Tag Archives: Noel Santiago

Staying Connected as Partners in Ministry / Permaneciendo Unidos como Compañeros en Ministerio

(desplazarse por español)

by Andrés Castillo, communication intern

There is power in simply staying connected. The reborn Partners in Ministry emphasizes that.

The revival of what used to be “Partners in Mission,” according to Franconia Conference’s Leadership Minister for Missional Transformation Noel Santiago, are partnerships made between groups with similar values and visions and greatly emphasizes relationships. In the past, the relationships with Partners in Mission were mostly leader-to-leader; as a result, when leaders relocated or moved on, some of those relationships faded. In reviving Partners in Ministry, Santiago continues, the Conference is emphasizing a renewed commitment to engaging and experimenting with diverse communities, not just leaders.

Partners in Ministry with Franconia each have a staff person who can accompany them, if desired, as a coach or listening ear, to help connect them with equipping and resources, and to walk with the community during leadership transitions or times of conflict. Franconia also provides credentialing for the pastors of Partners in Ministry if they need it. Leaders from Partners in Ministry are welcome to attend equipping events, Faith & Life gatherings, and other events that may benefit them as growing Anabaptist groups.

Partners in Ministry relationships are different than Conference-Related Ministries, which include institutions such as Spruce Lake Retreat, Care & Share Thrift Shops, and Camp Men-O-Lan. A Partner in Ministry relationship is more of a connection with communities, who, many times, are on the margins (because of geography, social situation, or as a church plant) rather than established organizations.

New Hope youth and adults getting ready to go to Philadelphia to serve with Centro de Alabanza (courtesy of New Hope Fellowship Facebook page)

“Franconia Conference played an important role in the birth and continued growth of RIMI,” explains Kirk Hanger, pastor of New Hope Fellowship Church (Alexandria, VA).  “In 2003, after 11 years of church planting ministry in Mexico, they encouraged me to continue.”  Today, the RIMI Network includes around 80 churches, church plants, and ministries in 12 countries, with 28 churches and church plants in Mexico. The RIMI Network also includes a radio ministry, a short-term missions school and a leadership school affiliated with Global Disciples, a medical ministry, a prayer network, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, and a microfinance ministry working with some 4000 people in economic development in Paraguay.

Oskar Dom (2nd from L.) and Carlos Martinez Garcia (2nd from R.) of CIEAMM with leaders from Centro de Alabanza in Philadelphia

Franconia has recently renewed relationship with the Conference of Evangelical Anabaptist Mennonite Churches of México (CIEAMM) through the Partner in Ministry program.  Carlos Martinez Garcia, CIEAMM moderator, believes that partnership is essential in order to fulfill Christ’s mission in the world: “We encourage each other, the Word says, to love and do good deeds (Hebrews 10:19-25),” he explains.  “The Christian church is diverse in ability, understanding, and vision. By sharing with one another, we can grow and learn to serve better. In the mission the Lord has given us, we must not isolate ourselves, but connect in order to embed ourselves in the world…. We must try to learn from the different understandings the Lord has given others of his word, as well as how they are fulfilling their mission.”

The relationship between Franconia Conference and CIEAMM has been mutually beneficial: while CIEAMM was birthed out of Franconia mission work 60 years ago, CIEAMM has also trained leaders from Franconia congregations, including Centro de Alabanza de Philadelphia, through the Community of Anabaptist Theological Institutions (CITA).  “The fact that we interact with other organizations makes us feel like more than part of a historic relationship,” says Oskar Dom, director of the Biblical Institute of CIEAMM. “It’s good to know that we are in a position to share what we have learned in these sixty years of existence.”

Partner in Ministry relationships are not highly structured, according to Franconia’s Executive Minister Steve Kriss; many communities may have just been introduced to Mennonite theology or practice. The Partner in Ministry relationship can provide space for these communities to learn what it means to live as Anabaptists in their complex contexts.  With supportive partners, anyone can thrive. It is Santiago and Kriss’ hope that Partners in Ministry will continue to be a space for communities to interact, experiment, and get to know one another.


Permaneciendo  Unidos como Compañeros en Ministerio

Hay poder simplemente en el permanecer unidos. El renacimiento de Compañeros en Ministerio (Partners in Ministry) enfatiza eso.

El resurgimiento de lo que ha sido llamado “Compañeros en Misión,” como dice Noel Santiago, el ministro de liderazgo de transformación misional de Franconia Conference, son relaciones hechas entre grupos con valores y visiones similares que enfatizan las relaciones. A menudo en el pasado, las relaciones con Compañeros en Misión eran entre líderes. Por eso, cuando los líderes se mudaban  o se reubicaban  algunas de las relaciones se terminaban. Por eso, resucitando Compañeros en Ministerio, Santiago continúa diciendo, la Conferencia enfatiza una nueva promesa de empeñarse y experimentar con comunidades diversas, no solamente líderes.

Cada Compañero en Ministerio con Franconia tiene un miembro del personal que puede acompañarlo si quiere para actuar como un consejero, conectarlo con recursos y caminar con la comunidad durante transiciones de liderazgo o tiempos de conflicto. Franconia también provee credenciales para los pastores de Compañeros en Ministerio si lo necesitan. Los líderes de Compañeros en Ministerio son invitados para asistir a eventos para equipar, las reuniones de “Fe y Vida” (“Faith and Life”), y otras actividades que pueden beneficiar a grupos Anabautistas que están creciendo.

Las relaciones de Compañeros en Ministerio son diferentes que los Ministerios Relacionado con la Conferencia que incluyen el retiro Spruce Lake, la tienda de segunda mano Care and Share y el campamento Men-O-Lan. Un Compañero en Ministerio es más como una conexión con comunidades que a menudo son más marginados (por su localización geográfica, situación social o porque son “iglesias plantadas”) que las organizaciones establecidas .

Jóvenes y adultos de Nueva Esperanza se preparan para ir a Filadelfia para servir en el Centro de Alabanza (cortesía de la beca de Facebook de Iglesia Nueva Esperanza)

“Franconia Conference fue una parte importante en el nacimiento y progreso de RIMI,” dice Kirk Hanger que es el pastor de la Iglesia Nueva Esperanza (Alexandria, Virginia, Los Estados Unidos). “En 2003, después de 11 años de ministerio de plantar iglesias, ellos me motivaron a continuar.” Hoy, el sistema RIMI incluye aproximadamente 80 iglesias con 28 en México, iglesias plantadas  y ministerios en 12 países. El sistema RIMI también tiene un ministerio de radio, una escuela de misiones de corto plazo que es asociada a Global Disciples (Discípulos Globales), un ministerio médico, un sistema de oración, un centro de recuperación para drogas y alcohol y un ministerio de microfinanzas que trabaja con aproximadamente 4000 personas para desarrollo económico en Paraguay.

Oskar Dom (segundo desde la izquierda) y Carlos Martínez García (segundo desde la derecha) del CIEAMM con líderes del Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia

Últimamente, Franconia ha renovado su relación con la Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México (CIEAMM) a través del programa Compañeros en Ministerio. Carlos Martinez Garcia que es moderador de CIEAMM cree que la colaboración es esencial para realizar la misión de Jesús en el mundo: “Nos estimulamos unos a otros, como dice la palabra, a las buenas obras. (Hebreos 10:19-25),” el dice. “La iglesia cristiana es diversa en habilidad, entendimiento, y visión. Compartiendo unos con otros, podemos crecer y ser de más utilidad y servicio. Según la misión que el Señor nos ha dado, no debemos aislarnos. Debemos buscar la comunión para incrustarnos en el mundo que nos ha puesto… por eso es importante escuchar a otros y a otras del entendimiento que el Señor les ha dado de su palabra y como están cumpliendo la misión.

La relación entre Franconia y CIEAMM ha sido beneficiosa mutuamente: aunque CIEAMM había nacido por un trabajo misional de Franconia hace 60 años, CIEAMM también ha entrenado algunos líderes de congregaciones de Franconia, tales como Centro de Alabanza de Philadelphia, a través de Comunidad de Instituciones Teológicas Anabautistas (CITA). “El hecho de que nuestra conferencia tenga interacción con otras conferencias nos hace sentir cada vez más que parte  de una relación histórica,” dice Oskar Dom, director del instituto bíblico de CIEAMM. “Es bueno saber que nuestra conferencia ya esta en posicion de compartir lo que nosotros hemos aprendido en estos 60 años de existencia.”

En palabras del ministro executivo Steve Kriss, las relaciones de Compañeros en Ministerio no son muy definidas. Muchas comunidades puede que apenas están siendo introducidas a la teología y prácticas menonitas. La relación con Compañeros en Ministerio puede proveer oportunidades para que estas comunidades pueden aprender qué significa vivir como Anabautistas en sus contextos. Con compañeros comprensivos, cualquiera puede prosperar. Kriss y Santiago esperan que Compañeros en Ministerio  continue de ser un sitio donde comunidades pueden tener interacciòn, experimentar y llegar a conocerse.

Beyond Our Comfort Zones

by Andrés Castillo, communication intern

Finland congregation’s CrossGen conference at Spruce Lake Retreat, with speaker Sean McDowell. The conference focused on intergenerational unity, with panels representing different generations asking questions of each other.

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.”

A Karen member of Whitehall congregation leads in prayer.

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.

Salem congregation has been partnering with Quakertown’s “The Drop” community center for at-risk children and youth.

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 communication@franconiaconference.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.

Called Outside of “Church”

by Mike Spinelli, Perkiomenville congregation

It is not often that you get to bless someone as they enter a new ministry while knowing that they are staying around as part of your church family.  At Perkiomenville Mennonite Church (Perk for short), we were able to do this as we blessed Scott and Heather Roth for a new ministry with Young Life in the Upper Perkiomen Valley.

Scott Roth shares at Fall Assembly 2018.

Scott’s ministry in the Upper Perk Valley has taken many forms, from teen center and bike shop manager to thrift store director.  He has also been the associate pastor for Perk for the last five years.  Through it all, Scott’s heart for Upper Perk is well known, in the Valley as well as the church. 

As a church, Perk has benefited from Scott’s unconventional approach to ministry.  While we have some of the typical church programs for youth, Scott has also used his connections in Upper Perk to create on-going service projects.  He also used an online platform to connect kids in deeper exploration of faith themes.  But Scott felt there was a work he was called to outside of the “traditional church.”

Scott began to sense that God might be opening a new avenue of ministry; that avenue presented itself as Young Life.  Young Life is a national ministry aimed at engaging teenagers with the good news of Jesus through weekly club meetings, Bible studies and camp.  Young Life leaders first engage students in their own spaces—like clubs and sports—and invite them to join the weekly meetings when they are ready.

Scott worked with a group of volunteers to start the club portion of the program in the fall of 2017, but he began to feel he could be doing more.  Through a season of prayer and discernment with family, friends, and other associates, Scott pursued becoming a full-time missionary with Young Life.  His status with Young Life was confirmed in October of 2018.

Scott and Heather Roth are blessed by Perkiomenville leadership and Franconia Conference Leadership Minister Noel Santiago.

On December 16, 2018, Perk Church used part of the morning worship service to affirm and bless Scott and Heather for their past ministry and the new venture.  Different people of various ages spoke of Scott’s unique way of pushing their boundaries.  Scott shared how much Perk Church has blessed his family and how they are glad to remain as part of the congregation.  Together we celebrated Scott’s testing of our comfort zones and blessed them as a couple who were now stretching their own comfort with this new venture.

While Scott’s role at Perk has concluded, the Roths (including children Rowan and Ashlyn) will still call Perk their church home.  Scott noted that he will soon be a youth parent as Rowan will transition into the youth group after this school year.  The church is also part of his financial support team.  Knowing Scott, the partnership of Young Life and Perk Church will soon extend to helping new students and families engage and enter God’s kingdom and find new life in Christ.

Prayer for Assembly

by Noel Santiago, Leadership Minister for Missional Transformation

As we come upon our time for Conference Assembly, we are focused on being one in the Spirit in the bond of peace.

I believe Jesus would be looking forward to this weekend with anticipation of his prayer being answered in John 17. 

In this passage, he has prayed for himself, his disciples and then for all those who will believe – this includes you and me. After praying for his disciples Jesus goes on to pray these words, they may be His word for us this weekend:

I’m praying not only for them but also for those who will believe in me because of them and their witness about me. The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind— Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, So they might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me. The same glory you gave me, I gave them, so they’ll be as unified and together as we are— I in them and you in me. Then they’ll be mature in this oneness, and give the godless world evidence that you’ve sent me and loved them In the same way you’ve loved me.

– John 17:20- 23 MSG

May we find that Jesus’ prayer continues to be answered as we gather together in the Spirit and in peace.

The Old Has Gone, The New Has Come

By Noel Santiago, Leadership Minister for Missional Transformation

2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

The word ‘therefore’ points to what comes before. When I look at this, I’m drawn to look before and I find another ‘therefore’ in verse 16. So, I go to the previous section up to verse 12; the heading that translators have given it in some Bibles is “Being Reconciled to God.” In verse 12 this phrase jumps out at me: “those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart.”

What does that mean? Is there a connection between the old and appearance, and the new and the heart? A slew of phrases begin to pop out. Phrases such as:

  • “if we are beside ourselves, it is for God,” (2 Corinthians 5:13);
  • “if we are of sound mind, it is for you,” (2 Corinthians 5:13);
  • “the love of Christ compels us,” (2 Corinthians 5:14);
  • “we judge thus,” (2 Corinthians 5:14);
  • “if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all,” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15);
  • “those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again,” (2 Corinthians 5:15);
  • “Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh,” (2 Corinthians 5:16); Is this what the appearance mentioned above is about?
  • “Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer,” (2 Corinthians 5:16);
  • “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Does this mean that we are now known in heaven differently than on earth? If so, how am I known in heaven? Is there a connection here with the 1 Peter 1:3-4 passage, especially as it relates to partaking in the divine nature? As 1 Peter 1:3-4 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you…”

Do we see each other in this way? Do I see myself in this way?

Is it possible that the old has to do with external appearances of a life lived for self and the new has to do with the internal condition of the heart and a life lived for Christ? If so, then why do I struggle with the realities of the external when supposedly I am new on the inside?

Might one clue be found in 2 Peter 1:9 where the writer states that when I forget my past sins have been cleansed, I become nearsighted and blind? So, might remembering this reality help me see more clearly the new that has come – which is Jesus Christ in me the hope of glory now?

Holy Spirit, would you help me to remember that the old has gone and the new has come? Would you help me remember that my past sins – that which is old – have been cleansed and the new, your life in me now, has come? Allow this reality to be the ground from which I live and move and have my being. Let this truth be how I see others as well as myself, as redeemed, renewed, cleansed, restored, made whole and beloved in Christ. Let this mindset be the mindset from where I engaged my life circumstances and those whom you have placed around me. Would you open the eyes of others so they too can see themselves as you see them and together may we be drawn closer to you as we lift up your name for all people to be drawn to you? In Jesus I pray, amen!

 I’m indebted to the Sunday morning bible study and prayer group at Blooming Glen for some of these insights and observations

Learning to Pray In New Ways

By Randy Heacock, Leadership Minister and Pastor at Doylestown Mennonite Church

Is it possible to teach an old dog new tricks?  Many of us have heard or said this phrase over our lifetime. We say this to state the challenge when trying to change patterns or habits. Those of us in congregational leadership can name our fair share of experiences that indicate old dogs do not learn new tricks. However, I want to celebrate a congregation that is learning to pray in new ways.

For some time I have been disturbed by the focus of our prayers. Back in 2013 while on sabbatical, I visited 10 congregations to see how they did prayer on a Sunday morning and to discover what their practice communicated about the purpose of prayer. Though some churches were quite liturgical and others more informal, my overall conclusion of the purpose of congregational prayer was that God needed to be directed what and how to help those we love. In talking with individuals, I discovered people had formulas and for some, their prayers were bargaining sessions with God.

I struggled to align this with Jesus’ teaching, “thy kingdom come and thy will be done.”  Our prayers seem to call on God to make our will be done and our kingdom be ordered as we see fit. However, I knew changing our prayer habits would not be easy. Even the suggestion that our practice of prayer needed to be altered raised some eyebrows. For the past several years, we at Doylestown Mennonite have tried a few different ways to pray. I preached differently about prayer and we offered some additional training.

Recently, we invited Noel Santiago, Franconia Conference Leadership Minister for Missional Transformation, to lead us in four sessions on prayer. Though we have only had two of the four sessions thus far, there is clear evidence that we are learning to pray in new ways. Noel quickly developed a level of trust with those present and encouraged us to believe for our time together that God will speak to us if we listen.  Rather than starting with our need, Noel encouraged us to seek what God wanted and then pray for that rather than our own desire. While it would be too lengthy of an article if I went into all that Noel has shared in our two sessions, I can tell you people are being changed.

People from the age of 18 to 89 are reflecting together on what God has said to them.   Tears have been shed for prayers people have crafted for one another. A younger person declared only God could have given those specific words of encouragement. Noel then pointed out that we prophesied over one another. We are a long way from mastering this new way to pray as we raise questions and acknowledge some awkwardness. Yet there is no doubt the Spirit is moving and God is stirring deep within us.

Please pray for us as we have two sessions yet to complete, but also as we seek to continue to practice and learn what God has for us in prayer. I am grateful that Franconia Conference is willing to hire such people like Noel with different gifts to equip us as churches. I have witnessed people of all ages, learning new ways to approach God in prayer!

 

Leadership Ministers Reflect and Refine

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

For generations, one of the primary tasks of Franconia Conference was to provide leadership accompaniment with congregations and credentialed leaders.  The call to serve as a bishop was a serious call to lead, serve and offer wisdom and counsel.  It was a weighty role.  I grew up with a bishop in my home community in Allegheny Conference and for some of us in Franconia, we remember those days, too.   Our bishop still wore a plain coat on Sundays and he preached long sermons.  I still remember being surprised to see him visiting his sister one day while working on the garden to pick green beans and he was wearing a flannel shirt, conversing (not preaching) and laughing.

For almost a decade now, our conference has framed this work as leadership ministers.  We have attempted to find footing alongside congregations to invite, provoke and accompany during rapid cultural changes.  Our conference is now served by a team of ten leadership ministers: men and women from different generations, with different cultural backgrounds and different language capacities to continue to cultivate God’s dream among our 45 congregations.  It’s a key task and incarnation of what we do together.

Our leadership ministers met the end of March, during what we hope will be the last heavy snowstorm, at Mariawald Retreat Center near Reading to review and reimagine our work together.  Some of us weren’t able to get there due to the snow, so we used Zoom to connect with these colleagues.  Some colleagues left early and some stayed later to wait out the storm.  In the meantime, we enjoyed the lovely and hospitable space of Mariawald, hosted by Catholic nuns from Africa who are now in Berks County as part of their vocation of serving God and the church.  The snow was stunningly beautiful even though we may have been ready to move onto spring.  It was in some ways metaphoric of the difficulty and possibility of doing our work in this time and space.

Together we began the task of refining our work.  We will continue to work around the Conference’s approach to ministry and leadership which is formational, missional and intercultural.  We will continue to align our ministry staff around those ongoing priorities.  We are beginning to work together to understand how to include congregations at our farthest distances now with a staff representative based in California to serve our congregations there.  And we’re evaluating best practices to serve congregations that are close by to us too, sometimes just blocks from where we live or less than a mile from the Conference office at Dock Mennonite Academy.

Franconia staff: (front) Aldo Siahaan, (L to R) Mary Nitzsche, Wayne Nitzsche, Noel Santiago, John Stoltzfus, Jeff Wright, Mike Clemmer, Randy Heacock and Steve Kriss.

I am grateful now for a full staff team after over a year of navigating through changes.   We are beginning to learn together, to laugh, to build deeper trust.  We are leaning in toward our individual gifts and callings recognizing our invitation to serve God in the way of Christ’s peace through our historic and growing community.   As a Conference, we are privileged to be resourced well through ongoing generosity and wise stewardship.   I continue to be grateful for the sense of care and mutuality that we have together and the divine invitation to continued transformation by the power of the Spirit in this journey of faith, hope and love together.

I Will Build My Church

by Noel Santiago, LEADership Minister

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church (EKKLESIA), and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Matthew 16: 18 (NIV).

It’s really interesting to note something specific in this passage related to the word ‘church’. Most people would think in terms of a building; some think in terms of a community of faith and some in terms of religious activities. None of these are incorrect per se, but the word that Jesus uses here is the Greek word Ekklesia which in short means ‘assembly.’

Since we understand one meaning of ‘church’ to be ‘congregation’, many would say this is just mincing words, i.e. “church, assembly, what’s the difference? We all know what we mean.” But the word church comes from a different origin: the Greek word kuriakos – ‘Belonging to the Lord’, which emerges from the word kurios – ‘Lord’. This word doesn’t even resemble the Greek “ekklesia”. It’s like confusing a Cadillac for a Jeep; you can’t! In the early centuries, believers called the place in which they met, Kuriakos Oikia, the Lord’s House. This has become the common meaning.

An Interesting connection to the Anabaptist heritage is that we called our places of gathering meeting houses, not churches. We understood that the church is the people, not the building. Could something similar to this be going on in this passage?

Jesus is not saying church in the sense of ‘the Lord’s House” Kuriakos Oikia. He is saying ekklesia. In this sense, then, ekklesia means: “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place; an assembly.” This is not just a gathering, rather it’s an assembly of the people convened at the public place of council for the purpose of deliberating.

The practice of ekklesia had been in use for about 500 years by the time of Christ. It had specific, well known connotations. Every city had a ruling assembly, an ekklesia. Ekklesia was the principal assembly of the government in Athens, Greece, open to all male citizens over the age of 18. An ekklesia was comprised of a quorum of up to 6,000 citizens. It was responsible for declaring war, military strategy, electing military generals and other officials, including chief magistrates of the city-state. It voted on decrees, treaties and law proposals. It typically met 3-4 times a month.

Here’s the key point – the ekklesia was by definition a legislative or ruling assembly.

For Jesus to say “…upon this rock I will build my ekklesia” is to invite obvious contrast with other ekklesias. Every city had a ruling assembly, an ekklesia. Jesus is announcing His restoration plan where He will diffuse His ruling power into an assembly of disciples! In essence He establishes His governing body of Heaven on the earth through you and me – His ekklesia!

When Jesus talked about “upon this rock I will build my church” he was referring to ‘ekklesia’ which means ‘ruling assembly’, not ‘Oikia’ which means household. What Jesus is saying is that I am now establishing my ekklesia – my ruling assembly if you will. I’m installing my ruling governmental assembly that will rule, be responsible and loyal to God above all others! It will stand in contrast to the rulers and principalities of this world and it’s foundational ruling characteristic and value will be based on LOVE! When we gather, we gather as the ruling body in the region! This authority and function of the assembly is fundamental to properly understanding what Jesus initiated in Mathew 16:18.

In Matthew 16 verses 15-16, “Jesus stands before them and asks, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ In a revelation from heaven, Peter says: ‘You’re the one, the anointed one from God, the Messiah. You’re the ruler of rulers; the promised king!’”

As a ruling body (ekklesia) we have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Jesus commissioned you and me when He said in Matthew 28:18-20 (NASU), “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

What is the Holy Spirit saying right now? What invitation is God extending? How will we, His church, His assembly, respond?

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.

Binding Together What is Seen and Unseen

by Noel Santiago

Matt 16:19 (NIV) – “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

In the verses before the text above, Simon (later called Peter) has declared that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the awaited Messiah. Jesus’ response is to declare Simon as blessed because of the revelation he has not only received, but declared!

There is more going on here than meets the eye, because Jesus doesn’t stop there. He goes on to change Simon’s name to Peter and declare that he is going to build His church and that the gates of hades will not prevail against it. Furthermore, Jesus gives him keys to the kingdom and declares that whatever is bound on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever is loosed on earth will be loosed in heaven! Wow! Who would of thought all this would have happened from a seemingly simple declaration! What’s going on here?

It would seem that there is an interplay being established here that is binding together what is not seen to what is seen. The agent of what is visible will become what we know today as the church at work on the earth, but what about the agents of what is not seen? Did he say it would be earth that decides what is bound or loosed in heaven? Is that right? Well, if this is so it makes me wonder then what is it we bind up on earth that causes heaven to bind it up there and what is it we loose on earth that causes heaven to loose that?

Jesus continually interacted with what was seen and not seen in dealing with people’s needs and bondages in the realm of the spirit. When Jesus laid down His life on the cross, we are told that the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom. The veil was what separated God in the most holy place from humankind; heaven and earth would be one again and the binding agent would be Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God. Paul, would later write to the Ephesians saying that “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”

Is it possible that there is an entangled connection between earth and heaven; a binding together of what is seen and unseen? If so, what is the nature of this interplay? Is it possible that God in Christ, is calling us to help bring heaven to earth today?