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.

Justice is coming! It is Jesus.

by Nathan Hosler, director of the Office of Public Witness

Christian and Muslim Peace Initiative (CAMPI) inauguration in Maiduguri. Photo credit: Silas Ishaya

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Isaiah 40:1-11

Anticipation. Waiting. Agonizing? Uncertain. Advent—waiting for the promised One. On Thursday, while I was in northeast Nigeria, we rose early for our 3-4 hour drive and hit the road. Rutted. Through dry, mostly flat land with low trees except for the palms. Security checkpoints with men with big guns and barricades. Road blocks of barrels or tires or logs at checkpoints which jut, maybe half way, into the road. These alternate—one from the left, right, left, right—which slows traffic. This traffic slowing strategy is also used through villages which are lined with market stands. This works-sort of- but at times it generates a certain careening as cars coming opposing directions navigate as quickly as possible. While we barreled through one such obstacle course a gas tanker kept pace with us leading our way, weaving wildly, looking a little like the Joker in Batman driving the tractor trailer. Then, passing Gombi, we tighten a bad sounding wheel before engaging the long smoother straightaways (regularly hanging at 85 miles an hour) to Yola and the airport. As a mere passenger rather than driver, I wait. Bracing myself, observing, talking—but waiting.

My last 5 in-country flights have been delayed but just in case this one isn’t we get there early enough. They aren’t boarding yet and aren’t even checking us in. So, I wait. It’d be nice to be productive, but the uncertain waiting is distracting. Once the check-in begins, it will be a scramble. Anticipation. Sort of poised, ready. No word on the delay, but that the harmattan dust in the air from the Sahara is too thick. Another flight arrives…hope is sparked. The airport assistant guy, Abdul, suggests I might want to get a seat on this flight. Wasn’t sure, but they were filled anyway when he checks. Maybe an hour or so later it is starting to get uncertain if we will get out before they shut down flights. I text him and ask for my paper ticket print-out so that I have it if he leaves. Not minutes later, they begin checking in. He makes a mad dash towards me across the empty room to retrieve the paper and dives into line. Our hope is restored. Anticipation. Checked in. Through security. Waiting. One hour. Maybe another. Text the Ambassador to say I’ll probably miss our meeting.

Then high above, through a strangely garbled PA system, something is announced. Through deciphering or sleuthing we learn that the flight will arrive from Abuja by 5:50 pm (flight was to depart by 12:15). Relief. Hope at the first bit of information passed on to us in 6 hours—the masses who wait. 5:45. 5:50. This is the story of Advent. Of the waiting and expectation of the coming Messiah who will free the captive, heal the blind, cast off the oppressor, and proclaim reconciliation with God.

Another slightly less garbled but still incomprehensible announcement. A young messenger of doom walks around and confirms. The flight has been canceled. Which means I also miss my flight home.

At the time of writing parts of this I remain in the anticipation of both Advent and getting a flight home. Though we are still weeks from the coming of Jesus, we may remember from last year that we will not be disappointed. The messengers will not be my young airport messenger of doom but the angels to the shepherds. But that is getting ahead of where we are today. Today we wait.

Our passage is 2 Peter 3:8-15a.

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 

The passage begins by challenging our notions of God’s time and patience. If 1000 years = a day for God, then what does that break down to per minute? Per second? However, if a day is like a thousand years then what does that mean as the reverse? This sounds less like a common math problem (unless of course this is what one learns if one majors in math) and more like the Matrix or Inception, movies in which time and space bend in unusual ways. This is not simply asserting that God experiences time in a very accelerated or very slow manner.

Photo Credit: Nathan Hosler

This number 1000 came back to me this week while I was at the daily—that is every day at 5:00 at the Unity Fountain next to the Transcorp Hotel in Abuja—vigil marking the abduction of the school girls from Chibok. This past Monday was 1330th day. Today, Sunday December 10th, is 1336 days. How has God experienced these days? There is some old-timey philosophy that Christians have occasionally been influenced by that states that the divine must be above change and above being influenced by the merely human. Our God, however, (which is most scandalous), becomes incarnate and joins us in our existence and joy and pain.

That Jesus is coming (since we are in advent we refer to it in the future) and will show up in this world as God incarnate—God having taken on flesh and blood and pain and joy—that this is our God then means that God has not been distant from us nor the school girls of Chibok these 1336 days. Jesus came healing and serving and feeling and calls us to the same—or should I say, will call us to do the same once he is born.

Jesus, and thus God, is not above pain and the agony of the kidnapped and their families but with them. God is with us. God is with you. This is a type of hope. The passage continues on, expounding on the timeliness of God.

The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you,[a] not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. 

The Lord is not patient out of lack of concern but as an act of mercy. The act of mercy which allows for repentance. This call to repentance is both urgent and marked by delay. Delay for repentance and turning. There are many horrible things in this world. I noted the Chibok Girls. There have been many others. Dr. Rebecca Dali has, during her work of humanitarian relief, collected some 4,000 names, dates, and locations of people abducted.

On my flight back from Maiduguri I was wearing my Office of Public Witness t-shirt. On the back is our tag line—“Seeking to live the peace of Jesus publicly.” The man sitting beside me said he liked it…it turned out that he was EYN. We talked for the whole flight to Abuja about his research in public health and how people cannot access it. Towards the end I learned he has 4 children. The youngest is a boy and named after his father. Even later in the flight he revealed that his father had been kidnapped and killed. Not by Boko Haram but by the Nigerian military.

So, when the Office of Public Witness works with the Nigerian Working Group which we convene on military accountability and human rights, raising concerns about the sale of weapons by the US, it is not an abstract thought. It is not a sterile appeal to theoretical legal frameworks, which are useful and regularly used, but it is because we follow a God who feels the pain of people and calls us to a ministry feeling this pain—and then acting in response. God’s patience is for repentance. God’s patience is for repentance. Jesus, the one whose birth we anticipate in advent, is the embodiment of this justice.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.

Note that this dissolving is not simply destruction but a process of revealing. It is a disclosing of acts done. Because of this we should live accordingly. Because of this we can also trust that acts of injustice will be brought to light.

11 Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening[c] the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13 But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.

Where righteousness is at home. Righteousness can also be translated justice. “We wait for a new heavens and a new earth, where justice dwells”

14 Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.

Because of this being made known—this revealing work—we recognize that that this is good news for those on the side of justice. However, it is concerning for those who are not. Advent is the marking of the coming of Jesus—the justice of God. This is the good news that the angels will proclaim. While this is concerning for some—which may be us—we should consider the patience of the Lord as our salvation. So, this coming and revealing is good news for both the just and unjust for both the righteous and unrighteous.

The patience of God leaves room for repentance. This is not the same as those clergy whom Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. rebukes. It is not patience in the face of wrong. There is both a patience leading towards repentance and an impatience with abuse. “everything with be disclosed” in the last day–God reveals what is hidden and brings to justice.

Comfort, O comfort my people,
    says your God….

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed..

Pass on the gift

Emily Tyler, Alexis Charles, and Jay Wittmeyer at the Nepal workcamp.
Photos courtesy of Emily Tyler

By Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of Global Mission and Service

My family has a tradition on Thanksgiving Day of going around the table two or three times and making a list of the things we are especially thankful for in the past year. This list is a testimony of the goodness of God manifested in our lives. We like to compare each year to the previous year and we like to receive these lists from others. “Thankful for acceptance to college.” “Thankful to be cancer-free.” “Thankful for camp counselors.” “Thankful for our new puppy.” I have said in the past, and will say again this year: I am thankful for the privilege to work for the Church of the Brethren.

Work for the church is not always easy, but it is immensely gratifying. Several of my journeys this past year stand out as significant. In January I joined a heads-of-mission delegation to Cuba with Church World Service to meet key leaders in Cuba and talk about US-Cuban relations. In April I was invited to preach at the Brethren annual gathering in Nigeria and traveled to Chibok to meet Brethren families and talk about life under the constant threat of violence. In May I visited a new Church of the Brethren ministry in Rwanda and heard my first Twa-Pygmy choir sing, dance, and drum in a Brethren congregation. In June I co-led a young adult workcamp to Nepal with Emily Tyler to reconstruct a school damaged by the earthquake. And in October I met families participating in dairy projects in Tanzania with Heifer International and heard powerful stories of how “passing on the gift” has transformed their lives.

Looking back, I also am reminded of the many places I was unable to visit. I wanted to visit Venezuela, but it takes two months to get a visa. Venezuela is collapsing economically but, ecclesiastically, a number of congregations have a visionto form a new movement based on Brethren ideals of peace, community, and service. I also was unable to consecrate a new Brethren church building in Ngovi, Democratic Republic of Congo, since violence spread too widely and quickly at the time of my journey, hindering my travels.

Heavy on my mind has been the work of the Brethren Peace Center in South Sudan. The center was looted by government forces in June. However, after much prayer and careful consideration of the state of unrest, Brethren mission worker Athanasus Ungang decided to return to Eastern Equatorial, South Sudan, and press on with his call to preach, disciple, and promote peace through trainings and workshops. The Church of the Brethren purchased a Land Cruiser two years earlier, but war prevented us from shipping it into the country. We believe now is the right time to send that vehicle to expand our work. There is a strong need for peace witness in South Sudan.

The Global Mission and Service program of the Church of the Brethren often works in unusual ways and in difficult situations, but we don’t think of it in that way ourselves. What seems challenging, dramatic, even peculiar to the average American, is quite normal for a church community seeking to be faithful disciples of the Prince of Peace.

When new acquaintances ask me about my work, I typically refer to some of our areas of focus, our programming, and then some countries where we are working. As I mention places with much conflict like Venezuela, Democratic Republic of Congo, North Korea, Haiti, northern Nigeria, and South Sudan, quite frankly, jaws drop and I often receive very puzzled looks. Global Mission and Service is not intentionally seeking to be in the “hard places” of the world, but is simply trying to be faithful to God’s leading and embody the church as doors open for us. I am very thankful to serve in a ministry that truly seeks to be the salt and the light of the world. 

I would encourage you to write a list of the things from this past year for which you are thankful and to celebrate this testimony of God’s goodness to you. I would then challenge you to “pass on the gift” so that others may also be blessed. Thank you for praying and supporting the Church of the Brethren.

Learn more about Global Mission and Service today at www.brethren.org/global. Support this and other ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Disaster Team Coordinates Housing Repairs in Remote Areas

Home needing repair

As we know, many of the Ekklesiayar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN) churches were destroyed by fire during the Boko Haram insurgency. Many homes were also burned and destroyed. EYN Disaster Team has been working to re-roof the houses of the most vulnerable. Now that it is dry season, the housing repairs are in full gear. 57 homes were recently re-roofed in some remote areas.

 

Roofing supplies on the truck

Disaster team reported, “There were a lot of challenges because of the distance to the hilly remote villages. People participated voluntarily to carry the materials from where the truck stopped and to trek about 10 kilometers to the villages. The housing repair is 100% complete at Gwallam and Wagdang. This project has touched the hearts of even some unbelievers and they confess that they are ready to accept Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. The carpenter succeeded in roofing 57 instead of 50 houses as planned.”

Those who benefited from the repairs are extremely grateful.

 

Mist-like: Reflecting on James in the Middle East

By Nathan Hosler, Director of the Office of Public Witness

The permanently closed Shuhada Street in Hebron. Photo credit: Nathan Hosler

James 4:13-5:6

Writing this, I was sitting on the Mount of Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Below me, closer to the water, on my left and right are spots that mark many significant points in Jesus’ ministry. The ancient village of Capernaum, a chapel marking the Primacy of Peter, and a chapel with the famous mosaic of two fishes and five loaves from the year 480- marking the spot where Jesus multiplied these meager foods and fed the crowds. In Capernaum there is a house that then became the site of a church in 5th century. The house is thought to be that of the mother-in-law of Peter where Jesus would stay and where the mother was healed. It was also the site of one of the earliest house churches. Maybe 50 yards away there is the remains of a synagogue for the Byzantine period. This synagogue is built with stone imported from Jerusalem but built on an earlier foundation of local basalt stone—Some archaeologists assert that this earlier synagogue is from the time of Jesus.

A mosaic of the two fishes and five loaves. Photo Credit: Nathan Hosler

Byzantine Synagogue with the “Jesus Synagogue” beneath. Photo Credit: Nathan Hosler

To my left (to the north) 20 miles is Syria whose civil war and refugee crisis require no introduction. Back south is the West Bank of the Palestinian territories. Most of the week to this point has been hearing from an assortment of political, religious, NGO, and peacebuilding workers struggling in a situation of conflict that feels rather intractable. The significance of the land both present and past is of incomparable magnitude.

Along the way I have been reading and meditating on our passage in James.

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” 14 Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17 Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.

Narrowly, this and the following verses are about wealth. I think, however, that money stands in for the assumption that we are in control or our desire to be in control. Though God (and the world with its histories and cultures) are big, you are misty—mist-like, ephemeral. This assertion is not negative, not an insult, it is simply honest. Though those of us who are at least relatively well-off may forget this, our lives are indeed contingent. Our lives are dependent. They are based in God. James addresses the one who confidently says they will do this or that. The hearers of the letter of James were likely not the well off—or the overly wealthy. So, it may not be that this or the next portion are as directly applicable to the immediate crowd. The general assertion, however, is very applicable, hence its inclusion. To those who are well confident that their plans will succeed, James asserts—you are mist—misty—mist-like in the fleeting quality of your life. Because you cannot know what will happen you should always acknowledge that even the best laid plans rest in God. The habit and practice that James exhorts is to, in all things, acknowledge that one’s life is held in God.

Your existence is in God.

As I’ve been reading James I have also been thinking about a similar passage in the Sermon on the Mount. Given my writing location if felt particularly relevant to note this. In the sixth chapter of Matthew, Jesus teaches: Why worry about your life?—about what you will eat or drink or wear. Are not the flowers of the field more splendid than Solomon, the most extravagantly dressed of all kings?

A sign outside the Tent of Nations that reads, “We refuse to be enemies.” Photo credit: Nathan Hosler

The sign by the entrance says, “We refuse to be enemies.” The Tent of Nations (http://www.tentofnations.org/ ) is a Palestinian farm on a hill top in area C. Area C is part of the West Bank, the land of the future Palestinian State. It is also the site of many settlements, which are illegal under international law, undermining the possibility of a future state, and more like towns or cities than anything makeshift that is indicated by the term “settlement.” To get to the Tent of Nations we left our van and climbed over boulders that have been placed on their road a few hundred meters from their farm in order to impede access. The farm is on a hill top. Every other hill top surrounding has a massive settlement.

We met with Daoud Nasser whose family has lived there for generations. Unlike most Palestinians whose land is at risk they have a clear line of documentation of land ownership going back to the Ottoman Period in the early 1900s. Since the land is documented but still deemed very desirable, they have been fighting in courts since the early 1990s. The case keeps getting passed back and forth between the Supreme Court and Military courts. They must keep fighting and filing because if they don’t they will be forced out. They can’t build any new structures and the structures they have—even the tent like structures—have demolition orders on them. Daoud Nasser, though, seems to be full of joy. He told of their struggle just to keep their family’s land. He demonstrates a trust in God and in others to continue on.

Again, your existence is in God. You are mist-like but God is steadfast.

Unsurprisingly, the rich also have this problem. They also easily forget that their existence is in God.

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. 2 Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. 4 Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.

James doesn’t discuss if there are righteous ways to be rich. Certainly, our congregation isn’t rich compared to much of Capitol Hill. Because of this and certain prophetic inclinations we may find it easy to speak critically—to speak “prophetically.” However, though we are not that rich we are comparatively rich in relation to much of the world. And as such may be indicted.

The rich people that James addresses have built their riches on the backs of others. For white America the legacy of slavery of Africans and genocide of Indigenous communities is a clear example. But also, immigration, trade, and foreign policy often continue this pattern.

What we don’t know is if James has certain rich folks in mind or assumes that all those who are rich have earned it through injustice. It is also unclear if the “rich” are those who meet a certain income bracket (which seems unlikely) or if it is short-hand for those in power. This call is a call to repentance. It is a call towards being rightly oriented toward God and others. The call to repentance and to acknowledging that one’s existence is based in God rather than in one’s own might or smarts or good looks or cunning is not against but for the one being challenged. Only when you care about that person or entity can you fully embrace the uncomfortable confrontation. Repenting of this is in the interest of both the oppressor and the oppressed.

Let’s suppose that riches and power are somewhat interchangeable. During the past two weeks the question of power and who is criticized in what manner has been close at hand for me. For Palestinians living under Israeli occupation the restricted rights, living under military law, limited ability to move freely, and lagging infrastructure is clearly unjust. For many Israelis their existence as a small country surrounded by the much bigger and often hostile Arab world, history of the Holocaust, and repeated abuses throughout history lead to a strong emphasis on “security” at any cost. Many wars in the past decades as well as an enforced separation which does not allow interaction with Palestinians in normal life keeps these fears alive and well.

One morning on this trip we met with Defense for Children International. They explained that there are 500-700 cases of Palestinian children being convicted in Israeli military courts. Many times, the kids (usually but not always boys) are arrested from their beds at night. Regularly they are beaten on the way. Harshly interrogated. And sign confessions written in a language which they can’t read in order to get out sooner. Rarely can they see their parents or actually meet with a lawyer to know their rights. Because of this work of documentation and exposure DCI is declared an enemy and traitor of the state of Israel because it highlights these abuses. Many Christians in the US would harshly criticize me for repeating these things—claiming that the Old Testament commands me to “Bless Israel.” However, as noted earlier, criticism is not the opposite of blessing. Criticism may be part of blessing.

Even as I recount these few notes from an hour long meeting I think back and begin to feel overwhelmed. And this was only one meeting out of the whole week. It is easy to feel the mist-like character of my life when held up against the enormity of the world. The enormity of the ancient stones and places of Jesus. The enormity of Syria just down the road. The enormity of the so-called Israeli and Palestinian conflict. I’m not sure that this is what James intends, but getting to the point of realizing our mistiness—our mist-like nature—is half the struggle. The second half is recognizing that our existence is in God. We are mist but our existence is sustained by the God who has mysteriously created us and called us. Our existence is in the God that has created and called us beyond ourselves.

Reflections on Simplify: A Simple Living Weekend

The commitment of the Church of the Brethren to living simply is evidenced in our slogan- “Peacefully. Simply. Together.”  It is often easy to visualize the “peaceful” and “together” aspects of Christian life, but “simply” is discussed less frequently. To address this Brethren value more fully, Brethren Woods hosted “Simplify: A Simple Living Weekend,” in November. The conference brought together Christians interested in discussion about what this commitment to simplicity looks like in a world that values consumption, status, and material possessions.

Over the course of the weekend, the keynote speakers and panelists shared their personal experiences with living simply. Sam Funkhouser, a member of the Old German Baptist Brethren Church, New Conference, made the case for a radical change to a non-conformist lifestyle, in which we live out the theological calls for simple living. If we do it correctly, he argued, a desire to live simply would be seen as the “natural end to a life of repentance.”  In workshops, he shared practical advice for increasing a car’s fuel efficiency and making ethical, sustainable, and simple clothes at home.

Jenn Hosler, co-pastor at Washington City Church of the Brethren, presented on the theological basis for a simple lifestyle. Citing Biblical passages calling for creation care, fair social practices and good stewardship, she drew connecting lines between Biblical teachings and the call for simplicity.

Other workshop leaders included Nancy Heisey, who shared about simple living as it relates to technology, and Yakubu and Diana Bakfwash, who presented on what servant leadership looks like in today’s world.  While each speaker had a different approach to simple living, they all believed strongly that Christians are called by their faith to live out a commitment to simplicity.

In our culture, which values status and material possessions, it is not uncommon to feel as though we must hoard earthly wealth for security, respect and well-being. The Bible challenges this notion. The Parable of the Rich Fool was brought up many times in small group conversations. In this parable, a rich man tears down his existing barns and builds bigger ones, in order to store the excesses of his harvest. In doing this, he hoards his own excessive wealth at the expense of the hungry in his community. Jesus reminds his audience in this chapter  to “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15).

A Gandhi quote that has become popular in our churches in recent years is, “Live simply so that others may simply live.” This call reflects the disparate living standards around the world, and the unsustainable nature of our own consumer culture. The earth does not have enough resources to support a humanity in which every person lives the type of lifestyle that most Americans enjoy.

View entire statement at: http://www.brethren.org/ac/statements/1996simplelife.html

The theological call to live simply is one that must be lived out in daily live, as a constant public witness. The way in which we live tells others a lot about our faith and worldview. One of the ways in which the Office of Public Witness works to encourage this simplicity in the ecumenical community is by supporting Creation Justice Ministries (CJM). Efforts to reduce the impact we have on the environment, and to reduce our excessive consumption, are key to working towards a simpler lifestyle.

The 1980 Annual Conference Statement on “Christian Lifestyle” says that “we cannot sit easily in the seats of wealth and power of an oppressive status quo.” As members of a society that uses more than our fair share of resources, our consumption directly impacts poor and marginalized people around the world. We push the cost of our cheap consumer goods off onto the underpaid factory workers that produce them, the children who breathe polluted air, and the communities burdened by the landfills and incinerators built to dispose of our trash. We must be intentional about confronting ourselves about the ways in which we are not faithful stewards, and work to reflect our commitment to simple living with real lifestyle changes.

CCEPI graduates 119 students from 3 Livelihood Centers

Dr. Rebecca Dali

Dr. Rebecca Dali is the founder and executive director of the Non-profit called Center for Caring Empowerment and Peace Initiative (CCEPI). For several years the Church of the Brethren has been providing funds for CCEPI’s work. The last two years we have sponsored three Livelihood Centers in Jos, Yola, and Michika. The students are either widows or orphans (Muslims and Christians) who have no way to support themselves. The attend classes for nine months at the Centers and are trained in computer, sewing, or knitting and taught skills for running a successful business. At the graduation, the students are given a computer, sewing or knitting machine and sent out to start their own businesses.

2017 Graduation Ceremony

This fall 119 students graduated in joyful ceremonies that included dancing, singing and some tears. In addition to the specific training, all the students learn how to make shampoo, lotion and dish soap that they can use or sell. The students have all been traumatized in one way or another so they form close bonds and are an informal support group. During the nine months at the Livelihood training center, they also have a chance to tell their stories and these are written down.

Here are stories from two participants:

Hajara

HAJARA – On the 06-08-2012 my husband, Abubakar, of the Nigerian Army Rukuba Cantonment was drafted to Military for peace keeping. He spent almost four years in this exercise. From time to time he would collect a pass which enabled him come and see me and the children.

0n 10-7-2016 in the morning some soldiers came to my block and told me that on 10-6-2016 boko-haram attacked the Military unit in Sambisa Forest and killed Officers/Men and that my husband was among those killed. I just burst into tears and fainted.

His death has left me with five children to look after. His death benefit is yet to be worked out so life has not been easy for me and the children. I am very thankful to have been selected to attend the CCEPI Skills Acquisition Center.

Esther learning to sew

ESTHER – I lived in Gava II with by mother and siblings. On the 5/9/2014 by 9:00am, I was down with fever but I still had to fetch the water and check to see if my corn was ground. On the way from the well to the mill, I heard people shouting “ku gudu, ku gudu” in Hausa, meaning “lets run let’s run”. I started running but due to my ill-health, I could not run fast enough and when I was about to climb up the mountain, the boko haram caught me and brought me to Pulka along with five other women.

After five days under the care of one man called Aliyu, he took us to Gwoza. Here we joined Chibok girls by name Saratu Yahi and Saratu Tabbji who were kidnapped along with their mates in G.S.S Chibok. While in Gwoza, a man named Bana bought me as a slave/wife from Aliyu. I was taken to another village; while there, I got pregnant by the man, Bana.

My owner/husband, Bana, along with other boko haram members went for attack on innocent people. Unfortunately, he was killed by the soldiers. It was then that I began to plan my escape. With the help of God, I was able to follow one small road and then joined a vehicle traveling to Maiduguri. When the soldiers started asking questions during checks on the road, I told them that I had escaped from a boko haram camp. They immediately took me to their barracks in Maiduguri where they interrogated me on how I survived in the Sambisa. They asked me to call my parents to take me home.

Before I was kidnapped I was married to Ubale. When I came out of the Sambisa forest heavily pregnant by boko haram, I came to my husband but he drove me away and said that he was no longer interested in our marriage. When the Director of CCEPI, Dr. Rebecca S. Dali, heard of my case, she gave me a room, food, cooking utensils, mattress, and blanket. Then she enrolled me into her center where I am learning how to sew. I am very grateful to God and Dr. Rebeca S. Dali.

Rejoice on Giving Tuesday

Photos by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, Jay Wittmeyer, and Emily Tyler

By Matt DeBall, coordinator of Donor Communications

“The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoice”
(Psalm 126:3).

Blessed are you, Lord, our God, Ruler of the Universe. We praise you for your steadfast love and for your mighty works in the world. Thank you for redeeming and restoring us, your church. Ignite our hearts to serve you and others more fully.
In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

Rejoice and be glad! God has been faithful to us. Despite the challenges and hardships we face, God continues to express love to us in profound ways. Overwhelmed by the goodness of God, it seems natural that we would respond with praise and gratitude.

As we give thanks to God in this season, we continue a long tradition. The Israelites, after being rescued from difficulty and distress, were filled with gratitude and love for God. They rejoiced with heartfelt singing and joyful dancing. They gave of the best of themselves as an act of praise.

Like the Israelites, there is much for which we can be thankful. Through the provision and love of God, the Church of the Brethren continues to share the peace of Christ.

This year alone, God has done many great things among us.

  • Approximately 302 youth, young adults,
    and advisors served in 19 workcamps.
  • The Mission and Ministry Board has approved two new mission projects in Venezuela and in the Africa Great Lakes region (Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi).
  • More than 800 individuals attended
    Inspiration 2017 (National Older Adult Conference).
  • The Office of Public Witness helped lead a conversation with elected officials to raise concerns and propose ways to address the humanitarian and food crisis in northeast Nigeria.
  • 45 Brethren Volunteer Service volunteers
    faithfully served around the world.

And God will continue to do great things in the days ahead.
On Giving Tuesday (November 28), join us in celebrating the great things God has done by making a gift to the Church of the Brethren.

Thank you for rejoicing with us on Giving Tuesday!

To make a gift to the Church of the Brethren for Giving Tuesday, visit www.brethren.org/GivingTuesday .

Loving our enemies

Participants at the North Fort Myers (Fla.) workcamp this past summer.
Photo courtesy of the Church of the Brethren Workcamp office

By Matt DeBall, coordinator of Donor Communications

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45).

The words of Jesus have always been radical. He carefully, yet firmly, addressed the concerns of the day and called his peers and adversaries into the transformative, often uncomfortable ways of God. For the Jews who had been scorned and oppressed by other nations for generations, the call to love enemies was not an easy one. It meant laying aside pain and pride, and offering care to those who had brought them harm. It meant working for the good of others whether or not the gesture was returned.

In a world where actions typically provoke similar reactions, this enemy-loving way of living can seem both ridiculous and risky. It’s natural to be stirred with anger when someone inconveniences you. It’s easy to justify retaliation when someone spreads destructive lies about you or threatens the wellbeing of your loved ones. And yet, it is the script-flipping maneuver of repaying aggression and harm with compassion that makes room for the work of the Holy Spirit. When we choose to offer grace instead of revenge, we allow God to work in us and we invite others—yes, even those who oppose us— to grow more fully into their identities as children of God.

We see this unrelenting love in the work of our partners in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan, and other places. Our sisters and brothers offer help to all who are in need. They reach across cultural divisions and allow programs for trauma healing and peacebuilding to bring restoration for people of an entire community, not simply their own.

In our congregations, we love our opponents (perceived or real) as we reach out into our communities. Through offering recreational or educational opportunities, we create meeting places where people of all walks of life can find common ground and build relationships. By creating safe spaces of hospitality, we invite people of different faiths, beliefs, and opinions to express their concerns and their hopes, and allow everyone to contribute for the well-being of all.

The ministries of the Church of the Brethren embody what it means to love all people, including enemies and opponents, and to work for reconciliation—with others and with God. Will you support this transformative work and join us in sharing the radical love of Jesus?

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Food Distributions continue during “Lean Period”

Food Distribution inside the destroyed church at Gulak.

The months from July until late October are called the “Lean Period” because people’s food from last year’s harvest is almost gone and the new crop is not yet ready. The Boko Haram insurgency has compounded this problem with a decreased ability to even plant crops. Statistics from United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Nigeria) states that 8.5 Million people in the area are still in need of humanitarian assistance.

The EYN Disaster Ministry Response team has been very active in the last few months with eight food distributions. A lot of planning and effort goes into providing an organized distribution to around 300 families at a time. Food must be bought in the local market, loaded on trucks and taken to the distribution point (often a church). The district leaders must have made a list of needy families in their area and contacted them to convene for the distribution. There is a lot of waiting as the process unfolds. There is the visual reminder of the insecurity in the area and the devastation that has affected their lives when they receive the food in a destroyed church. There is happiness in receiving the much needed food. Please continue to pray for the people of Northeast Nigeria.

Organization is the key.

Waiting for the food distribution.

Happy recipient of food supplies.