless a thrift shop tells you differently, assume they don’t have the resources to repair broken appliances or electronics—and it could cost them more money to responsibly dispose of them. Instead, look for recycling programs through your city, energy provider or local box stores.
Be thoughtful. Would you give the item you want to donate to a friend or family member? If not, perhaps you need to think about a different way to reuse or recycle it.
Buy second-hand items as much as possible. While thrift shops are grateful for your donations, repeatedly buying and donating new clothes (“fast fashion”) does more harm than good. Thrift shops are often overwhelmed by donations of women’s clothing but are more likely to need men’s and children’s clothing.
Consider volunteering. MCC’s thrift shops are more likely to have the time and skills needed to ethically dispose of and recycle unsellable items if they have a strong volunteer base.
MCC’s network of thrift stops are all working to handle donations responsibly, with concerted efforts to reduce waste and care for the environment. Most of the proceeds from the shops go to MCC’s “Most-Needed Fund,” which supports humanitarian efforts in local communities and around the globe, including relief and development, peacemaking, education, prison ministry and immigration advocacy. To see what’s happening at your local thrift shop, visit https://thrift.mcc.org/.
The Care and Share Shoppes are open for business, as well as for donating, Monday through Saturday — learn more at careandshareshoppes.org. They also have a variety of volunteer opportunities. Contact Suzanne Kratz (email@example.com), Volunteer Manager, to learn more about becoming a part of the team!
The slogan, “Doing together what we cannot do alone,” was put into action on Friday evening, September 28, when three Franconia Conference congregations partnered in mission to assemble relief kits. After hearing about Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) plea to send 10,000 relief kits around the world this year, Blooming Glen Mennonite Church invited Deep Run East Mennonite Church and Perkasie Mennonite Church to join them in collecting money to purchase supplies and assemble the relief kits. Initially, the hope was to donate enough money to assemble 300 kits, but more than $9,000 was contributed, enough to buy supplies for 610 kits.
Approximately 90 people of all ages, ranging from 3 to over 80 years old, gathered to share a meal and fellowship around tables. Following the meal, each table group relocated to another table to assemble kits which included rolling and tying over 2,000 towels, packaging shampoo in plastic bags, placing an MCC sticker on the bucket, or securing the bucket lids. After nearly 1 ½ hours of this multi-generational, cooperative, “worker bee” effort, 610 buckets were loaded into trailers. The evening ended with a group picture and prayer of blessing that these kits share God’s compassion, healing, and hope to people suffering the devastation of disaster or war.
Throughout the Franconia Conference website we are reminded of partnerships that span the globe providing opportunities to learn and share resources to embody and extend Christ’s way of redemptive peace. The relief kit partnership prompted me to explore how other Franconia Conference congregations are pooling money, skills, or resources to worship together, host community forums or events, or provide ministry in their communities. Many of these events are multi-generational, cross cultural, or cross denominational, reflecting the expansiveness of God’s way of peace. Some of these local partnerships have been highlighted in Intersectings articles over the past year. Others I learned about recently and will briefly describe.
Several congregations partnered with organizations and people in their broader communities to foster awareness and understanding, promote justice, and take action to address issues. Garden Chapel partnered with their community in Morris County, New Jersey, to host a forum on opioids and addiction providing education and prevention strategies for addressing the problem. Salem, Rocky Ridge, and Swamp Mennonite congregations are partnering with community non-profit organizations and the Quakertown Borough to address the opioid crisis in their community. A meeting place is provided for adults and “directionless” youth to build relationships and engage in meaningful activities. Perkasie Mennonite partnered with trained conflict facilitators to host a community event encouraging civil and respectful conversations about gun policies.
Other congregations planned celebrations and invited the community to participate. Plains Mennonite and Evangelical Center for Revival hosted a community Fourth of July Commemoration to celebrate and embrace diversity. Methacton Mennonite hosted a block party featuring a variety of food and music along a local dance/drum group. Ripple Church uses the sanctuary space of the St. Stephens Lutheran Community Center for worship services and shares several activities with the Christ Lutheran congregation. These activities include a Pesto Festival at the end of the summer using basil from their community garden, and a “Trunk or Treat” event in October to pass out treats from car trunks to the neighborhood children. Ripple also partners with Whitehall Mennonite to provide a Summer Bible School in the park.
Salford Mennonite and Advent Lutheran have partnered in sharing a community garden and providing food to those in their community; hosting educational events on anti-racism and other issues; worshipping together at an annual Thanksgiving service and taking an offering to support local and global ministry.
Several congregations planned joint worship services and opportunities for fellowship this summer. Nations Worship Center traveled to Deep Run East for worship and an intercultural fellowship meal. Centro de Alabanza and Towamencin Mennonite met for a joint baptism service followed by an intercultural fellowship meal. Our California congregations annually gather for worship, fellowship, and resourcing.
Some partnership stories have yet to be told, imagined, or planned. May these brief stories continue to encourage local and global opportunities to learn and share resources in our communities and beyond as we seek to embody and extend Christ’s way of redemptive peace.
When people think “urban,” chances are pretty good that Doylestown, Pennsylvania is not a place that comes to mind. Thirty years ago, it was a traditional farming community; now, it’s a well-off, artsy, suburban Philadelphia town. And yet, one congregation, Doylestown Mennonite, is incorporating a program traditionally geared towards urban congregations—the Mennonite Central Committee Summer Service Worker Program—to also reach out to a radically-changed surrounding community.
For the Doylestown congregation, having an MCC summer service worker is one of a number of initiatives they’ve begun in order to meaningfully connect with people in the community, moves that have at times felt stretching, and even risky. Over the last several years, says Pastor Randy Heacock, the church has opened its doors to various local initiatives, including a community garden and a peace camp, taking place this month. Derrick Garrido, who attends Doylestown Mennonite and is a student at Cairn University, spent the summer connecting with artists in the community, working to create space for artistic expression within the community and connect with those who might not have a faith community.
MCC started the summer service program in the ’80s, with the same focus it has today: To work in urban areas and provide employment and leadership opportunities to people of color. The goal, says program coordinator Danilo Sanchez (Whitehall congregation), is to allow people opportunities to stay in their home communities and churches and make a difference where they’re living now. Participants must be a person of color between the ages of 18 and 30, preferably enrolled in a university or college, and be connected with a constituent church of MCC, such as Mennonite Church USA or Brethren in Christ members. Some participants come through Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite colleges. Generally, a congregation submits a proposal first, and regional MCC coordinators review the application. If it is approved, applicants are then invited to apply to the MCC U.S. program. In the past, both Franconia and Lancaster Mennonite conferences have contributed financial support, and a number of congregations, such as Philadelphia Praise Center, have had someone in the program for the last several years.
This year, Mikah Ochieng worked at Philadelphia Praise Center, under the supervision of pastor Aldo Siahaan. Ochieng says he’s grateful for the opportunity to have been both a learner and a teacher in a community that has been so hospitable to him, and the one he calls home. When asked about challenges, Ochieng said that of course there had been obstacles, such as a small number of volunteers, but his experience has been that “what we lack in such resources we make up in our commitment to serve one another.”
“It’s a quality-over-quantity type of thing.”
New Hope Fellowship, in Alexandria, Virginia, has also participated in MCC’s Summer Service Program for many years. This year, Alex Torres worked with the church’s kid’s club, helped a friend of the congregation with a hip hop school, and assisted the Spanish-speaking community in a variety of ways.
Torres says he’d known others from the congregation who had participated in the summer service worker program, and wanted to make an impact in his community. He says his favorite part was working with the kids, and that he wanted to show them a different, more positive route than the one that’s laid out for many children in his community.
“Where I come from, there’s always a lot of not-so-good things happening… I pay a lot of attention to the youth around here.”
Over the last seven years, summer service worker participants at New Hope have chosen different areas: One worked in a homeless shelter, in part because that’s where he lived. Others who are bilingual have helped people navigate the system.
For New Hope’s pastor, Kirk Hanger, the one of the many benefits of the program is that the young adults are from the congregation—they know the context, the congregation and the community, and when it’s done, they stay.
“We get to continue to walk with these young adults and mentor them… and experience more of the fruit of what they’ve learned and done.”
Heacock says that his congregation has worked hard to figure out what it means to be missional—both in the community with relationships that already exist, but also, as he puts it, “How do we not just preserve it for us, but also use our space to be an outpost for the kingdom?”
“If the goal is to learn what God has for us in the midst of it, I really think there’s very little failure.”
Ervin Stutzman, Executive Director for Mennonite Church USA, will be the guest speaker at this year’s assembly: God@Work, November 10 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa. Recently, Eric Bishop, a member of Souderton congregation and teacher at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, sat down with his friend Merrill Moyer, who has worked with Ervin for a number of years on the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board, to learn more about Ervin’s life and ministry.
Executive Board Member, Merrill Moyer, says, “Ervin has an energy level that I’ve rarely seen. There are seldom two consecutive minutes in a day when he isn’t doing something productive.” Moyer notes that even though there are twenty-one conferences in Mennonite Church USA, with a total of 900 congregations, Ervin “will know what’s going on in every conference and in many congregations as well.”
The biographical summary posted on the MennoMedia website is extensive in recounting Ervin’s many accomplishments:
Ervin R. Stutzman is Executive Director for Mennonite Church USA. Before taking on this role in January 2010, he served for nearly 12 years as Dean and Professor of Church Ministries at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Harrisonburg, VA. He has also served the Mennonite Church in the roles of pastor, district overseer, missions administrator, conference moderator and, from 2001 to 2003, as moderator for Mennonite Church USA.
Ervin graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Cincinnati (Ohio) Christian University. He holds master’s degrees from the University of Cincinnati and Eastern Mennonite Seminary. He received his Ph.D. from Temple University. His master’s thesis at Eastern Mennonite Seminary was “Biblical Interpretation in the Free Church: Appropriating Scriptural Truth Through Communal Discernment.” For his doctoral dissertation he wrote “From Nonresistance to Peace and Justice: Mennonite Peace Rhetoric, 1951-1991.”
Ervin was born a twin into an Amish home in Kalona, Iowa. After his father’s death a few years later, his mother moved the family to her home community near Hutchinson, Kan. Ervin was baptized in the Center Amish Mennonite Church near Partridge. Later, he joined the Yoder Mennonite Church.
Ervin married Bonita Haldeman of Manheim, Pa. Together they served for five years with Rosedale Mennonite Missions in Cincinnati, part of that time in voluntary service. Ervin was ordained to serve as co-pastor of Mennonite Christian Assembly. From there, the Stutzmans moved to Pennsylvania, where they were members of the Mount Joy Mennonite Church. They currently live in Harrisonburg, Va.
Ervin is a preacher, teacher and writer. His Herald Press publications include Being God’s People, a study for new believers, Creating Communities of the Kingdom (co-authored with David Shenk), Welcome!, a book encouraging the church to welcome new members, Tobias of the Amish, a story of his father’s life and community, and Emma, A Widow Among the Amish, the story of his mother. Ervin enjoys doing woodworking projects in partnership with Bonita. They have three adult children, Emma, Daniel and Benjamin.
Part of Ervin’s Life Purpose Statement reads: In response to God’s love expressed in Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, I purpose to follow after God with all my heart so that God may be glorified in my life at all times and in every way.
Stutzman’s approach to leadership reflects his desire to get to know the people he serves. An entrepreneur himself, Stutzman has a special respect for business leaders who are known for their organizational dynamics and their ability to provide direction for those they are charged with leading. While on his many road trips as Executive Director, he makes special efforts to meet with area business people for them to share their view of the church, and teach him about effective leadership and management.
Moyer calls Stutzman a “visionary thinker,” one who is also able to “translate that vision into something that people can understand.” Though he has offices in Elkhart, IN and in Newton, KS, Stutzman chooses to keep his residence and home office in Harrisonburg, VA, a choice that Moyer suggests helps the Executive Director to resist the “beltway mentality” that can easily form inside those two centers of Mennonite Church administration.
Having hosted Ervin in his Souderton, PA home during some of those church-business related road trips, Moyer says that Stutzman is “a humble guy who fits in well in varied surroundings,” and that he can “sit down at the table and talk all evening about his passion for Jesus and his vision for the church.”
AKRON, Pa. – Over the years, Bonnie and Dave Moyer, Zion congregation, have provided a home away from home to four young people from around the globe. In the process, their own lives have been enriched.
The Moyers, in their mid-50s, have hosted four young people, two from Indonesia and one each from Brazil and France. The three women and one man lived with the Moyers at different times as part of Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP).
“Each is as different from the other as night and day, but each is special,” Bonnie said. “They are strong in their personal faith and courageous to leave everything they know and come here.”
Now in its 62nd year, IVEP provides cross cultural experience to Christian youth, many but not all from Anabaptist congregations from around the world, said Andrea Geiser, coordinator of the IVEP U.S. program. In July, 53 young people will finish a year of IVEP service in Canada and the United States.
A new group will arrive in early August, and openings for hosts in Canada and the U.S. are still available.
“This is a chance for us to show hospitality to a brother or sister in Christ,” Geiser said. “Part of the program is to live with a local host family to learn the local culture and connect with a community. It does take extra time to host an IVEP participant, but hosts say again and again how their lives are enriched, their children learn and they have a very positive experience.”
The Moyers believe many people deny themselves the joys of hosting IVEP participants because they harbor unrealistic perceptions of what’s involved. The Moyers themselves worried whether they could fill the role.
“We wondered if we could do it without child-raising experience of our own, and we thought we were too boring for the younger set,” Bonnie said. What’s more, they each work more than 40 hours a week.
However, the couple is committed to international understanding. Bonnie manages a Ten Thousand Villages store in Souderton, which sells fairly traded crafts from around the world, and Dave served with MCC in Belgium from 1978 to 1980.
In 2005, a sponsor contacted Bonnie directly with an urgent need for someone to host an IVEP participant. She and Dave made a quick decision to participate as hosts, and they have never looked back. Dave said his concern about keeping an IVEP participant engaged and active was unfounded because the young people also become involved in their workplaces and congregations.
The Moyers adopt a low-key approach – giving their guests some individual living space while including them in family meals and as many or as few of their activities as each desires.
“They are young adults, not children. They have a purpose in being here and a job to go to. Their brains are tired at the end of the day, and they need some space,” Bonnie said.
However, Dave was thrilled when Edwin Hindom, who is from Papua, Indonesia, took a lively interest in his activities.
“He always wanted to be at my side and was fascinated by tools and machinery,” Dave said. “Edwin liked yard work and really enjoyed helping me with anything that involved the chipper/shredder especially, but also the lawn mower, weed whacker, power saw, cordless drill and snow blower.”
Food is one area where the Moyers try to accommodate their guests’ personal preferences. “You can make someone feel at home if you give them something familiar to eat,” Bonnie said.
Bonnie plans frequent meals with pasta for their current IVEP guest, Elisabeth “Lisa” Spredemann from Brazil, who says she could eat it every day. They found hot sauce for Nur Ninda Natalia “Lia” from Java, Indonesia, and for French woman Lucille Toilliez, who loved crepes, Bonnie would make a batch and freeze them so that Toilliez could help herself each morning.
Spredemann said her biggest worry coming into the program was whether her limited English would hamper her efforts to do a good job at her assignment as a recreational activities assistant at two retirement homes.
This is a common worry, Bonnie said, but she thinks IVEP participants are too hard on themselves. Host families help their guests build confidence with simple reassurance that they’re doing their jobs well and that their English is understandable and improving.