Tag Archives: Ripple Community Inc

When the Community Shows Up at Your Door

(reprinted from Ripple-Allentown.com with permission)

by Danilo Sanchez, pastor of Ripple congregation (Allentown)

In recent years there seems to be an increase in the number of churches that have changed their name to include the word “community.” Everyone loves being a “community church” until the community wants to come through their doors. Because it’s one thing to go into the community—you can enter the messiness and leave it behind whenever you want—but it’s entirely different when the community wants to be part of your congregation.

If you claim you want to serve the community, particularly those living on the margins, you have to be ready for when the community shows up at your door and wants to share life with you. Too often the church says, “Okay homeless people, here is your section of the building: don’t touch anything, don’t make a mess, and don’t smoke in the front of the building.  If you break any of our rules, you’re gone. I hope you feel the love of Jesus!”

Putting up barriers and devaluing people can’t be the way Jesus wants the church to behave.

Jesus told the parable of man who held a great banquet and sent out a servant to invite many distinguished guests.  But each guest declined the invitation with more important matters to attend to.  The owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the disabled, and the outcast.”

“Sir,” the servant said, “what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.”

Then the owner told his servant, “Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.”

God’s kingdom is limitless, abundant, and grace-filled. There is always room for more people to join in the banquet, to experience God’s love and generosity, and to be transformed. In the parable, the invitation to be part of God’s banquet extends beyond the city limits to the roads and country lanes, which were unsafe (talk about a reversal to our thinking that says the city is unsafe!). Jesus is declaring: “My kingdom is so full of goodness that I don’t want anyone to miss out. Everyone is welcome, even the bandits.”

We are not God. We are not the owners of the banquet. We are the servants. We don’t get to decide who is invited. Our role is to invite and welcome everyone into the kingdom of God.

I imagine one of the guests asking Jesus a follow up question: “But Jesus, aren’t you afraid ‘those’ people will ruin your house?! They’re going to eat all your food, steal your toilet paper and dinner plates, and dirty up the house.” Jesus appears not to be threatened by this possibility. He knows the risk and does not qualify his open invitation to enter his father’s house. For when people get a taste of the joy, hope, and grace of God’s kingdom they can’t help but be transformed.

As the church, we must trust in the transforming work and power of Jesus. Will the lying, stealing, and messiness still happen? Yes. Will our boundaries and patience be tested? Yes. But if we stay in relationship with those people, continue to practice generosity, and trust in God, will we see transformation? Absolutely.

At our church and Ripple Community, Inc., time and time again we have found this to be true. We have witnessed lives transformed. We will not let fear stop us from inviting those on the corners, alleys, and tents from being part of our community, sharing our space, and being part of our lives.

Read Danilo’s full blog here and find out more about the ministry of Ripple Allentown and Ripple Community, Inc.

It’s Not About Me

By Eszter Bentch

I thought I knew that serving, ministry, and most of what I do is not about me. I also thought I knew how to serve others. It turns out, the only person I really think of is myself and I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did about doing ministry.

This summer I was given the opportunity to intern for both Whitehall Mennonite Church and Ripple, as well as Ripple’s non-profit, Ripple Community Inc. in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I wanted to gain experience working in a church setting to explore my potential desire and calling to work as a pastor or in some other form of ministry. These churches, located in and outside of Allentown are not your typical Mennonite Churches. Whitehall is a community of relatively few members, about half of which are Karen people from Myanmar, many of them refugees, and many other people who experience poverty or intellectual differences. Ripple, in inner-city Allentown, is also a small community but with a very big impact. Ripple, as a church and non-profit, worships and works with people experiencing homelessness or in extreme poverty.

Through my time among these communities I learned a lot and gained helpful experiences. I put together many orders of worship, taught Sunday school, led children’s time, led worship services, got to know people, read many books, worked in a garden and even got to preach my first sermon! Through all this, I was trying to figure out what future God was calling me to. I was also trying to navigate balancing work, family, and friends. This meant that I was primarily thinking about myself. Due to the nature of what ministry is, I found that it’s really easy to be pretty self-centered and not realize it. I’m helping and interacting with people experiencing homelessness and other hard situations … all I’m doing is thinking of others! Yet, amidst my supposedly selfless work the thoughts in my brain were ‘what am I learning?’, ‘am I making someone uncomfortable?’, ‘will I still get home in time?’, ‘is this what I want to do in the future?’, and often ‘what does this person think of me?’ Now, I don’t think these questions are wrong to ask and wonder about. It is often important to be aware of how you’re coming across to another person and to be reflective, especially in ministry with people very different from you. However, these thoughts were using up the mental energy I could have used to care well for those I was encountering. God gave me gifts of empathy and being relational, but I wasn’t able to use them for His glory when I was only thinking of how using them would benefit me!

Another thought I often had was ‘How am I serving this person?’ Though that in itself is not necessarily a bad question, I was caught in a serving ‘for’ mentality instead of a serving ‘with’ way of viewing ministry. Though this was something I had heard about, I did not fully understand it until this summer. When we serve ‘for’ other people we might accidentally do it with a ‘better than thou’ attitude. We might not consciously think of ourselves as better than the person we are serving, but it can come across that way to those we help and can even build a savior complex. When I was interacting with people around me with the attitude of ‘how can I help you?’ it put a divide between me and the person: me as the helper, them as the person needing help. It limited the genuine and equal relationship I could have with them. Additionally, nobody wants to be helped by someone who comes charging in without learning about their situation first, without learning how best they could be helped.

Thankfully, God did confront me about the way I was going about ministry. At some point I caught myself thinking ‘will this person’s problem make me have to work late?’ and I was horrified. I wanted to stop thinking about myself and truly serve ‘with’ people. However, I had trouble getting myself out of that habit using only my own strength. It wasn’t until I read one of the most popular Bible stories in the Old Testament during a discernment group that I truly understood the selfless heart of ministry.

Whitehall had set up a discernment group to pray through and talk about the future of the church. At our second meeting we read through the story of Moses and the Burning Bush in Exodus 3. Though I’ve known this story since I was a little kid, though primarily through the animated classic The Prince of Egypt, I realized something brand new. When Moses responds to God’s call to him in verse 11 with “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”, God’s response of “I will be with you” completely ignores Moses’ question. Though God’s response is comforting, He does not acknowledge Moses’ excuse or reassure him by telling him of his gifts or qualifications to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Instead, God talks about Himself. Moses says “Who am I” and God essentially says that who Moses is, whatever qualifications he does or does not have, is completely irrelevant. God could have called somebody else to save His people! What matters is who God is. This helped me realize that not only should I not be thinking of myself as much, but that it’s just not about me. I wasn’t able to shift my focus onto other people well by myself, but God helped me do so once I finally turned towards Him.

Ripple’s annual retreat day at Spruce Lake.

Though being involved in ministry is about other people, it is still mainly about bringing glory to God. God is at the heart of ministry. When we keep our gaze on our Father we will be able to better see and love the people He puts in front of us. Learning this allowed me to love and serve my new friends at Whitehall and Ripple better. I was able to learn how to serve ‘with’ people, not ‘for’ people, when we focused on God together. Then we could come together to work at their and others’ restoration from a place of mutual understanding and friendship. We could truly serve God together. I hope God never lets me forget that ministry is not about me.

Eszter Bentch is a senior at Wheaton College (Illinois) where she is majoring in Psychology with a minor in Biblical and Theological Studies. In addition to her studies she is an Assistant Resident Director of a dorm and works as a supervisor in Wheaton’s fundraising department, Phonathon. While at college she attends College Church near Wheaton. Her home congregation is Souderton Mennonite Church. Her internship this summer was made possible through a partnership of Franconia Conference, Souderton Mennonite Church, Whitehall Mennonite Church and Ripple.  

 

 

Ripple Community Inc. Launches Housing Initiative

Since Ripple Church opened its doors to the city of Allentown in 2011, it’s seen a steady influx of neighbors seeking God’s transformation and community. This diverse gathering of people comes from a variety of racial, economic and educational backgrounds, and many who have been traditionally marginalized now find community and connection in the sanctuary, on the front steps, and in the fellowship hall of Ripple Church.

CBC guests recycle paper into notepads.

In order to take the gifts of Ripple Church out into the broader community, Ripple Community, Inc. was established in 2015. Their Community Building Center opened its doors to provide not just a community center, but a place of support and connection for socially and economically marginalized residents of Allentown – those living with mental illness, multiple disabilities, addiction, or histories of incarceration,  or for those marginalized due to income, housing or abuse issues. Today, the CBC is a safe haven for more than 190 of Allentown’s most vulnerable residents.

With support from the Materials Resource Center, squares are cut, and comforters knotted together. RCI recently sent about 5 competed comforters back to the MRC for use with MCC. ministries.

Being an inner-city ministry comes with a unique set of challenges. “It’s really hard to build relationships and develop leaders in the church when people are constantly moving in and out of the city,” says Angela Moyer, co-Pastor at Ripple. “Additionally, as we have asked and listened to folks about what God’s peace, life, freedom, and healing looks like in their lives, time and time again people have talked about the stress and hardship of unstable housing.”

Ripple and RCI often describe their friends as being “precariously housed”. Affordable, safe, stable housing in the Lehigh Valley, as well as in communities across the country, has become increasingly unattainable. A study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition reported that in order to afford the average two-bedroom apartment in the Lehigh Valley ($1,038 per month), a minimum wage worker would need to work 110 hours per week. “We work with people who are paying $800 or more a month for apartments with doors that don’t lock, or windows that don’t close, or plumbing that doesn’t work,” explains RCI Executive Director Sherri Brokopp Binder. “For many of our most vulnerable neighbors, the only alternative to a substandard apartment is homelessness. They are caught in an unending cycle between homelessness and temporary housing solutions that don’t work or don’t last.”

In order to address this growing need, RCI is following their call to launch the RCI Village.  Based on a model in Washington, DC called Jubilee Housing, this initiative will be the first permanent, supportive housing program in Allentown. RCI Village will take an innovative approach to addressing the need by not only providing quality, affordable housing, but also by connecting residents to established social support networks, community building opportunities, and other resources. “It isn’t just about housing,” says Sherri. “It’s about home and community. It’s about stability and belonging. Those are the basic building blocks of a good life.”

The former Stephens Funeral Home, located near 13th & Linden Streets in Allentown, will become affordable, well-maintained rental units.

RCI recently reached an agreement to obtain a former funeral home property, which will provide 13 rental units in four connected rowhomes, as well as space for the Community Building Center. This acquisition will allow RCI Village to move ahead with the program later this spring, but in the meantime, funds are being raised to cover minor renovations, launch the program, and operate for the first year.  The estimated expense during this phase of the project is $100,000, and RCI welcomes any and all contributions to support this exciting endeavor.

Says Pastor Angela, “Ripple has been praying about affordable housing options for several YEARS, and God has answered our prayers! Ripple folks always encourage one another by saying, ‘you can’t rush God because God is always right on time.’  We trust that God is right on time with this opportunity for quality, permanent, and affordable housing. Praise the Lord for what is in store for Allentown!”

Please visit RippleCommunityInc.org to learn more about the RCI Village or to make an on-line contribution.  If you have questions or need more information, contact them at 484-240-1231 or ripplecommunityinc@outlook.com.