More than we can imagine

By Craig Thompson

By the Rev. Thea Leticia Racelis

“Now to God be the glory, who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

It is easy to feel overwhelmed when we look at all the areas of need in the world. There is hunger, sickness, decay, and injustice in so many communities. It is easy to feel that we are too small and too insignificant to make a difference and believe that nothing we do can help.

But there is hope! Better yet: we are that hope! As the Apostle Paul writes, “by the power at work within us,” God is able to “accomplish abundantly more than we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it succinctly when he wrote, “We are the agents of transformation that God uses to transfigure the world.” We know that we are part of God’s answer to the need in the world! As followers of Jesus, we know that God’s dream for all people is not that we would strive to be separate, caring only for ourselves, but that in community, we would practice love and compassion. When we share our resources, there is enough for us all! We share our resources because, as Brian Peterson writes: “we are not simply filled ‘with’ God’s fullness as something to make us feel satisfied and content, but we are filled for the goal of God’s fullness in and for the world.”

We are all connected, and we derive our identity from God “from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name” (Ephesians 3:14b). We are all part of the family of God whether we live in an agricultural community in Nicaragua or in a bustling city in the United States.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians reminds us that we do not act alone. We act as the church, a gathering of God’s people, still living into Paul’s prayer and being “rooted and established in love” (Ephesians 3:17b). John Stott shares, “Paul likens [the Christians of Ephesus] first to a well-rooted tree, and then to a well-built house. In both cases, the unseen cause of their stability will be the same: love. Love is to be the soil in which their life is to be rooted; love is to be the foundation on which their life is built.”

As Christians, living into this loving legacy, we act out of faith knowing that God is using our contributions in ways that we can’t foresee and multiplying blessings in ways we would never expect. We act knowing that we are part of God’s imagination.

Will you be part of God’s dream for the world? Will you accept the invitation to make a difference and see what God will do with our giving?

We pray that you and your congregation will be inspired to give to One Great Hour of Sharing with hopeful expectation of what God will do. It will surely be more than we could imagine.

This theme interpretation was written for the 2018 One Great Hour of Sharing. Find this and other worship resources for the offering at www.brethren.org/oghs. Give today at www.brethren.org/giveoffering .

January Nigeria Workcamp Reflections

By Tim Joseph (Pictures by Pat Krabacher)

Tim Joseph at the workcamp

It is certainly a profound and life-changing experience to visit Nigeria and work and fellowship with the Nigerian Brethren.  I had previously been part of a work camp in February, 2009, (just months before the emergence of Boko Haram) and my experiences then have been a real touchstone in my life ever since.  I went this time with my wife Wanda, and I gave special attention and thought to changes in Nigeria in the intervening nine years.  I am fully aware that I can only see the surface and maybe one or two layers beneath, and that I carry my own mindset and preconceptions that color everything I see.  So here some highly subjective thoughts:

The Nigerians we worked, played, traveled and worshiped with are for the most part as hospitable, optimistic, fun-filled and humorous as I remembered.  Their faith in the goodness and protection of God is strong and deep.  I believe I saw more sadness in more eyes than I saw nine years ago, which is to be expected from the brutality and losses they have suffered, but their resilience and determination to live happily and trust in God is amazing, to say the least, to this American.

Working side by side

Working side by side

 

 

 

 

 

 

The actual work we American Brethren did in building foundations for that huge church in Michika was negligible, considering the scope of the project and the fact that almost all the work is done by simple muscle and sweat.  But there is no doubt our presence was extremely encouraging, inspiring and soul-filling to the people there, for they told us of their appreciation countless times and in many ways.  Many people told us that our just being there eased their fear.  Folks often commented on the great sacrifice we had made, leaving our comfortable, safe homes and traveling to a place so rough and dangerous.  I didn’t feel that way at all, of course, and felt the deepest gratitude and joy to be so well taken care of, so loved, not to mention just getting to be in Africa!

We listened to a lot of stories; that is probably the most important work we did.  Hair-raising, heartbreaking stories often.  One young man at Michika, Elisha Bitrus Sengere II, told and wrote down for me the story of his escape by motorbike the Sunday morning, 7 September 2014 when the terrorists stormed into Michika shooting and throwing bombs and the people ran to the mountains, to their homes, some to their deaths.  We visited many churches and bible schools which had been destroyed and were in various stages of rebuilding.  There are many widows and orphans.  We stayed at Kulp Bible College, at Kwarhi, which the terrorists had invaded and vandalized, but not destroyed, and we traveled an hour each day to Michika.  On that daily trip we went through nine military checkpoints and crossed two bomb-collapsed bridges.  For all that, life and commerce do seem to go on fairly normally in that region these days.  (But what do I know?)

The Nigerian Brethren’s relation/stance toward Muslims is complicated.  The church is remarkably faithful to Jesus’ teaching of loving and forgiving our enemies.  I can’t even imagine Americans being so faithful and obedient.  At the same time, there is a whole lot of bitterness and resentment toward Muslims in Nigerian Brethren I was with.  In many places in Nigeria Christians are second-class citizens.  Nigeria is the only country with roughly equivalent numbers of Muslims and Christians.  They have to get along.  Add to that five hundred different languages and hundreds of different tribes, as well as castes….  It is a rough place to have a nation.  Is it any wonder the church is so vital to our brothers and sisters of the EYN?  Pray for them.  Pray hard.

I had the opportunity to go to Chibok for a short visit, where I never dreamed I would be able to go.  Markus Gamache had some business up there one Saturday and took Sharon Franzen and I along.  I had visited in 2009 and had vivid memories.  The military were not happy that we foreigners were there.  We went to the Bible School to investigate the location for a bore hole they are planning to dig, and we visited a church and a family nearby.  Some huge trees which had provided shade and a gathering place at the Bible School had been cut down by the army as some kind of military precaution.  I know there are much deeper harms that have been done at Chibok, but it was painful to see those dead trunks in the hot sun.  War is the work of the Devil, no doubt about it.

US workcamp participants

Another day after work we visited Lassa, where again I had thought I would not be able to go.  It was kind of a spur of the moment trip, and we traveled a rough dirt road through forest and bush from Michika to Lassa.  I had spent a couple of days there in 2009 and two boys had adopted me and hung with me the whole time–Siliarnad and Paul.  I had no way of knowing what had happened to them when Boko Haram overran Lassa, but I knew teenage boys would have been prime targets for killing or kidnapping.  We arrived at Lassa EYN #1 church (which was rebuilt by Muslim-dominated Borno State–there’s a story there which I do not know) and there were few people in the church compound, but there was a boy sitting alone in a large courtyard playing a drum.  In conversation with the boy I soon discovered that he is a younger brother of Siliarnad.  Siliarnad was off in Yola taking a college entrance exam and Paul was alive and well in the town.  Some days God just takes a direct hand.

That’s enough for now.  Get me going and it’s hard to stop….      Tim Joseph

Guantanamo Bay

Two days ago, the President signed an Executive Order confirming that he will keep Guantanamo, the U.S. military prison in Cuba, open. In Guantanamo, prisoners are detained without trial and often mistreated psychologically and physically.
The Church of the Brethren is committed to speaking out against torture, which has consistently been a concern with this facility. Detainees are confined indefinitely without a trial, and denied basic legal human rights that should be afforded to all persons. A lack of transparency in the facility compounds the ethical problems, as the public is often not aware of the interrogation techniques and torture performed on their behalf.
The 2010 Church of the Brethren Resolution on Torture says that “torture is a blatant violation of the tenets of our faith. It injects into our character the sense that we are better than others and dehumanizes people. It seeks to break the human spirit. In reality it devastates both the one who is tortured and the one who tortures.”
Jesus makes it clear that the way we interact with others is of utmost importance. In Matthew 25:40, he says that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” The “least of these” certainly applies to those imprisoned without trial in our military prisons, and our treatment of these prisoners is a far cry from how we would treat Jesus.
The indefinite detention of prisoners by our government in Guantanamo is inconsistent with an ethic of peace and justice. As we seek to live in right relationship with others, we must hold the U.S. government accountable for it’s treatment of detainees. We condemn the decision to keep the Guantanamo Bay facility open, and urge the U.S. government to commit itself to the transparent, ethical treatment of all prisoners.
For more information about how you can get involved in seeking justice, visit the website of our partner, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. 

Living into the kingdom of God

Dan McFadden with volunteers from BVS Unit 316
Photo by Kelsey Murray

By Dan McFadden, director of Brethren Volunteer Service

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’… But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:31, 33).

In our culture, we place high value on success. Success is often measured by appearance, material wealth, occupation, or career advancement. All these are external areas of our lives.

At Brethren Volunteer Service orientations, we invite Dana Cassell, pastor of Peace Covenant Church of the Brethren, to lead us for a day focused on vocation—particularly on what and how God calls us. During that time she shares a story from Henri Nouwen, who was at the top of his profession teaching psychology at Harvard, Notre Dame, and Yale, but left it all to work in a L’Arche community. It was a significant change to go from the halls of academia to closely serving persons with intellectual disabilities each day. During this experience, Nouwen learned three things: 1) Being is more important than doing, 2) The heart is more important than the mind, and 3) Doing things together is more important than doing things alone.

1) Being is more important than doing.

Almost 30 years ago I started working in the psychiatric unit at St. Joseph Hospital in Elgin, Ill., after graduating with a Master’s of Social Work. After several years in the social services field, I thought I had something to offer. A supervisor of the unit, a very wise nurse, took me aside and said, “Dan, the most important thing you will do here is listen.” In other words, being with the patients would be more important than doing anything for them. These words were difficult for me to hear. I had been trained to do things, to help others, and to help them figure things out. What did she mean by, “the most important thing you can do is listen?”

But she was right. Listening is one of the most challenging things to do. We can be so preoccupied with doing something for someone that we miss the opportunity to listen, to be present. This doesn’t mean we stop the doing—we still need to get things done—but, like Nouwen, we must realize that in the push to achieve the pinnacle of success, we often lose an essential component of life—being with people. The L’Arche community taught Nouwen this, and that was my supervisor’s lesson too. Being is more important than doing. Listening is the most important thing you will do.

2) The heart is more important than the mind.

Academic achievement certainly fits with our cultural value of success, and Nouwen certainly succeeded in this area as a professor at prestigious schools. However, he didn’t feel like he was supposed to be in those places. It was then that he asked God for a clear message about what to do next. After many years and an interesting call, he moved to a L’Arche community to serve alongside persons with intellectual disabilities. While this can be challenging work to say the least, it doesn’t require quite the brain power of an academic setting. Nonetheless, Nouwen felt fulfilled in that community and it was where he served the rest of his days. While the mind can be impressive, “love is where the heart is,” as the song goes, or maybe, the heart is where love is.

3) Doing things together is more important than doing things alone.

This is a very Brethren value. It’s even in our tagline: “Continuing the work of Jesus. Peacefully. Simply. Together.”

As members of the Church of the Brethren, we understand this, and many Christians do too. We understand following Jesus means working together in community. Together.

It does, however, run against cultural values of independence and success—being a self-made person, “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps,” and going it alone. One might think of things like Frank Sinatra’s famous line, “I did it my way.” We hear all the time about the success of someone doing something on their own, and it can be difficult to evaluate success when something is done together.

Even though our cultural lens limits success to individual achievement, Nouwen still affirmed that doing things together is more important, and I completely agree. I can’t lead Brethren Volunteer Service by myself; we need our whole team. And we can’t be the church by ourselves or do the work of Jesus alone; we need each other, the whole community, to discern and move forward together.

What Nouwen learned at L’Arche is still essential for us today. Instead of living for our own success, these principles guide us to be present, remain focused on matters of the heart, and value community. By embodying these lessons, may we more fully live into the kingdom of God.

Brethren Volunteer Service partners with L’Arche communities in Northern Ireland, Germany, and the US. Learn more about this ministry of the Church of the Brethren or support it today at www.brethren.org/bvs.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Bound together in Christ

Register at www.brethren.org/nyc

By Kelsey Murray, National Youth Conference coordinator

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:12-14, NIV).

National Youth Conference, which started in 1954, is one of the largest gatherings of Brethren in the United States. It brings youth and advisors from across the country, and some from other countries, to Fort Collins, Colo., for a week-long experience unlike anything else. Each day there is worship, small groups, service projects, hiking, recreation, free time, and so much more. As like-minded Christians and loving Brethren, we come together to deepen our faith, ask meaningful questions, and walk with one another as Christ is present in the midst of this inspirational, faith-forming week. 

The National Youth Cabinet chose the theme of “Bound Together: Clothed in Christ” with the idea that we as Christians need to be unified in times of division. In our everyday, ordinary lives we need to wear compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience for others like we wear our clothes. These are the ideals and characteristics that should bind us together to be united with our brothers and sisters—not only within our local communities, congregations, and daily lives, but in our global communities as well.

This summer at NYC we are excited to hold service projects on the campus of Colorado State University. This will create a space for youth to really learn about the place where they serve and to more intentionally understand why we as a denomination hold service as so valuable. During our offering time, we will collect items for clean-up buckets for Brethren Disaster Ministries that will later be organized and packed as one of three service projects. This project is one sample of how we are bound in community with our brothers and sisters who have been affected by natural disasters, and it is our hope that youth will see this first-hand as they pack the buckets. 

We invite churches that don’t have youth attending NYC but would like to support these projects, to send supplies for the buckets to the General Offices (1451 Dundee Ave. Elgin, IL 60120) and we will take them to NYC. Brethren Disaster Ministries is generously helping to supply the buckets, detergent, and cleaner to make travel to CSU for youth a little lighter. 

As excitement for NYC continually builds, we can see God constantly working in all aspects of the planning for the conference, and trust that God will work in those who attend this mountain-top event. We can’t wait to see how youth will explore what it means to be “Bound Together: Clothed in Christ” and the ways this theme is woven into their lives. 

Registration for National Youth Conference opens tomorrow evening (Thursday, Jan. 18). Learn more about NYC 2018 or register at www.brethren.org/nyc . 

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Being the church together

Photo by Emily Tyler

By Emily Tyler, coordinator of Workcamps and Brethren Volunteer Service recruitment

Hopeless. This was the word a man from the village of Kebalpur used to describe how he felt more than two years after the devastating earthquake in Nepal.

This summer, 16 of us traveled to the Dhading District of Nepal for the Young Adult Workcamp. We partnered with Heifer International to help rebuild two schools. Our time with the people of Nepal and their overwhelming resilience inspired me each day as we huffed and puffed up the mountain to our work sites.

On our last day of work in Kebalpur, our translator offered to give us a tour of homes that were affected by the earthquake in April 2015. It was the house of the man who felt hopeless that we visited first. I distinctly remember approaching the house with a corrugated tin roof held down by giant rocks. There were no signs that any rebuilding had happened since the earthquake. A baby lay on a blanket in the middle of the floor and the man solemnly sat by the door as we had a conversation through our translator.

Every interaction we had with people before this moment had been positive, happy, hopeful, and full of unspoken love. Over the last few days, we had laughed with the people of the village while we gave our best (unimpressive) effort to mix cement by hand, enjoyed playing kickball with their children and grandchildren, and even taught an elder of the village how to take a “selfie.” However, when this man shared with us, my entire perspective shifted. The reality of how this village was affected by the earthquake hit me like a ton of bricks. I was speechless. All I could do was sit in his doorway, listen, and be present.

The workcamp theme for the summer was “Say Hello” and was supported by 3 John 13-14, which shares about having heart-to-heart conversations and greeting people by name. The theme focused on communication with God and each other, and even ourselves. While we were in Nepal, however, we were not able to communicate with people in their native language. But in our language of service, smiles, and holding space for people’s hopelessness, we formed relationships with people. We experienced what it means to be the church together and to work for the good of one another.

Wherever we are, we are called to be the church not just in positive, happy, and hopeful times, but in difficult times of sitting in a doorway together and holding space for the despair that we see and feel all around us. When everything seems hopeless, we can share the burden and allow God to be present with us.

The people we encountered in Nepal may not have been impressed with our cement mixing skills. But as we worked side by side, the way they welcomed us, showed us radical hospitality, and allowed us to be present in their hopeLESSness and hopeFULness was remarkable. It was one of the most significant images of church I’ve seen.

Workcamps provide opportunities for people of all ages to serve, worship, and learn together in community. Registration for the 2018 workcamp season opens January 11, 2018. For more information on workcamps visit www.brethren.org/workcamps or support it today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Do not be afraid

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

By David Steele, General Secretary.

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people’” (Luke 2:8-10, NIV).

I recently received a text message from my 21-year-old daughter, Aubrey, who has Down syndrome. She told me that there were going to be thunderstorms at home and clarified, “Dad I hate storms rain.” As I have done many times before, I assured her that everything would be okay.

“Do not be afraid” are the words of comfort that parents offer their children as they hold them tightly through the thunderstorms of life. These words sometimes come easily with little forethought. Yet, as we hear about the hurricanes, flooding, and fires that have displaced many; the tragedy of a mass shooting; a medical diagnosis with an uncertain prognosis; or the death of a loved one, it is more difficult to find comfort or assurance in these words.

We continue to face those storms within our church as well: diminishing attendance and the possibility of having to close the doors; a long, tiring search process for a new pastor; changes that test the boundaries of our traditions, values, and biblical interpretations; finger pointing and conversations about the possibility of a split; the spread of misinformation; and broken relationships within the fellowship. These things give us great concern and can distract us from hearing the good news.

Living in the plains of Kansas while in college, I was fascinated by watching a thunderstorm develop many miles in the distance clouds billowing into the heights of the heavens and lighting bolts dancing from the sky to the earth. Of course, my fascination was replaced with fear as the severity of a storm increased and moved closer, especially with the uncertainty of how powerful the storm could become.

The shepherds faced not a storm but glory of the Lord, with the appearance of the angel. I like to think the fear, and yes, even terror, that we may experience during storms is like the initial terror of the shepherds as the angel appeared to them. Yet more significant than their fear is the proclamation of the angel, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”

It may be hard to hear the good news in the midst of our storms, especially when they have caused damage or great harm to us and those we love. Yet the good news is present for us and, in some cases, we represent that good news for others. As followers of Jesus, we carry that good news. As a church, we are at our best as we offer comfort and assurance to one another and to all those who fear the storms of life. We are at our best when we reach out to those who have suffered great loss due to the physical storms that have stripped them of their homes, belongings, and sometimes loved ones. Through our acts of service and grace, we also convey the good news to those who do not know Jesus.

Through your gifts of prayer and financial support, the Church of the Brethren has been able to share the good news of Jesus:

  • More than 300 youth, young adults, and advisors served in 19 workcamps.
  • 734 “Gift of the Heart” kits (for schools, health, or clean-up) were assembled or donated at National Older Adult Conference for Church World Service.
  • The Disaster Ministry Response team of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) provided eight food distributions which fed more than 300 families on each occasion.
  • Children’s Disaster Services sent 153 dedicated volunteers to 13 locations affected by disaster or trauma and cared for more than 2,328 children.
  • 45 Brethren Volunteer Service volunteers faithfully served around the world.

Friends, “we (as the Church of the Brethren) hold an inexhaustible cup of cold water, water that can assuage the need of a thirsty world. We possess the cup, we are the cup, we know what it contains, and because we’ve experienced firsthand its wonderful promise we can pass it on. If we can accept and live this single metaphor, we and our work cannot fail, and will not end” (Reflections on Brethren Image and Identity, adapted).

This Advent, as we anticipate the birth of the one who will bring great joy for all people, may we together be the cup, share the good news, and be a source of comfort through the storms of life.

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org or support them today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Response to the National Security Strategy

 
As a church committed to peace, we should find the National Security Strategy (NSS) released by the Trump Administration today deeply concerning. This strategy, typically released every four years, addresses the priorities of the president as they relate to security issues- including the military, humanitarian aid, and any other facet of public policy that is deemed to have an impact on the security of the nation. 
 
The concerning elements of the NSS are not unique to the current presidential administration. With each new President and each new security strategy, we see values and worldviews that are inconsistent with an ethic of peacebuilding. While this blog post is in reference to the most recent iteration of our nation’s strategy, we remain opposed to all of the military-focused strategies that have made up our national security policies in the past.
 
One of the concerning elements of this National Security Strategy is that it positions other nations as competitors. While unveiling the plan, President Trump noted that “America is in the game, and America is going to win.” The text of the NSS itself suggested that the United States must start viewing conflict as “an arena of continuous competition.” Viewing national security as a zero-sum game and pitting the U.S. against other countries is not conducive to the peaceful existence we desire for all of humanity.  Adversarial relationships with China, Russia and other increasingly powerful nations will only fuel unnecessary economic and military conflict that will impact both Americans and communities around the world.
 
The strategy also focuses heavily on increasing military might and coercive strength, rather than relying on the preventative and peacebuilding measures long espoused by the Church of the Brethren. On this point, President Trump claimed that “unrivaled power is the most certain path to success.” In the text of the strategy itself, the administration calls for the modernization of the United States’ nuclear arsenal and the growth of our military’s size and funding. The 1996 Church of the Brethren Statement on Nonviolence and Humanitarian Intervention affirms the church’s commitment to a peace-oriented approach to national security, saying:
 
“Out of love toward victims of poverty, oppression, and violence, we are called to earlier, more profound, and more lasting efforts to address the conditions that gives rise to violence. Our church should press for more effective preventive diplomacy to defuse rising tensions before they erupt into war, more serious economic development to avert desperate conditions, and more concerted peacebuilding to weave new strong social fabrics that cross boundaries of race, class, religion, ethnicity, and nationality. We have abundant though underused evidence that where socio-economic cooperation occurs, former adversaries study war no more. We believe our church, nation, and the UN, should focus on such measures to achieve equity and justice. As equity and justice increase, new social stability and deepening commitment to community can reduce the occasions for military interventions.”
 
We appreciate the NSS’s inclusion of language surrounding the importance of empowering women and youth, but are disappointed that they have emphasized military might and defense spending over the programs and policies that can address root causes of violence.
 
The National Security Strategy views the success and influence of the United States as more desirable than peace and stability facilitated through cooperation with the rest of the world. In his speech, President Trump articulated his belief that the United States has “surrendered sovereignty” to international organizations and foreign diplomats.  The 1996 Church of the Brethren statement also addresses the concerns churches should have with this paradigm, saying:
 
The Church of the Brethren believes that, although national sovereignty may serve good purposes, it may also tempt us to idolatry, in which we serve the gods of national power and wealth rather than the God of love calling us to care for “the least of these” throughout the world. Nationalism wedded to militarism is a particularly harmful idol because it obstructs genuine respect for others and the growth of world community among all of God’s creation. If we do not bow down to today’s idols, we can through the grace of God be loving without killing.
 
As Christians, and especially as members of a historic Peace Church that has consistently opposed violence, it is essential that we hold our government to high standards as it sets out the national security agenda. National security should not be our highest priority- instead, our highest priority should be following the call of Jesus. The tone of this National Security Strategy contrasts starkly with the principles laid out in the Sermon on the Mount.
 
Matthew 5:1-12
He said:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 
  As an alternative to the priorities set out in the National Security Strategy, we suggest increased attention to diplomacy, civilian protection, conflict mitigation, and development assistance instead of increased militarization of our approach to national security threats. We urge the United States government to adopt a peace-focused worldview, and to consider the important role of the United States in modeling such a worldview as it carries out its national security duties.

New Program for high schoolers at Favored Sister’s School

Founder Na’omi Mankilik

Nigeria Crisis Response has been sponsoring the Favored Sister’s School in Jos, Nigeria since January 2015.The school was founded by Na’omi MANKILIK along with a Nigerian women’s organization called Favored Sister’s Christian Fellowship.  The school was started for the many orphans and displaced persons that resulted from Boko Haram insurgency. At first, 60 orphans were housed on the large piece of property and an addition 60 students were picked up daily and brought to the school. The first classes went from pre-school through 6th grade. The school has since expanded to 263 students, pre-school through high school. There are now 240 orphans living at the school. Favored Sister’s School has been working hard to bring quality education to these students. It employs displaced teachers and has a pastor and wife that live with the orphans. There is real care for the whole student, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

High School Students

Christian Aid Ministries (from Ohio) (CAM) has partnered with Church of the Brethren and has another program in place in Nigeria. When they visited Favored Sister’s School, they began to wonder what the older orphans would do when they left school. They have started a  program on the orphanage property to teach these youth an occupational skill for the future. Tailoring, Shoemaking and  Carpentry  will be  taught as a 12 month course. Skilled locals have been employed for each trade and they teach a half day course (3) days a week.

Carpenters in training are making desks

The program is well underway. The sewing class has moved from practicing on paper to sewing outfits for themselves. Shoemakers have made and sold over 40 pairs of shoes. The carpenters made 40 desks for the school and are now making couches they can sell to help run the school. Thank you CAM for the dream and for helping it come to fruition.

Students at Favored Sister’s School (Photo by Jon Ogburn)

For less than $150 per youth, you could help sponsor the program. The students will be able to learn a vocation and then will graduate the program with a sewing machine or the basic hand tools of their own that will equip them to support themselves. Check can be made to Church of the Brethren, with Nigeria Crisis – Favored Sisters in the memo line.

Please continue to pray for the students, teachers and administrators of Favored Sister’s School.

 

 

Insights from Peacebuilders Around the World

The following blog post is based on the report “Peacebuilding and Violent Extremism: Key insights and lessons from a global consultation convened by Peace Direct.”  You can find the report here.
 
As the convener of a working group on Nigeria, the Office of Public Witness works with a number of peace-focused organizations. One of these organizations is PeaceDirect, an “international charity that works with local people to stop violence and build sustainable peace.” In 2017, PeaceDirect convened experts from 36 different countries in a series of peacebuilding discussions focused on violent extremism. The result was a report entitled “Peacebuilding and Violent Extremism.” The collection of insights and expertise from local peacebuilders around the world is incredibly helpful as we develop a peace-focused worldview.
 
One insight from the discussion is the necessity of local engagement in peacebuilding processes. Too often, the international community is quick to step into violent conflict situations with ready-made solutions and top-down approaches to resolving problems. To build a lasting, sustainable peace, however, requires a much deeper engagement from the local communities.
 
One practical way to engage local communities, especially youth and women’s organizations, is to allow them to design their own peacebuilding programs rather than funding them to carry out programs that have been already designed. Rather than serving as contracting organizations, then, these international organizations would be directly empowering local communities to find and sustain their own long-term peacebuilding initiatives.
 
Another key takeaway from the report was the importance of working towards an ideal version of the world, rather than a pragmatic one. As peacebuilders- and especially as people of faith- it is our job to guide the world closer to the best that it can be, rather than making the kinds of compromises common in the policy world.
 
An overarching theme to the discussion was the importance of language, and how the ways that we frame conflict with our words has real-world implications for the way conflict situations are perceived globally. Nora Lester Murad articulated this most clearly when she said, “Those who control the discourse are able to frame certain questions in or out, to make certain ideas normal or extreme, and can use the legitimacy they gain from controlling discourse to marginalize certain voices.” One example of the power of language can be seen even in the term “Countering Violent Extremism,” which has been used primarily for actions against Islamic actors and not in reference to other extremist groups- for example, right wing hate groups.
 
Peacebuilding is important to the Church of the Brethren. We are called to be a living Peace Church, and to “facilitate dialogue among those committed to Biblical non-resistance, those committed to conscientious objection to armed conflict, and those committed to military action, to give expression to the Brethren Witness to Jesus’ way of making peace.” (2003 Call for a Living Peace Church:http://www.brethren.org/ac/statements/2003livingpeace.html)
 
The Office of Public Witness is grateful to wonderful peacebuilding partners like PeaceDirect for their work around the world. Insight from local, grassroots peacebuilders is essential to forming a peace-based worldview that takes into consideration multiple perspectives. As we seek to “live the peace of Jesus publicly,” we will continue to collaborate with and listen to the grassroots peacebuilders actively working to make the world a better place.