Young leaders retreat into Philadelphia for a new kind of leadership formation
–Kayla Benner, Ambler Mennonite Church
“I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you. This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:5-7)On November 20, 2010, I attended the Youth Leadership Retreat along with youth from churches and ministries across Eastern District and Franconia Mennonite Conference. We were all chosen to attend this “retreat” because of leadership qualities that adults have already seen within us. As this busy and spiritually charged day went by I learned many things about my peers, myself, and most importantly the power of Christ and his people.
As the opening worship session began I was struck by the incredible amount of passion and joy that the people leading possessed. Their passion and excitement helped to wake me up and to get me ready to learn and grow throughout the rest of the day. After we were welcomed to Philadelphia Mennonite High School we were instructed to participate in the often awkward, and always dreaded “ice breaker.” This activity confirmed my worst fears that I had pushed myself too far past the boundaries of my comfort zone. After having short, one minute conversations with about five people the activity was over and I retreated back to the my familiar comfort zone. I was not able to remain there for long because we were then dismissed to our workshops which brought on even more chances to push myself.Out of the two short morning sessions the one that impacted me the most was the one titled, “Rooted in Diversity.” This workshop was entirely about the life and ministry of Philadelphia Praise Center (PPC). PPC is a new congregation that worships in a somewhat unorthodox way that requires intense perseverance and faith in the Lord. PPC is a congregation that serves to provide the needs of its surrounding community, primarily by providing worship services in three different languages: Indonesian, Spanish, and English. Many of the members of the church are undocumented immigrants who live in constant fear of being uprooted and deported from the United States. After the workshop I heard an incredible story from a girl how has had to live through things I couldn’t even imaging having to deal with and she’s exactly the same age as I am. As I was listening to her heartbreaking story I was struck by the incredible strength and faith she has. Though she has every right to give up she continues to have hope and faith in her Creator. As I became more familiar with her story I realized that not only her, but many other members of the congregation have to deal with the same problems.
Philadelphia Praise Center is a family to its members and they seem to have a bond that not many other Mennonite churches have. I think what draws people to church, especially a Mennonite church, is the sense of stability, which is something the members of PPC do not have. At any moment a family or a member of a family may be deported and the church must gather together and deal with that. I think in knowing that at any moment a church member may have to leave gives the congregation the ability to outwardly show their love more easily. They must give everything today because it could all be gone tomorrow. This is a valuable lesson we could all learn from the congregation of Philadelphia Praise Center.I spent a good part of my afternoon participating in a workshop called, “Rooted in Service”. I chose to participate in this particular workshop because I believe service is a fantastic way to spread the love of Christ. You can tell people about Christ and his teachings all you want, but they won’t believe you until you actually show them through your actions and the way you live your life. I was given the unique opportunity to spend this afternoon workshop talking with Dan Umstead. Dan uses his gifts to spread his ministry through Kingdom Builders Construction. As he was telling me a little about his ministry I was struck by the sacrifices he has made in order to live his faith outwardly. Through my afternoon of service I learned two major things. First I saw how little things can make a big difference and it is important that we do them. By taking the time to rake leaves in a few people’s yards our service group was able to make a handful of people happy. We provided them with the ability to have their yard clean again and hopefully they were able to see the light of Christ through our actions. The second thing I learned was through a conversation with Dan. He explained to me that giving and receiving requires a two-way relationship. If just one person is giving but not receiving, or vice versa, that relationship will not last. Only through the balance of give and take will a relationship be lasting.Before I knew it the day was being wrapped up in a closing worship service. We were all gathered together again to listen, sing, and praise God one last time that day. During the service I found myself reflecting on the impactful events of the day, the lessons I learned, and most of all the people I met.
I learned that leadership qualities can be found in anyone, It doesn’t take a specific type of person to emerge as a leader. I believe that introverts possess one of the most important qualities of a leader: the ability to lead by example. It is important to sacrifice ourselves for the benefit of others, to give and receive so that our relationships with others may stay alive. God may also throw things at us that we struggle with, but through the love and care of our brothers and sisters we can continue to have hope and faith.Together, as leaders, we crossed borders, we pushed ourselves, we inspired others, we grew, and we “fanned into flame the spiritual gifts God gave us. At the end of our event there was a table with many lit candles on it and one larger candle in the center. Marlene Frankenfield closed our event with the following words and as she spoke these words she raised up the largest candle into the air and blew it out. This was used as a symbol of our faith and how we should be as a flame by spreading our faith. May Marlene’s words be a challenge for all of us–“The light of God is not extinguished for it is in you.”Kayla Benner was part of the planning team for the special one-day youth retreat in Philadelphia, planned collaboratively by members a team of Philadelphia Anabaptist leaders along with Franconia Conference and Eastern District Conference including Barbara Moses (Philadelphia Mennonite High School), Dan Umstead (Kingdom Builders Construction), Joe Hackman (Salford Mennonite Church), Scott Benner (Eastern District Conference), Marlene Frankenfield (Franconia Conference), Andrew Huth (Ambler Mennonite Church), Maria Byler and Adrian Suryajaya (Philadelphia Praise Center). In the city, the youth worked with various churches and partnerships including Oxford Circle Mennonite Church, Philadelphia Mennonite High School, Germantown Mennonite Historic Trust.