From Barriers to Bridges

How SEED Equips the Body of Christ for Leadership

The Great Commission is more than a ministry pillar at Habecker Mennonite Church in Lancaster, PA; it is the very essence of who they are. 

Since its founding in the 1700s, the Habecker congregation has had a heart for immigrants and desired “to be a witness of peace and hospitality as it lives out Christian community on both local and global levels.”

Perhaps, that is the reason why God chose them for a unique and unforeseen mission opportunity that would transform their congregation from the inside out. Instead of simply stirring their hearts to “go into all the world to make disciples,” God chose to bring the “nations” to them. 

In 2008, refugees from Myanmar, formerly Burma, in Southeast Asia, began filling up Habecker Mennonite Church’s sanctuary, as well as their hearts. The Karen people arrived in Lancaster County in large numbers because they were fleeing political unrest, violence, military dictatorship, and religious persecution occurring in Burma at that time. 

One family in the church opened their home to Karen refugees after receiving a request from a refugee settlement agency. Their example led other families to follow suit, and the rest is history! The Karen’s presence has been a welcome breath of fresh air to a congregation that had been experiencing a steady decline in attendance over the years and faced a seemingly stagnant future before the refugees’ arrival.

Dawn Landes and her husband, Chris, became pastors at Habecker Mennonite Church in 2016. Having served as missionaries in Cambodia, Southeast Asia, for seven years, Dawn and Chris joyfully welcomed the opportunity to lead this beautifully blended, intercultural congregation. 

However, the Landeses recognized early in their ministry that the needs of the Karen were tremendous and meeting them would be beyond the church’s capabilities. Comprised of only one-quarter English speakers, most of the church attendees are from Myanmar and speak Karen, the language of the Karen people. 

Many of the Karen suffered from intense trauma as a result of the events they’d endured in their homeland.  Fleeing their dwellings, facing significant hardships on the journey to the United States, leaving behind beloved family members, and being overwhelmed by the subsequent cultural shock of a new land had taken a noticeable toll. The language and cultural barriers made addressing these needs almost impossible. 

SEED Graduation

Fortunately, Dawn’s extensive background in education was the perfect skillset to begin efforts to address the cultural divide and find a way to meet the various needs of the Karen, not only in their church, but also in the surrounding community. The Landeses began fleshing out a program that would identify leaders among the Karen people and equip them to minister to their native people. Those leaders would fulfill a unique position as a “cultural translator” for the Karen to better understand and navigate the foreign environment in which they now live.

A vision for what would eventually become the SEED ministry was coming into focus: “Equipping Cross-Cultural Leaders to Serve the Church in the United States.” 

To implement their plan, financial resources would need to be secured. Dawn, on behalf of Habecker Mennonite Church, submitted a grant proposal to the LMC Legacy Foundation in 2020 and detailed the mission of SEED in the request.  She explained that the inspiration for the program is the Parable of the Mustard Seed in Matthew 13:31-32: 

The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.  It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches. (ESV)

SEED humbly aims to serve the Karen people with their parabolic mustard seed of faith. They envision the ministry to function as the tree that welcomes the displaced refugees, who are like the birds of the air, giving them solace and shelter, a place to call home

One of its goals is to inform the Karen leaders about practical matters (finances, taxes, housing, child safety, health care, resources for the elderly, driver safety), as well as the emotional, mental, and spiritual needs. Many Karen are dealing with depression due to post-traumatic stress from the aforementioned events they endured. SEED seeks to ensure the Karen refugees have access to mental health resources, and fortunately, the LMC Legacy Foundation seeks to fund such endeavors.

The proposal was approved, and $40, 360 was awarded to the Habecker congregation! The funding allowed for the launch of SEED’s ministry, and the first cohort of Karen leaders began their educational programming in 2020. 

Completing the program is a three-year long process with three prongs: Biblical Studies, Leadership Skills, and Church Ministry. The leaders-in-training attend classes two Saturday mornings a month from September to May for four hours at a time. There are a total of eighteen classes per year with an approximate class size of eight to ten students. The Habecker congregation has five teachers presently, and guest teachers are often invited in from the local community. 

“We need to have a vision for the Church that’s bigger than our congregation on a Sunday morning. God calls us to grow the Kingdom. This is a practical way to do that.”

Dawn Landes

Despite obvious setbacks due to the pandemic, SEED persevered and has just graduated the first cohort of leaders on May 21, 2022! Dawn says of the graduates, “They want to be a cultural bridge for their churches so that they can continue to grow and not be limited by their ability to engage within the United States in our culture.” 

Dawn believes the Church, the global Body of Christ, must be remembered in the local churches. They are “hubs” for cultures to come together and help each other find the resources they need. She passionately states, “We need to have a vision for the Church that’s bigger than our congregation on a Sunday morning. God calls us to grow the Kingdom. This is a practical way to do that.”

Through SEED, the Habecker congregation is exemplifying what it means to be united in the Body of Christ by breaking down cultural barriers and building bridges of hope and healing beyond church walls. With the help of LMC Legacy Foundation, they are answering the call God has placed on their hearts for the people He has placed in their midst. 

What is God stirring in your heart? How might a grant from LMC Legacy Foundation assist you, or your church, in fulfilling God’s call? Find out today!