Ready for Peace – Hammond Mills

My back stings from a sunburn. My arms creak, my eyes sting. I have scabs up and down my legs from itching my bug bites too much. My shoes are soaking wet and I have dirt in my hair.

And… my cheeks ache from smiling.

I am incredibly happy. Being the Youth Peace Advocate, this week and every week, has brought me so much joy! Sure, I feel the skin peeling off my back and I’ve had about 40 gnats fly into my eyes, but I wouldn’t want to miss a moment of it.

Yesterday, a boy asked me what my favorite color was. When I said “orange,” he smiled, took off his bracelet, and put it on my wrist.

The day before that, one of the campers made me a card and a peace wand. (How cool is that?!)

The day before that, I was initiated into “the order of the forks.”

Every day, I have 10 kids running up to hug me.

I have been on the receiving end of so much generosity and kindness this summer, it’s kind of hard to believe. The amount of love I have been shown could outshine the sun.

“Hi, I’m Laura Hay, the Youth Peace Advocate” have become my favorite words.

I’d like to say that I’ve grown up: that I’m super peaceful now and I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings ever…that I never get competitive and push people out of safety zones during capture the flag to tag them. But the people at the Missouri/Arkansas camp know that’s not true. This week I’ve struggled more than ever with the fact that I’m still human. I’m struggling to be more peaceful and to not let myself be overwhelmed by the little things. I wish I could just wave my “peace wand” and suddenly there would no longer be discord at camp.

But I can’t.

I still say the wrong things sometimes, but I’m getting better. I’m catching myself in times of harshness and trying to give people grace in theirs. I’m trying to be more honest and trusting of people. We like to think that keeping an idea in our heads or a hope in our heart, that things will change. But it’s a process and it takes action. I pray that I continue to practice peace in the days, weeks, months and years moving forward, and that I forgive myself when I’m not as peaceful as I wish I would be. I hope that in the future there will be more youth, eager to get sunburnt faces and sore muscles in the name of peace.

My cheeks hurt from smiling, and I’m ready for peace.

Peace and Prayers,
The Youth Peace Advocate (Laura Hay)

We wash feet

Former Youth Peace Travel Team members at National Youth Conference 2018

People who know me, really know me, know that when I’m truly touched by something, I go into what you could call a state of shock. I try to hide myself away and process. On Wednesday night of National Youth Conference, I did something I’ve never done before; I willingly walked into a room with a group of people after experiencing something important.

I cried. Now I don’t cry often. If I do, you know something is really important to me. I cried, trying to hide my tears as I’ve taught myself to do. But I sat in a room full of people and listened to others. When I walked in, Jarrod McKenna was introducing himself to everyone and asking everyone’s names. And I must have had a stance of trying to still be hidden because he came over and, in a whisper, asked my name. When I have been impacted, in the way I was tonight, I get very moved by people acknowledging me, with a slight touch or a word. It just makes the tears flow so much easier. So when Jarrod McKenna asked my name and shook my hand that’s when the tears started coming.

National Youth Conference is such a special place. I believe it is where the heart of the Church of the Brethren lives. It’s where people can truly begin to grasp what our mission is and who they are going to be within that mission. We are challenged together. We laugh together. We play together, and then we say goodbye. This is rare.

I have participated in Jarrod McKenna’s alter calls twice now, and each time, most of the worship participants come forward, eager to say they will be a rebel for Christ too. And every time, he warns against just following the crowd. He respects those who do not come forward and so do I; it shows that they are truly thinking about the choice they are making. They choose the harder stance in the moment, but perhaps not in the long run. Big active calls like that seem easy in the moment. They are exciting and rousing. They make you part of a team, a crowd, a revolution – if only for that moment. To walk from your seat to the crowd takes barely any effort at all, but I believe all the people who came to stand in the crowd believed in what they stood for.

Rebellion is hard work. It isn’t very glorious in most cases. We were literally called to be humble, to not seek the limelight – but to use a basin and towel. We were challenged to live as Jesus teaches through scripture. The Brethren way of understanding the Bible is often not how the rest of America understands the Bible, which can create an “us against them” mentality, which is counter to Jesus’ teachings. What if we truly acted as if we were on everyone’s team? We were challenged to live by the towel and the basin. When we are confronted by another and find ourselves feeling combative and vilifying each other, we must remember that “we wash feet.” That’s who we are.

After the service, like I said, I walked into a room with other people. Those were the people who were called to come talk more about their feeling of call. “Call” is a hard word to describe if you haven’t felt it, but I think most of us have in some way or another. What if we listened more intently for our call? In that room were 15 people who felt a call to have a discussion about what they were feeling. It wasn’t a big call but they followed it. What if we took even a small step towards our call? Many felt like their call was too big. It seemed like their whole world was changing…and hopefully it will. Perhaps this change happens by traveling somewhere else, by finding developing countries in which to wash feet. But maybe it is just as world changing to wash the feet of your classmate, or to love the man down the road who lives alone. It felt like some in the room wanted to be Superman. I get that. But what if we changed our personal world before trying to change the whole world? People in this discussion also expressed a longing for community. I get that. I’ve talked a lot about loneliness this summer. It’s not something I thought would relate to the subject of peace, yet I have found that it does. Finding the people in our communities who will help up on our journeys is tough work. I haven’t found a whole lot of them to be honest with you. Sometimes being a peacemaker can be lonely. But guess what?! We were just at a conference with at least 1,000 people who felt the same way. What if we gave other people the connections we long for?

We need YOU to hear what has happened to not let it fade! Let the stories from NYC be a spark which ignites the Christ light in you. Let Christ’s light propel you forward! Let Jesus’s Gospel train barrel down the tracks, until that train is packed full of the people who want to join God’s mission. Packed full of the feet that you and others have washed. Packed full of people who have become peacemakers. Packed with those who have learned about what it means to truly follow Jesus. Everyone can board our train! Let go of your fear of being seen, of seeming odd, of being misunderstood, of being the outcast, of being weird. You will be weird. Good. Jesus was weird.

All you have to do is remember that “we wash feet.”

Peace and Prayers,

Laura Hay

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

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

Were You There When They Killed King?

Gimbiya Kettering at the MLK memorial in Washington DC (2012).

We need all of you. And you know what’s beautiful to me is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. It’s a marvelous picture. Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around he tell it.
-Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
3 April 1968, “I’ve been to the Mountain Top”

Depending on your social circles, you may have recently had many conversations about the passing of Martin Luther King Jr. — or none. The fiftieth anniversary of King’s assignation has been commemorated in magazines and radio programs. The National Council of Churches held a rally in Washington DC and a number of communities held local rallies. At the same time, the day seemed to generate less awareness than the annual MLK holiday which for many families mean a day off from school with a scramble to find childcare or the excitement of a three day weekend. Fifty years is a lifetime – and in that time our nation’s understandings and interpretations of the life of Martin Luther King Jr. has changed. At the time of his death he was disliked and unpopular, with over 70% of White Americans by some polls of the era. While he is now seen as integral to our national story –and there are spaces around the country named in his honor.

The May “Continuing Together” call sponsored by Intercultural Ministries, was a conversation about the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Using National Geographic articles available online from the April 2018 issue that focused on race, we asked two questions that spun into a conversation that considered family histories, imaged hypotheticals, and how our values are shaped by the valules of MLK:

Where is Martin Luther King Jr. in your neighborhood? Participants took a survey that asked them to look at their neighborhoods and communities and also the National Geographic article Martin Luther King Streets World Wide. (See the results of our survey in the charts below.)

How would our national history be different if he had never been assassinated? The National Geographic explored this question in the article, What if Martin Luther King Jr. Were Never Assassinated.

SAVE THE DATE: The next Continuing Together call will be Thursday, June 14, 2018 – 1:00-3:00 EST.

Gimbiya Kettering, Director, Intercultural Ministries
Church of the Brethren

Results for MLK Near You Survey

Demographics of survey responders:

Barbara Daté at the MLK Memorial in Washington DC (2012)

Barbara Daté, member of Intercultural Ministries Advisory Committee and Revelation 7:9 Awardee, at the MLK Memorial in Washington DC (2012). The quotes included in the memorial are an example of how we selectively remember King. King also said:
Time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will…Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to work to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. (Why We Can’t Wait)

Pure Michigan Wrap-Up

Kayaking in Michigan. Photo by Elizabeth Kinsey.


By Elizabeth Kinsey

Great Blue Heron on Jordan Lake. Photo by Elizabeth Kinsey.


Wherever you vacation in Michigan, you’re sure to have a great time. There’s something for everybody. Whether your preference is roughing it, camping with a camper or RV, staying in a motel or renting a cottage, you’ll find a spot that makes you want to start planning a return trip when you have more time.

Michigan bike trail

Michigan’s cities offer inspiration, gardens, theatre, concerts, cultural diversity and many educational opportunities. Nature’s at her best in Michigan, too, with hundreds of campgrounds and miles of bike trails and hiking trails across the state. If you can swing the time for a vacation before or after Annual Conference, be sure to make your plans early. The beauty of Michigan is not a big secret. It’s a favorite vacation spot, a summer home, a delightful return stop for many folks. Those of us who wait all year for those show-stopping Michigan summers don’t stray too far away from June through September. It’s just what we’ve been waiting to experience again. The summer weather is unpredictable in Michigan, so do come prepared with layers.

I sure hope you can play for a while in this beloved state I’ve called home for 62 years. I’ll be here ready to welcome you to Pure Michigan!

Sunset, Grand Rapids. Photo by Elizabeth Kinsey.

Lower Northeastern Michigan

Lake Huron Beach. Photo by Elizabeth Kinsey


By Elizabeth Kinsey

Although I grew up on the east side of Michigan close to the Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron, it had been a long time since I spent beach time there. What a pleasant surprise I had with hubby Jim and my sister Steph over Labor Day, time on beautiful Lake Huron shores near Au Gres. There is so much beauty on this shore but it’s not as populated as the western shores of Michigan. Life is more relaxed, less congested and more rustic. Towns are farther apart.

Relaxing around a campfire. Photo by Elizabeth Kinsey.

Lake Huron is delicious for a swim on a warm summer day, although you’ll want to wear water shoes for the small rocks that make water-walking a challenge. Tiny rentable cabin clusters dot the shore as you head north into Pinconning (don’t pass a cheese shop without a stop), Au Gres, Tawas City, East Tawas, Oscoda and parts even farther north.

Cabins in the Tawas Area. Photo by Elizabeth Kinsey.

One campground is right between the beach and the town of Tawas City. That’s a whole lot of fun without having to move your car! East Tawas also has a state park and a dog beach.

Inner Tubes on Lake Huron

If you’re an early bird, sunrises on Lake Huron are breathtaking and perfect for early morning meditations or long walks on the beach. Bike, hike, kayak, canoe, camp, fish, grill or do what we did on the beach, read, relax, walk, bob on an inner tube in the waves, chat and then find a restaurant for supper. The Lake Huron shoreline has it all!

Lake Huron sunrise. Photo by Elizabeth Kinsey.

The Foodie Entry

By Elizabeth Kinsey

Brethren certainly love to eat! Once while we were staying in Beulah, we did quite a bit of stocking up for winter. I considered it our Food Tour since we love to eat, too.

Cherry Hut in Beulah. Photo by Elizabeth Kinsey.

Cherry Hut in Beulah. Photo by Elizabeth Kinsey.

In Traverse City there are many places that specialize in Michigan-made products, especially cherry products. There’s Benjamin Twig’s, the first cherry store in Traverse City. American Spoon Foods, also in Traverse City, has a recipe for turkey chili using their pumpkin chipotle and peach salsa that is just amazing. The Cherry Republic in Traverse City specializes in ALL things cherry; my favorites involve chocolate.

Take your treats on the drive along the Old Mission Peninsula and admire the many orchards. No doubt there will still be sweet cherry stands aplenty and beautiful views with the treat of a lighthouse at the northern tip. In Glen Arbor you’ll find the original Cherry Republic with cherry pit-spitting contests, various cherry ice creams, salsas, chocolate-covered cherries of all kinds. Not sure about the flavors? Then try a sample of each!

Boone Docks. Photo by Elizabeth Kinsey

Boone Docks. Photo by Elizabeth Kinsey


Eat at the Boone Docks there if you’re really hungry.

Smoked fish is a must in Leland’s Fishtown. It makes for great picnic food. (Bell’s in Mackinaw City has great smoked fish, too!)

Plevas Meats. Photo by Elizabeth Kinsey.

Plevas Meats. Photo by Elizabeth Kinsey.

Pleva’s Meats in the little town of Cedar is a popular spot if you’re a sausage fan like some folks in our family.

What more could you possibly need to enjoy the shores of Lake Michigan than a picnic of fresh, dried or chocolate-covered cherries, cherry salsa and chips, some smoked fish, cheese from the cheese/winery in Traverse City, and fresh artisan bread with Traverse City (or Mackinaw City/Mackinac Island) fudge for dessert? If it’s rainy, head to The Cherry Hut in Beulah for their reasonable delicious meals and some cherry pie for dessert. What finds! Yum!

Mackinaw City Fudge. Photo by Elizabeth Kinsey.

Mackinaw City Fudge. Photo by Elizabeth Kinsey.