One youth group generated six pastors
Four from the Yoder, Kan., MYF are now in Indiana-Michigan conference.by Annette Brill Bergstresser, Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference
The Jan. 10 ordination of associate pastor Bj Leichty at Holdeman Mennonite Church, Wakarusa, Ind., provided an opportunity to share about her part in the Mennonite Youth Fellowship (MYF) group at Yoder (Kan.) Mennonite Church in the 1970s.
Four Indiana-Michigan Conference pastors had their roots in one MYF in Kansas (left to right): Kay Bontrager-Singer, Bj Leichty, Ron Diener,Terry Diener. Bontrager-Singer and Leichty are sisters. The Dieners are brothers. Bj holds a photo of some Yoder (Kan.) Mennonite Church pews purchased by the Dieners. Photo by Everett J. Thomas.
It was also an opportunity to celebrate that four pastors raised in that small Kansas community are now leading Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference congregations.
The other pastors (pictured above left to right) are Bj's sister Kay Bontrager-Singer, co-pastor of Faith Mennonite Church, Goshen, Ind.; Bj; Ron Diener, lead pastor of Pleasant View Mennonite Church, Goshen; Ron's brother Terry Diener, lead pastor of Clinton Frame Mennonite, Goshen.
Bj, Terry and Ron were among six youth in the small Yoder MYF over a three-year period who have since been called to pastoral leadership. The others are Nick King, who pastored in Wichita, Kan.; Ervin Stutzman of Harrisonburg, Va., now executive director of Mennonite Church USA; and LaVern "Clyde" Yutzy of Lewistown, Pa., who has worked with Youth for Christ throughout his career.
The following excerpt is from the sermon Terry Diener preached at Bj's ordination:
"The MYF saw in Bj leadership abilities and a deep spirituality," Diener said, “which we affirmed by electing her as vice president and then president. Bj was one who could think outside the box and pushed us to try new things.
"The support and encouragement of Yoder Mennonite Church is part of the reason so many of us are serving as pastors today. One example: A local Mennonite college professor came to speak at a Sunday evening service. This professor brought a rather controversial message and pretty direct challenges.
"Some older adults in the congregation were very upset about what they had heard and verbally expressed their anger about what the professor had said. The youth were very upset at these older people who had responded so emotionally to the speaker, and the older people felt like the speaker had been disrespectful of their understanding of the Christian life. It was an important moment for both youth and adults—with some tension and potential for more conflict to emerge.
"After the service, Bj's mother Ilva (Bontrager) arranged for some of the youth leaders to meet with the adults in their home—to talk about what had happened and to find reconciliation. In that meeting, forgiveness and grace were offered by youth and adults alike as they shared their thoughts and their hurts.
"Through this time of sharing from the heart, confession and prayer, the youth leaders grew in their understanding of what it means to be a part of a caring community and grew in their spiritual lives. They came to realize in a much deeper way that they were part of a community that loved and cared for each other, even in times of disagreement.
"I see this story as an example of your home and church community and the kind of experiences that nurtured your development as a young person and that make you the person you are today."
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In a March 17 interview, four pastors with roots in the Yoder (Kan.) congregation shared memories of their MYF years. What follows is a composite sketch of that experience provided by all four:
They said: “Two couples were our sponsors all through youth group: Perry and Silvia Stutzman and Charles and Gladys Meadows. They were so much a part of us, but they didn't play the role of kids. There was something about the way they liked us, and we liked them. It was a gift from God."—Everett J. Thomas