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Thoughts for church leaders on reopening

As pastors and leaders, we’ve been acting in full crisis-response mode to COVID-19 and stay-at-home restrictions for weeks.  We’ve been in *liminal space, where who we thought we were and what we thought we needed may have gotten blurred and shape-shifted by the coronavirus crisis. Fueled by adrenaline, sustained by prayer, we have had to re-imagine and manage new forms of worship, new structures for community, and new challenges for mission – hopefully for the very-short term.

With COVID-19 restrictions beginning to ease, how do we transition from reacting in crisis-response mode to engaging a more measured and reflective response mode for this next phase? Disaster spiritual care practitioners have found that the greatest need for pastoral care emerges with the shift from short-term to long-term recovery, when people discover that for real, things will not go back to normal. Debilitating anxiety, hopelessness, depression, blaming, and scapegoating can easily set in.

Isaiah 43 says, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”  In this liminal space and time, where vision is altered and perceptions get blurred, God invites us to imagine, thoughtfully and prayerfully, what new thing is promised for us. Will this “new thing” look like the old? What will it require of us?

Whatever our starting point, let us as leaders plan wisely and well for next steps. Some approaches:

  1. What are the “essential” services through which our people most deeply experience connection with God and each other?
  2. Which of these essential components of our church life can we restart first without compromising anyone’s health?
  3. How will we monitor the effectiveness/safety of these activities?
  4. How will we discern what should be restarted next?
  5. What [emerging] spiritual, emotional, mental, social, physical needs require more attention?
  6. What/Who may be missing from our current plan?
  7. To what extent do our plans comply with local and state health directives?

For the children of Israel returning home from 70 or so years of exile, God provided a roadway in the wilderness, water included, inviting them into new modes for a new time springing forth.  May we as leaders and congregations discern the mind of Christ as we meet the ongoing challenges of COVID-19 with the best from before and the best that will emerge as together we seek to follow the way of Jesus.

*”Liminal” refers to “threshold” or “boundary” areas between one of phase [of life], and another: Dawn and dusk are liminal times between day and night, when visibility changes, perceptions are altered, edges get blurred, shapes shift, and new insights can emerge in the transition to light or dark.

Notes from Conference Call with Church Leaders from across PA

Dr. Rachel Levine, The Pennsylvania Secretary of Health, answered submitted questions. Summary:

  • Churches are considered Life sustaining organizations. It is ok for ministers in communities with stay-in-place orders to travel to their church buildings for office work or to live stream services. 
  • New cases of COVID-19 are doubling every 2-3 days. They are expecting 400 cases a day by the end of the week, 800 next week, and so on. Flatten the curve!!! 
  • The use of live streamed or recorded service for churches is encouraged. 
  • Religious gatherings do not need to cease, but should be done on live streams, etc. for the time being.
  • Follow the guidelines for pastoral visits. Wait until the curve is bent down and restrictions have been lifted to do in person visitations. 
  • The greatest needs from churches is to provide spiritual care. Leave medical advice to the experts. 
  • Limit the number of people who gather together to produce your livestream services. It was asked if 5-6 people would be ok – the answer was “as few as possible.” One person if possible. 
  • It’s unknown when this time of distancing from one another will pass. April & May could be challenging months. Pray that it’s better by June. 
  • Don’t make any plans for church gatherings until told mass gatherings are ok by the governor’s office.
  • The news of new drugs is uncertain. They are untested. 
  • Continue food ministries if your congregation is involved in them. But practice all the guidelines that have been given out regarding handwashing, social distancing, and the like. 
  • The Coronavirus is more severe than the flu.
  • The State will not prevent religious services from happening. Churches will not be shut down by the authorities. 
  • Funerals & Weddings are not prohibited. But use wisdom and strictly follow guidelines for social distancing and hand washing. 
  • If you are delivering food, medicine, and supplies to people, practice safety guidelines. Leave the supplies on the doorstep, leave the proximity of the door, and inform them that their supplies have arrived (maybe over the phone). 
  • A sign that COVID-19 is under control will be there is a decrease in the number of cases in a sustained pattern.
  • Covid-19  is not a flu virus. We don’t know if, like the flu, this will be seasonal. So much is not known right now..
  • There is little chance of the virus passing through charitable donations. Normal cleaning should prevent transmissions.
  • Could we have a sunrise service outside and practice social distancing? This would not be prohibited. But will people abide and stay the proper distance apart?
  • Churches should feel free to prepare meals for each other. But follow guidelines for handwashing and social distancing. 
  • Could a church have a “drive-by” service for prayer? This would not be prohibited but you would need to find a way to practice social distancing. 
  • Dr. Levine finished the service with the following phrase she concludes all of her press conferences with: Stay calm. Stay home. Stay safe.
  • The most up-to-date information can be found at health.pa.gov  and/or from the CDC

And you invited me in

By Amy Yoder McGloughlin

Every summer since 2015, I have been leading a delegation to the West Bank with Christian Peacemaker Teams. I value the opportunity to walk with people as they understand the occupation from the perspective of everyday folks. We stay in Palestinian communities, eat local cuisine, and hire Palestinian tour guides and bus drivers. Once we get to Hebron, we join in the work of Christian Peacemaker Teams, as we accompany children to school, and ensure that Palestinian rights are upheld in this occupied West Bank city.

One of the other reasons I go is because this place challenges my sense of hospitality. I always notice, after a trip like this, the limits I have placed on my hospitality. And it is humbling.

In the summer of 2018, on the first day of the delegation I was leading, I got the delegation lost on our way to our first appointment. We were on a public bus, and I asked the bus driver if we were going to Old Anata Road. He smiled and nodded, and dropped us off in Anata, the refugee camp.

When we got off the bus, I very quickly realized that I was in the wrong place. I asked the shopkeepers if they could speak English. No one could but a couple helpful shopkeepers called their cousins in the US and Canada and put them on the phone to help me out.

I asked the helpful cousins on the other side of the world–where is Old Anata road? And they said, “Just walk right up the hill and you’ll find it”. I started up the hill, and very quickly we found the separation wall. And I realized that we were on the wrong side of the wall from our destination. I started looking for anyone else that could help. I ran into a man doing construction and asked again, “Do you speak English?” He shook his head apologetically, but then lit up. He jumped in his beat up Toyota, and gestured for me and the team to follow him.

I wasn’t sure if I should follow this stranger. But I didn’t know what choice I had. It was painfully hot at 9 in the morning, and we needed help.

So I asked my delegation to follow me while I followed this stranger wherever he was leading us. The man began backing his car up the hill, stopping occasionally to gesture to us to follow him. He backed into the driveway of his home, and ran up the stairs to his house, turning to invite us in. We did not know what to expect.

We entered his home, and there sat his entire family in the living room–children, wife, and an aunt. They jumped up, and welcomed us to sit where they had been sitting. They brought us water, then tea, then coffee, then pomegranate and grapefruit juice. And THEN some sweets.

Still no one was speaking English. My delegates were looking at me, asking quietly, “What are we doing here? Are we going to get to our destination?” And I asked them to be patient.

That’s when Islam walked in. Islam Issa is 22, beautiful and spoke nearly perfect English, which she learned from watching Hollywood movies. She greeted us enthusiastically, and we got to know each other. Islam helped me to determine what I already knew–that we were nowhere near our destination. Her father called a taxi company and they sent a van to pick us up. But before we left for our next destination, the family insisted that we return the next night for dinner.

And we did. We came back the next night and the Issa family made us mokluba–a chicken, rice and vegetable dish that is a most delicious treat. They made stuffed grape leaves and baklava and treated us like royal guests. It was so generous; it felt like an embarrassing extravagance.

My Arabic is abysmal, and the only one of the Issa family to speak English was Islam, so our “conversations” with this family involved pictures on my phone, gestures and giggles about language barriers. But despite all the limitations, it was one of the best nights of fun I’ve had in quite some time. We made new friends that night. And these are friends that I still speak to on a regular basis. We “talk” via social media, mostly through emojis with the mom, and with more conversations with Islam.

This summer, I visited with the Issa family again, and we enjoyed another evening of hospitality. I brought them a gift from Frazer Mennonite–a quilted wall hanging. And they fed me nonstop for hours.

We’re already making plans for next summer–I’m going to work on my Arabic in preparation for our next visit, and they plan to teach me how to make mokluba.

The Issa family stops everything when I am in town. They welcome me into their home and make me feel so special. Their generous hospitality always challenges me to look at my own hospitality. What are my cultural limits? What are my personal limits? Why do we make sharing a meal and time with friends (and strangers) less of a priority than tasks and productivity?

I have deep gratitude for the care and hospitality I am shown in Palestine. Given our country’s policies, they could hate me. I wouldn’t blame them if they did. And yet, Palestinians like the Issa family have shared food, time, laughter and conversation with me. It reminds me of the time that Jesus, himself a Palestinian, shared with people. His agenda was a meal shared with friends. His last instruction to us was to eat, drink and remember him.

These yearly trips to Palestine are two weeks of communion. I bring that home, and use that to challenge the ways I spend my time. Is my time about busyness, or is it about conversation, a shared meal and deeper relationship?

Left: Amy with Islam Issa

Amy Yoder McGloughling is pastor at Frazer Mennonite Church. She will be leading a Christian Peacemaker Team delegation to Palestine August 3-17, 2020. To apply for the delegation, visit cpt.org/delegations/palestine.

 

 

 

Examining the legacy: Mennonites & Antisemitism

By Joel Horst Nofziger

On the last day of Passover this year, a gunman entered Chabad of Poway a synagogue in north of San Diego, and opened fire. One person was killed and two more were injured. Three days later, May 2, was Yom Ha-Shoah, Holocaust Memorial Day as observed by the Jewish people. Rabbi Paskoff of Shaarai Shomayim in Lancaster, Pennsylvania sent a request to churches of Lancaster to join the Jewish Community Alliance of Lancaster’s service of remembrance because we live in a time where Jews are once again being targeted.

This was a service of prayer and poetry, interspersed with candle lighting to give form to remembrance. Candles were lit by individuals with a direct personal connection to the Holocaust, such as Rosette Lboel who survived hiding with families in France and Richard Smiga, whose parents were in Buchenwald, Treblilnka, Bergen-Belsen, and Dachau. Following the service, Dean Kunkle gave a presentation on teaching the Holocaust and Holocaust denial today.

Delegates to the 2017 Mennonite Church USA convention in Orlando passed a resolution entitled, “Seeking Peace in Israel and Palestine,” which calls us as a body of believers to, among other things, examin the legacy of antisemitism and its impact on Mennonites as well as building relationships with Jewish communities. One concrete outcome of this resolution was the 2018 conference on Mennonites and the Holocaust organized by Mennonite Church USA and Bethel College [Read more on Anabaptist Historians,
bit.ly/2ZcbaF2]. To put it without fanfare, Mennonites were involved across the entire spectrum of possibilities when it comes to the Holocaust, as rescuers, yes, but as bystanders and active participants as well.

God, full of mercy, who dwells in the heights, provide a sure rest up on the Divine Presence’s wings, within the range of the holy and the pure, whose shining resemble the sky’s, all the souls of the six million Jews, victims of the European Holocaust, who were murdered, slaughtered, burnt and exterminated for the Sanctification of the Name, by the German Nazi assassins and their helpers from the rest of the peoples.

Zaporozhia, in Chortitza, the “Mennonite capital” of the Old Colony in Ukraine was occupied by German forces in October 1941. After the occupation, the invaders turned to the local German speaking Mennonite community to serve as administrators, notably Heinrich Jakob Wiebe and Isaac Johann Reimer. They recruitmented policemen to enforce the rules of occupation—such as the requirement that Jews wear an armband marked with the star of David—and drew heavily on communal and familial networks to fill those positions.

On the first day of Passover, in 1942, the Jews of Zaparozhia were ordered to assemble: men, women, and children. Local police, including Mennonite brothers Isaac and Jakob Fast, marched them to the outskirts where they were shot. The shooting began at 8 in the morning and continued until 5 at night the first day, the second day, and the third day. More than three thousand were massacred. A few days later, Mennonites celebrated the German occupation because they were able to reopen churches closed by Soviet decree and celebrate Easter for the first time in a decade. We know they opened worship by singing “Christ is risen, shout it to Zion,” and we know the murder of the Jews went unremarked. The ethnic cleansing continued in the region until the fall of 1943, with an eventual death count in excess of 44,000.

Therefore, the Master of Mercy will protect them forever, from behind the hiding of his wings, and will tie their souls with the hope of life.

There is a strong temptation for us, or maybe it is just me, to throw up my hands and say “wait, hold up, this has nothing to do with us, nothing to do with me.” But we are bound to our Mennonite brothers and sisters across space and time through the body of Christ as the Church. And that is uncomfortable. But it is important that we acknowledge that our past is not without spot or wrinkle, so that Truth might be served. How else can we confess, repent, and renew our efforts to work for the Kingdom of God?

As a final thought, perhaps there is a more pressing reason to consider how Mennonites were seduced by the State and by fear into going alongside horrors. How is it that we need to reinforce ourselves so that we do not fall into the same errors? Is there some matter of doctrine of which we need to be more mindful? Some areas of personal commitment to renew? Some sense of pride we need to abandon? Let us remember, and remember rightly.

The Everlasting is their heritage, the Garden of Eden shall be their resting room, and they shall rest peacefully upon their lying place, they will stand for their fate in the end of days, and let us say: Amen. (El Malei Rachamin, the Prayer of Mercy)

Holy Restoration

By Elizabeth G. Nissley

For the past eight years, my husband, Ken and I, have been volunteers with the Pennsylvania Victim Offender Dialogue Program, operated under the Pennsylvania Office of Victim Advocate. Victims of violent crimes may request to participate in a process that prepares them and the offender (if he/she is willing) to meet and talk about what happened between the victim, their loved one and the person who perpetrated a crime. Most of these face-to-face meetings take place in the prison where the offender is incarcerated and may occur years after the event, in one case, 50 years after the murder.

As volunteers, we always work in pairs completing multiple preparatory meetings with both the victim and the offender before bringing them together. Ken and I have been able to work together in many different situations.

Several years ago, we traveled to Florida to meet with and prepare the mother of a young woman who had been murdered by a young man who was a family friend. We then had several meetings in prison with the young man. Finally, we accompanied the mother to the prison for the meeting between both parties.

We gathered around a conference table – victim, offender and two volunteers, with prison guards periodically looking through the glass window during our four-hour conversation. The mother shared some pictures, told her story and asked her questions. The young man patiently told her what happened and apologized. As the meeting came to the end, the mother reached her hands across the table and asked to hold his hands. She said, “I cannot believe I am holding the hands of the man who pulled the trigger of the gun that killed my daughter!” And we all cried!

I reached in with my hands and covered their hands, saying, “You may not know that this is Holy Week (it was the Thursday before Good Friday and Easter) but we all know that this is a Holy moment!” And we continued to weep.

Now this is not a religious program and we do not talk about or promote faith. But that process and those hours changed all of us, as we discovered more completely in our follow-up conversations. The young man was released from guilt; a guard reached out to him in kindness the next day, and the mother told us that she finally slept through the night, something she had not been able to do for the previous eight years. And us? We were encouraged to continue with this kind of volunteer work where people are made whole, through careful preparation for powerful healing conversations!

Summer Reading List Ideas

Looking for your next read? These recommended books on the theme of reconciliation are perfect for last days of summer.

Gather at the Table: The Healing Journey of a Daughter of Slavery and a Son of the Slave Trade by Thomas Norman DeWolf and Sharon Leslie Morgan

Two people—a black woman and a white man—confront the legacy of slavery and racism head-on. 
 
“We embarked on this journey because we believe America must overcome the racial barriers that divide us, the barriers that drive us to strike out at one another out of ignorance and fear. To do nothing is unacceptable.”
 
Sharon Leslie Morgan, a black woman from Chicago’s South Side avoids white people; they scare her. Despite her trepidation, Morgan, a descendent of slaves on both sides of her family, began a journey toward racial reconciliation with Thomas Norman DeWolf, a white man from rural Oregon who descends from the largest slave-trading dynasty in US history. Over a three-year period, the pair traveled thousands of miles, both overseas and through twenty-seven states, visiting ancestral towns, courthouses, cemeteries, plantations, antebellum mansions, and historic sites. They spent time with one another’s families and friends and engaged in deep conversations about how the lingering trauma of slavery shaped their lives.

Gather at the Table is the chronicle of DeWolf and Morgan’s journey. Arduous and at times uncomfortable, it lays bare the unhealed wounds of slavery. As DeWolf and Morgan demonstrate, before we can overcome racism we must first acknowledge and understand the damage inherited from the past—which invariably involves confronting painful truths. The result is a revelatory testament to the possibilities that open up when people commit to truth, justice, and reconciliation. DeWolf and Morgan offer readers an inspiring vision and a powerful model for healing individuals and communities. (less)

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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford

In the opening pages of Jamie Ford’s stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.

This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry’s world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While “scholarshipping” at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship–and innocent love–that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.

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Learning from Henri Nouwen and Vincent van Gogh: A Portrait of the Compassionate Life by Carol A. Berry

Carol Berry and her husband met and befriended Henri Nouwen when she sat in his course on compassion at Yale Divinity School in the 1970s. At the request of Henri Nouwen’s literary estate, she has written this book, which includes unpublished material recorded from Nouwen’s lectures. As an art educator, Berry is uniquely situated to develop Nouwen’s work on Vincent van Gogh and to add her own research. She fills in background on the much misunderstood spiritual context of van Gogh’s work, and reinterprets van Gogh’s art (presented here in full color) in light of Nouwen’s lectures. Berry also brings in her own experience in ministry, sharing how Nouwen and van Gogh, each in his own way, led her to the richness and beauty of the compassionate life.

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The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan

https://www.amazon.com/Lemon-Tree-Arab-Heart-Middle/dp/1596913436/ref=asc_df_1596913436/?tag=hyprod-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=312443114357&hvpos=1o1&hvnetw=g&hvrand=16209076056637936743&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=1025001&hvtargid=pla-453650663419&psc=1

In 1967, Bashir Khairi, a twenty-five-year-old Palestinian, journeyed to Israel with the goal of seeing the beloved stone house with the lemon tree behind it that he and his family had fled nineteen years earlier. To his surprise, when he found the house he was greeted by Dalia Eshkenazi Landau, a nineteen-year-old Israeli college student, whose family left fled Europe for Israel following the Holocaust. On the stoop of their shared home, Dalia and Bashir began a rare friendship, forged in the aftermath of war and tested over the next half century in ways that neither could imagine on that summer day in 1967. Sandy Tolan brings the Israeli-Palestinian conflict down to its most human level, demonstrating that even amid the bleakest political realities there exist stories of hope and transformation.

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No Future Without Forgiveness by Desmond Tutu

The establishment of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a pioneering international event. Never had any country sought to move forward from despotism to democracy both by exposing the atrocities committed in the past and achieving reconciliation with its former oppressors. At the center of this unprecedented attempt at healing a nation has been Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whom President Nelson Mandela named as Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. With the final report of the Commission just published, Archbishop Tutu offers his reflections on the profound wisdom he has gained by helping usher South Africa through this painful experience.

In No Future Without Forgiveness, Tutu argues that true reconciliation cannot be achieved by denying the past.  But nor is it easy to reconcile when a nation “looks the beast in the eye.” Rather than repeat platitudes about forgiveness, he presents a bold spirituality that recognizes the horrors people can inflict upon one another, and yet retains a sense of idealism about reconciliation. With a clarity of pitch born out of decades of experience, Tutu shows readers how to move forward with honesty and compassion to build a newer and more humane world.

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One Coin Found: How God’s Love Stretches to the Margins by Emmy Kegler

The stories of Scripture are for everyone. No exceptions.

Emmy Kegler has a complicated relationship with the Bible. As a queer woman who grew up in both conservative Evangelical and progressive Protestant churches, she knows too well how Scripture can be used to wound and exclude. And yet, the stories of Scripture continue to captivate and inspire her–both as a person of faith and as a pastor to a congregation. So she set out to fall in love with the Bible, wrestling with the stories inside, where she met a God who continues to seek us out–appearing again and again as a voice, a presence, and a promise.

Whenever we are pushed to the edges, our voices silenced, or our stories dismissed, God goes out after us–seeking us until we are found again. And God is seeking out those whose voices we too quickly silence and dismiss, too. Because God’s story is a story of welcome and acceptance for everyone–no exceptions.

Kegler shows us that even when we feel like lost and dusty coins–rusted from others’ indifference, misspent and misused–God picks up a broom and sweeps every corner of creation to find us.

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Revenge: A Story of Hope by Laura Blumenfeld

https://www.amazon.com/Revenge-Story-Hope-Laura-Blumenfeld/dp/0743463390

Laura Blumenfeld’s father was shot in Jerusalem in 1986 by a member of a rebel faction of the PLO responsible for attacks on several tourists. Her father survived, but Blumenfeld’s desire for revenge haunted her. This is her story — and a fascinating study of the mechanics and psychology of vengeance. 

While plotting to infiltrate her father’s shooter’s life, Blumenfeld travels the globe gathering stories of other avengers. Through interviews with Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin; members of the Albanian Blood Feud Committee; the chief of the Iranian judiciary; the mayor of Palermo, Sicily; the Israeli prime minister; priests; sports fans; fifth-grade girls; prostitutes; and more, she explores the dynamics of hate — and the fine line that sometimes separates it from love. 

Ultimately, Blumenfeld’s target is more complex than the stereotypical terrorist she’d long imagined. In a surprising twist, she gets revenge, but not according to traditional expectations. She discovers a third way, a choice beyond “turn the other cheek” or “an eye for an eye.” And with it she answers the age-old question: what is the best revenge?

A long Journey of Reconciliation

By Abigail King

Though it’s been 28 years since tragedy struck Landisville Mennonite Church, current and former church members continue to embody the unconditional love of God.

In February of 1991, Clair and Anna May Weaver and their teenage daughter Kimberly were murdered by their son and brother, Keith.

In the months following the murders, members of Landisville Mennonite created the 70×7 Fund as a way to “help (the church) engage in practical expressions of God’s love for Keith.”

The 70×7 fund is based on Matthew 18, in which Jesus calls his disciples to forgive and restore offenders “70 times seven” times.

The fund pays for Keith’s monthly costs as he serves his 35-70 year sentence at Camp Hill Correctional Institution. Though Keith has a paying job at the prison, he only makes $0.42 an hour. With the 70×7 Fund, he is able to purchase basic care items not supplied by the prison. The donations also go to pay for Keith’s educational expenses.

While the fund supplies Keith with material needs, four current and former members of Landisville Mennonite Church have also developed personal relationships with him and personally choose to show compassion to him, despite his previous actions.

Sam Thomas, pastor of Landisville during the time of the murders, has visited Keith monthly since the tragedy. Leon and Nancy Stauffer, friends of Clair and Anna May, manage the 70×7 Fund and visit Keith several times a year. Ann Martin, Keith’s former Sunday school teacher, visits him four times a year and gives the church an annual update on his birthday.

For the four, choosing to invest in Keith was an obvious choice. Each felt called to show compassion and grace.

For instance, Martin said she felt the need to be there for Keith from the start. “He was so young,” she said. “My kids were the same age and so for me, it was just my mother’s heart.” Martin said that Keith now feels like a son to her.

For Thomas, he was spurred by the idea of acting as a conduit for what he has received.

“There’s something about truly finding love for Keith after quite a few years,” Thomas said. “I’m sort of surprised at how good it feels to feel God’s grace and love flow through me.”

Leon said he feels drawn to practice love within his own personal context. “This is a setting that we have been placed in,” he said. “We need to find a way to commit to love in the circle that’s touching our lives.”

“This is hopeful,” said Ron Adams, current pastor at Landisville, referring to the group’s choice to pursue compassion and empathy in a world where it feels “rare.”

While the Stauffers, Thomas and Martin have forgiven Keith, they realize forgiveness is a long — and often agonizing — journey. “I don’t have a whole lot to say about forgiveness to anyone,” Thomas said. “I don’t think it’s anything the church can demand or really ask people to do.”

The congregants of Landisville were told to take their time to forgive, Nancy said, and to use each other as support. “We were blessed to have each other and to be told that,” she said.

Since arriving in jail, Keith has worked on bettering himself. He is currently pursuing a Master of Science degree in criminal justice. He works as a certified peer support specialist. He taught himself to play the guitar and now teaches others. He was even baptized several years after going to prison; he is a member of Landisville Mennonite Church.

Nancy said that watching Keith’s growth has been one of the most impactful parts of the past 28 years. He is more responsible, more mature, more aware of the impact of his actions than he was almost three decades ago.

Keith is able to do this because of the unconditional love and compassion that he is able to — as he wrote in a letter to his church in March — “enjoy each day, the happy and sad moments.”

Puerto Rico Mennonite Convention – open letter to Puerto Rico government

A Call to the Mennonite Churches of La Convención of PR and
To the government leadership of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

The Mennonite Church preaches and lives nonresistance and peace. Since their beginnings in the 16th century, the Mennonites have promoted and embraced the biblical doctrine of peace in all its dimensions; affirming the value of life and rejecting actions that advance injustice, suffering and death. As servants of Christ we work restlessly for God’s peace as supreme desire for all creation. ” Blessed are the peacemakers because they will be called children of God” Mt 5:9. We believe that peace is necessary for social justice.

As a Church we pray, we support and submit ourselves to our government 1 Peter 2:11-16. The power given to our government leaders must promote social justice and quality of life. When this power puts personal interest above collective interest, this causes evil and oppression to emerge. Therefore, Christians have the duty to call on the government leaders to change those practices in order to promote the common good, liberty, healing, respect and justice for all. A follower of Christ can join the institutions and movements that provoke social changes, with much spiritual discernment. This is the prophetic role that the church has in its society: condemn oppression, injustice, discrimination, mockery, verbal, physical or written violence.

As Mennonites and followers of Christ we raise up our voices to be heard, we have become outraged just like Christ did. Jesus, son of God, revolutionized history, pointed out hypocrisy, he turned in the religious entities and the governing entities in favor of the poor, the undervalued, the oppressed, the forgotten and the discriminated against.

With the responsibility we carry as a church, we have read the content of the hundred of chat pages of the Governor and closely related workers, and we understand those remarks are contrary to the values our community of faith and of the people of Puerto Rico. Given the charges of corruption facing your government and the claims of the Puertoricans on the island and outside, the remarks of some of the members of congress, the mismanagement of the donations and relief funds; we invite you Mr. Ricardo Rosselló Nevarez and all your governmental body to deeply reflect on the recent events and the effect they have had on the people of Puerto Rico. We (will) trust the Lord will guide you to make a decision which will benefit Our Land. We accept your forgiveness and forgive you, but you need to face the consequences of your actions.

May God help you,
Jannette Clarissa Negron Concepcion 
Moderator of the a Council 

This letter was translated by Elizabeth Soto and is shared with permission.

ELANCO Memory Cafe to Open

Stigma-free gathering for people with memory impairment and their caregivers

NEW HOLLAND, PA. – The ELANCO Dementia Friendly Community is pleased to announce the start of Memory Cafés in Morgantown and New Holland.

“A Memory Café is a stigma-free social gathering for people with memory impairment and their caregivers,” coordinator Crystal Yunginger explains. “We want to create a space where people cango and enjoy time together and socialize with others.”

“It’s not a support group,” Yunginger cautions. Instead, she says, “A Memory Café is an opportunity to connect with other people who may be facing the same challenges and find informal peer support.”

Volunteers with the ELANCO Dementia Friendly Community will host the Memory Cafés. Volunteers will have first aid and dementia training, but they will not be able to provide a diagnosis. Instead they can provide understanding and resources.

A Memory Café will be held on the second Wednesday of each month at Conestoga Mennonite Church, 2779 Main Street, Morgantown, from 6:15-7:45 p.m. In addition, a Memory Café will be held on the fourth Wednesday of each month at Trinity Lutheran Church, 221 E Main Street, New Holland from 2:15-3:45 p.m. Light refreshments will be provided during these free events.

The ELANCO Dementia Friendly Community initiative offers educational resources about dementia and support for those living with the effects of dementia to the ELANCO community.  The Dementia Friendly Community steering committee is comprised of representatives from the local business, public service, and church community, individuals personally impacted by dementia, and persons currently working in professional care of those with dementia. 

For more information, contact Crystal Yunginger, Memory Café coordinator, at 717.487.6223.

Nickels for Neighbors Impacting Youth in Brooklyn

Ronnel is 10. He’s a 4th grader. He lives with his grandma and mom (who is several years clean from substance abuse). There’s no father in the picture. Ronnel walks the short distance to the program site every Saturday during the three-month summer program operated by Radical Living (with support from Nickels for Neighbors). At school he is identified as a “problem child.” And there are times during the summer program when he does pose certain challenges to Radical Living staff – for example, he can be very stubborn and refuse to participate in group activities and, at times, he takes a defiant tone.

But Ronnel is committed to the Radical Living community and to learning how to grow vegetables, herbs, and berries – and even how to cook healthy recipes from homegrown produce. He’s grown in his ability to communicate his feelings and frustrations, and has even learned some conflict transformation tools. Last summer, the Radical Living youth and staff took a one-week trip to a farm in Vermont. Ronnel had never left the city before. In fact, he has hardly left Brooklyn. He became very homesick and almost had to be driven the five hours back to NYC. The next day, after experiencing very real homesickness, he saw a baby calf be born. For some reason – perhaps simply seeing new life enter the world or witnessing the miracle of birth – Ronnel chose to stay and participate in the group activities.

With help from Nickels for Neighbors, Radical Living has been able to provide an extra layer of support to Ronnel and his family, and a couple dozen other families very similar to Ronnel. We are thankful for the ACC family and all the church support. Thank you! We are a small non-profit in the heart of Brooklyn serving our city’s most vulnerable. We are always in need of support. If you’d like to contribute to the important work of transforming the lives of young people in Brooklyn, please visit www.radical-living.org and click “donate.”