Tag Archives: Rose Bender

Board Welcomes Smita Singh

By Angela Moyer, co-pastor at Ripple and Conference Board Member

Smita Singh was appointed to the Franconia Conference Board by delegate affirmation at the Fall 2016 Assembly, beginning her first term with the Board in January, 2017. Smita is a member at Whitehall Mennonite Church in the Lehigh Valley since 2000, when she immigrated to the United Stated with her husband Naveen and son Ronak.

Growing up in Nagpur, India, Smita was raised in a Christian home with church and faith as an integral part of her upbringing. She was actively involved with her church youth group, Youth for Christ (YFC), Evangelical Students Union (EU), children’s ministry, National Council of Church’s in India (NCCI) and Maharashtra Village Ministries (MVM). She has led women’s groups and youth groups through BSF International (Bible Study Fellowship), and as a member of Whitehall, Smita has worked in children’s ministry, helped with fundraisers and served on the budget committee and worship planning committee.

She graduated from Nagpur University with a Bachelors in Computer Science. She then received her Master’s Degrees in Business Administration specializing in finance and marketing. Smita has experience as a Google Quality Rating Consultant and also owns an Etsy business, “Rosmina Collections.” Recently, she began working in the Customer Service Department at Nestle.

Janet Byler, Smita Singh, and Ron Bender finished out a long line of blessings and anointing for Pastor Rose Bender at her ordination in 2012.

Initially, Smita was not interested in being on the Board at Franconia Conference, but after prayer, both she and Naveen sensed that this was a call to move out of her comfort zone, especially after having an encouraging conversation with Steve Kriss, then the Director of Leadership Development.  Now, she is looking forward to discovering how she can use her gifts and experience to serve in this role and hopes to fulfill God’s calling.

Her favorite passage of Scripture is Isaiah 41:10, “Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” She says she connects to God best by having her quiet time praying and seeking His word for discernment.

Smita describes Whitehall Mennonite as an eclectic group of people filled with hospitality, diverse in speech and culture, with a common goal to serve the Lord and care for each other. Something she has learned at Whitehall is that God is faithful and always provides in unexpected ways. Transformation happens one person at a time and many times the transformation takes place years after the seed was planted.

Rose Bender, Pastor at Whitehall Mennonite Church says, “Folks at Whitehall appreciate Smita’s creativity, generosity, and delicious cooking!  Because of her life experience and background, Smita often has a different perspective to add to the conversation – a part of the rich fabric of diversity at Whitehall Mennonite Church. She is a joy to pastor and work alongside in ministry.”

Smita lives in Breinigsville, PA with her husband, and now 14-year-old son.  In her free time, she enjoys making cards, helping her son with his school projects, volunteering at church, and as a volunteer coach for Springhouse Middle School Science Olympiad Team.


Lehigh Valley congregations partner to support youth minister

Danilo Sanchez at Lock-in
Danilo Sanchez accompanies Lehigh Valley junior youth to the lock-in this spring.

by Sheldon C. Good

HARLEYSVILLE, Pa. – Some of the most diverse growth in Anabaptism along the East Coast is occurring in Allentown, Pennsylvania’s fastest growing city and now a city that is majority Hispanic. Even so, none of the city’s broad range of Anabaptist congregations has enough resources or even youth to maintain a youth pastor. That’s why Franconia Conference, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) East Coast, and six Lehigh Valley congregations have come together to hire a half-time youth worker, Danilo Sanchez, to minister across the various Anabaptist communities.

Through this role, Sanchez, who graduated this spring from Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg, Va., is involved regularly with a diverse combination of congregations unlike those served by just about any other Anabaptist minister in the U.S.: Karen Fellowship, Iglesia Menonita Evangelica Restoracion, Christ Fellowship, Vietnamese Gospel Mennonite Church, Whitehall Mennonite Church, and Ripple. Franconia Conference, MCC East Coast, Whitehall, and Ripple share financial support of the position.

Sanchez is primarily responsible for organizing gatherings for Lehigh Valley youth, leading worship at the Whitehall and Ripple congregations, organizing after-school youth activities, and engaging the myriad Lehigh Valley Anabaptist congregations.

“I’m excited to join the vision of creating a context where next-generation intercultural Anabaptist leadership can flourish and strengthening relationships across Anabaptist communities in the Allentown area,” Sanchez said. “While I have experience working with youth in many types of Mennonite churches, this will be a new challenge. I never expected myself to be in urban ministry, but that seems to be where God is calling me, and I’m willing to follow the Spirit’s call in my life.”

Youth have a reputation for being an especially challenging demographic for people in ministry, and Sanchez’s experience in Allentown will likely be no different. The youth of Whitehall and Ripple, though few, come from challenging, high-need situations, including coming to Allentown as refugees and being born into cycles of poverty, according to Whitehall pastor Rose Bender, who is Sanchez’s supervisor. “As a part-time pastor,” she said, “I am already feeling stretched beyond what I can give. So, the idea of adding a youth worker that would connect with Whitehall as well as some of the other congregations is very exciting.”

The partnership of so many groups and congregations makes sense to Bender. She noted that many people from Whitehall and Ripple in particular are neighbors, and some people worship with both groups. The connection with Franconia Conference and MCC East Coast, she said, is yet another example that people “are looking for ways to connect here and make a difference.” Many congregations already partner with Ripple by cooking meals or sending youth groups to work with children in the city.

Angela Moyer, co-pastor of Ripple, wants all different types of people feel like they are welcomed and wanted in the Ripple community, and she hopes Sanchez’s leadership will help Ripple work toward that.

“Danilo has a deep compassion for youth who typically are on the margins in their schools, families, and communities,” she said. “With Danilo, the teenagers at Ripple hopefully will find a place where they belong, are nurtured, and supported in their specific life stage.”

Thanh Pham, a pastor from Vietnamese Gospel, echoed Moyer’s hope that Sanchez will help youth to flourish. Pham said he prays the youth’s parents will “see our community as a place they can trust to send their children to learn more about God.”

A partnership between MCC and local congregations isn’t commonplace, though it does exist elsewhere. Sanchez’s position is one that “resonates deeply” with ongoing MCC work related to youth, urban ministry, collaboration with churches representing diverse ethnic backgrounds, and leadership development, said Kim Dyer, young adult program coordinator of MCC East Coast. “We are excited to be able to respond to an initiative coming from the church in a local context that connects so deeply to MCC’s areas of focus.”

“This new collaboration is a creative way to build on both strengths and possibilities,” said Steve Kriss, director of leadership cultivation for Franconia Conference.  “Danilo has been shaped through numerous points of engagement within Franconia Conference.  This work provides space for something new to emerge alongside the congregations of the Lehigh Valley.   We’re grateful for the opportunity to work together through MCC’s Community Service Worker initiative.”

Sanchez, who is also working half time at MCC as national director for their Summer Service Worker program, said what makes him most excited and hopeful about the new position is that he can serve alongside the next generation of Anabaptist leaders who God is raising up.

“I don’t know what the church will look like, but I trust that the Spirit is leading and at work in the lives of these young people in Allentown,” he said.

Franconia Conference gathers to celebrate, pray, confer, listen

Garden Chapel Children's Choir
Garden Chapel’s children’s choir led a rousing rendition of “Our God” at Conference Assembly 2013. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

Franconia Conference delegates and leaders gathered November 2 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa. to celebrate God still at work.   With a packed auditorium for a third united assembly with Eastern District Conference, representatives gathered to listen and pray, to celebrate newly credentialed and ordained pastoral leaders, and to work alongside one another after an over 150-year rift created two separate Mennonite entities.  The theme “God still @ work” was an extension of the 2012 theme, “God @ work.”

With singing in Indonesian, Spanish, and English led by Samantha Lioi (Peace and Justice Minister for both conferences) and Bobby Wibowo (Philadelphia Praise Center) and translation into Franconia Conference’s worshipping languages, delegates and representatives from nearly all of the Conference’s congregations from Georgia to Vermont gathered to confer around a board-crafted statement on the Conference’s increasing diversity in ethnicity, experiences, faith practice, and expression.   The gathering was punctuated with points of celebration including testimony from Peaceful Living led by Joe Landis and Louis Cowell from Salford congregation, a youth choir from the revitalizing Garden Chapel in Victory Gardens, NJ, and a moment to mark the upcoming November retirement of Franconia Conference Pastor of Ministerial Leadership Noah Kolb after 45 years of ministry, which was met with rousing applause and a standing ovation.

Noah blessing 2013
Noah Kolb was recognized and blessed for 45 years of ministry. He will retire in November. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

In a shortened one-day event, delegates spent the morning together around tables with Eastern District Conference to continue to deepen relationships across conference lines.  Business sessions were separate, and Franconia’s included a significant amount of time in conversations among table groups, conferring over the board statement and then reporting on those conversations to the whole body.  Delegates and representatives were encouraged to mix across congregational lines to better hear and experience the diversity of conference relationships.

For many, including Tami Good, Souderton (Pa.) congregation’s Pastor of Music & Worship, who was attending Conference Assembly for the first time, the table conversations were holy spaces.  Each person at her table was from a different congregation.   “I saw God at work in the gracious listening, especially in the time when we talked about the conferring statement,” Good reflected. “There were disagreements, but everyone was graciously listening and hearing.  Everyone actually wanted to hear each other.  It was a beautiful time.”

The conferring time, along with an afternoon workshop led by the Franconia Conference board, focused on prayer and visioning for the Conference into the future.   Conference board members Jim Longacre (Bally congregation), Rina Rampogu (Plains congregation), Jim Laverty (Souderton congregation), and Klaudia Smucker (Bally congregation) served as a listening committee for the daylong event.  They reported seven themes of consistent and continued conversation: engagement, diversity, shared convictions, authority, polity, the role of conference, and the reality of changing relationships and engagement.  Board members noted that there is much response work to do to continue the conversation and discernment process.

Bruce Eglinton-Woods, pastor of Salem congregation (Quakertown, Pa.), said, “The challenge is speaking clearly on what we believe and where we are at, which is often a challenge for Mennonite leaders. My hope and prayer is that we can trust God and release the idea of keeping it all together. We need to let God do the holding together.”

Franconia Conference delegates spent time conferring and praying together.  Photo by Bam Tribuwono.
Franconia Conference delegates spent time conferring and praying together. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

According to Rampogu, one of the longest standing Conference board members, “the hardest part about this kind of meeting is that there isn’t enough time. We want to share and to talk together,” she said.  “That is a positive sign.  People want to connect.  My hope and prayer is that we keep our goal in mind, keeping our mission focused on equipping leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission, with Christ in the center and churches focused on missional activity.”

In business sessions, delegates selected a number of positions by 97% affirmation including a 2nd term for conference moderator John Goshow (Blooming Glen congregation) along with board member Beny Krisbianto (Nations Worship Center), as well as ministerial and credentialing committee members Rose Bender (Whitehall congregation), Ken Burkholder (Deep Run East congregation), Mike Clemmer (Towamencin congregation) and Chris Nickels (Spring Mount congregation).   Randy Nyce (Salford congregation) who is completing a term as finance committee chair and board member reported on Conference finances, noting an 11% decrease in financial contributions from congregations.

“I was surprised and pleased that the attendance at Assembly 2013 was so strong; seeing the room filled to capacity was an affirmation of how much the delegates and guests in attendance care for our conference,” Goshow noted.  “Franconia Conference is all of us who are members of our 42 churches and our Conference Related Ministries.  It is my hope and prayer that together we chart a course that will advance God’s Kingdom in exciting and wonderful ways.”

Listen to the podcast.

Conference Assembly 2013 Highlight Video from Franconia Conference on Vimeo.

Can enemies become friends?

Jean Claude (Whitehall)
Jean Claude Nkundwa shares his story of living through Burundi’s civil war. Photo by Patti Connolly.

by Rose Bender, Whitehall

I guess I started thinking about this earlier in the summer.  I was acting as ‘crowd control’ at a peace camp at Franklin Park in Allentown. The story teller had the kids acting out Acts 10—where Peter and Cornelius move from historic animosity toward friendship and salvation.  A Jewish fisherman, a Roman Centurion, and their respective cohorts took on a decidedly urban, Latino flavor. The kids seemed to enjoy the story, but when they were asked to think about why someone like Peter would be friends with someone like Cornelius their answers were painfully honest.  When asked to imagine creative ways to respond to bullies—they couldn’t seem to think of anything but fighting back.   And I could see why a white woman of privilege, suggesting Jesus would have them do otherwise, didn’t necessarily sit well with them.

The story time ended as it had each night, by the children passing around a ‘blessing cup’ filled with apple juice and saying words that went along with the story.  That night they said something like “The Spirit of Jesus can make friends out of enemies’.  One by one, children who had eagerly taken from the cup on previous nights refused to drink.  And I went home with an uncomfortable knot in my stomach.  The story of peace hadn’t seemed like ‘good news’ to them. (Read Samantha Lioi’s reflection)

The memory of that evening stayed with me all summer.  It was why I was looking forward to having Phoebe Kilby, from Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, come and share with our congregation in worship on August 5.  She was bringing a current student from Burundi, Jean Claude Nkundwa.   In planning the worship, we had chosen to read Matthew 5:38-48 and entitle their talk ‘Can enemies be friends?’  I wanted to hear a modern-day, real life story, from someone who had been willing to drink from the blessing cup of reconciliation.

At a Saturday evening gathering and during our worship on Sunday morning, I heard the complicated story of Burundi’s civil war and Jean Claude’s experience during it.  He was a teenager when his village exploded in violence from which only three of his family escaped—hiding by day and traveling under cover of night—not knowing who or where the enemy might be.  In his words, his “mind was paralyzed” and he questioned the existence of God. He began to believe the only way to peace was through military dictatorship.

Phoebe Kilby (Whitehall)
Phoebe Kilby tells Whitehall congregation about discovering her ancestors had been slave owners. Photo by Patti Connolly

But slowly and mysteriously, through a variety of people and situations, he was able to believe again in the God of Moses—present even in the wilderness.  His journey toward healing has included reconciliation with folks in his village.  He is a remarkable man—who feels called by God to continue working for truth-telling and justice in his own country, and dreams of starting an Eastern Africa Peace-Building Institute.  “Africa will be prosperous when the heart of Africa will be healed.”

After our time together, I wanted to bring Jean Claude to Franklin Park.  I wanted the kids to hear God’s story about Peter and Cornelius from his lips.  I wanted them to hear about his village and his family’s land that is now being farmed by former enemies.

I would like them to hear Phoebe’s story, too.  When she discovered that she was a descendent of slave owners, she reached out to the descendants of the slaves her family owned.  Her journey of reconciliation includes working together with her new-found cousins to fund and install a historic marker at the high school their family had worked to desegregate.  I think that each of them would have made the story of Peter and Cornelius come alive to the kids in a new way.

Can enemies really become friends?  After listening to Jean Claude and Phoebe, I know it is possible, but it requires holy imagination and committed perseverance—joining the work of the Spirit.  In reflecting on their stories and my time at Franklin Park, I have been struck by the importance of sharing where my own story intersects with the biblical narrative.  Perhaps that is what bearing witness really means.  We speak about the Good News we have seen and heard and lived.  I wonder if that would have made a difference to my young friends at Franklin Park.  I wonder if they would have been more open to imagine another way.   I am trusting there will be more opportunities to bear witness and live into the story together—the blessing cup of reconciliation overflowing.

Ministerial Update (June 2012)

An update from Noah Kolb, Pastor of Ministerial Leadership, on behalf of the Ministerial Committee

Rose Bender Ordination
Rose Bender was ordained at Whitehall on May 27.  Photo Gallery
  • Derek Cooper, assistant professor of Biblical studies and historical theology at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield (Pa.) was approved for a two-year license toward ordination. He and his family are members at Deep Run East (Perkasie, Pa.). The seminary, through his congregation, requested a ministerial license for his work in preparing pastors.
  • Joy Sawatzky was approved for a two-year license toward ordination for her ministry as chaplain with Living Branches. She presently has a license for specific ministry. She is a member of the Plains (Hatfield, Pa) congregation.
  • Don McDonough resigned from his associate pastoral role at Spring Mount (Pa.) to give leadership to a missional experiment called Arise in the Harleysville, Pa. area. He is accountable to Chris Nickels and the Spring Mount congregation.
  • Randy Good resigned as pastor at Taftsville (Vt.). He will complete his ministry there at the end of August.
  • Blaine & Connie Detwiler completed their pastoral leadership at Lakeview, (Susquehanna, Pa.) at the end of May. They have accepted pastoral leadership at the Marion Congregation in Franklin Conference.
  • Scott Landes has resigned as pastor at Frederick (Pa.) and completed his ministry there on June 15.
  • Rose Bender was ordained  on May 27 at Whitehall (Pa.). Steve Kriss and Noah Kolb officiated. A large crowd of church community and relatives were present.
  • Ubaldo Rodriguez was appointed to fill an opening on the ministerial committee. Ubaldo is the church planter at  New Hope Fellowship/Nueva Esperanza (Baltimore, Md.), a church plant of New Hope Fellowship Iglesia Nueva 
  • Dennis Edwards, pastor of Peace Fellowship (Washington DC) has resigned as pastor. He has accepted a pastoral position in Minneapolis, MN. Dennis has been credentialed with Franconia serving a Partner in Mission congregation.

Update from the Ministerial Committee (April 2012)

Update from Noah Kolb, Pastor of Ministerial Leadership, on behalf of the Ministerial Committee

Connie's ordination
Connie Detwiler was ordained at Lakeview Mennonite Church on May 6.

On April 4 the Ministerial Committee approved Connie Detwiler for ordination as co-pastor at Lakeview Mennonite Church. Her ordination was on May 6.

Rose Bender was approved for ordination on April 4 as the pastor of Whitehall Mennonite Church. Her ordination is being planned for May 27.

Franco Salvatori has been called by the Rocky Ridge Mennonite Church as their permanent pastor. He was installed on March 25.

Joyce Hunsberger was granted a license for Christian education and children’s ministries at Salford on April 29.

New Life Fellowship in Northern PA has closed. Phil Maenza who pastored the congregation for more than ten years works in the community. Since he is no longer the pastor of the congregation, his specific ministerial license will cease.

May our stories abound

Emily Ralph, Salford, eralph@franconiaconference.org

"Unexpected hard places will always be with us—may the reaching out stories abound." —Jeff Knightly

Unexpected hard places seem to be more common these days. No matter where we turn, we’re surrounded by hard stories—budget cuts, layoffs, natural disasters, school shootings, illness, and broken dreams. It’s unavoidable.

Yet in the midst of difficulty and trouble, the reaching out stories abound. The overwhelming mutual support of conference congregations who have been blessed by the ministry of Nueva Vida Norristown (Pa) New Life. Missional experiments in gardening and block parties and dance teams and computer labs. Schools and camps that are discipling children to be radical followers of Jesus. New and emerging leaders who have a passion for the way of Jesus, even as they enter ministry in challenging times.

As I read through the stories in this issue of Intersections, I am struck by our need for one another. Would people like John and Sheryl be leaders today if their families and church friends had not identified and encouraged their leadership gifts? From the individuals, congregations, and businesses that stepped up to join Nueva Vida Norristown’s capital campaign, I heard a motivation to join the Kingdom work that is happening in that setting, as described by Rose Bender, pastor of Whitehall (Pa) congregation.

And why would a church near Allentown want to participate in the work of a congregation that’s over an hour away?

Because we don’t find our identity in our geography, our ethnicities, or our place in the world’s economy—we are God’s people, “a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, [we] can show others the goodness of God, for he called [us] out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” (2 Peter 2:9-10, NLT)

God has formed us into a community. And we need each other.

Earlier this year, Conference board and staff met together to discuss the purpose of Franconia Conference structures and staffing. A growing consensus was that “Conference” is more of a network than an institution, here to connect and train congregations and leaders for God’s mission in the world.

And as a network, it is so important that we share our stories with one another. We cheer when others celebrate, we mourn when others grieve, we give when others are in need. And in our time, we also receive.

In the coming months, you may notice some changes in the communication coming from the conference office:

  • A weekly email newsletter to pastors (also available on our website: franconiaconference.org/intersectings) that contains the latest news, blogs, and social media updates from around our conference.
  • A new 4-page format to Intersections that will be published in English, Indonesian, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
  • Connections: a new podcast celebrating our connections in Christ through stories and interviews.
  • Continued experimentation with technologies that allow us to connect with one another despite time, distance, and language barriers, using video, podcasting, and social media.

Unexpected hard places will always be with us. But that isn’t the end of the story. There are also unexpected places of joy, understanding, and growth. May our reaching out stories abound!

Does your congregation have a story to share? E-mail stories, photos, videos, or blogs to ERalph@franconiaconference.org. And don’t forget to share meaningful moments from congregational life using #fmclife on Twitter!

Unexpected mutual aid helps save church building

Why did we do this?

Plains has a history of assisting members in time of need and this was an opportunity to extend assistance at a conference level. This action helps us to realize we are part of a larger body, and when one member of the larger body hurts, we also feel the pain.

—Merlin Grieser, Council Chair, Plains

Not only do we have a responsibility as brothers and sisters in Christ, but PPC and Norristown are also similar: both have mostly people of color in the congregation; both are serving in urban settings; both face similar challenges.

—Aldo Siahaan, Pastor, Philadelphia Praise Center

Whitehall made the decision to give a certain amount from our benevolence fund and then presented the story to the congregation in case individuals wanted to give. In three weeks, the congregation’s giving matched what we gave from our budget. Why did we do this? We wanted to be a part of God’s Kingdom work continuing in Norristown.

—Rose Bender, Pastor, Whitehall

New Life is a treasured part of our Conference family and they are meeting many needs in their community. We want to learn from them how to more effectively reach out to our community, sharing the love of Christ.

—Steve Landis, Pastor, Franconia

We wanted to partner with other congregations so that Norristown could continue its significant ministry in the Norristown community. An application was submitted to a congregational fund for “above-budget” requests, which provides support for ministries that are an extension of Deep Run East. The members “caught the vision” and supported this funding opportunity.

—Ken Burkholder, Pastor, Deep Run East

I can’t help but see the many faces of the local Mennonite Church and wonder what stories may be told of congregations finding themselves in unexpected hard places, stories of congregations finding safe places to process their struggle, and stories of congregations reaching out across our differences to share in these struggles. Unexpected hard places will always be with us—may the reaching out stories abound.

—Jeff Knightly, Deacon, West Philadelphia

Sheldon C. Good, Salford
Excerpted from Mennonite Weekly Review (read full article)

When Nueva Vida Norristown (Pa.) New Life (NVNNL) acquired a 9,000-square-foot office building adjacent its meetinghouse in 2007, a local realtor projected it would only take six months to fill it with tenants. Then the Great Recession hit.

By last summer the congregation was on the brink of foreclosure of its 104-year-old meetinghouse, listed as collateral for the new building’s mortgage.

From the beginning, the building purchase has been part of a larger congregational vision. In 2007, NVNNL launched “Enlarging Our Place in God’s World,” a $2 million capital campaign. The campaign seeks finances for the office building and meetinghouse renovations to create a base for intercultural ministries of racial justice and reconciliation, economic access and opportunity for disadvantaged people, and income generation to support the ministries.

“People will go into an office building, but they might never go into a church,”  said church member Jim Williams. “If you can expose people to the gospel, there’s a chance they will begin to connect with the congregation.”

Several pastors and leaders in Franconia Conference learned of the plight. Conference moderator John Goshow met with leaders from seven sister congregations to propose a mutual aid effort.

In September, they initiated a conference-wide appeal for $95,000 to satisfy the mortgage’s needs for a year. To date, more than 20 churches, businesses, and individuals have committed over $100,000.

Williams said he never expected the conference to initiate a mutual aid appeal.

“We still believe we’re doing God’s will in this,” he said. “We can fill a huge void in the Norristown area. We are prayerful and hopeful that we’ll be able to meet our obligations and move God’s vision forward.”

Nueva Vida Norristown New Life
Worship in the parking lot of the Nueva Vida Plaza to celebrate the congregation’s 20th anniversary. Photo by Tim Moyer.

Allentown Mennonites gather for Tet worship celebration

The Mennonite Church USA congregations in Pennsylvania’s third largest city hadn’t to anyone’s recollection gathered for worship together until Sunday, January 29, at the Vietnamese Gospel Mennonite Church.  The four diverse communities—Vietnamese Gospel Mennonite Church, Whitehall Mennonite Church and Ripple all associated with Franconia Conference and Christ Fellowship, an Eastern District Conference congregation—met together to celebrate Tet (Vietnamese New Year) through an eclectic multilingual worship that featured singing in three languages, Scripture reading in six languages, and storytelling from each congregation on the theme of God’s abundance in a time of scarcity.

Vietnamese Gospel Mennonite Church pastor Hien Truong welcomed those gathered, explaining, “Vietnamese New Year is a marking of springtime.  It’s a time of new growth and a special time of asking forgiveness and moving into new ways of building relationships.”  While planned by a team from the four congregations, the gathered worship took on a Vietnamese flair with scripture blessings distributed to adults and traditional li xi gifts ($2 bills in red envelopes) for children.  Afterward, the congregations enjoyed a carry-in meal that was held together around Vietnamese New Year foods.

According to Rose Bender, pastor at Whitehall Mennonite who also helped plan the gathered worship, “The worship service was such a joyous occasion for me because of the great diversity of God’s kingdom that was represented.  It was a foreshadowing of heaven—all nations, all tribes—declaring God’s glory! . . .  I am so excited to see what God is doing in the Lehigh Valley—and encouraged by four small congregations coming together and proclaiming God’s bounty as we face a new year.”

Casting out all fear: In God’s hands

Rose Bender, Whitehall

I was seven and afraid of hell. On the last night of a Billy Graham sponsored revival, in the gym of the public high school, I went forward to receive Christ. There I stood—a little person among all the big people. When they asked us to pray, I obediently closed my eyes and repeated the words. I felt a hand on my shoulder, and snuck a peek to see who was there. Although there were many around me, there was no one with me. Even at my young age, I knew that it was God himself who had placed his hand on my shoulder, alleviating my fears. Years later, reflecting on that event, I recognized its significance. With my limited understanding, I had chosen to follow God. But more importantly, my gracious and loving God had chosen me.

Since that day, I have often felt God’s hand on my shoulder—welcoming, encouraging, prodding, protecting, and guiding. God has many hands. I recall my mother telling me, “Rose, God has something special for you to do.” I remember a teacher questioning my college plans, asking me why I hadn’t considered going into full-time pastoral ministry. When I took a job at a school in Trenton, NJ, and settled in Langhorne, PA, my pastor encouraged me to ‘test out’ my calling by participating as a lay minister at the church. A co-worker invited me to attend an open house at a local seminary. And when I began attending Bethel Seminary of the East in 2000, God confirmed my call through many other hands.

After seminary, I was still timid about pastoring. I felt God directing me toward the Service Adventure program. I became a unit leader in Johnstown, PA, the only site with eight supporting churches. In my two years there, I received many opportunities to exercise my gifts through preaching and teaching. I served as lay pastor at First Mennonite of Johnstown, the unit’s ‘home church.’ There I was able to see Jesus in new ways. God’s hand touched me through the prayers of Joanne, a woman paralyzed since childhood. God’s hands washed mine through Sandy, a woman who was mentally and socially challenged. God spoke to me daily as I lived in community with young adults who saw the world differently than I did. God has many hands. As I matured in my faith, I experienced Jesus taking my hand in His, allowing me to participate in the work of ministry with him.

When the call came to serve as interim pastor at Stahl Mennonite Church in Johnstown, I was ready. And I knew, though the calling and responsibility seemed overwhelming—the work was in God’s hand. I could look back over my journey and see how faithfully the God-Who-Goes-Before had led me. During my first months in that pastorate, I had an accident where I severely burned both my hands. I learned anew the importance of community. I learned for the first time, the humility that comes from being dependent upon the hands of others. In times of doubt, the hand of Jesus comforted me; in times of need, God’s hand provided for me; in times of joy, the hand of the Spirit invited me to dance.

When my time at Stahl was nearing its end, I became aware of Whitehall Mennonite Church, north of Allentown, PA. Their unique story and diversity intrigued me. I was impressed by the practicality and authenticity of their faith. But choosing to take a part-time pastorate seemed risky. Again, God’s hand was upon me and led me forward. I am excited to partner with the congregation at Whitehall—to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the Lehigh Valley.

I am forty-one, and still afraid of lots of things. But I am called and chosen by a God whose perfect love casts out all fear. God’s hand is upon me; my hand is in His; I am one of God’s many hands.

photos provided by Rose Bender