by Marta Castillo, Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation
All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, Lord; they will bring glory to your name. Psalm 86:9
At our annual assembly we worshipped the Lord in song in several different languages and styles. I wonder if anyone whispered to the person beside them like someone whispered behind me many years ago, “Why do we have to sing in these different languages? Why can’t we just sing in English?” I wonder if those at the assembly worship felt comfortable and engaged in the worship songs. Were they able to enter into the intercultural space of worshipping God in ways and styles and languages that were not their own? Did it fill them with joy to worship the Lord and bring glory to God’s name with other nations that God has made, even if it was different than what they were used to?
In an intercultural community, all are transformed because everyone learns from one another and grows together. In intercultural worship, we learn to choose to continue to worship God in the styles and languages of others. For me, what began as a discipline and continues to be a choice is now also a joy as I have incorporated intercultural worship as part of who I am with the help of the Holy Spirit. John 4:23 – Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.
Several weeks ago, I attended a service at Nations Worship Center where we sang songs that had repeating lines. I appreciated the repetition while singing in a language in which I am not fluent. The repetition helped me to better understand the song and enter deeply into the spirit of worship. However, I must admit that I have not always appreciated songs with a lot of repetition. What I have learned to do is to go with the repetition rather than fight it. I can worship God in song as I repeat the same phrase over and over and meditate on the truth, just like I can pray or meditate on a phrase of Scripture.
Last weekend I attended a women’s retreat where we had a hymn sing. We sang hymn after hymn in a group of talented and passionate singers. It was beautiful. I was struck by the multitude of beautiful thoughts and word pictures that hymns contain and express in worship to God. But I had to choose to engage my mind and process the thoughts in worship to God as I sang complex music. I enjoyed the repetition of the choruses.
Matthew Westerholm, on the Desiring God website, suggests that often “our discomfort also comes from where we live, if you live in the Western world. Western culture treasures the novelty of words. It might feel like singing many words per minute is a worldwide Christian preference. But it’s not. It’s a Western oddity. If you were to listen to indigenous music from almost anywhere else in the world, you might describe it as “rhythmic, danceable, and repetitive. It may feel strange to discover that our personal preferences are a cultural anomaly. It is humbling to discover that we have something to learn from others, but not surprising. And it is the sort of humbling that, if we are willing to accept it, will bless us greatly in worship.”
Let us worship the Lord in unity, seeking to honor the worship of the nations as our own!
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 (email@example.com) 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.
oleh Hendy Stevan Matahelemual, Indonesian Light Gereja
Makanan adalah unsur penting dalam budaya Indonesia. Ada lebih dari 300 kelompok etnik di Indonesia dan setiap kelompok etnik memiliki makanan khasnya masing masing. Ketika kita berbicara makanan Indonesia maka variasinya sangat banyak sekali.
Hubungan makanan dengan komunitas sangat erat sekali. Dan tidak berlebihan jika budaya komunitas di Indonesia sangat memperhatikan makanan yang disajikan. Dalam Suku batak Kristen misalnya, jika ingin menghormati seorang yang memiliki sebuah kedudukkan yang lebih tinggi maka makanan yang disajikan dalam pertemuan tersebut adalah babi. Menyajikan makan tanpa babi akan dianggap tidak sopan.
Bukan Cuma jenis makanan saja tetapi cara penyajian juga beraneka ragam. Dalam budaya Jawa dan Sunda makanan sangat erat dengan kebersamaan, sehingga timbulah tradisi yang dinamakan liwetan. Di mana, dalam melakukan kegiatan ini, semua orang duduk melingkari sajian yang ditaruh di atas daun pisang dan menyantapnya. Rasa kebersamaan yang muncul sambil menyantap makanan lezat, semakin membuat suasana menjadi hangat
Berangkat dari tradisi dimana makanan menjadi bagian penting dalam budaya Indonesia, khususnya untuk menjangkau orang, dan menjalin hubungan. Gereja-gereja Indonesia di Franconia di Selatan Philadelphia setiap tahun mengadakan festival makanan Indonesia. Nations Worship Center, Philadelphia Praise Center dan Indonesian Light secara rutin mengadakan festival makanan Indonesia. Hal ini dilakukkan bukan saja untuk menggalang dana, tetapi juga untuk membuka pintu hati dalam menawarkan keramah-tamahan dan rasa kekeluargan kepada orang lain khususnya yang berada di luar komunitas gereja. Bukan saja kita membuka gereja kita untuk menjadi semacam rumah makan, tetapi kita juga menyediakan sarana delivery. Dimana biasanya yang mengirim makan adalah pastor2nya sendiri.
Menu menu yang ditawarkan beraneka ragam, mulai dari Saksang khas Suku Batak, Pempek dari Suku Palembang, Berbagai Mie Suku Tionghoa, Ketoprak dari Suku Jawa, Rendang dari Suku Padang, dan Sate dari Madura, dan banyak lagi makanan2 lainnya.
Saya percaya bahwa makanan adalah pintu masuk menuju kepada hati dan jiwa. Tidak hanya kepada komunitas Indonesia saja tetapi juga kepada orang orang dari suku bangsa lain dalam lingkungan sekitar dimana Tuhan tempatkan kami. Ketika kita bisa berbagi makanan khususnya makanan khas Indonesia, maka kita membawa sebagian dari kehidupan kita untuk dibagikan kepada orang lain yang memiliki budaya yang berbeda dengan kita. Dan juga tentunya membagi hidup kita menjadi saksi akan Kristus dengan makanan yang disajikan penuh kasih dan doa.
Makanan Indonesia terkenal dengan rempah rempah, kepedasan dan keasinannya. Dan saya percaya melalui kehidupan meski kami adalah minoritas di negara ini, melalui kuasa Roh kudus kami bisa garam dan terang, di negara ini. Kami ada disini untuk menjadi nasi hidup, sebagai saksi Yesus bagi bangsa bangsa dan bagi generasi. Ada istilah dalam Bahasa jawa “mangan ora mangan asal kumpul”, makan tidak makan asal kumpul. Saya mengartikan bahwa setiap ada makanan pasti kita akan berkumpul. Jemaat mula mula bertekun dan sehati makan bersama, dengan kita berbagi makanan bersama dengan orang berbeda dengan kita baik secara suku, agama, budaya, kita sedang saling meruntuhkan tembok dan membangun jembatan dimana Tuhan Yesus bisa melakukan mukjizatnya.
by Hendy Stevan Matehelemual, Indonesian Light Church
Food is an important element in Indonesian culture. There are more than 300 ethnic groups in Indonesia and each ethnic group has its own unique food. When we talk about Indonesian food, the variations will be plentiful.
The relationship between food and the community in Indonesia is also very close. It would not be over-the-top to say that the culture of the community in Indonesia is very concerned about the food served. In the Christian Batak tribe, for example, if you want to respect someone who has a higher status, you would serve pork at your meeting with them. To serve anything else would be considered an insult.
It’s not just the type of food that matters, however, but also the variety of ways that it can be presented. In Javanese and Sundanese culture, food is very closely related to togetherness, so a tradition called liwetan arises. In liwetan, everyone sits around dishes placed on banana leaves and eats directly from them. The sense of togetherness that arises while eating this delicious food creates a warm and friendly atmosphere.
Food is also an essential way to reach out to people and establish relationships. Franconia Conference’s Indonesian congregations in South Philadelphia—Nations Worship Center, Philadelphia Praise Center, and Indonesian Light Church—hold Indonesian food festivals each year. This is done, not only as a fundraiser, but also to open the door of heartfelt hospitality and to share a sense of pride with others, especially those outside the church community.
The menu offered is diverse, ranging from the typical Batak Saksang, the Palembang Pempek, the ethnic Chinese noodles, the Javanese Ketoprak, the Padang Rendang, and the Madura Sate, and many other foods and dessert.
There is a saying in Javanese culture: “mangan or mangan sing penting kumpul,” meaning, “Even though there’s no food, it’s important to gather.” This saying came from a tradition that believes that whenever there’s food, there must be a gathering of people. Therefore, it’s not an overstatement to say that food is always central in the Indonesian culture.
I believe that food is the entrance to the heart and soul; when we share food, we bring a portion of our lives to share with others. Indonesian food is famous for its spices, spiciness, and flavor. Although we are a minority in this country, we Indonesians can contribute greatly to being salt and light in whatever part of the world God places us. We are here to become living bread, as a witness of Jesus to the nations and generations.
When we are sharing food together with other people, we are breaking down each other’s walls (ethnicity, religion, culture) and building bridges where the Holy Spirit can perform His miracles through us.
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!
by Emily Ralph Servant, Interim Director of Communication
The house sits on Emily Street, a three-story, red-brick townhouse whose stoop rests directly on the sidewalk along a narrow city street.
The third floor windows look out over the surrounding blocks, where brand new rowhomes, nestled between century-old houses, bear witness to the creeping gentrification of this densely populated and diverse neighborhood. Dotted between the rows of houses are lots that won’t long be empty, neighborhood parks, and the occasional sidewalk garden planted in clusters of multicolored pots.
Its name is Bethany House, and soon this house will become a home.
For a number of years, members of the conference community have been concerned about the rising cost of housing in South Philadelphia. As the city has experienced an influx of immigrants and a renewal of its urban core, the neighborhoods surrounding Franconia’s South Philly congregations have seen a quick and dramatic increase in housing costs.
This gentrification makes living and ministering locally more and more difficult, especially for credentialed leaders who don’t have the resources to purchase a home. In response to growing support among the conference constituency, the board decided that now was the time to act, while the purchase could still be considered an investment in the rapidly growing housing market.
In December, upon the review and recommendation of the Properties and Finances Committees, Franconia Conference purchased the house on Emily Street to be used as a conference-owned parsonage. This home will be available for conference congregations in South Philadelphia to use when, and for as long as, needed.
Bethany House’s first residents will be Leticia Cortes and Fernando Loyola. The pastoral couple of Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, Cortes and Loyola have been struggling to find a safe and stable living arrangement for their family for eleven years. Because Bethany House is close to their congregation’s building, Cortes and Loyola anticipate that living there will open up new possibilities for outreach in their community as they get to know their neighbors better.
This dream is shared by the South Philly congregations. “My hope is that this house can be a blessing for the neighborhood,” said Melky Tirtasaputra, associate pastor at Nations Worship Center, who also served as an advisor during the search. “We pray that the people of this house will bring change and peace to the people in that area.”
The purchase of this property not only shows conference support of Philadelphia churches, explained conference moderator John Goshow, but also provides an opportunity for the rest of the conference to partner with our South Philly congregations in building God’s kingdom, as “the entire Franconia Conference community works together to point people to Christ.”
The move will also put Cortes and Loyola closer to their church community—this was one of the appeals of the house, Tirtasaputra explained. Members of Centro de Alabanza are excited about the move and have already been busily at work on the house, making repairs and painting.
Ten percent of Franconia Conference members live and worship in South Philadelphia, which makes it important to start investing in the neighborhood, suggested executive minister Steve Kriss. While Centro de Alabanza is currently using the parsonage, Tirtasaputra reflected, it’s a gift to all of the South Philly congregations since, in the future, pastors from other congregations may also find themselves in need of a home.
“The Bethany House continues Franconia Conference’s tradition of mutual care for our pastors,” described Kriss. “It will ensure healthy leadership for what has been a rapidly growing part of our conference community.” The house was named after the village where Jesus went for rest, care, and friendship (John 12:1-8), Kriss said, “a place of gracious hospitality.”
The Conference’s decision to purchase a Philadelphia parsonage is more than just a financial gift, according to Cortes and Loyola; it also says something about the relationship that the wider conference has with its South Philadelphia brothers and sisters: “We feel like this investment is an affirmation of Franconia Conference’s confidence in our church ministry and in us.”
The pastoral couple’s hope is to move in by the end of the year and, it’s quite possible, they may even be home for Christmas.
Bethany House has been partially funded by estate gifts and individual contributions, but we still have funds to raise! You or your congregation are invited to participate in this ministry by making a designated contribution to Franconia Conference online or by sending a check with “Bethany House” in the memo line to Franconia Mennonite Conference, 1000 Forty Foot Rd., Lansdale, PA 19446.
by Aldo Siahaan, Leadership Minister, with Chantelle Todman Moore, Intercultural Coach
We walked silently through the streets of South Philadelphia.
Pastor Joshua and Anita So from San Francisco and I focused on praying for the people and for the city. No interruption of cell phones. No chatting. We built our relationship with one another through our prayer. It was a dream come true for me.
A couple of years ago, when I was representing Franconia Conference on the board of Mennonite Central Committee, we held a gathering where the people of color who served on the board could talk and share our thoughts.
After this wonderful experience, I dreamed that we could do something similar for leaders of color in Franconia Conference to strengthen our relationships with one another and think together about how we could participate and experience inclusion more in the life of the conference. On November 1, 2018, this dream became reality.
The Renewing Nations & Generations gathering met at Nations Worship Center (NWC) in Philadelphia for an afternoon and evening of prayer, worship, visioning, and connecting a diverse group of ministers, some of whom identify as Chinese, Indonesian, Mexican, Black, and persons of color within Franconia Conference. For the first time, ministers of color in Franconia Conference had a space to hear from each other as we listened to the Holy Spirit together.
Beny Krisbianto (NWC), Kiron Mateti (Plains Mennonite Church), Marina Stevan (Indonesian Light Church), and Emmanuel Villatoro (Philadelphia Praise Center) took turns leading worship in English, Indonesian, and Spanish. It was a taste of heaven as people from different nations sang together in different tongues.
We played together, laughing as we tried to draw portraits of one another. We connected over Indonesian and Mexican foods. Those of us who arrived feeling tentative or shy found courage as we made new friends and discovered that this was a safe space to be honest about our experiences in the past and our desires for the future.
We spent time in small groups, discussing our hopes, dreams, and fears. What makes us excited about the future of the Church and our conference? What are our dreams for our communities, our congregations, and our conference? What do we lament? How could our conference invest in young millennial leaders and credentialed ministers of color? Our conversations were only the beginning, but it was a good start for ministers of color to get to know each other and dream together.
We ended the day with a hope that this could become an annual event and a commitment to value one another across generational differences: seeing and honoring our elders as we love and respect emerging leaders, co-laboring together, with God, in the mission of the Church.
As we continue our ministry in Franconia Conference in the days and months to come, I hope that all of our brothers and sisters will see that the presence of ministers of color and ethnic churches are a gift from God. These gifts are deeply needed to complete the work that God is doing in our conference and in our world.
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.
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.”
By Mike Derstine, Pastor at Plains Mennonite Church
With illustrations from barren trees in the wintertime and personal stories of frustration around his infant daughter’s eating habits, Pastor Beny Krisbianto reminded a joint gathering of Nations Worship Center and Plains Mennonite Church on Sunday, August 27, of God’s goodness that meets us again and again in times of struggle and adversity. The joint worship service in the Plains Park pavilion was a clear example of God’s good and surprising work.
Plains members, Sharon and Conrad Swartzentruber, have been hosting several Dock Mennonite Academy high school students from Nations Worship Center at their home from Monday to Friday during the school year. Last year, a small group from Nations Worship Center traveled to the Swartzentruber’s home for a picnic and afternoon games. Might Plains Church host a joint worship service and picnic in our pavilion, Sharon wondered? Somewhere along the way, Steve Diehl, Director of Advancement for the Mennonite Heritage Center, received word of our planning, and organized a Perkiomen Bus to provide transportation for many more from Nations Worship Center to attend the joint worship service, potluck fellowship meal, and an afternoon visit at the Mennonite Heritage Center. (Read Steve’s reflections on the visit to Mennonite Heritage Center here.)
In the worship service, a generous offering was received that was divided in half to support the ministries of both congregations, including the renovations of the second floor of the Nations Worship Center building.Preaching from Romans 8:28-39 in his native language of Indonesian, and interpreted into English by Plains member, Dr. Conrad Swartzentruber. Beny spoke about a God who works beside us in every situation we face and who met the needs of Nations Worship Center throughout the long, trying process of buying and renovating their current church building and dealing with obstacles from the city, neighbors, and contractors. But surprisingly, Beny shared, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenny recently attended a congregational service and wants to come back!
All total, by bus, a van, and several cars, 60-70 members from Nations Worship Center in South Philadelphia made the trip to Hatfield and Harleysville. It was noted in the worship service that the Plains congregation would look forward to another joint service with Nations Worship Center, only this time in South Philadelphia, and that many of the Plains members would also appreciate the convenience of bus transportation to ease the challenges of city driving, following directions, and parking. God is good and faithful, a reality we often experience in new situations that stretch us and take us out of our familiar routines.