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Bible: Under water, the death that saves

By on Sep 24, 2018 in Bible, Columns, Latest Issue | 0 comments

A classmate once told me the biblical story she found most irredeemable was that of Noah and his ark. When Joshua slaughters cities in God’s name, you can always blame Joshua. But who do you blame when God decides to drown the entire world?

Meghan Good

Good

It’s an uncomfortable tale, no question. But sometimes it’s too easy to get up on our moral high horse when it comes to the Bible. The honest truth is most of us would be pleased if the world worked more like Noah’s story.

If only God would choose the really righteous people, the few virtuous among the violent and the wicked, the ones who actually get it right.

(That’s us, God. You know that, right?)

If only God would shelter us and our loved ones in a protective ark.

If only God would let those others perish, and their evil with them.

If only we and our people were left to restructure the world in our image — run the government, the church, the family as we know it should be done.

How much better everything would be!

The trouble is, it doesn’t work. A world populated by the descendants of Noah turns out no different than the world that began with Adam. Noah’s virtues aren’t enough to even keep his own household in line (Gen. 9:18-27).

It turns out that even the best of us isn’t, well, really all that good. Give us a few days of uncontested rule, and the most righteous of us will drive the world into chaos.

At the very heart of the life of the church is a ritual called baptism. Periodically we pull the cover off a pool and tell people, “Show up here next week if you’d like us to lower you under the water to die” (Rom. 6:2-5).

Every time the church performs a baptism, we tell a revolutionary story. We say, “Our world is full of violence and evil. We all wish that it was different. And it can be. But there’s only one solution. All of us have to die.”

There’s no exception in the Christian story for Noah or the “super-good people.” We’re all part of the problem. We are all carriers of a disease that is killing both us and creation. The only cure is to go under water. To die to the people that we were. To lose the superiority and self-will, the resentments and the fear that are part of the contagion.

Christianity is a dreadful self-help religion. You might come to it looking for a way to be good or right. But all it will give you is a way to be dead.

Yet paradoxically, this is exactly where the world’s healing begins. The myth that we are the righteous who should float above the water ends when we acknowledge that we are the guilty whom God must plunge beneath it. And that truth sets us free.

Jesus saves, but the only way to be saved is to willingly die and be drawn into his resurrection. The new world we’re looking for, the world where everything is healed and right and permanently different from what came before — that new world will be composed entirely of people who choose to die and be reborn out of the waters.

Paul, who describes baptism in Romans 6 as a kind of death, doesn’t get this idea from nowhere. He argues in Romans 4 that this vision of faith traces back to Abraham. Unlike Noah, Abraham isn’t introduced in Genesis with any accolades like “blameless” or “exemplary.” Abraham was only ultimately counted righteous because he trusted. He was counted righteous, in other words, not because he was good enough but because he believed God was good enough. In this way he became the father of everyone who chooses to go under water and put their trust not in their own righteousness but the righteousness of God.

Meghan Larissa Good is teaching pastor at Trinity Mennonite Church in Glendale, Ariz., and author of The Bible Unwrapped: Making Sense of Scripture Today, coming in October from Herald Press.

Are truth and unity mutually exclusive?

By on Sep 24, 2018 in The World Together | 1 comment

I love the paradoxes of God: “God is love,” the Bible states, but it also says, “God is holy.” God is portrayed as both the vulnerable lamb and the wrathful lion. He is king and servant, Alpha and Omega, God and man.

Many times when you look at these paradoxes what seems at first to be impossible to combine actually turns out to be impossible to separate. How could a loving God not hate the injustice and mistreatment of his people? Isn’t the best king one who has served his people and lived among them? What is a better picture of both holiness and forgiveness than the cross?

Yet, I have to wonder about the combination of the God of distinction and the God of unity. Are truth and unity a mutually exclusive pair?

Obviously not, since God is a God of both.

In the early chapters of Genesis, God separates light from dark, waters from land, birds from fish, male from female, day from night and good from evil. He goes on to choose a nation that he wants to be separate, called to leave Egypt to find their own land.

Yet, God is also a God of unity. He created marriage, sex, family, the church. He himself is three beings who are one. Jesus is called the “Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6) and a reconciler (Eph. 2:12-22).

A God who desires truth in the core of our beings (Ps. 51:6) seems to contradict himself when he prioritizes unity so highly, desiring that the church may be known for its unity (John 17:21-23; Phil. 2:2; Eph. 4:2-3; 1 Cor. 1:10-15). In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul calls us to a ministry of reconciliation and in the next chapter says to separate from the unclean. Sure, it sounds good in theory, but practically a group of people are not going to agree on how to interpret the Bible. If we focus on being right, how can we get along?

Is this like the other paradoxes of God? Is truth essential to unity? Or is combining truth and unity impractical, and one must be chosen over the other?

My Bible doctrines professor stated that you should share convictions with others in levels. Your doctrine should be closest to your spouse’s; you can have a few more disagreements with your church and so on. My church likes to quote the phrase, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

Me? I’m still figuring it out. I do believe that truth and unity are more compatible than we realize, and perhaps removing the following misconceptions makes that clearer:

1. Unity is not sameness.

In fact, differences are necessary for unity. We don’t say that a person is united with himself. The Bible points to a church composed of multiple races and roles.

God pictures a church of people from many different nations (Ps. 66:1, 4; 67; 82:8; 106:47; 117:1; Revelation 7), different roles (1 Cor. 12:12-26; Rom. 12:4-8) and different economic levels (Col. 3:10). Our diversity is something to be celebrated. It adds variety, beauty and knowledge to our group.

2. Unity is not ignoring conflict.

While this post is about doctrinal differences, a book I read about racial differences in the church made some points that I think are very applicable here. In Church Diversity: Sunday, The Most Segregated Day of the Week, Scott Williams writes, “When there is an elephant in the room, acknowledge it … The only way race will ever become a non-issue is if you make race an issue” (39, 43).

Bruce Reyes-Chow, an Asian pastor, writes in the same book: “If I had to choose one struggle, it would be around the issues of color blindness that many well-meaning people have. The ‘I don’t see you as (insert ethnic group here) perspective, while noble, does two things that are not helpful. One it assumes that one’s race is something that the person wants someone else to get beyond, and two, too often the ‘beyond’ that we are striving for is simply a generic ‘white’ culture that, in the end, perpetuates a ‘lesser than’ understanding of people of color… We do not avoid complexity, but we embrace and live it” (137).

The popular current concept of tolerance is highly individualistic, according to S.D. Gaede in When Tolerance Is No Virtue (47). If we say, “Don’t judge me. I believe what I want, and you believe what you want,” then there is no conversation, no accountability, no learning from each other. Such individualism is obviously the opposite of unity.

The Bible is very clear that we are to provide accountability as a church. When we disagree with a brother, we are to go to that brother and point it out (Matt. 18:15; 1 John 5:16; James 5:19-20). When Euodia and Syntyche disagree in the early church, Paul doesn’t say to ignore the problem or find separate churches, but he rather tells them to “agree in the Lord.” You can’t reach agreement without talking about it (Phil. 4:2).

3. Truth is not the absence of sacrifice or love.

While we might believe that our brother or sister in Christ is wrong, we can still seek the same goals (Phil. 2:2). The Bible itself speaks to the combination of unity and truth, calling us to “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15; see also 1 John 3:18). 1 Cor. 8:1, 7, and 11 warn us against our knowledge ruining out weaker brothers in Christ.

In fact, truth is a natural result of love. 1 Corinthians 13 says that love “rejoices in the truth”. When we love someone, we will naturally desire that they have the truth (James 5:19-20), and we will want to love with honesty (1 John 3:18).

The Bible calls for us to be of one mind (2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 2:2; Rom. 12:6). It doesn’t call us to only be united in action and love but on an intellectual level as well — united in the gospel (Phil. 1:27), understanding and conviction (1 Cor. 1:10). This is a hard balance, but one we should strive for.

Tabitha Driver is a Mennonite who loves glimpsing God’s goodness on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. She blogs at Life is a Metaphor, where this post first appeared.

From persecution to education in Ethiopia

By and on Sep 24, 2018 in Feature, Latest Issue | 0 comments

Tigist Alamirew says she has “escaped many deaths” in her journey with Christ. Born to an Orthodox family, she now directs distance education at Meserete Kristos College, the Anabaptist school in Debre Zeit, Ethiopia.

“While I was a teenager, one of my friends witnessed to me about the love of Jesus,” she said. “My heart was opened, and I received Christ as my personal Savior.”

Distance education director Tigist Alamirew leads a class at Meserete Kristos College in Ethiopia. — Mennonite World Conference

Distance education director Tigist Alamirew leads a class at Meserete Kristos College in Ethiopia. — Mennonite World Conference

Displeased with her “new religion,” her parents chased Ala­mirew from their home. Her aunt led a community effort to scare the “demon” from her. They beat her with rubber and burned her face, arms and legs in a fire.

“During that time, I saw a vision of Jesus Christ’s suffering, and I did not feel the beating,” she said. “When I saw Jesus rise up from his burial, I jumped up rejoicing, and said, ‘Hallelujah, Jesus Christ is risen!’ ”

The Meserete Kristos Church brought Alamirew to Addis Ababa, where they helped pay for her medical treatment. She got a job at the church office. Donors helped her go to the United States for plastic surgery to remove the scars on her face.

“I never thought of revenge for my perpetrators,” she said. “I have fasted and prayed for them, hoping that they would come to know the love of Jesus Christ.”

As a new Christian, Alamirew dedicated herself to God’s service. Daily, she prayed and read Scripture.

She heard God speaking to her: “My child, I need you. It’s time to get ready for ministry.”

She replied, “Lord, don’t you know that I am serving you?”

When Alamirew began working for MK College as secretary, cashier and librarian, she said, “The voice of the Lord came to me again: ‘Time to get ready,’ and something burned in me.”

She began with evening classes in theology. With financial aid from Jacob and Grace Leichty from Ohio, she was able to take a year of absence to finish her degree.

Theology was only the beginning.

“Ministry should be holistic,” she said. “Since we serve the whole being, we have to address the wholeness of humankind.”

Alamirew earned a second degree in community development.

Education has been a gift “not only in my church ministry but also my spiritual life and work,” Alamirew said. She is vice chair and secretary of the elders board at her church.

Gospel for the family

Although a member of the Meserete Kristos family, Ala­mirew does not forget to pray for and witness to her family of origin.

“My goal is to reach unreached relatives and build a church,” she said. “Sixteen years ago, I started a fellowship with just three family members who received Christ as their Savior. Now this fellowship has more than 20 members. I express my gratitude to God and those who invested in me.”

Alamirew is pleased with the growth of MK College and especially its training of women for ministry.

At the graduation ceremony in May, MK College dedicated a new dormitory building for up to 258 female students. The modern facility includes lounges, kitchenettes and a large meeting room.

“The completion of the women’s dorm gives me great joy, because more women leaders and ministers will get a chance to study,” Alamirew said.

Kriss: Pastors and scandals

By on Sep 24, 2018 in Columns, Kriss: On the Way, Latest Issue | 0 comments

For Mennonite pastors, conversations about boundaries can be difficult. Recent cases of boundary violations have rocked theological and institutional understandings of ourselves.

Stephen Kriss

Kriss

In Pennsylvania, the public nature of failures to protect children in our largest religious system (Catholicism) and largest university (Penn State) have offered serious points of reflection on roles of leaders and communities to protect the vulnerable. These are wakeup calls for us to consider what it means to be healthy pastoral leaders and how to promote human flourishing rather than degradation.

Mennonite communities have multiplicities of roles that complicate awareness of appropriate boundaries. Our understanding of leadership as service can distort the power that comes with the pastoral role. Pastors are set apart with privilege and responsibility. Faith-Trust Institute calls it a “sacred trust.”

As a young pastor, I was called to serve in the church where I was baptized at age 12. This is not uncommon in many Mennonite settings. Some in the congregation were my family. Others were friends of my parents. Some had been like grandparents, were my Sunday school teachers and helped nurture both my faith and sense of vocational call. The relational overlaps were both complicating and essential to my early ministry leadership flourishing.

Pastoring “when I’m just one of us” can be challenging, in terms of grasping the power and privilege granted by the role. My pastoral identity permeates me no matter how I am engaged. At times that thought can be exhausting.

Relationships outside my pastoral role, beyond the community I serve, keep me healthy and grounded. As my work in the church has become more encompassing, I’ve increasingly valued those spaces, protecting those relationships fiercely.

I also consider sacred the spaces that allow me to be a complete person with questions, capacities, gifts and foibles. For Mennonite pastors, family members often cannot serve this function well if they are integrated into the same congregational web of faith and community life. Pastors need pastor friends but also friends whose lives require us to have conversations about life beyond that singular responsibility.

While the high stakes of boundary crossing and violation have meant we often only attend to legal and ethical breaches, pastors need to nurture their own sense of health and wellness consistently. It’s part of the call and part of our work.

At the same time, congregations can cultivate a healthy environment for pastors with practices such as Sabbath, support for spiritual directors, coaches or therapists, space for professional development and recommendations for physical wellness like gym memberships, yoga or massage. This must be handled graciously, recognizing that pastors can determine the best ways to cultivate their life and leadership wellness. Not every recommendation will work for everyone.

With so much at stake for the health of our communities and our world, the work and support for credentialed leaders is ongoing and changing. The situation will evolve as the culture shifts. We need to ask new questions and find different postures. We will continue to need healthy encounters with truth and grace, along with relationships that invite us toward honesty, integrity and a life that is worthy of our shared calling as representatives of Christ.

Stephen Kriss is a teacher, writer, pastor and follower of Jesus in Philadelphia.

Longhurst: Controversy defused

By on Sep 24, 2018 in Columns, Latest Issue, Longhurst: North of the 49th | 0 comments

It was big news in Canada when the Supreme Court denied an appeal by Trinity Western University to have a decision against its law school overturned because of the university’s stance against homosexuality.

John Longhurst

Longhurst

It was even bigger news when the school — the country’s premier evangelical university — made a change to that stance.

In June, the Court ruled that the law societies of British Columbia and Ontario could refuse to accredit TWU’s proposed law school because of its community covenant.

The chief objection by the societies was how all students were required to sign the covenant, which included a provision that students “abstain” from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”

In making the ruling, the Court agreed with the societies that the covenant discriminated against LGBTQ students.

For many Christians in Canada, the decision was evidence of how the standing of the church in Canada has changed, as well as a blow against religious liberty.

They didn’t have long to think about it. In August, TWU did something unexpected that changed the conversation when it decided to make signing the covenant voluntary for students.

In an interview with Faith Today, Canada’s leading evangelical publication, TWU President Bob Kuhn emphasized that the covenant itself had not been changed — it still exists, and faculty and staff have to sign it annually.

By making it voluntary for students, he stated, the school was clarifying that it “does not discriminate in terms of enrollment for any person from any belief or any LGBTQ or other group.”

He went on to say something that also caught some people by surprise: TWU already has LGBTQ students, and many of them say they feel “welcome and embraced and supported” at the school.

They also say it is easier to come out as gay at TWU than at public universities — also quite a statement for him to make.

After hearing Kuhn’s comments, I immediately wondered about the reaction. Would donors cease giving? After all, that’s what happened four years ago in the U.S. when World Vision USA announced it was changing a policy related to LGBTQ.

If you recall that experience, in 2014 World Vision USA decided to alter its employee conduct manual to recognize same-sex marriage as being within the norms of “abstinence before marriage and fidelity in marriage.”

Then-president Richard Stearns explained to the U.S. evangelical magazine Christianity Today that the organization was not endorsing gay marriage. Instead, he said, World Vision was simply recognizing that gay marriage was like other issues churches that support it disagree on — things like divorce, remarriage, modes of baptism, female clergy.

By changing the policy, they were just making it “more consistent with our practice on other divisive issues,” he said.

In response, about 5,000 child sponsors canceled their donations, a loss of over $1.2 million for the organization. Major evangelical leaders in the U.S. also loudly criticized the move.

Within two days, World Vision USA reversed course.

Would something similar happen to TWU? I contacted them to ask.

According to James Tweedy, TWU’s director of marketing, “we haven’t experienced a negative impact on donations. In fact both donations and enrollment continue to be stronger than in prior years.”

Overall, he added, “the response has been largely positive,” although he acknowledged there have been some criticisms based on the mistaken belief the school has eliminated its covenant.

Thinking about the TWU experience makes me wonder if there aren’t some lessons for other church-related organizations facing a similar challenge.

Today, many church-related organizations find themselves in a difficult place. They know they need to modify policies about LGBTQ issues, or face losing a younger generation — their future supporters — that is generally more open to gay relationships.

But they worry if they do, then their older donors — the ones who donate the most and keep them afloat today — will stop giving.

Maybe the TWU experience shows those fears are overblown. If a thoroughly evangelical school like TWU can modify its stance, perhaps other church-related organizations can do it, too.

Of course, evangelicals in Canada are different from their counterparts in the U.S.; the TWU experience might not travel across the border. But perhaps it’s a sign that positions in the evangelical community on the LGBTQ issue are not as hard today as some fear.

John Longhurst, of Winnipeg, Man., is director of resources and public engagement at Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

Amish not ignorant

By on Sep 24, 2018 in Latest Issue, Letters | 0 comments

According to the Amish Heritage Foundation, the 1972 Supreme Court decision Wisconsin v. Yoder, which allowed the Amish to end schooling after eighth grade, brought enforced ignorance and a feeling of entrapment (“Dark Side to Amish Religious Freedom?,” Aug. 13). I have sympathy for people who feel trapped, but the Amish are not ignorant. Allowing the government to force Amish youth into public high schools, where they would be taught to conform and urged to go to college, even if it means a life of indebtedness, is not the way out of feeling trapped.

Roger Ulrich
Kalamazoo, Mich.

Japanese endorse shared beliefs

By on Sep 24, 2018 in Latest Issue, News | 0 comments

SAPPORO, Japan — A quiz on global Christianity and Anabaptism prepared Japanese Mennonites to talk about beliefs Anabaptists around the world share.

The discussion was part of the annual Peace Missions Center seminar July 15-16 at Fukuzumi Mennonite Center.

At the annual Peace Missions Center seminar in Sapporo, Japan, participants discuss Mennonite World Conference’s Shared Convictions. — Atsuhiro Katano/MWC

At the annual Peace Missions Center seminar in Sapporo, Japan, participants discuss Mennonite World Conference’s Shared Convictions. — Atsuhiro Katano/MWC

A group from Nihon Menonaito Kirisuto Kyokai Kyogikai (Japan Mennonite Christian Church Conference) used Mennonite World Conference’s Shared Convictions statement to reflect on the faith and practice of global Anabaptists.

This Mennonite national church on the island of Hokkaido has its own Confession of Faith, which states that “we join our Mennonite brothers and sisters in confessing the Shared Convictions statement.”

Atsuhiro Katano, MWC General Council member for Japan, said: “It was a profound encouragement to find out that the Shared Convictions were a powerful tool for reflection, exploration and learning.”

Participants explored the Shared Convictions by visiting seven tables with one article at the center. They reflected on and raised questions about each statement, then wrote their impressions on a big sheet of paper.

The workshop was made up of seven 15-minute rounds, so that each participant could visit each table. Then they shared their reflections in small groups.

Most of the 23 participants agreed that the Shared Convictions expressed the characteristics of Anabaptism that are dear to them, such as Christ-centered discipleship and an emphasis on communal acts of the church.

Some expressed bewilderment when they were exposed to the description of human fallenness or sinfulness and nonconformity to the powers of evil without explicit mention of God’s love.

Other questions were raised about the terms used for translation, lack of articulated dogmas and readability for non-Christians. The questions demonstrated diverse expectations of a statement of faith.

Some said the workshop showed it is possible to create a safe space that is respectful of various opinions.

Behind the scenes of making a hymnal

By on Sep 18, 2018 in The World Together | 1 comment

What is your all-time favorite hymn or spiritual/religious piece of music? If you go to church and participate in regular worship services, you also likely enjoy the songs and hymns most churches count as a very important part of their worship of God. It is the music portion of a service that most often moves me emotionally, even to tears, and I’m not alone in that. You probably have a number of favorites, depending on the mood and circumstances.

Of the many privileges I have had working as a writer for the Mennonite churches these past 42 years, getting to help — in however small of capacity — on a new worship and song collection for the church is stirring and rewarding. We are currently about half way through that process at the agency we call MennoMedia, and while I plan to retire from my job before it is finished and published, I have learned a little of the tremendous planning, thought, sleepless nights and even tears (usually the emotional, joyful kind) go into producing and publishing a hymnal.

It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me, even though there are musicians and leaders in the church who have worked on two or more such productions. Denominational hymnals are not usually created more than once a generation and may even span 30-50 years between new hymnals. Let me also hasten to say there are many of us assisting with the process who are not musicians and barely know a treble clef from a bass. While I sing heartily with a congregation, you wouldn’t want me to sing a solo anywhere other than the shower.

But I have been privileged to work behind the scenes writing or editing things like news releases, and helping on fundraising and marketing tasks. As part of the editorial team at MennoMedia and Herald Press, this has also included sneak peaks at various cover designs and colors, and voicing opinions on options for title and cover. It is such a collaborative process, that other than the project director, in this case a splendid musician and teacher, Bradley Kauffman, no one person can be named as author or creator or organizer. From the staff end, Amy Gingerich as executive director has been supervisor and cheerleader to the process. What a group effort — especially for the actual committee, mostly volunteers, numbering around a dozen.

All along, those who have envisioned, planned and sought input for this new collection have pitched in with their hearts and souls. A few months ago, before the title and cover had been revealed, staffers were a little giddy to know what it was going to look like before it was shown to the general public. The name and cover for it are now out there: Voices Together.

Raising the funds to develop a long-term project like this has been spurred by a huge and generous $100,000 matching grant from two Mennonite-related agencies, Everence and Mennonite Central Committee. They made the grant because they see church music as so important to the future of the church: bringing new generations to love singing and worshipping God through music.

This collection will be published not only as a traditional book for church pews, but a projected edition and a digital app. It will also have artwork in it — expecting 12 pieces to lead and inspire congregations in worship. I’m told that artists are super pleased about this aspect. In addition, the music will represent a wide variety of cultures, countries and Christian theology: truly a book which voices can enjoy, together worshipping the God who made us all.

Melodie Davis is a Mennonite/Presbyterian author, Third Way Cafe editor, columnist and blogger at FindingHarmonyBlog, where this post from her syndicated column, Another Way, appeared.

Immigrants find refuge in Texas congregations

By and on Sep 17, 2018 in Feature, Latest Issue | 0 comments

DALLAS and HOUSTON — When her extended family lost their business in Guatemala because of gang extortion, Bony traveled across Mexico to the Rio Grande River with her 3-year-old daughter, Mily.

To evade U.S. border patrols, a smuggler forced Bony — identified here only by her first name to protect her family’s safety — to stand chest-deep in the rushing river. Bony placed Mily on her shoulders and clung to an overhanging branch. After six hours in the cold, muddy water, Bony felt she might lose her grip and be swept away to her death.

Her only other choice: climb the river bank, in full view of the patrol searchlights, and be taken into custody.

Detained at the border, then released without legal asylum or work papers, Bony eventually found her way to Iglesia Men­onita Monte Horeb (Mount Horeb Mennonite Church) in Dallas.

Her harrowing experience gives Pastor Sandra Montes-Martinez yet another story to share about the suffering, resilience, courage and faith of undocumented families who connect with Texas congregations of Mennonite Church USA’s Western District Conference.

Of Monte Horeb’s 35 congregants from seven Latin American countries, 25 are undocumented. In many cases, they are seeking some form of asylum, work permits or citizenship in a lengthy and expensive process, she said in an Aug. 27 interview in Dallas.

While many Anabaptists can watch or read from a comfortable distance the news of family separations at the border, Montes-Martinez has no such choice.

“For us in Texas, these stories are not our evening news,” she said. “They are part of our daily bread, part of the suffering we face every day in the lives of those close to us. . . . Contrary to what some American citizens think, these immigrants don’t come to the United States for adventure or out of greed. Strong needs force them to take these risks with their children and their lives.

“I cannot only say, ‘I am sorry. I will pray for you.’ How can I close the door to someone in need? As a follower of Jesus, I feel called to help these families. I must be Jesus in the flesh to them. . . . We must put aside our political interests and theological viewpoints, because that is what Jesus did. He addressed human needs first before teaching.”

The church ministers to two families separated recently at the border but now reunited, including one whose 4-year-old was separated from her mother and cried constantly for her.

At Monte Horeb, assisting immigrant families is a ministry that tends to the whole person.

“I hold power of attorney to become a legal guardian to five families’ children in case of deportation,” Montes-Martinez said. “I also provide translation and transportation to doctor’s visits and school meetings. I go to hospitals during births because husbands are working long hours. . . . We offer jobs at church such as painting and yard work for compensation, rather than as volunteer labor.”

Uncertainty every day

While leaders strive to quell anxieties, uncertainty and fear still thread through Western District’s 11 churches and three church plants in Texas.

At Iglesia Men­onita Comunidad de Esperanza (Community of Hope Mennonite Church) near downtown Dallas, Pastor Damian Rodri­guez remembers when the road to citizenship was less tortuous. He immigrated to the United States from Honduras and spent eight years undocumented before becoming a citizen. Today, 80 percent of his congregation’s 35 Sunday attenders are undocumented, many from Mexico.

“Ten or 15 years ago, immigrants could come and find work where they were safe,” he said. “Today, immigration officials go to workplaces, doctors’ offices and bus stations to detain people on the spot. . . . People leave their houses early in the morning and don’t know if they will make it back home. This is happening not only down here in Texas but across the country.”

Generational differences

In Houston, the extended family of Alberto and Aurora Parchmont, church planters of Iglesia Menonita Casa del Alfarero (Potter’s House Mennonite Church), reported experiences similar to the Dallas-based pastors. The Parchmonts were undocumented immigrants who became citizens in the 1980s when Reagan-era policies offered amnesty.

Aurora and Alberto Parchmont, church planters in Houston and former undocumented immigrants, help others navigate the complications of efforts to stay in the United States. — Laurie Oswald Robinson for MWR

Aurora and Alberto Parchmont, church planters in Houston and former undocumented immigrants, help others navigate the complications of efforts to stay in the United States. — Laurie Oswald Robinson for MWR

The couple, pastors for 18 years, now help younger generations navigate the complications and costs of their efforts to stay in this country. Legal processes that once cost hundreds of dollars now costs thousands and can take years with no assurance of success.

The Parchmonts’ daughter and son-in-law, Claudia and Jaime Sanchez, lay leaders at Casa del Alfarero, said their faith helped them overcome stress related to immigration status. After getting married, they were required to live in Mexico for three months, uncertain if he could return to the U.S.

“When we were in Mexico, going to church really gave me the feeling that I was among Christian family and that provided a lot of comfort,” Claudia said. “I have always felt that God has a purpose for us, and Jaime eventually getting his papers is part of that purpose.”

Jaime said: “As I have seen God work in my life, I realize that he doesn’t come too early or too late. It was hard when I was waiting for my papers. But now I see God’s timing in it all.”

Transcending fear

It is this kind of resilient faith that helps undocumented members of the 150-member Iglesia Luz del Evangelio (Light of the Gospel Church) reach out to others who are suffering. On Saturday mornings, a group comes to church at 5 a.m. to make 300 burritos and coffee to take to the homeless in downtown Dallas, said pastors Juan and Lupita Limones. About 80 percent of their members are undocumented.

“Our undocumented members head up this ministry,” Lupita Limones said. “They have been through hard times themselves and have the compassion.”

WDC leaders Byron Pellecer, associate conference minister in Texas; Kathy Neufeld Dunn, associate conference minister in Kansas; and Heidi Regier Kreider, conference minister; seek to provide solidarity and support to the congregations directly affected by the immigration crisis.

Working with the WDC Immigration Task Force, they help other congregations engage at whatever levels fit their call, whether it be education, action or direct relationship-building.

Part of that support and resourcing includes managing the tensions created when God’s people strive to remain faithful to kingdom practices in the mire of earthly politics.

“I favor comprehensive immigration reform that allows for background checks but also opens pathways for people to pursue green cards for legal residence that can lead to full citizenship,” Pellecer said. “God’s people need to find ways to both pray and to act, to hold our political leaders accountable for unjust policies and to find grassroots ways to work at this practically.”

This story is part of a special report on immigration concerns in the Sept. 24, 2018 issue of Mennonite World Review. Subscribe to see more stories and photos.

Mennonites caught up in massive immigration raid

By and on Sep 17, 2018 in Latest Issue, News | 4 comments

Members of Mennonite churches were among more than a hundred workers arrested in August in what U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement calls one of its biggest operations in the last decade.

Die Mennonitische Post reported a dozen Mennonites were among about 160 workers arrested Aug. 28 at the Load Trail trailer factory in Sumner, Texas. The Post is a German-language newspaper that covers conservative Mennonite groups in North and South America, predominantly of Germanic background.

NBC News reported more than 300 federal agents and other staff inspected documents of about 500 workers. They were accompanied by dozens of police in vans, trucks, helicopters and buses.

Local media reported Homeland Security Investigations were informed many “illegal workers” from abroad were employed at the facility without proper work permits.

Load Trail was started more than 20 years ago by Cornelius Thiessen and today is owned by five of his children. Two of them attend Lighthouse Mission Church, an Anabaptist congregation in Honey Grove.

Lighthouse Senior Pastor Corny Froese told MWR that at least 10 to 15 families in the congregation include Load Trail workers, including members of the upper management team. One woman from the church was taken into custody during the raid and was released on bail.

“Wherever you look and wherever you go in the area here, there are people whose paperwork isn’t quite in order or is in process,” Froese said. “For them to just come in and raid the place, it affects everything. Restaurants are closed and people aren’t coming in to work because they are scared.”

He noted Load Trail set up a phone number to call if a family member was taken into custody for people to receive financial assistance. The Lighthouse congregation has also been in communication with other local churches about responding to needs in the community.

In a news conference, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations’ Dallas office Katrina Berger described the raid as “one of the larger worksite enforcement operations conducted at one site in the past 10 years.”

She said detained individuals were treated with “respect and humanity,” and parents of small children would be released under certain conditions.

The Post reported that a day after the raid, parking lots of neighboring factories were nearly empty. One person said a facility that would typically have a few hundred vehicles had only 30-40 in its lot.

Only a few years ago, Load Trail was fined heavily for using undocumented workers. It remains to be seen if penalties will be harsh this time.

Shocked and unsettled

Many Mennonites in the Sumner and Tigertown area are shocked and unsettled. Some lack documentation from any country, but have lived in the area for more than 20 years with children who are U.S. citizens.

Tigertown Mennonite Evangelical Church Pastor Diedrich Loewen told MWR at least one person from his congregation was taken into custody and paid $7,500 bail as he waits on a court date. But more than just a few families are rattled.

“This will affect very much the whole of Lamar County and Fannin County [in northeast Texas near the Oklahoma border] because that’s where they live and work — not just the Mennonites but the Hispanics too,” he said. “It would be like if suddenly half of Dallas suddenly disappeared.”

He said that while some Mennonites in the area have dual Mexican-Canadian citizenship, most in the area who are not U.S. citizens were born in Mexico.

New Hope Mennonite Church in Honey Grove is in a similar situation. Pastor Larry Friesen told MWR at least one man from the congregation of about 90 people was taken into custody.

“There’s a couple more who are wondering what direction things will go . . . but they may have to leave,” he said.

He said the entire community is shaken.

“I’m sure some of these people, if they do not see a future, will go somewhere else or go back to Mexico,” he said.

Of the millions of undocumented people living in the U.S., the Post says possibly thousands are Mennonites such as its readers. They typically come to the U.S. for a brief while to make money before traveling on to Canada or going back to Mexico.

Many have no way to immediately obtain U.S. legal documents, so they wait for the day their first U.S.-born child turns 21 and can sponsor parents into the country. Hundreds of Mennonites have received their green card in this way in recent years, allowing them to apply for citizenship.