REEDLEY, CALIF. – Bethel College’s new president, Barry C. Bartel, who took office in October, is likely the first in the institution’s 120-year history to be bilingual in Spanish and English. He got to put those language skills to good use recently at First Mennonite Church/Primera Iglesia Menonita of Reedley, Calif.
The congregation, with a membership of about 250, has two Sunday morning services, one in English and one in Spanish. Steve Penner and Juan Montes are the pastors.
Bartel preached and told a children’s story at both the English- and Spanish-language services on Sunday, Jan. 28, with a theme of journeying. He based the sermon on I Samuel 3:1-10, where God calls the boy Samuel in the temple, and Deut. 31:8, the assurance that God is always with God’s people. The children’s story described a journey to visit churches in South America, from when Bartel and his family were with Mennonite Central Committee in Bolivia.
“We all reach crucial moments in our lives when we need to listen for God’s voice,” Bartel told his congregational audiences. “College is much more than classes and clubs. A nurturing environment is important in responding to God’s voice.
“My experience, and the experience of many others, is that we come to the moment when we realize ‘ya no soy yo’ – I am no longer myself, at least not the me I used to be – where others can help us discern God’s call, and when the nurturing environment that provides space is important.”
One of Bartel’s goals for his presidency and travels is to connect with racial-ethnic Mennonite congregations.
The visit to First Mennonite Church/Primera Iglesia Menonita was timed to coincide with one of the longest-running of Bethel College’s alumni gatherings, held on Saturday, Jan. 27. The event, the 61st annual, is organized by Bethel alumni living in the Fresno and Reedley area.
At this one, 12 graduates from classes at five-year intervals were honored, including Marianna (Ensz) Habegger, who as a member of the class of 1937 is marking a 70th Bethel anniversary.
Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and has been named a Top Tier college by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1998. For more information, see the Bethel web site at www.bethelks.edu.