What to preach

Find worship resources at www.brethren.org/adventoffering
Photo by Matt DeBall

A sermon starter written for the 2017 Advent Offering by Thomas Dowdy, pastor of Imperial Heights Church of the Brethren in Los Angeles, Calif.

“When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.’… The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’”(Luke 4:16-18, 20-22)

Preaching in your hometown can be very challenging. For some people, it will be difficult to see who you are today because they can only see who you used to be. Some have high expectations, while others remain very critical.

Recently, I received an invitation to attend my high school class reunion. Most class reunions involve people rehashing old stories and checking up on your current status in life. As such, I was very reluctant to attend because I always prefer looking forward rather than backward. I even shared with a friend that I didn’t want to go. He felt it was important for me to attend. He said, “You are a different person now.” I realized he had a point, recognizing that I am in ministry now. He went on to say, “I’m sure someone there will need to hear from you.”

I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’s options when he visited the temple in his hometown of Nazareth. He could have not gone, or he could have only said something that made the people feel good about themselves, but he did the opposite. Jesus had a mission to fulfill the promise of God. He knew it was going to upset the status quo, and yet he did it anyway.

Coming home to share good news is exciting to both the giver and receiver; however, sharing words of perceived condemnation is altogether another matter. The people in the temple felt good hearing Jesus read the words of Isaiah because they were words of perceived hope and fulfillment to those that believed they were of the chosen ones. However, the purpose of Jesus was to share God’s message of inclusion not exclusion. When Jesus read from the scroll, people felt good about the encouraging words because they believed it was only meant for them. But when Jesus continued to expound on the text, the people became angry as it exposed their inner, self-seeking purposes.

The Spirit continues to expose us today. Does it make you angry to include others in “your ministry”? Do you feel upset when others outside your church or group benefit from the work of your (perceived chosen) group? If so, your thinking about God’s Kingdom needs to grow. Your purpose and our purpose is to spread good news to the poor. Heal the broken hearted and free the captives. Provide wide open spaces to those who are imprisoned. Comfort the grieving. And so much more.

This greater mission should make you feel good. God’s word is fulfilled as you share the good news of inclusion. This is what must be preached in your hometown and everywhere you go.

The suggested date for the Advent Offering is December 17. Find worship resources at www.brethren.org/adventoffering or give today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Get out of the boat

The 2017 Ministry Summer Service interns at orientation.
Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

By Becky Ullom Naugle, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries

“Before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him… they were terrified… Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ ‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’ ‘Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus” (Matthew 14:25-29, NIV).

When I think of the courage and faith it took for Peter to step out of that boat, I am in awe. The disciples were on a boat by themselves, in the middle of a huge body of water, in the middle of the night, and they saw a figure walking on the waves toward them. Seriously?! What would you have done in that situation? Would you have had the courage to respond to the mysterious, perhaps even frightening, voice you’d heard, as Peter did? And if you did have the courage to respond verbally, would your faith have given you the strength to get out of the boat?

Just like Peter, we all probably would cry out for help if we felt ourselves sinking, but I wonder if most of us would have even gotten that far. Many of us may have been too frightened—by the storm itself, by the odd approach of Jesus, or both—to do anything but sit in the boat, close our eyes, clutch our arms a bit tighter, and try to imagine anything other than the current, alarming situation.

I see a strong parallel between the courageous steps of Peter and the courageous steps of Ministry Summer Service (MSS) interns. Clearly none of the interns have walked on water, but each has indeed responded to a sense of call. And beyond just sensing a call, these college students chose to leave familiar, comfortable environments and “get out of the boat.” They traveled to unknown places to explore ministry while also living in a new place, meeting new people, eating new food, and learning a new culture. These tasks aren’t exactly “walking on water,” but they do demand faith, courage, and often a healthy sense of humor! Like Peter, interns may, at times, feel like they are being swallowed up by overwhelming waves. But Jesus will no more allow an MSS intern to “sink” than he allowed Peter to sink. Of course, one’s faith could always be stronger, but consider how much faith it takes to get out of the boat in the first place!

Our 2017 interns have finished their service with MSS, but still need prayer. Please pray for Kaylie, Laura, Brooks, Cassie, Laura, Nolan, and Monica (featured above in the front row, from left to right). Pray that the Holy Spirit would continue to move powerfully in their lives and make clear their vocations. We also invite you to pray for the 2018 interns, who have yet to be identified. Is there anyone you could encourage to participate in Ministry Summer Service as a way to explore ministry while earning a scholarship?

I am grateful to all who pray for and give to Ministry Summer Service, the Church of the Brethren program that supports young adults as they consider their vocational calling from God. I am grateful to the mentors and ministry sites who journey with MSS interns for a summer. And I am grateful for the young adults who are brave enough to spend 10 weeks of their summer thinking about their faith, their lives, God’s world—and how those elements will be woven into the fabric of their future! Will you take a step of faith, like our interns, and support the Church of the Brethren?

Ministry Summer Service (MSS) is a leadership development program for college students in the Church of the Brethren who spend 10 weeks of the summer working in the church (local congregation, district office, camp, or national program). Applications for MSS 2018 are due January 5, 2018. Learn more about this ministry of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/mss or support it today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Blessings Box

Members of the Nokesville Church of the Brethren participating
in the Blessings Box dedication service.
Photo courtesy of Nokesville Church of the Brethren

By Angela Finet, pastor of Nokesville (Va.) Church of the Brethren

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35, NIV).

At the beginning of 2017, our Sunday School class began a study of the Lord’s Prayer. When we got to the phrase, “Give us this day our daily bread,” it gave us pause. We pondered, “What would it mean for us to live each day wondering where we would get food?”

After discussion and prayer, we decided to join the “Blessings Box” phenomenon. Our box is a large, upright Rubbermaid storage container that sits unlocked on the corner of our church property. Inside are 4 shelves filled with non-perishable food, laundry detergent and dish soap, diapers and wipes, and personal hygiene products. The box is identified with a large sign that reads “Blessings Box” and smaller signs that read “Take what you need,” and “Share what you have.”

Earlier this year, we held a service of commissioning as part of our Sunday worship service, and since then, the box has taken on a life and ministry of its own. We’ve learned that there is a tremendous need for these items here in our community. People are taking and sharing virtually every day. As a result of the box being available 24/7, we’ve also noticed a decrease in the number of people calling to ask for financial assistance.

The best way for us to partner with area food banks is to focus more on the non-food items. Food banks do not provide diapers, detergent, and hygiene products. Additionally, since food stamps cannot be used for diapers, they have been most requested and taken from our Blessing Box. A parent cannot take her children to daycare if she doesn’t have diapers, and diapers cannot be bought without going to work for income. It’s a real catch-22 for some families!

We have also discovered the need for food dramatically increases when the schools are closed. Children who receive lunch assistance really suffer when school is not in session, and we’ve seen that translate into a greater demand for food items during that time.

What has been most rewarding is seeing that people who receive help from area food banks want to participate in blessing others. We find that food items from food banks are being left in the box in exchange for toiletry and household items. This truly embodies “take what you need and share what you have.”

And we’ve reaffirmed that we are part of an incredibly generous community both inside and outside the church. Several area dentists have supplied toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss. Several individuals, including families from our Kid’s Club and scouting programs, have committed to making weekly and monthly contributions to the box. Even local businesses have joined in by hosting “diaper drives.” Folks who want to participate but cannot make financial contributions are invited to stop in and create “diaper packs”—repackaged bags of six. We have a cabinet in the church set up to store the packs so that the box can easily be restocked as needed. We also have those who pray regularly for this ministry and for all those who participate that all who give and all who receive will be blessed.

To say the least, the Blessings Box has been transformative for all who have given to and received from this ministry. Our church learned more about what it means to feed the hungry, offer water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, and work for God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven.” We hope that you will be encouraged and inspired by our story.

The Nokesville Church of the Brethren exhibits what it means to be a vital congregation of the Church of the Brethren. Their discernment process around the Lord’s prayer has empowered them to be “creatively intentional in outreach to new people” and to be an “instrument of God’s Kingdom.” What vision may God have for your community? The Vital Ministry Journey could help your congregation explore this question.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Peacemaking and serving

Nathan Hosler leading an Insight Session at the 2017 Annual Conference.
Photo by Donna Parcell

By Nathan Hosler, director of the Office of Public Witness

If all politics were controversial before, they have gotten even only more so in the past year. We may ask, “How do we advocate—engage in policy debates with our distinctive voice—when our own body also experiences many divisions?” The Office of Public Witness as a ministry of the Church of the Brethren is guided by Annual Conference decisions. While these decisions are never unanimous, they do represent important markers of collective discernment. 

In the last few years, Joshua Brockway, director of Spiritual Life and Discipleship, and I have been doing joint workshops at Annual Conference. In these discussions, we have worked alongside one another as an experiment in spiritual discernment and public witness. While public witness is often thought to trade in certainties and strategy and attempts to bring change, spiritual life and discipleship are typically seen as contemplative, personal, and private. While these generalizations may be somewhat accurate, it is our hope that our witness be built in discernment and theological reflection, and that our spiritual life outwardly reveals the peace of Christ.

As Brethren, we remain committed to following the way of Jesus and serving those in need. As a child and young adult, I was quite familiar with service: workcamps, work days at our local camp, making apple dumplings to sell at the disaster auction, and a number of other opportunities. I also learned that following Jesus meant being against war and for peace. In college and then serving with Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria, I grew to understand that service and peacemaking are both local and individual, but also at many other levels of communal and global living. I now call these acts of faith done in the world “public witness.” The desire to serve and work for peace is part of our shared worship, prayer, and Bible study, and is both local and global. The Office of Public Witness is not the denomination’s group of little politicians but simply an extension of the work of service and peace that can be found throughout the Church of the Brethren in the United States and around the world.

We pray that you will be blessed as you connect faith and public witness in your own life and community. Thank you for partnering in this important work and for supporting the Office of Public Witness.

Learn more about the Office of Public Witness at www.brethren.org/publicwitness. Support this and other ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Blessed by CCS

CCS 2017 group photo
Attendees of Christian Citizenship Seminar 2017.
Photo by Paige Butzlaff

By Josiah Ludwick, associate pastor at Harrisburg (Pa.) First Church of the Brethren

Over the last three years, it has truly been a blessing to send young people from our congregation to Christian Citizenship Seminar (CCS). Intercultural Ministries (ICM) and Youth and Young Adult Ministries (YYA) of the Church of the Brethren have made this wonderful opportunity accessible for young people who would otherwise not be able to attend. At CCS, our youth have encountered social justice issues and been challenged to be the change they want to see in these situations. Each year addresses a different issue—in past years the issues of Immigration Rights and Mass Incarceration, and this year Native American Food Rights.

During the seminar, participants are given the proper tools and knowledge to formulate an opinion, to speak about the issue, and to share from their heart and faith on the matter with people who can bring about change. One of our 2017 participants, Xavier, said, “The most meaningful thing was having guest speakers who actually [care about] the topic and have experienced it.” Having these intimate interactions with people for whom the issue has become a passion and a fact of life really helps the young people become passionate themselves.

Once equipped with the knowledge and instilled with the energy to do something, the young people are given the opportunity to speak with representatives on Capitol Hill regarding the issue. “I’ll always remember having the experience of learning about many of the problems Native Americans face and getting to talk to our senators and representatives about those challenges,” shared Mylea, another first-time attendee of CCS.

Our young people learned about areas of struggle outside of their own life challenges and felt empowered to do something about it. Supreme reflected, “I learned about the struggles Native Americans go through and found out that I could help in many different ways. Also, it taught me to really appreciate what I have.”

The blessing has not simply been in one direction, however, as the young people and advisors from our church shared a differing perspective that enriched the experience of CCS for others. Students who have dealt with the immigration system in this country, young people and advisors who have been affected by mass incarceration, and an advisor who experienced life on the reservation all brought a richness to the conversations around these issues. These experiences have been the true definition of a win-win.

The opportunities available at CCS have truly blessed our youth and our congregation. We have seen growth and change in our young people, in the youth group, and in our congregation as a whole. I am thankful for the work of Intercultural Ministries, Youth and Young Adult Ministries, and the Office of Public of Witness that makes possible this experience, both for the participants from Harrisburg First Church and for all others who attend CCS.

Planning for Christian Citizenship Seminar 2019 is underway. To learn more about CCS 2017 and find photos visit www.brethren.org/ccs or support this and other Core Ministries opportunities that facilitate meaningful conversations at www.brethren.org/give.

United: serving the Lord together

Find worship resources for this year’s Mission Offering at
www.brethren.org/missionoffering.
Photo by Donna Parcell

A theme interpretation written by Matt DeBall, coordinator of Donor Communications, for the 2017 Mission Offering

“How wonderful it is when God’s people dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1). Indeed, it is wonderful to see the body of Christ work together as one. Every person feeling connected to the mission and giving of themselves to the Lord and to others.

It’s beautiful, but it takes work. It’s possible, but it requires intentional effort and a willingness to make mistakes and try again. The endless pursuit of unity is one we experience in our congregations, within our districts and denomination, and as we strive in ministry with our sisters and brothers around the world.

The obstacles to unity that we face are not unlike those that the church has experienced throughout history. The early church especially had some heavy lifting to do. We see a glimpse of their struggle and labor in Paul’s letter to the Romans. As the church grew and people of all nations were invited to follow Jesus, differences became more apparent and disagreements arose. In particular, the Jews still practiced meaningful faith rituals and tried to impress them on Gentile believers. In return, Gentiles either felt inadequate for not following Jewish practices or insisted that these rituals were no longer relevant for the life of faith.

Both walks of faith could be pleasing to God, according to Paul. A person could follow Jesus regardless of which day was honored as the Sabbath and God could be glorified whether a person abstained from eating pork or chose to eat it in fellowship with others. As long as a person lived unto the Lord and withheld judgment from others who did the same, unity with God and each other was possible.

Though the issues we face are different from the early church, God’s call for us is the same. And, while ministry may look differently for our sisters and brothers around the world, we are united to one mission: serving Jesus Christ. This is what we are committed to together. May we devote our time and energy to loving each other more fervently instead of focusing on the differences that could divide us. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we are united, serving the Lord together.

Find a full order of service for the 2017 Mission Offering (suggested date Sept. 17) at www.brethren.org/missionoffering or give to the offering today at www.brethren.org/giveoffering.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

The unseen details of ministry

Joe Detrick
Joe Detrick at a booth for the Church of the Brethren,
at a district conference in 2016.

Photo courtesy of Joe Detrick

The unseen details of ministry
By Joe Detrick, interim director for the Office of Ministry 

Many years ago, our eldest son went through a phase of intense curiosity. Daddy, where does rain come from? Mommy, what makes the flowers grow? Where does food come from? We appreciated his inquisitive nature because it provided an opportunity to explore questions and creatively educate our children about life.Another opportunity was singing our family table grace, Back of the Bread. The song goes, Back of the bread is the flour, and back of the flour is the mill, and back of the mill is the wind and the rain, and God’s good will. This old camp song serves as a reminder of the work behind the scenes or the unseen back story in many important areas of life.

When I think about the broad scope of the work of the Office of Ministry, I am reminded of the exciting back story of calling, forming, credentialing, placing, and sustaining ministerial leadership to equip the saints for the work of ministry for building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11). One part of this back story is working in collaboration with ministry-related committees like the Ministry Advisory Council, the Ministers’ Association Officers, the Pastoral Compensation and Benefits Advisory Committee, the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership, and the Council of District Executives. There also is much that happens behind the scenes when a district search committee navigates the transition and search process, and discerns new leadership for their particular district.

There is an extensive and robust back story to the calling, training, and sending of women and men into various ministry adventures. This past year, 44 individuals were ordained, 3 individuals were commissioned, 6 individuals were commissioned with ordination in another denomination for term of service, 33 individuals were licensed to the ministry, and 3 individuals were received through transfer of ordination from other denominations.

There is an exciting back story working in partnership with the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership, a ministry training partnership of the Church of the Brethren and Bethany Theological Seminary. An important growing edge of the Brethren Academy continues to be its Spanish-language ministry training program (SeBAH-CoB).

These behind the scene stories are merely a glimpse of a much wider scope of engagement for the Office of Ministry that occurs regularly. It has been exciting and enjoyable to work with our dedicated national staff. Everyone is committed to their work on behalf of the Church of the Brethren, love what they do, and have deep commitment of faith. All of our work is possible only with your financial support.

Signs along the roads near construction projects say, “Your tax dollars at work.” When men and women in your congregation are called to serve the wider church family in ministry or when churches search for new ministers, it is your generous giving to denominational ministries that helps sustain vital support systems for the larger church family. In other words, Your dollars at work.

The next time you sit down to the family dinner table, and consider the unseen details of life like in the old camp song, Back of the Bread,” remember the back of the Ministry Office is the sending, the training, and the calling of ministers, and that our denominational staff are always providing support for the wider church family. Thank you for supporting the important work of the Office of Ministry and the Church of the Brethren.

Learn more about the work of the Office of Ministry at www.brethren.org/ministryoffice.  Support this and all of the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/give

A passion to serve

Paige Butzlaff (left) and fellow volunteers of
BVS unit 313 serving during orientation.
Photos by BVS Staff

By Paige Butzlaff

Since high school I knew I would join Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS). Little did I know that it would shape me for the rest of my life. But what I’ve come to discover throughout this whole experience, from switching projects, from being hospitalized due to depression, from continuously doubting my capabilities to complete assignments, and to even doubting my own faith, I’ve come out stronger and more steadfast in the direction I want to steer my life. I’ve developed passions for things that make my heart sing. I’ve grown farther and yet closer to my faith than ever before. I knew BVS would be somewhat like college, where one leaves home and everything they ever knew to embark on a journey of discovering who they are and what they were put on earth to accomplish, and that’s why I wanted to join BVS.

When I was seven years old I wrote in my diary that I wanted to help “poor, needy and sick people.” I didn’t know it at that time, but that’s when I found my calling in life. I now know that I’m passionate about not just helping others, but serving them. Helping implies that someone is helpless, but serving implies that you are encouraging someone to find their own strength, not denying that they can take care of themselves. Helping puts the helper on a pedestal. But serving puts you right there with the person you are serving, so your humanity meshes with their humanity. Rarely do we get the chance to recognize our own humanity, let alone acknowledge others, and empathize with them, especially in the culture we’ve been born and raised in.

BVS has helped me be the person I want to be. I’m serving others in a capacity that I never thought I’d be doing, but it’s worked and I’m grateful for the opportunity. What’s allowed me to discover more about who I am as an individual and where I’ll leave my mark in this world is not only my work at the General Offices, but the everyday occurrences between places I visit and people I meet. I’ve learned so much about myself by attending Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren, and I’ve met some incredible people there. My housemates at the BVS house in Elgin are inspiring people, and although we don’t always see eye to eye on issues, they have been super supportive of my journey and I have learned a lot about them as well. Who knows what’s in store for me after BVS, but I’ll always have this experience to look back on and thank God for providing me with this incredible opportunity.

Paige Butzlaff recently finished serving through Brethren Volunteer Service as a volunteer in Congregational Life Ministries. Learn more about the life-changing ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org, or support them today at www.brethren.org/give . 

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Stewardship in the small church


A reflection by H. Fred Bernhard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Strengthening relationships

Jay Wittmeyer with Mr. and Mrs. Fafa Lawan Kapi from Chibok.
Photo by Marcus Gamache

By Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of Global Mission and Service

As executive director of Global Mission and Service, my responsibilities include strengthening relationships with our sister churches in other parts of the world. I recently returned from a trip to be with the Nigerian Brethren as they convened their 70th Majalisa (annual conference).

This conference was particularly significant for the Nigerian Brethren as they returned home after two years of displacement and exile. There have been ongoing efforts to de-Christianize the historic homeland of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN), and the Brethren counted it a tremendous blessing to be present in Kwarhi. To celebrate this and to express gratitude to the Church of the Brethren for assisting EYN through their time suffering, leadership invited me to participate in the Majalisa and deliver the opening sermon.

Among those present at the Majalisa were the governor of Adamawa State, who gave a speech, and his entourage. In response, EYN president Joel Billi shared. “We request a place. Our people have lived here for centuries,” he said, “and we want to continue to live here. We do not want to go anywhere else.”

Going to Nigeria also allowed me to visit Chibok for the first time. Chibok is about an hour from Kwarhi. The paved road finishes miles before Chibok and the remaining stretch is gravel with deep potholes. Chibok is noticeably drier than many areas and extremely dry in April.

The Brethren established a missionary presence in Chibok in the 1930s, started a school, and even established a Bible school. (To my amazement, I learned that the Bible school still holds classes and currently has 13 students.) Long-term mission worker Gerald Neher wrote several books focused on his time in Chibok.

Despite its deep Brethren roots, however, Chibok became known internationally on April 14, 2014, when the radical sect Boko Haram drove dozens of heavily armed vehicles into the compound of the Government Girls Secondary School and forcefully abducted 276 girls. This prompted international outrage, reflected in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. (Our prayers continue for these girls.)

The Nigerian security forces have a heavy presence in Chibok. But since I was traveling with Paul Yang, EYN district secretary, we were given permission to enter the town, visit EYN churches and the Bible school, and meet with EYN families. What had a significant impact on me in Chibok was seeing the youth brigades practice their marching. They are tasked to assist in patrolling the community and to alert the security forces of any attacks.

It was inspiring to meet Laban Wadi, an EYN member who, despite the attacks, decided he and his family should stay in Chibok. They were forced to flee and spend eight nights in the bush, but otherwise have been safe living in the town while others on the outskirts had to flee. Laban retired as a medical assistant, a trade he learned from the Brethren. He expressed gratitude for my visit and asked me to bring greetings to Brethren in the United States. He mentioned Roger Schrock, Owen Shankster, and Roger Ingold, and was saddened to learn that Gerald Neher passed away last year. Laban was baptized by Gerald in 1958. Laban also reported that the last rainy season was good and he harvested 30 bags of peanuts alone.

On our way back from Chibok, we stopped to see the church in Uba. When Boko Haram attacked the area in 2014, they went from town to town burning churches by the hundreds. EYN lost 250 large churches, and the church at Uba was among them. The congregation is now meeting under a temporary structure as it works to raise funds to rebuild. Several thousand members attend worship every week and the footprint of the new church is very large. It will not have wooden rafters and will not be easily burned.

When you give to the Church of the Brethren, you support new and ongoing partnerships around the world. Your prayers and financial contributions make it possible for relationships to grow and communities to thrive through the partnerships of Global Mission and Service. We are so thankful for your support of this important, life-changing ministry of the Church of the Brethren.

Learn more about the work of Global Mission and Service at www.brethren.org/global. Support this and all of the ministries of the Church of the Brethren today at www.brethren.org/give.  

(Read this issue of eBrethren)