Peacebuilding in Tense Times: The Church of the Brethren and Russia

The Russia-U.S. relationship has become increasingly complicated over the past few years. The Syrian conflict has attracted both U.S. and Russian involvement, becoming a proxy war between several international actors. Accusations of cyber- and information warfare between the nations persist, and complex questions of global leadership have arisen.

The tensions should concern all who seek international peace. In one recent example of conflict, the United States shot down a Syrian warplane. In response, the Russians suspended the use of a military communication program that helped to prevent accidental in-air collisions in Syrian airspace. They also threatened to shoot down any U.S. plane that traveled west of the Euphrates River.

The dissolution of communications structures like these, combined with military action and general posturing on the part of each national actor, does not bode well for regional or international security.

When suspicion clouds the relationship between nations, it is often difficult to see past our national allegiances and fear. However, peacebuilding requires us to build relationships where others only see conflict.

Quote from 1947 Annual Conference statement on Russia, referenced in the Brethren Encyclopedia.

The Church of the Brethren has a fascinating peacebuilding history in relation to Russia. During the Cold War, in which tensions ran high and peace was fragile, the Church of the Brethren maintained connections with the Soviet Union in hopes that relationships could prevent nuclear war.

As part of this work, the Church of the Brethren participated in two cultural exchanges in 1963 and 1967. While in the United States, Russian church leaders ate, talked, and joked with their American hosts, and were especially interested in visiting with the youth. Their American counterparts, while visiting Russia, were fascinated by the unfamiliar political ideology and relationship between the Church and State.

A 1967 Messenger article on the cultural exchange

At these meetings, delegates were able to experience each other’s culture, learn about their religious beliefs and structures, and gain new perspectives on the other nation. These were not meant to be high-level religious or political discussions- rather, they were meetings of Christians from different countries, earnestly seeking to understand one another and forge a peaceful future.

The work done by the Church of the Brethren during this era is strikingly relevant to modern interfaith connections in U.S. and Russia. The same general distrust and military posturing that occurred during the Cold War has resurfaced in more modern contexts. As the political rhetoric once again heats up, it is essential that the faith community works to discern its role in the U.S.- Russia relationship.

There are many relational and advocacy opportunities for churches, including the Church of the Brethren, to work towards greater interpersonal understanding and large-scale investment in peace. Like the leaders of the Church of the Brethren during the Cold War, we can, and should, use our faith commitments as a powerful platform for international dialogue and peacebuilding work.

While we recognize that there are many ways in which the current tensions are different from Cold War tensions, we believe that it is important to adapt the Church of the Brethren’s historic peacebuilding mindset to the modern context. At the Office of Public Witness, we hope to continue the Brethren legacy of peacebuilding in this region, and will be working to discern our role in the relationship over the next few months.

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A huge thanks to the staff at Brethren Archives for their research assistance!

Interested in reading more about these cultural exchanges? Check out these Messenger articles:

https://archive.org/stream/messenger1967116126mors#page/n823/mode/2up/search/%22Russian+Orthodox+Church%22%22

https://archive.org/stream/gospelmessengerv112mors#page/n83/mode/2up/search/%22Russian%22

https://archive.org/stream/gospelmessengerv112mors#page/n1243/mode/2up/search/%22Russian%22

 

Disaster Response Ministry in Maiduguri

From EYN Disaster Ministry Reports

Food Distribution

The road from Kwarhi (EYN Headquarters) to Maiduguri is less than 150 miles but it is a treacherous journey. The section from Damboa to Maiduguri  goes through an area close to a Boko Haram stronghold and is only accomplished with a Military escort. Hundreds of vehicles line up with Military at the front, rear and middle hoping to ensure a safe passage. As the EYN disaster ministry traveled this road they witnessed the Boko Haram’s destruction of homes and businesses. The farms on the outskirts of Damboa lie fallow; it continues to be too dangerous to work the fields despite the fact that the survival of most people in the area is dependent on farming.

Upon arrival at Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, the Disaster Response Ministry held three large food & supplies distributions; helping 577 families. Medical assistance was also provided at the distributions. Recipients of the relief were extremely thankful and many told tragic stories of the death of family members.

Participants in a Trauma workshop

Ester Kashim shared, “I was sick when the Boko Haram caught me and took me away from my home in Gavva. I spent two years and three months with them in the Sambisa forest and in another location around Lake Chad. When a fight occurred between the Boko Haram and some military, I was released and ran away. By this time I was pregnant but got to Maiduguri where I stayed at a military barracks for a month before an uncle found me and took me to his home. My baby has now been born, her name is Rebecca, and I am trying to take my High School exams. Thank you for your assistance!”

Teaching on Forgiveness

Trauma workshops have also been held recently in the Maiduguri area. Testimonies from these workshops confirm the need for this ministry. Maryamu testified after her workshop, “I was angry and hardly forgave before, but now I have learned the importance of forgiveness; hence from now on I will forgive people who hurt me.”

Violence continues in Maiduguri and the surrounding countryside. Attacks have occurred within the city and on the road from Damboa despite the Military escort. We continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in Nigeria.

Stewardship in the small church


A reflection by H. Fred Bernhard

“Tell those rich in this world’s goods to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money: which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:18-19, The Message).

In 1995 my wife and I were invited to attend a stewardship conference. While there, I experienced a mindset change from scarcity to abundance, realizing that we as Americans are far richer than other peoples around the world. It changed my whole perspective on how I view wealth and material possessions.

Small congregations usually view themselves as congregations with limited resources, both financial and in people skills. Pastors of these congregations hear these responses: “We can’t do that; we don’t have enough money.” “We don’t have the time to do that; all of us are already too busy.” “We’re not like the big church down the street. Let them do that.”

From my own experience, I can testify that a bigger worshiping community does not mean a more effective church. Size may make multiple programs possible, but congregational vitality can be achieved in congregations of all sizes.

The common denominator is passion. Congregations who possess passion know that they can make a difference for Christ in their community and around the world. They know that, no matter how small, they can do big things for God. The secret is a passion for a purposeful, mission-­driven, congregational life. Persons are drawn to such churches because they want to serve.

A mission committee struggled for weeks trying to come up with ways to buy one heifer for Heifer International. With a little help from the pastor, the congregation caught the vision and turned it into a passion for a mission. The result was 32 heifers purchased and donated to Heifer International.

That congregation experienced a mindset change: from scarcity to abundance. What no one thought possible became a reality when they caught the vision and their compassion fulfilled the mission. In simple terms, they put their hands where their mouths were. It’s a spiritual condition, isn’t it? Giving isn’t about the receiver or the gift but the giver.

It’s a sign of our spiritual discipline. We give because it’s the only concrete way we have of saying that we’re glad to be alive and well. Giving is a way of taking the focus off the money we make and putting it back where it belongs—on the lives we lead, the God we serve, the families we raise, the communities which nurture us. Our spiritual condition can be summed up with this prayer: “No matter what we say or do, God, this offering is what we think of you.”

When your congregation, however small, puts its trust in God and changes your attitude from scarcity to abundance, amazing things will happen—things beyond your wildest imagination. Just ask that church’s mission committee!

Fred Bernhard is an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren and has served as a pastor and interim pastor in many congregations.

This reflection was originally published in Giving magazine, produced by the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. E-mail ebrethren@brethren.org to receive a complimentary copy of the 2017 issue of Giving magazine.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Update from Pam and Dave Reist (volunteering in Nigeria)

Pam Preaching in Mubi temporary church

Since the church building was destroyed in the insurgency of 2014, a temporary building sits in its place…tree-trunks for posts, rough-cut timbers for rafters, cinder block gable ends, plastic chairs and wooden benches accommodate a congregation of over 700.  On the floor behind the speakers’ seats is a nest of chicken eggs just days from hatching, and a lizard is visible underneath the plexiglass lecturn.

On Sunday morning, May 28, we celebrated worship with the congregation at E.Y.N. No. 2 Mubi.  In spite of the violence they have suffered and the damage that was incurred, the congregation was overflowing and the spirit and the weather were warm!  The almost three-hour service included dynamic singing by six choirs accompanied by drums and a variety of instruments, congregational singing, numerous announcements, a detailed financial report, collection of offerings twice (tithes and building fund), introduction and dedication of the new youth membership class, reception of new members, and many, many prayers, including prayers for a bumper harvest from the crops being planted.   Dave was asked to give a greeting and pray, and I was honored to preach.

new church Mubi 2In the churchyard outside the temporary building, a new one is underway – the walls are going up as the funds come in. They were pleased to share that they had qualified for one of twenty $5000. grants from the CoB U.S.

Before the day was over, we had visited several more church buildings in the Mubi area alone that had been burned by the insurgency.  All are now rebuilding with great anticipation!  These lovely resilient people are full of hope as they “press on.”

A few more highlights of the last two weeks:

Bringing greetings from U.S. to pastor training event at E.Y.N. Conference Center.

Greeting at PDPDave presenting the keys to the second tractor (for use in the Kwarhi area) on behalf of the CoB U.S.) to E.Y.N. President Joel Billi.

Dinner with E.Y.N. leadership and presenting the E’town banner to Brother Joel.

IMG_8758Demonstrating popping corn at E.Y.N. Headquarters.

Dave making popcornDinner and discussion with Kulp Bible College leadership – hosted by KBC President Dauda Gava.

Hanging with new friends at the C.oB. house at K.B.C.Hanging at the house

We miss those who are absent from us and pray for you daily!  Much love from Nigeria!

Pam & Dave Reist