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Waiting for Heaven’s “Green Card”

(Baca dalam bahasa Indonesia)

by Hendy Matahelemual, Conference Pastor of Formation & Communication

Judah, Hendy’s oldest son at Wall Street, NYC. Photo by Hendy Matahelemual.

One day I asked my 6-year-old son, “Are you Indonesian or American?” He answered, “Both, Daddy, I’m American and also Indonesian.” This is a reasonable response. However, in terms of citizenship, he is not an American citizen, but an Indonesian because we cannot have dual citizenship.

National and political identity cannot be separated in human life. Even when someone leaves the land of their birth or changes citizenship, that identity is still attached. As a newcomer to the USA and as a seminary student, I am interested in learning how we place national and political identities in line with God’s Word.

Hendy and his wife, Marina at tje Indonesian Fair in Little Indonesia, Somersworth, NH. Photo courtesy of icc.inc

I have no problem with national identity, but we must be careful not to go too far into ultra-nationalism, where someone puts the interests of a country and its people above all things. This certainly makes the country at the same level or higher than God. Therefore, as followers of Jesus, we believe that our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).  We rely on God and do not deify the state, citizenship status, or even certain political parties or political figures.

Article 23 of the Confession of Faith in Mennonite Perspective, states:

We believe that the church is God’s “holy nation,” called to give full allegiance to Christ its head and to witness to all nations about God’s saving love. The church is the spiritual, social, and political body that gives its allegiance to God alone. As citizens of God’s kingdom, we trust in the power of God’s love for our defense. The church knows no geographical boundaries and needs no violence for its protection. The only Christian nation is the church of Jesus Christ, made up of people from every tribe and nation, called to witness to God’s glory.

It is common today for someone to rely on the state to give us prosperity, security, and comfort. In most countries, we are taught to sing the national anthem and other patriotic activities. Therefore it is very important that we return to Paul’s words in Romans 12, “Do not be conformed to this world but change with renewal of your mind, so that you understand my will, which is good, pleasing and perfect.”

Flags of nations at St.John Baptist Church Philadelphia where ILC worships every Sunday. Photo by Hendy Matahelemual

As someone who was not born and raised in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition, I feel that I have experienced a new birth in Jesus because I used to misplace my national identity. But now, I am sure that my identity is as a citizen of heaven, and every believer is a co-worker without being limited by national and political identity. As a result, it should not be an exaggerated problem if someone kneels when the national song is sung. And, it should be a big concern for us if there is a problem happening in another country. Because as Christians, we are a holy nation that belongs to God.

A sculpture by French artist Bruno Catalano, in Marseilles, France, is an enigmatic sculpture thought to evoke memories and parts of themselves that every traveler inevitably leaves behind when they leave home for a new shore.

Let’s continue to persevere in our faith, especially in these difficult times. I believe God’s grace is endless.  Love, joy, and peace from God will cure our longing for our hometown, which will also fill the emptiness of our heart. This will convince us of our true identity, as God’s children, heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven.

I also hope that the topic of national and political identity is no longer a taboo topic to be discussed in churches. I believe that each of our voices needs to be able to build up one another, and strengthen the church of God, a holy nation that is spread throughout the world.  After all, we are all still waiting for heaven’s greencard.

(Credentialed leaders: join us May 6 or 7 as our quarterly Faith & Life gatherings focus on National & Political Identity.  Learn more and register HERE.)

Finding the God of Justice: My Spiritual Journey

by Lindy Backues, Philadelphia Praise Center

My spiritual story begins just outside of St. Louis, Missouri, on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River.

I grew up in a predominantly white, midwestern town of 40,000, where most everyone looked like me.  I did not grow up in a Christian home. My parents espoused what was, at that time, “typical” midwestern values, however, so they were not completely antagonistic to religion.  We simply were not religious.

As a teenager, I applied to the YMCA as a bus counselor in a neighboring city, East St. Louis, Illinois.  This was a historically black, urban area, deeply scarred by decades of systemic and cultural racism. My experiences there drastically altered my perspective on life. I later served as a swim instructor.  I worked almost exclusively with African American kids. By and large, these young children, who wanted little more than to play and to learn to swim, were delightful in their glee as they participated in these programs.  I became quite attached to them and also got to know their families.

The undeniable racism they experienced became obvious to me.  Most young white boys in my area would not have been aware such racism even existed.  My still deeply rooted sense of justice first took shape at that YMCA in East St. Louis.

A side-effect of this was that I developed disdain for local churches in my area, since the racism there was palpable. As a teenager, I was becoming increasingly convinced (primarily by way of my father) that religion was unnecessary and something smart people discarded.  I went through my high school years and onto college with these attitudes.

In 1982, toward the end of my time at the University of Missouri, I experienced an unexpected spiritual conversion.  I attended a church service with my mother (who had recently rediscovered religion and I went along to appease her).  In a miraculous encounter, I became aware that the God of justice – the God of the biblical story – also did not like racism (nor did God like sexism, nor depletion of earth’s resources).  I did not plan for this to happen; it simply did. At the tender age of 22, I found myself ushered into a version of the gospel I still find appealing.

Being given such a radical but limited epiphany of God’s kingdom, I headed off to seminary to deepen my theological understanding.  In 1988, I graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary, receiving a Master of Divinity degree, with a focus on biblical studies and anthropology.

After seminary (and getting married in 1985), my wife and I moved to Indonesia. We lived there for the next 18 years (our daughter and son were born there).  We became deeply involved in economic and community development in a predominantly Muslim area, located in the province of West Java. Along the way, I added a Master’s degree in Economic Development and a PhD in Theology and Development Studies.

In 2008 we relocated to South Philadelphia and I began teaching at Eastern University.  We joined Philadelphia Praise Center (PPC) at that time. A few years later, I felt myself nudged by God to receive official licensure as Outreach Minister for Philadelphia Praise Center, something that has brought my official credentials into line with this long march God had led me on.

Through the Valley of Shadows

(Đọc tiếng việt, Baca dalam bahasa Indonesia, Leer en español)

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Steve Kriss

by Steve Kriss, Executive Minister

My last article was about 10 days ago. We were beginning to glimpse the seriousness of the coronavirus.  We slowly began to reconsider and reschedule events.

To be honest, I wasn’t prepared for the rapid change in the situation that would mean that nearly all our member congregations, from California to Vermont, wouldn’t physically gather. Then, I wrote that I’d still get tacos and pho and go to the gym.  For now, those of us who live in Philadelphia can still get take-out, but, with non-essential businesses closed, I’m doing my workouts in the basement at home.

Leadership is tested in changing situations.  We continue to prioritize localized decision-making across our Conference that is responsive to the needs of the community, emphasizing love of God and love of neighbor.  Pennsylvania Governor Wolf said that our commonwealth has not seen this kind of disruption since the Civil War.  Yet God is with us and the Spirit empowers us to be and share the Good News, even when the best thing we can do is to remain in our homes as much as possible.

In the meantime, nearly all our energy is going into bracing for what might come, honoring our government’s suggestions on best practices around gathering and distancing.  Financial needs have emerged quickly among vulnerable individuals and communities in our Conference.  We will need to act together to share our resources well in the weeks and months ahead.

Across our Conference, we are still meeting.  Many congregations are finding ways to use new technology (like Zoom and Facebook) as well as renewing older technology (like phone calls) to stay connected.  We really do need each other in this time, both to make it through and to maintain hope that there will be life after the crisis.  Conference staff are gathering pastors virtually to dialogue together in English, Spanish, and Indonesian.  We are gathering for prayer weekly and are offering online equipping as well.  We are in this struggle together.

Yet Asian American neighbors are experiencing acts of aggression and racism in this time.  We cannot be people of fear but rather people of love who speak and act in ways that don’t allow racism to flourish in our midst.  I am committed to ongoing accompaniment and advocacy for the Asian American members and communities across our Conference: the peace of our land is dependent on the recognition of God’s imprint on each person.    I encourage all of us to choose our words and actions wisely and sensitively so that we are people of healing and hope.

While many of our Conference Related Ministries have shut down, our human service providers are experiencing higher degrees of need.  Our retirement communities are especially vulnerable and operating at high levels of vigilance.  We will do well to remember Frederick Living, Living Branches, and the Community at Rockhill in prayer.   Ripple Community Inc in Allentown has committed to remaining open and accessible to those people who need food and accompaniment; they’re looking for partners to prepare sandwiches and to help supplement the sudden influx of needs in the community center there.  Crossroads Community Center in Philadelphia has also seen an increase in needs, particularly for food.  As a long-term ministry presence in the Fairhill neighborhood, Crossroads has credibility to provide resources during this time. Together as a conference community, we’ll look for ways to support both of these urban ministries in the coming weeks.

The familiar words of Psalm 23 have become a guide for me in these days: “Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil …. Surely goodness and love will follow us all the days of our lives, and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  We trust in God’s care, even in this overwhelming time, and we look for ways to express our trust in God while extending God’s love and care for our neighbors.

Watch the video of Executive Minister Steve Kriss on Facebook Live Tuesday, March 24, talking about living our formational, missional, and intercultural priorities in a time of crisis.

*The Shalom Fund supports pastors, congregations and ministries in direct response to the Coronavirus and the ensuing economic crisis.   We will seek to respond to the most vulnerable within our membership and neighborhoods by empowering local ministries to meet real needs with Christ’s love and generosity in a time of fear and anxiety.

Let’s Worship Together!

by Marta Castillo, Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation

All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, Lord; they will bring glory to your name.   Psalm 86:9

Friday Night worship – Conference Assembly 2019. Photo by Javier Marquez

At our annual assembly we worshipped the Lord in song in several different languages and styles.  I wonder if anyone whispered to the person beside them like someone whispered behind me many years ago, “Why do we have to sing in these different languages?  Why can’t we just sing in English?”  I wonder if those at the assembly worship felt comfortable and engaged in the worship songs.  Were they able to enter into the intercultural space of worshipping God in ways and styles and languages that were not their own?  Did it fill them with joy to worship the Lord and bring glory to God’s name with other nations that God has made, even if it was different than what they were used to? 

In an intercultural community, all are transformed because everyone learns from one another and grows together.  In intercultural worship, we learn to choose to continue to worship God in the styles and languages of others.  For me, what began as a discipline and continues to be a choice is now also a joy as I have incorporated intercultural worship as part of who I am with the help of the Holy Spirit. John 4:23 –  Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.

Several weeks ago, I attended a service at Nations Worship Center where we sang songs that had repeating lines.  I appreciated the repetition while singing in a language in which I am not fluent.  The repetition helped me to better understand the song and enter deeply into the spirit of worship.  However, I must admit that I have not always appreciated songs with a lot of repetition.  What I have learned to do is to go with the repetition rather than fight it. I can worship God in song as I repeat the same phrase over and over and meditate on the truth, just like I can pray or meditate on a phrase of Scripture. 

Lynne Rush (West Swamp congregation) leads a hymn at Conference Assembly 2019. Photo by Javier Marquez

Last weekend I attended a women’s retreat where we had a hymn sing.  We sang hymn after hymn in a group of talented and passionate singers.  It was beautiful.  I was struck by the multitude of beautiful thoughts and word pictures that hymns contain and express in worship to God.  But I had to choose to engage my mind and process the thoughts in worship to God as I sang complex music.  I enjoyed the repetition of the choruses.

Matthew Westerholm, on the Desiring God website, suggests that often “our discomfort also comes from where we live, if you live in the Western world. Western culture treasures the novelty of words. It might feel like singing many words per minute is a worldwide Christian preference. But it’s not. It’s a Western oddity. If you were to listen to indigenous music from almost anywhere else in the world, you might describe it as “rhythmic, danceable, and repetitive. It may feel strange to discover that our personal preferences are a cultural anomaly. It is humbling to discover that we have something to learn from others, but not surprising. And it is the sort of humbling that, if we are willing to accept it, will bless us greatly in worship.”

Let us worship the Lord in unity, seeking to honor the worship of the nations as our own!

Refleksi aktif / Reflection on Renewing Nations and Generations

(scroll for English)

Cerita hidup kita lebih dari sekedar cerita, ada sesuatu yang lebih dalam dari cerita kita. Cerita hidup kita membentuk identitas kita dan identitas kita menentukan misi kita dalam hidup. Kalau kita tidak memiliki cerita, kita tidak memiliki identitas yang solid. Banyak gereja imigran kehilangan fokus dan misi karena mereka tidak mengetahui cerita dan latar belakang mereka. Hal ini diutarakan oleh Sue Park-Hur dalam sesi equipping Renewing Nations and Generations ke dua di Norristown New Life.

Selama pengalaman saya menjadi pastor gereja imigran di Amerika, budaya imigran terutama dari Asia memiliki kultur rasa malu (shaming culture). Ada banyak luka, kekecewaan, dan kepahitan yang dipendam dan tidak mengalami kesembuhan. Dan hal ini menyebabkan banyak gereja mengalami stagnasi baik dalam segi spiritual maupun pelayanannya. Saya pribadi percaya bahwa di dalam keterbukaan ada sebuah pemulihan, tetapi problem kultur rasa malu inilah yang membuat seseorang sulit untuk menjadi terbuka. Sue juga mengatakan, “Luka yang tidak sembuh akan ditransfer kepada generasi berikutnya.”

Sebagai imigran ada sebuah trauma dan luka tersendiri yang kita alami ketika kita berpindah dari sebuah budaya atau lingkungan di mana kita dibesarkan ke sebuah budaya atau lingkungan yang berbeda. Hal ini terjadi dalam migrasi yang sukarela maupun karena terpaksa. Dimulai dari orang kulit putih, hitam, coklat, Hispanic/Latinos sampai Asia kita semua adalah imigran di tanah Amerika ini. Dan setiap budaya memiliki trauma tersendiri yang sangat unik sejak pertama kali menginjakkan kaki di tanah ini. Dan trauma-trauma ini akan ditransfer kepada generasi berikutnya jika tidak pulih.

Pertama kali saya datang ke Amerika, saya heran ternyata tension antara orang kulit putih dan hitam masih ada, dalam benak saya hal tersebut sudah hilang dan selesai ketika Martin Luther King Jr melakukan civil rights movement, atau bahkan ketika Obama menjadi presiden, ternyata trauma tersebut belum hilang, dan dampaknya masih ada sampai dengan sekarang. Juga bagaimana imigran Asia dan Hispanic pun memiliki permasalahan  tersendiri, racial slur antara imigran Asia dan Hispanic pun masih sering saya dengar. Ketakutan orang Asia dengan orang kulit hitam, semua memiliki cerita konflik tersendiri. Stereotype demi stereotype kian bermunculan. Dan terjadilah ajang saling menyakiti satu sama lain, dan setiap budaya membangun temboknya masing-masing untuk melindungi diri. Hurt people, hurt people.

Tetapi pada minggu lalu dalam acara Renewing Nations and Generations banyak pemimpin mayoritas global/Kulit berwarna Franconia Conference, diingatkan bahwa kita semua adalah produk dari masa lalu, produk dari sistem dunia yang korup dan tidak adil. Pada acara ini kami belajar bahwa kami semua mempunyai pilihan untuk berubah, sembuh, bertransformasi menjadi kita yang baru. Dan berita baiknya adalah darah Yesus sudah tercurah dan kasih karunia sudah cukup bagi kita semua bagi kita yang percaya dan mau berubah menjadi lebih baik. Tetapi kita pun tahu bahwa hal ini hanya bisa terjadi ketika kita mau saling jujur, terbuka dan percaya satu sama lain, membangun hubungan yang meruntuhkan semua tembok stereotype dan membiarkan Yesus memulihkan kedua ujung jembatan.

Ini adalah sebuah awal dari proses pemulihan dan transformasi kita, kita menyadari bahwa jalan masih Panjang, tetapi kita percaya dengan komitmen, tekad dan kerjasama kita semua bisa menghilangkan rasisme, dan menjadikan perbedaan sebagai sebuah kekayaan yang bisa gunakan bersama-sama untuk saling bertransformasi menjadi ciptaan baru dan saya percaya hal inilah yang menjadikan Kerajaan Surga turun diatas muka bumi ini. Saatnya berbagi cerita hidup bersama sama yang meruntuhkan tembok dan membangun jembatan.

The story of our lives is more than just a story – there is something deeper. Our life stories shape our identity and our identity determines our mission in life. If we don’t have a story, we don’t have a solid identity. Many immigrant churches lose their focus and mission because they do not know their story and background. This was stated by Sue Park-Hur in the second equipping Renewing Nations and Generations session at Norristown New Life on Friday, November 1.

During my experience as a pastor of immigrant churches in America, immigrant culture, especially from Asia, has a shaming culture. There are many wounds, disappointments, and bitterness that are buried and are not healing, and this has caused many churches to experience stagnation both in terms of spirituality and ministry. I personally believe that in openness there is recovery, but it is this shame culture problem that makes it difficult for someone to be open. Sue also said, “Wounds that don’t heal will be transferred to the next generation.”

As immigrants there is a trauma and injury that we experience when we move to a different culture or environment from where were raised. This occurs in voluntary and forced migration. From white, black, brown, Hispanic/Latinos to Asian people, most of us are immigrants in this American land. Every culture has its own trauma that is very unique since it first set foot on this land. These traumas will be transferred to the next generation if they do not recover.

The first time I came to America, I was surprised that the tension between white and black people was still there; in my mind, it was gone and finished when Martin Luther King Jr. conducted a civil rights movement, or even when Obama became president.  It turned out the trauma has not yet disappeared, and its effects are still present today. Asian and Hispanic immigrants also have their own problems; racial slurs between Asian and Hispanic immigrants are still often heard. Asian and black people all have their own conflict stories. Stereotypes are increasingly appearing. People from different cultures hurt each other, and each culture built its own wall as a defense mechanism. Hurt people, hurt people.

But last week on the day of Renewing Nations and Generations, many Franconia global majority/people of color leaders were all reminded that we are all products of the past, products of a corrupt and unjust world system. In this program we learned that we all have the choice to change, recover, and transform into us. The good news is that the blood of Jesus was shed, and grace is enough for all of us who believe and want to change for the better. But we also know that this can only happen when we want to be honest, open and trusting with one another, building relationships that break down all stereotypical walls and allow Jesus to restore both ends of the bridge.

This is the beginning of our recovery and transformation process – we realize that the road is still long, but we believe that our commitment, determination and cooperation can eliminate racism, and make diversity a treasure that can be used to transform each other into new creations. I believe this will allow the Kingdom of Heaven to descend upon this earth. It’s time to share stories of living together with those who tear down walls and build bridges.

Enjoy and Relax

by Aldo Siahaan, Leadership Minister

At the beginning of October, I returned to Jakarta, Indonesia with my wife Viviani and my son Eden. It had been almost three years since my last visit.  It was a short visit, but I knew I would love to see the location of my parents’ new grave. Originally, both my parents were buried in the Pondok Rangon Cemetery, but two years ago, their graves were moved to a new place called the San Diego Hill Cemetery. The distance to the San Diego Hill Cemetery was only 40 miles.

Aldo and family, visiting his parents’ gravesite

On the appointed day, Vivi, Eden, and I were joined by two of my nieces and three of my siblings; my sister Lita drove us. Before leaving, Lita had warned us: “Get ready—this will be a long journey. San Diego Hill Cemetery is in a suburb of Jakarta and we may get caught in traffic jams.”

On the way there, the journey to San Diego Hill Cemetery took only 90 minutes! Those who knew the traffic jams in Jakarta said, with joy, “Wow, our trip was very fast this morning!” After visiting my parents’ new grave, we returned to the car to go home.      

Coming out of the cemetery complex, we were immediately confronted with traffic.  When we checked the GPS, it said it would take 2.5 hours to get home. In the end, we had to travel 4 hours for the 40-mile distance.

What is interesting for me is how my sister Lita, the driver, stayed calm. No matter how many times other family members or I complained about the length of the trip or the traffic jams that didn’t move, Lita always said, “Just enjoy it” or “All passengers just relax!” How many times did Lita share stories or engage us in conversation so that we wouldn’t focus on the traffic? She made jokes or asked us to sing, reminding us to “just enjoy.”  There was nothing we could do to get out of the 4-hour traffic jam—it was a tough test for someone as impatient as me.

In today’s world, people want everything to be instant. The word patience is easy to speak but hard to live. Many people don’t want to be matured by God. What would have happened if Noah had been impatient or disobedient to what God had told him to do? What would have happened if Joseph had been impatient waiting for God’s promises through his dreams? Or Abraham, David, and others?

Maybe these heroes in the Bible said to themselves, “Just enjoy, just relax, engage in the process.” Yes, God wants me to learn to be patient, enjoy this life journey, and not run away from the process. I will say to myself, “Aldo, just enjoy the problem you have, relax, and engage in the process.”

“[It is] better to be patient than a warrior, and better to have self-control than to capture a city.” (Proverbs 16:32, CEB)

Learning to be a Peacemaker

(leer en español)

by Jennifer Svetlik, Salford congregation

Javier Márquez, IVEP’er serving with Franconia Conference

“One of my greatest dreams is to learn how I can be a peacemaker. But before I go to the peace academy, the best way for me to learn is from other communities. I want to learn about their pain, their happiness, dreams, frustrations, and concerns. So I want to learn about you,” says Javier Márquez, an intercultural communication associate with Franconia Conference this year. 

Javier is a member of Mennonite Central Committee’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP). His placement is to work with the Conference communication team and record immigrant stories. IVEP is a yearlong volunteer work and cultural exchange opportunity for young adults.  

“I have been considering this opportunity with IVEP for a long time. I am so excited to have this amazing work,” Javier shares. 

Celebrating his sister’s birthday with two of his four siblings and his parents at their apartment in Bogotá.

Javier grew up in his ancestral home of Suacha, a city in the center of Colombia. He now lives in Bogotá, the capital. He has four siblings and his family is large, “like most Latin families,” Javier says. He is part of Teusaquillo Mennonite Church in Bogotá, and he is proud of his community because they take very seriously the call to be peacemakers.

Javier has also taken this call seriously; he refused Colombia’s obligatory military conscription for young men, and in doing so entered a two year legal process. With the support of the Mennonite church in Colombia and the nonprofit organization Justapaz, Javier finally won his case as a conscientious objector. “I believe that the nonviolent path of Jesus goes beyond refusing to be a part of wars and violence but also to work for peace with passion and commitment,” Javier reflects. 

Four years ago with friends and the support of the Mennonite church and Justapaz, Javier began an activism project about becoming a conscientious objector. The group is now called CoNova and is comprised of many different kinds of young people: students, writers, nurses, DJs, lawyers, psychologists, and more. 

Javier dancing salsa with Evie, an IVEPer from Canada at Orientation in Akron.

“Colombia is the land of coffee, salsa and Vallenato music, orchids and emeralds, traditional dishes litke sancocho (soup), aguapanela (hot sugary drink), arepas (cheese and corn flour cake), ajiaco (chicken, potatoes, and corn on the cob) and bandeja paisa (fried pork belly, red beans, plantains, and more),” Javier says.  “And it is impossible not to mention that Colombia is the land of Love in the Time of Cholera (a classic novel by Gabriel García Márquez) and of Macondo (the fictional town in another famous work by García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude).”

Javier arrived in Pennsylvania in mid-August and is living in South Philadelphia. Each morning he drinks Colombian coffee and tries to read a poem in English to learn new words. He is still learning what a typical day will look like; so far he has tried to always listen with intense focus and open his eyes to everything around him so that he can understand the different ways of doing things here. 

“I have learned that the streets are too similar here; I say this jokingly because I have gotten lost twice. Never in my life have I learned so many new words, but at the same time, I’ve never been so quiet. I have learned a lot,” Javier shares. 

Javier has been visiting immigrant churches such as Centro de Alabanza, Philadelphia Praise Center, and Indonesian Light, to connect with people and write about their immigrant stories. He hopes to meet others who dance salsa, as he loves to do. When he returns to Colombia after his time with IVEP, Javier would like to work in community-oriented journalism. 

God is Present: Introducing Ebenezer Mennonite Church

(Leer en español)

by Jennifer Svetlik, Salford congregation

Ebenezer Mennonite Church began in June 1958 as part of the Hispanic ministry of Grace Mennonite Church in Lansdale, PA. It started as a community for Puerto Ricans who came to the area to work in summer agriculture. Rev. Guillermo Chewing was the first pastor and Earl Stover also played a vital role in the church. In 2005, the church became independent from Grace, moved to Route 113 in Souderton with a new pastor, and changed its name to Ebenezer Mennonite Church. In November 2009 the church moved to the Zion Mennonite Church building in Souderton, PA, where they continue to meet, with Bible study at 11:00 am and worship at noon on Sundays. 

“God in his mercy has been present in our congregation, manifesting his power and sovereignty in the midst of trials, in the process of changes in our church,” says Hilda Vinces, a leader in the church.  “We have had sick members in which God has manifested his power by giving them healing, and we feel his Holy Spirit in our midst because he has strengthened us when church members have passed away.” 

In addition, Hilda shares, through technology, “Ebenezer has been able to reach other people internationally. Although the church has diminished in number of members for different reasons, the Lord has brought new members. God has blessed us for being firm in our faith in Christ.”

Iglesia Ebenezer had previously been a part of Eastern District but left when Grace congregation became independent. Now the church seeks to join Franconia Conference because they recognize the value of relating to and uniting with other local Mennonite Churches. 

“Through the Conference we can … acquire resources that will help us grow as a church and to learn from others and their ministries, and apply these ideas, led by the Holy Spirit, to our own church,” Hilda adds. 

Iglesia Ebenezer represents some of the initial work in Eastern District Conference ministering alongside Spanish speakers. We are glad to welcome Ebenezer as a congregation of Franconia Conference at the same time as we are in the process of reconciling with Eastern District,” Franconia’s Executive Minister Steve Kriss reflects. This is all reconciliation work, he points out—learning from shared history, honoring a shared story, and believing that God is bringing the congregation and the two conferences together to do a new thing.

The Latinx community continues to grow in Bucks and Montgomery counties where many of our congregations have been rooted for generations. We hope that with the sisters and brothers at Ebenezer, we will continue to cultivate a vibrant Anabaptist witness and community together.

God at Work on Our Vacation

by Berdine Leinbach, Souderton congregation

My husband and I bumped into God frequently as we traveled to Tanzania to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary.

His silky white beard was shaped like an Amishman’s. His skin was dark walnut. His eyes crinkled cautiously in greeting.  When the flight attendant was checking seatbelts, his body motions revealed limited neck mobility and vision issues, so I reached across and clicked in his seatbelt.

Later he struggled to put on a brand-new sneaker, which is really hard to do in an airplane seat. I unbuckled and dove under his window seat to loosen the laces and assist. Using my finger as a shoehorn felt oddly akin to foot washing.

Over the course of a long flight, multiple opportunities arose to serve him.  I felt like God had put me there on purpose. As we shared travel plans, I found he was retired professor from Bangladesh and a peace-loving Muslim. We shared our beliefs, respectfully and simply (I need more practice at that).

We prayed blessing on each other.  God was on our plane.

As we traveled along the rim of Ngorogoro Crater, the vehicle in front of us stopped. Our vehicle stopped. Just 20 feet away a huge elephant appeared out of the mist.  Our driver turned off the engine.

We watched, fascinated, as she looked at us, flapped her ears, and lifted her trunk in inquiry. A trumpet sounded from our left as another elephant appeared on that side of the road. The first one moved forward and, behind her, another younger elephant and a baby appeared, then another adult.

We were in awe of these amazing creatures, right there.  Soon the first elephant clambered down the road bank, crossed in front of our vehicle and climbed up the left side. The others soon followed.  Seconds later, nothing could be seen but mist and shrubs.

What a beautiful gift, a holy moment.  God was in creation.

Our tour company arranged for us to stop at Karatu Mennonite Church, a small outreach congregation started in 2010 by the Arusha (Mennonite) Diocese.  When we arrived, children greeted us.  We gave Pastor Peter Ojode a prayer shawl made by women from our home congregation. As I prayed aloud the prayer that goes with each shawl, I got all choked up. I sensed that this gift and prayer were aligning with something much bigger that God was already doing there.

Front row (left to right): Evangelist Nicodemus Malaki, Evangelist Meshack Shabani, Martina Victor (church treasurer), Tasiana Toway (church elder), Berdine and Steve Leinbach (Souderton congregation).  Back row (left to right): Pastor Peter Ojode (KMT Arusha), Sofia Mirobo (church elder KMT Arusha), Pastor Julius Churi (KMT Katesh), Pastor Emmanuel (General Secretary of KMT Arusha Diocese).

When the service began, my heart swelled with joy singing along to “Holy, Holy, Holy” and other songs. Thank goodness Swahili has phonetic spelling. 

When they had heard that we were coming, Pastor Emmanual Maro (general secretary of the entire diocese/conference of churches) and elder Sofia Mirobo traveled three hours on a bus from Arusha to come and translate for us, organize a brief meal, and welcome us. We are still processing the hospitality of this intercultural experience and wondering what God will do next.

Pastor Emmanuel emailed us after we returned home, “We thank God for a wonderful Sunday at KMT Karatu. We really appreciated the opportunity to exchange our views, and we do hope through our relationships with one another we are revealing the face of God to the world and advancing his kingdom in Jesus’ name.”

God is at work. May we all notice and join in.