With Actions and In Truth: An introduction to OPP’s new racial justice position

New BVSer Monica McFadden joins director Nathan Hosler and current BVSer Tori Bateman at the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy.

“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. “ — I John 3:17

In 2007, the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference adopted the Separate No More statement, which challenges the church to intentionally move toward being more intercultural and ethnically diverse.

In 1994, Annual Conference adopted the statement Community: A Tribe of Many Feathers, which sought to show support for Native Americans and reckon with the role the Brethren have as a part of the colonizing power in America.

In 1991, Annual Conference received a report on Brethren and Black Americans, which carefully examines how Brethren have engaged, or not engaged, with Black Americans and how we will seek to address systemic racism in our denomination and our society.

Back during the Civil War, Brethren grappled with their relationship with this oppressed “other,” asserting that “it would be best for a follower of Jesus Christ to have nothing at all to do with slavery,” a very controversial topic in the church at the time.

While it’s clear the Brethren have long been considering these issues, adopting a number of statements discussing racial discrimination and our relationships with minority groups, these statements have yet to be fully realized. In order to pursue the goals of these statements more intentionally, the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy created a new Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) position dedicated to the topic of racial justice and reconciliation as it applies internally to our denomination and outwardly to our society.

I’ve just finished up my three weeks at BVS orientation and am excited to delve into all the work this new position requires—working alongside minority communities in food deserts through Going to the Garden, teaming up with the interfaith community in criminal and racial justice working groups, leading visits and workshops for Brethren groups in D.C., and everything in between. The Church of the Brethren has a long history of standing up for justice, peace, fairness, and mercy, and this is no time to slow down.

In his book Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer advocating on behalf of those sentenced to death row, says:

“I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.”

Our nation’s complicated history with race is often tied up in how we decide who is poor, who is disfavored, or who is accused. Through Christ, “who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14), we can seek God’s justice to help break down those barriers. The beginning of this new position on racial justice stands as an open call for church members or youth interested in racial justice-oriented tours of the D.C. area, workshops, or museum visits to contact our office.

Sometimes, it is easier to look across the globe at people being oppressed than it is to look within our own communities and neighborhoods, our own states and districts, and open our eyes to the people suffering right beside us. This position is one step toward seeing our brother or sister in need and witnessing racial discrimination, and then seeking righteousness with actions and in truth. I hope that you will join hands with me for the difficult work ahead.

 

Monica McFadden is the new Racial Justice Associate at the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. She graduated from the University of Denver in June with a B.A. in Political Science and Art History. Contact her at mmcfadden@brethren.org.

Nigerian Brethren provide relief for victims of Fulani herdsmen attacks

On June 23rd Fulani Herdsmen in the Jos Plateau area attacked numerous villages. Officials report 238 persons killed in 17 villages. The attackers also burnt and vandalized the villages, destroying homes, churches and properties. The people cannot return home. Some reports indicated that roads to outlaying villages are blocked by the Fulani. Many families are displaced and living with relatives or in temporary camps.

Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria’s (EYN) main area is in Northeast Nigeria but it has a presence in the Jos Plateau area where the June attacks occurred. The Middle Belt of Nigeria has many Christians from numerous denominations. When EYN’s Disaster Response Ministry got word of the numerous displaced persons in Bokkos LGA, they were ready to help. The Disaster team organized a large distribution for 1639 persons in the Bokkos area. 9000 pounds of corn, 7,700 pounds of rice along with beans, gari, palm oil, spices and blankets were distributed. 

Recipients of the food distribution were so grateful. They noted that EYN’s methods were different than other relief/government agencies; they actually stayed to distribute the materials, gather data and listen to people’s stories. The devastation of these villages will have long reaching consequences for all those involved. The Disaster team is well aware of this because of their work in the Northeast.

Despite all the work the Disaster team has going on as they help in the Northeast, they came to the aid of their fellow Nigerians in a time of desperate need . Well Done Nigerian Brethren!

United: Pursuing peace together


Learn more about the 2018 Mission Offering
at www.brethren.org/missionoffering

A scriptural exegesis written by Joshua Brockway, director of Spiritual Life and Discipleship, for the 2018 Mission Offering.

“Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:19).

The early Brethren were part of the Pietist movement within the German Reformed church of their time. Pietists were those folks who sought to live what the Bible said. Those around them, also part of the church, did not use the name “Pietist” in a nice way. It was a slur. Today it would be like calling someone “holier than thou.”

It may be hard for us to think of piety as something negative. And though the word is not used as much as it was in the 18th century, the idea remains embedded within our tradition. We strive to live lives according to the Scriptures. As one Annual Conference theme reminded us, we “take Jesus seriously.” Yet, we should remember that what is pious to us may be legalistic to others.

That was Paul’s concern as he wrote these chapters in Romans. It appears that the Christians in Rome did not get along very well. As the capital city of the empire, it was home to people from all over. Some were Roman, either by birth or by citizenship, and had adopted the customs and practices of “good” Roman people. Historians now call these people Hellenists. They spoke Latin or Greek, or both, and saw the world through the prism of the great civilizations of Greece and Rome. There were also Hebrew people in the capital city. Though they were far from the worship practices of the temple in Jerusalem, they practiced their faith and culture with conviction. These diaspora people, or those scattered from their homeland, saw their religious customs as key to their identity, just as the Romans did their own culture.

For the early Christian community of Rome, these two cultural systems seem to have been a significant source of conflict. Much of Paul’s letter deals specifically with the conflict of law, religion, and culture that quickly emerged between Hellenist and Hebrew followers of Jesus. This letter, one that scholars and theologians call his most eloquent and succinct articulation of the gospel, was written to bring these to cultural groups together.

Food customs provided one of the sources of contention. Hebrew religious practice certainly dictated what food could and could not be eaten. And surely for the Hellenists, those customs were odd and parochial. Food valued by the Hellenists, even delicacies, were not within Hebrew kosher practice. Such a conflict might seem minimal to our modern sensibilities, but for the early church, eating together was a significant part of their life. Paul focused on this conflict because it was doing exactly the opposite of what shared meals in the church meant. Instead of bringing the people together, it was dividing them.

Ever the reconciler, Paul chastised the Roman Christians without naming fault. Instead, he revealed how any kind of piety practiced without faith and concern for others in the community, was not just divisive, it was sin. He did not call into question the sincerity of their customs, but instead highlighted how the practices of their piety were more about pride than they were about faith. Here, the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount echo just beneath the page: “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1, NRSV).

Paul’s critique, however, came with an instruction. “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual edification” (Romans 14:19, NRSV). We might be tempted to emphasize Paul’s exhortation to peace in the church, but that would miss the qualifying clause at the end. Peace is not the end, in and of itself. Rather, the peace within the church is so that all believers might be edified and grow in their faith. Setting aside religious practices is not a decision to be made lightly. Rather, Paul’s admonition was for the church to emphasize two things—their shared faith in Christ and their need to build each other up in the faith. If the pious practices were sowing discord, they were also undermining the each one’s discipleship to Jesus.

For us good Pietists, Paul’s words to the Roman church are a clear challenge. While we deeply value the practices of our faith we must continue to examine our motivations and the impact on fellow believers. Peace, in this regard, is a characteristic of our community and our practices. When our practices sow discord and conflict, Paul warns us, we are not true Pietists. May our practices and changes of practice, both rooted in our faith, lead us to be United: Pursuing peace together.

Find a full order of service for the 2018 Mission Offering (suggested date Sept. 16) at www.brethren.org/missionoffering or support the Church of the Brethren today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

A place of safety

Laura Hay, Youth Peace Advocate, with a peace pole.

Camp Pine Lake! This week has been full of joys and sorrows. It was a camp which invited conversation, and with a mostly silent group, that conversation grew in interesting ways. The conversation was there and prevalent but presented itself in creative ways.

Camp Pine Lake has a program called “Human Body Image,” or HBI for short. It was something I have only encountered this week. This unique program divided females and males into two groups for the first session and talked about different ways that their gender was portrayed in the media and the effects it has on the people growing up in our society. The campers were able to talk in broad terms or about things being held more closely to their hearts. This is a challenging topic to take on in a week-long camp, but if nothing else, it made the campers more aware of the language being used around their gender and the ways in which they could have better self-talk. And that is a tremendous accomplishment.

Because this was such a unique experience, I decided to bring in an exercise I hadn’t used yet. On the last day I had the opportunity to lead a silent recognition activity. Since we didn’t have the most talkative group, I thought they might feel more comfortable to be in silence and anonymously recognize the people who had affected them positively this week. Many of the campers were moved to know how much they had affected others, and others were moved by having the courage to recognize those who really affected them. Recognition and building a community based on the needs of the people within it is one of the first things to work towards as a peace building community. May the camp remain a place of safety: a place to be vulnerable and a place to expand our views about ourselves and the world around us.

–Laura Hay, Youth Peace Advocate

Reflections on the Washington, DC Workcamp

This summer, the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy welcomed a group of junior highers for the Washington, D.C workcamp. The following is a guest blog post from Marilyn, a junior high workcamper who participated in the workcamp.

Workcampers meet with a staff member from Senator Casey’s office.

On July 29th, 2018, three other members of the Mountville Church of the Brethren and I packed our bags and drove to a Christian work camp in Washington, D.C. All of us, including our two advisors, were extremely excited. But I had no idea how much my experiences would positively impact my life and mindset. It was here where I realized how much being a Christian and being a citizen overlap.

During this workcamp, me and 10 other campers worked in the Marvin Gaye Parks. On the first day of work, we weeded and composted in the Marvin Gaye urban gardens, where people who normally wouldn’t be able to buy fresh fruits and vegetables can pick their own in exchange for garden work. This makes these gardens valuable to people in need of fresh produce.

On the rest of the camp’s work days, all the campers participated in removing Kudzu plants from some of the parks’ beautiful land and trees. This invasive plant was concealing the beauty of nature that parks can provide that people living in the city rarely get to experience.

One day, after a much needed shower and a change of clothes, everyone walked to the Senator’s office to advocate for the LWCF. The LWCF stands for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and it is a program where the government works to protect national, state and local parks by helping to fund them.

The money given to the parks is often used to help keep it clean and safe. Through working in the Marvin Gaye Parks, all the campers realized that parks play big parts in our communities, especially parks in the city, where people have an opportunity to escape the busy, crowded place that they live in. But this important fund will expire on September 30th, if Congress doesn’t take action. So, in the Senator’s office, we spoke to PA’s senator’s education board about why the LWCF should stay in action. The person we talked to listened to our every word and said she would do all she could to help keep the fund going.

Parks such as the Marvin Gaye Parks are very important to our communities, but we often take them for granted. Parks give people a place to exercise, socialize, and learn about nature. So conserving them is a big deal, and at work camp, we learned that being a Christian means standing up for what you may, or not believe is good for our communities.

While being a Christian does mean standing up for what you believe in, it also means serving God by serving people. When you help to take care of your community and its citizens, you are also loving God and that is where being a Christian and being part of a community overlap.

When our workcamp ended, I had a completely different mindset than I had before it started. From working and caring for a park, I realized that helping our communities is a big part of loving God, and that is what being a Christian is all about.

 

To be or not to be?

muddy people at Camp Emmaus

Mud at Camp Emmaus

To be or not to be? To answer the call, to take the challenge, or to choose a more simple, less intimidating path? A week before beginning my journey as Youth Peace Advocate, I was terrified. I was mortified at the prospect of traveling the country alone, talking about a subject I wasn’t sure I knew how to address, and feeling as if I wasn’t worthy of the task for which I was called. At “senior campfire night” at Camp Emmaus, every student stood up and said something very similar – about at first being afraid to come to camp, but as soon as they arrived, having those worries relieved.

When I was packing up my room I found a box of temporary tattoos. I had gotten them at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival before my freshman year of college, and there was one tattoo left in the box: “To be or not to be?” It went on jet black and crisp; it almost looked like a real tattoo! The words were edged on my left shoulder blade and it felt right. I didn’t think of it at the time, but it was a question I had been asking myself 500 times a day since accepting the call to be the Youth Peace Advocate. To be or not to be? (I’m a little angsty, but you know what, so was Hamlet). These tattoos usually last between 1 and 2 weeks. Believe me, I’ve gone through a whole box of them. But this question seemed to linger, staying planted on my left shoulder blade and in the back of my mind. To be? Can I do this? Is this a call I can handle and will be valuable for others? Or not to be? Who would I be if I let my anxiety about it take over? In the first weeks, I had to learn that being the Youth Peace Advocate is different than being on the travel team, and I was going to bring different things to the camps. Maybe I haven’t brought the high energy skits and songs or the funny anecdotes that people might expect from the Youth Peace Travel Team. But I did bring other things, and I know that is different and valuable in itself.

This week, my temporary tattoo washed off and with it, the question. Camp Emmaus has felt loving, accepting and is a safe place to express vulnerability. Seeing the seniors be so vulnerable in their stories and seeing how much this place effects their lives was a moving and inspiring experience. Maybe that is a reason I feel brave enough to share this struggle with you. I feel safe. I may not have anything profound to say this week. I’m not going to try to tell you how to be Brethren or the importance of peace or even the sequence of events that happened at Camp Emmaus. Instead I’ll tell you: I know the answer to my question and it has taken me as long (or longer) than the magnificent seniors here at Camp Emmaus. And the answer is this: Be. Follow the call. These campers have found a safe place where they feel heard and honored, and they have learned how to gift that to others. They gifted it to me!

Follow the call. The senior highers have found an amazing home here at Camp Emmaus, and although I haven’t been here nearly as long, I feel like I’ve gained a permanent home outside of a little town named Oregon, Illinois. Even if I never get to come back, the mark that this place has made on my heart is far from temporary.

#AintNoMountainHighEnough
#Iloveyoubaby
#TheBeaverSong
#Supertrooper
#Thunderdome
#Peaceme

–Laura Hay, Youth Peace Advocate

Amazing Grace at Camp Harmony

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wreck like me. I once was lost but now am found was blind but now I see.”

One voice, low and hard to hear over the sound of the booming fireworks, was an 8th grade boy singing gruffly this well-known and moving song. No one joined him, but he didn’t seem to care. He carried on until the end and took no note if anyone was paying attention. I’m not sure anyone else heard him but me. God invites us to sing, to sing his praises not minding if anyone joins in – but to persist and sing nonetheless.

Camp Harmony Heroes

Camp Harmony Heroes. Photo by Laura Hay.


One of the sessions that our worship leader, Nick, talked about was being a “weirdo” and the implications that word has. Where Nick would use “weirdo,” I would say “rebel.” Christianity is mainstream. Being a “one hour a week Christian” is mainstream. But what if we had the rebellious spirit of that boy raising his voice above the fireworks? What if our actions, and not our words, called others to us and through us allowed them to see good in the world? That’s what being Brethren is to me.

One of the first days of camp there was a trash can that had been knocked over by a cat at the pavilion. One person began to pick up the trash. No one helping at first, but slowly more hands joined to help with the clean-up. That’s who Brethren are, that’s what we do. We live the life we feel is the best representation of Jesus and hope people see that and join in. Jesus was a “weirdo,” and he was rebellious. Be a “weirdo!” Be a rebel in the way Jesus was. Picking up that trash wasn’t the coolest thing to do. Getting all dirty and touching a bunch of disgusting garbage is gross. But it’s what this person felt was right.

While I was in Pennsylvania at Camp Harmony, many people from our denomination came together at Annual Conference to work at what it means to be Brethren and how we do that on the national level. I wasn’t there, but I hope that the conference kept that value in mind: Brethren show our faith through action, boldly following the rebellious spirit of Jesus and continuing that work – peacefully, simply, and together!

By Laura Hay, Youth Peace Advocate

What do you do with your heart?

Peace Street

Sign at Camp Wilbur Stover. Photo by Laura Hay


At campfire one night, a little girl was playing around – pulling the strings of my sweater and moving my hand around to touch my face. She suddenly moved my hand to her chest. She breathed deep.

“Ask me what do I do with my heart?” She said.

“What do you do with your heart?” I replied, curious as to what she meant.

“I don’t know. I’m trying to think in my body.”

This girl was about 4 years old. I don’t know what prompted the question or if she was really thinking about the answer, but I think it is a question all of Camp Stover has been asking this week. What do we do with our hearts? If God’s love really can encompass more than we could possibly imagine, what do we do with our hearts? If God is bigger than we think, what do we do with our hearts? What groups of people have we been excluding from our love because we haven’t believed God is truly bigger than our differences? How can we even begin to try to express that type of love to the world? To love so much can feel like an overwhelming task. It sounds like too large of a task; it sounds exhausting, not to mention stronger and bigger than us.

In a Bible study I attended, we were talking about prayer and the ways we pray. In one Bible verse we read, Jesus prayed for those around him – clarifying that he was not praying for the whole world but just for those people God had given to him. What do we do with our hearts? Maybe we should share them with those people God has given to us to love. We will have differences and hardships, but our job is to love one another.

When we talk about what it means to be peaceful, I think sometimes we take the conversation to extremes: no wars – wow, what a big answer! Or sitting in silence – what a small step! But maybe it would be more beneficial to talk about peace in a practical sense. I love talking in extremes, don’t get me wrong. I think we all do. But if we recognize that God gives us certain people, the people in our lives who we can love and learn peace with, then we are truly doing our best to follow in the way of Jesus.

Visiting Camp Stover yielded many joyous conversations. Some were complicated and others simple, but I think the most profound question I heard all week was: “What do you do with your heart?”

By Laura Hay, Youth Peace Advocate

Nigeria’s Director of Disaster Ministry visits United States Disaster program

By Rev. Yuguda Mdurvwa

First and foremost, I would want to thank God, and Church of the Brethren for giving me the opportunity to be at the Annual Conference and the one week of refreshing and learning about Brethren Disaster Ministry (BDM).

At Annual Conference:  Carl Hill, Roxane Hill, Rev Yuguda, and Roy Winter at Nigerian insight session

After the Sunday Service at Annual Conference, we started our journey to North Carolina with Brother Roy Winter who was driving. We spent over night at Peterson close to Greensboro. The next day, Monday, we continued with our journey to the rebuilding site. We arrived there at 11.25am. We met Harry and four volunteers working on the building, some were working on painting the interior walls, and others were cleaning the floor. Roy and I were given the permission to do the painting. Indeed, it was so nice that we worked for half an hour, laughing and enjoying the fellowship, we break for lunch at noon. Here I learned the commitment, willingness, sacrifice and humility of the volunteers.

After the lunch, we drove to another site, where we met four active volunteers working on the outer wall of the house. Ann, a young volunteer was leading the team, and I shared a few minutes discussing the work and then we went to the Methodist Church where all the volunteers were sleeping. During dinner I was introduced by Roy and the other volunteers did self-introductions. Afterwards I told my story of how the Lord saved us in Maiduguri in 2009 and in Mubi 2014 when Boko Haram attacked. There was a moment of sympathy and concerns for Nigeria. I saw their love and sacrifice. 

After visiting the Ocean and an Aquarium, we continued with our journey to Maryland. I was first shown the Church of Brethren, where Roy worships. Then the next day, Thursday, 12th July 2018, we visited New Windsor. I was taken round by Roy to the School building which was formally Brethren Service Center property. I was shown where containers are received, from there we went around the warehouse and offices where I met with all volunteers and staff. It was amazing how things are well organized, volunteers are working with joy in their hearts, most especially, the man that is handling the machine for packaging of clothes. After that we had a meeting with Disaster Staff, (Jenn, was absent but she participated through Skype call). I was given the opportunity to share about our work in Nigeria and my story. After our meeting, we went to celebrate our work and my coming to the BSC at a restaurant (Hibachi) with a fantastic demonstration.

These are some of the Lessons Learnt from the visit:

1. Brethren have the Spirit of service and humility 

2. All Volunteers and Staff are caring 

3. Things are well organized 

4. Out of their overabundance, they are willing to touch many lives 

5. Many people are continually praying for peace to reign in Nigeria 

6. I saw a true heart of love, care, service and dedication in Brother Roy.

May the Lord continue to bless the entire Church of the Brethren. 

New and renew

Worshiping together at the New and Renew Church Planting Conference. Photo by Doug Veal

By Stan Dueck, director of Organizational Leadership

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

I am on the highest of highs after the New and Renew Church Planting Conference that was held May 16-19. Participants experienced the presence and blessing of God during times of worship, prayer, and connecting with one another. Everyone departed the conference with a greater understanding of ministry and with useful resources to impact a new church plant or bring renewal to an established congregation. As one attendee stated, “This was an energizing conference with practical ideas and resources for different ministry contexts and situations.”

The conference theme, “The Risk, and Reward of Embodying Jesus Locally,” was based on John 1:14. The event provided the space for participants and presenters to share about the challenging and rewarding work of planting a new church, explore ways to be the dynamic presence of Christ in their local community, and offer testimonies of God’s faithfulness.

Another highlight at the event was seeing these pioneering, planting leaders as the embodiment of potential for multicultural diversity within the Church of the Brethren. Several church planters at the conference recently started Hispanic churches, including new projects in Los Banos, Calif. and Las Vegas, Nev.

Diversity could also be identified by the variety of new churches. One planter initiated a project in the Baltimore metropolitan area and it has become a growing multicultural church in just a year. Another leader in Chicago is pioneering a ministry that is extending the reach of their faith community into new places in their local context and also around the world. Another planter is pioneering the renewal of a congregation by connecting it to a startup ministry on a college campus.

The United States today is composed of a multitude of nationalities from every corner of the globe. Few other areas of the world bring together such varied ethnicity. And while all people groups retain some measure of their own historical identity, they also create unique subcultures as they become part of the ever-changing culture of North America.

As a result, the Church of the Brethren faces exceptional ministry opportunities that hold the promise of transforming countless lives through the gospel of Jesus Christ. The opportunities require fresh, creative approaches. These pioneer leaders, who are planting new churches and renewing established congregations, have a passion for seeing God glorified among those who are spiritually apart from the gospel of Jesus.

Discipleship Ministries of the Church of the Brethren, formerly known as Congregational Life Ministries, values the relationship with these pioneers who seek to care for their community as an extension of their call and passion to fulfill the Great Commission. Discipleship Ministries walks along these pioneers through coaching, training, and fostering relational networks.

Thank you for giving to further these ministries of the Church of the Brethren. Your prayerful and financial support of these ministries sustains these men and women as they serve God and their communities. Together we can celebrate the faithfulness of God as people discover Christ’s love and another way of living.

Learn more about Discipleship Ministries at www.brethren.org/discipleshipmin or support them today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)