Tag Archives: missional

Backpacks for the Border

by Javier Marquez, intercultural communication associate, with Emily Ralph Servant

On the night of October 18, 2019, a group of adults and children worked for several hours at the Material Resource Center, a part of Mennonite Central Committee’s ministry in Harleysville, PA. The objective of the project was to put together kits of basic supplies that will be delivered to migrants who crossed the border from Mexico. Members of Franconia Conference contributed the helping hands and gave resources to make the project a reality: 370 kits were packed that night, and the rest of the $20,000 donated by the conference (via churches, individuals and a matching grant) will be sent to MCC Central States to purchase additional supplies.

The kits consisted of a set of useful products such as towels, notebooks, pens, water, and other basic necessities for people who have recently been released from migrant detention camps.  Although simple, these kits represent a direct and tangible way to contribute to the needs of immigrants who enter the United States looking for a new home.

The work on the 19th was an example of solidarity and mutual help.  Thanks to 20 volunteers from three southeast Pennsylvania churches (Indonesian Light Church, and Philadelphia Praise Center, Plains Mennonite Church), the kits were efficiently packed in a large collection of green backpacks and were ready in time to be sent from Harleysville to be distributed through MCC Central States.

Each of these churches, in addition to belonging to Franconia Conference, is a community that includes many first- and second-generation immigrants. Although these immigrants come from different places on the map, such as Indonesia and Mexico, they each have left behind what is familiar to embark on a trip, marked by difficulties and uncertainty.  In understanding and solidarity, they gathered to fill backpacks as people who are aware of the pain and joy of migration.

The children were encouraged to share which countries they were from and they diligently helped for the almost-two-hours that the work took. After the backpacks were filled, the workers gathered together to join in a prayer led by Pastor Hendy Stevan Matahelemual of Indonesian Light Center.  They prayed specifically for those who would receive the kit and in general for each person who undertakes the trip and who seeks a place that guarantees their rights and, even, saves their lives.

Standing in the Gap at the Border and at Home

by Emily Ralph Servant, Director of Communication

For the last month, Philadelphia Praise Center pastor Aldo Siahaan has been reminding his congregation of their rights during each Sunday morning worship service.

In expectation of, and response to, a recent wave of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids, immigrants in Philadelphia and other US cities—both documented and not—are living in fear.  “I’ve been like them,” reflects Siahaan, who migrated to the United States in 1998 after riots in Indonesia: “I know what they feel like, living like this.”

Questions and concern around immigration have become increasingly important for members of Franconia Conference, which has seen a increase in immigrant congregations over the past decade.  Currently, close to fifteen percent of the conference are first-generation immigrants, many coming from Indonesia, Mexico, Tanzania, Myanmar, Hong Kong, and India.

Some of Franconia’s Latin brothers and sisters originally entered the US by way of the southern border.  Recent news reports have highlighted tragic conditions in detention camps there, where some families are separated, and others are turned away before they can even apply for asylum.  Many Franconia congregations have been asking what they can do to help.

A Direct Response

MCC is collecting Immigrant Detainee Care Kits with supplies that will provide immigrants who are being released from detainment centers along the US’ southern border with basic hygiene supplies. Photo provided by MCC Central States.

“Having been to the border several years ago to see key Mennonite partners there, I recognize that there are some basic practical needs that people require after they’ve been released from detention,” reflects Franconia’s executive minister Steve Kriss.  Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is meeting some of these needs by making and distributing Immigrant Detainee Care Kits.  “The kit response feels hands-on and important as the kind of thing Mennonites do to directly respond to human needs,” observes Kriss.

In order to provide additional kits, Franconia’s board has allocated a $5000 grant to match contributions from Franconia and Eastern District congregations to the MCC East Coast’s Material Resource Center (MRC) in Harleysville, PA.   The MRC will make the care kits to send for distribution in Texas and New Mexico through MCC Central States.  The grant will also match gifts given by Franconia congregations to MCC West Coast for transporting kits distributed in California and Arizona.  The deadline for matching is August 31.

Already at Work

Even as Franconia and Eastern District congregations raise financial support around the border crisis, we remember that the struggle continues closer to home. “We ARE immigrant communities,” Kriss acknowledges.  “We are communities that are responding on a regular basis to the challenges of receiving people who are seeking safety and asylum in places across the country.”  Many pastors in our congregations are regularly responding to crises of migration, he observes.  In these cases, these are not programs of the church; they are pastoral responses to real needs in our communities.

The border fence between Tijuana and California adjoins a city neighborhood and is covered in lively artwork and graffiti. Photo by Steve Kriss.

When a large migrant caravan began making its way through Mexico in 2018, the Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México (CIEAMM), a Franconia Partner in Ministry, decided to open their arms and hearts to the “temporary refugees” in Mexico by providing aid.  “We take seriously the teaching of Jesus, who invites us to the [kind of] love and solidarity that feeds the hungry, dresses the naked, gives water to the thirsty, protects the helpless, takes care of the sick, and visits the incarcerated,” described moderator Carlos Martínez García at Mennonite World Conference’s Renewal 2019 event in Costa Rica.  “We did a work of compassion, putting ourselves in the place of needy migrants, and acting to bring some accompaniment and comfort.” (Read his full remarks.)

Fernando Loyola and Letty Cortes pastor Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, a congregation of Latinx immigrants, and have seen a recent wave of immigrants from Guatemala arriving in their neighborhood.  Their congregation provides food, clothing, funds, and help navigating the new American culture.  They refer families to immigration lawyers and to Juntos, a community-led immigrant non-profit that fights for human rights in South Philly.

Philadelphia Praise Center has been renovating its building to become a sanctuary church, where immigrants fearing deportation can live safely during ICE raids.  Siahaan has walked with many individuals and families who need help navigating the complex legal channels involved in applying for visas or green cards.  Just this last week, he was called to help someone from the community who was picked up in an ICE raid.

Unfortunately, once someone has been detained by ICE, there isn’t much that can be done, he explains—within a couple of weeks, they’ll be deported.  The need is greater before that happens; what immigrants need most, he suggests, is for their Franconia brothers and sisters to be their voice: “Call or write to your congressperson and say, ‘Hey, you need to do something about this situation, these immigration raids!’”

Advocacy to Prevent Tragedy

Advocacy work includes contacting representatives on both state and national levels.  Steve Wilburn, teaching pastor at Covenant Community congregation in Lansdale, PA, has been involved with International Justice Mission (IJM) since he traveled to Cambodia and Vietnam in seminary and saw IJM’s work in battling human trafficking.  Currently, he’s partnering with IJM to advocate for the “Central American Women and Children Protection Act of 2019,” which is legislation that commits US funds, in partnership with the governments of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, to help them restore their justice systems in order to protect women and children from abuse.  Several Franconia Conference leaders have signed a letter in support of this legislation.

Most US government efforts in those countries have been focused on drugs and gang violence, Wilburn explains, but that doesn’t help protect children and women: “Those are some of the reasons that people are leaving and trying to escape violence there, becoming refugees,” he says.  Most would rather stay home if home were a safe place for them and their children.

Real People, Real Suffering

Siahaan recently went on an MCC borderlands tour to meet migrants and see the situation for himself.  On his trip, he met a young mother with two children who were waiting to apply for asylum.  They had fled Colombia after her husband had been shot by a gang.

It was eye-opening for Siahaan.  He had read books and heard stories but meeting real people on the border face-to-face affirmed for him that the work the South Philly congregations were doing mattered.  It encouraged him to keep going.

Beny Krisbianto, pastor of Nations Worship Center in Philadelphia, is a member of the conference executive board.  The decision to allocate the funds for the matching grant was easy for him when he considered the children who are daily affected by both the “border crisis” and the local ICE raids.  It’s not a political issue, he emphasizes, but a call to care for real children who had no control over the decision to come in the first place.  “These are real people, who are already here, who are suffering and may die,” he says.  “These kits will help.”

His congregation supports conference advocacy for migrants at the southern border because they, too, are daily experiencing the fear and uncertainty of the country’s broken immigration system.  It’s not just a story you see on CNN or ABC News, he reminds the conference community; for immigrants in South Philadelphia, “It’s our everyday life.”

Ways to Help

  • Pray for migrants on the southern border, for immigrants living in our communities, and for those who are working alongside them for health, healing, and wholeness. Pray for just immigration laws, merciful immigration practices, and a path to citizenship that will keep families together.
  • To receive a matching grant for the making and/or transporting of Immigrant Detainee Care Kits, send checks labeled “Immigrant Detainee Care Kits” directly to the MCC Material Resource Center of Harleysville, 737 Hagey Center Drive, Unit C, Souderton, PA 18964 OR directly to West Coast MCC Office, 1010 G Street, Reedley, CA 93654. For West Coast donations only: email Conrad Martin (ccmartin@franconiaconference.org) at the conference office with the date and amount of the gift.  Deadline for matching funds is August 31.
  • Read the Churchwide Statement on the Abuse of Child Migrants passed at Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City (July 2019) and Carlos Martínez García’s full reflection on CIEAMM’s ministry caring for some of the migrants traveling through Mexico.
  • Advocate with your legislators to support asylum seekers and the American Dream and Promise Act and to restrict ICE raids.
  • Sign a faith leaders’ letter of support for the “Central American Women and Children Protection Act of 2019” or become an IJM volunteer by contacting Steve Wilburn at swilburn@ijmvolunteers.org. Register for a 2-day advocacy summit in Washington D.C. in October.
  • A significant focus of MCC East Coast’s domestic work is related to immigration advocacy: in Miami, through the New York Mennonite Immigration Program, and in direct services to those who have been trying to find a legal pathway to stay in the US. Find out moreWest Coast MCC is in the process of offering “Know Your Rights” trainings for Franconia’s West Coast congregations.

Abrir Los Brazos y El Corazon Los Migrantes / Open Arms and Hearts to the Migrants

(scroll for English)

por Carlos Martínez García

Un decenio de celebración y ejercicio reflexivo. El Congreso Mundial Menonita eligió la década 2017-2027 para evaluar tanto la Reforma protestante como la Reforma radical y la influencia de ambos movimientos en el surgimiento del anabautismo constructor de paz. Durante el mencionado decenio, cada año, ha tenido y tendrá lugar en distintos lugares del mundo el ejercicio llamado Renovación. En el 2017 la reunión se llevó a cabo en Augsburgo, Alemania; el año pasado en Kisumu, Kenia; y en el presente la sede es San José, Costa Rica.

 El tema para el evento en Costa Rica es “Justicia en el camino: migración y la historia anabautista-menonita”. Los anabautistas/menonitas del siglo XVI, y subsecuentes centurias, debieron migrar constantemente en búsqueda de libertad para difundir y practicar sus creencias. Estas migraciones se hicieron en condiciones muy adversas. Además del marco histórico y bíblico teológico que se presentará en Costa Rica, se solicitó a distintos ponentes referir experiencias sobre el tema migratorio actual y cómo están respondiendo las comunidades de fe identificadas con el anabautismo. En mi caso me requirieron para compartir “cómo mi iglesia, o iglesias en mi región, han experimentado la migración o formas en que están respondiendo a las necesidades de los desplazados”. A continuación reproduzco lo compartido en Renovación 2019:

A finales del 2018 llegaron en caravana miles de migrantes centroamericanos a México. Aunque desde hace muchos años el país ha sido ruta de paso para quienes migran de América Central con la esperanza de llegar a Estados Unidos de América (EUA), por primera vez grupos organizados demandaban se abriera la frontera mexicana para que pudieran entrar y transitar por el país con seguridad.

En términos generales la población comprendió las razones de los migrantes para huir de sus países y buscar un mejor futuro. Históricamente millones de mexicanos han migrado hacia EUA. En la actualidad un alto porcentaje de ellos y ellas viven allá con temor ya que no tienen papeles de residencia. Su contribución a la economía estadounidense es importante, cálculos de hace dos años mostraron que diez por ciento de la economía depende de la fuerza laboral de los migrantes mexicanos. Además de su contribución económica, estos migrantes aportan diversificación cultural a los EUA. La segunda ciudad con más mexicanos, después de la ciudad de México, es una urbe norteamericana: Los Ángeles, California.

Aunque hubo sectores que tuvieron pensamientos y acciones hostiles hacia las caravanas de migrantes que llegaron a México a finales del 2018 y primeros meses del presente año, el sentimiento más amplio fue el de solidaridad y la realización de campañas para levantar ayuda y proveer a los migrantes de ropa, alimentos, medicinas, atención médica y acompañamiento en su caminar hacia el norte.

En la Conferencia de Iglesias Evangélicas Anabautistas Menonitas de México (CIEAMM), por medio del ministerio Sendas de Justicia, se hicieron llamados a coordinarse con otras organizaciones e iglesias que deseaban dar ayuda en las necesidades expresadas por los migrantes. Este es un punto importante, es necesario escuchar a quienes se quiere servir para que la solidaridad sea relevante y centrada en las carencias de los migrantes y no en la buena voluntad de las personas que a veces dan ayuda pero no es la que necesitan los migrantes. Una vez que se detectó qué tipo de ayudas requerían los refugiados temporales en México, por distintos medios se compartió la información y direcciones de centros de acopio para hacer llegar los paquetes de ayuda.

El coordinador del ministerio Sendas de Justicia de la CIEAMM es miembro de la Iglesia Fraternidad Cristiana/Vida Nueva, en la que soy pastor junto con Óscar Jaime Domínguez. Su nombre es Fernando Sandoval, él invito y animó a la comunidad para levantar fondos y poder adquirir productos que necesitaban los migrantes. Para conocer dichas necesidades visitó el lugar que abrió el gobierno de la Ciudad de México para albergar a miles de desplazados centroamericanos, principalmente de Honduras y El Salvador.

 Fernando conversó con hombres y mujeres de distintas edades. Les solicitó permiso para grabar su testimonio con el teléfono celular, con el fin de compartir la grabación en Fraternidad Cristiana/Vida Nueva. Lo que escuchó y vio nuestra comunidad fue conmovedor, ya que cada historia contada era una tragedia de sufrimiento que permitía comprender por qué las personas decidieron abandonar su hogar con el fin de intentar cruzar hacia Estados Unidos. Además de la pobreza como causa para salir, mencionaron la violencia padecida y el miedo a ser víctimas de todo tipo de abusos que denigran la dignidad humana.

La hermandad dio aportes que Sendas de Justicia llevó a los migrantes. Fue sorprendente la respuesta de la comunidad que decidió abrir sus brazos y el corazón a quienes estaban vulnerables en su paso por México. Tomamos en serio la enseñanza de Jesús, quien nos invita al amor solidario que alimenta al hambriento, viste al desnudo, da agua al sediento, protege al desvalido, cuida al enfermo, visita al encarcelado (Mateo 25:35-36). Hicimos un ejercicio de compasión, ponernos en el lugar de los migrantes necesitados y actuar para llevar algo de acompañamiento y consuelo.

En la tarea de llevar ayuda a los migrantes tuvo lugar una linda cooperación entre Sendas de Justicia y un grupo de profesores y estudiantes del Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary de Elkhart, Indiana. Allá se enteraron de lo que estaban haciendo la CIEAMM y la Iglesia Fraternidad Cristiana/Vida Nueva para servir a los migrantes, entonces el profesor Jamie Pitts compartió la información y el resultado fue una ofrenda que enviaron a Sendas de Justicia para que se usara de la manera que se considerara más conveniente. El ministerio Sendas de Justicia compró implementos que entregó a los migrantes e informó a los donantes de cómo se usó el donativo. Creemos firmemente que en la mayordomía cristiana es indispensable la rendición de cuentas y el buen uso de los recursos que hermanos y hermanas en la fe nos confían.

La solidaridad con los migrantes tiene antecedentes en la Iglesia Fraternidad Cristiana/Vida Nueva. Desde hace algunos años la comunidad contribuye con donativos en especie (alimentos, artículos de higiene personal) a la Casa Tochán, que es un refugio y lugar de defensa legal de migrantes que buscan protección mientras están en México y tienen por objetivo ingresar a Estados Unidos. Los hermanos y hermanas llevan distintos productos que se entregan a Casa Tochán, son muestras de que entendemos que somos seguidores de un migrante como Jesús, quien nació en condiciones muy similares a las vividas por familias que emprenden el éxodo obligadas por los poderes que tienen el corazón duro.

Abrir los brazos y el corazón a los migrantes es parte del discipulado cristiano. Entre ellos y ellas viajan personas que, como la mujer sirofenicia, nos ayudan a descubrir dimensiones de la fe que solamente vemos cuando somos frágiles  y marginados. De ésa mujer Jesús dijo que era muy grande su fe y la puso de ejemplo de confianza en Dios (Mateo 15:28). Y hemos encontrado esta fe en los migrantes.

by Carlos Martínez García, CIEAMM

It was a decade of celebration and reflective exercise. The Mennonite World Conference chose the 2017-2027 decade to evaluate both the Protestant Reformation and the radical Reformation, and the influence of both movements in the emergence of peace-building Anabaptism. During the mentioned decade, every year,  Renewal will take place in different parts of the world. In 2017 the meeting was held in Augsburg, Germany, last year in Kisumu, Kenya, and right now the headquarters are in San José, Costa Rica.

The theme for the event in Costa Rica is “Justice on the Way (Road): migration and Anabaptist-Mennonite history”. The Anabaptists / Mennonites of the sixteenth century and subsequent centuries had to constantly migrate in search of freedom to spread and practice their beliefs. These migrations were made under very adverse conditions. In addition to the historical and biblical theological framework that will be presented in Costa Rica, different speakers were asked to share experiences on the current issue of migration and how the communities of faith identified with Anabaptism are responding. In my case they asked me to share “how my church or churches in my region have experienced migration, or ways in which they are responding to the needs of the displaced.” Please find below what I prepared to share at Renovación (Renewal 2019):

Caravans of thousands of Central American migrants arrived in Mexico at the end of 2018. Although for many years the country has been a transit route for those who migrate from Central America with the hope of reaching the United States of America (USA), for the first time organized groups demanded that the Mexican border be opened so that they could enter and travel safely through the country.

In general terms, the Mexican people understood the reasons of the migrants to flee their countries and look for a better future. Historically, millions of Mexicans have migrated to the United States. Currently, a high percentage of them live there with fear because they do not have residence papers. Their contribution to the US economy is important; calculations two years ago showed that ten percent of the economy depends on the labor force of Mexican migrants. In addition to their economic contribution, these migrants bring cultural diversification to the USA. The city with more Mexicans, second only to Mexico City, is a North American city: Los Angeles, California.

Although there were sections of Mexico that had hostile thoughts and actions towards the caravans of migrants that arrived in Mexico at the end of 2018 and the first months of this year, the broadest sentiment was solidarity. There were campaigns to raise aid and provide migrants  with clothes, food, medicines, medical attention and accompaniment in their walk to the north.

In the Conference of Anabaptist Mennonite Anabaptist Churches of Mexico (CIEAMM), through the Pathways to Justice Ministry, calls were made to coordinate with other organizations and churches that wished to give assistance to respond to the needs expressed by the migrants. This is an important point; it is necessary to listen to those who we want to serve so that solidarity is prevalent and focused on the needs of migrants and not on the goodwill of people who sometimes give help when it is not what migrants need . Once the type of aid required by temporary refugees in Mexico was determined, the information and addresses of collection centers were shared by different means to send the aid packages.

The coordinator of the Ministry of Justice of the CIEAMM is a member of the New Life Christian Community Church, where I am a pastor along with Óscar Jaime Domínguez. His name is Fernando Sandoval. He invited and encouraged the community to raise funds and purchase products needed by migrants. To meet these needs, he visited the place opened by the government of Mexico City to house thousands of displaced Central Americans, mainly from Honduras and El Salvador.

Fernando talked with men and women of different ages. He requested permission to record his testimony with the cell phone, in order to share the recording in New Life Christian Community Church. What he heard and saw moved our community, as each story told was a tragedy of suffering that allowed us to understand why people decided to leave their homes in order to try to cross into the United States. In addition to poverty as a cause to leave, they mentioned the violence suffered and the fear of being victims of all kinds of abuses that denigrate human dignity.

The church community gave contributions that Pathways to Justice (Sendas de Justicia) took to the migrants. The response from the community was surprising as they decided to open their arms and hearts to those who were vulnerable in their passage through Mexico. We take seriously the teaching of Jesus, who invites us to the love of solidarity that feeds the hungry, dresses the naked, gives water to the thirsty, protects the helpless, takes care of the sick, visits the incarcerated (Matthew 25: 35-36). We did a work of compassion, putting ourselves in the place of needy migrants and acting to bring some accompaniment and comfort.

In the task of bringing the help (materials) to the migrants, there was cooperation between Pathways to Justice (Sendas de Justicia) and a group of teachers and students of the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana. There they found out what CIEAMM and New Life Christian Community Church were doing to serve the migrants, and Professor Jamie Pitts shared the information with the group at AMBS.  The result was an offering that they sent to Pathways to Justice to use in a way that would be most effective and convenient. The Sendas de Justicia ministry purchased the items that were given to migrants and informed donors of how the donation was used. We firmly believe that in Christian stewardship, the accountability and proper use of the resources that conference and brothers and sisters in the faith entrust to us is indispensable.

Solidarity with migrants has a history in the experience of New Life Christian Community Church. For some years, the community has contributed donations in kind (food, personal hygiene items) to Casa Tochán, which is a refuge and legal defense for migrants whose goal is to enter the United States and are seeking protection while in Mexico. In the past, the brothers and sisters have collected different products that are delivered to Casa Tochán.  These are a product of our understanding that we are followers of a migrant like Jesus, who was born in conditions very similar to those lived by families that undertake the exodus, forced by the hard-hearted powers of this world.

Open arms and hearts to migrants is part of Christian discipleship. Among the migrants, people travel who, like the Syrophoenician woman, help us discover dimensions of faith that we only see when we are fragile and marginalized. Jesus said that that woman’s faith was very great and she set an example of trust in God (Matthew 15:28). And we have found this great faith in migrants.         


Representing Jesus in West Virginia / Representando a Jesús en West Virginia

(Desplácese hacia abajo para español)

by Andres Castillo

Micah Kratz and Nicole Gourley prepare a wall for siding at the home near Jenkinjones, WV. (Photo by Adriana Santiago, posted on MCC SWAP Facebook page)

It took three days to dig the ditch that would divert water away from Gary, West Virginia homeowner Lucretia Ford’s house, but it was worth every second. “It wasn’t fun even though we tried to make it fun,” Bally (PA) congregation’s Jim Longacre admits. “In the same way, serving God sometimes isn’t fun and can be hard work, but in the end is very rewarding.”

The reward for the hard work comes in the form of relationships with those the SWAP volunteers come to help. Congregations haven’t been just serving Appalachian people through SWAP (Sharing With Appalachian People), but mutually sharing gifts with them.

An organization of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), SWAP has endeavored to make houses safer, warmer, and drier for the Appalachian community in the United States for over 30 years. In the summer of 2018, groups from Bally and Blooming Glen (PA) congregations both served at SWAP’s West Virginia location. There, they experienced the one-week service program that emphasizes relationships as much as fixing houses.

The homeowner in Gary, WV poses with volunteers from Blooming Glen who are working on her home repairs. (Photo by Mike Ford, posted on MCC SWAP Facebook page)

For a long time, the West Virginia SWAP ministry typically rented and did not own permanent property. Following SWAP’s move from Elkhorn to Kimball, however, Houston United Methodist Church offered them the opportunity to purchase their own facility. After experiencing this ministry firsthand, both Bally and Blooming Glen stepped in to help. “When we learned of the opportunity extended to SWAP to purchase this residence, it struck us that maybe we could assist them with it,” Bally’s youth leader Mike Gehman says. Since then, members of both congregations, especially youth, have raised funds so that SWAP can purchase the house.

Mike Gehman and Zoe Longacre prepare soffet for installation. (Courtesy of MCC SWAP Facebook page)

In addition to housing volunteers, the facility will provide more flexibility for SWAP and send a positive message to the community. “By putting this anchor down, it says that we intend to be here with roots that can’t be uprooted,” SWAP’s location coordinator Lee Martin states. The people of Appalachia are important to SWAP, he adds. Every time SWAP and the community members share meals and stories, they touch each others’ lives. They strive to “blow judgmental thoughts [of Appalachian residents] out of the water,” share about Jesus, and build strong relationships with the members of the community.

During one of Bally’s work days, one of their youth, Zack, went missing for some time. He wasn’t escaping the work but was inside talking to Ford. By the end of the day, she had “basically labeled him her adopted grandson,” says Longacre.

Volunteers from Bally gather around homeowner Lucretia Ford as she tells stories after dinner at the SWAP house. (MCC SWAP Facebook page)

“If you have the opportunity to sit down and talk with a homeowner, that isn’t taking you away from your work. That is your work,” says Martin. “The work acts as a venue to build relationships.” This philosophy is one reason the two congregations were moved to work together to help SWAP purchase their new facility.

MCC’s mission to spread “relief, development, and peace in the name of Christ,” as described by Martin, lives on through ministries like SWAP and those who support them. “As odd as it sounds,” he says, “representing Jesus is our job.”


Se necesitaron tres días para cavar la zanja que desvía el agua lejos de la casa de Lucretia Ford que vive en West Virginia, pero valió la pena cada segundo. “Aunque tratamos de divertirnos, no fue divertido.” Jim Longacre de la iglesia Menonita de Bally (PA) admite. “De la misma manera, sirviendo a Dios a veces no es divertido y puede ser mucho trabajo, pero es muy gratificante.”

La recompensa por el trabajo viene en forma de relaciones que los voluntarios de SWAP forman con aquellos que ayudan. Las congregaciones que se ofrecieron a través de SWAP (Compartiendo con la Gente de los Montes Apalaches) no sólo han estado sirviendo a la gente de los montes Apalaches, pero mutuamente compartiendo regalos con ellos.

SWAP, que es una organización del Comité Central Menonita (MCC), ha tratado de hacer las casas más seguras, más cálidas y secas para la  comunidad de los montes Apalaches por más de treinta años. En el verano del año 2018, unos grupos de las congregaciones de Bally y Blooming Glen (PA) sirvieron en la ubicación de SWAP en West Virginia. Allí, ellos completaron el programa de servicio de una semana que enfatiza las relaciones tanto como la reparación de casas.

Por mucho tiempo, el ministerio de SWAP en West Virginia normalmente alquilaron propiedades y no las compraron. Sin embargo, después de que SWAP se mudó de la ciudad de Elkhorn para la ciudad de Kimball, la iglesia Metodista Unida Houston le ofreció una oportunidad para comprar un edificio. Porque las congregaciones de Bally y Blooming Glen vieron este ministerio directamente, ellos decidieron ayudarles a comprarlo. “Cuando oímos de esta oportunidad que le dieron a ellos, nos dimos cuenta de que tal vez podíamos ayudarles con esto,” dijo Mike Gehman, que es líder de la juventud. Desde entonces, los miembros de ambas congregaciones, especialmente los jóvenes, han recaudado fondos para que SWAP pueda comprar la casa.

Además de alojar a los voluntarios, la casa proporcionará más flexibilidad para SWAP y enviará un mensaje positivo a la comunidad. “Al poner esto como un ancla, le decimos a la gente que tenemos la intención de quedarnos aquí,” dice Lee Martin, que es el coordinador de ubicación de SWAP. El también dijo que la gente de los Apalaches son muy importante para SWAP. Dondequiera que van, ellos escuchan historias, comparten comida, tocan las vidas y también tienen sus vidas tocadas por los miembros de la comunidad. Ellos tratan de deshacerse de las nociones preconcebidas de la gente sobre los montes Apalaches, compartir acerca de Jesús, y formar relaciones buenas con los miembros de la comunidad. 

Durante uno de los días de trabajo de Bally, uno de sus jóvenes que se llama Zack desapareció por algún tiempo. No estaba escapando del trabajo, pero estaba dentro hablando con la sra. Ford. Al final del día, ella lo había “básicamente etiquetado como su nieto adoptivo”, dice el sr. Longacre.

“Si tienes la oportunidad de sentarte y hablar con un propietario, eso no te aleja de tu trabajo. Ese es tu trabajo”, dice el sr. Martin. “El trabajo actúa como un lugar para construir relaciones”. Esta filosofía es una de las razones por las que las dos congregaciones fueron trasladadas para trabajar juntas para ayudar a SWAP a comprar sus nuevas instalaciones.

La misión de MCC de difundir “alivio, desarrollo y paz en el nombre de Cristo”, como lo describe el sr. Martin continúa a través de ministerios como el SWAP y quienes los apoyan. “Por extraño que parezca”, él dice, “representar a Jesús es nuestro trabajo”.

Openness to Change

by Justin Burkholder, summer intern with South Philly’s Indonesian congregations

Justin (middle row, 2nd from left) with his new friends in South Philly

In the blink of an eye, camp has reached its endpoint.

Philadelphia Praise Center ran its annual summer Peace Camp during the month of June. I was responsible for part of its leadership by organizing the kids from the community and congregation, planning trips for the group, and managing the volunteers who dedicated their summer to the children. Our team served up to sixty energetic kids over the duration of four weeks. We had a blast doing so, but it did not come without expected difficulties.

Peace Camp activities

This was a stretching month for me.  I have been learning to be more flexible with the way I approach ideas and time. Through leading camp, there were days when weather, sickness, traffic, loud children, or other forces resulted in a shift of plans. I have always been the type of person to set a routine, attempt to execute it, and then repeat. I’ve learned this month that life can’t always be lived like this because God moves in ways we can’t predict; we can’t always control or change things with our own hands.

Processing everything that happened this summer has been difficult because of the speed at which everything has been moving.  When it seems like I am not hearing from God, I attempt to slow down and retreat to the avenues where I have experienced His presence in the past. Recently this has come in the form of worship music, quiet time, new relationships with believers in Philadelphia, and other hobbies I enjoy.  I’m looking forward to fellowship at the Mennonite Church USA Convention this week in Kansas City.

My time in Philadelphia is flying by, but the experiences are valuable and have pointed me to Christ. I don’t love learning to be more flexible, yet it is a characteristic that has shaped how I journey with God. For that I am grateful.

Building God’s Community Together

by Steve Kriss, executive minister

I’m writing on my last night in Mexico City after celebrating the 60th anniversary of Mennonite churches here.  Over the last months, we’ve been reacquainting ourselves with one another between conferences and reconnecting the strong cords that have, for years, tied our communities together across language, culture, and country.

60th anniversary United Worship of the congregations of CIEAMM at Iglesia Christianas de Paz. (Photo by Kiron Mateti)

It was humbling to stand in front of hundreds of Mexican Mennonites who had come to follow in the way of Christ through the hopeful actions of mission workers—men and women who had left the familiarity of Mennonite congregations in Pennsylvania to build community in the emerging neighborhoods of Mexico City.   As we gathered at Iglesia de Christianas de Paz, I offered a greeting from 1 Corinthians, a reminder that different people have different roles but God brings forth fruit. Together we are building God’s community.

El Buen Pastor – the first Mennonite congregation in Mexico City. (Photo by Kiron Mateti)

But in the midst of that gathering, I was struck most by how going across the boundary to Mexico had changed our conference.   Early stories suggest that Franconia Conference leaders had been waiting for an opening to send international workers.  With a letter of invitation from a woman in Mexico, and after some discernment between various Mennonite mission organizations, Franconia Conference took the lead in Mexico.

Photo by Kiron Mateti

I believe these actions 60 years ago enlarged our hearts and understandings of the world and our connections within it.  Young leaders left familiar community for impactful service and leadership; they learned new foods, spoke Spanish, and tried to understand what essentials should be shared in a new cultural context.  Our understanding of what it meant to be Mennonite had to change.

Celebrating the 60th anniversary of El Buen Pastor congregation, the first Mennonite congregation in Mexico City. (Photo by Kiron Mateti)

And the church in Mexico grew – and is still growing.  The CIEAMM network represents our historic connection, but new connections — the Red de Iglesias Missioneras International led by Kirk Hanger; Iglesia de la Tierra Prometida, where long-term mission workers Bob and Bonnie Stevenson remain; and Centro de Alabanza de Philadelphia, pastored by Fernando Loyola and Leticia Cortes from Iglesia de Christianas de Paz — are ongoing parts of our shared witness.  Along with the Bible translation work of Claude Good that ensured the availability of the Holy Text in the Triqui language, we have made significant contributions to the family of Christ’s followers in Mexico.  The community that makes up these various networks is likely similarly sized to our current Franconia Conference membership.

The view from the top. (Photo by Steve Kriss)

As part of our visit, we visited the Torre LatinoAmericana in central Mexico City.  I stared out from atop the 44-story building, built in the same era that our earliest mission workers arrived. I looked toward the Cathedral of our Lady of Guadeloupe, where the story of a visit from the Virgin Mary to a farm worker in the field would change the trajectory of faith toward Roman Catholicism.

This global city sprawls in every direction around the tower: Mexico City is the size of New York, with 20 million people in the metro area.  There are Starbucks and Walmarts, as well as lots of traffic, and omnipresent cell phones.

Closing prayer at Luz y Verdad congregation, the 2nd congregation begun 60 years ago in Mexico City. (Photo by Kiron Mateti)

I prayerfully wondered what the next years will hold for us together, recognizing each other as sibling communities, and honoring together the Good News of Christ’s peace as we celebrate the possibilities of a faith that crosses boundaries.  This faith changes us in our giving and receiving and, ultimately, changes the world in ways that are both big and small.

Beyond Our Comfort Zones

by Andrés Castillo, communication intern

Finland congregation’s CrossGen conference at Spruce Lake Retreat, with speaker Sean McDowell. The conference focused on intergenerational unity, with panels representing different generations asking questions of each other.

Every year, Franconia Conference gives Missional Operational Grants to congregations to help them think and dream about mission.  Noel Santiago, Franconia’s leadership minister for missional transformation, described his initial vision for the 2018 MOGs as providing “resources to help congregations reach out and get out of their comfort zone.”

Both executive minister Steve Kriss and Santiago have emphasized that the grants are for starting new initiatives, not sustaining them forever. By overcoming the obstacle of money, churches can begin to experiment; leaders and congregations are encouraged to be more creative. The ultimate hope is that, after the grant period ends, the new conversations and ideas started by it will continue to live on and evolve.

Last year’s MOG recipients have done a good job at what Kriss calls “honoring the legacy of Franconia’s mission to spread Christ’s peace throughout the world.” Here’s a look into what some of them did in 2018:

Indonesian Light Church (ILC) in South Philadelphia has hosted a monthly “food bazaar” to reach out to their community. “We learned that every seed planted needs nurturing and time to grow until it can grow strong roots and bear fruit,” ILC’s report reads. “Without time, love, and commitment to sowing and nurturing, there will be no significant result.” ILC plans to continue experimenting with ways to connect with the Indonesian community in south Philadelphia.

Nations Worship Center (Philadelphia) conducted a Vacation Bible School (VBS) with students from Dock Mennonite Academy (9-12) that received positive feedback and results, including new families faithfully attending church after the VBS was over. They also received help from the city of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Praise Center, and ACME. Nations Worship acknowledges that many of the children who attended their VBS come from struggling families and, “If we lose them, we lose our future.”

A Karen member of Whitehall congregation leads in prayer.

Philadelphia Praise Center (PPC) further developed the Taproot Gap Year program, an initiative for college students that involves sending them to live in Philadelphia and Indonesia. PPC maintains an office and staff in Indonesia for this purpose, which PPC pastor Aldo Siahaan says is not easy. “Thank God we have support from the conference,” he says. “Creating a program like this is not new to the conference, but it is for us.”

Whitehall (PA) congregation used their MOG for increasing leadership development among its Karen (Burmese) members. Pastors Rose Bender and Danilo Sanchez have been creatively finding new ways to integrate the various ethnicities within the church. “It isn’t as much about ‘let’s help these poor people’ as it used to be,” Bender says.  As this long process unfolds, the congregation “understands more and more how much everyone needs each other.”

Vietnamese Gospel (Allentown, PA) invited people in its surrounding community to have a large fellowship gathering, with speakers giving testimonies. The event was meant to empower their members and share the word of God with people outside of their church. Vietnamese Gospel hopes to make this an annual event to build relationships with its community.

Pastor Bruce Eglinton-Woods of Salem congregation has been working closely with the Quakertown (PA) Community Center (The Drop), an after-school and weekend program for at-risk children and teens created in response to the opioid crisis. The ministry helps attendees figure out the next steps of their lives in a judgment-free zone. Eglinton-Woods has learned how hard it is hard to gain the trust of teenagers and children and hopes to eventually grow the program to five days a week.

Ripple congregation (Allentown, PA) was able to provide training for two of their pastors, Charlene Smalls and Marilyn Bender, at the International Institute for Restorative Practices. The Ripple pastors have been using restorative practices to better meet their congregation and community’s needs.

Salem congregation has been partnering with Quakertown’s “The Drop” community center for at-risk children and youth.

Other congregations who received MOGs were Plains congregation (Hatfield, PA) for an unconventional July 4th picnic, Souderton (PA) and Doylestown (PA) congregations for the Vocation as Mission Summer Internship Program, International Worship Center (San Gabriel, CA) for technological equipment, Finland congregation (Pennsburg, PA) for their CrossGen conference, and Perkiomenville congregation for its GraceNow conference.

Every congregation has a unique, beautiful story that honors God’s mission to unite the world as one under Him. What is God doing in your congregation and community?  Share your stories by emailing communication@franconiaconference.org or check in with your congregation’s leadership minister about ways that your congregation might use an MOG to develop your missional imagination and neighborhood connections.

Summer Interns to Serve and Learn

by Jennifer Svetlik, Salford congregation

Listening for God’s calling. Serving their home communities. Learning from new communities. Cultivating pastoral skills. These are some of the hopes that six interns bring to their time of service and formation with Franconia Conference this summer. They come as part of the MCC Summer Service Program, the Ministry Inquiry Program, as well as the Conference’s own summer placements.

As part of the MCC Summer Service Worker Program, Jessica Nikomang will work at Philadelphia Praise Center. This summer she will direct a Vacation Bible School (VBS) for kids ages 5-12 as well as work with the Indonesian community around the church and her neighborhood, providing translation support and other help. After the summer, she will begin studies at the Community College of Philadelphia as a first-generation college student in pursuit of her dream to be a school counselor.

This will be Rebecca Yugga’s second summer serving at the Crossroads Community Center in partnership with her home congregation, West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship. Rebecca studies Nursing and Spanish Language/Hispanic Studies at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU). She will be planning activities for children and build on leadership skills and strategies she cultivated in the program last year.

Graciella Odelia

Graciella Odelia will serve at Nations Worship Center, which has been her home church since 2013 and where she is an active member of the worship team. Graciella studies Biology and Chemistry at Eastern Mennonite University. She will be organizing the summer VBS program in July and August at Nations Worship Center.

“Seeing kids excited to worship God makes me look forward to what God has in store for the next generation. By participating in the MCC Summer Service program, I hope to discover how God can use me in His church,” Graciella shares.

Andrés Castillo

As the Conference’s summer placement, Andrés Castillo, a member of Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, will serve as a communication intern for the conference. Andrés studies English at West Chester University. More of his writing, photography, and videos will be shared on our website throughout the summer. Andrés is excited to make connections in his communication work between Christ’s teachings and the social issues about which he’s passionate.

Justin Burkholder, who attends Deep Run East, will be working with the conference’s south Philadelphia Indonesian congregations. He will be serving with the peace camp at Indonesian Light Church as well as summer VBS programs at other congregations. Justin is in Intercultural Studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University.

“I grew up traveling into Philadelphia just for ball games or cheesesteaks and I was disconnected from the lives of people living in the city,” Justin shared. “I am looking forward to building relationships and learning what it looks like to serve the church and community in South Philly.”

As part of the Ministry Inquiry Program, Luke Hertzler, who studies Bible, Religion and Theology at EMU, will be working with Whitehall and Ripple Allentown congregations. Luke will help at Ripple’s Community Building Center and garden and test out gifts on Sundays at both Ripple and Whitehall.

“We hope Luke will bring new ideas and energy. Right now we are forming gift groups at Ripple and I hope Luke can give some direction to this new model,” Danilo Sanchez, co-pastor for Ripple Allentown shared. “Internships are important to Ripple because we care about raising up leaders. Ripple is a different kind of Mennonite church and we like to show young adults that pastoring and church can take a variety of forms.”

Summer interns are an important part of Franconia Conference’s commitment to leadership cultivation. “Each year it is a gift to interact with this next generation of leaders. We learn alongside them and contribute to their formation in the way of Christ’s peace,” Franconia’s executive minister Steve Kriss shared.

We are grateful for and look forward to sharing more about the work that these six young people will offer Franconia Conference this summer!

A Family Reunited

by Nelson Shenk, Boyertown congregation

Gaby & Kyle with their daughters

In 2005, Maria Gabriella (Gaby) left a dangerous living situation in Mexico and came to the United States to make a better and safer life for herself and her two-year-old daughter Citlalli.  In doing so, she and her daughter came as undocumented persons.  She eventually met and married Kyle Rhoads, who grew up at Boyertown Mennonite Church.  They had 2 daughters, Isabel and Kylene, and settled in Bechtelsville as a happy family unit.

They were attending our church for several months when Gaby and Citlalli decided to apply for their green cards so they could be here legally. That involved returning to Mexico and having an immigration interview at the U. S. Embassy.

In October 2017, she and her daughter returned to Mexico with trepidation.  Her daughter was approved and returned home to Bechtelsville in November, but Gaby was denied.  After the denial of her visa in the interview, she had to re-apply for a waiver.   In February 2018, her husband and 2 younger daughters visited her, and two-year-old Kylene stayed in Mexico with her mother.

Many phone calls were made to lawyers and politicians on her behalf.  Many people at Boyertown church wrote letters requesting her return so the family could be together.

Gaby reapplied and, after spending many months waiting, she went through the interview process again, including another medical exam and paying more money.  After 15 months away from her husband and daughter, her visa was finally approved in October 2018.  She and Kylene arrived home on January 24. 

On January 30th, a big celebration was held at church for her safe return.  Christopher Friesen, a member of the Germantown congregation, works for the law firm that processed Gaby’s paperwork.  He and Gaby finally met as we celebrated that day, which was another joyous occasion.

Gaby’s family is once again living as a family unit in Bechtelsville.  There are still some on-going complications with paper work, so please keep the family in prayer as life goes on and there are adjustments to be made. Our church family at Boyertown praises God for a good outcome for Gaby’s family.



When the Community Shows Up at Your Door

(reprinted from Ripple-Allentown.com with permission)

by Danilo Sanchez, pastor of Ripple congregation (Allentown)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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