Reflections on the August Fellowship Tour (Part 1)

patby Pat Krabacher

Aug 1, 2016 –  Seven Strangers in the “Big Smoke” but United in the “Land of Beauty”

Seven strangers aka the “CoB 2016 Fellowship Team” met for the first time at noon on Aug 1st, 2016 in the London Heathrow International Terminal 5. Team leader Donna Parcell, daughter Sarah Parcell, Michele Gibbel, Jessie Marsiglio, Katie & Pastor Adam Ulm, and I (Pat Krabacher) had flown thru the night to meet in London, England (nick named the “Big Smoke”). We had a 12-hour layover and needed to meet and then travel to Westminster Abbey (WA) during our layover. Joining up with four other strangers in an International airport when cell phones don’t work and wifi is sporadic is a challenge! (I asked about 5 men in the London airport that day if their name was Adam!) Finding each other at Heathrow was probably “minor miracle #1” and followed swiftly an hour later by admission to Westminster Abbey just 30 seconds before it closed admissions for the day (possibly “minor miracle #2”). 

Our Westminster Abbey walking tour and the Evening Song choral event were memories of great beauty and deep faith of our forefathers and foremothers. All to soon it was time to navigate back to Heathrow using the “Tube” during the tail end of “rush hour” and a closed Tube section undergoing maintenance. We were becoming a team as we navigated our hour long trek back to Heathrow.

Back at Heathrow Terminal 5 we checked our bags, had dinner together before boarding our overnight flight to Abuja, the capital of Nigeria. As we departed the Big Smoke we each pondered our trek into Nigeria and slept fleetingly on the 7-hour flight to Nigeria.

We arrived in the dark at 5:15 am and smoothly passed thru Nigeria Immigration/ Customs! We were welcomed to Nigeria by Markus Gamache & Joshua Ishaya Mamza in the pouring rain (August is the rainy season in Nigeria) – that first hour of being in Nigeria we experienced buckets of heavy rain! Over the next 12 days the Fellowship Team (FT) came to trust completely and love both Markus and Joshua as brothers in Christ.

The 30 min drive from the Abuja airport to the Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN) Guest House, near down town Abuja, gave the first indication that we were ‘not in Kansas anymore’ and we took a 2-hour rest in our rooms before meeting up for our first Nigerian meal, a breakfast of instant coffee, fried yams and egg.

aug-fellowship-tourEYN Abuja compound – Sarah, Donna, Markus, Pat, Joshua, Jessie, Michele, Adam & Katie presented Markus and Joshua a Hausa-English ‘We are one body in Christ’ t-shirt to honor them. Photo credit – Pat Krabacher.

 

 

 

Take-Away Thought – As seven strangers in the “Big Smoke” we united together as a team and also with EYN brothers and sisters in the “Land of Beauty”. As individuals of diverse ages, experiences, geography, and sociological views we had committed to a trek thru NE Nigeria – to work together and to encourage our EYN brothers and sisters. Sharing in a 1,000-year-old cathedral adventure, navigating the London Tube, clearing customs in Nigeria, and preparing mentally for our trek to the “Land of Beauty” (nick name for Adamawa state) had united us. Our compassion and respect for each other, for our team lead, Donna Parcell, and for our EYN leader Markus Gamache and his Assistant, Joshua Ishaya grew day by day and taught each of us that we are one body in Christ.

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Nigeria National Mosque, Abuja, Federal capital Territory Photo credit: Donna Parcell – Markus G. (tan), Alh. Ibrahim A. Jega (white), Binta B. (blue) & 2016 FT: Donna, Michele, Mathias, Adam, Sarah, Katie, Pat, and Jessie in front of the Nigeria National Mosque (NNM), Abuja, Nigeria

#2_Aug 2, 2016 – Great Contrasts – But New Friends

Four hours after landing in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, we departed the EYN Abuja Guest House for a day of meetings (this first day, more than most others, challenged our minds and hearts). Our first day in Nigeria was a day of new ideas and new friends from very different situations. After meeting Mrs. Binta Bakari (a Muslim woman who co-founded the Gurku Interfaith settlement that we visited later on our trek) we departed the EYN Abuja compound for the 15 min drive to the Nigeria National Mosque (NNM), Abuja. Our meeting was with the Administrative Secretary of the NNM, Alh. Ibrahim A. Jega.

Imam Jega was very gracious to us and interested in the peace conference the CoB hopes to co-host in NE Nigeria in 2017. He shared with us some specific teachings from the Koran that instructs Mohammed’s followers to love and protect Christians and Jewish peoples.  We removed our shoes and entered the National mosque a place that draws between 5,000 – 15,000 worshippers weekly. An amazing time at the Nigeria’s National Mosque!

Masaka IDP resettlement house   Photo Credit: Michele Gibbel

Masaka IDP resettlement house
Photo Credit: Michele Gibbel

Our hour hour long drive to visit the EYN Masaka Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) resettlement camp was over the WORST road of our trek (in this writer’s opinion). A dirt road that ran uphill off of the main road, it was full of deep ruts and holes that wanted to take the under carriage off our vehicle?!? We bounced and corralled our nerves as this was the first meeting with Boko Haram victims who had fled their homes. We were instructed by our trust worthy guide Joshua that there was a phrase we needed to understand, since we’d be hearing it, especially from the children. White people are called “ba-ture” (means ‘white person’). The children everywhere were either fascinated with the white Batures (and stared at us) or were afraid of us and cried!

Photo credit: Katie Ulm Pat with EYN Internally Displaced children at Masaka Re-settlement Camp

Photo credit: Katie Ulm
Pat with EYN Internally Displaced children at Masaka Re-settlement Camp

At Masaka, we overcame our nerves and began our visit with the people of Masaka. Deborah shyly spoke to me only three words, “We are hungry”. After I collected my thoughts, I put my arm around her shoulders to hug her and walk with her – she was very thin. On our way up the hill to the corn stalk church at Masaka, we passed by her house in the re-settlement camp. She had planted a banana tree when they arrived a year earlier and and joyfully showed me the bunch of bananas growing on the tree. I was comforted to know that soon she would have a source of bananas.  However, several days later my false hope of bananas for

Masaka Corn Stalk Church – before destroyed by storms in Sept 	          Photo credit: Michele Gibbel

Masaka Corn Stalk Church – before destroyed by storms in Sept
Photo credit: Michele Gibbel

Deborah was shattered when I found out that only one bunch is produced on a banana tree before it dies. Deborah’s words were quite a contrast to the National Mosque and to our last appointment of the day, fellowship and dinner with some Abuja EYN brothers and sisters. However, meeting and playing with the children of Masaka, seeing the joy a simple soccer ball brings, and visiting the simple mud brick and corn stalk compounds at Masaka helped us to know the pain of being an IDP.

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Photo credit: Michele Gibbel – Michele with two BEST women, Abuja BEST dinner

Upon returning to EYN Guest House, we changed clothes and departed for the sumptuous dinner with 15 Abuja Brethren from Brethren Evangelical Support Trust (BEST). Many warm smiles were shared and delectable foods awaited us as new friends were made. I reconnected with friends from the EYN ZME Women’s Fellowship Choir that toured the US in 2015. The delicious BEST meal was quite a contrast to the IDPs we met at Masaka but, the opulence of the NNM and the generous love of our EYN brothers and sisters represent the building blocks for peace in NE Nigeria. Our first day in                                                                                       Nigeria closed with many thoughts                                                                                           swirling in our dreams that night.

Thought – Meeting IDPs that have lost everything makes violence “real’ and puts a face into the pain. Sandwiched between the opulence of the National Mosque and the sumptuous BEST fellowship meal are families that are blessed to be alive, yet, are likely to struggle for years to come. I carry Deborah’s 3 words and her pain with me now in my heart, she is my sister. Hope endures thru the partnership of Christians and Muslims seeking peace together. Christians and Muslims must pray and work for reconciliation, if peace is to prevail in Nigeria.

 

True Colors

"May we never be afraid to show our true colors..."  Photo by Cherise Glunz

“May we never be afraid to show our true colors…”
Photo by Cherise Glunz

By Nathan Hollenberg, pastor at Linville Creek Church of the Brethren in Broadway, Va.

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).

I always find myself eager for fall weather, my favorite season! Recently I read a fascinating and very scientific article about the changing colors of leaves during fall. Essentially the individual who wrote this article argued that when the leaves change their colors we are actually seeing the trees’ “true colors” instead of our typically held belief that tree leaves are naturally green.

Without going into too much scientific detail the point is that leaves get their green appearance during the spring and summer because they produce high levels of chlorophyll, which aids in photosynthesis and helps the plant produce food. As the days grow shorter and fall arrives this process breaks down and the chlorophyll dis­sipates, causing the green color of leaves to fade and the “true color” of the leaves to be seen. It’s interesting that it is this time of year, when the tree dies back, that we often think trees are at their “peak” beauty. I have always found the changing of the leaves to be awe inspiring and especially beautiful here where I live, in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Perhaps we would rather leave the science out of it and simply appreciate the miracle of the seasons God has included in creation.

However, for me, this idea of the trees showing their “true colors” reminded me of a reality of faith mirrored in the Galatians passage above. Just as trees show their true beauty, their true colors, through a process of letting go, we too have been called to die to self and to let go so that the glory and beauty of God may shine through. We have been “crucified with Christ” so that Christ would become visible in our lives. It seems sometimes that it is in letting go of all our busyness and the hard work that so often distracts us that we allow our true beauty found in Christ to shine forth. Fall is often one of these busy seasons as school starts back up, sports seasons get under way, and our yards need attending. Perhaps then this season of autumn is an ap­propriate time to remember to slow down and rediscover the beauty of Christ in you.

Recognize that it is Christ who lives in and through us in order to reveal the beauty and majesty of God. May we never be afraid to show our true colors, giving God the praise and adoration as we discover that beauty in us and in others.

This reflection was originally featured in the October issue of Messenger magazine. Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org or support them  at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Livelihoods Empower Many

Praise God for the release of 21 Chibok girls. We continue to lift them up in prayer with the many challenges they will now face. Our disaster work continues on many fronts. Here is a report on some of our livelihood projects.

Livelihoods are Empowering!

         Livelihoods are Empowering!

Two of our Non-Government Organizations are providing Livelihoods to those effected by the Insurgency. This is an incredible gift that gives people a way to help themselves. Businesses that have been provided include:  bean-cake making, grinding machines, peanut processing, sewing machines, knitting machines, computers, soap making, providing seeds and fertilizer as well as goats and chickens.

These Livelihood gifts are such a blessing to those who receive them. 1000 people apply for the 200 businesses that are available. The NGO’s provide training on using the gifts as well as teaching them how to run a business successfully. Then they follow up with the recipients to monitor their success.

One of our NGO’s focused on seeds and fertilizer during the growing season. The other NGO has built centers for the training and graduates 2-4 classes a year. Here are some testimonies and pictures:

Maise Farm

Maize Farm

“Where will I start from, you can testify for yourself how the farm materials helped my farming activities, my farm became the talk of the town especially my maize farm; it has never been like this before.  I am very much grateful to you and to the people that gave you money to help us, may God Almighty continue to bless all of you. Thank you”.

Recipients of Rice seeds and fertilizer.

Recipients of Rice seeds and fertilizer.

“Sincerely speaking, if not because of the farm inputs especially fertilizer, my farm will not produce enough food that can sustain my family throughout the year. I can say that God send you to salvage us from Hunger. Thank you very Much and God bless.’’

 

 

Students learning to sew

Students learning to sew

SEWING & KNITTING at the Yola Livelihood Center 

The Livelihood Center taught the students on how to cut and sew wrappers and skirts. Different styles were shown to them including what is called pencil skirts. After making sure that the students understood it, pieces of material were given to them to practice  using the sewing machine.

Knitting training at the Livelihood Center

Knitting training at the Livelihood Center

The knitting students have learned how to knit babies caps, socks and sweaters.  They can now make cardigans for sale and some of them are already in the business

Reflection on Conflict in South Sudan

Jillian Foerster served her Brethren Volunteer Service term in South Sudan in 2011-2013, only months after it gained independence from Sudan and became its own country.  Jillian has since completed her masters degree in international relations with a focus on Africa and is now working on U.S.- Africa policy and economic development in the region.  She shares from her extensive personal experience and research to help us better understand the struggles facing this young country.

In November 2011, I boarded a plane headed towards East Africa to serve as a BVSer in South Sudan. I was headed to work with a small, church-led peace building organization called RECONCILE, based in a town called Yei, located in the southern part of the country, near Uganda.

After decades of civil war with Sudan, South Sudan was struggling to overcome generations of widespread poverty and underdevelopment along with the deep trauma brought on by a legacy of violent conflict.  Nonetheless, after two years of working in Yei and forming new friendships in my community, I learned that South Sudanese men and women are fiercely resilient and were excited to start rebuilding their new nation for themselves and their children.

I left my BVS placement in December 2013. A week and a half after my departure, the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, announced a coup in the capital of Juba by the former Vice President, Riek Machar. This signaled the launch of a new civil war.

While the situation is complex, there are essentially three different crises occurring in South Sudan: a security crisis, an economic crisis, and a crisis of leadership.

Security Crisis: Hundreds of thousands have already died in conflict or as a result of displacement since 2013. South Sudan has now unfortunately joined an unhappy club along with Afghanistan, Somalia, and Syria, all of which have conflicts that have generated more than 1 million refugees. Counting the internally displaced (the legal designation given to people who still remain inside the country, whereas refugees are those that are outside of their home country), approximately one-third of South Sudan’s population have been forced to flee their homes due to violence.  Ethnicity plays a big role in the perpetration of violence, pitting neighbors against each other and carving deeper scars into an already fractured country.

While these numbers appear daunting, I used to rest assured that at least the people I knew remained safe in Yei, a town with a reputation of remaining peaceful even as much of the rest of the country is plunged into violence. However, there are now reports that indiscriminate killings have started taking place in the town. As of last week, the UN has warned that 100,000 people are now trapped in Yei, surrounded by armed actors.

Economic crisis: Even during my BVS term, a time of relative stability, , most of the population struggled to pay school fees for their children or get access to basic health care. Indeed, South Sudan has long been one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world with only one paved highway outside of the capital city.  Despite this low baseline, the security situation and other economic factors have contributed to plunging the country even further into a catastrophe.  A bar of soap that cost me 5 South Sudanese Pounds in 2013 now costs 200 pounds and food is scarce in the once-thriving local market in Yei.

Earlier this summer, I struggled to listen to my colleague describe how one of our neighbors in Yei slowly lost weight – He and his young children are slowly starving as they struggle to make ends meet.

Crisis of leadership: Despite the signing of a peace deal and international efforts to forge a Government of National Unity, South Sudan’s leaders have continued to perpetuate conflict as their citizens suffer. Furthermore, South Sudan’s leaders are reportedly stealing billions of dollars from state coffers and directing customs officials to prevent fleeing populations from leaving the country. It’s hard to even know the severity of the crisis because the government frequently blocks humanitarian actors from accessing crisis areas, preventing them from gathering information and providing much-needed assistance.

U.S. policy makers and other global leaders are shocked at the behavior of South Sudanese leaders and often express their disdain and condemnation in hearings and official statements. However, the crisis in South Sudan isn’t simply a matter of a few bad apples or “greedy leaders” misbehaving but a complex conflict with a complex history, taking place in a chaotic environment. The only thing that is obvious is that there is no simple solution to bringing about a lasting peace.

I find it hard to remain optimistic considering the deeps wounds inflicted by the recent and ongoing violence, a heart breaking admission given the hope that I witnessed after independence in 2011.

However, there remain a few good stories.  The Church of the Brethren has long partnered with churches in South Sudan who represent important community leaders and peacemakers at local and national levels. Churches have even stepped up to provide services, protection and to help South Sudanese families in need.  I recently saw a Facebook post from a friend that noted that over 50,000 people were being harbored in churches in Yei.  Overall, as one of my colleagues tells me, “the church has continued to be a prophetic voice in the midst of this conflict, speaking out against the atrocities and abuse of power… at great personal danger too.”

Engaging Christian leaders and other members of civil society will be key as South Sudan embarks on the difficult work of ending the conflict and repairing the wounds of war.

 

There’s a lot more to know about the recent events in South Sudan.  For more information, there are a number of sources for better understanding the context and possible international responses:

Deeper Dives:

 

 

Mutuality in mission

Debbie Eisenbise leading a workshop at the  2016 New Church Planting Conference.  Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

Debbie Eisenbise leading a workshop at the
2016 New Church Planting Conference.
Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

By Debbie Eisenbise, director of Intergenerational Ministries

Someone recently asked me what I believe it means to be Brethren. Thinking back, I realized that it was a simple phrase that convinced me to join the church. I didn’t grow up in the Church of the Brethren. I grew up going to church, studied religion in college, and then became acquainted with the denomination through Brethren Volunteer Service. There, I first heard the phrase, “mutuality in mission.”

Mission philosophies come and go, and we may not talk about our engagement with the world this way anymore. However, what struck me at the time (and still does) was not the words themselves but how they are embodied in our church. We are people who put faith into action, and do so with others. We look for ways to work with others, to engage in community efforts, and to be of service where needs have been identified by local groups. We listen to others. We make decisions together.

Mutuality in mission requires us to respond to the needs of people in the church and in the world, and to work alongside others for the good of all. It is faith in action. Before I met the Brethren, I thought faith was a private thing, a way of believing that helped each person maintain a particular perspective on life. Now I know that, while faith is personal, it is not private, and the gifts of faith that each of us possess are to be used for the common good.

Before I came into the Church of the Brethren, I had never participated in feetwashing. Although I was familiar with the Bible, I’m not sure that scripture (John 13) made much of an impact on me. In the Church of the Brethren, I was surprised to find that this scripture was not only frequently cited but also enacted. It wasn’t just a story about Jesus and his disciples at that last supper. These were also instructions for us today. Jesus tells us: “I have set you an example that you also should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). As Brethren, we take this quite literally, and not just in worship. Mutuality in mission means that we serve others, and, acknowledging our own vulnerability, allow others to serve us in return. Indeed, faith in action is relational. We give and receive. Together we share God’s love and build community.

I saw this happening at various denominational conferences I attended in May. At the New Church Planting Conference, Brethren brothers and sisters of various races and cultures came together to pray for each other’s ministries. At the Church of the Brethren Spiritual Directors’ retreat, ideas were shared about how to make spiritual direction more available to pastors to strengthen and encourage them in ministry. At the National Young Adult Conference, participants took time one afternoon to connect across generations with older adults at Timbercrest Senior Living Community.

Congregations across the country are joining the Open Roof Fellowship through intentionally ministering to and with persons of all physical, mental, and developmental abilities. Others are actively engaged in creating safe spaces for all people, particularly children and vulnerable adults, to worship, learn, fellowship, and serve together. At our conferences, in workcamps, through Brethren Volunteer Service, and in our congregations, we come together to put our faith into action, to engage in mutuality in mission. Thank you for all you do to respond to this call through prayers, gifts, worship, and service.

Learn more about the Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/clm or support them today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)