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.

 

What to preach

Find worship resources at www.brethren.org/adventoffering
Photo by Matt DeBall

A sermon starter written for the 2017 Advent Offering by Thomas Dowdy, pastor of Imperial Heights Church of the Brethren in Los Angeles, Calif.

“When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.’… The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’”(Luke 4:16-18, 20-22)

Preaching in your hometown can be very challenging. For some people, it will be difficult to see who you are today because they can only see who you used to be. Some have high expectations, while others remain very critical.

Recently, I received an invitation to attend my high school class reunion. Most class reunions involve people rehashing old stories and checking up on your current status in life. As such, I was very reluctant to attend because I always prefer looking forward rather than backward. I even shared with a friend that I didn’t want to go. He felt it was important for me to attend. He said, “You are a different person now.” I realized he had a point, recognizing that I am in ministry now. He went on to say, “I’m sure someone there will need to hear from you.”

I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’s options when he visited the temple in his hometown of Nazareth. He could have not gone, or he could have only said something that made the people feel good about themselves, but he did the opposite. Jesus had a mission to fulfill the promise of God. He knew it was going to upset the status quo, and yet he did it anyway.

Coming home to share good news is exciting to both the giver and receiver; however, sharing words of perceived condemnation is altogether another matter. The people in the temple felt good hearing Jesus read the words of Isaiah because they were words of perceived hope and fulfillment to those that believed they were of the chosen ones. However, the purpose of Jesus was to share God’s message of inclusion not exclusion. When Jesus read from the scroll, people felt good about the encouraging words because they believed it was only meant for them. But when Jesus continued to expound on the text, the people became angry as it exposed their inner, self-seeking purposes.

The Spirit continues to expose us today. Does it make you angry to include others in “your ministry”? Do you feel upset when others outside your church or group benefit from the work of your (perceived chosen) group? If so, your thinking about God’s Kingdom needs to grow. Your purpose and our purpose is to spread good news to the poor. Heal the broken hearted and free the captives. Provide wide open spaces to those who are imprisoned. Comfort the grieving. And so much more.

This greater mission should make you feel good. God’s word is fulfilled as you share the good news of inclusion. This is what must be preached in your hometown and everywhere you go.

The suggested date for the Advent Offering is December 17. Find worship resources at www.brethren.org/adventoffering or give today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Reflections on Land and Columbus Day

By Nathan Hosler

Navajo activist Mark Charles’ lecture on “A Native Perspective on Columbus Day” is a valuable accompanying piece to this blog post. You can view it here. 

“The arrival of Europeans was experienced by Native Americans as nothing less than an invasion. This invasion was not just of the land; it was an assault on the humanity of the native people and their holistic way of living. Europeans tended to regard anyone different from themselves as inferior subjects to be conquered and destroyed.”

-1994 Church of the Brethren Statement, “Community: A Tribe of Many Feathers”

 

Psalm 104

Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
    wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
    you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
you make the winds your messengers,
fire and flame your ministers.

You set the earth on its foundations,
so that it shall never be shaken.
You cover it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
At your rebuke they flee;
at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys
to the place that you appointed for them.
You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.

10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills,
11 giving drink to every wild animal;                                     the wild asses quench their thirst.
12 By the streams[e] the birds of the air have their habitation;
they sing among the branches.
13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.

14 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
15     and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine,
and bread to strengthen the human heart.
16 The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
17 In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has its home in the fir trees.
18 The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the coneys.
19 You have made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.

 

The Doctrine of Discovery required that the land be empty of its indigenous inhabitants and made it morally good for Europeans to take and cultivate the land. By raising consciousness of how this continues to sustain and support the national myth and legal system, the church may repudiate its participation and propagation of this sin and seek ways to repent. Psalm 104 proclaims that the land is the Lord’s and that it is sustained and created through God. This psalm aligns more closely with Indigenous people’s understanding of the land as lived upon rather than owned by individuals. Chief Lawrence Hart (Southern Cheyenne) writes, “The earth is for the circle of people. And since the earth is for the whole, no one individual can own any part of it. The earth belongs to the Creator, and is gifted to peoples” (“The Earth is a Song Made Visible: A Cheyenne Christian Perspective,” Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry, 155). By attending to both the Doctrine of Discovery and Psalm 104 we can recognize our rootedness in the land, as well as the fact that our understandings of ownership must be changed. Palestinian theologian Munther Isaac, in a biblical theology of land writes, “Human beings are only tenants in the land, and as such must share the blessings of the land with their neighbors….the land is something to share, not possess” (Munther Isaac, From Land to Lands, from Eden to the Renewed Earth, 370).

While geography encompasses all and should include all peoples as co-inhabitants, it has often been seen as a possession and its inhabitants as objects of conquest. The relationship to the land and its inhabitants is both affected by and has shaped understanding of race and ethnicity.  Willie James Jennings in The Christian Imagination: Theology and Origins of Race writes, “The question of how one should imagine space is by far one of the most complex questions facing the world today. Space continues to be ever further enclosed inside the economic and political calculations of nation-states and corporations. Yet one imagines space as inseparably bound to how one imagines peoples and their places in the world. Although the history of Christians in the colonial West shows the difficulty of people imagining space and peoples together, Christianity itself offers hope of their joining…If space and race go together in the making of modern peoples, then what would be involved in the spatial and racial unmaking of modern peoples, that is, the remaking that should be the constitution of Christian people? This question poses a seeming impossibility, the transformation of social imaginations shaped in the fragmenting of place as private property and the slicing of human existence in racial vision” (Jennings, Christian Imagination, 250).

Getting wrong the relationship to land and other people is challenged first by Psalm 104 in recognition that the land is the Lords and in James 2:1-9. In the book of James unequal treatment is serious enough to call into question one’s connection to Jesus. We read,

 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ ?For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

James condemns favoritism. Simply seeking to give up favoritism still, however, allows us to retain for ourselves in the role of power. By imagining that it ours to welcome, we perpetuate the assumption of ownership and dominance. Of course, changing this does not mean that privilege simply disappears. While understanding power and privilege is critical to undoing oppression, theologically we are all in need of God’s grace, mercy, and justice. Jennings writes, “The colonialist moment helped solidify a form of Christian existence that read this text [Jesus healing the Canaanite woman] as though we were standing with Jesus looking down on the woman in her desperation, when in fact we, the Gentiles, are the woman…”(Jennings, 262).

Divisions within humanity (caused by the oppression of some over others) and between humanity and the land may be healed through the biblical understanding of shalom. Cherokee theologian, Randy Woodley, in Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision though maintaining a strong critique more explicitly reflects on peacemaking through a comparative reading of the biblical idea of shalom and what he terms the Harmony Way. He writes, “In their nature as constructs, shalom and the Native American Harmony Way have much in common. Shalom, like Harmony Way, is made up of numerous notions and values, with the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Both are meant to be a way of living life in concrete ways that include more than all the terms found within the construct” (Woodley, Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision, x). This biblical vision of shalom, is acted out through a vocation of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18, Romans 12-16-21, Matthew 5:9) which is defined by justice and seeking the well-being of all. (Mark Charles, a Navajo theologian and activist, uses the term conciliation rather than reconciliation since there was not a previous state of unity between European-American Christians and Native American communities. http://wirelesshogan.blogspot.com/2014/12/doctrine-of-discovery.html).

Along with the vocation of peacemaking the church is rooted in the land. Isaac writes, “A church in a particular land exists for the sake of that land and takes her mission agenda from it. The church, in other words, derives much of its purpose from its locale” (Isaac, From Land to Lands, 368). For Christians in the U.S. this rootedness and connection to the land requires a recognition of whose land this was and how it came to be possessed. The church’s misappropriation of biblical “Promised Land” imagery was wrongly used to claim theological warrant to clear the land of Indigenous inhabitants. By following Isaac’s urge to understand that land is now universal but still connected to geography we begin to understand the call of the church in a particular land, in this case a land that has been stolen from others. In this context the vocation of reconciliation requires repentance, concrete action, and relationships based on listening and mutuality.

Statement on Iran Deal

The media is reporting that the Trump Administration has decided to de-certify Iran’s compliance with the Iran nuclear deal. The deal, negotiated by the UN Security Council, put restrictions on Iran’s uranium enrichment abilities and gave the international community access to the country to verify their compliance with the restrictions.

The Church of the Brethren has a long history of outspoken opposition to nuclear weapon development, use, and proliferation. In 1982, the denomination issued “A Call to Halt the Nuclear Arms Race,” which said:

Since its inception the church has understood the biblical message as contrary to the destructive, life denying, realities of war. The position of the Church of the Brethren is that all war is sin and contrary to the will of God and we confirm that position. We seek to work with other Christians and all persons who desire to abolish war as a means of resolving difference. The church has consistently spoken and continues to speak against the production and use of nuclear weapons. We have called upon our government to “dismantle its nuclear arsenal, pledge not to use nuclear weapons, refuse to sell nuclear fuels and technology to any state not agreeing to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency, work tirelessly for a comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, take unilateral disarmament initiatives as a way of breaking the current stalemate, and strengthen global institutions that facilitate nonviolent means of conflict resolution and the process of disarmament.”

The United Nations’ work on the Iran Deal is exactly the sort of “global institution” process that facilitates nonviolent conflict resolution, and the deal has been largely successful. It has allowed international monitoring of Iran’s nuclear capabilities, and allowed for the lifting of sanctions and increased economic integration between Iran and Western nations like France and Germany. These are important steps in the right direction.

The rhetoric surrounding the upcoming Iran Deal decision brings to mind the Church of the Brethren’s 1984 statement, “Terrible Belligerence,” written in response to Cold War tensions.

“Our nation has contributed to a world situation in which few serious negotiations are taking place to reduce the danger of nuclear annihilation. We assume that all liberation movements are “communist” inspired and controlled. We reduce international relationships to a conflict between “the free world” and “an evil empire.”We replace diplomacy with military confrontation as a means to world stability.”

Nuclear negotiations are difficult, imperfect and too little, too late. However, the deal with Iran represents a meaningful step forward for the global community in using diplomacy to prevent nuclear conflict. It is essential that, as it says in the 1980 COB statement, “The Time is so Urgent: Threats to Peace,”  

“To break this mad cycle we call for bold and creative initiatives such as a unilateral decision by our government to terminate all nuclear tests and the production of all nuclear weapons and their delivery systems.”

We continue to call for an end to the development and proliferation of nuclear weapons, and urge the United States government to do everything within its power to ensure the success of nuclear negotiations that bring the world closer to peaceful, stable coexistence without the threat of nuclear annihilation.

Literacy and Empowerment for Women

Suzan Mark leads Literacy Program

A literacy program is underway at some of the EYN Relocation Villages. “Literacy is a gateway to crisis recovery and to live a better life.”, reported Suzan Mark, EYN Director of Women’s Ministry.  It has become especially important to displaced women living around the Federal Capital Territory where they interact with many educated people. This literacy training has allowed women to freely interact with those in the nearby communities. They are seeing first hand the importance of education, especially for girls. The program will continue over the next eight months with a Literacy staff person assigned to each group. Chalkboards and chalk were provided for ongoing classes and the women were given text books, pens, pencils, rulers and exercise books.

Livelihood Training

Another part of the ongoing work of the EYN Women’s Ministry is a the Widow Livelihood Development Program. Hundreds of young widows have been invited to seminars where they learn skills in income generation and business start-up. They were also given health tips and messages about child protection. (Over 4,000 widows have been identified in the region; most have been widowed as a result of the Boko Haram violence.) Each attender of the seminar was given just over $100 to start their own business. This will give them a sense of responsibility, help them to be self-reliant and help them learn to save for the future. Below are some pictures of the women receiving their start-up capital.

Get out of the boat

The 2017 Ministry Summer Service interns at orientation.
Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

By Becky Ullom Naugle, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries

“Before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him… they were terrified… Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ ‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’ ‘Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus” (Matthew 14:25-29, NIV).

When I think of the courage and faith it took for Peter to step out of that boat, I am in awe. The disciples were on a boat by themselves, in the middle of a huge body of water, in the middle of the night, and they saw a figure walking on the waves toward them. Seriously?! What would you have done in that situation? Would you have had the courage to respond to the mysterious, perhaps even frightening, voice you’d heard, as Peter did? And if you did have the courage to respond verbally, would your faith have given you the strength to get out of the boat?

Just like Peter, we all probably would cry out for help if we felt ourselves sinking, but I wonder if most of us would have even gotten that far. Many of us may have been too frightened—by the storm itself, by the odd approach of Jesus, or both—to do anything but sit in the boat, close our eyes, clutch our arms a bit tighter, and try to imagine anything other than the current, alarming situation.

I see a strong parallel between the courageous steps of Peter and the courageous steps of Ministry Summer Service (MSS) interns. Clearly none of the interns have walked on water, but each has indeed responded to a sense of call. And beyond just sensing a call, these college students chose to leave familiar, comfortable environments and “get out of the boat.” They traveled to unknown places to explore ministry while also living in a new place, meeting new people, eating new food, and learning a new culture. These tasks aren’t exactly “walking on water,” but they do demand faith, courage, and often a healthy sense of humor! Like Peter, interns may, at times, feel like they are being swallowed up by overwhelming waves. But Jesus will no more allow an MSS intern to “sink” than he allowed Peter to sink. Of course, one’s faith could always be stronger, but consider how much faith it takes to get out of the boat in the first place!

Our 2017 interns have finished their service with MSS, but still need prayer. Please pray for Kaylie, Laura, Brooks, Cassie, Laura, Nolan, and Monica (featured above in the front row, from left to right). Pray that the Holy Spirit would continue to move powerfully in their lives and make clear their vocations. We also invite you to pray for the 2018 interns, who have yet to be identified. Is there anyone you could encourage to participate in Ministry Summer Service as a way to explore ministry while earning a scholarship?

I am grateful to all who pray for and give to Ministry Summer Service, the Church of the Brethren program that supports young adults as they consider their vocational calling from God. I am grateful to the mentors and ministry sites who journey with MSS interns for a summer. And I am grateful for the young adults who are brave enough to spend 10 weeks of their summer thinking about their faith, their lives, God’s world—and how those elements will be woven into the fabric of their future! Will you take a step of faith, like our interns, and support the Church of the Brethren?

Ministry Summer Service (MSS) is a leadership development program for college students in the Church of the Brethren who spend 10 weeks of the summer working in the church (local congregation, district office, camp, or national program). Applications for MSS 2018 are due January 5, 2018. Learn more about this ministry of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/mss or support it today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

David Young: Thoughts on Washington DC

The following blog is a guest post from David Young, the founder of Capstone Community Gardens in New Orleans. You can learn more about his work at www.capstone118.org

I had the opportunity to be in Washington D.C. from September 20 through 23, 2017. This was made possible by the Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness and the Global Food Initiative. The main purpose was to do a presentation with Nathan Hosler of the Office of Public Witness, at the University of D.C. during their Urban Agriculture Symposium and Association of Vertical Farmers Summit. Our presentation topic was: Food and Faith; The New Orleans Story of the Church of the Brethren. It ended up being so much more than that.

One of the things the Office of Public Witness does is look at policy and how they effect Brethren and projects of the Brethren.

Having had previous meetings and discussions with Nathan he was familiar with some of the challenges Capstone faces as an urban farm. One of those is being in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans. Orleans Parish (county in other states) has a 100% urban designation by USDA which prevent us from using many of the benefits USDA makes available to those with rural designation.

Nathan and Tori from the Office of Public Witness arranged for me to meet with staff of the three legislators from Louisiana. Within a few hours of arriving I found myself on Capitol Hill, spending about 30 minutes with each staff person, explaining how federal, state, and local policy effect how we can operate with our mission to grow food and share it with those in need.

One of the most pleasant surprises was a World Day of Peace service at the Washington City Church of the Brethren. Multiple churches of different denominations worked together to coordinate the service on the evening of September 20th, a day early, since Nathan and I would be occupied at the symposium on the 21st. The garden theme was included as part of the service. It was a nice gathering with a handful of denominations represented as one worshiping and praying for peace.

The Urban Ag Symposium started with Nathan and I doing a brief TV interview about what the Office of Public Witness provides and the community mission of Capstone. Since the mid 70’s I have understood the important role our land grant colleges play with agriculture. The University of D.C. is the only Urban Land Grant College. I also found it surprising to hear the Dean of the University talk about the faith based involvement the university has.

Later that afternoon Nathan and I completed our presentation at the symposium which was well received. The symposium partnered with the Association of Vertical Farmers. There were presentations that talked about some of the various vertical farming systems. Capstone has a combination of in -ground farming, elevated farming (raised beds), as well as some vertical farming with the aquaculture systems.

The second day started the Association for Vertical Farming Summit. The make-up of those in attendance changed from the previous day. The Vertical Farmcing Summit included more people who held titles of Scientist, PhD, Artificial Intelligence (A.I.).

There was dialogue and presentations on controlled environment, high capacity, 6 to 30-foot-high vertical growing systems. Complete grow systems self-contained in shipping containers. There was also an emphasis on using technology and Artificial Intelligence to analyze and evaluate plant needs. This ranged from mini drones gathering samples in mid-air to leaf mounted cameras and scopes.

Going back to when I was part of commercial agriculture in the late 70 and 80’s and currently doing urban farming I ask, what are you testing for? Most people I know now typically do more harm to their crops by overreacting to the test results. The group agreed with me. I’ve never tested much, I look at the plant and figure out what if any corrections I should take. The group said we don’t have that experience or knowledge to do that.

It comes very close to feeling like I’m watching a movie that was made a long time ago and this would have been considered sci-fi. I found myself in unfamiliar territory as I ask myself are these scientists, PhDs, and Artificial Intelligence people our next generation of farmers even though they admit they don’t have any experience in growing food. One representative from USDA said this type of farming will never replace conventional farming.

One three story vertical system in Jackson Wyoming cost 4.5 Million dollars to build. While they are at the other end of the spectrum of production and a for profit business I think back to my first two seasons with the gardens at Capstone. 4’x14’ and I spent $100 each growing season. If someone wanted to help I asked them to bring the plants or seeds they wanted to have grown. We’ve grown considerably since then. Going to the Garden Grants and Global Food Initiative grants have been beneficial to our success. Even as we continue to grow I feel we maintain a solid well-grounded relationship between the food we grow and our community we share it with.

On the last day, we took a tour of two urban gardens that were operated by Cultivate the City. These two gardens have a combination of raised and vertical farming and are doing some aquaculture. Even though both were rooftop gardens these gardens had a more familiar feel to them. At one farm the founder said we have people water the plants with a watering can. I feel it makes them more attuned with what they are growing. Quite a contrast to having micro drones collect samples.

Here is where I share my lack of following sports or having TV coverage. While I was in Washington I kept seeing a large cursive “W”. I kept thinking a certain large drug store chain was doing a lot of advertising. It was only when we went to the baseball stadium to see their roof top garden and the “W” was more prominent that I realized the “W” was for the Washington sports teams.

In D.C. there are many rooftop gardens because there is a storm water fee. If you allow storm water to openly drain away from a building or hard surface such as a parking lot you pay a fee on that. The roof top gardens make flat roof areas green space for growing plants or food which in turn offers relief from the storm water fee.

The University of D.C has a large green roof including a greenhouse. They grow succulents as well as produce. At the baseball stadium, the roof top gardens are on top of the concession stands. You open a gate on an upper level in the parking garage, climb up a ladder, down the other side of a wall, and onto the roof. It’s covered with hundreds of milk crates. Each milk crate contains a 5-gallon bag made of recycled material. This holds soil or compost and the plants.

One benefit to this type of garden is if you have to relocate the garden due to turning over ownership of the site or other factors you simply pick up the milk crate with the soil and plants, load them and move them to their new location. When we harvest honey, we put the 5 gallons buckets containing honey in a milk crate to make them more stable for transport and easier to handle.

While the material expense may be above our budget I think the concept in an urban setting is great. Having rehabbed a total of 40 lots in the Lower 9th Ward and returning many of them to families or organizations who decided it was time to develop that property it would have made things much easier in some cases to be able to just load the entire garden on a trailer and move it to another site.

I don’t know that my visit to D.C. is going to change anything or even influence any of the policy decisions. I do know the response from several of the smaller urban farms has been positive as we look to continue the discussion and enhance our relationships and collaboration.

 

Blessings Box

Members of the Nokesville Church of the Brethren participating
in the Blessings Box dedication service.
Photo courtesy of Nokesville Church of the Brethren

By Angela Finet, pastor of Nokesville (Va.) Church of the Brethren

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35, NIV).

At the beginning of 2017, our Sunday School class began a study of the Lord’s Prayer. When we got to the phrase, “Give us this day our daily bread,” it gave us pause. We pondered, “What would it mean for us to live each day wondering where we would get food?”

After discussion and prayer, we decided to join the “Blessings Box” phenomenon. Our box is a large, upright Rubbermaid storage container that sits unlocked on the corner of our church property. Inside are 4 shelves filled with non-perishable food, laundry detergent and dish soap, diapers and wipes, and personal hygiene products. The box is identified with a large sign that reads “Blessings Box” and smaller signs that read “Take what you need,” and “Share what you have.”

Earlier this year, we held a service of commissioning as part of our Sunday worship service, and since then, the box has taken on a life and ministry of its own. We’ve learned that there is a tremendous need for these items here in our community. People are taking and sharing virtually every day. As a result of the box being available 24/7, we’ve also noticed a decrease in the number of people calling to ask for financial assistance.

The best way for us to partner with area food banks is to focus more on the non-food items. Food banks do not provide diapers, detergent, and hygiene products. Additionally, since food stamps cannot be used for diapers, they have been most requested and taken from our Blessing Box. A parent cannot take her children to daycare if she doesn’t have diapers, and diapers cannot be bought without going to work for income. It’s a real catch-22 for some families!

We have also discovered the need for food dramatically increases when the schools are closed. Children who receive lunch assistance really suffer when school is not in session, and we’ve seen that translate into a greater demand for food items during that time.

What has been most rewarding is seeing that people who receive help from area food banks want to participate in blessing others. We find that food items from food banks are being left in the box in exchange for toiletry and household items. This truly embodies “take what you need and share what you have.”

And we’ve reaffirmed that we are part of an incredibly generous community both inside and outside the church. Several area dentists have supplied toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss. Several individuals, including families from our Kid’s Club and scouting programs, have committed to making weekly and monthly contributions to the box. Even local businesses have joined in by hosting “diaper drives.” Folks who want to participate but cannot make financial contributions are invited to stop in and create “diaper packs”—repackaged bags of six. We have a cabinet in the church set up to store the packs so that the box can easily be restocked as needed. We also have those who pray regularly for this ministry and for all those who participate that all who give and all who receive will be blessed.

To say the least, the Blessings Box has been transformative for all who have given to and received from this ministry. Our church learned more about what it means to feed the hungry, offer water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, and work for God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven.” We hope that you will be encouraged and inspired by our story.

The Nokesville Church of the Brethren exhibits what it means to be a vital congregation of the Church of the Brethren. Their discernment process around the Lord’s prayer has empowered them to be “creatively intentional in outreach to new people” and to be an “instrument of God’s Kingdom.” What vision may God have for your community? The Vital Ministry Journey could help your congregation explore this question.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Reflection on Christian Peacemaker Teams Trip

The Office of Public Witness has been meeting with U.S. government agencies to advocate for the use of Unarmed Civilian Protection (UCP). Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) is one organization that uses UCP methods to nonviolently work towards justice. In this guest blog post, Tim Heishman reflects on his experience with a CPT delegation.

By: Tim Heishman

This past August I was privileged to take part in Christian Peacemaker Teams’ Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Delegation to Manitoba and Ontario with my wife Katie. Christian Peacemaker Teams is an organization founded by the historic peace churches and based on the notion that Christians should be as willing to put their lives on the line for peace as soldiers are for war. During my time on the CPT delegation I heard many stories about the effectiveness of unarmed civilian protection and peaceful efforts to bring about solutions to injustice.

We learned about the story of the Shoal Lake 40 indigenous community in western Ontario. About 100 years ago the city of Winnipeg decided to build an aqueduct from the lake next to the indigenous community to carry water to the city. The problem was that the lake was split during construction, half of it was then contaminated, and half of it was clean. The clean water was reserved for the city of Winnipeg and the contaminated water was left for the indigenous tribe. Contaminated water is a huge problem for indigenous people because so much of their life and culture revolves around water. For example, the fish that made up a significant part of their diet now made them very sick. The way the city of Winnipeg divided the water when constructing the aqueduct also cut the community off from the rest of the world. They could get out during the summer by boat and in the winter by driving across the ice, but in the fall and spring they were stuck. Fast forward nearly 100 years and Winnipeg built the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. A successful campaign organized by indigenous leaders and settler allies highlighted the fact that the human rights museum was getting its water by oppressing an indigenous tribe. It was a bit of an embarrassing public relations issue, to say the least! The organizers even came up with their own Museum of Canadian Human Rights Violations! A peaceful campaign worked to call out and transform structural violence committed by the city of Winnipeg over a period of 100 years.

We met with leaders from the Grassy Narrows indigenous tribe in Ontario and they told us the story of how they successfully organized a blockade to stop illegal logging by corporations on their land. It began when a teenager cut down a tree to block the road so the logging trucks could not get through and complete their work. Soon others from the tribe joined in and a protest camp was established next to the road. Christian Peacemaker Team members joined to stand in solidarity with the tribe. For four months, from December to March, indigenous and settler allies stood together to stop illegal logging on indigenous land. They were ready to stand peacefully against the violence of the corporations and the state. The corporation eventually decided to do their logging in another place and for now the tribe has been successful in peacefully defending their right to the land that belongs to them.

Christian Peacemaker Teams does work like this all over the world. They believe that Christians should put as much energy into working for peace as militaries do for war. Working against injustices and violence with peaceful methods allows us to retain the moral high ground and expose the injustices of the perpetrator in a way that a violent response would not. Sometimes violence is physical and other times it is structural. It can be stopped with unarmed civilian protection.

Sometimes governments and militaries choose to lay down their weapons and protect a place peacefully. The peninsula on which Common Ground is located is one such place. Common Ground is located in Kenora, Ontario. Many years ago several indigenous tribes and settlers fought over this piece of land. The opposing sides came together, they decided to hold it mutually, and they called it Common Ground. Today it is surrounded by several miles of beautiful hiking trails and it is still a place where all people can come together and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. May all people come together to embrace God’s call to model our lives after the Prince of Peace and settle our conflicts nonviolently.

Another successful work camp

Welcome to a Nigeria Workcamp by Peggy Gish

August/September workcamp

“Aiki! Aik! Aiki!” men called out from time to time, “Work! work! work! (in Hausa). Under a hot sun, a continuous line of men carried cement blocks up a wooden ramp with nailed on rungs, to the second floor of what will be a new office building for the EYN (Church of the Brethren in Nigeria)  staff, at the church headquarters in Kwarhi, in Adamawa State.  On the second floor, groups of men mixed up mortar, and lay block to form the walls and doorways of the new building.

This was the first week of a two-week workcamp (August 17-September 3) co-sponsored by EYN and the Church of the Brethren.  About 17-20 Nigerian men came each week from churches to help with the building. Three of us, Johnathan Ogburn, Dana McNeil, and Peggy Gish, representing the Church of the Brethren in the U.S., joined in and were warmly welcomed.

Working together

The construction of this building was started in 2014, before Boko Haram looted and damaged the staff buildings.  Because the EYN staff and other people from the area fled and temporarily based its headquarters in Jos, the construction stopped.  This is the second workcamp to work on this building since the EYN staff returned in 2016.

When asked why they came to the workcamp, the men, who left their jobs at home to work here, gave answers such as the following:  “This is a way I can serve God.”  “When people drive by, I want them to see a church whose headquarters show the dedication and support of its people.”  “After Boko Haram’s attempt to destroy the church, we want to rebuild and make it strong.”

Peggy and children carrying sand and cement

The camaraderie and festive mood of the group attracted a number of boys and girls—children of EYN staff and others living near the compound—who joined in the work. They filled metal dishpans with sand and carrying them up to the second floor to be mixed with concrete.  Two of the older boys proudly found that they could carry on their heads or shoulders half blocks. There would be moments, however, when the children or adults erupted into play.  Suddenly the children would be flying paper airplanes around the site or playing impromptu games.

As the time went on, there were more playful moments among the men—joking around, working to music, or tossing plastic water bags to or at each other that burst. During a break young men spontaneously formed a percussion band and sang together.  Another time the words in Hausa to “Holy, holy, holy” or “Count Your Blessings” could be heard through the building as they worked.

Long after the participants go home, we expect the impact of this workcamp to extend beyond the almost 5,000 cement blocks that had been trucked in and mortared in place. Forged together in these two weeks will be the ongoing friendships across tribes and cultures, and increased dedication to and joy of serving their church.  The work here will not only strengthen EYN as a church, but stand as a symbol of hope—as out of the crisis it rebuilds and is renewed.