Decoding your community

Christina Singh (center) talks with Laura Leighton-Harris (left) and Kevin Kessler (right) at the New and Renew Church Planting Conference.
Photo by Doug Veal

By Christina Singh, pastor of Freeport (Ill.) Church of the Brethren and member of the Mission and Ministry Board

When I first heard about the Church Planting Conference of our denomination, it did not sound like something that would interest me. But two words in its tagline caught my attention: Revitalize and Grow! Fixated on these words, I decided to attend.

For two years, I have gone into the community around our church to spread God’s word but have found little success. There is so much potential and so many unchurched people around us, so I have felt the burden to approach them and introduce them to Christ. Going to the New and Renew Church Planting Conference, I was determined to get the most out of the experience and to learn information relevant to my community, to the church in a small town where God has placed me.

The workshop that helped me most was “Decoding your Community” by Ryan Braught, who planted the Veritas Community Church in 2009 in Lancaster, Pa. This two-part workshop moved me into action and gave me insight and tools as to how we, as a church, can successfully do God’s work in our community.

The first session of this workshop taught us how to understand the culture of where God has placed or called us. We learned that a culture is defined by language, artifacts, narratives, rituals, institutions, and ethics. Ryan then shared practices that help decode a community. One of them was “walk, observe, and pray with your eyes.” To demonstrate this practice, he read from Acts 17:16-34, which can be summarized by verses 22 and 23:

“Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: ‘People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you’” (NIV, emphasis added).

Inspired by scripture and putting our learning from the first session to good use, in the second session we actually went out and practiced how to decode the community and bring people to Christ. When we walk around our communities, we need to ask, “what objects of worship are found in this community? Or what does the community ‘worship’?” It could be anything! We just have to be willing to talk with people and invite them to worship Jesus Christ rather than worship an “unknown god.”

After the New and Renew Conference, I shared what I learned with members of our church board and commission team. Now we have a great vision and plan for our church to serve the community, revitalize, and grow. Together we will work to carry out the great commission.

Find video recordings and find photos from the 2018 New and Renew Church Planting Conference at www.brethren.org/churchplanting.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Blooming in Rwanda

The Ludwick family, mission workers in Rwanda.

By Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of Global Mission and Service

My flower garden in full bloom is a wonderful sight to see this time of year. The days are hot but the evenings are cooler, and each night dew forms on flower petals. When dawn breaks, bumblebees bounce about, as do hummingbirds, and the morning breeze blows through the garden. The droplets of dew on each plant roll off, falling to the ground and gently watering the roots of neighboring plants.

The ministry of Global Mission and Service functions in a similar fashion. As mission workers and international leaders care for their communities, they also receive care and encouragement. It is just as the Apostle Paul wrote when he hoped to visit the believers in Rome that they “might mutually encourage one another” (Romans 1:12).

Just a few weeks ago, the Ludwicks packed their bags and caught an Ethiopian Airlines flight to Kigali, Rwanda. This small family from the Harrisburg (Pa.) Church of the Brethren committed to serve as mission workers for a year with a newly established Brethren church community in western Rwanda. Their ministry will include many things, but first and foremost they will be led to new levels of trust—in God, their new Brethren community in Rwanda, and their home congregation.

The Church of the Brethren is just getting started in Rwanda. There are currently four small congregations: one in the city of Gisenyi and three in rural areas where a significant number of members attend from Batwa Pygmy community, the indigenous inhabitants of the equatorial forests of the Great Lakes Region of Africa. The Rwandan Brethren have a deep desire to reach out to this marginalized community and have even started a Batwa Pygmy choir.

For Christine and Josiah Ludwick, moving their children, Asher and Rachel, to a new country in the heart of Africa required much faith in Jesus. As they serve, they are also trusting that God, who called their family in this new direction, will supply all their needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

The charge we have given the Ludwicks is simple but profoundly meaningful: be present, build relationships, and be mutually encouraged by the Brethren in Rwanda. Since Christine is a nurse practitioner and Josiah is a youth minister and skilled musician, they will teach, provide medical care, sing, and serve. In return, the Rwanda Brethren will teach the Ludwicks to function in a society that they do not know. This includes finding housing and transportation, teaching them how to shop and cook, sharing advice, and providing support all along the way. The transition will be difficult, and the Ludwicks will surely have many questions, but their new Brethren community will bear with their newness and guide them into meaningful ministry. Together, they will offer the gospel of peace to those they encounter—something that is greatly needed in Rwanda at this time.

In addition to trusting in God and their new Brethren family in Rwanda, the Ludwicks are also trusting in their home congregation and in all of us of the Church of the Brethren in the United States. They are in great need of our prayers, encouragement, and financial support. Through your gifts to Global Mission and Service, the Ludwicks and other mission workers can continue to serve where God has called them.

As the Ludwicks and Rwandan Brethren serve in ministry together, they will mutually encourage one another and water the growth that is already started. Through trusting in God and one another, the blossoming ministry in Rwanda will become an ever more wonderful sight to see.

Learn more about Global Mission and Service at www.brethren.org/global or support its ministry at www.brethren.org/givegms.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Living your passion

Dan McFadden being honored by Roy Winter at the 2018
Brethren Volunteer Service luncheon at Annual Conference.
Photo by Regina Holmes

By Dan McFadden, director of Brethren Volunteer Service

My BVS colleagues laugh at me when we start talking about BVS themes. Any time we are looking for a theme about how BVS has impacted your life, what is important about BVS, or an anniversary year, I seem to come back to the 50th anniversary theme, “Living the Story.” The staff say, “Not again, Dan! We have beaten that theme into the ground!” And yet it keeps working for me.

In 1996, soon after I started in this position, we formed a committee to plan the 50th anniversary of BVS. Don Snyder, a former BVS staff trainer in BVS’s New Windsor days, was on the committee. We were trying to come up with the right theme for that anniversary when Don said, “I was just singing the hymn ‘I love to tell the story of Jesus and his love,’ and I thought, in BVS we don’t tell the story of Jesus, we live the story of Jesus.” Bingo. Theme!

This is now the 70th year of BVS. How does one summarize a program that has influenced so many lives? All the time, people tell me how BVS has made an impact on their lives. “ My BVS years were some of the best years of my life,” they say. Here’s one of those stories: In 1956, Nancy Schall Hildebrandt and Carol Stephens Scott lived for a year on top of a mountain near Kingsport, Tenn., serving a small rural church in some of the most rustic conditions in which BVSers have served. They had no running water and made an indoor latrine. They rode horses to get around. They were two young women on their own in the hills of Appalachia. I wonder if any parents today would let BVS send their children into a setting like that. But Nancy says that year was very formative in her life. What is it about hardship and struggle that makes an experience like BVS so formative?

Not everyone’s year of service is hard. But in most cases the setting is unfamiliar and the culture is new (after all, any placement site is a new culture for the volunteer). The volunteer must develop connections and friendships just to survive. Those experiences of growth can influence a whole lifetime of living. The saying is true: BVS does “ruin” you for life.

My own BVS story started in the fall of 1981. Orientation for Unit 152 was held at the now closed Camp Woodbrook, in Mid-Atlantic District. There were 33 of us. We received 50¢ for breakfast, 75¢ for lunch, and $1 for dinner per person, per day, to buy the food for our meals. (That amount has gone up only 75¢ in 36 years). I was pre-assigned to serve in Honduras with Salvadoran refugees fleeing the war across the border. Looking back from my current chair as director, I wonder if that was wise. My Spanish wasn’t good enough. Steve Newcomer and I were sent to what was, for all practical purposes, a war zone.

Through no fault of the BVS staff, the receiving agency didn’t know who we were when we arrived. We had little support, and it was a difficult assignment. Perhaps the staff at the time wondered if they had made a mistake sending me there. And yet, I wouldn’t trade it for a different experience.

Since then? I came back to BVS as the director in late 1995. When I’m done, I will have served for 22 years and 11 months. I met my wife in BVS. Two of our children served in BVS and now live where they served. Our third entered BVS this summer. Do I have a passion for BVS? Absolutely! I recruit all the time. I buttonhole young adults while waiting to board a plane anywhere in the world. I’m expecting one of those recruits to show up any day now! Living the story? Those words still work for me.

Learn more about Brethren Volunteer Service at www.brethren.org/bvs or support its ministry at www.brethren.org/givegms.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

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)

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)

Another way of living

Support Church of the Brethren ministries today at www.brethren.org/give

By David Steele, General Secretary

Greetings to you in the name of Christ our Savior!

Once again, I want to express my gratitude for the many ways you and your congregation faithfully strive to live out the gospel—to simply try to do what Jesus did. The vital ministries of our Church of the Brethren congregations, small and large, are at the heart of our church. We should never diminish the essential role that each unique part of the body plays in our common ministry together.

These are challenging, yet hopeful, times for the Church of the Brethren. It is easy to be consumed by our struggles, yet I am heartened by the incredible ministries and programs that are happening in our congregation, districts, and the denomination. I count it a privilege to work with an incredible team of staff working on your behalf to help us all continue the work of Jesus.

As a denomination, we have been working to refocus our efforts and adapt to meet the changing needs of the church. As has been reported via Newsline, there have been a number of staffing changes and ongoing internal structural adjustments. From an outside perspective, these changes may appear cosmetic, but they represent a shift toward a more holistic approach to our ministries, grounded in mission and discipleship.

Our mission aims to serve as Christ’s presence in communities, establishing local churches, both in the United States and internationally, that offer a cup of cold water to a thirsty world. Where there is conflict, we offer peace. Where there is suffering, we offer healing. Where there is hunger, we offer food. Where there is ignorance, education. Where there is despair, fellowship. Brethren mission stands as Christ’s light in the world, challenging the church to be more than a mere mouthpiece of the gospel, but also a doer of good works that demonstrate God’s love to the world.

Through our discipleship, we embrace Jesus’ call to go make and be disciples, sharing our lives more fully with others. This emerging vision of discipleship has its emphasis on making and growing disciples, forming and developing leaders, and transforming communities. As we strive to support new and renewing congregations, we are recovering a Brethren way of evangelism, helping congregations to disciple new people—more diverse people, more young people.

While intentionally grounding our ministries in mission and discipleship, we are also assessing our efforts at intercultural ministries. We as a church must more fully live into the 2007 Annual Conference statement “Separate No More: Becoming a Multi- racial Church.” This must be more than just a commitment. It must become our desire: desire not only expressed through advocacy but growing out of Christ’s commandment to love our neighbor. A desire that finds its roots in mission and discipleship. We must begin nurturing this kind of desire in our hearts and the hearts of others—into the heart of the church—because it is this kind of desire that will open us to new possibilities to thrive.

My friends, I do hope you believe that our struggle together is worthwhile. We are doing great things together in our congregations, in our districts, and in the denomination. Our efforts of offering the cup of cold water to the world reveals that we are about another way of living—the way of Jesus. May we not forget that through our simple acts of service and peacebuilding we, too, are working to save the world—in Jesus’ name.

I invite you to join me in another way of living.

Will you give to the Church of the Brethren today?
www.brethren.org/give

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

The ministry of calling

Nancy Sollenberger Heishman as Annual Conference 2014 moderator.
Photo by Glenn Riegel

By Nancy Sollenberger Heishman, director of the Office of Ministry

“And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47b).

Every year I look forward to the celebration of the Pentecost season. It is an opportunity to marvel anew at the awesome power of the Holy Spirit at work in the church and the world. What wonders were unleashed by the Spirit’s power as, like a persistent wind, it swept into the souls and lives of new believers. Persons of varying cultures and generations, and socioeconomic, educational, and religious backgrounds were caught up in the mighty power. Being called into the body of Christ, they also were sent out to look for those on the margins and to call others into the new community of God.

In my work as director of the Office of Ministry, I hear wondrous stories of persons being called to something bigger than they ever dreamed of. David Banaszak, the newly called district executive of Middle Pennsylvania District, recently shared the story of his call, and it struck me as particularly delightful.

As a young man, David drove his wife, Linda, to choir practice at Windber Church of the Brethren but sat out in the car with their dog, Skippy, until practice concluded. Being raised a nominal Catholic, David didn’t feel comfortable entering the church building and preferred to spend the evening with Skippy instead. Each Thursday evening, taking notice of the situation, pastor Dave Shetler would visit with David at his car window, and, without fail, would invite him inside. And every week, David would politely choose to remain in the car. Eventually, however, Pastor Dave convinced him to come inside, and the rest is history, as the expression goes.

David became a member of the Windber congregation and Pastor Dave, seeing great potential in him, invited him to consider a call to the ministry. And now, after 30 years of pastoral ministry, David has been called to district executive leadership. For David and many others, great service for the family of God has come from the persistent call of the Spirit through a faithful pastor, a fellow Christ-follower, or a nurturing community.

The stories I hear and the conversations I have while traveling throughout the denomination encourage me to remember that the Holy Spirit’s desire is still to stir us by a revolutionary call. God intends for us to invite persons to dive deeply into the life of our congregations, to eagerly look for gifts of ministry in new persons, and to persistently welcome and offer hospitality to all whom we encounter.

The Holy Spirit binds us together with others in ministry, service, and mutual love, and this often includes those from whom we initially choose to be separate. As we open ourselves to one another, share about our calling, and hear how it intertwines with theirs, we participate in God’s deep yearning for this world to be reconciled on earth just as spectacularly as it is in heaven.

As you celebrate this season of Pentecost and share in the ministry of calling in your own congregation, we invite you to also support this ministry in the denomination. Your gifts support the calling and training of new ministers and leaders so that they may serve God, their communities, and the larger church.

Thank you for partnering in the ministry of calling.

Learn more about the work of the Office of Ministry at www.brethren.org/ministryoffice or support it today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Publishing good news

Wendy McFadden speaking at Inspiration 2017.

By Wendy McFadden, publisher of Brethren Press and Communications

The other day, Esther, a faithful supporter of the denomination, called to say how much she liked the April issue of Messenger. A call like that is always a pleasure, but in this phone call I also learned two fun facts: 1) Esther was turning 100, and 2) she has a life subscription to Messenger magazine.

What is a life subscription? Well, long ago Messenger offered a couple of special prices—a two-year subscription for $5 and a life subscription for $25. At the time, Esther did the math and thought the life subscription sounded like a good deal, which it certainly was. For those with enough foresight to pony up, that subscription has paid dividends!

From the business side, life subscriptions were a short-sighted decision, and it’s no surprise that the offer didn’t last long. But I love encountering the folks who bought them so many years ago. They represent a long-term commitment not just to Messenger, but to the Church of the Brethren. When the communication staff prepare each issue of the magazine, we are heartened by feedback from readers like Esther.

While Messenger magazine is just about the oldest communication medium in our church, it’s not the only one. In fact, in recent years there’s been an explosion of ways to communicate with each other—print newsletters, electronic newsletters, emails by interest group, websites, blog posts, social media, video, podcasts, webinars, exhibits. Nobody sees everything, but everybody can see something. In a church with a wide range of ages and interests, it’s necessary to communicate through as many channels as we can.

The tools are up-to-the-minute, but the ministry of publishing is nothing new. After all, the Old Testament prophet reminds us: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’” (Isaiah 52:7, RSV).

Even though life subscriptions no longer exist for Messenger, faithful supporters like you have life subscriptions to the great work we do together. When you give to the Church of the Brethren, you help publish good news. When you subscribe to Messenger, newsletters, or any of our emails, you share in bearing witness to the work of God among us. Together we “proclaim the good news” (Matthew 10:7, NRSV).

Will you give to the Church of the Brethren today?
www.brethren.org/give

Caring for the vulnerable

Tori Bateman (far left) at the meeting about Unarmed Civilian Protection.

By Tori Bateman, associate with the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy

“God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish” (Psalm 9:18, NIV).

The Church of the Brethren’s identity as a historic peace church means that we are committed to nonviolence and peacebuilding around the world. During my time as a Brethren Volunteer Service volunteer in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, I have had some amazing opportunities to advocate for peace in Washington, D.C.

Over the past several months, we have advocated for the practice of Unarmed Civilian Protection (UCP) in the Department of State, the United States Agency of International Development (USAID), and the Department of Defense. UCP is a method for keeping peace and safety in tense situations without the use of weapons or military action. Instead, unarmed individuals are empowered to work through relationships, mediation skills, and other peacekeeping methods to protect those living with conflict.

One example of the successful endeavor of UCP is from South Sudan. Women there were often raped by soldiers when they left their camps to collect firewood and water. To reverse this alarming trend, Nonviolent Peaceforce ran an accompaniment program that involved staff members going with women to collect firewood. As a result, whenever they encountered soldiers, the presence of international observers prevented rape from occurring. In 2015, there were no women afflicted by rape who were accompanied by Nonviolent Peaceforce staff. This is a great example of caring for vulnerable persons.

To present this innovative idea to U.S. policymakers, I worked with a colleague from a Catholic organization to coordinate a State Department meeting about Unarmed Civilian Protection. We invited Mel Duncan, co-founder of Nonviolent Peaceforce, and Nonviolent Peaceforce staff members to speak about the effectiveness of their practices.

The event was attended by staff from the Department of State, Department of Defense, and USAID. Attendees heard not only about the work of UCP, but also the amazing stories of the individuals in conflict zones who have been protected by the actions of UCP. The conversation lasted well after the event ended and we are excited about future opportunities to collaborate through relationships made at this meeting.

Your support for the Church of the Brethren makes possible this and other important peacebuilding initiatives. Thank you for helping us reframe the conversation about peacefully supporting and accompanying those in need.

Will you give to the Church of the Brethren today?
www.brethren.org/give

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Racial righteousness

Joshua Brockway and his Sankofa partner,
Drew Hart, stand with their group in July 2017.

By Joshua Brockway, director of Spiritual Life and Discipleship

Last summer I had the privilege of participating in the Sankofa Journey hosted by the Evangelical Covenant Church. Sankofa is an intentional effort to address racial injustice both within the church and in society. We traveled in mixed-race pairs on a bus to historically significant sites of the Civil Rights Movement—Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma, Jackson, and Memphis.

Sankofa is not a tourist trip. Rather, it is an intense learning experience built around conversations between partners and among the community that forms on the bus. The Evangelical Covenant Church describes Sankofa as a “journey towards racial righteousness.” Given the climate of race relations in the country today, I found that choice of words striking. We often think the counter to injustice is justice. So to use the theologically rich word of “righteousness” helped me to see racism in a new light.

In the New Testament, the Greek word for “justice” can also mean “righteous.” The meaning relates to relationships with one another and with God as well. In other words, to be just to one another is also to be reconciled with God, and to be reconciled with God is to be right with one another. Unfortunately, English is not able to bring those two important meanings together in one word.

Congregational Life Ministries staff are planning a racial righteousness workshop before Annual Conference this year to build on the rich meaning of biblical righteousness and justice. The city of Cincinnati played a key role in the Underground Railroad and has historic cultural resources related to our country’s story of racism. We have chosen to call this workshop “Diakaios,” after the New Testament Greek word for “justice” and “righteousness.”

We pray that this small effort will model prayerful conversations about race and white supremacy among the Brethren. And we are looking forward to the spiritual fruit it will bear in our church.

Your gifts to the Church of the Brethren support this and other initiatives that train Brethren disciples to continue the work of Jesus. The February issue of Messenger has articles by me and three others who participated in the Sankofa Journey last year. Your contributions supported the racial righteousness training of these individuals and prepared them to share in leadership at the workshop in Cincinnati. Please pray with us for a Spirit-led transformation of the church that works toward the vision of Revelation 7:9: a people from all nations, tribes, and languages gathering to worship the Lamb of God.

Learn about this summer’s “Dikaios and Discipleship” workshop at www.brethren.org/dikaios. Support the work of Congregational Life Ministries at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)