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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Every year, Franconia Conference gives Missional Operational Grants to congregations to help them think and dream about mission. Noel Santiago, Franconia’s leadership minister for missional transformation, described his initial vision for the 2018 MOGs as providing “resources to help congregations reach out and get out of their comfort zone.”
Both executive minister Steve Kriss and Santiago have emphasized that the grants are for starting new initiatives, not sustaining them forever. By overcoming the obstacle of money, churches can begin to experiment; leaders and congregations are encouraged to be more creative. The ultimate hope is that, after the grant period ends, the new conversations and ideas started by it will continue to live on and evolve.
Last year’s MOG recipients have done a good job at what Kriss calls “honoring the legacy of Franconia’s mission to spread Christ’s peace throughout the world.” Here’s a look into what some of them did in 2018:
Indonesian Light Church (ILC) in South Philadelphia has hosted a monthly “food bazaar” to reach out to their community. “We learned that every seed planted needs nurturing and time to grow until it can grow strong roots and bear fruit,” ILC’s report reads. “Without time, love, and commitment to sowing and nurturing, there will be no significant result.” ILC plans to continue experimenting with ways to connect with the Indonesian community in south Philadelphia.
Nations Worship Center (Philadelphia) conducted a Vacation Bible School (VBS) with students from Dock Mennonite Academy (9-12) that received positive feedback and results, including new families faithfully attending church after the VBS was over. They also received help from the city of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Praise Center, and ACME. Nations Worship acknowledges that many of the children who attended their VBS come from struggling families and, “If we lose them, we lose our future.”
Philadelphia Praise Center (PPC) further developed the Taproot Gap Year program, an initiative for college students that involves sending them to live in Philadelphia and Indonesia. PPC maintains an office and staff in Indonesia for this purpose, which PPC pastor Aldo Siahaan says is not easy. “Thank God we have support from the conference,” he says. “Creating a program like this is not new to the conference, but it is for us.”
Whitehall (PA) congregation used their MOG for increasing leadership development among its Karen (Burmese) members. Pastors Rose Bender and Danilo Sanchez have been creatively finding new ways to integrate the various ethnicities within the church. “It isn’t as much about ‘let’s help these poor people’ as it used to be,” Bender says. As this long process unfolds, the congregation “understands more and more how much everyone needs each other.”
Vietnamese Gospel (Allentown, PA) invited people in its surrounding community to have a large fellowship gathering, with speakers giving testimonies. The event was meant to empower their members and share the word of God with people outside of their church. Vietnamese Gospel hopes to make this an annual event to build relationships with its community.
Pastor Bruce Eglinton-Woods of Salem congregation has been working closely with the Quakertown (PA) Community Center (The Drop), an after-school and weekend program for at-risk children and teens created in response to the opioid crisis. The ministry helps attendees figure out the next steps of their lives in a judgment-free zone. Eglinton-Woods has learned how hard it is hard to gain the trust of teenagers and children and hopes to eventually grow the program to five days a week.
Ripple congregation (Allentown, PA) was able to provide training for two of their pastors, Charlene Smalls and Marilyn Bender, at the International Institute for Restorative Practices. The Ripple pastors have been using restorative practices to better meet their congregation and community’s needs.
Other congregations who received MOGs were Plains congregation (Hatfield, PA) for an unconventional July 4th picnic, Souderton (PA) and Doylestown (PA) congregations for the Vocation as Mission Summer Internship Program, International Worship Center (San Gabriel, CA) for technological equipment, Finland congregation (Pennsburg, PA) for their CrossGen conference, and Perkiomenville congregation for its GraceNow conference.
Every congregation has a unique, beautiful story that honors God’s mission to unite the world as one under Him. What is God doing in your congregation and community? Share your stories by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or check in with your congregation’s leadership minister about ways that your congregation might use an MOG to develop your missional imagination and neighborhood connections.
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!
In 2005, Maria Gabriella (Gaby) left a dangerous living situation in Mexico and came to the United States to make a better and safer life for herself and her two-year-old daughter Citlalli. In doing so, she and her daughter came as undocumented persons. She eventually met and married Kyle Rhoads, who grew up at Boyertown Mennonite Church. They had 2 daughters, Isabel and Kylene, and settled in Bechtelsville as a happy family unit.
They were attending our church for several months when Gaby and Citlalli decided to apply for their green cards so they could be here legally. That involved returning to Mexico and having an immigration interview at the U. S. Embassy.
In October 2017, she and her daughter returned to Mexico with trepidation. Her daughter was approved and returned home to Bechtelsville in November, but Gaby was denied. After the denial of her visa in the interview, she had to re-apply for a waiver. In February 2018, her husband and 2 younger daughters visited her, and two-year-old Kylene stayed in Mexico with her mother.
Many phone calls were made to lawyers and politicians on her behalf. Many people at Boyertown church wrote letters requesting her return so the family could be together.
Gaby reapplied and, after spending many months waiting, she went through the interview process again, including another medical exam and paying more money. After 15 months away from her husband and daughter, her visa was finally approved in October 2018. She and Kylene arrived home on January 24.
On January 30th, a big celebration was held at church for her safe return. Christopher Friesen, a member of the Germantown congregation, works for the law firm that processed Gaby’s paperwork. He and Gaby finally met as we celebrated that day, which was another joyous occasion.
Gaby’s family is once again living as a family unit in Bechtelsville. There are still some on-going complications with paper work, so please keep the family in prayer as life goes on and there are adjustments to be made. Our church family at Boyertown praises God for a good outcome for Gaby’s family.
by Danilo Sanchez, pastor of Ripple congregation (Allentown)
In recent years there seems to be an increase in the number of churches that have changed their name to include the word “community.” Everyone loves being a “community church” until the community wants to come through their doors. Because it’s one thing to go into the community—you can enter the messiness and leave it behind whenever you want—but it’s entirely different when the community wants to be part of your congregation.
If you claim you want to serve the community, particularly those living on the margins, you have to be ready for when the community shows up at your door and wants to share life with you. Too often the church says, “Okay homeless people, here is your section of the building: don’t touch anything, don’t make a mess, and don’t smoke in the front of the building. If you break any of our rules, you’re gone. I hope you feel the love of Jesus!”
Putting up barriers and devaluing people can’t be the way Jesus wants the church to behave.
Jesus told the parable of man who held a great banquet and sent out a servant to invite many distinguished guests. But each guest declined the invitation with more important matters to attend to. The owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the disabled, and the outcast.”
“Sir,” the servant said, “what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.”
Then the owner told his servant, “Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.”
God’s kingdom is limitless, abundant, and grace-filled. There is always room for more people to join in the banquet, to experience God’s love and generosity, and to be transformed. In the parable, the invitation to be part of God’s banquet extends beyond the city limits to the roads and country lanes, which were unsafe (talk about a reversal to our thinking that says the city is unsafe!). Jesus is declaring: “My kingdom is so full of goodness that I don’t want anyone to miss out. Everyone is welcome, even the bandits.”
We are not God. We are not the owners of the banquet. We are the servants. We don’t get to decide who is invited. Our role is to invite and welcome everyone into the kingdom of God.
I imagine one of the guests asking Jesus a follow up question: “But Jesus, aren’t you afraid ‘those’ people will ruin your house?! They’re going to eat all your food, steal your toilet paper and dinner plates, and dirty up the house.” Jesus appears not to be threatened by this possibility. He knows the risk and does not qualify his open invitation to enter his father’s house. For when people get a taste of the joy, hope, and grace of God’s kingdom they can’t help but be transformed.
As the church, we must trust in the transforming work and power of Jesus. Will the lying, stealing, and messiness still happen? Yes. Will our boundaries and patience be tested? Yes. But if we stay in relationship with those people, continue to practice generosity, and trust in God, will we see transformation? Absolutely.
At our church and Ripple Community, Inc., time and time again we have found this to be true. We have witnessed lives transformed. We will not let fear stop us from inviting those on the corners, alleys, and tents from being part of our community, sharing our space, and being part of our lives.
by Marta Castillo, Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation
When I was a child on furlough with my family, we used to visit different churches every Sunday to share our stories about Indonesia and what God was doing there. I remember singing the song “God is working his purpose out” by Author: Arthur Campbell Ainger (1894). The lyrics say:
“God is working his purpose out, as year succeeds to year, God is working his purpose out, and the time is drawing near; nearer and nearer draws the time, the time that shall surely be, when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.
From utmost east to utmost west, wherever feet have trod, by the mouth of many messengers goes forth the voice of God, ‘Give ear to me, ye continents, ye isles, give ear to me, that the earth may be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.’
What can we do to work God’s work, to prosper and increase the love of God in all mankind, the reign of the Prince of peace? What can we do to hasten the time, the time that shall surely be, when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea?”
Every year we join together at assembly to celebrate what God is doing, to spend time together as God’s people, and to make plans together discerning God’s purpose for us. We discerned a few years ago to put approve a Church Together Statement Going to the Margins: Kingdom Mission Strategy stating that as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to solidarity with those on the margins of the Christian community, our neighborhoods, and society at large, seeking transformation in ourselves, those to whom we minister, and the unjust systems we encounter. This statement was a building block on our Franconia Conference priorities of being “missional, intercultural, and formational” as we work to fulfill our mission to “equip leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission.”
Henri Nouwen writes, “Those who are marginal in the world are central in the Church, and that is how it is supposed to be! Thus we are called as members of the Church to keep going to the margins of our society. The homeless, the starving, parentless children, people with AIDS, our emotionally disturbed brothers and sisters – they require our first attention. We can trust that when we reach out with all our energy to the margins of our society we will discover that petty disagreements, fruitless debates, and paralysing rivalries will recede and gradually vanish. The Church will always be renewed when our attention shifts from ourselves to those who need our care. The blessing of Jesus always comes to us through the poor. The most remarkable experience of those who work with the poor is that, in the end, the poor give more than they receive. They give food to us.” (henrinouwen.org/meditation/going-to-the-margins-of-the-church/)
We may or may not be consciously working out this “Kingdom Mission Strategy” in our congregations and daily lives. Our pastors and leaders may or may not even remember this conversation and agreement from even a few years ago. The conversation, however, did help us set priorities and to consider God’s plans and purposes for us in ministry and mission. Whether we recognize it or not God is working out God’s purpose.
As was stated in the Church Together Statement, “In Scripture, we see Jesus affirming the value and image of God in those on the margins of his culture and society: tax collectors, women, lepers, the ceremonially unclean, Gentiles, etc. Today, marginalized people groups include but are not limited to individuals and families experiencing mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, physical and intellectual disabilities, incarceration, racism, poverty, war, oppression and exclusion. Who are the marginalized individuals and families in your context and how are you intentionally reaching out and entering their lives with the love and hope of Jesus Christ? If we are to be faithful disciples of Christ and make seeking God’s Kingdom our number one priority, these are the people with whom we must be in solidarity.”
My testimony today is that this kingdom work is happening through the work of the Holy Spirit in the congregations of our Conference. Through pictures and descriptions, we celebrate today that God is working God’s purposes out in our communities. In the last few weeks I had the privilege of witnessing this in some of our immigrant communities, who minister in communities affected by drug and alcohol addiction, and are affected by racism and injustice.
Psalm 33:11 says, “But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. Nearer and nearer draws the time, the time that will surely be, when the earth is filled with the glory of God, as the waters cover the sea.”
Despite temperatures in the high 90’s and extreme humidity volunteers from the Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey MDS Unit began a Partnership Housing Project (PHP) on June 30 and continued working on the home through one of the hottest weeks of the year. Read the full article printed on the MDS website HERE.
In a testimony to community collaboration and an example of “going to the margins”, Garden Chapel opened their doors to leaders, law enforcement and local neighbors in Morris County, New Jersey for a special forum on opioids and addiction.
This free event held at Garden Chapel on Saturday, April 28 was, on the surface, a resourcing fair – raising awareness of the opiate epidemic, highlighting positive prevention strategies, and connecting people with local treatment and recovery services. But for anyone who’s dealt with substance abuse and mental illness or knows someone who has, this event connected on a deeper, more critical level.
Data released by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office shows that drug overdose deaths in the state to be on a record-shattering pace in 2018. Pastor Tim Hart knows all too well the effects of the drug crisis, having lost both his brother and best friend to the epidemic. “I have participated in way too many funerals for friends, parishioners and their children due to this crisis,” he says. “I have been to at least 12 funerals in 2017 and 2018, just from opiate, fentanyl, and heroin overdoses. I believe this is the devil’s imitation of the Holy Spirit, to steal, kill and destroy lives and families.”
Over the course of the day, thirty-four individuals received free training on administering Naxalone (Narcan), which could potentially save the life of someone overdosing on opioids. Morris County’s HOPE ONE program was on site, offering access to services and treatment facilities to anyone in need. The entire event was presented as a part of the countywide Stigma-Free Initiative, which aims to eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness and substance use disorders. “To truly change the way society views individuals with substance abuse and mental illness disorders, we must change our language, attitude and be more compassionate,” said Dover (NJ) Mayor James P. Dodd. “Regardless of the spectrum, we all know or have people in our lives who face these challenges.”
Friends and pastors at Garden Chapel did their part as hosts, running a children’s program and providing Spanish translation, and are already seeing results. The event has assisted at least 10 people to take the first step and enter detox or rehab, some of whom have direct connections to Garden Chapel, and calls are still coming in.
“We can extend our hand out to someone in need, who can grab it and get the help he or she needs,” says Victory Gardens (NJ) Mayor David L. Holeman. Undoubtedly the hands of Garden Chapel will continue to be among those extended. “All that know me know how dear this topic is to my heart,” says Pastor Tim, “and my passion is to never stop fighting for the lives of those struggling with this addiction. I will continue to cry out to GOD while putting my faith into action, by partnering with anyone and everyone to make a difference.”
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.
Desplácese hacia abajo para la traducción al español / Scroll down for Spanish translation
By Gwen Groff, Pastor at Bethany Mennonite Church, and FMC Board Member
We were just one or two days into our Mexico trip when Steve Kriss, Executive Minister of Franconia Conference, said, “I think all they really are asking for from us is for relationship.”
In the end, I believe that was the purpose of our Franconia Conference visit to Mexico: exploring and deepening relationships. Two Franconia Conference board members, Angela Moyer and I, and our Executive Minister, Steve Kriss, traveled to Mexico City, Puebla, Oaxaca, and Toluca and visited various congregations, pastors and leaders of Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México (CIEAMM) for a week.
Franconia Conference had helped to create CIEAMM in 1958, but the formal relationship ended about a decade ago. Our hosts for the week were CIEAMM’s conference moderator, Carlos Martinez Garcia and one of CIEAMM’s pastors, Oscar Jaime Dominguez Martinez. Together we visited congregations that had been planted and supported by Franconia Conference sixty years ago, as well as new ministries that have been emerging.
We first worshiped with Iglesia Maranatha in Puebla. Children and youth were fully involved in leading the service. Over a meal of tostadas they enthusiastically invited Franconia Conference youth to please come and help them with their summer Bible School this July.
The following day we traveled to Casa de Esperanza in Oaxaca, where the congregation meets in the home of Luis R. Matias. We sang and had a short Bible study and a long meal of the local tortilla-based, tlayudas. We met with college students and young adults who are strongly committed to working for justice. We heard about their dream of a place to help meet the needs of Central American refugees passing through their town. The Oaxacan leaders wish for more training in conflict transformation. The musical gifts in this community were abundant, and their warmth and joy were immense. We ended the day with tea with Luis at a cafe where his daughter Paloma was singing and playing guitar. Luis said, “How good is this? My daughter is being paid to sing to me while I eat!”
The following day was a travel day back to Mexico City ending with a taco meal with the congregation at Fraternidad Cristiana Nueva Vida Espartaco.
On Sunday, we worshiped with six of the congregations of CIEAMM. Steve shared a sermon on 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 “In the body of Christ, there are different parts, but not walls.” As usual, our worship concluded with a delicious meal together, and gifted musicians sang, drummed, bowed, plucked and strummed while we fellowshipped. We were overjoyed to see Ofelia Garcia and Victor Pedroza who had recently returned from 8 years of ministry in Chihuahua with colony Mennonites. Ofelia will be coming to Franconia Conference this September to share a weekend Sistering retreat with our Spanish-speaking sisters. During our time here, one seasoned Mennonite agency staff person shared with Steve some concrete advice about partnerships between the United States and Mexican church groups: Always relate as equals; never make the relationship about money; if money is exchanged, let it pass through conferences and congregations, not individuals; if you visit with a group, always include youth in the group.
A visit to Toluca was our last journey. We met with Juan Carlos Maya and Sara Zuniga, leaders at Centro Cristiano. Sara’s mother was one of the first Mennonites Ken Seitz baptized, just before Sara was born. In the evening, we relaxed together, a small group of Anabaptists, sitting around an outdoor table in the plaza, listening to a band, watching the dancers, reminiscing about parents who gave up rumba and salsa dancing when they became Mennonites. At breakfast Sara showed us photo albums of her family that included Mennonites we know as Franconia Conference missionaries.
On Monday, we visited their community center and listened to a passionate power-point presentation (it’s not an oxymoron). These Anabaptists in Toluca teach children to play musical instruments as a part of an orchestra, as a way of understanding the body of Christ. With group music lessons they are building a community. Juan Carlos and Sara showed us plans for their building expansion and introduced us to a neighbor with a brick-making operation. When Juan Carlos walked the dusty streets of Toluca, children ran to him and hugged him and walked arm in arm with him. Angela observed, “He is what Jesus would have been like if Jesus had made it to 60.” His understanding of ministry is a movement from “solidarity first, then Jesus Christ, ultimately Koininia.” He said the opposite of this is “ego first, then hedonism, which ultimately leads to capitalism.”
Elders in these Anabaptist congregations who have been in leadership positions in their churches since they were young are intentionally stepping back in order to make space for new young leaders and to mentor them.
Our visits ended Monday evening with a meeting and meal with leaders from the congregations in Mexico City. They talked about their dreams for their congregations. Women pastors were especially warm in their welcome and enthusiastic about sharing their work and interest in receiving more training in theology and ministry.
What if all we want is relationship? People repeatedly told us, “You have to come back. I can’t visit you, you must come here.” This was Angela’s fourth trip to CIEAMM congregations in Mexico, Steve’s third visit, my first. I learned much from my more fluent Franconia traveling companions. We three were grateful for the generous, meticulous planning of our CIEAMM hosts, Carlos and Oscar. We in Franconia Conference have much to learn much from our Anabaptist sisters and brothers in Mexico.
I was grateful for one theological observation Carlos made in passing. He said, “Christianity is a religion of travel.” A cynical person might suggest that Carlos’ assertion is a bit self-serving. After all, he is a well-traveled Mexican Conference Moderator, journeying through Mexico, visiting churches with a group of Mennonites from the United States, about to embark on a visit to Kenya next week; of course he would believe Christianity is a religion of travel. A cynic might also suspect that my enthusiastic agreement with Carlos is colored by the fact that I’m the Franconia Conference board member from Vermont, grateful for a trip to sunny Mexico in early April when there’s still a foot of snow on the ground at home. Of course we all want to believe Christianity endorses travel!
But I believe without cynicism that Carlos is right. Christianity started with journeys. Jesus walked hundreds of miles, and he and his disciples got in a boat and “crossed over to the other side” of the lake far more often than was strictly necessary. Think of the apostle Paul, Carlos said, who undertook many missionary journeys to spread the good news of Christ. In addition to what we bring when we visit, travel puts us in a new position to receive.
Traveling makes us curious, vulnerable, and open to being wrong. Our bodies get tired. We may get a bit sick. We do not fully understand the language. We listen hard. We may break cultural rules we don’t even know exist. We laugh at our mistakes. All this is a good posture for sharing the story of the self-emptying Christ, for deepening our own faith, and for building relationships.
PHOTO GALLERY (click to see larger images)
Cristianismo: una religión de viajes
Por Gwen Groff, pastor de la Iglesia Menonita Bethany y miembro de la Junta de la FMC. (traducción Luis Rey Matías-Cruz)
Teníamos apenas uno o dos días en nuestro viaje a México cuando Steve Kriss, Ministro Ejecutivo de la Conferencia de Franconia, dijo: “Creo que todo lo que realmente piden ellos/ellas es una relación”.
Al final, creo que ese fue el propósito de nuestra visita de la Conferencia de Franconia en México: explorar y profundizar las relaciones. Dos miembros de la junta de la Conferencia de Franconia, Angela Moyer y yo, y nuestro Ministro ejecutivo, Steve Kriss, viajamos a la ciudad de México, Puebla, Oaxaca y Toluca y visitamos varias congregaciones, pastores y líderes de la Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México (CIEAMM) durante una semana.
La Conferencia de Franconia había ayudado a crear CIEAMM en 1958, pero la relación formal terminó hace una década. Nuestros anfitriones de la semana fueron el moderador de la conferencia de CIEAMM, Carlos Martínez García y uno de los pastores de CIEAMM, Oscar Jaime Domínguez Martínez. Juntos visitamos congregaciones que habían sido plantadas y apoyadas por la Conferencia de Franconia hace sesenta años, así como nuevos ministerios que han estado surgiendo.
Primero alabamos al Señor en la Iglesia Maranatha en Puebla. Los niños y los jóvenes se involucraron completamente en dirigir el servicio. Durante una comida de tostadas, invitaron con entusiasmo a los jóvenes de la Conferencia de Franconia a venir y ayudarlos con su Escuela Bíblica de verano este julio.
Al día siguiente viajamos a Casa de Esperanza en Oaxaca, donde la congregación se reúne en la casa de Luis R. Matias. Cantamos y tuvimos un breve estudio de la Biblia y una larga comida de tlayudas, una tortilla local. Nos reunimos con estudiantes universitarios y adultos jóvenes que están fuertemente comprometidos con trabajar por la justicia. Escuchamos acerca de su sueño de un lugar para ayudar a satisfacer las necesidades de los refugiados centroamericanos que pasan por su pueblo. Los líderes oaxaqueños desean más capacitación en la transformación de conflictos. Los dones musicales en esta comunidad eran abundantes, y su calidez y alegría eran inmensos. Terminamos el día con el té con Luis en un café donde su hija Paloma cantaba y tocaba la guitarra. Luis dijo: “¿No es esto muy bueno9? A mi hija le pagan para que me cante mientras yo como “.
El día siguiente fue un día de viaje de regreso a la Ciudad de México, terminando con una comida de tacos con la congregación Fraternidad Cristiana Nueva Vida Espartaco.
El domingo, rendimos culto seis de las congregaciones de CIEAMM. Steve compartió un sermón en 1 Corintios 12: 12-26 “En el cuerpo de Cristo, hay diferentes partes, pero no paredes”. Como de costumbre, nuestra adoración concluyó con una deliciosa comida en conjunto, y los músicos talentosos cantaron, tocaron, hicieron una reverencia, puntearon y rasguearon mientras nosotros compartíamos. Nos llenó de alegría ver a Ofelia García y Víctor Pedroza que habían regresado recientemente de 8 años de ministerio en Chihuahua con colonos menonitas. Ofelia vendrá a la Conferencia de Franconia este septiembre para compartir un retiro de hermandad de fin de semana con nuestras hermanas hablantes del español. Durante nuestro tiempo aquí, un miembro experimentado de la agencia menonita compartió con Steve algunos consejos concretos sobre las asociaciones entre los Estados Unidos y los grupos eclesiales mexicanos: relacionarse siempre como iguales; nunca hagas la relación en base al dinero; si se intercambia dinero, déjalo pasar por conferencias y congregaciones, no por individuos; si visitas con un grupo, siempre incluye a los jóvenes en el grupo.
Una visita a Toluca fue nuestro último viaje. Nos reunimos con Juan Carlos Maya y Sara Zuniga, líderes del Centro Cristiano. La madre de Sara fue una de las primeros menonitas bautizados por Ken Seitz, justo antes de que Sara naciera. Por la tarde, nos relajamos juntos, éramos un pequeño grupo de anabautistas, sentados alrededor de una mesa al aire libre en la plaza, escuchando a una banda, mirando a los bailarines, recordando a los padres que abandonaron la rumba y la salsa cuando se convirtieron en menonitas. Durante el desayuno, Sara nos mostró álbumes de fotos de su familia que incluían menonitas que conocemos como misioneros de la Conferencia de Franconia. El lunes, visitamos su centro comunitario y escuchamos una apasionada presentación en power-point (no es un oxímoron). Estos anabautistas en Toluca enseñan a los niños a tocar instrumentos musicales como parte de una orquesta, como una forma de entender el cuerpo de Cristo. Con lecciones de música en grupo, están construyendo una comunidad. Juan Carlos y Sara nos mostraron los planes para la expansión de sus edificios y nos presentaron a un vecino con una operación de fabricación de ladrillos. Cuando Juan Carlos caminó por las polvorientas calles de Toluca, los niños corrieron hacia él, lo abrazaron y caminaron cogidos del brazo con él. Ángela dijo acerca de Juan Carlos: ” Él es lo que Jesús hubiera sido, si Jesús hubiera llegado a los 60.” Su comprensión del ministerio (de Juan Carlos) es un movimiento desde la “solidaridad primero, luego a Jesucristo, en última instancia a Koininia”. Dijo que lo opuesto a esto es “ego” primero, luego el hedonismo, que finalmente conduce al capitalismo “.
Los ancianos en estas congregaciones anabautistas que han estado en posiciones de liderazgo en sus iglesias desde que eran pequeños están retrocediendo intencionalmente para dejar espacio para nuevos líderes jóvenes y para ser mentores de ellos.
Nuestras visitas finalizaron el lunes por la noche con una reunión y comida con los líderes de las congregaciones en la Ciudad de México. Estos hablaron sobre sus sueños para sus congregaciones. Las pastoras fueron especialmente cálidas en su acogida y entusiastas de compartir su trabajo y su interés en recibir más capacitación en teología y ministerio.
¿Qué pasa si todo lo que queremos es una relación? La gente repetidamente nos dijo: “Tienes que volver. No puedo visitarte, debes venir aquí “. Este fue el cuarto viaje de Angela a las congregaciones de CIEAMM en México, la tercera visita de Steve, la primera para mi. Aprendí mucho de mis compañeros de viaje más francos de Franconia. Los tres estábamos agradecidos por la planificación generosa y meticulosa de nuestros anfitriones de CIEAMM, Carlos y Oscar. Nosotros en la Conferencia de Franconia tenemos mucho que aprender mucho de nuestras hermanas y hermanos anabautistas en México.
Agradecí una observación teológica de pasada que hizo Carlos: “El cristianismo es una religión de viajes”. Una persona cínica podría sugerir que la afirmación de Carlos era un poco egoísta. Después de todo, es un Moderador de la Conferencia Mexicana muy viajado, viaja a través de México, visitando iglesias con un grupo de menonitas de los Estados Unidos, a punto de emprender una visita a Kenia la próxima semana; por supuesto, él creería que el cristianismo es una religión de viajes. Un cínico también podría sospechar que mi entusiasta acuerdo con Carlos está teñido por el hecho de que soy miembro de la junta directiva de Franconia Conference de Vermont, agradecida por un viaje al soleado México a principios de abril, cuando aún queda un pie de nieve en el suelo en casa. . ¡Por supuesto, todos queremos creer que el cristianismo aprueba el viaje!
Pero creo, sin cinismo, que Carlos tiene razón. El cristianismo comenzó con los viajes. Jesús caminó cientos de millas, y él y sus discípulos subieron a un bote y “cruzaron al otro lado” del lago con mucha más frecuencia de lo necesario, estrictamente hablando. Piensa en el apóstol Pablo, dijo Carlos, quien emprendió muchos viajes misioneros para difundir las buenas nuevas de Cristo. Además de lo que traemos cuando viajamos, viajar nos pone en una nueva situación para recibir.
Viajar nos hace curiosos, vulnerables y abiertos a estar equivocados. Nuestros cuerpos se cansan. Podemos ponernos un poco enfermos. No comprendemos completamente el lenguaje. Escuchamos mucho. Podemos romper las reglas culturales que ni siquiera sabemos que existen. Nos reímos de nuestros errores. Todo esto es una buena postura para compartir la historia del Cristo que se vació a si mismo, para profundizar nuestra propia fe y para construir relaciones. (traducción Luis Rey Matias-Cruz)