Developing leaders around the world

Jay Wittmeyer speaking at Annual Conference 2015. Photo by Glenn Riegel

Jay Wittmeyer speaking at Annual Conference 2015.
Photo by Glenn Riegel

A reflection by Jay Wittmeyer, Executive Director of Global Mission and Service

On a trip to the Dominican Republic (DR) in March, members of the Mission Advisory Committee and I were greatly inspired by the work that the DR Brethren are doing to reach out into their communities.

On the first day we joined Gustavo Lendi, a pastor and current treasurer of the denomination, to visit poor families living in cardboard huts in a shanty settlement of Haiti called “Parc Cadeau.” Many children in the refugee camp were actually born in the DR but refused re-entry when they traveled to Haiti to visit relatives. Brother Gustavo, who has helped many stateless Haitians procure legal Dominican residency, is advocating on their behalf.

We were very impressed with the intentional focus of training leaders in the church. The Dominican Brethren have partnered with an Anabaptist seminary to hold classes in Brethren communities so church members can attend. Four pastors are attending university to earn theology degrees, and the denomination also hosts an annual pastors’ conference. Most importantly, elders of the church regularly travel to remote areas and provide one-day Bible studies to share Brethren beliefs and practices with low-income, poorly educated church members.

During our visit, we traveled to several city churches. There we heard stories of members working in slum areas to support youth and prevent them from getting caught in the drug culture of the Caribbean. We met a young adult who was saved from the drug lifestyle. We even met four teenagers who regularly preach in church, which helps them stay out of trouble.

We also visited a small church of both Haitians and Dominicans in a remote, mountain village. This little Brethren church has local leadership, but pastors from the city go out a few times a month to preach and teach. The community is very pleased to have a church. In total, we visited at least 16 churches and met many church members.

The last thing we did on our trip was attend the Dominican Brethren’s annual conference. Celebrating their 25th annual conference, the Dominican Brethren are forming a strong Brethren identity, and many members have grown up with it being the only church that they know.

As I reflected on our visit, I recognize the importance of effective leadership at the denominational level. Just as a local church needs individuals to serve as pastors, elders, or board chairs to lead the congregation, so also do denominations need leaders to care for the flock. Moderators motivate pastors, create unity among members, and encourage sacrifice and mutuality. They focus not only on individual members or single congregations, but on relationships between congregations and their members.

Much of the work of Global Mission and Service is focused on leadership development and supporting international leaders. We partner with them as they listen to the wisdom of their unique community, make decisions, and find a healthy balance between the social ministry of outreach and the theological ministries of teaching and spiritual growth. Whether in the Dominican Republic, Spain, Haiti, or elsewhere, the Church of the Brethren is developing leaders, planting churches, and reaching out into communities for Christ. By giving to the Church of the Brethren, you make all of this possible. Thank you for helping us make a difference around the world.

Learn more about Global Mission and Service at or support it today at .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Children’s Trauma Training in Nigeria: a huge success

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

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

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

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

Training time

Training time

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

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

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


Kathy Fry-Miller

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

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

John Kinsel:

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

Children at the Practicum

Children at the Practicum

A Child holds her drawing

A Child holds her drawing

Stories from the Practicum

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

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

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

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

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

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

Response after the training

Suzan (Director of Women for EYN)

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

Suzan, a couple days later,

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

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

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

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

Workshop held for Medical Clinic workers

by Norman S. Waggy, M.D.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Value and Values: Perspectives on Israel and Puerto Rico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ’s Peace,

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

Critical seeds project is underway

Homes and Land at the Care-Center

Homes and Land at the Care-Center

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

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

Seeds and Fertilizer ready for distribution

Seeds and Fertilizer ready for distribution

Distribution to each of 70 household

Distribution to each of 70 households







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

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

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

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

What will you bring to share?

Andy Murray speaking at Annual Conference 2015. Photo by Glenn Riegel

Andy Murray speaking at Annual Conference 2015.
Photo by Glenn Riegel

A reflection by Andy Murray, Annual Conference moderator

There is a question that I never heard my parents ask: “What can I get out of it?” Max and Dottie Murray had plenty of human foibles to moderate their saintliness, but preoccupation with personal payoff was not among them. Nor did I ever hear my parents express admiration for someone because of what he or she managed to accumulate during life’s journey. The people that were admired in my home were the people that contributed, not those that acquired.

There were times when I questioned the touch of naiveté in my mother’s unquestioning acceptance of pure motives, especially among public servants. She had so internalized the barn story (in Luke 12:16-21) that she really could not comprehend the idea of rewards for generosity. For her, giving was just a way of living. My mother could have written Jack Kennedy’s iconic, inaugural bromide: “Ask not what your country can do for you….”

Part of the Sunday morning ritual of preparing for church always included a question for us kids: “Do you have something for the offering?” If we did not remember or prepare to have something from our own allowance to put in the offering plate, my father would quietly slip us a coin. It was not just the sacrifice but also the habit, the discipline, the ritual that was important.

When it was time for our family to prepare for its (nearly) annual trip to the big Brethren meeting, there was little talk about what we could expect to get out of it. Of course we had fond expectations. For us children, most of those centered on travel, breaking from routine, seeing friends from far off places, and the general pageantry of thousands of people meeting to express their faith. Certainly my parents had similar fond anticipation but they also portrayed a sense of duty.

Annual Conference was as much an act of giving as it was of receiving. Whether or not we were delegates or had another official duty, we were expected to think of our time at Conference as a part of our contribution to the faith community that helped shape our values and our identity. Whether we were lending our voice to a sweet, a cappella rendering of a familiar hymn or giving the white kerchief send-off to traveling missionaries, we understood that our presence, in its own small way, added strength to the whole Body. We understood that without us the Body would be ever so slightly diminished. I think now that this was neither a self-absorbed conceit nor a sentimental ploy but a realistic understanding of how the church works and a spiritual response to what it means to be the Body of Christ.

I am often asked: “What are your hopes for Annual Conference?” One of my fondest hopes is that each person who comes will be aware of the importance of what he or she brings to Conference; that each of us will consider that what we will give in Greensboro will be as significant as what we get.

Learn more or register for the 2016 Annual Conference at . Early registration closes June 6.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)