Our Stateless Brethren


A pastor for the Church of the Brethren in the Dominican Republic has witnessed the confusion and devastation spurred by the statelessness crisis that the Office of Public Witness wrote about in the previous blog. Battling a high court ruling can seem nearly impossible, but mitigating its impact by helping those affected is how he has been approaching the situation.

Brothers and sisters in this denomination, especially members living in bateyes and including young people and children, have been deprived of state documents, leading to an uncertain future. Brethren have helped one another travel to obtain, fill out, and return paperwork to regain citizenship, a process that many do not have the finances, orientation, or even motivation to complete. The pastor says that speaking out against this situation is risky, not only for the stateless individuals, but even for himself as a pastor. Some government officials, judges and nationalists are suspicious and sometimes spiteful toward those who oppose the court ruling due to their bias against those born of Haitian decent.

For the coming year, research will be carried out to determine how many church members in the affected groups got their legal documents through the regularization plan and how to help the children of those who refused or somehow did not get them documents. Another project will also be under way to visit each church and determine the exact number of cases of statelessness and document the details of each.

At the Greensboro Annual Conference 2016, an insight session will be led by Dominican Brethren and is called “Iglesia de los Hermanos—Looking Forward and Looking Onward”. These leaders will share updates and discuss the vision of the church in the Dominican Republic, in light of this issue and others.

Read the stories of this population at http://stories.minorityrights.org/dominican-republic/.

Watch the trailer for the upcoming documentary “Our lives in transit” / “Vidas en tránsito” here!

With hope,

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

Healing continues in Chibok

Trauma Workshop in Chibok

Trauma Workshop in Chibok

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing in the Garden

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


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

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

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

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

Youth Peace Travel Team – Inspiration Hills Camp

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

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

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


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

Peace out,
Phoebe Hart

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

Blessings, Kiana

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

Peace, Love, Mermaids and Mermans

Faithfulness through anxious times

Josh Brockway speaking at Annual Conference 2015. By Regina Holmes

Josh Brockway speaking at Annual Conference 2015.
By Regina Holmes

A reflection by Josh Brockway, director of Spiritual Life and Discipleship

Truth be told, I wasn’t ready for my pastoral care class in seminary. One spring afternoon we participated in a role play exercise in which the scene was a funeral. Most of the class was the congregation, and one classmate lay on a table as if he were in a casket. A few minutes into the funeral, the teaching assistant began wailing, stood up, moved to the front of the room, and laid himself across the “deceased.” After ninety seconds of this, I was done. I shifted in my seat, trying to catch the glance of our professor so he would end this excruciating exercise.

In technical terms, I was consumed by anxiety. Even when I looked at my professor, he didn’t stop the mock funeral. He was completely calm and collected even though the class seemed out of control.

Pastoral counselors tell us that in times of high anxiety, we often make quick and rash decisions. Even more importantly, leaders in anxious systems have a calling to be calm. In difficult situations, leaders should both limit anxiety in a system and provide a wise, non-anxious presence to guide the community.

These are certainly anxious times for our culture and church. We need only read the daily news headlines or look at the most recent study about Christianity in the United States to see this. As a church, we are not immune. Financial concerns, membership decline, and significant conflicts all heighten the anxiety across the denomination. However, as a church we have called and trained leaders who know the questions before us and offer a non-anxious presence to guide us. We certainly need new thinking in days like these and an imagination formed in the ways of God.

While our monetary offerings to our congregations, districts, and the denomination will not ease the anxiety, they do support the leaders who guide us as people of faith.

Your gifts support the formation and education of our ministers through programs such as “Healthy Boundaries” and ethics training courses for our ordained and licensed ministers. These dollars also make possible live and recorded webinars such as the current series on Anabaptist core convictions, which is available to lay leaders and pastors. What is more, your gifts further our work to fulfill life-giving Annual Conference directives such as “Separate No More” that guide us to becoming a more culturally competent community.

While the world fuels our anxiety each day, these efforts and leaders offer us a non-anxious way to be faithful followers of Jesus. When questions of finances, church structure, or race and empire challenge our assumptions, the ministries of the Church of the Brethren provide places for us to become more Christ-like in all we do.

We as staff of the Church of the Brethren, on behalf of our districts and congregations, thank you for all you do. We thank you for every dollar that makes these ministries and many more possible. We pray that we all can experience and share the needed non-anxious presence that urges us toward a new day.

Learn more about the work of Congregational Life Ministries at www.brethren.org/clm . Support these and all of the ministries of the Church of the Brethren today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Youth Peace Travel Team 2016 – Orientations!

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

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

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

Peace, Love, and Pineapples, Jenna

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

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

Blessings, Kiana

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

In peace, Sara

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


Virtual Ghosts: An Update on Statelessness in the DR


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proclaiming freedom

CCS leaders: from the left, Becky Ullom Naugle, Richard Newton, Jesse Winter, and Nate Hosler. Photo by Kendra Harbeck

CCS leaders: from the left, Becky Ullom Naugle,
Richard Newton, Jesse Winter, and Nate Hosler.
Photo by Kendra Harbeck

 A reflection from the 2016 Christian Citizenship Seminar

On April 23rd, Church of the Brethren youth from around the country met in New York City to learn about mass incarceration at Christian Citizenship Seminar (CCS). After hearing from Dr. Richard Newton, a professor at Elizabethtown College, and Ashley Ellis, an advocate for persons reentering society, the youth began to see the connection between mass incarceration and racism in the United States. The youth traveled to Washington, D.C. to continue learning about the issue and to prepare for legislative visits with their senators and representatives. During their visits to Capitol Hill, the youth asked their legislators to support sentencing reform legislation and bills that aided with prison reentry programs. Melen Ghebrai from Olympic View Church of the Brethren (Seattle, Wash.) offered the following reflection about her time at CCS.
—Jesse Winter, 
Brethren Volunteer Service worker serving with the Office of Public Witness 

CCS was an incredible life- changing experience. We began the week instantly exposed to the injustices of the criminal justice system and the immediate urge of reconstruction rather than reform. Each day we had new speakers explain what was happening and why it was important. I recognized the injustice but was confused about what we could do about it. As a high school student and person of color, all throughout my life I have been given the impression that my opinions on certain social and political issues do not matter. CCS, however, changed my doubt and gave me the voice I longed for. Throughout the week each powerful speaker built my passion, interests, and my desire to advocate for a renewed system in society that provides redemption and mercy for its citizens.

At CCS, I met several students from around the U.S and even overseas who share the same faith as me and belong to the Church of the Brethren, and this created a sense of community. We learned beside each other and asked questions, which fueled our interest and passion. As the week came to an end, we divided into groups for our lobby visits. I was accompanied by a volunteer from BVS, but did the visits mostly on my own. The experience was rewarding and very powerful.

Just a week prior I was sitting in a classroom advocating for students pushed from the school to the prison pipeline. It was nice walking through Capitol Hill and meeting with senators and representatives who are pushing for an end to this destructive system. CCS is something I would be very happy to attend next year. It was an opportunity that opened new doors and enlightened youth about the importance of remaining socially aware on the issues and solutions that shape our country.

Christian Citizenship Seminar is organized by the Office of Public Witness and Youth and Young Adult Ministries of the Church of the Brethren. Learn more about CCS at www.brethren.org/ccs, or support this ministry today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)