Ministry Inquiry Reflection
Erika Bollman, 2nd year student at EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding
I have to admit that when I applied for the Ministry Inquiry Program I really did not know what to expect. I found out about the program initially when I was approached by the pastor of Philadelphia Praise Center (PPC) and asked to work at his church for the summer. PPC is a multi-ethnic congregation whose primary membership is made up of Indonesian immigrants, and having previously spent a year living in Indonesia, they were excited to invite someone that speaks the language and is familiar with the culture. I grew up in a Mennonite family and have attended two Mennonite universities and have always been interested in working more directly in the church. I am currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Conflict Transformation at Eastern Mennonite University and I was excited to hear about an opportunity that could blend my interest in working in a church with my interest in working on social justice issues. I decided to apply for MIP to get a better feel of what it would be like to be directly involved in church ministry and tried to start the summer with an open mind and a willingness to adapt to whatever the position required.
The results were surprising. I went to Philadelphia primarily expecting to do a job and I ended up linking into a new community that became almost like a family to me in just a few short months. As soon I got to Philadelphia the church members I met started to tell me their stories about what it is like living as an immigrant in the United States. Part of my position included taking church members to doctor and lawyer appointments to act as a translator and I got a real feel for the challenges they face on a daily basis.
One of the people that I spent time with is a single mother who is struggling to get out of an abusive relationship and take care of her two sons. I accompanied her to Family Court to file for custody of one of the boys and she told me a lot of her story. It was sad to hear some of her painful experiences about coming to the U.S., broken relationships, and losing work. During my time there this mother found a job, was able to file custody for her son, and obtained free legal aid for her divorce case. After several months of difficulty, she has so much hope that things will get better. I was happy to witness it and I think that even taking that one day to sit and wait with her and listen to her story matters. I didn’t do anything to change her situation but I was able to appreciate God’s work so much more fully by being there with her.
Besides providing pastoral care for church members, I also spent time getting to know PPC’s pastor and observing his regular responsibilities. He is a person who enjoys taking care of his congregation and is happy to be available for them any time, day or night. I respected the way that he balanced his roles of administrator, counselor, spiritual advisor, and preacher. His influence and my experience in general helped me to better understand that ministry goes beyond being an employee of the church and is really about building up relationships with people in the church and outside of it to become an open and welcoming community.
Another large part of my job as a summer intern included helping to plan and run several programs and events in the church including a block party, a combined worship service, and a peace camp for elementary aged children. The largest part of my time overall was devoted to the peace camp. I was so excited to do children’s ministry that could also incorporate the information I have been learning in my studies at EMU. The camp was a challenge because even though I am studying peace, I had never taught the material to anyone before. The result was that I had the opportunity to relay the knowledge I have gained over the past year in a way that made sense to children. This was important because it forced me to really reflect on what I have learned and find creative ways to pass that learning on to others. The kids in the camp were phenomenal and I can honestly say that there were times where I felt like they were teaching me important life lessons that I needed to be taught.
Throughout my time in Philadelphia I kept a fairly regular journal to record my experiences. I would like to include a few excerpts here to illustrate some of the valuable insights I gained from my time participating in MIP:
- The church’s theme for this month is God’s timing. Both pastors have been speaking about it on Sunday mornings. In listening to several sermons, I realized that I have been very impatient for certain things to happen in my own life, thinking that they are very overdue. However, I am beginning to understand that we can never really understand God’s timing and that we simply have to wait and trust that He knows what is best for us. It has been difficult, but I am trying to accept that everything I feel like I’m missing in my life will happen when it is supposed to happen.
- Coincidences don’t exist in God’s world. I keep running in to people that I need to meet. And I keep meeting people that have some kind of connection to other people that are important in my life. And I realize that being in South Philly with a group of Indonesians connected to the Mennonite church is in no way random. This is where I needed to be at this stage in my study at EMU. It has already opened up opportunities for the future at a moment when I really need to be looking forward.
- Someone told me yesterday that I am the most down-to-earth summer worker they have had at PPC. This meant a lot to me because PPC has employed many summer workers. I think they were implying that I have the ability to connect to people on a very personal level and don’t act “holier than thou” as many people in ministry can at times. While I’m proud of the accomplishments I made this summer, I’m the most excited about the relationships I made at PPC and I think that emphasis on relationship-building is ultimately what shows through to the people I have been working with.
While these quotes are insufficient to describe all of my experiences, they do begin to explain why I felt like my time in Philadelphia was worthwhile. MIP turned out to be a valuable learning experience that pushed me to do self-reflection and to consider new ideas and look inward to discover my own strengths.
Several important results came from my MIP experience. First of all, I realized that I do not necessarily want to pursue ministry full time. However, I have a much better understanding of the important role ministry can play in my future peacebuilding work, especially when it comes to working on social justice issues. I hope to eventually work as a community organizer in a setting like South Philadelphia where I can try to help empower people to improve their lives and work with local authorities to create more equitable policies. Working with congregations like PPC will be vital in that type of work.
Finally, MIP helped me to reflect on my future and gain a better understanding of where I want to go from here. Prior to my summer work I was feeling worried because I was unclear about my goals after completing my degree. My experience in MIP gave me clarity on what I want to pursue in the future, including giving me a better understanding of the type of community I would like to be involved in. It gave me the confidence to see my own worth and the way that I can use my personal strengths and prior experiences to do more good in the future. I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to participate in such a valuable program.