‘Following the cloud,’ one step at a time

Lea este artículo en español: http://mennoniteusa.org/2012/02/13/seguir-la-nube-un-paso-a-la-vez/

Mennonite Church USA / Mennonite Mission Network

‘Following the cloud,’ one step at a time

Grace Mennonite Fellowship, a northeastern Texas church plant, celebrates six months of existence.

By Annette Brill Bergstresser

Karen and Steve Mascho of Grace Mennonite Fellowship at a joint camping trip with members of Metro Mennonite at Beavers Bend State Park in Oklahoma in the fall of 2011. (Photo provided)

When Karen and Steve Mascho of Gladewater, Texas, first encountered Mennonites in April 2010, they never imagined that 15 months later, they’d be planting a Mennonite church in their own community of about 6,500 people.

Both long-time Texas residents, the Maschos were in northern Indiana having their recreational vehicle repaired when they toured Menno-Hof, the Amish-Mennonite Information Center in Shipshewana, Ind.

“I thought, these people believe what I have felt in my heart for years,” Karen Mascho recalls. The Maschos, who had been attending Baptist and nondenominational churches, had been longing for a church whose participants would stay connected throughout the week.

After returning home, Karen—who works as a special-needs teacher—read the book about Mennonite history she had bought at Menno-Hof and began researching Mennonites online. While looking for resources for a nephew in prison, she discovered the restorative justice programs at Fresno (Calif.) Pacific University, and she and Steve were inspired to begin leading Bible studies in prisons through a nondenominational prison ministry based in Houston. Steve, who is on disability due to a heart condition, also has been actively involved with a motorcycle ministry for more than 10 years.

Karen credits the website of Paul Williams, associate pastor of Mechanic Grove Mennonite Church in Quarryville, Pa., and a financial planner, with having deepened her understanding of Mennonites’ faith and beliefs. “His site was such a blessing to me here, where I didn’t have any Mennonites to talk to,” she says.

An April 2011 visit to Plow Creek, a Mennonite intentional community in Tiskilwa, Ill., clinched Karen’s decision to become Mennonite. But the Maschos couldn’t just move to Illinois. So in May, Karen called Mauricio Chenlo, denominational minister for church planting for Mennonite Church USA/Mennonite Mission Network.

“I told him we were looking for a church that would share our vision of reaching out to people on the fringes of society, and asked if he could send some missionaries,” Karen says. “He said, ‘If you want a church there, think of yourselves as church planters.’”

Two weeks later, the Maschos were attending a church planting seminar in Oklahoma City sponsored by Western District Conference. Karen recalls an exercise with her table group. “I felt compassion for the hurting, the lost, the dying, the oppressed and the poor in a way I never had before,” she says. “God was shaping my heart for service.”

In June, they attended a prayer meeting where they learned that a number of residents of the local public housing development had expressed interest in a Bible study.

Grace Mennonite Fellowship attends Audrey Rutella’s sobriety birthday celebration. (front row, l. to r.): Ashlee Shadix, Michael Sosebee, Audrey Rutella, Wendy Clement (friend). (back row, l. to r.): Cody Cagle, Amber Bogenschutz, Steve Mascho, Karen Mascho, Howard Oliver, Chiquita Armstrong, Mike Mascho. (Photo provided)

Karen contacted the people on the list, and six of them came to the first weekly fellowship meal and Bible study July 7 in the housing authority’s meeting room. They began studying the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ teachings. In August, they added meetings on Sunday afternoons, as the participants wanted to share communion.

Currently the group numbers 18, with an average attendance of 12. Most were unchurched or had not been to church since childhood. They are actively involved in each other’s lives, from attending sobriety anniversaries to writing to family members in prison to having game nights.

“We welcome all people who want a relationship with Jesus and a community and are willing to be accountable and be encouraged,” Karen says.

She marvels at the way things have fallen into place, one step at a time.

“We’re following the [pillar of] cloud,” she says. “God’s opening these doors for us, and we’re just walking through them.”

The church family at Metro Mennonite in Oklahoma City provided the love, support, encouragement and instruction that Steve and Karen Mascho needed to rise to the call of planting a church five hours away in Gladewater, Texas. Five members of Metro Mennonite met the Maschos at a church planting conference sponsored by Western District Conference in Oklahoma City in May 2011, and decided to invite them to be members of their congregation. This is the first picture taken of them together, just after the Maschos accepted the invitation to membership. (front row, l. to r.): Arlys-Marie Gilchrist, Karen Mascho. (back row, l. to r.): Norman and Linda Berry (Metro’s pastoral team), Charlotte Warkentine, Terry Hostetler, Steve Mascho. (The Maschos are from Grace Mennonite; the others are from Metro Mennonite.) (Photo provided)

A Spirit-led connection for the Maschos has been their close relationship with Metro Mennonite Church of Oklahoma City, also a recent church plant. The Maschos met five members of Metro Mennonite at the church planting seminar in May. “They basically adopted us,” Karen says. “We became family.”

The members of Metro Mennonite invited the Maschos to become members of their congregation that weekend. The Maschos accepted and began communicating several times a week with Norman Berry, Metro’s lead pastor, and other members. Their question topics have ranged from the lectionary to conflict resolution methods to denominational structures to starting a church Facebook page. Karen says the Metro congregation has helped them make connections across Western District Conference; representatives of both church plants attended WDC’s annual meeting together in North Newton, Kan., in late July.

“We needed supplies,” she says. “Metro put the call out for us, and at the conference gathering, people showered us with boxes of songbooks, Bibles and library books. Marlene Bogard [WDC’s resource library director] has also been a wonderful resource.”

In August, a local man who had attended the Bible study once was killed in an altercation with the police. The tragedy ended up drawing the group closer together. While collecting funds to send flowers to the family, they realized they wanted their group to have a name, and decided on “Grace Mennonite Fellowship.”

Grace Mennonite Fellowship celebrated two baptisms in the fall during a joint camping trip with Metro Mennonite at an Oklahoma state park. At Thanksgiving, they expanded the local churches’ annual Thanksgiving meal by adding a delivery option, reaching 250 more people. In December, they began a food pantry.

Karen says the group has had some rocky times and has had to learn biblical ways to handle conflict. Still, she says the group is growing spiritually and looking to the Bible to find answers.

The group’s efforts to create Christian community have not gone unnoticed. Employees of the housing authority have noted the positive effect of their presence.

Through signing up to be “Mennonite Your Way” hosts, the Maschos also met Mennonites Paul and Lorie Hershberger of Pittsburgh, Texas—40 miles away. In November, the Hershbergers and members of the fellowship traveled together to the Mennonite Central Committee Relief Sale in Houston, where they began to get to know other Texas Mennonites.

The Maschos plan to pursue Pastoral Studies Distance Education through Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary; both WDC and Mennonite Women USA have contributed funds toward their expenses.

Gilberto Flores, associate conference minister for Texas for Western District Conference, recently visited Grace Mennonite. “WDC is supporting this church planting initiative and helping the Maschos to be connected with the conference’s system,” he says. “The Maschos’ passion for and commitment to their call is clear, and the people in Gladewater are also highly motivated.”

“We have been richly blessed. I am in awe over how rapidly the Lord has worked,” Karen says. “I can’t wait to see what He has in store.”

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For all my Mennonite friends:

When I was a Stranger

When I was a stranger, you shared your stories, and I wanted to know more.
When I was a stranger, you taught me about peace, and I sought to tell others.
When I was a stranger, you responded to my need, and I thanked God.
When I was a stranger, you took me into your home, and I understood hospitality.
When I was a stranger, you showed me how to break new ground, and I was inspired.
When I was a stranger, you asked me to walk with you on this journey, and I felt accepted.
When I was a stranger, you overlooked my ignorance, and I wanted to be like you.
When I was a stranger, you invited me to the banquet, and I became involved.
When I was a stranger, you shared your resources, and I considered it an honor.
When I was a stranger, you promoted unity despite disagreement, and I felt secure.
When I was a stranger, you led me in worship, and I recognized God’s presence.
When I was a stranger, you made me a sister … and I wanted to say thanks for all you did …
When I was a stranger.

—Karen Mascho, August 2011

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Grace Mennonite Fellowship’s Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/GraceMennoniteFellowship/309592402385103

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Images available:

ftp://ftp.e.mennonites.org/public/NewsPhotos/web_karen_steve_mascho.jpg
Karen and Steve Mascho of Grace Mennonite Fellowship at a joint camping trip with members of Metro Mennonite at Beavers Bend State Park in Oklahoma in the fall of 2011. (Photo provided)

ftp://ftp.e.mennonites.org/public/NewsPhotos/grace_mennonite_fellowship_1_fullsize.jpg
Grace Mennonite Fellowship attends Audrey Rutella’s sobriety birthday celebration. (front row, l. to r.): Ashlee Shadix, Michael Sosebee, Audrey Rutella, Wendy Clement (friend). (back row, l. to r.): Cody Cagle, Amber Bogenschutz, Steve Mascho, Karen Mascho, Howard Oliver, Chiquita Armstrong, Mike Mascho. (Photo provided)

ftp://ftp.e.mennonites.org/public/NewsPhotos/web_grace_metro_churchplantingconf.jpg
The church family at Metro Mennonite in Oklahoma City provided the love, support, encouragement and instruction that Steve and Karen Mascho needed to rise to the call of planting a church five hours away in Gladewater, Texas. Five members of Metro Mennonite met the Maschos at a church planting conference sponsored by Western District Conference in Oklahoma City in May 2011, and decided to invite them to be members of their congregation. This is the first picture taken of them together, just after the Maschos accepted the invitation to membership. (front row, l. to r.): Arlys-Marie Gilchrist, Karen Mascho. (back row, l. to r.): Norman and Linda Berry (Metro’s pastoral team), Charlotte Warkentine, Terry Hostetler, Steve Mascho. (The Maschos are from Grace Mennonite; the others are from Metro Mennonite.) (Photo provided)

ftp://ftp.e.mennonites.org/public/NewsPhotos/web_grace_christmas_party.jpg
Grace Mennonite Fellowship members and friends celebrated a Christmas party in December 2011. Steve Mascho is in the middle, dressed as Saint Nicholas, and Karen Mascho is behind him. (Photo provided)