by Samantha Lioi, minister of peace & justice, Franconia Mennonite Conference
Pastor Beny Krisbianto and other leaders of Nations Worship Center in Philadelphia are celebrating a milestone in their long journey toward a new space for worship.
Since the congregation purchased a building a few years ago in an historic Italian neighborhood in South Philly, renovation has been slow and relationships with their new neighbors challenging. Now, Pastor Beny has moved in to the renovated apartment above what will become the congregation’s new worship space, and the tone of interactions in the neighborhood has shifted. On July 19, they will celebrate this next step with a parsonage warming in the new space! Brothers and sisters of Franconia Conference are invited to come tour the building, see the parsonage apartment, and eat and worship with Nations Worship Center. Tours start at 5:00 p.m., and a light meal and worship will follow.
Beny took some time—just after moving in—to talk with me about the changes, hope, and opportunities the congregation is seeing.
Samantha Lioi (S): I hear you’ve moved into your new living space, the “parsonage” section of your new building. How does that affect you, the congregation, and your ministry?
Beny (B): I did move last week; it finally happened, and the congregation is excited. We’ve been waiting and praying for this. We waited longer than we expected, but God always has a perfect time for us. When we moved to the new parsonage, I connected with some nice people in the neighborhood. [Now that I’m living here] I have the chance to know more people and more families—so those are good things that have been happening.
S: Some folks may remember that your neighbors were not excited to welcome you at first. Can you talk a little more about this relationship with your neighbors and how that’s going?
B: We have a saying in Indonesian: “If you don’t know them, you will never love them.” Once the people got to know us—that we are good people, that we are Mennonite, Christian people, then people started responding nicely to us. When we first came, people had false information, or maybe they were just uncomfortable with new people coming to their community. Eventually, people came to us and wanted to know us. Now that they’ve gotten to know us, everything is better.
S: How you have seen God moving throughout this experience?
B: He is faithful. One-and-a-half years ago we were facing a very difficult situation—discrimination, injustice, rejection. But God is faithful when we respond to rejection the right way: we didn’t get mad, we didn’t scream, we just prayed and loved them and showed up and showed them we are good people, not doing anything wrong (and of course we fulfilled all the city codes for the property and construction). And God opened up the door for us move.
Now I feel the congregation has more energy to finish up the worship space of the building. We have felt God with us the last few months, and that same strength, that same grace will be with us to continue the work.
Last Sunday the congregation was so excited because we moved into the new parsonage, so they were more ready to pledge and give toward finishing the project. We do believe that God will not leave us in the middle of the journey.
S: I know you still have a lot of renovating to do. What are your hopes and dreams for the new space, and what stands in your way at this point?
B: Our dream is to celebrate Christmas in the new space. We want to see more souls come to know Christ. Now we are only able to gather for worship on Sunday morning, but in the new space, we can have youth worship, music practice, midday prayer—many possibilities during the week.
We want to reach out to the neighbors. We have already opened our building for free on Saturdays for music lessons for the local kids—and we have plans to host dancing lessons as well.
S: How did that happen?
B: Three of our youth went to music school, and they found out that their teacher lived a half block away from our building—so we had some conversations about having them use our facility without charge for music lessons. So we can be a blessing to the community as well.
S: And as for what stands in your way…
B: We’re using Kingdom Builders Construction, which is connected with Mennonite Central Committee, for the renovation. They estimate we need an additional $120,000 to finish the worship space. So we have to raise that money.
S: Is there anything else you would like brothers and sisters in Franconia Conference to know or pray about as they think of you and others in Philadelphia?
B: Please pray for us that God will give us provision in trying to finish. If they have the desire or heart to support us, they could send people, send youth to work in our building—they are very welcome. This summer we hope to be busy with construction—so the more volunteers we have, the more it will help us stick to our budget.
Lots of people from Asia and other parts of the world have come to Philadelphia. Many different nations have come to the city—pray they will come to worship and come to know Christ. That’s why we called ourselves Nations Worship.
- What: Tours of Nations Worship’s new space, a light meal and worship service.
- When: Saturday, July 19, 2014. Tours start at 5, and a light meal and worship service will follow.
- Where: Nations Worship Center, 1506 Ritner St., Philadelphia