by Javier Marquez, intercultural communication associate, with Emily Ralph Servant
On the night of October 18, 2019, a group of adults and children worked for several hours at the Material Resource Center, a part of Mennonite Central Committee’s ministry in Harleysville, PA. The objective of the project was to put together kits of basic supplies that will be delivered to migrants who crossed the border from Mexico. Members of Franconia Conference contributed the helping hands and gave resources to make the project a reality: 370 kits were packed that night, and the rest of the $20,000 donated by the conference (via churches, individuals and a matching grant) will be sent to MCC Central States to purchase additional supplies.
The kits consisted of a set of useful products such as towels, notebooks, pens, water, and other basic necessities for people who have recently been released from migrant detention camps. Although simple, these kits represent a direct and tangible way to contribute to the needs of immigrants who enter the United States looking for a new home.
The work on the 19th was an example of solidarity and mutual help. Thanks to 20 volunteers from three southeast Pennsylvania churches (Indonesian Light Church, and Philadelphia Praise Center, Plains Mennonite Church), the kits were efficiently packed in a large collection of green backpacks and were ready in time to be sent from Harleysville to be distributed through MCC Central States.
Each of these churches, in addition to belonging to Franconia Conference, is a community that includes many first- and second-generation immigrants. Although these immigrants come from different places on the map, such as Indonesia and Mexico, they each have left behind what is familiar to embark on a trip, marked by difficulties and uncertainty. In understanding and solidarity, they gathered to fill backpacks as people who are aware of the pain and joy of migration.
The children were encouraged to share which countries they were from and they diligently helped for the almost-two-hours that the work took. After the backpacks were filled, the workers gathered together to join in a prayer led by Pastor Hendy Stevan Matahelemual of Indonesian Light Center. They prayed specifically for those who would receive the kit and in general for each person who undertakes the trip and who seeks a place that guarantees their rights and, even, saves their lives.
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.
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.