by Justin Burkholder, summer intern with South Philly’s Indonesian congregations
In the blink of an eye, camp has reached its endpoint.
Philadelphia Praise Center ran its annual summer Peace Camp during the month of June. I was responsible for part of its leadership by organizing the kids from the community and congregation, planning trips for the group, and managing the volunteers who dedicated their summer to the children. Our team served up to sixty energetic kids over the duration of four weeks. We had a blast doing so, but it did not come without expected difficulties.
This was a stretching month for me. I have been learning to be more flexible with the way I approach ideas and time. Through leading camp, there were days when weather, sickness, traffic, loud children, or other forces resulted in a shift of plans. I have always been the type of person to set a routine, attempt to execute it, and then repeat. I’ve learned this month that life can’t always be lived like this because God moves in ways we can’t predict; we can’t always control or change things with our own hands.
Processing everything that happened this summer has been difficult because of the speed at which everything has been moving. When it seems like I am not hearing from God, I attempt to slow down and retreat to the avenues where I have experienced His presence in the past. Recently this has come in the form of worship music, quiet time, new relationships with believers in Philadelphia, and other hobbies I enjoy. I’m looking forward to fellowship at the Mennonite Church USA Convention this week in Kansas City.
My time in Philadelphia is flying by, but the experiences are valuable and have pointed me to Christ. I don’t love learning to be more flexible, yet it is a characteristic that has shaped how I journey with God. For that I am grateful.
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!
Cerita saya berawal ketika saya baru tiba di negara ini dari Indonesia di tahun 2005. Saat itu saya berrencana mengambil sekolah bisnis di La Salle University, Philadelphia. Seperti kebanyakan orang yang baru pindah ke suatu tempat, adaptasi terhadap segala sesuatu yang baru adalah hal yang sangat sulit. Kehilangan keluarga, kerabat, teman-teman, dan suasana hidup yangbiasa saya nikmati di negara asal membuat saya merasa depresi dan putus asa. Saya hampir memutuskan untuk kembali ke Indonesia saat itu. Tetapi tekanan dari orang tua untuk mendapatkan gelar akademik yang direncanakan memaksa saya untuk terus mencoba bertahan. Kesulitan yang saya alami telah memojokkan saya sampai ke suatu titik dimana saya merasa doa adalah satu-satunya hal yang bisa menolong saya melewati segala persoalan saat itu. Saya berharap Tuhan bisa memberikan jawaban tentang apa yang harus saya lakukan agar masa-masa sulit ini bisa segera berlalu.
Philadelphia adalah kota besar dengan beragam etnis dan budaya. Di kota ini terdapat ribuan orang imigran asal Indonesia. Saya mulai menemui mereka san mencoba untuk mengenal lebih dekat. Dari pertemuan-pertemuan tersebut, terungkap banyak masalah yang mereka hadapi sabagai imigran di negara ini. Mereka bercerita mulai dari terpisahnya mereka dengan anggota keluarga di Indonesia, situasi di tempat kerja mereka yang sulit, masalah status imigrasi, dan yang tak kalah pentingnya adalah masalah keterbatasan bahasa.
Dari situ saya mulai mencoba untuk menlong mereka yang bermasalah dengan bahasa. Saya mengantar mereka ke dokter, dokter gigi, pengacara, dan lain-lain, dengan memberikan terjemahan secara cuma-Cuma. Lambat laun tanpa saya sadari saya secara perlahan-lahan merasakan kelegaan di tengah-tengah permasalahan yang saya hadapi. Saya menemukan fakta-fakta bahwa sebagian orang memiliki persoalan yang lebih berat dari yang saya miliki dan saya tidak sendirian dalam menghadapi persoalah sebagai imigran di negara ini.
Seiring dengan berjalannya waktu saya mulai berpikir mungkin inilah jawaban yang Tuhan berikan atas doa-doa yang saya penjatkan ketika mencari jalan keluar atas keputusasaan saat meninggalkan Indonesia. Saya melakukan kegiatan-kegiatan itu sampai pada tahun 2010 saya menemukan dan bergabung dengan gereja Philadelphia Praise Center (PPC). PPC adalah gereja yang aktif membantu komunitas Indonesia seperti mengurus dokumen-dokumen imigrasi, kartu identitas, memberikan pelajaran bahasa Inggris, dan sebagainya. Saya melibatkan diri dalam kegiatan-kegiatan mereka sejalan dengan apa yang saya lakukan.
Saya mencari tahu visi dan misi PPC. Salah satu misi yang mereka usung selama ini adalah “Menjadi contoh yang hidup akan kasih Tuhan unutk manusia.” Saya berpikir melalui kegiatan-kegiatan yang saya lakukan bersama PC, misi yang satu ini sangat cocok dengan jawaban atas doa-doa saya. Tuhan ingin saya menggunakan apa yang saya bisa untuk menolong orang lain. Itulah yang Tuhan ingin saya lakukan. Akhirnya saya memutuskan untuk bergabung dalam keanggotaan ministry di PPC. Saya secara resmi ditahbiskan tahun 2014 dan saya masih aktif menjalankan tugas-tugas saya sampai saat ini.
My story began when I arrived in this country from Indonesia in 2005. At that time, I was planning to go to La Salle University in Philadelphia. Just like many other people who moved to a new place, adaptation to all things new was the hardest part. Missing family, friends and colleagues, as well as my day to day life in my home country, made me depressed and hopeless. I almost gave up and decided to go back to Indonesia at that time. But the pressure from my family, wanting me to get an academic degree made me fight and stay put. My hardship pushed me to the point that I felt that only prayer could help me get through my problems at that time. I was praying that God would give me an answer to what I should do, to leave this time of struggle behind.
Philadelphia is a big city with so much ethnic and cultural diversity. In this city, there are thousands of immigrants from Indonesia. I started to meet them, to try to get to know them closely. From many encounters, it was revealed that there are so many problems that they face as an immigrant in this country. They started telling stories, from the story of separation from family in Indonesia, problems at work, problems with immigration status, and last but not least, language limitations.
At that moment, I started helping those with language limitations. I took them to the doctor, dentist or lawyer, and gave them free translation service. Slowly without realizing it, I found peace in the midst of my own problems. I found that half of the people had bigger problems than what I had, and that I’m not alone facing problems as an immigrant in this country.
As time went on, I started to think maybe this was God answering my desperate prayer after leaving Indonesia. In 2010, I found and joined Philadelphia Praise Center Church. PPC is an active church, helping the Indonesian Community in areas such as handling immigration documents and identity cards, English classes, etc. I’m also involved with those activities.
I started to look to PCC for vision and mission. One of their missions is “to become the living example of God’s love for people”. I began thinking that through my activities with PPC, I am living out this mission, which is the answers to my prayers. God wants me to do what I can to help other people. Finally, I decided to become a member at PPC. I was officially ordained in 2014 and I am still actives in my duties today.
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 story of Franconia Conference is rooted in faith and migration. These stories have helped shape us as a community, sensitive to the struggle of others who were also seeking a place of peace. Currently our Conference is comprised of about 10 percent recent immigrants who have come to the United States in the last decade, and this percentage is likely to continue to grow and to shape our future. As this is our story together — past, present, and future as God’s people – Franconia Conference recently co-sponsored Mennonite Central Committee’s Immigration Community Day in Philadelphia. Pastor Aldo Siahaan of Philadelphia Praise Center participated in the morning panel discussion. Centro de Alabanza hosted the event and assisted in providing a noon time meal. Many from across the region came to learn and celebrate. Abigail Shelly reflected on her experience at the day’s event below, in an article original published online with The Mennonite.
(reprinted with permission)
by Abigail Shelly, Philadelphia Praise Center summer intern
As I stepped onto the upper floor of Centro de Alabanza, a humble church building in the heart of South Philly, I encountered a flood of color; blue, purple, green and orange hues hung from the ceilings and walls as lively decor, and a spectrum of dark brown to beige smiling faces filled the room. I felt the buzz of energy as people from various walks of life arrived throughout the morning to take part in Mennonite Central Committee’s Immigration Community Day on August 4 — a day set aside to gather, inform and celebrate immigrant communities in the Philadelphia area.
To begin the day, Saulo Padilla, MCC immigration coordinator, gave a keynote address in which he shared his story as an immigrant and urged the audience to take seriously current issues, particularly the separation of families. Following was a panel with five active members in the Philadelphia community, all with recent immigrant backgrounds or in positions of immigrant advocacy. Topics included personal stories, experiences with the legal system and basic rights one should know about.
Chinemelu (ChiChi) Oguekwe, MCC Philadelphia program coordinator, said the morning was “about providing a space to have a discussion about what it means to be an immigrant for our community.” Considering the current administration’s immigration policies, she said, “there has been a legitimate amount of fear among immigrants in our community. And we know that a fearful community is not a healthy one.” She added that this “is why we gathered together to hear from our immigrant neighbors, leaders in the community [and] churches — to hear from one another, inform and educate each other. It’s in educating each other that we are set free, free from fear. Education empowers us.”
After a morning of education came a time of celebration. A lunch of tostadas, nasi goreng and djon djon (traditional food from Latino, Indonesian and Haitian community churches, respectively) primed the audience for spoken word, traditional Aztec and Indonesian dancing and an uplifting rhythm from the “Best African Drummer in Philadelphia.” For me it was beautiful to watch the freedom that came for these people groups with their traditional expressions. It allowed those from various backgrounds in the audience to enjoy a part of these cultures that too easily gets lost in the noise of navigating life in a completely new country while lacking basic rights.
For the past 10 weeks, I have had the opportunity to live and learn with the Indonesian immigrant community here in South Philly. I have learned the power of holistic care for the “strangers” in our midst. On the one hand, it is important to know how to help someone through the new space they have entered: navigating the legal system, marching in advocacy, providing access to health care, educating them on basic rights. On the other hand, it is just as vital to spend time learning and celebrating what these cultures have to offer in this new space: language, dance, music, food and ways of worship. Learning holistic care has allowed me to see each of my immigrant neighbors not just as a set of needs to be met but as a person I am called to be a partner with in their new journey, whatever that may look like. Some days it may look like facing a daunting court date or navigating an impossible health-care system. Other days it may look like trying new foods or learning to dance or laughing at my attempts with Bahasa Indonesia. It’s a new and sometimes uncomfortable form of celebration that somehow makes sense and the “stranger” in our midst becomes a new brother or sister.
MCC’s Immigration Community Day resonated with my experience here because it held up the heaviness of the immigrant community’s reality while providing a space for celebrating these cultures. Oguekwe remarked, “My hope was that the Immigration Community Day would raise awareness on the immigrant experience, connect immigrant families to local service providers and resources, see and value the contributions of immigrants to our community and unify and strengthen our community through caring for one another.” It did exactly that.
Abigail Shelly is originally from Meridian, Mississippi, and attends Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where she studies TESOL education and liberal arts. This summer she has been learning from and serving through the Ministry Inquiry Program with the Indonesian community at Philadelphia Praise Center, a congregation of Franconia Mennonite Conference.
Over 25 years ago, I interned through Mennonite Church USA’s Ministry Inquiry Program at my home church in Somerset County, PA. I loved the experience of working alongside a congregation that had shaped my own decision to follow Jesus and working creatively with a pastor who gave me space to learn, to experiment and to honestly engage life in the church. At the end of the summer, I declared that I loved the experience, but that I didn’t want to be a pastor because I realized the vastness of the task at hand. My home church then, four years later, called me as an associate pastor. It still surprises me that they invited and that I said yes.
This summer, through Souderton Mennonite Church’s Vocation as Mission Program, Mennonite Central Committee’s Summer Service Worker Program, the ongoing Ministry Inquiry Program and a variety of independent initiatives, about a dozen young adults (all under age 30) are finishing up a summer of serving and learning alongside our congregations. These initiatives are likely some of the best investments of our time and resources into the life and future of the church.
Not all of them will be called as pastors, but through the mutual time together, the opportunity for shaping and learning continues to prepare leaders who will engage the church and the world wholeheartedly through the Good News of Christ’s peace. I am grateful for pastors who make space for those who are learning alongside. Walking alongside learning leaders takes time, intention and openness. It’s also being confident and humble enough in your own leadership to realize that other leaders will lead differently, fail differently and that working with next generation leaders can be a constant invitation to learn, for those of us who are more established leaders as well.
Back in my intern days, my pastor – Marvin Kaufman – gave me space to explore cultivating a sister church relationship with an African American congregation in our area. That exploratory space culminated in Sunday night worship experiences at each of our meetinghouses. This experience and our congregation’s willingness to participate and follow me into this relationship-building likely shaped forever the kind of ministering and leading person that I have become and am becoming, on working with the Spirit to cross cultural and ethnic boundaries to express the heart of the Gospel of reconciliation and transformation.
I’m so grateful for each of our next generation leaders who said yes this summer, and for the communities that hosted them and walked alongside them. Working with Jerrell , who is serving alongside our Conference and The Mennonite this summer, has reminded me of the worthy investment of time and fruitfulness of relational possibilities. Abigail and Tiffany serving together at Philadelphia Praise has made me smile, as they helped host our Interfaith leaders gathering last month with gracious hospitality. My interactions with the Vocation as Mission interns, as we talked about intercultural challenges and possibilities, inspired me by their sincerity and questions when we met at Bike and Sol. I loved hearing how much Rebecca and Ezther are valued at their places of service in Philadelphia and the Lehigh Valley.
These experiences are some of the best investments that we make together with our Conference resources. I’m grateful that we continue to share in this process of calling and shaping next generation leaders together for the sake of the church and the world. This is our work together, a recognition that calling and shaping next generation leaders is the work of “our village.” And for me, and hopefully for all of us, this is the kind of work that brings us great joy and hope, a recognition that the Good News goes on, continues to transform and will continue to transform us.
The Ministry Inquiry Program is a partnership between Mennonite colleges, Mennonite Church USA and local congregations. Upon completion, students receive scholarship money. This summer one Franconia Conference congregation hosted a student, and another Franconia congregation sent a student. From Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, Lydia Haggard spent the summer working at the Coalition for Christian Outreach program in Ocean City, New Jersey. Philadelphia Praise Center hosted Abigail Shelley from Meridian, Mississippi. Read all about their experience, along with that of two other Ministry Inquiry Program participants, by clicking here.
by Aldo Siahaan, LEADership Minister and Pastor at Philadelphia Praise Center
On Super Bowl Sunday, some Philadelphia Praise Center members came to church wearing Philadelphia Eagles’ jerseys, hats, and jackets. That morning I asked “how many of you believe the Eagles will win?” It turns out that only some were certain that the Eagles would win.
That evening at 6 pm friends gathered at my house to watch Super Bowl LII. After watching a pretty tense game, we know for certain that the Eagles won! My house is located in South Philadelphia just one block from Broad Street where people gathered to celebrate the Eagles’ win. My friends and I joined in that celebration about 10:30 pm.
How extraordinary that night was! Thousands of people went out into the streets, walking towards Center City, celebrating with enthusiasm and spontaneity. What I remember is people gave each other a smile, high fives, shouted “E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles,” hugged, shared food and drink. Regardless of the color of your skin, without asking for immigration status, regardless of belief and background, all celebrated victory and joy. One friend said “Aldo, this is a bit of the taste of heaven, where there is excitement, there is unity.”
The words “taste of heaven” continue to ring in my ears. These words make me wonder whether the taste of heaven can only happen if there is a victory in a sports game like this, and involve hundreds or thousands of people shouting and cheering.
Revelation 21:4 says, “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.” Yes, in the” taste of heaven” God must be involved. God can use any individual, family or church to present a taste of heaven for others. Whatever we do for others, to bring to their lives less sorrow, less crying, less pain, it seems that we have brought a taste of heaven to them.
Last week, I asked a few people in my cell phone contacts, “please pray for my uncle and aunt who lives in Lakewood, New Jersey who had a car accident. I will go to see them in the emergency room tonight.” The response was amazing, from a person willing to accompany me, to people praying and giving encouraging words. That, for me, is a taste of heaven too!
I am sure we have all experienced and will continue to experience a taste of heaven. May our eyes be open to it, until one day when all believers gather in heaven and we no longer have just the “taste of heaven.” We will all together be with God in heaven. “Before the throne of God and serve him day and night,” Revelation 7:15.
Four congregations have requested to join our Conference in time to be considered for membership at assembly this fall. This has been – and is – a season where many communities are looking for new alignments related to changes across the Anabaptist landscape. We’ve been in conversation with a dozen different communities stretched from Queens (NY) to San Francisco (CA). For me, it’s been a challenging wave to ride for the first months of my work as executive minister. It’s been both an invigorating and exhausting time. While I believe the Spirit is at work in this time of tumultuousness, it’s hard to know exactly where it’s all going.
This is adaptive change and paradigm change. This kind of growth wasn’t in any strategic planning. Though change sometimes comes upon us and we find ourselves testing what the Spirit is doing in the midst of it all. Finding our hearts “strangely warmed” as the disciples did on the Emmaus Road with the resurrected Jesus.
As we approach assembly this fall, we will be inviting delegates to affirm four new congregations as members in our Conference. These four congregations have some familiarity with us already and their leaders have already established relationships with other leaders in our Conference. These churches (one in Queens, New York and three in the Los Angeles, California area) will add to our urban and multi-ethnic realities. These congregations will continue to enrich and challenge our life together as Franconia Conference into the future. I’m hoping that we’ll find ways to embrace all that means as we seek to share God’s amazing grace and peace together.
The three California congregations seek to be admitted as a group together. This enables us to provide better accompaniment and assistance along with them. All three had been previous members of Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference until earlier this year when the conference reorganized and these three congregations sought a new affiliation. The three churches –Jemaat Kristen Indonesia Anugerah (JKI or Grace Indonesian Christian Congregation) in Sierra Madre, Indonesian Worship Church in San Gabriel, and International Christian Community Fellowship in San Bernardino – have strong and long-term Anabaptist commitments. Each congregation worships in a mix of Indonesian and English.
These congregations have strong ties to our Philadelphia Indonesian speaking congregations as Nations Worship Center and Philadelphia Praise Center have found a sense of home and family within our Conference. Leaders of our Philadelphia Indonesian-speaking congregations have shared their experiences with their West Coast colleagues which has made the California congregations wonder if they too might find family with us in Franconia Conference. For many within the Indonesian community, the idea of relationships that span the continent seems easy to maintain; it’s only half as far away as Indonesia.
In our age of ready communication technologies and easy bi-coastal travel, I believe that we can effectively, though differently, accompany and partner with these congregations. We’ve estimated a cost of about $10,000 in annual expenses to begin this partnership with the California congregations, which would include some staffing support and the hiring of an additional stipend leadership minister to work specifically with these congregations. We’d intend to review this within three years together.
In the past, we have worked at church planting in Hawaii. We have maintained long term partnerships with congregations in Mexico City. For 50 years we have traveled the six-hour trip back and forth to our congregations in Vermont. This will have some similar characteristics; there will for sure be challenges, but I believe that we’ll learn and be stronger by cultivating these partnerships together. Each of these congregations brings vibrant gifts of leadership and service. They’ve been invited to share their resources with us as we seek to multiply our gifts together for the sake of the God’s Kingdom on earth.
The fourth congregation, Bethany New York – a congregation in Queens – has been in a dating relationship with our Conference for over a year. The congregation’s founding pastor has moved toward retirement and the emerging pastoral leader, Hendy Stevan, is currently a full-time student at Eastern Mennonite Seminary (EMS). Though planted in affiliation with the Church of God, the church identifies with Anabaptism and has completed a teaching period on the seven core convictions of Mennonite World Conference.
Though this would be our first congregation in New York City, we’ve had previous conference member congregations in Long Island that were planted out of mid-20th century initiatives, connecting with alternative service for conscientious objectors. With Hendy’s ongoing studies at EMS and ongoing strengthening of relationships with other Pennsylvania congregations, along with the broader Mennonite Church USA body at Convention, Bethany is ready to become a full conference member and to participate in our life together.
These four churches total a membership of approximately 400 people and would add approximately 12 possible additional delegates to our discernment body. Each church has been invited to consider sharing 3-10% of their annual income with the Conference. We commit, then, to walking together, to giving and receiving counsel and to extending the right fellowship which we have maintained for hundreds of years in our Conference community.
These new member congregations will continue to re-shape our Conference community. Each is seeking the broader relationships that are accessible through membership in Mennonite Church USA and our connections with Mennonite World Conference. I believe that this is God’s invitation for us to continue to be transformed and to continue to live together in seeking justice, with a great love of mercy and a willingness to walk humbly toward God’s dream.
Congregational Profiles for each of these churches mentioned will be coming out in the weeks leading to assembly. In addition, look for stories from our Philadelphia Indonesian communities regarding their connections to the California congregations.
Delegates will have a time to discuss and discern affirming these congregations for membership at our annual Assembly Scattered Meetings. If you are a delegate please be sure to register and attend one of those.
Also, please feel free to contact me anytime for more conversation as we move toward this time of further discernment together.