Tag Archives: Marta Castillo

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!

Uncomfortable and Messy Faith/Una Fe Incómoda y Complicada

(Desplazarse por Español)

“The hardest and most rewarding part of my job is

Hiking in Colombia

the never-ending learning curve of faith and working with people,” says Marta Castillo, Lead Minister for Intercultural Formation for Franconia Conference. “I love that faith is a journey. We never stop learning, and there are times when our faith is stretched and formed in ways that are uncomfortable and messy. I am a relational person and I love being with, learning from, and working with all kinds of people. Yet I always feel like I am just learning how to relate and work graciously with people from different cultures and backgrounds in ways that are wise and Spirit-led,” she elaborates.

Marta serves as the Lead Minister for four churches (Centro de Alabanza, Nations Worship Center, Garden Chapel, and Mennonite Bible Fellowship) and she is also part of the core group of the Intercultural Team. 

Intercultural encounter has been a part of Marta’s life for as long as she can remember. She was born in Malaysia, and grew up in Vietnam and Indonesia as the daughter of missionary parents, returning to live in the United States when she was 16 years old. Over time, she learned to accept and adapt to the culture of the United States.  

Julio and Marta Castillo

After college and study in the area of elementary and early childhood education, Marta worked for nearly a decade as a teacher and child care center director in various locations. When she moved to Norristown, she also began working part-time at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life (NVNNL) as a church secretary. It was at the church she met and married a man from Colombia, Julio Castillo, and over the last 24 years has been learning and speaking Spanish. Her growing involvement in ministry at NVNNL also moved her gradually into her current pastoral calling. She adds, “My grandfather and father were both pastors and I am happy to be the first woman pastor in my extended family.”

“I love the natural connections with brothers and sisters from other cultures in my work. I continue to be stretched and learn from everyone,” Marta shares. She attended Nueva Vida Norristown New Life for 23 years and served as an Associate Pastor on the pastoral team for 10 of those years until 2017.    

Currently Marta also serves as the interim pastor of Wellspring Church of Skippack, a gem of a congregation that lost their pastor, Mike Meneses, suddenly at the end of 2018. She plans to stay in the position until they are able to call another pastor. She also works in Bilingual Parent Engagement for Norristown Area School District.

Marta with sons Andres & Daniel

Describing her work for the Conference, Marta says each day is different. She connects regularly with pastors by phone or in person, preaches at different churches, meets with leadership groups, plans the intercultural women’s gathering and other intercultural events, helps with pastoral search processes, works at conflict mediation, travels and joins calls to represent the Conference at events and gatherings, writes articles, uses her Spanish and limited Indonesian, collaborates with team members, and attends staff meetings and other meetings.

Marta’s life priorities include time with God, caring for her home and her husband, being a present mother to her sons, Christian, Andres, and Daniel (and granddaughter, Isabel).  In her free time, she enjoys hiking, reading, swimming and gardening.


Senderismo en Colombia

“La parte más difícil y gratificante de mi trabajo es la curva interminable de aprendizaje de la fe y el trabajo con la gente”, dice Marta Castillo, Ministra Principal de Formación Intercultural para la Conferencia de Franconia. “Me encanta que la fe sea un viaje. Nunca dejamos de aprender, y hay momentos en que nuestra fe se estira y se forma de manera incómoda y desordenada. Soy una persona relacional y me encanta estar, aprender y trabajar con todo tipo de personas. Sin embargo, siempre siento que estoy aprendiendo cómo relacionarme y trabajar con gracia con personas de diferentes culturas y orígenes de manera sabia y guiada por el Espíritu ”, ella explica.

Marta está sirviendo como Ministra Principal de quatro iglesias (Centro de Alabanza, Nations Worship, Garden Chapel y Mennonite Bible Fellowship) y ella también es parte del grupo central del equipo intercultural de la Conferencia.

El encuentro intercultural ha sido parte de la vida de Marta desde que tiene memoria. Nació en Malasia y creció en Vietnam e Indonesia como hija de padres misioneros, y regresó a vivir a los Estados Unidos cuando tenía 16 años. Con el tiempo, ella aprendió a aceptar y adaptarse a la cultura de los Estados Unidos.

Julio y Marta Castillo

Después de la universidad y estudiar en el área de la educación primaria, Marta trabajó durante casi una década como maestra y directora del centro de cuidado infantil en varios lugares. Cuando se mudó a Norristown, también comenzó a trabajar a tiempo parcial en Nueva Vida Norristown New Life como secretaria de la iglesia. Fue en la iglesia donde conoció y se casó con un hombre de Colombia y en los últimos 24 años ha estado aprendiendo y hablando español. Su creciente participación en el ministerio en NVNNL también la trasladó gradualmente a su actual vocación pastoral. Ella agrega: “Mi abuelo y mi padre eran pastores y estoy feliz de ser la primera mujer pastora en mi familia extendida”.

“Me encantan las conexiones naturales con hermanos y hermanas de otras culturas en mi trabajo. Me ayuda crecer y aprendo de todos ”, comparte Marta. Asistió a Nueva Vida Norristown New Life durante 23 años y sirvió como Pastora Asociada en el equipo pastoral durante 10 de esos años hasta 2017.

Actualmente Marta también está sirviendo como pastora interina de Wellspring Church of Skippack, una joya de una congregación que perdió a su pastor, Mike Meneses, repentinamente a fines de 2018. Ella planea permanecer en el puesto hasta que puedan llamar a otro pastor. También Marta trabaja en la participación de padres bilingües para el distrito escolar del área de Norristown

Marta con hijos Andres y Daniel

Al describir su trabajo para la Conferencia, Marta dice que cada día es diferente. Se conecta regularmente con los pastores por teléfono o en persona, predica en diferentes iglesias, se reúne con grupos de liderazgo, planifica la reunión intercultural de mujeres y otros eventos interculturales, ayuda con los procesos de búsqueda pastoral, trabaja en la mediación de conflictos, viaja y se une a las llamadas para representar a la Conferencia. en eventos y reuniones, escribe artículos, usa su español e indonesio limitado, colabora con los miembros del equipo y asiste a reuniones de personal y otras reuniones.

Las prioridades en la vida de Marta incluye tiempo con Dios, cuidando la casa y su esposo, ser una madre presente con sus hijos, Christian, Andrés, y Daniel (y su nieta, Isabel). En su tiempo libre, Marta disfruta de caminatas, lectura, natación y jardinería.

Bridge Fatigue

by Chantelle Todman Moore, Intercultural Leadership Coach

(left to right) Hendy Matahelemual, Marta Castillo, and Chantelle Todman Moore, Franconia Conference’s core intercultural team.

The three people in this photo look happy and hot and we are both.

We are also tired, myself in particular.  After I arrived late to our meeting and plopped myself into my chair with a big sigh, I was immediately encouraged to get a coffee by my dear colleagues.  As our conference’s core intercultural team, we are both energized by the work and exhausted by the work.  This mix of energy and exhaustion is part of what it means to be a bridge person or to be doing intercultural bridge work.

What is a bridge person or bridge work, you ask?  Let me unpack this further. First, it would be helpful to define the term “intercultural.” I like the definition given by the Spring Institute:

Intercultural describes communities in which there is a deep understanding and respect for all cultures. Intercultural communication focuses on the mutual exchange of ideas and cultural norms and the development of deep relationships. In an intercultural society, no one is left unchanged because everyone learns from one another and grows together.

There’s another helpful description of intercultural on the conference website. The thing I want to underscore is that to be intercultural is to be grounded in mutual transformation and, if you have ever experienced transformation, you know that it includes work and disruption.

Part of deepening your intercultural work is beginning to function as a bridge between two or more cultural realities or groups. One of my mentors, Dr. Calenthia Dowdy, so wisely told me that one of the challenges of being a bridge person is being walked on by both sides. I would also add that, much like an actual bridge, a bridge person carries and holds a lot of tensions within intercultural work and settings. We are often the ones in the room who first notice the ways we are talking past or at each other, the need for a cultural or linguistic translator, and the creative insight and energies needed to co-create new ways of being together.

Being a bridge person comes with its frustrations and joys; it is at times exhilarating and, when it all comes together, it is a beautiful mosaic. Other times it is disorienting, the challenge of staying firmly grounded in your own sense of identity while being open to and creating spaces for mutual transformation across cultures. My encouragement and reminder for myself and anyone embarking on intercultural work is to tend to your fatigue; don’t try to keep pushing yourself when you are clearly at your limits. 

Here are some signs that you might be experiencing “bridge fatigue” and some ideas on how to restore yourself:

  • Sign: Increase in frustration and irritability and a decrease of enjoying intercultural spaces/work. Restore: Spend time with an intercultural colleague/friend who can encourage and commiserate with you; reconnect to an aspect of your own culture that you value and enjoy; rest—take a break from the work so that you can return with energy.
  • Sign: Increase in apathy or lethargy about the need for and your role as a bridge work/people. Restore: Listen to a podcast or music or read a book or article that celebrates the multi-hued tapestry of humanity and inspires your values for diversity, inclusion, and an intercultural society. REST. Engage something that brings you pleasure just by its existence. 
  • Sign: Increased disconnect between your spirituality and your intellect. This type of spirit and mind/body duality encourages us to see our intercultural work as merely an intellectual exercise instead of as a holistic transformative process. It also cuts off our ability to ground our intercultural work in ways that nourish and replenish us.  Restore: Create a rhythm that ensures time to connect your faith and spiritual life to the interpersonal and systemic intercultural work; take time for practices that ground you in your faith, whether that be prayer, working in your garden, cooking, creating art, or reading a sacred text. 

Churches of Misfit Toys

by Marta Castillo, Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation

“At this church, we are like the island of misfit toys.”

Since I started attending at Wellspring Church of Skippack, I have heard this comment several times.  I smile when I hear it because a picture forms in my imagination of the rich yet strange collection of people, backgrounds, and personalities that we find at Wellspring—and at most churches, really.  I sigh because I also hear people acknowledging their brokenness and doubting their adequacy and suitability to be together as the body of Christ. 

I had to do a little research on this cultural reference to “misfit toys.”  What I found is that the story of the Island of the Misfit Toys is a tale of a young red-nosed reindeer (Rudolph) who is bullied for being different. He and an elf, Hermey (who wants to be a dentist), set out on an adventure to find a place that will accept them. They discover an island filled with misfit toys that have been tossed aside due to the slight ‘defects’ they possess, including Charlie, who was discarded because, instead of being a Jack-in-the-Box, he is Charlie-in-the-Box and Dolly Sue, a doll who wants to be loved.  In the end, Rudolph saves the day by finding a home for each misfit toy. 

Is there a parallel between the Island of Misfit Toys and churches?  Well, surely your church has people who have been tossed aside by the world because of the defects they possess.  Surely your church has people who have been made to feel inadequate or mislabeled.  Surely your church has people who are lost in this world and feel unsuccessful and unloved.   

In the time that Jesus spent here on earth, he took special interest in the misfits.  In Mark 2, his disciples are asked, “Why does he eat with the tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Abigail Van Buren once said, “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” 

In 1 Corinthians 12 we are reminded, “Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together … that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

In the story, Rudolph saves the day by finding homes for the misfit toys.  As churches, we become “home” for all sorts of misfits (ourselves included), treating those who are weaker as indispensable and those who have experienced little honor with special honor.  We cover those who are unpresentable with special modesty and our presentable parts with clarity and honesty.  We can save the day because all misfits fit in the body of Christ. 

In the body of Christ, together, we can experience belonging, healing, reconciliation, transformation, shalom, and love.  We may continue to be misfits in this world, but in Christ, we are home, accepted, and beloved.

The Beauty of an Intercultural Childhood

(Scroll for Spanish translation / Desplazarse para la traducción al español)

by Andres Castillo, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life

Out of all of the things that I take for granted, my intercultural childhood has to be the most beautiful.

I grew up in Norristown, Pennsylvania as a Hispanic and white child, never really fitting into either demographic, but undoubtedly benefiting from the ability to sit back and watch all ethnic groups interact. This “observation” lifestyle is one commonly picked up by biracial children, and I can confirm this through my own experiences.

Not being able to fit into any single group is a blessing. I grew up mingling with, among others, both white and Latino children, frequently wondering why they were often so completely separate from each other. The close-mindedness of each cluster was puzzling, and even more so was the fact that neither fully accepted me. I realize now after many years of fussing over my place in the world that I have no need to identify with either group—there are plenty of people like me.

This realization enables me to have a better perception of the world and each person, not focusing on anyone’s ethnic background but on what is underneath. I am able to see people for who they are, because I know how it feels to not know who I am or where I belong.

Unfortunately, not every biracial child will come to the same conclusions that I did. To help remedy this, I write this with the dual purpose of sharing my worldview as well as providing some self-security to biracial persons who struggle with their identity.

Making Colombian tamales—a family tradition!  Photo by Marta Castillo

Growing up in Norristown definitely put me in an advantageous situation. Daily exposure to different races and cultures—African American, Caribbean, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Chinese—is healthy for a growing human. I know that I benefited greatly (an understatement) from living my whole life and attending high school in Norristown. I am, no doubt, more knowledgeable of what the world really contains—homeless people walking the streets, gang-related violence, robberies (my house was even robbed once), and overall, a struggle for financial stability.

Of course there are a lot of bad things that exist in the world, but Norristown did reveal many positive things too. Attending Norristown Area High School showed me that Latinos and African Americans, not whites, were the majority in the area where I live.  Contrary to what some people think, the Norristown area school system not only provided me with an adequate education, but also effectively exposed me to more of the world. I attend an absolute melting-pot of a church called Nueva Vida Norristown New Life (NVNNL) and can happily say that our family benefits from the multitude of races within the church and the bilingual capabilities we possess.

 Andres is baptized by Pastors Angel Tamayo and Marta Castillo (his mom) and joins as a member of Nueva Vida Norristown New Life  Photo by Ertell Whigham at Macedonia Baptist Church, Norristown.

Along with these two outlets, my grandparents, who live in the center of Norristown, have been enthusiastic guides to other cultures throughout my lifetime. They not only house people of different races in their small-but-friendly apartment complex but raised their children (my mom and uncle) in Vietnam and Indonesia, where they served for many years as mission workers. As a result, they are completely open-minded people who have taught their children and grandchildren their ways.

Just the other day, I had a job interviewer ask me if I have “had experience in which I have been exposed to many cultures.” Needless to say, that question could probably be nominated for “easiest question of the year.”

I am happy to not be ignorant of the cultures around me, and to have my race be a minimal factor of how I live. I was able to decide for myself that I love people of all races, and, as a result, I can say, with joy, that I am able to fully enjoy this life.

Andres Castillo is a freshman at West Chester University.  He enjoys writing, reading, and playing with the Nueva Vida Norristown New Life Church worship team.

 


La Belleza de una Niñez Intercultural

por Andres Castillo, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life

De todas las cosas que doy por sentadas, mi niñez intercultural tiene que ser la más hermosa.

Crecí en Norristown, Pensilvania como un niño hispano y americano blanco, nunca encajando con ninguno de los dos grupos demográficos, pero sin duda me beneficiaba de poder sentarme y ver a todos los grupos étnicos relacionarse. Este estilo de vida de “observación” es comúnmente adoptado por los niños birraciales, y puedo confirmarlo por mis propias experiencias.

No poder encajar en un solo grupo es una bendición. Crecí mezclándome, entre otros, con niños blancos y latinos, preguntándome con frecuencia por qué a menudo estaban tan separados unos de otros. La mentalidad cerrada de cada grupo fue desconcertante, y más aún, el hecho de que ninguno de los dos grupos me aceptó por completo. Ahora me doy cuenta de que después de muchos años de preocuparme por mi lugar en el mundo, no tengo necesidad de identificarme con ninguno de los grupos, hay muchas personas como yo.

Esta realización me permite tener una mejor percepción del mundo y de cada persona, sin centrarme en el origen étnico de nadie, sino en lo que está dentro. Soy capaz de ver a las personas por lo que son, porque sé cómo se siente no saber quién soy ni a dónde pertenezco.

Desafortunadamente, no todos los niños birraciales llegarán a las mismas conclusiones que yo. Para ayudar a remediar esto, escribo esto con el doble propósito de compartir mi visión del mundo, así como de proporcionar cierta seguridad personal a las personas birraciales que luchan con su identidad.

¡Haciendo tamales colombianos, una tradición familiar! Foto por Marta Castillo.

Crecer en Norristown definitivamente me puso en una situación ventajosa. La exposición diaria a diferentes razas y culturas (afro americana, caribeña, mexicana, puertorriqueña, china) es saludable para un humano en crecimiento. Sé que me beneficié enormemente (una subestimación) de vivir toda mi vida y asistir a la escuela secundaria en Norristown. Sin duda, tengo más conocimiento de lo que realmente contiene el mundo: personas sin hogar que caminan por las calles, violencia relacionada con pandillas, robos (mi casa incluso fue robada una vez) y, en general, una lucha por la estabilidad financiera.

Por supuesto, hay muchas cosas malas que existen en el mundo, pero Norristown también reveló muchas cosas positivas. Asistir a la escuela secundaria del área de Norristown me mostró que los latinos y los afroamericanos, no los blancos, eran la mayoría en el área donde vivo. Contrariamente a lo que algunas personas piensan, el sistema escolar del área de Norristown no solo me brindó una educación adecuada, sino que también me expuso a más partes del mundo. Asisto a una iglesia que es un crisol absoluto llamada Nueva Vida Norristown New Life (NVNNL) y puedo decir felizmente que nuestra familia se beneficia de la multitud de razas dentro de la iglesia y las capacidades bilingües que poseemos.

Andrés es bautizado por los pastores Angel Tamayo y Marta Castillo (su madre) y se une como miembro de Nueva Vida Norristown. Foto de New Life por Ertell Whigham en la Iglesia Bautista de Macedonia, Norristown.

Junto con estos dos canales, mis abuelos, que viven en el centro de Norristown, han sido guías entusiastas de otras culturas a lo largo de mi vida. No solo albergan a personas de diferentes razas en su pequeño pero amigable complejo de apartamentos, sino que también criaron a sus hijos (mi madre y mi tío) en Vietnam e Indonesia, donde sirvieron durante muchos años como trabajadores misioneros. Como resultado, son personas de mentalidad abierta que les han enseñado sus costumbres a sus hijos y nietos.

Justo el otro día, un entrevistador del trabajo me preguntó si tenía “experiencia en la que he estado expuesto a muchas culturas”. No hace falta decir que esa pregunta probablemente podría ser nominada a la “pregunta más fácil del año”.

Estoy feliz de no ignorar las culturas que me rodean y de que mi raza sea un factor mínimo de cómo vivo. Pude decidir por mí mismo que amo a las personas de todas las razas y, como resultado, puedo decir con alegría que puedo disfrutar plenamente de esta vida.

Andrés Castillo es un estudiante de primer año en la Universidad de West Chester. Le gusta escribir, leer y tocar música con el equipo de adoración de Nueva Vida Norristown New Life Church.

 

Culturas Navideñas/Christmas Cultures

(English below)

Culturas Navideñas

por Marta Castillo – Conferencia de Franconia Ministra de Liderazgo de la Formación Intercultural

Cuando yo era niña, vivimos en Indonesia. Me gustaba mucho la celebración de Navidad allá en el pueblo. Nos levantábamos en la mañana para ir a la iglesia, a escuchar la palabra de Dios, y a cantar las canciones de Navidad y juntos comer dulces de arroz con café. En la tarde, saliamos con todo el pueblo para jugar fútbol, voleibol, correr y ganar premios. Allá era caliente y podíamos salir a celebrar en las calles con los demás. Alla nadie tenía la costumbre ni el dinero para comprar regalos para su familia. Me recuerdo que mi mamá quería apartar tiempo para abrir regalos en familia siguiendo la tradición de los EEUU, pero nosotros (mi hermano y yo) queríamos estar con nuestros amigos en la comunidad.

Ahora que vivo aquí en los EEUU, la cultura de Navidad es muy diferente. La mayoría de las familias celebran entre familia. El frío nos impide salir a celebrar en las calles con la comunidad. Hay muchas expectativos promocionadas en las redes sociales y la mezcla de tradiciones de Santa Claus, arbolitos, regalos y decoraciones. Las iglesias tienen servicios y celebran la Navidad con canciones y con la palabra de Dios en los días antes del día de Navidad.

De mis hermanos latinos aqui en EEUU, he aprendido algunas canciones de Navidad que me hacen recordar la importancia de celebrar la cultura navideña cristiana.

//Que bueno llego la navidad// Trayendo paz y alegría.
//Cristo es la navidad Y el que tiene a Cristo, Tiene alegría.//

La paz y la alegría vienen de Dios a través de Cristo Jesús. Hay cosas bonitas en todas las culturas. Podemos mezclar e intercambiar las celebraciones culturales de Navidad si no intercambiamos a Jesucristo por ninguna de ellas.

“De Cristo es la Navidad, El mundo te ofrece engaño, No cambies a Jesucristo, Por fiesta del Fin de Año, El te ha dado paz, no cambies a Cristo en la Navidad.

El propósito de la Navidad es adorar a Dios y darle gracias por el regalo de Jesús y la salvación.

//Que bonito es cantar al Señor en la Navidad.//
//Hermanos, vamos a cantarle! Que bonito es cantar al Señor en la Navidad.//

Christmas Cultures

by Marta Castillo – Franconia Conference Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation

When I was a girl, we lived in Indonesia. I really enjoyed the Christmas celebration we had in the village. We got up in the morning to go to church, to hear the word of God, sing Christmas songs, and eat rice cakes and drink coffee together. In the afternoon, the whole village played soccer and volleyball, ran races and won prizes. It was hot there and we could go out to celebrate in the streets with others. Nobody had the tradition or the money to buy gifts for their families. I remember that my mom wanted to set time to open gifts as a family like our tradition here in the US. My brother and I loved being with our friends in the community.

Now that I live here in the US, the Christmas culture is very different. The cold weather prevents us from going out to celebrate in the streets in the community. Most families celebrate within family units. There are many expectations promoted in social media and the mix of US traditions of Santa Claus, trees, gifts, and decorations. The churches often have services and celebrate Christmas with songs and the word of God in the days before Christmas Day.

From my Latin brothers here in the US, I have learned Christmas songs that remind me of the importance of celebrating the Christian Christmas culture.

Song translation – “How Good is Christmas, Bringing peace and joy,
Christ is Christmas and He who has Christ has joy.”

Peace and joy come from God through Jesus Christ. There are beautiful traditions in all cultures. We can mix and exchange the cultural celebrations of Christmas if we do not exchange Jesus Christ for any of them.

Song translation – “Christ is Christmas, The world offers you deception,
Do not exchange Jesus Christ, For the New Year’s party,
He has given you peace, do not exchange Christ at Christmas.

The purpose of Christmas is to worship God and give thanks to God for the gift of Jesus and salvation.

// How beautiful it is to sing to the Lord at Christmas time//
// Brothers and sister, let’s sing to God ! How beautiful it is to sing to the Lord at Christmas time.//

Feliz Navidad!


Selamat Hari Natal!

A Community of Sisters for the Journey/Una Comunidad de Hermanas en el Camino

By Marta Castillo, Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation

She thought for a moment then pulled off her bright pink scarf and laid it down in the rough form of a cross on the narrow space between the beds.  Then she instructed one of us to go outside and get some dirt to place by the cross.  The two symbols, the bright pink cross and the dirt lay there together as a powerful visual of life, death, salvation, and freedom.  We began to pray, attentive to the Spirit and to our sister, as she talked, wept, and prayed through a process letting go of the crippling guilt she carried after her father’s death five years before.  We anointed her with oil and with our prayers of blessings, believing that the power of Jesus would bring transformation and freedom in her life and walk with God.  I suppose we could have listened to her story and prayed for her without the symbols but there was power in the visual and physical additions to the accompaniment of her sisters. This is one story of many from a powerful weekend of sisters walking alongside one another. 

During the weekend of the Cuidandonos Entre Mujeres (Sister Care) Retreat attended by 72 women from 15 congregations, Pastor Ofelia Garcia filled our hearts and minds with powerful teaching through shared activities and symbols.  We walked in each other’s’ shoes, determined the boundaries of our personal space, and committed ourselves to caring for each other in the safety, wisdom and confidentiality of the red tent (a symbolic place of sisterhood and caring for each other we used throughout the weekend).  On Saturday night, we dressed up, celebrated our beauty as women, decorated crowns, and then gave our uniquely created crown to a sister in Christ with words of affirmation and blessing.  Then on Sunday morning, we celebrated communion together and in a ceremony of blessing we blessed one another.  I was reminded of how Jesus used parables, symbols, and ceremony to deeply root the truth in people’s hearts and minds.  The holistic ministry of teaching and practice using our spirit, mind, and body will leave an impact greater than teaching alone. 

This was the first all-Spanish SisterCare Retreat held in the United States. It was more than we had hoped for, a true experience of the joy of seeing God’s Spirit going above and beyond what we could have hoped for or imagined.  Since our own training in Sister Care (in Spanish) with Mennonite Women USA last year, Pastor Letty Castro of Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, and I had dreamed of an event where Spanish-speaking women in Franconia and Eastern District could come, relax, share their stories, pray together, and receive teaching about healing and self-care.  It was truly a team effort.  Pastor Ofelia Garcia agreed to come from Mexico City to be the speaker since she helped develop and present Sister Care materials in many places. Franconia Conference agreed to support our efforts to reach women within the churches of the conference and Eastern District.  Congregations like Zion, Salford, Doylestown, Centro de Alabanza, and Nueva Vida Norristown New Life supported us with scholarships for women to attend.  Pastors helped to get the word out to their Spanish speaking members.  A group from Centro de Alabanza worked hard to bring the program and details together.  Staff from Spruce Lake Retreat Center supported us through the registration process and retreat planning. 

Within hours of being together, women from over fifteen different churches and at least ten different countries were sharing with a depth that took us by surprise.  When we shared in small groups, we heard stories of parental and spousal abandonment, verbal, physical, sexual abuse, marriage difficulties, un-forgiveness, anger, loss of a child, and so much more.  We heard faith stories of God’s grace and love reaching down to bring forgiveness, freedom, healing, hope, love, and a future.   We cried, we smiled, we laughed, we hugged, and we listened.  We were encouraged not to give counsel or advice unless it was asked for specifically so we listened some more and we prayed for ourselves and for each other.  The space felt safe and we surrendered ourselves to the experience and the community.

The invitation was extended and the women came.  We enjoyed the beauty of the mountains, trees, and God’s creation.  We stepped away from our work, homes, families, and responsibilities to care for ourselves and others women like us.  We shared deeply and encouraged each other.  As we left and went home, we will continue to invite each other to “Come, walk with us. The journey is long.” 

Luke 10:27 (NIV)  He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Por Marta Castillo, Ministro de Liderazgo en Formacion Intercultural

La pastora pensó por un momento, luego se quitó la bufanda rosada brillante y la tendió en forma de una cruz en el espacio estrecho entre las camas. Luego, ella nos pidió a una de nosotras que saliera y consiguiera algo de tierra para colocar junto a la cruz. Los dos símbolos, la cruz de color rosada brillante y la tierra yacen juntos como una poderosa imagen de la vida, la muerte, la salvación y la libertad. Comenzamos a orar, atentas al Espíritu y a nuestra hermana, mientras ella hablaba, lloraba y oraba para dejar ir la culpa paralizante que llevaba después de la muerte de su padre cinco años antes. La ungimos con aceite y con nuestras oraciones de bendición, creyendo que el poder de Jesús traería transformación y libertad en su vida y caminaría con Dios. Supongo que podríamos haber escuchado su historia y haber orado por ella sin los símbolos, pero había poder en las adiciones físicas y visuales al acompañamiento de las hermanas.  Esta es una historia entre muchas historias de un fin de semana poderoso de hermanas acompañando una a la otra. 

Durante el primer retiro (solamente en español) de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres asistieron 72 mujeres de 15 congregaciones, la Pastora Ofelia García llenó nuestros corazones y mentes con una enseñanza poderosa a través de actividades y símbolos compartidos. Caminamos en los zapatos de los demás, determinamos los límites de nuestro espacio personal y nos comprometimos a cuidarnos mutuamente en la seguridad, la sabiduría y la confidencialidad de la tienda roja (un lugar simbólico de hermandad y cuidando una a la otra que usamos durante el fin de semana).  El sábado por la noche, nos vestimos, celebramos nuestra belleza como mujeres, decoramos coronas y luego entregamos nuestra corona de creación única a una hermana en Cristo con palabras de afirmación y bendición. Luego, el domingo por la mañana, celebramos juntas la comunión y nos bendijimos mutuamente con una ceremonia de bendición. Recordé cómo Jesús usó parábolas, símbolos y ceremonias para enraizar profundamente la verdad en los corazones y las mentes de las personas. El ministerio holístico de enseñanza y práctica que usa nuestro espíritu, mente y cuerpo dejará un impacto mayor que la enseñanza sola.

Fue más de lo que esperábamos, una verdadera experiencia de la alegría de ver al Espíritu de Dios ir más allá de lo que podríamos haber esperado o imaginado. Desde nuestro taller de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres (Sister Care) con las Mujeres Menonitas EEUU el año pasado, la pastora Letty Castro de Centro de Alabanza, Filadelfia y yo habíamos soñado con un evento en que las mujeres de habla hispana en Franconia y el Distrito Este pudieran venir, relajarse, compartir sus historias, orar juntas y recibir enseñanza sobre la curación y el cuidado personal. Fue realmente un esfuerzo de equipo. La pastora Ofelia García aceptó venir de la ciudad de México para ser la presentadora porque ella había apoyado el desarrollo de los materiales de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres y tenía mucha experiencia en presentarlos en diferentes países. La Conferencia de Franconia acordó apoyar nuestros esfuerzos para alcanzar a las mujeres dentro de las iglesias de la conferencia y el Distrito Este. Congregaciones como Zion, Salford, Doylestown, Centro de Alabanza y Nueva Vida Norristown New Life nos apoyaron con becas. Los pastores ayudaron a correr la voz a sus miembros que hablan español. Un grupo del Centro de Alabanza trabajó duro para reunir el programa y los detalles. El personal del Spruce Lake Retreat Center nos apoyó a través del proceso de registro y la planificación del retiro.

A las pocas horas de estar juntas, setenta y dos mujeres de más de quince iglesias diferentes y al menos diez países diferentes compartían con una profundidad que nos sorprendió. Cuando compartimos en pequeños grupos, escuchamos historias de abandono de padres y cónyugues, abuso verbal, físico, sexual, dificultades matrimoniales, falta de perdón, enojo, pérdida de un hijo y mucho más. Escuchamos historias de fe de la gracia y el amor de Dios que se acercan para traer perdón, libertad, sanidad, esperanza, amor y un futuro. Lloramos, sonreímos, reímos, nos abrazamos y escuchamos. Nos animaron a no dar consejos ni sugerencias a menos que se pidiera específicamente, así que escuchamos un poco más y oramos por nosotras mismas y por los demás. El espacio se sintió seguro y nos entregamos a la experiencia y la comunidad.

Se extendió la invitación y llegaron las mujeres. Disfrutamos de la belleza de las montañas, los árboles y la creación de Dios. Nos alejamos de nuestro trabajo, hogares, familias y responsabilidades para cuidarnos a nosotras mismas y a otras mujeres iguales que nosotras. Compartimos profundamente y nos animamos mutuamente. Cuando nos fuimos y regresamos a casa, continuaremos invitándonos mutuamente a “Ven, camina con nosotros. El viaje es largo.”

Lucas 10:27 (NVI) ….“Ama al Señor tu Dios con todo tu corazón, con todo tu ser, con todas tus fuerzas y con toda tu mente”, y: “Ama a tu prójimo como a ti mismo”

God is Working God’s Purpose Out

by Marta Castillo, Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation

When I was a child on furlough with my family, we used to visit different churches every Sunday to share our stories about Indonesia and what God was doing there.  I remember singing the song “God is working his purpose out” by Author: Arthur Campbell Ainger (1894). The lyrics say:

“God is working his purpose out, as year succeeds to year, God is working his purpose out, and the time is drawing near; nearer and nearer draws the time, the time that shall surely be, when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.

From utmost east to utmost west, wherever feet have trod, by the mouth of many messengers goes forth the voice of God, ‘Give ear to me, ye continents, ye isles, give ear to me, that the earth may be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.’

What can we do to work God’s work, to prosper and increase the love of God in all mankind, the reign of the Prince of peace? What can we do to hasten the time, the time that shall surely be, when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea?”

Garden Chapel celebrates the licensing of Pastor Hector Quinones.

Every year we join together at assembly to celebrate what God is doing, to spend time together as God’s people, and to make plans together discerning God’s purpose for us.  We discerned a few years ago to put approve a Church Together Statement Going to the Margins: Kingdom Mission Strategy stating that as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to solidarity with those on the margins of the Christian community, our neighborhoods, and society at large, seeking transformation in ourselves, those to whom we minister, and the unjust systems we encounter. This statement was a building block on our Franconia Conference priorities of being “missional, intercultural, and formational” as we work to fulfill our mission to “equip leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission.”

Henri Nouwen writes, “Those who are marginal in the world are central in the Church, and that is how it is supposed to be! Thus we are called as members of the Church to keep going to the margins of our society. The homeless, the starving, parentless children, people with AIDS, our emotionally disturbed brothers and sisters – they require our first attention. We can trust that when we reach out with all our energy to the margins of our society we will discover that petty disagreements, fruitless debates, and paralysing rivalries will recede and gradually vanish. The Church will always be renewed when our attention shifts from ourselves to those who need our care. The blessing of Jesus always comes to us through the poor. The most remarkable experience of those who work with the poor is that, in the end, the poor give more than they receive. They give food to us.” (henrinouwen.org/meditation/going-to-the-margins-of-the-church/)

Along with celebrating their 9th anniversary, Centro de Alabanza held a graduation ceremony for IBA (Instituto Biblico Anabautista – Anabaptist Biblical Institute).

We may or may not be consciously working out this “Kingdom Mission Strategy” in our congregations and daily lives. Our pastors and leaders may or may not even remember this conversation and agreement from even a few years ago. The conversation, however, did help us set priorities and to consider God’s plans and purposes for us in ministry and mission. Whether we recognize it or not God is working out God’s purpose.

As was stated in the Church Together Statement, “In Scripture, we see Jesus affirming the value and image of God in those on the margins of his culture and society: tax collectors, women, lepers, the ceremonially unclean, Gentiles, etc. Today, marginalized people groups include but are not limited to individuals and families experiencing mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, physical and intellectual disabilities, incarceration, racism, poverty, war, oppression and exclusion. Who are the marginalized individuals and families in your context and how are you intentionally reaching out and entering their lives with the love and hope of Jesus Christ? If we are to be faithful disciples of Christ and make seeking God’s Kingdom our number one priority, these are the people with whom we must be in solidarity.”

Nations Worship Center held a Bible Camp for community children with the theme “Raising the Standard”, thanks to the support of a Missions Operational Grant and teaching supplies from Salford Mennonite Church.

My testimony today is that this kingdom work is happening through the work of the Holy Spirit in the congregations of our Conference. Through pictures and descriptions, we celebrate today that God is working God’s purposes out in our communities. In the last few weeks I had the privilege of witnessing this in some of our immigrant communities, who minister in communities affected by drug and alcohol addiction, and are affected by racism and injustice. 

Psalm 33:11 says, But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. Nearer and nearer draws the time, the time that will surely be, when the earth is filled with the glory of God, as the waters cover the sea.”

Darkness Unfolding As Light

On April 14 approximately 80 women from across Franconia and Eastern District Conferences joined together at Towamencin Mennonite Church for the annual Sister Care Gathering. The theme was “Darkness Unfolding as Light,” with the book of Ruth as the Biblical text.  Cathy Spory, Elementary Principal at Johnstown Christian School, took on the character of Naomi and gave insightful first-person monologues.  Marilyn Bender, one of four co-pastors at Ripple Church in Allentown and Rose Bender Cook, Marilyn’s sister-in-law and a bi-vocational pastor at Whitehall Mennonite Church, shared their personal and Biblical reflections including speaking of the illness and loss of Marilyn’s husband John, Rose’s brother.

The women were invited to string beads, with knots representing the rough places and the iridescent beads representing those light-filled moments. There was time for conversation and prayer with each other at our tables, and an opportunity to experiment with different ways to pray including praying with color, walking prayer, healing prayer and anointing.

Pastor Letty Cortes from Centro de Alabanza led the women in activities to get to know  one another. There was much singing together and the women enjoyed a delicious lunch including a wonderful cake gifted to them from MCUSA out-going Executive Director, Ervin Stutzman, from his retirement party the night before.  It was bi-lingual day, with everything presented in English and Spanish, and was a deeply moving day, culminating in the women giving testimony as to where God had unfolded their darkness into light.

Many thanks to the planning committee: Anne M. Yoder, Coordinator; Pastor Donna Merow; Pastor Doris Diener; Pastor Letty Castro; and Pastor Marta Castillo. Special thanks to Pastor Marilyn Bender, Pastor Rose Bender Cook and Cathy Spory for all their energy and all they shared with the women of our Conferences.

Interspace – Courage to Stand Between

By Marta Castillo, Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation

“Inter” words are familiar to most of us – interact, interdependent, intermission, intertwine, international, intercede, intercultural, etc.  Based on the Latin, “inter” means “between,” “in the midst of,” “mutually,” “reciprocally,” “together”.  Interspace is an adventure of new learnings, a place of possibility, sharing, rest, and reconciliation, but it is also a space that is unnerving, humbling, uncomfortable, and challenging.

Since the end of 2017, when I resigned from a pastoral role at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, I have been living in the space between church homes and between work roles. It was strange and exciting to know that in this in between space, I could visit other churches and experience worship and Word in new ways. However, there was no church home because I was “in between”. The ministry that I was involved in was my responsibility no longer and it was freeing to dream and envision what shape my role will take as Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation with Franconia Conference, but hard to leave behind the relationships that I had nurtured for years. In the first two months of 2018, I was in interspace, in between, waiting for my new role to begin. Then in the beginning of March, I began my international adventure with a trip to Indonesia with the purpose of studying Indonesian, a language that I had once learned and spoken as a child, to enhance my future intercultural ministry within the conference.

What an experience! The food, the culture, the language, and the people brought my childhood in Indonesia flooding back. I kept moving between being so comfortable and so uncomfortable, so quickly it was disorienting. I was delighted to experience familiar tastes, words, and culture while feeling so humbled as a person who was learning a language and speaking it so poorly and who didn’t know the cultural expectations, so I embarrassed myself. This interspace of being in a different country required courage, creativity, willingness to fail, and engagement with people who were different. It was the perfect connecting space between my past experiences and my future hopes and ministry.

A young friend of mine shared with me recently of her journey towards learning to stay in the interspace, the space between, like the Saturday between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, holding onto the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross while celebrating the power of the resurrection.  It takes courage to stand “between”.  Isn’t that exactly what Jesus has done through his life, death, and resurrection?  Even now, Jesus “intercedes” comes and goes between God and us, to keep that interspace holy and righteous.  Romans 8:34, “Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”

Furthermore, we are invited to share the same interspace of intercession, interrelationship, and interconnectedness for deeper relationship with others.  1 Timothy 2:1-3, I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

In our conference, we have a shared priority to be intercultural, meaning that we seek to connect, stand, and live in the space between the cultures represented in our conference and the world.  This is different than being multicultural which advocates for equal respect and promoting cultural diversity.  When “multi” is not enough, we seek “inter”. With multicultural, we still have a sense of “us and them”.  With intercultural, a between space is created where “we” belong. Our conference priority is for networking and cultivating intercultural ministry relationships. This process is described as “including an assessment of current and emerging relationships that work cross-culturally while building further capacity toward mutually-beneficial relationships among ministries and congregations. Increasingly, these relationships will be defined by reciprocity and transformation rather than paternalism and patronization.  Relationships will be built around both work and celebration, both doing and being together.” Read this and other priorities hereread more about some of Franconia Conference’s intercultural and multicultural work here.