Healing continues in Chibok

Trauma Workshop in Chibok

Trauma Workshop in Chibok

The disaster ministry of Ekklisiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN) includes a Peace/Trauma division. This group of 13 trained facilitators holds Trauma workshops throughout North East Nigeria and at various Internally Displaced Person camps.

On June 9th-11th, 4 such workshops were held in the Chibok area. [After the abduction of the 276 Chibok girls in April 2014, the area has been the target of  repeated attacks.] The parents of the Chibok girls have suffered greatly over the past two years. The workshops have been very successful in teaching about trauma. The program provides education on the effects of trauma and gives ways to break free of the trauma, emphasizing the role of forgiveness.

The results of these workshops has been amazing! Here are some quotes about the healing provided by the Chibok workshops:

“It helped me because when I came to this workshop I was holding resentment against a particular person. But because of this workshop I have forgiven him.”

“Everyday my heart used to be very heavy with sadness but since I had this teaching I feel OK by God’s grace.”

“Since when you started teaching us about this trauma healing, my heart is healed of some problems. Before I could not sleep but these two days I slept very well. I am one of those that their daughter was taken away by Boko Haram and because of this important teaching of trauma healing, I will help others also.”

We continue to pray for the “Chibok girls” and for their parents and relatives. May forgiveness and non-retaliation continue as the core of our response.

The fine work of the Peace/Trauma division of EYN has not gone unnoticed. Last month the leader, Effraim Kadala, was a recipient of the Michael Sattler Peace Prize in Germany. He spent six weeks in Germany and Switzerland; speaking about the plight in Northeast Nigeria and about his peace work with Christians and Muslims.

Growing in the Garden

When gardeners from across the country come together for an intense weekend of discussions and visioning, incredible things can take shape. That is precisely what happened when five Going to the Garden partners came together with staff from the Global Food Crisis Fund and the Office of Public Witness for a retreat in Wisconsin earlier this month.

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Started in 2012, in the midst of a nation-wide drought, Going to the Garden has been a way for congregations throughout the ecumenical community to address local food security and hunger needs by providing one or two grants up to $1000 to start or supplement community gardens. As a collaboration between the Global Food Crisis Fund and the Office of Public Witness in Washington, DC, Going to the Garden has also sought ways to connect this local work with advocacy and addressing larger policy issues relating to food. Due to a decreased volume of grant applications, that portion of Going to the Garden was closed in early 2016, leaving a space to be filled with new ideas and plans to further the work of the program’s partners.

Through group discussions with the garden partners over the course of the weekend and with inspiration from visiting Growing Power, a large and dynamic urban farm in Milwaukee, the theme of wanting to be more strongly involved in local advocacy around issues of community hunger and food security was frequent. One of the original goals of Going to the Garden has been to engage the denomination in larger, nationally-focused, advocacy pieces, but finding and maintaining interest in working on this has been difficult. The conversations from the retreat showed that many of the gardeners are already involved in their own advocacy work but are doing it on local levels in ways that affect their communities directly.

From all of this visioning, a plan to establish a Garden Advocate program emerged. While the gathered group reflected that they were already doing positive local advocacy work, it was noted that having someone who is capable of giving greater attention to such work would strengthen what is being done. Through the Global Food Crisis Fund, several Going to the Garden partners will be able to apply for funding to support someone in their community with interest in this work to act as a Garden Advocate on their behalf. This person will be able to engage in local advocacy work being done around issues of hunger or creation care while also working closely with the Office of Public Witness to connect on larger national issues on the same theme.

It is the hope that the creation of a Garden Advocate program will strengthen the capacity of these gardens to be able to help hungry neighbors while also working for larger systemic change to ensure everyone in our communities and our country no longer has to worry about being hungry.

Youth Peace Travel Team – Inspiration Hills Camp

IMG_7999Cicadas! Cicadas! Cicadas! Oh my! This past week the team had the joy to be amidst senior high campers at Inspiration Hills in Ohio. We quickly learned that this was “the summer of the cicadas.” Their deafening buzz, hum, or screech, as some would describe it, left us wondering if we would run into anymore cicadas before their time passes (around July 4th) until the next cica
da summer in seventeen years. With this fascination of cicadas, we would like to share some interesting facts about this peculiar creature.IMG_7352

1. Cicadas will land on you if you are using lawn equipment because they will think you are also a cicada.
2. Cicadas have five eyes.
3. People eat them… but the peace team was not that adventurous.
4. Cicadas pee and it’s called cicada sap. We probably got hit by it and didn’t even notice.
5. You can find other facts at this website dedicated to cicadas. http://www.cicadamania.com/cicadas/the-most-interesting-17-year-cicada-facts/

What a way to start the summer! From building a cabin, to swimming out to the dock, to singing songs of praise, our week at Inspiration Hills brought us closer together as a team and to those that call this camp their home. I greatly appreciated the willingness of all campers and counselors to learn and participate as we ran our workshops for the first time. It was particularly heartwarming to hear that many used the word “safe” to describe their feelings after a challenging activity dealing with interpersonal conflict resolution. Participating together in conversations about how we each choose to live out our peace witness daily was also particularly powerful as a diversity of opinions were able to be expressed in this safe space. We all left the week with many new friends, things to ponder, and stomachs full of excellent campfire biscuits and popcorn!

Peace,
Sara

What’s up my Shalom-makers? We just wrapped up our first week of camp, and it was AWESOME. The staff and the campers were so welcoming and engaged in learning more about peacemaking. It was great to hear them all participate in discussion and activities, and it was also fun for us to hang out with them for camp activities! Some of my favorite parts were hanging out on the dock in the lake, making kettle corn in a massive cast iron bowl over the fire, helping construct a cabin (that wasn’t part of the original plan, but it was fun!), Coffee House night, worship in The Crater™, and eating peach cobbler. I’m going to miss the counselors, staff, and campers at Inspiration Hills, but I’m so hyped for Mardela and my first ride on an airplane! I definitely won’t be missing the cicadas, though. 17 years isn’t long enough.

Peace out,
Phoebe Hart

Hello and good tidings!! Our week was filled with resurrecting a cabin, songs, and water games. That’s only a few of the fun things we did this past week. If you would like to follow up with the rest of our activities, you are welcome to ask the thousands of cicadas that accompanied our journey. A specific highlight for me was the feeling of running our workshops for the first team. It has been an honor to put in so much hard work with the three team members that stand beside me. I personally was pretty nervous, but the willingness to participate from the staff and campers at Inspiration Hills and the support of my team mates has filled me with a confidence of joy and love. I look forward to moving on with this joy but will miss the friends I have made along the way. But another friend worth knowing is down the road!

Blessings, Kiana

Hello my good friends! I am so excited that our summer at camps is underway! This week was full of inspiring moments, seeing campers new to the camping open up and step out of their comfort zone, witnessing counselors new to counseling take campers under their wing and be excellent role models to the campers, and experiencing everyone feel safe about their beliefs in an exercise that forced participants to be vulnerable and share their opinions. On another note, it was nifty to see how camp dynamics changed throughout the week as counselors and campers became more comfortable with each other and interacted more and more. With such a small group, everyone was pretty close by the end of the week. My highlights were making popcorn over a fire and swimming in the lake.

Peace, Love, Mermaids and Mermans
Jenna

Youth Peace Travel Team 2016 – Orientations!

YPTT 2016 and their mentors. From L to right, back row: Audrey Hollenberg-Duffey, Sarah Neher, Chelsea Goss, Dana Cassell. Front row, L to R: Phoebe Hart, Sara White, Kiana Simonson, and Jenna Walmer.

Hello friends! The 2016 Youth Peace Travel Team is so excited to start sharing our experience with y’all this summer! We just finished up our Ministry Summer Service (MSS) training and are enjoying the first week of camp. We want to introduce ourselves a little bit and get y’all acquainted to the blog again for the summer. Each week there will be an introduction about where we are and each team member will share a little bit about their favorite experience that week.

Hello everyone! At MSS, I really enjoyed reconnecting with old friends and creating new friendships. I appreciated the time shared laughing in community, but also the spiritual discussions we had through lectio divina, examen, and other lessons throughout the week. My favorite moment during training was when we pulled into the hotel parking lot and “Don’t Stop Believing’ by Journey came on the radio and we all sang it at the top of our lungs.
Can’t wait to share more exciting experiences throughout the summer!

Peace, Love, and Pineapples, Jenna

Greetings friends! We have finished up training and arrived at our first camp. Training was full of connection, community, learning, and love. I am always awestruck by the number of gifts the young adults of the church bring when we gather. I feel beyond blessed to be supported by such grace and sophistication. The Youth Peace Travel Team (YPTT) was able to spend time with representatives from On Earth Peace, Outdoor ministries, Church of the Brethren, and Bethany Theological Seminary. Learning more in-depth information about the organizations and spending time with the faces of each extension of the church was an enriching experience. Exploring our call to peace and service with those of us a little older and wiser was an experience that I will be able to carry with me in my pocket as the team moves forward. The team then joined with fellow MSS interns to build a community of those serving and exploring vocation this summer. The week was filled with laughter and building friendships that we will also carry with us as we travel around the country this summer.

I am thankful for all of the learning we have done so far. But above all, I am thankful for the love that surrounds us as the YPTT, as members of the church, as friends, and as children of God. We are blessed. We are members of one family.

Blessings, Kiana

Greetings all! Over the past two weeks of training I have been blessed to get to know and share many growth experiences with my fellow YPTT members and Ministry Summer Service interns. Particular special for me was the opportunity for us all to plan and lead the Wednesday morning chapel service for those in the Elgin offices. We chose the theme of hope, reading from Romans 8: 22-28. As I head out this summer, I am hopeful for the opportunity to connect with Brethren from around the country, united by our common call to follow the life of Jesus. In visiting the offices in Elgin as well as Bethany Theological Seminary, I found a special sense of connectedness and support as we all head out on this journey together. I hope that we can share this spirit of community, and through it Christ’s spirit of peace, with all of the campers we encounter this summer.

In peace, Sara

Hey, y’all! I am so excited to be at our first camp. Training has been so great, both at YPTT orientation and MSS orientation. At Bethany Theological Seminary, I really enjoyed learning from professors and eating dinner with church leaders and friends of the Youth Peace Travel Team. We had three really great leaders for the week – Bekah, Marie, and Nate. They all had a lot of good advice and wisdom to share.
When that was over, we went to Ministry Summer Service orientation in Elgin, at the main offices of the Church of the Brethren. My favorite part of training was, again, getting to eat dinner with different people around the area. One night we met some amazing local leaders in the church and got to have a sort of “panel” with them. Though the invite wasn’t exclusively given to women, the leaders in attendance were all amazingly inspiring female pastors and leaders in the church, and hearing about their journeys was a wonderful experience. I also really loved talking with my mentor throughout training, because I got to learn a little about her time on YPTT and we got to discuss what it might be like this summer. I’m pumped to see what the rest of the summer holds!

Phoebe

Virtual Ghosts: An Update on Statelessness in the DR

 

“With the stroke of a pen, authorities in the Dominican Republic have effectively wiped four generations of Dominicans off the map. Without nationality, tens of thousands of people have become virtual ghosts, who face serious obstacles in accessing basic services in the country,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International. Here at the Office of Public Witness, these words propel us to act, raising awareness and engaging in efforts to help alleviate a dire situation. This reality faces a large population in the Dominican Republic (DR), where the Church of the Brethren has a significant presence. Deprived of the basic right of legal nationality, the DR’s stateless community lacks the paperwork to attend schools, work at a formal jobs, get married, and have opportunities that many people would see as inherent to a normal life. Since Nathan Hosler’s trip to the DR in 2014 and to the Haitian side of the border in 2015, the situation surrounding statelessness in the region merits a current report.

Context:
President of the DR since 2012, Danilo Medina, just won reelection in the 2016 presidential race. Although Medina’s administration has made some sweeping developments, such as creating 2,500 new schools and maintaining one of Latin America’s fastest growing economies, the painful situation for thousands of Dominicans of Haitian decent who were “repatriated” to Haiti has not improved under his administration. Following the 2010 constitutional change that eliminated citizenship to those born to migrants in the DR, the DR’s highest constitutional court passed decision 168-13 in September of 2013 that retroactively stripped the citizenship from all of those born to undocumented immigrants since 1929, mostly of Haitian decent.

This action left a population of approximately 200,000 people stateless. Following this, international alarms sounded. The United Nations, human rights organizations, and others cried out against the unjust racial bias inflicted upon those of Haitian decent born in the DR, rendering them with neither Dominican nor Haitian citizenship. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) published a press release urging the Dominican Republic not to deport thousands of stateless people “whose citizenship was thrown into question by a 2013 ruling.” The Church of the Brethren also joined the voices in objection to this decision that affected our church community as well.

What has been done?
Succumbing to international pressure, the Medina administration created a naturalization program that expired in February of 2015. Many affected individuals did not learn about the program in time to apply until after it had already expired. Following this, a regularization plan that expired in June 2015 allowed individuals to register with the government. Since then, the Dominican government claims it has granted more than 250,000 previously undocumented migrants temporary visas and reinstated citizenship to 55,000 of the Dominicans born to migrants. However, this leaves a multitude of individuals who did not register. “Most people here were afraid to register,” Pérez said. “They didn’t understand the process or thought they would be deported.” Medina and his government consider the plan a success, not recognizing that many were unable to register.

The Church of the Brethren donated $16,000 and worked with the church in the DR to assist affected individuals through this regularization process. The documentation and trips to the government offices proved a significant financial burden to those trying to attain citizenship.

 Current situation and action:
Without family or social networks in Haiti, many stateless individuals are in makeshift camps along the DR-Haiti border. The International Organization for migration estimates about 20,000 official deportations have been carried out, while approximately 60,000 individuals have fled to Haiti on their own in fear of persecution, violence, or deportation. By the end of 2016, an estimated 120,000 individuals will cross over to Haiti. Camps are still swelling near the border, and tensions are rising. “Everyone here is more afraid of aggression from Dominican citizens than aggression from the government,” said one migrant. The Church of the Brethren has visited the border area, offering prayer and medical assistance. About 25 other organizations are working in the camps to provide various forms of assistance.

On behalf of the Church of the Brethren, the Office of Public Witness sent a letter signed by other faith-based organizations to Ambassador Brewster in Santo Domingo, DR, urging him to push for the creation of protocols for deportation that respect human rights, support those affected through documentation guidance and appeals processes, and the restoration of nationality to those affected. The Office of Public Witness continues to work with other organizations such as Church World Service to monitor and respond to this situation.

Christy Crouse
Peacebuilding and Policy Intern
Office of Public Witness
Washington, DC

Children’s Trauma Training in Nigeria: a huge success

Leaders Kathy Fry-Miller and John Kinsel with Participants of the training

Leaders Kathy Fry-Miller and John Kinsel with Participants of the training

Fourteen women theologians including our host Suzan Mark, Women’s Ministry Director for Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN), attended the two-day training on trauma healing for children.

Day 1 of training was spent learning to know each other and learning about how people

Training time

Training time

respond to trauma and how to support resilience. The group was then presented with the Healing Hearts Curriculum that consists of nine sessions based on the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, with accompanying Bible stories from “Shine On: A Story Bible.”

Participants received a small version of the Kit of Comfort that CDS volunteers use with children who are affected by disasters, with art materials, bean bags, and beautiful hand-made dolls and animals that Church of the Brethren congregations and individuals across the country created for this work.

Day 2 was spent completing the nine sessions and planning for the afternoon practicum at Favored Sisters school and orphanage. The practicum work was enthusiastically received by the children, as well as the trainers.

Reflections

Kathy Fry-Miller

All of the women in our training group have been affected by the violence of the Boko Haram. They all had to flee at some point, some many times. They have taken other families into their homes; they have taken children/orphans into their homes. They have responded to the crisis with compassion and faith. These women were inspiring to us. They have found amazing ways to cope with crisis through their love of God, through music, prayer, showing compassion, and being helpers.

I’m so grateful for this opportunity to travel to Nigeria and work with the wonderful people we met! Such gracious hospitality! Our relationships were full of friendship, warmth, joy, compassion. It really was a life-changing experience.

John Kinsel:

My biggest take-away was the strength, intelligence, hospitality, love and resilience of the Nigerian folks we met.  I have never experienced such pure integration of faith in my life, and it left me amazed, humbled and challenged.  The training itself, as I’ve been telling folks, couldn’t have gone better, due primarily to the receptiveness of the women theologians.  We had designed the presentation to be emergent versus didactic, and boy did it emerge via the insightful, energetic and hungry response from the women.  They took it all in, made it their own and, during their “practicum” at Favored Sisters School, demonstrated a capacity for loving connection with the children that left us awe-struck.  So many stories emerge from this experience, but they can be summed up by saying that I am convinced that children’s lives were changed that day!  The continuity and sustaining of this work is assured by the strength of these amazing women.  We were pleased also to meet with representatives from the Mennonite Central Committee who, while disappointed they had not been a part of the training, were enthusiastic about finding something that could feed their newly recognized awareness of the need to address the trauma of children, as well as adults.  They challenged us to adapt the curriculum to be appropriate for Christians and Muslims alike and Kathy and I have accepted that challenge.  Our vision is that this work can expand and provide psychological comfort to many children.

Children at the Practicum

Children at the Practicum

A Child holds her drawing

A Child holds her drawing

Stories from the Practicum

One little girl (under age 2) started screaming and ran away when one of the trainers was on the ground during the dramatization of the “Good Samaritan”. She thought it was a dead body.

One group did the session, “hunger and thirst for righteousness” which included making an origami paper cup, bringing a stone to leave at the “altar” in the cup, and taking a piece of sweet bread back with them. They sang, “Come, bring your burdens to God” as they did this. The trainer said, “The children needed something like that. They immediately learned the song. They immediately did the dramatic experience, bringing their burdens, leaving them, and taking the sweet bread. They feel burdens. They put their trust in God. One girl said that she knows now that she can carry her burden to God and remove that burden from her.”

One girl told her trainer, “When we fled from Boko Haram, I prayed that God would never forgive them. Now I will pray that God will forgive Boko Haram.”

One group did the activity where they held dolls/stuffed animals and sang “Jesus loves me”.

One of the directors at the Favored Sisters School said, “Some of these children will never, never forget that you came to us today.”

One little girl told her trainer, “You. You are my mother, because my mother is not here.” The trainer was so touched that even after a short 45 minute session, they bonded with these precious children. Another trainer said that children told her, “They were so happy, it was as if they had seen their parents.”

Response after the training

Suzan (Director of Women for EYN)

“I’ve been getting calls during our session, people who heard about this and have children who are traumatized and need help.Our future generations will live to tell stories about how the Church of the Brethren came to them.”

Suzan, a couple days later,

“I’ve been getting so many texts, calls, and emails from the women theologians over the past two days. They are so excited about doing this work.”

“I saw three children last evening walking around. I was showing them some pictures on my phone. They saw the picture of me standing by my car that was burned out, and asked about it. I told them the story of the Good Samaritan. I gave them paper to draw someone who has helped them. They each were so thoughtful, then they drew someone. Each one of them had someone in mind to draw. They told me the stories of their pictures and who helped them.”

One of the trainers said, “I went to school before, but here I REALLY went to school.”

(Information and pictures for this report wer provided by Kathy Fry-Miller, Associate Director Children’s Disaster Ministries)

Workshop held for Medical Clinic workers

by Norman S. Waggy, M.D.

Group of dispensary staff and ICBDP medical workers that met for 2.5 days in Jos for a refresher course led by Norm and Paul

Group of dispensary staff and ICBDP medical workers that met for 2.5 days in Jos for a refresher course led by Norm and Paul

I had served as the medical consultant to the EYN Rural Health Program during the 1980’s, so the current status and well-being of the program was of particular interest to me.  Carl and Roxane Hill, coordinators for the Nigeria Crisis Fund, also asked me to assess the program as much as possible, and to provide observations and recommendations if appropriate.  Although I only was able to visit 3 dispensaries and the RHP Headquarters in Garkida during a VERY brief trip to Yola, Kwarhi, Fadama Rake, and Garkida, I did have the chance to listen to many who are working with the programme.

As a result of these visits and discussions, we determined that a “refresher course” for the dispensers in charge could be beneficial.  I had provided one-week refresher courses twice annually during the 1980’s for the EYN RHP dispensers, so I had a bit of an understanding of the types of teaching which might be beneficial.  I was able to contact people back in the US to e-mail copies of some of my teaching materials, some of which I rewrote as handouts.  Using that material as well as information from the internet and textbooks, I was able to write and print 9 handouts on various topics for each person.

Fortuantely, Paul Fry-Miller, a friend and Physician Assistant from North Manchester, IN arrived in Nigeria with his wife Kathy just the day before this course started.  Paul and I have worked together previously in Nicaragua, and I very much valued his advice, expertise, and friendship as we together taught this course.

We did not give the 16 participants much chance to catch their breath!  After they had travelled for over 10 hours in the bus on Sunday, we ate our evening meal together, had an opening worship, then during an opening session discussed their concerns and topics that they wanted to address.  By 9 pm they were ready to sleep at the EYN Guest House, before returning the next morning at 7 am for worship and teaching!  Our devotional topics during the course included “Health, Wellness, and Healing as part of God’s Plan”, “Servant Leadership and Humility”, and “Hope”.  The course ended late on Tuesday with a worship time led by Rev. James T. Mamza, Director of the EYN ICBDP, who encouraged participants to wisely use the gifts/talents that God has given each.

During our 12 teaching sessions over the 2 full days (a total of over 15 hours), we were able to address every one of the topics they requested.  Teachings included human sexuality/family planning/infertility, pharmacology, viruses, bacteria, appropriate use of antibiotics and antipyretics, sexually transmitted infections, urinary tract infections, diabetes, hypertension, lipids, hepatitis, gastritis/ulcers, typhoid, diarrhea, worms, oral rehydration solution, nosebleeds, sickle cell anemia, Lassa and Ebola viruses, childhood diseases and vaccines, and oral hygiene.  We were also able to discuss some of the case studies about which they had particular concerns.  Obviously, given the time constraints, we were only able to provide a very superficial treatment of each topic!

Overall, I believe that this course was well-received, and hopefully it will be helpful to the dispensers of the EYN RHP.  I felt that we all worked well together, and I appreciate the chance to provide this course.  The larger management issues facing the RHP will need to be addressed if the programme is to continue.  I hope we will have a chance to discuss these in the near future.

Value and Values: Perspectives on Israel and Puerto Rico

How we spend our money shows what we think is important. In the past few years, the U.S. government has struggled to pass a budget, but some fiscal decisions are easier to make than others. With the support of Congress, the Administration has discussed expanding U.S. funds to Israel to further expand Israel’s already excessive military edge. While Israel is a major U.S. ally in the Middle East, policymakers have failed to make progress on a more pressing fiscal issue that directly affects U.S. citizens: the debt crisis in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico’s expansive debt has crippled its economy and forced many citizens to leave the island territory.

What does it say about our country that efforts to bolster Israel’s military receive high praise, while Congressional efforts to offer financial support for Puerto Rico continue to stall? While these two issues are wholly separate in both their justifications and mechanisms for receiving U.S. support, juxtaposing these two cases reveals misplaced priorities in the American agenda relevant to people of faith.

After receiving a widely-supported letter from the U.S. Senate, the Administration has stated that it aims to enhance Israel’s annual $3 billion military aid package to nearly $4 billion. Since Israel became a nation in 1946, U.S. military aid to Israel has exceeded $130 billion, which is nearly half of all military aid sent to the Middle East in that same time period. With such sustained support, Israel clearly meets any arbitrary threshold for defense, making an increase in Israel’s superlative aid excessive and irresponsible.

Israel has proved its military independence in defense expenditures and by its arms manufacturing industry that exports to 130 countries, including the U.S. and U.K. Israel’s arms trade is problematic in itself since many of Israel’s arms exports contribute to conflicts in places such as the Ivory Coast and South Sudan. The question of military support for Israel consequently goes beyond a matter of fiscal responsibility to one of moral responsibility. Does Israel need our support? Does it even deserve it?

The Puerto Rico’s debt crisis poses another moral problem, though one exacerbated by U.S. inaction rather than direct financial endorsement. The Puerto Rican government is currently $72 billion in debt and has a $2 billion debt payment to make by June 1. In addition to irresponsible governing, Puerto Rico’s special designation as a U.S. territory helped create the current crisis. Puerto Rican statehood is debated even among its citizens, but without many state protections, financial loopholes enabled large corporations and hedge funds to lend money to the Puerto Rican government at irresistible rates. In the wake of aggressive lending and borrowing, Puerto Rico’s debt ballooned out of control.

The Puerto Rican government and several members of Congress have pushed legislation to help lessen the impact of Puerto Rico’s debt on its struggling population. The proposed aid to Puerto Rico is frequently couched as a bailout, but unlike financial assistance to Israel, the current debate is not about distributing U.S. taxpayer money. Rather, the current legislation has the modest goal of providing debt relief to Puerto Rico by granting it municipal bankruptcy protection, a privilege held by all U.S. states but not the Puerto Rican territory.

Bankruptcy protection would restructure debt payments to ensure the well-being of the 3.5 million Puerto Rican people, about 45% of whom live in poverty because of this financial crisis. Without this protection, Puerto Rico could be required to further defund essential emergency services and continue to raise taxes in order to meet payment deadlines. Sales taxes in Puerto Rico already sit at a soaring 11.5% and thousands have left the island to escape an economy that leaves many overqualified and unsupported. Efforts to pass helpful legislation to aid Puerto Rico continue to falter, begging the question: Do we have our priorities right?

While military aid to Israel uses taxpayer money to further equip the most militarized nation in the Middle East, debt relief to Puerto Rico addresses the immediate need of struggling U.S. taxpayers. Too frequently it seems our fiscal sense is disconnected from common sense. Our country was founded on the self-evident truths that everyone is created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights. In a world filled with money and potential profit, however, these rights often become mere footnotes in discussions about dividends and economic growth. U.S. arms manufacturers receive good business from Israel because of military aid, while Puerto Rico doesn’t seem to have much to offer.

As Brethren, we tout our tagline “Peacefully, Simply, Together” but often forget its implications. We are called to be peaceful, acting from a place of love and support. We are called to live simply, to walk with God rather than join the rat race. Finally, we are called together to be strengthened as a community of faith. These three pillars rest on the recognition that every person is a precious creation made in the image of God. This belief undergirds our work through Global Mission and Service and within our own communities. It is a foundation for witness that gives us a prophetic voice.

Recalling that our political system is founded on the equal rights of everyone to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we must use our prophetic voice to remind those with power that such rights cannot be ignored, that each person has inherent value deeper and more beautiful than market value, that military excess works against the pursuit of peace and simplicity. Our elected officials must be reminded that they serve the People, especially the citizens of Puerto Rico.

Today, the Office of Public Witness joined several other faith-based organizations in denouncing U.S. military aid and arms trade in the Middle East, including Israel. The Office also works with Jubilee USA, an organization focused on providing debt relief. Check out their website for more information about Puerto Rico and how you can get involved.

In Christ’s Peace,

Jesse Winter
Peacebuilding and Policy Associate
Office of Public Witness
Washington, DC

Critical seeds project is underway

Homes and Land at the Care-Center

Homes and Land at the Care-Center

A large part of the Nigeria Crisis Response in 2016 is providing seeds for this planting season. The first distribution took place at one of our care-centers near Abuja. The disaster team coordinated the distribution. The care-center includes enough land to give each of the 70 households a small plot. People can also rent additional lands to produce more crops.

Elizabethtown members who visited Nigeria in January have been sharing their stories with churches. They have been tirelessly promoting the seed distribution and their efforts have brought in significant funds towards the goal of  $347,000.

Seeds and Fertilizer ready for distribution

Seeds and Fertilizer ready for distribution

Distribution to each of 70 household

Distribution to each of 70 households

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is an excerpt from a Newsline piece about the seeds project.                                       The Nigerians of the northeast are traditionally an agrarian people. Many make their living from farming or they subsidize their incomes or their diets by tending small farms or gardens.

Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, once considered Nigeria’s poet laureate, wrote a book titled, “Things Fall Apart.” The book was about the rhythms of life associated with the agricultural life in Nigeria and how things changed when white missionaries came bearing the gospel message. But what we learned from this book was the importance of the planting and harvest times to life in Nigeria. The planting comes as the annual rains begin in May and June. Then, after a productive growing season, the harvest takes place in the fall, providing food and incomes for the coming year.

Over the last few years, the violence and destruction carried out by Boko Haram have adversely affected farming as well as communities and church life. Now, since the return of Nigeria’s military to the area, tensions have lessened and people are returning to their traditional homes and villages. Among the biggest needs we see for the coming year are seeds, herbicides, and fertilizer so that planting can begin again on a large scale. Our plan is to help provide the means for the people to get back to the land and return to the one thing that has sustained them in the past–farming.

Through the Nigeria Crisis Fund, we are planning to provide money to purchase seeds, herbicides, and fertilizer that will assist Nigerians in helping themselves. If we can do this, then come harvest time this fall, we can reduce the amount of funds required to provide food distributions, and may be able to close out that phase of our response.

Caring for Caribou

This sermon was given by Katie Furrow as a way to celebrate Earth Day Sunday at the Washington City Church of the Brethren in Washington, DC. It is based around Genesis 1:20-31.

“The Sacred Place Where Life Begins.” For the Gwich’in people, this place is the coastal plains of Northern Alaska. The coastal plains are home to the breeding grounds of countless migratory bird species, polar bears, and the Porcupine Caribou which plays a significant role in the lives of the Gwich’in as a means of sustenance and spirituality. When one learns of the role of the coastal plains in regard to the breeding and calving grounds for all of these animals, it is hard to dispute that is anything less than divine Creation at work—it is a space that is temperate enough for mothers and newborns to have proper nutrients from vegetation but not so warm to allow breeding of the hoards of mosquitoes that will descend upon the area in warmer months as a nuisance to everything that has blood, and the plains are often safer from predators allowing newborns to grow well. It is truly sacred ground.

Fortunately, the value and importance of this land as a sacred space that creates new life and helps species and cultures flourish has been known for some time, and in 1960, legislation was passed protecting over 19 million acres of this area, creating the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And even just last January, President Obama proposed to designate over 12 million acres of the refuge as wilderness, further protecting it.

However, some would consider the coastal plains and the refuge sacred for other reasons. You see, this place where life begins is also where United States-owned oil reserves begin.

According to the US Geological Survey, there are approximately “896 million barrels of conventional, undiscovered oil,” located underneath the coastal plains and many individuals, corporations, and members of the government have been clamoring to drill there since the mid-1970s despite the location’s status as a wilderness refuge. While the monetary profits of such drilling are certain, the reality is that the oil that comes from the refuge would provide only 1 to 2 percent of the oil that the United States consumes each day—in that knowledge, one must consider if it is truly worth it.

Drilling in this delicate habitat would irreparably change the landscape of the environment—altering migration patterns and threatening survival rates of newborns animals and entire species, for that matter. Unfortunately, this is a pattern that we have seen too often throughout human history; we are many times willing to forego the protection of Creation and all that is in if for the “betterment” of human society, or so we think.

Scientists are actually calling this period of time the sixth extinction crisis in geological history, and according to the World Wildlife Fund, the current rate of species loss is between 1000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. It is nearly indisputable that there is one species causing this to happen. Who guessed humans? Well, you would be correct.

We find ourselves as the most dangerous predator to other species on the planet; we are superior, and our needs far outweigh the needs of creation. Or so we far too often like to think. This is not the life that we were called to, though, as our scripture today shows us.

The Creation narrative is one of the most familiar books of the Bible, yet it still holds key lessons for us to learn (or relearn) today. It’s where it all started—quite literally “In the beginning…” God created the heavens and the earth, the seas and the land, day and night, and every living creature that swims, crawls, slithers, burrows, flies, and walks. God saw what God had created and declared all of it—every last bit of it, in its original and undefiled state, as good.

In the middle of all of that creating and declaring of goodness, humans were given a special role to fill as the keepers of everything that had come before; from the beginning, God made us stewards over all of Creation, and in that moment of divine decision making, once again, God thought that doing so was good. We have been given dominion over creation and all the creatures in it; we have been given this Earth as a source of sustenance, but the Earth has also been given us to tend and care for it.

Our friends from the Gwich’in tribe know the fine balance of this role well. Earlier, I spoke about how important the Porcupine caribou is to this group of people; throughout their history, they have been tied to the caribou through countless ways.

Princess Johnson, a Gwich’in leader, wrote in a recent blog post for Sojourners that “our communities still rely heavily on the Porcupine caribou herd for sustenance, as well as our culture and spiritual wellbeing. Our elders have taught us that our connection is sacred.” Without the caribou, they would lose not only a meal source but also a connection to their culture. It seems safe to say that the caribou, and consequently the coastal plains where they breed, are a lifeline for the Gwich’in.

Yet, in spite of this, or maybe because of it, they have very specific rules about how they will or will not interact with the animals. Even in seasons where caribou are scarce, they will not go into the coastal plains to hunt, despite knowing that the hunting would be easy and the reward would be great. The Gwich’in respect the need for the caribou to have a safe space to breed and raise their calves without fear of predation in order to maintain the herd, and they would rather choose to go without than to threaten the balance of their relationship; they are willing to forego the domination that they could have over the caribou in place of having a right relationship with Creation. They see and understand the sacredness of their relationship with the caribou and the land.

Given that Genesis is only the beginning of our story, it seems fitting that we see reminders of this role we were assigned to play throughout the rest of the Bible–from the Wisdom books in the Old Testament to Paul’s letters. One scripture that reinforces the importance of taking care of what has been given to us comes from Ecclesiates 3:19– “For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals.”

It’s made clear in those few sentences that we are tied much more closely to the animal kingdom than many of us would like to think. In God’s infinite wisdom, God made our planet into a finely woven and delicately balanced ecosystem. This connection reminds me of a game that we would often play with the kids at the summer camp where I worked through high school and college. Standing in a circle, one person would throw a ball of yarn across to someone else, holding on to their end of the string. This would continue until everyone in the circle had received and thrown the yarn, always holding on to their piece before throwing it.

In the end, what was created was a web, connecting each of us to the rest. If one person were to pull on their end of the string, it would cause a chain reaction forcing everyone else to lean in or loosen their hold. Or if another person dropped their end, the rest of the group would have to pick up the slack to keep the web together.

In this way, much like the yarn connected our group, we are all connected in Creation with one another. Anything that I can do, will affect Creation around me. Every time I drive a car or water the garden or throw away trash, I’m altering the environment; sometimes that’s a good thing as I watch the baby spinach plants grow right outside, a product of tender care, but sometimes what I do causes pollution or harm–to animals, to the earth, or even to other people. And sometimes I don’t even realize the impact of what I’m doing.

We live in a world where we are fairly far removed from seeing the results of our choices. Driving a car or using a plastic anything requires petroleum, which has to come from somewhere. It’s easy to fill up the gas tank or drink out of a water bottle and not consider the line of production that it took to get to me. Without seeing how the coastal plains will be damaged, and the caribou herds being driven out, and the Gwich’in losing a part of their heritage, it makes it a lot easier to drop the ball on being a good steward to the earth. And God sees what is being done, and knows that it is not good.

On the sixth day, God created humankind and put us in charge. While we’ve veered off course, often choosing domination over creation instead of serving and tending to it, it is not too late–for us or for the earth. We can take simple steps every day to be stewards, whether that’s just taking the time to learn more about the impacts that our choices make, like where our food comes from or how the things we buy impact the earth, or if it means taking concrete steps like choosing to walk or bike more or even just turning off the water while we brush our teeth. Little steps add up to make big changes.

God saw what God made, and knew that it was good. If we each took a little more time out of our days to see the good in creation, we would probably end up with a greater appreciation and a greater caring for what is around us. By choosing to see the divine spark that all of us–people, animals, and even plants–were created with, we would not so quickly take the easy path of destruction or harm. I know it is a lot harder for me to take the lazy way of unsustainable choices or to want to see the end of certain species (mosquitoes) when I remember that we all belong to God.

Perhaps the best thought comes from one Gwich’in leader. When asked how to say “wilderness” in the Gwich’in language, she responded that there is no word for that, but that the closest phrase is to “leave it the way the Creator made.” Whether we are looking to drill in far away places for nonrenewable oil or to make changes in our own communities that would hurt God’s creation, we should take this lesson with us. Let us work as best we can to leave it as God created. And it will be declared good. Amen.

Currently, the Office is Public Witness is working with an ecumenical coalition to bring attention to the importance of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to our leaders in Washington, DC. One way that you can become involved is to sign and share this petition calling on the President and Congress to permanently protect this sacred land, keeping it beautiful and well-preserved for many more generations.

In Christ’s Peace,

Katie Furrow
Food, Hunger, and Gardening Associate
Office of Public Witness & Global Food Crisis Fund
Washington, DC