Devotions (EYN Daily Link) October 4-10, 2015

DAILY LINK WITH GOD 2015

EYN Devotions graphicA Daily Devotional Guide from the
EYN (Church of the Brethren in Nigeria)

EYN leaders in Nigeria believe prayer is one of the most important ways to support the Nigerian people and the Church.  These daily devotions were written by EYN members and published by the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria. Reading them daily is a powerful way we can be in solidarity and connect with our brothers and sisters caught in this crisis.  EYN’s daily devotional for 2015 will be posted a week at a time on this blog, appearing mid-week for the following week. More information about the crisis can be found at www.nigeriacrisis.org.

Click on this link for Devotions for Oct 4-10,2015

The Hosts (by Janet Crago)

Markus and Janada

Markus and Janada

Markus Gamache is the Church of the Brethren (COB) Mission Coordinator in Nigeria.  He’s from a small village in northeast Nigeria called Wagga, very close to the Cameroon border and the Sambisa forest.  His wife Janada is also from a village in northeast Nigeria called Lassa.  Both places have been seriously impacted by the insurgency in Northeast Nigeria.  Wagga has been overrun by Boko Haram seven times while Lassa has also been overrun several times.  While some people are returning to Lassa today, no one has yet been able to return to Wagga.  Markus and Janada have five children.  Their two older children are away at boarding school, but the rest of their family is living with them in Jos, an area largely unaffected by the insurgency in Northeastern Nigeria.  But, this is their story of how the insurgency has affected the lives of people hosting refugees.

It began at the end of May, 2014.  Refugees started arriving at their house 2 or 3 at a time,

Janada and the younger children

Janada and the younger children

until the numbers swelled to 60 people living in their home.  Can you imagine how to house 60 people in a home built for 5 or 6?  The home has a small office, 3 bedrooms, a living/dining room, kitchen, and laundry room.  In this case, they put all the men in one of the bedrooms and in the office.  Small children slept on the floor in Markus and Janada’s bedroom.  They reserved the living room and dining room for the women and other children.  They moved all their furniture against the walls, placing sleeping mats on the floor where people slept.  Janada tells me there wasn’t any place left on the floor for anyone else to sleep.  All sleeping space was taken.  They had 60 people sleeping in their house like this until earlier this year!

The refugees told them stories of how they were terrorized.  Many men were slaughtered (throats cut) with knives.  The Boko Haram didn’t want to shoot them.  They wanted to see blood flow.  To prepare for such slaughter, it’s believed that the Boko Haram take drugs that affect their minds.  It makes them indifferent to the cries of helpless people.  The Boko Haram told local Muslims they wouldn’t kill them or their families if they pointed out the Christians.  When they arrived in a village they shouted, “Allahu’akbar,” meaning “God Is Great”, then “Arna” meaning “Pagans” signaling their intent to kill Christians who they consider to be pagans.  Many of the refugees related this same story.  The refugees mourned the loss of relatives and friends and were also very sad about this betrayal by their Muslim neighbors.

The Home

The Home

But back to the story — How can you take care of 60 people staying in your house?  Janada happens to have 1400 laying chickens.  Having eggs readily available helped tremendously.  The eggs provided protein and could be prepared in many different ways.  Nigerian daily meals ordinarily consist of two things.  “Tuwo” is the grain base for the meal.  It can be prepared from ground corn, ground maize, or semovita (a very fine tapioca).  Tuwo is prepared by slowly dropping the grain into boiling water until it forms a thick, heavy mass of grain and water.  This mass is divided up into balls that are about 4 inches in diameter.  The balls are each placed in a plastic wrap.  That is a single serving.  Another option is to cook rice instead of grain for the tuwo.  Then they prepare the “Miya”.  This is what provides the flavoring.  The flavor of the miya varies.  It is prepared with oil, leaves such as aleho (a form of spinach) yakwa, or bitterroot, Maggi cubes (bouillon), tomatoes, onions, and a small amount of some kind of protein like beef, goat, fish, or chicken.  To prepare enough miya alone, Janada tells me she spent 5500 Naira ($27.50) per day.  That did not include the protein she used in the miya.  Tuwo was prepared from the grain they harvested from last year’s crop.  Thankfully, Markus and Janada had a bountiful harvest last year. (They also received assistance though food districutions of EYN and CCEPI)

In Nigeria, it is a cultural expectation that you will take care of refugees coming to you in this type of situation.  Refugees know that they have a place to go to.

Markus medicalMany of these refugees had medical issues.  Some hiked for miles to escape.  They traveled heartbroken by the scenes of relatives and friends killed before them.  They frequently were starving, had no water to drink, slept in unsafe places, and were miserable.  Some suffered from snakebites and died on the way.  Others died of starvation.  Many had skin issues, foot and back aches, and lack of medications for problems like high blood pressure or diabetes.

Some problems that Markus and Janada faced were the poor attitudes of some of the refugees.  Some of them didn’t care for the food that was prepared and criticized its’ taste.  Markus and Janada’s children didn’t get as much attention as before.  Also their food wasn’t quite as healthy.  They were stretching their budget to care for so many people.

Some the good things that have resulted from taking in this enormous number of refugees are the feelings of satisfaction they got from being able to help so many of their family and friends.  All the refugees have been able to physically recover.  Two women who arrived pregnant were able to safely deliver their babies.  The children who got separated from their parents have found them and are living together.  Most of the men have been able to find jobs.

Janada tells me that the main thing she learned is that it is very important to have patience when around so many people.  All people are different. She learned that she needed a large heart and the patience to deal with different people and their problems.  She learned to firmly articulate her house rules and to speak respectfully.  She says you must have patience, patience, patience.

Most of the refugees have now relocated to places that have more room and are better for their situation.  But, God Bless such Hosts!  Markus and Janada are only one household among the great many who have provided a refuge for people who were able to escape.  They helped people to recover physically, but now the emotional recovery must continue.

 

Opening a new EYN church in Jalingo

Jim Mitchell

Jim Mitchell –

Even though the EYN Church has been severely injured and deeply wounded, new life is happening and we give God all the praise and glory for the grace that is making all things possible.

OPENING OF A NEW EYN CHURCH IN JALINGO       by Jim Mitchell

On Sunday, September 6, 2015, the EYN LCC No. 5 Jalingo, was officially made a self-supporting EYN Church.  There were over 250 people in attendance; 200 representing the other four EYN LCC Churches in Jalingo plus the 50 members of the new No. 5 Jalingo.  The Service for Opening of a New Church was led by the Jalingo DCC Secretary, the Rev. Andrawus Godzama and assisted by the Rev. Yohanna Apagu, pastor of No. 1 Jalingo, and the Rev. Moses Thilza (who heads up a local NGO).  There were five groups that provided inspiring and uplifting music throughout the service(the Sisters, the Men, the Youth, a Gospel Band, and the Choir).

Gospel Band

Gospel Band

ZME - Women's Choir

ZME – Women’s Choir

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Scripture Lessons were from Matthew 16:13-20 and Colossians 1:9-18.  The Rev. Dr.

Jim giving the message

Jim giving the message

James Mitchell became the General Secretary for the day and preached on the message of “The Church’s True Foundation is Jesus Christ.”  The Rev. Dr. Samual Dali, President of EYN, introduced and

shared about his ministry in Nigeria. Since the service was in Hausa, the Rev. Moses Thilza translated the message.
Then President Samual Dali officiated The Service for Opening of a New Church with special acknowledgements of the pastor, the LCC, and then all of the members of EYN LCC no. 5 Jalingo who all came up to receive his official greeting.  The Rev. Dr. James Mitchell then offered a prayer of blessing upon the pastor, the LCC, and members.  The official Certificate and other papers were then presented to Pastor Joshua Tada and the LCC.  There was an upsurge of “Hallelujahs” when all was said and done.  Zakariya Amos, the Assistant Secretary of EYN, then welcomed the new church, the LCC, and the pastor officially to the family of EYN and expressed gratitude as to Rev. Godzama as to how well the service was organized and flowed and how God was continually glorified in his words and prayers.  There was a special offering for EYN LCC No. 5 Jalingo and President Dali closed the service with an encouraging and triumphant benediction.  The service was three and half hours long.

Following the service, there was a fellowship meal that was enjoyed by all.  God blessed us with a beautiful weather, a wonderful location, and a joyous and glorious day of celebration in the life and coming of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. Even though the EYN Church has been severely injured and deeply wounded, new life is happening and we give God all the praise and glory for the grace that is making all things possible.

 

Devotions (EYN Daily Link) September 27 – Oct 3, 2015

DAILY LINK WITH GOD 2015

EYN Devotions graphicA Daily Devotional Guide from the
EYN (Church of the Brethren in Nigeria)

EYN leaders in Nigeria believe prayer is one of the most important ways to support the Nigerian people and the Church.  These daily devotions were written by EYN members and published by the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria. Reading them daily is a powerful way we can be in solidarity and connect with our brothers and sisters caught in this crisis.  EYN’s daily devotional for 2015 will be posted a week at a time on this blog, appearing mid-week for the following week. More information about the crisis can be found at www.nigeriacrisis.org.

Click on this link for Devotions Sept 27 – Oct 3

Ruth the Farmworker

A sermon from the Washington City Church of the Brethren on September 6, 2015

By: Katie Furrow

Ruth 2:1-13

This weekend marks the celebration of Labor Day. Admittedly, until just recently, I had no real knowledge on what the purpose of Labor Day is or why we celebrate it, so, like any good Millennial, I went to the Internet: According to the US Department of Labor, Labor Day “is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers” which celebrates the “contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” It’s a very American ideal: celebrating the hard work that we’ve put into our jobs which creates economic success for ourselves and our families and maybe even for our country as a whole.

However, as people across the country tomorrow find themselves celebrating with cookouts and generally enjoying a day off from work or school, millions of our country’s laborers who work in agriculture have little to celebrate. These men, women, and even children—since current labor laws allow children to work in agriculture as early as age 12—feed our families every day, yet they face untold hardships in their own lives ranging from wage theft to work-induced health problems to living situations that are far below any standard that should be acceptable anywhere, especially in a place as wealthy as the US.

Farm workers play a prominent role in all of our lives. After all, where would we get our always available, conveniently affordable food from? Despite this, though, they are an abused portion of our society. Through the frequently used piece-work system for wages, most workers find themselves toiling in the field for at least eight hours a day, earning money only for what they produce. For instance, in Florida, workers are paid 85 cents for every 90 pound box of oranges they can pick. If they work at an average pace, that would end up being less than $7 per hour to be made for picking thousands of pounds of oranges. I don’t know about you, but if I were in that situation, I would work as hard as I could with as few stops for water or anything else in order to maximize my profit. And that’s a real problem when you’re in a place like Florida with high temperatures and exposure to the elements while doing physically exhausting work; people are basically being forced to trade their health for their wage.

An ongoing struggle for both men and women is the heavy use of pesticides in the fields. The chemicals that we must always be sure to wash off of our fruits and veggies frequently surround farm workers as the wind carries it into their breathing space from other fields, from improper handling of the chemicals due to a lack of proper safety training, or as they are made to return to work prematurely soon after their field has been sprayed—all in the name of quick profit. This can lead to health problems for anyone who works around the chemicals from general illness to cases of cancer.

Women in this role are often greeted with extra challenges. Beyond facing the equal struggles of men in the field as they fight for fair wages and safe working environments, many women are also expected to maintain the role of mother and caretaker, and consequently must lose out on precious paychecks in order to take care of their families. Or they sometimes never even receive paychecks as their employer illegally pays them through their husband’s paycheck—saving the company money they would have to pay on Social Security or other benefits while simultaneously keeping the woman from having any autonomy or legal rights. And exposure to those pesticides that I just mentioned can lead to infertility, difficult pregnancies, or birth defects.

Even more painful to consider, though, is the treatment of female farm workers at the hands of their employers. One survey from the National Farm Worker Ministry reported that 90 percent of female farm workers identified sexual harassment as a major problem in their workplace. There are countless stories of women from throughout the industry and across the country who have endured a host of sexual violence in order to keep their jobs, to be paid a fair wage, or in the case of women who are working illegally in the country, out of fear that they will be reported to immigration authorities if they don’t comply with their supervisor’s actions. And all of these things often add up to keep these women from ever reporting these crimes to the police. These women live with a constant fear of harassment or sexual violence simply for trying to do their job and to make ends meet.

It would seem like this is an issue of the modern era, only becoming a problem since the United States farm industry has taken off, requiring millions of people to tend and harvest the fields. However, mistreatment of workers is nothing new, and our scripture, in part, highlights the potential for this in Biblical times. But it also signifies the hope of what a good employer can look like.

The story of Ruth is a familiar one: Ruth is the daughter-in-law of a woman named Naomi, and within the first few verses of the first book, Ruth, Naomi, and Naomi’s other daughter-in-law have all come to find themselves widowed. Being widowed women in this time meant that their rights were incredibly limited as their value was tied to the men in their lives—husbands, fathers, or sons. Recognizing this, Naomi releases her daughters-in-law to return to their families to seek out a new start while Naomi herself plans to return to her native home of Israel from where she is living in Moab. One daughter goes, but Ruth stays, vowing her loyalty and love to Naomi.

They make their way to Israel, and it is there that Ruth declares she will go out, looking for work as a way to support herself and Naomi. It’s the harvest time, so Ruth finds herself in the fields that belong to Boaz, a “prominent rich man” from the community, who (spoiler alert) is both a relative of Naomi and Ruth’s future husband.

When Boaz arrives to his field, it is immediately obvious that he both respects and is respected by his workers as he greets them with a blessing. Boaz makes sure that his workers are taken care of by providing them with food and drink while they work, and it is even later revealed that during part of the harvest, he works right alongside with them.

What is more striking, though, is how he treats Ruth upon realizing she is following behind his workers, gleaning in the field. Ruth is an outsider in every sense of the word; she is not his employee, she is a widowed woman, she is a foreigner in Israel. This combination could be dangerous for Ruth; she is vulnerable both legally and physically. Boaz could have taken this opportunity to exploit Ruth and to harm her, to use her body and her presence as a trade to let her glean the fields or to even hover a false promise of protection over her head.

But the beauty in this moment is that Boaz didn’t do this! He recognized Ruth’s need and worked to fulfill it well beyond her expectation. Ruth wanted the opportunity to glean the field after his workers passed through harvesting; all she wanted were whatever leftovers were to be had. She was willing to work hard for this, as Boaz’s workers noted that she had not rested at any point over the day following behind them. Boaz agrees to let her pick from what is left in the field, later in the chapter, he also tells his workers to let her take from the good harvest as well. And he offers her food and water as she needs it. And he tells her that he has told the men working to leave her alone, protecting her from the exploitation that could come from any other source.

Instead of taking advantage of her, Boaz did the complete opposite to empower Ruth in her work in order to make sure she had the best possible chance at providing for herself and Naomi. Boaz was a perfect example of how a boss should treat those in his employment. However, many farm owners and supervisors today haven’t taken this story to heart, and the consequence of that are the unfair labor standards that I alluded to earlier.

It is very unlikely that any of us will ever become the owners or supervisors of farms of any size and we will never have to make the choice of whether or not to pay our workers fair wages or to treat them unjustly. But this doesn’t get us off the hook so quickly. Through our purchasing power, we can either choose to support or deny such inequality. By consciously choosing to say “I will purchase things that have an ethical and fair source” we can combat this system. Sometimes, we may not be capable of this; for instance, as a full-time volunteer, I know that I certainly cannot always do so because I literally can’t afford it. But by even recognizing that our food system is imperfect and that we’ll strive to do just a little bit better next time, or by planting gardens that break the consumer cycle, or by petitioning industrial farms to make changes to their worker treatment, or by otherwise showing our brothers and sisters in the field that we care about them and are standing in solidarity with their struggle, we can subvert this system. We can show that it is of great value to us to make sure that they have been given everything that they need to be just as successful in this country and in their lives as we have been given.

As members of the Body of Christ, it is imperative that our choices and actions reflect our faith, and one of the biggest parts of that is standing for others when they have been beaten down so many times that they struggle to stand back up again. And farm workers have been beaten down in so many ways. We have been given an example of how to treat farm workers through Boaz, and while we may not be the ones directly providing paychecks, we can still take actions to build a more fair system and to help our brothers and sisters stand back up once again.

This weekend is a celebration of the hard work that we put in as a country to succeed as individuals, as families, and as a nation. Wouldn’t it be great to know that we can celebrate this with a clean conscious that everyone has been successful and that everyone is valued for the hard work that they’ve put in to this effort toward success? And maybe, if enough of us choose to recognize the need for change and take even one small, concrete step in making a difference, then each of those small steps will add up to one big, change-creating movement. At the end of this chapter in Ruth, once Ruth has returned home from a full day’s work with a lot of barley and Boaz’s blessing, Naomi proclaims, “Blessed is the man who took notice of you.” Not for our sake, but for the sake of our brothers and sisters working hard in the fields, let’s be the people who take notice. And then let’s be the people who get up and do something about it. Amen.

What Persecution Feels Like

Written by Janet Crago

Written by Janet Crago

We recently had an opportunity to visit one of the EYN resettlement camps at Luvu Masaka, located near Nigeria’s capital city of Abuja, and collected several different stories about how people ended up there.  All of the people interviewed had fled from the far Northeastern part of the EYN Mission area, located near the Sambisa Forest and Gwoza, the self-proclaimed Capital of Boko Haram’s Islamic State.  The people in this area have endured attack after attack from Boko Haram over the past several years.  And, as this is written in August of 2015, the area is still considered to be unsafe for these Christians to return. Many Christians think they will never be able to return to this area.  The stories are hard to hear, and even harder to imagine, but I’m reporting their stories as told to me.

John  – In Barawa, John had a flat with 4 bedrooms. But, in 2011, Boko

John

John

Haram came and burned his house.  He ran one way while his wife and children ran another.  John ran to the Cameroon mountains with other refugees where he stayed for about a year.  Then, Boko Haram found them there, and killed many more people. Eventually, he heard from his wife and learned that she had gone to Autabalfe in Nasarawa State located south and west of Jos, which is right in the center of Nigeria.  Six children are with her.  He traveled to Autabalfe to be with them, but they don’t have a place to live yet.  He came to the camp hoping to find a place to stay.  He is a farmer but he says he is willing to do any kind of work to support his family and will accept any type of accommodation.  He is desperate.

Adamu

Adamu

Adamu  – On March 13, 2013, Boko Haram came to Gavva West and burned and looted their church.  Four people were killed.  Then, in April of 2013, Boko Haram came again and burned his son’s house and car.  And, in September and October of 2013, they came and chased everyone away, when they burnt the entire village, killing another 15 people.  Adamu finally fled to the neighboring village of Gavva close to the Cameroon border.  When Boko Haram came to Gavva, they burned two EYN churches and many houses.  This time, when they were chased from Gavva, he fled to Michika.  Then Boko Haram came to Michika and he fled to Maiduguri where he spent about four months while his son supported him.  When he left Maiduguri, he only had 2 trousers and 2 shirts.  He’s now come to the resettlement camp at Masaka looking for a place to stay.  He has seven children and his wife living with him.  He thanks God, and the relief team, for his very survival.  He got transport money from his sons and was able to come to the camp at Masaka, where he is looking for a new place to settle.

Zakariya  was not at home in Gavva when the Boko Haram attacks came.  He

Zakariya

Zakariya

had been studying in Maiduguri, where he graduated with a Higher National Diploma in Banking and Finance.  He related the story as told to him by his relatives.  Boko Haram came to Gavva East in Nov of 2013 and destroyed 18 houses and killed three people.  Then they left and many people stayed.  In Sept of 2014, Boko Haram came back.  Anyone that ran away was shot. They killed all the men they could find and burned the houses of all the Christians, looting personal property by taking TVs, clothes, cars, cows, and stores of food. People were forced to convert to Islam or die.

Those who were able to get away ran to the mountains.  Older people who couldn’t climb were killed.  They weren’t killing women, but forced them to convert and enslaved them.  Some people escaped to Cameroon.  Some who escaped to the mountains are still there, where many have died of hunger and some can’t get out.  As Zakariya was telling his story, one man who spent many months in the mountains volunteered the information that he and another man repeatedly came down into Gavva in the night to search for food left behind so they could carry it back up to the mountains to be shared around.  This is how they are surviving.

Zakaria’s mother initially refused to come out of the village but has now gone to live in the mountains.  Another person reported to him that she is alive, but he hasn’t heard from her in many months.  If they have a fire to cook something, the smoke from the fire will reveal their presence and get them killed.  He doesn’t know if she is surviving.

Musa

Musa

Musa  – On June 13, 2014 many people were going to church when Boko Haram came with their machine guns and attacked.  Three people were killed before the people of Attagara chased the Boko Haram away, killing some of the Boko Haram in the process.  The Christians were so angry that they burned Muslim homes in Attagara and chased them away.  Before long, though, Boko Haram came back and chased all the Christians away, killing 84 people in the process.  All the survivors fled.  The Boko Haram looted goods and burned all the houses where Christians lived.  Musa fled into Cameroon.  After some time and a difficult journey, he has now come to the camp in Masaka.  He has been assigned a home and has a job working in the Gurku camp.  He has a wife and 4 children.  He has committed everything unto God and is enduring.

The day we were at Masaka, we witnessed a distribution of food and supplies to the residents of the camp.  All these supplies were provided by the EYN Relief Distribution Team who, receive funding from CAM (Christian Aid Ministries) and the COB Crisis Relief Fund.  Families in this camp feel very fortunate to have a small home that they can move into.  Those homes were built with funds from the COB Crisis Relief Fund, and some land around the houses was also purchased.  It requires hard work to till, plant and harvest but there’s still time to plant some things and get them harvested before the rains end in October.  Our prayer this day was that God will bless the new homes that are being established, and provide these people with a bountiful harvest.

Distribution of household items at Masaka

Distribution of household items at Masaka

Footnote:   This is a little history of the tribes in the Gavva area.                                     The people in this area have a very rich tribal history.  Most of the villages have their own language.  In the days of the slavers (the early 1800’s) where they were trying to capture people to sell into slavery, the Islamic slavers had horses they used to chase the people and capture them by running them down.  Soon the people retreated to the mountaintops where they could live in relative peace.  There was water on the mountaintops and they only had to come down sometimes to plant and harvest crops.  If the slavers came while they were on the mountaintops they could throw rocks down on them or throw spears at them, making it much more difficult for them to capture people.  While living on the mountaintops, each mountaintop developed its own language, different from all the rest.  So today, if you are from a small area in northeast Nigeria, you share a common language with only a few people.  This creates a very strong bond.  This area has a rich farming background where these people have been farmers for many generations.

Borno State note Gwoza area

Borno State note Gwoza area at the Cameroon Border

Favorited: Reflections on the Syrian Refugee Crisis

A sermon from Washington City Church of the Brethren on September 13, 2015

By: Nathan Hosler

James 2:1-17, Mark 7:24-37

The protests in Syria began while Jenn and I were doing peacebuilding work in Nigeria with the Church of the Brethren. Once a year we would come back to the United States so that Jenn’s permanent residency card stayed in good order. In June of 2011 we came home for the denominations Annual Conference but also attended a peacebuilding training. The courses are 10 day long intensives. These courses include people from all over the world who are engaged in peacebuilding related work. I remember very distinctly walking between buildings on day during lunch break. There was a guy, probably a little bit older than I was, walking and talking excitedly. He wasn’t in my class but I knew from introductions early in the week that he was Syrian. He was talking about the protests which I believe he was involved in. The government had just begun using violence against them but while urgent he also seemed optimistic. Probably 2 years later, and now working in the Office of Public Witness here in DC I saw him again–still moving about energetically but this time organizing a rally urging US military intervention. After years of ever expanding violence, atrocities, and millions displaced optimism feels long gone. Were the violence to end—completely—this weekend, the aftermath and destruction still feels nearly insurmountable.

On Thursday Jenn and I went to Calvary Baptist in Chinatown to hear Nadia Bolz-Weber speak. Nadia is known as a rather unexpected pastor with a higher than average tattoo count and an unlikely story of completely bottoming out before dramatically experiencing God’s grace. One thing she asserted was that Christians need to stop trying to make ourselves look like we have it together. We need to honestly face the violence of our world. This is what I am going to attempt.

Today we are going to read our scripture passages alongside the crisis of refugees coming out of Syria. When we live far away—and particularly if our job does is not related to international affairs—it is easy to forget that conflicts and disasters and the many years long consequences and recovery from these continue on. This week was one of those weeks when an ongoing war-caused humanitarian disaster broke through into the public space.  I won’t be remotely comprehensive. There are plenty of sources that are available and you have probably seen which can given more detailed analysis. What I’m going to attempt is a public theology or perhaps theological ethical take on our two scripture readings and this refugee crisis

Over the past two weeks the presence and intensity of the Syrian refugee crisis has increased—at least in the media. There were harrowing pictures of a drowned Syrian child on a beach, of parents desperately trying to get ashore off of leaking boats, of hundreds setting out on foot because they were not allowed to take a train. We witnessed policymakers make bold commitments (Merkel in Germany) and not so bold commitments from our own government. I heard of individual people bringing out food and water as people hiked rather than took a train while xenophobic and anti-Muslim rhetoric was vented.

The passage in James 2 begins, My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?”(NRSV)

The New International Versions translates it “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.”(NIV)

Favoritism is obviously being challenged by Jesus. The writer continues on, giving an example of what this might look like. He is speaking within the context of gathering of the church and says if a rich person comes in and a poor person comes in and you treat the rich better then you have “made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts.” Though this is only the second chapter of a book that is decidedly practical and ethical in nature, poverty and riches have already been noted at several points. Given our passage and other contextual clues this is a context of a relatively poor church. In such a context connecting with a wealthy benefactor would be not only a bonus but a key to survival. This is a reflection of the patronage system of the day. Yet despite this, James adamantly condemns showing favoritism.

Children—as it is reported—have a strong sense of fairness, that is, at least when it affects them. In this passage the challenge to favoritism comes not from a general account of fairness but from Jesus–In fact the question is posed, with your favoritism do you really believe in Jesus? This isn’t a general “as Christians we really shouldn’t …” but are you really a Christian? Do you really follow and believe in Jesus? This is a not a preference toward not acting with favoritism based on economics but serious enough bring into question one’s relationship to God. It is not, however, a calculus based on net worth, total assets or dollars but of valuing certain persons or categories of persons over others. Though James is primarily referring, in this passage, to personal encounters with those entering the church it would also apply to allowing systemic favoritism (or the inverse—systemic oppression) to go unchallenged.

  1. First observation of the text is that favoritism is a big deal and the challenge to favoritism, or valuing some over others, is based on Jesus (or perhaps a claim that one is following Jesus). We see that even when it is important for economic viability of a community to show favoritism toward those with power that this is no excuse.

So I am claiming that James is claiming that belief and following the way of Jesus is incompatible with favoritism. How then do we understand the passage we read in the Gospel of Mark? In this passage Jesus is approached by a woman who begs that he heal her daughter. Jesus response is not what we would expect.

25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir,  even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

How do we account for Jesus initial response to the woman?

If my assertion that in James favoritism is challenged by Jesus rather than a more general account of justice or fairness rang true to you, the passage in Mark likely caused you to pause–likely created some discomfort. Jesus is approached by a woman asking for help for her daughter and Jesus responds in a way that sounds blatantly racist–or at least bigoted against a different religion or region.

Interpreters may take several approaches which I will note. I note these to help understand this passage but also as a mini lesson on hermeneutics (and perhaps theological method).

We could say that this is simply a case of cultural, religious, and racial biases of Jesus’ community shining through. In another Gospel, we read of Jesus as a boy and that he “grew in wisdom”. This is an assertion that though Jesus is the Messiah, Immanuel—God with us—that there was still some sort of natural progression. Since of course Jesus was from a community with a culture and history, part of this growth would include the assumptions of this community. Since, as all of us who have gotten older at any point can attest, we continue to grow and learn throughout our lives this rather offensive comment from Jesus is simply a case of his continued bias showing through but then his being challenged and changing.

It may be the case that Jesus was corrected in this simple exchange but it seems unlikely to me given the verses immediately before this event. In the first portion of this chapter Jesus explicitly challenges the assumptions and practices of the religious leaders around what is considered clean and unclean. When the religious leaders criticized his disciples for eating with hands that were not ritually clean Jesus said, “’Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition!”

 So, though Jesus’ response to the woman is surprising from him, it is a continuation of his challenging policies and beliefs of exclusion—and in James of favoritism.

If I have managed to convince you that that favoritism is a big deal and the challenge to favoritism, or valuing some over others, is based on Jesus the question still remains—How does this relate concretely to Syrian refugees? Well, an obvious and abstract answer is that we should not treat Syrian refugees any differently that we would want to be treated if we needed to flee during a civil war that dragged Canada and Mexico into the chaos. The second answer is that we should push our government to enact policies that adequately support refugees which would include more than the scant 10,000 Obama just promised to accept. Or by supporting the Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign that works against anti-Muslim rhetoric aimed at Syrian refugees. This is of course critical and should be done. This is also is the sort of thing my office works on. This is important but, honestly, doesn’t take a whole lot of personal sacrifice.

In 2010 we went to the CoB’s National Youth Conference. While in line to register behind the General Secretary Stan Noffsinger I mistook Jarrod McKenna (who has long dread locks) for Shaine Claiborne (who also had long dread locks at the time). I don’t know what I said—I think it was some sort of joke or semi-snarky comment (which may have been a little dangerous for someone I didn’t know)—but we ended up talking with Jarrod and then spending a good part of the next few days with him. Jarrod is from Australia and became very active in direct action protests against the asylum seekers policy of Australia. While involved in these protests he and his wife Teresa felt that they needed to directly support refugees in getting into the hard to enter rental market of Perth. Long story short, they raised or borrowed enough money to buy and renovate an abandoned Pentecostal church turned meth-lab. This became known as the First Home Project. Now Teresa, Jarrod, and their son Tyson live in a building which has expanded to several buildings and houses and rents to refugee families who otherwise would struggle to get into the rental market. While this may sound kind of glamorous Jarrod notes that this isn’t really the case. He says, “Homework lessons change lives. Driving lessons change lives. Helping somebody with their CV changes lives. Having a cup of tea with someone changes lives. And it’s not sexy, and it’s not spectacular, and it’s not going to make a Facebook update, but it’s real.”

(http://rotundamedia.com.au/2015/06/17/midland-couple-welcome-refugees-into-their-home-the-first-home-project/)

As second critical piece of James is, that faith and works are inseparable. Belief and action must be joined.

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters,[e] if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. 20 Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. 23 Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

At her talk this Thursday Nadia Bolz-Weber claimed of her congregation–“We are religious but not spiritual.” By this she sought to challenge the tendency to separate the spiritual from the bodily. Indeed the idea that faith and works (or actions) can be separated is even challenged. In the case of Abraham the act was the faith. In this passage the writer is challenging a tendency to isolate faith from works so that it is understood to be authentically from grace rather than earned. For many Brethren I wonder if the tendency is from the other side. That is, we know that we are supposed care about justice and service but occasionally we think that is it. Now, don’t get me wrong, all things being equal I would much prefer that someone be committed to justice and service rather than not, but, we do this because we follow Jesus. Not only are we to reject favoritism—or a prioritizing of on group over another—but we are to get around to doing something. Watching the news and feeling angry and sad and empathy is important but if we simply stop there we have come up short. I must admit that at first the prospect of writing a sermon amidst work and my studies was not quite what I wanted to be doing—however, when I realized that this could be a tiny part of addressing the actual suffering of actual people my perspective started to bend. When we come to church to here the Gospel we do not do this as some sort of obligation or strange entertainment but as part of our being molded as a people into radical Christ followers. Just a verse before James challenges favoritism we read “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress.”

May our lives be so formed that we, in the way of Jesus, abandon favoritism living out our faith for the glory of God and for our neighbors good. Amen.

Devotions (EYN Daily Link) September 20-26, 2015

DAILY LINK WITH GOD 2015EYN Devotions graphic
A Daily Devotional Guide from the
EYN (Church of the Brethren in Nigeria)

EYN leaders in Nigeria believe prayer is one of the most important ways to support the Nigerian people and the Church.  These daily devotions were written by EYN members and published by the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria. Reading them daily is a powerful way we can be in solidarity and connect with our brothers and sisters caught in this crisis.  EYN’s daily devotional for 2015 will be posted a week at a time on this blog, appearing mid-week for the following week. More information about the crisis can be found at www.nigeriacrisis.org.

Click on this link for Devotions for September 20-26, 2015

DISTRIBUTION FOR 305 WIDOWS AT THE DALI’S

Jim Mitchell - Volunteer

Jim Mitchell – Volunteer

On September 2, 2015 at Noon, the Dr. Rebecca Dali with her staff and some volunteers of the Center for Caring, Empowerment, and Peace Initiative (CCEPI), distributed a bag of maize, a mat, a blanket, a bottle (or bag) of soap, a pair of sandals, and a dress for young girls to over 300 widows and their children at her residence at Boulder Hill.  The dresses, sandals, and bags of soap were provided by the Nigerian government and the rest were purchased with money given by the Church of the Brethren through the Nigeria Crisis Fund.

Dr. Rebecca provides aid

Dr. Rebecca provides aid

Dr. Rebecca and her staff had interviewed every one and recorded their stories and needs.  Those who had multiple losses and had physically suffered as well, she would share with me their story as they were receiving their portion of the distribution.  Several of the stories involved seeing their husbands and sons killed with axes, seeing husbands, brothers, and uncles killed in line-ups, they themselves wounded by gunfire, seeing their homes and possessions burned and confiscated, and their villages destroyed, and one young woman’s left arm mutilated by gunfire and her throat slit and left for dead, and how they escaped, hid, ran and walked for days and weeks with their small children to the displacements camps and family and friends homes.

Interviewing the people

Interviewing the people

Widows gathered to receive aid

Recipients await relief

It was a long afternoon in helping to put together all of the items that were being distributed – untying bundles of mats and blankets, refolding them with the soap and sandals, and keeping up with the demand as they eventually came up in groups of ten.  It was well organized and flowed as well as possible even with more people showing up who didn’t have tickets for the distribution.

All in all, everyone got something and then “Mama” Dali called an end to the distribution.  After five hours and getting to know some of the staff and the extent of CCEPI services, I was quite exhausted, humbly grateful to have participated in a distribution, and praising God for what was able to be shared and done in the name of Jesus Christ, expressing his love and care.

 

Yet, as I kept looking out among the vast crowd of women and children throughout the day, I couldn’t help but feel the compassion that Jesus felt toward the troubled and helpless crowd who were like sheep without a shepherd and hear him say, “The harvest is large, but there are few workers to gather it in.  Pray to the Lord of the harvest that he will send out workers to gather in his harvest.”  Continue to pray for and support the needs of the people and leadership of the EYN Church as well as the efforts for healing, reconciliation, and peace in Nigeria.

Peace and Hope, Jim

 

Se Habla Español (Spanish is spoken here)

Imelda Velasquez Diaz (first on left) and Nancy Sollenberger Heishman (second from right) serving with the children’s ministry at West Charleston Church of the Brethren. Photo by Mary Bowman

Imelda Velasquez Diaz (first on left) and Nancy Sollenberger Heishman (second from right) serving with the children’s ministry at West Charleston Church of the Brethren.
Photo by Mary Bowman

An interview by Gimbiya Kettering, director of Intercultural Ministries

On July 22, Nancy Sollenberger Heishman began as part-time coordinator of the SEBAH-COB, the Spanish-Language Ministry Training Programs for the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership (a joint effort between the Church of the Brethren and Bethany Theological Seminary). Nancy holds a master’s of divinity from Bethany Theological Seminary and continues to co-pastor West Charleston Church of the Brethren in Tipp City, Ohio, with her husband, Irv Heishman.

What does SeBAH stand for?
Seminario Biblico Anabautista Hispano. It is a ministry training program for Hispanic pastors and congregational leaders coordinated by Bethany Academy in partnership with the districts. As coordinator, I will design a Spanish-language track for the Education for a Shared Ministry.

Before becoming the 2013 Annual Conference moderator, you were an interim coordinator for SeBAH. What excites you about returning to this role?
I look forward to reconnecting with students I worked with several years ago. I’m excited about encouraging and supporting more Hispanic leaders within the Church of the Brethren as they grow in their skills and understanding of ministry. I also look forward to working with Hispanic leaders to develop new programs that meet the unique needs of Hispanic Brethren.

How did you learn Spanish?

I began studying Spanish at age 48, which proves it’s never too late to learn a new language! When we arrived as mission coordinators in Santo Domingo in 2003, we spent a few months in intensive study at a language school, and then continued weekly classes as we began serving. However, I made the most progress in learning Spanish when I taught theological education classes in Spanish. That required quick learning for me, and lots of patience from my students.

What is your greatest challenge?
As an introvert, I have to continually challenge myself to reach out, being aware that my Spanish won’t be perfect, and depending on God’s grace and the patience of others.

What are your goals for SeBAH?
I would love to see an explosion of Hispanic congregations and ministries develop from the leaders trained through SeBAH. I hope the experiences of SEBAH students will lead to Hispanic Brethren taking on greater leadership roles on district, and denominational or related agency levels, transforming Brethren institutions and structures with their unique gifts and perspectives of the gospel. I also dream of many materials communicating Brethren identity, beliefs, practices, and understandings of the church being available in Spanish.

Learn more about Nancy Sollenberger Heishman’s role as coordinator of SeBAH at www.brethren.org/news/2015/nancy-heishman-to-lead-spanish-training.html .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)