As a third year STEP student I need to complete a year-long missional experiment. I am in the midst of my experiment in Kinzers, Pennsylvania. Foundational to my missional experiment are the words of Isaiah in chapter 58. The prophet had cried out and prophetically addressed the community who would return and make a new life in Jerusalem. Those people faced the struggles of repairing and rebuilding the former devastations of war and time.
Isaiah’s account often seems so sad. Perhaps the Israelites’ harps still hung on the willows by the streams in Babylon. Leadership in the community was challenged. Division, quarreling, drought, and food shortages made rebuilding difficult and slow. Economic and social inequality dotted the landscape and threatened both the identity and the well-being of the community. God promised restoration, but the revival was contingent on the people choosing to live into the fast God had chosen.
God’s attention was drawn to those working toward freedom for the oppressed, kindness toward neighbors, food for the hungry, and clothing for those in need. The restoration of true community depended on the common good for all people and the structures that support life. To those who turned away from certain behaviors and turned toward others, God delegated honor by declaring, “Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings” (Isaiah 58:12 NIV).
I seek to apply these ancient passages to my missional experiment in Kinzers and the church located there. I believe God continues to look for a faithful remnant of people who are humbly dependent on the Holy Spirit and one another. God continually seeks those fully alive to God’s greatest commandments and the great commission. Weaverland has been my home church since 1983, but dwelling in Isaiah 58 and John 17 as foundational texts for my missional experiment challenged me to listen and go where God was calling.
Following a time of intentional discernment with Pastor Brian Martin regarding mission and my third-year of STEP, Weaverland sent me to a neighboring district, LanChester, to serve as a pastoral intern to assist Dwight Groff who was lead pastor of the Mennonite Church in Kinzers.
Kinzer Mennonite Church had consistently engaged and served the community since its inception in 1897. After a century of faithful ministry, however, the church decided to close their doors in June 2016. Nevertheless, the vision to carry on Christ’s ministry of reconciliation and to be the incarnational presence of Jesus in the community remains alive and well. For the moment, Kinzers is dwelling in a transition time. What must be repaired, rebuilt, and revived? The time and space between church closure and future ministry are filled with uncertainty.
Interestingly, dwelling in this space seems to have revived one of the richest, and perhaps most under-utilized, resources in the Kingdom: prayer and intercession! Weekly prayer meetings with Pastor Dwight and Ben Clark are filled with rich praise as we intentionally lay our petitions before Jesus Christ. “Church plant,” “rebuild,” “restart,” and “revive” are words often lifted up as we seek the Lord together in prayer and praise.
The welcome I’ve received from Pastor Dwight, Bishop Steve Weaver, and the broader LanChester district’s leadership team has been very warm and authentic. At the monthly district meetings, Bishop Steve is leading the LanChester’s leadership team into engagement with age-old prayer practices. What I see God reviving and restoring are spiritual pathways to springs of living water where many generations have dwelt in communion with the Lord. This is all so applicable to the situation at Kinzers.
Prayer continues to define and sustain our missional experiment. From the onset of this small partnership between Kinzer and Weaverland, I have seen God open doors in unexplainable ways and with precise timing. We strive to stay in step as we follow. No doubt, there is challenging work ahead. Developing a church-plant assessment for the Kinzer community is something new for all of us involved. Pastor Dwight and I recognize that it is not something we can do alone. We are grateful for gifted persons who engage in conversation with us to offer counsel and advice: Bishop Steve, the multiplication prayer group at Landis Homes, the STEP Oversight Commission, Omar Guzman, Wes Furlong, Brinton Rutherford, and others. They helped framing questions to emerge which seemingly hold promise for the future. Plans are in motion for face-to-face community conversations with persons who live and work in Kinzers every day.
Kinzers is a beautiful and diverse community. Our prayer is to be alive and fully attentive to the people we meet there. Anyone interested in hearing more about local mission in the Kinzers community should contact Pastor Dwight Groff at firstname.lastname@example.org or call/text 717-725-2424.
Sherri Martin and her husband Mel are members of Weaverland
Anabaptist Faith Community where she serves on the Elder team.