By Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of Global Mission and Service
My family has a tradition on Thanksgiving Day of going around the table two or three times and making a list of the things we are especially thankful for in the past year. This list is a testimony of the goodness of God manifested in our lives. We like to compare each year to the previous year and we like to receive these lists from others. “Thankful for acceptance to college.” “Thankful to be cancer-free.” “Thankful for camp counselors.” “Thankful for our new puppy.” I have said in the past, and will say again this year: I am thankful for the privilege to work for the Church of the Brethren.
Work for the church is not always easy, but it is immensely gratifying. Several of my journeys this past year stand out as significant. In January I joined a heads-of-mission delegation to Cuba with Church World Service to meet key leaders in Cuba and talk about US-Cuban relations. In April I was invited to preach at the Brethren annual gathering in Nigeria and traveled to Chibok to meet Brethren families and talk about life under the constant threat of violence. In May I visited a new Church of the Brethren ministry in Rwanda and heard my first Twa-Pygmy choir sing, dance, and drum in a Brethren congregation. In June I co-led a young adult workcamp to Nepal with Emily Tyler to reconstruct a school damaged by the earthquake. And in October I met families participating in dairy projects in Tanzania with Heifer International and heard powerful stories of how “passing on the gift” has transformed their lives.
Looking back, I also am reminded of the many places I was unable to visit. I wanted to visit Venezuela, but it takes two months to get a visa. Venezuela is collapsing economically but, ecclesiastically, a number of congregations have a visionto form a new movement based on Brethren ideals of peace, community, and service. I also was unable to consecrate a new Brethren church building in Ngovi, Democratic Republic of Congo, since violence spread too widely and quickly at the time of my journey, hindering my travels.
Heavy on my mind has been the work of the Brethren Peace Center in South Sudan. The center was looted by government forces in June. However, after much prayer and careful consideration of the state of unrest, Brethren mission worker Athanasus Ungang decided to return to Eastern Equatorial, South Sudan, and press on with his call to preach, disciple, and promote peace through trainings and workshops. The Church of the Brethren purchased a Land Cruiser two years earlier, but war prevented us from shipping it into the country. We believe now is the right time to send that vehicle to expand our work. There is a strong need for peace witness in South Sudan.
The Global Mission and Service program of the Church of the Brethren often works in unusual ways and in difficult situations, but we don’t think of it in that way ourselves. What seems challenging, dramatic, even peculiar to the average American, is quite normal for a church community seeking to be faithful disciples of the Prince of Peace.
When new acquaintances ask me about my work, I typically refer to some of our areas of focus, our programming, and then some countries where we are working. As I mention places with much conflict like Venezuela, Democratic Republic of Congo, North Korea, Haiti, northern Nigeria, and South Sudan, quite frankly, jaws drop and I often receive very puzzled looks. Global Mission and Service is not intentionally seeking to be in the “hard places” of the world, but is simply trying to be faithful to God’s leading and embody the church as doors open for us. I am very thankful to serve in a ministry that truly seeks to be the salt and the light of the world.
I would encourage you to write a list of the things from this past year for which you are thankful and to celebrate this testimony of God’s goodness to you. I would then challenge you to “pass on the gift” so that others may also be blessed. Thank you for praying and supporting the Church of the Brethren.