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Presbyterian Intercultural Young Adult Network gathering follows Big Tent

Looking at Matthew 25 through young eyes

by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

Following Big Tent, 20 young adults attended the Presbyterian Intercultural Young Adult Network conference. (Photo by Gail Strange)

BALTIMORE — Following Big Tent last week, 20 young adults came together for the Presbyterian Intercultural Young Adult Network conference. Eleven different ethnicities were represented.

The intercultural group of young adult Presbyterians ages 18-35 gathered to affirm their unity in Christ and to cast a vision for mission and ministry in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in this intercultural era. Conference attendees were selected by their congregation and sponsored with scholarships by the various intercultural ministries of the Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries (RE&WIM) of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

The RE&WIM sponsorship included attending the entire Big Tent Conference. “I hope this post conference will bring about a continuity and networking among the young people that will continue beyond this event,” said Moongil Cho, associate for the Korean Intercultural Congregational Support Ministries and coordinator of the PIYAN post-conference.  “We’re training young leaders of the church at this conference. This group of young people will bring the diversity the church is looking for.”

In her sermon to the group on Sunday morning, Beth Olker, field staff person for RE&WIM, read the same passages from three different translations of the Bible. Preaching from Romans 12:9-21, Olker labeled her sermon, “Marks of the True Christian.” The Message translations says, in part, “Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. Don’t burn out; keep yourself fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.”

“This passage follows the instructions we received from the theme of this gathering to “not conform to the ways of the world but to be transformed by the renewing of the Spirit”, said Olker.

Rosa Miranda, associate for Hispanic/Latino-a Intercultural Congregational Support, shared the Matthew 25 invitation with the young adults. Following her remarks, Maranda posed this question: How does Matthew 25 look and how do our communities of faith bring light and hope to our neighborhoods?  Here’s how some young adults responded to her question:

Isaac Lee, a member of Sebit Presbyterian Church, a Korean congregation in Warren, N.J., said the three foci of the Matthew 25 invitation —  dismantling structural racismeradicating systemic poverty and building congregational vitality — are linked. “You can’t have one without the other. If the church is moving to eradicate poverty and to dismantle racism, then that’s the product; you’re going to have a vital community. I think churches that are not doing that are not functioning as a church.”

“People talk about Matthew 28 being the ‘Great Commission’ and I’m on board with that. But how do you do that? It’s not going to be going out into the streets and saying you need to learn about Jesus. In history that’s how the church has functioned. It’s not going to happen if someone is thirsty and you say no, you need Jesus. Yes, you do need Jesus and Jesus is the Living Water, but the church that has water should be sharing it — not just spiritual water but physical water as well,” he said.

Lee is a part of an ecumenical network in the Tri-State area called the Sanctuary Church Network. The network was started to stand with immigrants who fear for their safety and the safety of their families. They have now extended that work to include helping impoverished people in the area. The Sanctuary Church Network now partners with grocery stores that donate food for food baskets. Anyone who’s hungry is welcome to go the church for food.

Nada Hanna, another participant in the conference, attends a new worshiping community called Freedom Fellowship in Jersey City, N.J. Hanna is a part of a Middle Eastern community. “Matthew 25 is one of the main examples we see of embodying Christ and living out the gospel in our lives and in our communities with one another,” said Hanna. “I think there are a lot of large dreams and goals we can have as the PC(USA), but any small steps we can take as smaller fellowships and communities within our worshiping churches are just as significant. These small acts of outreach like going out to give away lunches in the Jersey City area or visiting orphanages and speaking with families and children and people of the Middle Eastern community who are struggling or who have just moved to the U.S. have a great impact on these communities. Not only are they impactful for the people we are serving but they have an impact on us.”

“We are always looking at relationships in a transactional form but when we give, we also receive so much,” Hanna said. “In our communities and especially in my own worshiping community in Jersey City, I see that in great ways. I see God working in these leaders and other servants and members of the community and of my church — not only taking leadership and serving others but they are being heavily impacted by witnessing these acts of service and having the opportunity to experience what it’s like to go outside of your comfort zone and what it’s like being with different people. To actually listen and not listening to respond but listening just for the sake of listening to hear people’s stories and using that to see how we can continue to be of service and to love one another just as Jesus tells us to in Matthew 25.”

Mildred Gwanfogbe is originally from Cameroon in West Africa. She resides in Tracy, Calif., and attends New Bridges Presbyterian Church in Hayward, Calif., where she has been a member for the past 17 years. Currently Gwanfogbe serves as a deacon in her church.

“My pastor just assigned Matthew 25 to the deacons about two week ago to use in our work with the community,” she said. “The deacons go out into the neighborhood with the pastor. If someone is sick, an assigned deacon will go with the pastor and pray for them. Our outreach center, which will be closing because of funding, provides food for the homeless and shower facilities. In the winter we gave new and used coats, socks and other basic necessities to the homeless. Each year the church hosts a harvest festival in October as another way to reach out to our community. All are welcomed.”

Vera Anyn, a six-year deacon at New Bridges Presbyterian Church, shared how church members also donated toiletries and blankets and shared those items with homeless shelters in the area. Anyn said, “Every Monday we make sandwiches and give those to the poor and the needy.” Most recently the congregation and the surrounding community donated toiletries and food items for care packages to be sent to U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.  “This was a project that everyone loved to participate in. We also had the children make greeting cards for the soldiers.”

Charles Kuo, of the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church of Washington in Rockville, Md., said, “Matthew 25 requires us to look outside the four walls of our church and to really go into the community and see the need. Right now, my church is supporting the Montgomery Coalition for the Homeless by connecting with folks that reside there. We meet with them and provide meals, but we can do more.”

“Another way we can be a Matthew 25 church is by working with others,” Kuo said. “We can do community organizing to solve issues in the community that affect our neighbors next door. But we have to really hear their issues and see how the church can be a vital part of supporting the neighborhood and supporting the needs of our community.”

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