Tag Archives: Mexico

Building God’s Community Together

by Steve Kriss, executive minister

I’m writing on my last night in Mexico City after celebrating the 60th anniversary of Mennonite churches here.  Over the last months, we’ve been reacquainting ourselves with one another between conferences and reconnecting the strong cords that have, for years, tied our communities together across language, culture, and country.

60th anniversary United Worship of the congregations of CIEAMM at Iglesia Christianas de Paz. (Photo by Kiron Mateti)

It was humbling to stand in front of hundreds of Mexican Mennonites who had come to follow in the way of Christ through the hopeful actions of mission workers—men and women who had left the familiarity of Mennonite congregations in Pennsylvania to build community in the emerging neighborhoods of Mexico City.   As we gathered at Iglesia de Christianas de Paz, I offered a greeting from 1 Corinthians, a reminder that different people have different roles but God brings forth fruit. Together we are building God’s community.

El Buen Pastor – the first Mennonite congregation in Mexico City. (Photo by Kiron Mateti)

But in the midst of that gathering, I was struck most by how going across the boundary to Mexico had changed our conference.   Early stories suggest that Franconia Conference leaders had been waiting for an opening to send international workers.  With a letter of invitation from a woman in Mexico, and after some discernment between various Mennonite mission organizations, Franconia Conference took the lead in Mexico.

Photo by Kiron Mateti

I believe these actions 60 years ago enlarged our hearts and understandings of the world and our connections within it.  Young leaders left familiar community for impactful service and leadership; they learned new foods, spoke Spanish, and tried to understand what essentials should be shared in a new cultural context.  Our understanding of what it meant to be Mennonite had to change.

Celebrating the 60th anniversary of El Buen Pastor congregation, the first Mennonite congregation in Mexico City. (Photo by Kiron Mateti)

And the church in Mexico grew – and is still growing.  The CIEAMM network represents our historic connection, but new connections — the Red de Iglesias Missioneras International led by Kirk Hanger; Iglesia de la Tierra Prometida, where long-term mission workers Bob and Bonnie Stevenson remain; and Centro de Alabanza de Philadelphia, pastored by Fernando Loyola and Leticia Cortes from Iglesia de Christianas de Paz — are ongoing parts of our shared witness.  Along with the Bible translation work of Claude Good that ensured the availability of the Holy Text in the Triqui language, we have made significant contributions to the family of Christ’s followers in Mexico.  The community that makes up these various networks is likely similarly sized to our current Franconia Conference membership.

The view from the top. (Photo by Steve Kriss)

As part of our visit, we visited the Torre LatinoAmericana in central Mexico City.  I stared out from atop the 44-story building, built in the same era that our earliest mission workers arrived. I looked toward the Cathedral of our Lady of Guadeloupe, where the story of a visit from the Virgin Mary to a farm worker in the field would change the trajectory of faith toward Roman Catholicism.

This global city sprawls in every direction around the tower: Mexico City is the size of New York, with 20 million people in the metro area.  There are Starbucks and Walmarts, as well as lots of traffic, and omnipresent cell phones.

Closing prayer at Luz y Verdad congregation, the 2nd congregation begun 60 years ago in Mexico City. (Photo by Kiron Mateti)

I prayerfully wondered what the next years will hold for us together, recognizing each other as sibling communities, and honoring together the Good News of Christ’s peace as we celebrate the possibilities of a faith that crosses boundaries.  This faith changes us in our giving and receiving and, ultimately, changes the world in ways that are both big and small.

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.

Overwhelmed by Generosity; Young adults to build relationships in Mexico City

A group of younger adults will fly to Mexico City this July to build relationships and learn about connecting with local community. The trip, led by Rockhill Mennonite Church and Franconia Mennonite Conference, will partner with the Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México (CIEAMM) in offering children and youth programs and community outreach.

“This is an exciting possibility for young leaders to contribute and learn in one of the world’s biggest cities, to help build on generations of leadership, service, and partnership between
American and Mexican Mennonites,” said Steve Kriss, Director of Leadership Cultivation for Franconia Conference. “I love the energy of Mexico City and the creativity of young leaders

Rockhill Mennonite’s youth pastor, Angela Moyer, has taken her youth group on service trips to Mexico City twice and felt like the time had come to expand the relationship between Mexican
and American Mennonites. In the past, American churches have always sent money, she said, “but these churches don’t need our money—they appreciate our time and energy.” Time and energy used not to construct buildings, but to share in the task of ministry.

The growth of technology has meant that these new relationships, separated by thousands of miles, can remain connected in everyday life. “I can text them,” Moyer said. “We’re on Facebook.” As she looked ahead to this summer, Moyer began to imagine how to further nurture these relationships. The idea for this trip as a broader Conference opportunity emerged; a trip that will be mutually beneficial for both American and Mexican Mennonites.

American visitors are blessed by their Mexican brothers’ and sisters’ hospitality, passion, and love. “[The team] will be overwhelmed by generosity,” Moyer said. They will experience
what it means to be involved in local community in tangible ways and catch a glimpse of what Anabaptism looks like in a context that doesn’t include shoe fly pie and funny cake.

At the same time, “We bring them the world,” said Moyer. Because of financial and immigration issues, many Mexicans can’t make the trek to the US. When American Mennonites visit, the CIEAMM’s young people get a chance to connect with the global church beyond Mexico, have an opportunity to learn and practice their English, and discover that the US is more
than Hollywood.

The Americans’ presence is also an encouragement. Moyer noted that Mexican pastors have asked her, “Why are you guys here serving the kids in our community when most of our own
church isn’t here?” Something about the presence of visitors, working alongside local believers, increases the energy in their own church for Bible School.

And for the CIEAMM, Bible School is still a big deal. The thirteen congregations that form the CIEAMM are on the fringes of Mexico City, ministering to broken families. The children who
live in their neighborhoods have nowhere to go when school is out; Bible School provides a safe and loving place and welcoming diversion, just down the street.

“We’ll be creating space for the church to love the community, in whatever way the local pastors feel would be helpful,” Moyer said, adding with a laugh, “That could take on a very different
look.” One time, she remembers, her youth group joined Bible School children on a peace march. Another time, a pastor was invited to a child’s 1st birthday party—so he brought the
entire team along.

No matter what happens, this will not be a typical service trip—it’s not about accomplishing a project, but about supporting and encouraging the work of the Mennonite Churches in Mexico
City. For those who have never been on a trip overseas before, this will be a great way to ease in, said Moyer. And for those who are service trip veterans, this will be a breath of fresh air, a chance to experience the meaning of generosity and locality.

The Mexico City trip, July 20-August 3, still has several slots available. For more information or to sign up, contact Angela Moyer (moyer1218@hotmail.com). The cost is $1000 per person.

Partners in mission: Gloria a Dios! Praying & praising from the mountaintop

Sandy Landes, Doylestown

The title of this article reflected the words of our hearts, “Glory to God,” as a group returned from a journey to Mexico last fall. We truly experienced the glory of God in the worship, the teaching, the prayer times and the fellowship with Partner in Mission congregation, Iglesia de la Tierra Prometida (or informally Monte Maria) in Mexico City.

On September 9-13, 2010, a group from Franconia Conference traveled to Monte Maria, the church in Mexico City where Bob and Bonnie Stevenson serve. The group’s members, Don Brunk (Souderton Mennonite), Rick Kratz and Noel Santiago (Blooming Glen Mennonite), Jeanette Phillips (Hopewell Fellowship-Telford) and Steve and Sandy Landes (Doylestown Mennonite) traveled to Monte Maria to participate in the School of Ministry discipleship training held regularly for members of this large and growing congregation. This training is intense, held over a day or two, and involves worship, preaching and teaching on various topics related to living the Christian life: biblical studies and topical studies such as the life of Jesus, redemption and prayer. It was encouraging to see how engaged the students were with the classes as they listened attentively, took notes and shared their thoughts in discussions. Don Brunk and Noel Santiago taught two classes each and were warmly welcomed by the brothers and sisters of Monte Maria.

The focus of these classes is to build up the body of Christ to become strong in their faith and to grow in maturity. In addition to teaching, considerable time was spent each day in worship, seeking to know God through adoration and praise. One day at the end of worship the visiting pastor invited those to come forward who wanted to receive a touch from the Lord—as the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak and her bleeding stopped. As a visiting prayer team, we were invited to minister alongside of our brothers and sisters to persons who came forward, and we sensed God’s presence ministering through us and to us. Even though not all of us on the team spoke Spanish fluently, God helped us to transcend the language barrier through the bond of the Spirit and the willing translators in prayer and worship.

Other opportunities for service included Don Brunk preaching at an outdoor evangelistic service held on Sunday afternoon and a married couples’ Sunday school class that my husband and I led. Noel and Jeanette met with the leaders of their prayer teams for encouragement.

Hospitality and serving the Lord with gladness are two characteristics of the believers at Monte Maria. Every person is expected to serve in some kind of ministry capacity, whether it is as an usher, a member of the worship team, helping to maintain the facilities through cleaning or serving on their food-service team. We noticed and felt the joy that came through their service as we spent most of our time at the church and witnessed so many different gifts being used with gladness. It reminds me of Psalm 100:2, “Serve the Lord with glad-ness.”(NKJV). Julio, a young man of 16 years of age, was an example of the graciousness with which we were served. His attentiveness and ready smile were part of what made our daily meal at the church so enjoyable. We believe God will continue to use him for the kingdom because of his servant attitude. We were privileged to be blessed by their obvious joy in serving Jesus through simple acts of cleaning, cooking, worshiping, and teaching.
While we were there to minister and pray for the ministry of Monte Maria, we also enjoyed the time spent fellowshipping and sharing with Bob and Bonnie Stevenson. Their lives are full with the responsibilities of pastoring a large congregation, family life and nurturing their own walk with the Lord. Continue to uphold them in your prayers as God brings Bob and Bonnie and their children, Roberto and Rebecca, to your mind. The kingdom of God continues to flourish around the world, and we were so blessed as we witnessed the growth and joy in the church at Monte Maria.