Sharing Lafiya!

Sally Rich at Pegi church in Nigeria

Contributed by Sally Rich

Every morning as we met with our Nigerian brothers and sisters in preparation for a day of work, we would hear and express the traditional Hausa greeting, “Lafiya,” wishing the receiver health in body, mind, and soul. This greeting was especially meaningful as we met our second morning with EYN members living in camps for displaced persons at Masaka and Gurku. These brothers and sisters have recently been traumatized by attacks of Boko Haram on their homes and families in the Chibok region. Many have witnessed the brutal killings of husbands, wives, and even parents. While they can call upon spiritual strength and innate courtesy to offer us a welcoming smile, often beneath that smile lies deep pain and a sense of desperation about their near and distant future. They need Lafiya.

Women learning to sew (CCEPI skills center in Yola)

While some of us felt sad to just visit and leave, our leader, Markus Gamache told us our visit took their mind off their troubles for awhile, and gave them a chance to share their troubles with brothers and sisters from far away. It gives them hope to know that we know their situation. One of Markus’ objectives is to create work programs for the people of the camps that keep their bodies, minds and souls busy with useful work, as they begin the healing process. There it is again: Lafiya, health in body, mind and soul.

 It’s even better when these programs provide an income that can be used immediately, as well as a skill that can be used in the future to create income. Programs where people learn tailoring, fishery skills, and new farming skills provide this kind of practical hope. The interfaith camp at Gurku is a pioneer in these areas, but other camps need the resources to create such programs as well. 

Simple sewing “shop” in Gurku

Some of us on the work camp were dreaming about a new kind of “sharing” camp, where each participant would come prepared to share gifts from their own experience, even as we accept gifts from the experiences of our Nigerian friends. An organic farmer may share some of what he has learned, and together find ways to adapt that knowledge to the local conditions. A music lover may come prepared to start a choir among camp members, and in turn learn songs to take back to our congregations at home. A physical therapist may share exercises tailored to the aches and pains people may be having. You get the idea…what might your gift be?

 I have a fair trade business selling jewelry and accessories made by women in Uganda. So in the spirit of a sharing camp, I went to Nigeria looking for a product or two that women there could make and I could sell. A friend from our church who works at our local Brethren nursing home suggested rice therapy pillows would be a great product to sell at nursing home gift shops. I was able to connect with a group of EYN women who are learning to sew, and they made me rice therapy pillows, walker bags, as well as scarves and headbands. At the Gurku camp, I met with a group of widows who had recently learned to make soaps and ointments from natural local materials, and I hope to have those by the time of Annual Conference, where I will have a booth. Look for me there! The name of our project: Lafiya! Of course. 

Clothes from a knitting business given to a displaced widow

Seeking the welfare of the city

Congregational Life Ministry staff Joshua Brockway (front row, second from left)
and Debbie Eisenbise (center) with spiritual directors at a retreat in June 2016.
Photo courtesy of Debbie Eisenbise

By Josh Brockway, director of Spiritual Life and Discipleship

I attended worship on New Year’s Eve with close friends at their congregation. The sermon that night emerged from the pastor’s study of Jeremiah 29. For that time of the year, his sermon was appropriately focused on verse 11: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

As I often do, I started reading the verses before that important verse. In reading the book of Jeremiah, we learn that the letter presented to the exiles in Babylon begins with a less than hopeful note, especially for those who were longing to be released. “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage.” For those in exile, it sounds like they are going to be waiting a while. And in fact, in verse 10, that truth is confirmed. “For thus says the Lord, only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.”

Certainly, this is a word from God to a people in a land not of their own making. That is the definition of exile. Yet, this word has a profound message beyond how long the people could expect to be held captive by Babylon. The people of God, says the prophet, are to “seek the welfare of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7). For in the peace of the city, the exiles will find their own welfare.

These words are not a weak reminder to live at peace with those around them. Rather, it is a posture with deep theological connotations. This welfare, this peace is nothing short of shalom, the peace of God that offers wellness and wholeness to all God’s people. The captives are to work for this kind of peace for their captors. They are not, as some false prophets suggested, to incite a revolt to overthrow the imperial rulers. Rather, the welfare of God’s people is bound up together with the peace of those who are also their judgment.

Today, many feel like our land is not our own. Some have even gone so far as to invoke the image of exile for the church. If we are indeed exiles, how then should we live? Should we pray for revolt, bloodless or otherwise, or should we seek the welfare of our neighbors, living by the peace of God in the midst of a foreign culture?

Brethren have long been misfits in Christendom. Much of our early growth can be traced to the peculiar way of life that sought the wellbeing of those around them. At the same time, the early Brethren refused to take part in revolution, either in the peaceful transition of power or by the sword itself. Instead, they continued to live within the blessing of God’s peace, praying for friend and foe alike.

Ministries and programs of the Church of the Brethren continue to shape us as disciples, sending us into the world as we seek the welfare of all. Congregational Life Ministries coordinates a network of spiritual directors who have the gifts and skills to help us look for where God is at work around us. The Office of Ministry supports pastors, district executives, and others through the ordination process, and asks that candidates for ordination work with a coach or spiritual director so that their own eyes are fixed on the presence of God in their ministries. The Office of Public Witness continues to provide avenues for our prayerful presence within an ever-changing culture. All of these and more reveal the sacrificial love of God and the peace of Christ, which are for all people.

As we envision the Church of the Brethren in the coming years, may we seek the welfare of the city. May we continue the long history of caring for the sick and marginalized. May we continue to find ways to teach our youth the blessing of God’s peace. And may we find ways to strengthen our congregations as places known for their local ministries of reconciliation.

Your prayers and financial support help keep this witness alive. Thank you for continuing to seek the welfare of the city, and for supporting the ministries of your local and denominational church. For our greatest witness to the world comes in our patient efforts to embody God’s shalom for all those around us.

Learn more about the work of Congregational Life Ministries at Support these and all of the ministries of the Church of the Brethren today at .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

“Today We Pray–Tomorrow We Act” -Still Standing for Standing Rock

‘The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me.’  —Leviticus 25:23

Indigenous people and allies braved the sleet and 30 degree weather in Washington, D.C. on Friday, March 10th  to once again take a stand for Standing Rock. Years of work by water protectors was written away with the swipe of a pen on January 24th, when an order was presented to begin construction of the Dakota accesses pipeline, a 1,100-mile oil pipeline and Keystone XL pipeline through Indigenous land.


This recent order is not a new revelation; it’s another brick in the long, winding path through history of continued oppression of indigenous people. The Doctrine of Discovery, a thinly-veiled excuse to strip indigenous people of rights in the name of American entitlement, was written into US law in 1823. “Christian European nations” had assumed “ultimate dominion” over the lands of America during the Age of Discovery, and that – upon “discovery” – the Indians had lost “their rights to complete sovereignty, as independent nations,” and only retained a right of “occupancy” in their lands. [Johnson:574; Wheaton:270-1] This doctrine continues to linger within our court system as a way to dismiss minority claims.

The 1994 Brethren Annual Conference Statement “A Tribe of Many Feathers” addresses the genocidal history of the founding of the United States saying, “The arrival of Europeans was experienced by Native Americans as nothing less than an invasion. This invasion was not just of the land; it was an assault on the humanity of the native people and their holistic way of living. Europeans tended to regard anyone different from themselves as inferior subjects to be conquered and destroyed.” This history founded on oppression gives little room for change.


The annual conference statement not only addresses past wrongdoings but also the injustices subjecting Native Americans to acute mistreatment. “Reasons for distrust have continued into the present day. For instance, in many areas the reservations onto which native people were “relocated” (usually the least desirable, least livable land available) have been found to be rich in minerals and other resources. Federal and state governments now attempt to regain ownership of this land. “ This 1994 statement still hold true as construction of oil pipelines begin through this land.  


We’ve seen the horrific images of pepper spray and rubber bullets pounding the water protectors as they peacefully stand for one basic necessity–clean water. I am repeatedly shocked and saddened by first-person accounts of the actions taken by our government to enforce the construction of the pipeline and other forms of marginalization to indigenous people. Sadly, the tragedies at Standing Rock are not the only way that oppression is occurring in America today. Studies of Native American and Alaskan Native populations have shown that these groups are disproportionately affected by food insecurity–limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, which leads to chronic health issues like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

This year’s Christian Citizenship Seminar will host the theme “Native American Rights: Food Security.” From April 22nd through the 27th, a group of youth will spend time together in New York City and Washington D.C. exploring this topic and standing against the cruelty of recurring history. If you also share my distress as a Christian about the injustice of Standing Rock and other marginalizations of indigenous people, please take action. There’s still time for youth to register for this year’s CCS, so please help spread the word. Share your own personal experiences with social justice issues. Encourage youth from your congregation to attend CCS. Consider sponsoring a youth if you have the resources to do so. And, most importantly, pray. Pray for those who are organizing CCS that they will bring light to the darkness of this issue. Pray for CCS attendees that they discern ways they can share what they’ve learned about how to make a difference in their communities.

More information on CCS 2017-





John at Pegi workcamp. Photo by Pat Krabacher

by John Krabacher

My wife Pat returned from her first Nigerian Fellowship Tour in August 2016. First thing she said was, “You need to go – it was a fantastic experience.” My first thought was why do I need to go? Or, do I need to go?

Pat left to go grocery shopping and I picked up the Messenger. Like always, I read it from the back to front. On the back page I saw an ad for volunteers for work camps for Nigeria. Help rebuild a church for the EYN. My mind went wild. Should I ask for more info or not? Pat returned home and almost as immediate as she did to me I said, “Let’s go to a work camp in Nigeria.”

What am I saying I want to go? Pat called Roxanne Hill and she verified the group will help the Utako church in Abuja Nigeria to rebuild. I still said I am not sure. However, Pat made reservations and the confirmations came quickly, in an email I will go no matter how bumpy the road. “I will follow Jesus no matter how bumpy the road,” became the mantra of work camp 2 this was part of a song we learned from the women of Pegi.

After many hours on a plane and transfers we finally arrived in Abuja. I first noticed I was “not in Kansas anymore”. The work camp group of 7 people, I have never really met, got together at the immigration booth to have passports checked. Afterwards, I looked in the big hall and saw the smiling face of my friend Marcus Gamache. He said, “Brother John so glad you are here.” I know why I am here – it is because of the relationships I formed in 2015 with the BEST Group when the EYN Women’s Choir at annual conference in Tampa then a time of rest at Camp Ithele, Orlando. I was so happy and relieved to see him.

Pegi workcamp

This trip was about building, not just brick and mortar building but inter-personal relationships. I knew Marcus would take care of us. He will not let any danger happen to us and it didn’t. The first evening we were greeted by Mala Gadzama (an accountant) who took us out to dinner. During the build we talked about his vision of an orphanage. I believe he was tugging at my heart, I am not a kid person. Did God bring me here to change me?

The next day the group got together in the morning and Marcus was going to take us to the worksite at the Pegi village. Ridding on one of the bumpiest road I have ever been on, we arrived and saw partially built walls and many bricks stacked outside.  Ayuba Gwani (The Engineer) instructed us with many other helpers, men and women to move the bricks from outside of the partially built church to inside near the gable ends. We formed a line and passed bricks from one person to the other. It was hundreds of bricks, I was so tired. After moving the heavy bricks he said “Cement – mix cement.” I grabbed a shovel but he said, “This is for young men, you rest.”  I said to myself, “Why am I here? I came to work.”

I watched five young men shovel sand and bags of cement, mixing water fast. I am determined to get into this but not today. After it was mixed, ladies from Pegi with babies on their backs carried pans of motor to be lifted to other men on the scaffolding to  cement the bricks in place. I talked to several of the guys and they started to tell me their stories of Boko Haram destroying their homes and killing neighbors and parents at Chibok. Many of the women were widows. We talked and cried until it was time to go. I left saying, “We will meet again on Monday.”

I did not come to just be with this work camp group but to form relationships with people of great loss and hear the stories as horrible as they might be. This was part of the healing process. The people wanted someone else to know they love God enough to build a church in His honor. I was honored to be with them. This was a time to laugh, a time to cry, and a time to bring back hope and life to a EYN Church in Pegi. My prayers are with the congregation many miles away. I know why I went to Nigeria.

Communicating God’s love

Deanna (front right) with
workcampers in Knoxville, Tenn.
Photo courtesy of Deanna Beckner

By Deanna Beckner, assistant workcamp coordinator

The way we communicate is extremely important. For example: do you know why you can only “ran” in a campground? This is because it’s past tents (past tense). As exemplified by this joke, language is complex and can be understood or misunderstood.

Think about the importance of talking with each other. If we say one thing but mean another, or say something but do the opposite, our message will be very confusing. There is a game where you sometimes have to do what the “leader” says but say the opposite, and other times say what the “leader” says but do the opposite. This makes for a challenging, fun game, but would not be fun in real life. shares three reasons to communicate: “to make or maintain relationships, to share or receive information, and to persuade.” With this in mind, how does God want us to communicate with one other?

Romans 12:14-19 says, “Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down…. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody…. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. ‘I’ll do the judging,’ says God. ‘I’ll take care of it’” (The Message).

Wow! This is quite a challenge. Get along with everybody? Yes, this even means a person you don’t agree with, a friend you’ve stopped talking to, or a family member with whom you have argued in the past.

And what do our actions communicate to others? What forms of entertainment (video games, TV, books, etc.) receive the best of our time and energy? Are we respectful of other people’s time? Do our actions reflect that God is important in our lives and that we love our neighbors? It’s not easy to change our priorities, but it’s not impossible.

The biblical story of Ruth offers us some inspiration. She embodied loyal love. Let’s review the story together.

Act 1: Family trip for food. Father Elimelech, mother Naomi, and sons Mahlon and Killion travel from Bethlehem to Moab to escape a famine, and Elimelech dies.

Act 2: Two marriages and funerals. Mahlon and Killion marry Orpah and Ruth, and after a decade, both sons die. This leaves Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth together as widows.

Act 3: Homeward bound. Naomi prepares to return to Bethlehem once the famine is over. Bitter about the death of her husband and sons, Naomi encourages Orpah and Ruth to return to their own families, but they both choose to stay with her. Naomi explains that she can’t bear sons for them to wait to wed and insists that they leave her. The three women cry together, Orpah departs, but Ruth clings tightly to Naomi.

Ruth pleads with Naomi: “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” (Ruth 1:16).

Act 4: Resolution. Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem. Ruth supports Naomi in a time of need, and later Ruth marries Boaz to continue the family line—the lineage that leads to Jesus.

When we reflect God’s character through our interactions with others, we bring glory to God. Ruth’s sacrifice and hard work to provide for Naomi reflected God’s love.

Like Ruth, God can use us to touch the lives of others. Are you allowing God to use you to share love? Our words and actions can reveal to others that “you count, and everyone counts.” How can you reveal that every person matters? Answering this question will allow you to communicate God’s love in a way that others will understand.

Deanna Beckner and Shelley Weachter are the 2017 assistant workcamp coordinators. A great way to communicate God’s love this summer is by participating in a workcamp or inviting someone to sign up. Register or learn more today at

(Read this issue of eBrethren)