More than we can imagine

A theme interpretation written by Chuck Blaisdell for the 2019 One Great Hour of Sharing

“Now to God be the glory, who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

Imagination.

It may seem like a weak word compared to all the need we see every day in the world. We hear “imagination” and we may think “fantasy” (“Imagine you are on a beach…”), of something that escapes the reality of the world as it is. We hear “imagination” and we wonder if it is truly helpful when some would say we actually need clear-eyed “realism” to address the challenges that we face.

Imagination.

Yet far from being a light or weak thing, far from being an aloof or escapist notion, far from being un-real, imagination is actually among the most powerful engines for change that human beings have! Long ago, the philosopher Aristotle said, “Thinking itself begins in wonder, begins in imagination,” and he was right. Imagination, particularly when fueled by a vision of God’s hopes for all humankind, can keep us energized, seeking to do good, and striving to better the lives of those whom we encounter.

Imagination.

The theme for the 2019 One Great Hour of Sharing is “More than we can imagine!” It is rooted in Ephesians 3:20 and reminds us that we are not alone in our imagining a better world for all of God’s children. Indeed, it is God’s imagination that fuels and empowers ours! You see, God imagines a world where:

  • No one is left to face the wreckage of natural disasters alone.
  • Each person has their daily needs of food and water met.
  • Every individual receives the respect and dignity that they deserve.
  • Families displaced from their homes are able to build new lives.
  • Disciples of all ages grow in faith and share the love of God with others.
  • Pastors and leaders are equipped to care for the needs of their communities.
  • Churches serve as beacons of hope for all to see.
  • AND far more than we could ever ask or imagine!

God also imagines Christians all over the world coming together to help make these things ever more a reality for more and more people.

Our imagination of what could be is founded and grounded in that for which God envisions and hopes. And we can help! Through our gifts of treasure and talent, prayer and presence, we can make this world ever more like the way God would wish it, ever more the way that God would imagine it.

Find this and other worship resources for the 2019 One Great Hour of Sharing at www.brethren.org/oghs or give to the offering today at www.brethren.org/giveoffering .

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Ambassadors of Christ

Photo by Glenn Riegel

A reflection by Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors,
as though God were making his appeal through us.”
~2 Corinthians 5:20, NIV

Even though we’ve entered a new year, I still find myself humming Christmas hymns. One chorus in particular has stuck in my mind:  “Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere. Go, tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born!”  The message of the song is simple, but in its simplicity is a strong call to action for the church. It is a call that challenges us to tell everyone about the transformative impact that Jesus Christ has in their lives and in our world. We are challenged to share the good news with all who will hear it, even shouting it from the mountaintops.

In Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, he calls them to the work of serving as ambassadors of Christ. Prior to verse 20 in chapter 5, Paul mentions that our love for Christ should compel us to no longer see anyone from a “worldly point of view” but, instead, to see each person as a new creation in Christ. “The old has gone, the new is here!” (2nd Corinthians 2:17, NIV). And as “new creations,” we inherently become ambassadors of Christ. We are now called by Jesus to be his messengers.
“Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere!”

In the Old Testament, being an ambassador for the king was a significant responsibility and honor. When ambassadors entered another country, they were treated just as if they were royalty themselves, and not just simply representatives. Being ambassadors today may not be exactly the same, but they still have the responsibility of sharing a message of the one whom they represent. While we may not be thrilled at the idea of being compared to government officials, it is important for us to remember that we represent Jesus and the kingdom of God in a very similar way.

I believe we are on earth at the right time for the right purpose to fulfill God’s greater plan for all people. We are here right now to fulfill God’s will, to speak as “new creations” in Jesus, and to welcome the new creation ordained by  God’s kingdom. Some of us are called to be ambassadors within the communities where we live, work, serve, and worship. Others are ambassadors at the district level, where the message of God can be extended further through the ministries supported by congregations.

Through denominational ministries, staff work diligently on behalf of the larger church to be Christ’s ambassadors, where the message reaches across the United States and out into the world. Through Brethren Volunteer Service and the Office of Global Mission and Service, some are called as missionaries who accompany brothers and sisters to nurture budding churches in places like South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Venezuela. Others witness to God’s message of peace and justice by speaking with local and national representatives with support from the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. Some hear the call to grow in discipleship or to revitalize and strengthen local ministries, and respond by attending events hosted by Discipleship Ministries. While these examples only scratch the surface of the work coordinated by Church of the Brethren staff, they reveal the importance of serving as Christ’s ambassadors.

Each of us, in our “new form,” have been blessed with gifts and talents that allow us to uniquely represent God where we are. Whether you volunteer your time and talent, pray for our ministries without ceasing, or support the work of the church through financial gifts, you are serving as an ambassador of Christ. Come, let us  “Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere” that Jesus Christ is making all things new.

Learn more about the 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.)

Stitched with hope and love

By Matt DeBall, coordinator of Mission Advancement Communications

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for [God] has looked with favor on the lowliness of [God’s] servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.” ~Luke 1:46b-48

Do you have a favorite blanket? Mine is a purple, gray, black, and white afghan that my wife made for me years ago, right after we started dating. I was on a mission trip at the time, and it was carefully crocheted with the hope of my safe return, and with love.

As experienced during Advent, Mary’s song is a beautiful stitch in the larger, intricate blanket of God’s story. God’s promise to bless her and to save Israel filled her with joy, and she sang a new yet familiar song, testifying to what God had done and would do.

The song of Mary echoes the sentiments of an earlier song. “Give thanks to the LORD….Sing praises to the LORD, [who] has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. Shout aloud and sing for joy… for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 12:4-6). Mary and Isaiah both offered praise to God for past faithfulness, current presence, and future promise. Their eyes could not behold the fulfillment of God’s promises, but through faith, their hearts perceived God’s work as already complete. Their words are great for us to read (and sing) now because of all that God has done, is doing, and will still do in our midst.

As we reflect on this past year, God has surely done great things among us. Youth and advisors gathered at National Youth Conference to be challenged in their walk of faith. Church planters and others gathered at the New and Renew Conference for professional development and encouragement for the work of nurturing new disciples. Josiah and Christine Ludwick and their children began a year of service in Rwanda to preach, teach, and demonstrate a Brethren way of living. Brethren in Spain continued to add new congregations and expanded their membership. In Nigeria, Global Mission executive Jay Wittmeyer was present at the commissioning of a new EYN congregation at the Gurku Interfaith Camp for displaced people.  These are just a few examples of how your gifts helped add to our larger community blanket in 2018.

As you reach for your favorite blanket this winter season, please sing a song of thanksgiving for all that God has done through the Church of the Brethren, offer a prayer for the continued work of our ministries, and make a gift with hopeful expectation of what God will do. God surely has great things in store for us, and with God’s help and through your partnership, 2019 will be wonderfully stitched with hope and love.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Continuing the work of Jesus into 2019

By David Steele, general secretary

Greetings in the name of our Savior born for us—the Messiah, our Lord!

On behalf of our worldwide staff, volunteers, and the Mission and Ministry Board, I want to express our gratitude for the many ways you faithfully strive to live out the gospel—to simply try to do what Jesus did. The vital ministries of Church of the Brethren members and congregations, small and large, are at the heart of our denomination. Your witness is essential in our partnership as we together herald the Good News of the birth of Jesus Christ.

As we close the year, we celebrate that our Brethren witness is meaningfully extended into new places and in new ways. The Church of the Brethren is seeking to become a Global Church of the Brethren. Our growth around the world and our commitment to deeper and more meaningful relationships are helping this vision become a reality as we enter 2019.

In August, Josiah and Christine Ludwick and their children began a year of service in Rwanda to preach, teach, and demonstrate a Brethren way of living. Their appointment is vital to the efforts of establishing a peace testimony in the Great Lakes region of Africa as they host theological education and training, assist in the construction of church buildings, and deepen relationships.

In Venezuela, the Brethren witness is growing but economic turmoil has prevented the placement of mission staff at this time. Global Mission and Service staff and volunteers travel there when possible and work with Venezuelan leadership to broaden the understanding of our church’s theology and practice.

Brethren in Spain continue to add new congregations and expand their membership. Many are immigrants, but Spanish citizens are beginning to take notice and come to services.

Haitian Brethren have proved themselves faithful again this year by reaching out to the suffering when an earthquake struck in the north of the country.

In Nigeria, Global Mission executive Jay Wittmeyer was present at the commissioning of a new EYN congregation at the Gurku Interfaith Camp for displaced people. The Nigerian Brethren also commissioned their newest church district in Lagos, with EYN now numbering 55 districts. The Nigeria Crisis Response continues to bring healing and hope to thousands of families displaced by violence.

Embracing Jesus’ call to go and make disciples has been at the heart of our ministries throughout this year.

Youth and advisors gathered at National Youth Conference to be challenged in their walk of faith.

Church planters and others gathered at the New and Renew Conference for professional development and encouragement for the work of nurturing new disciples.

The Discipleship Ministries team provided resource leadership at congregational and district events, web-based learning opportunities, and collaboration with Bethany Seminary for an Urban Ministry intensive in Atlanta.

For Brethren Disaster Ministries, loss of Paradise Church of the Brethren and most of the congregation’s homes ended an intense year of responding to disasters—including a rebuilding project in North Carolina that closed during Hurricane Florence but quickly reopened to help people affected by Hurricane Matthew. In Puerto Rico, our disaster response expanded into the mountains around Castañer, where a long-term home rebuilding project will continue through next year.

Children’s Disaster Services supported families affected by floods, hurricanes, volcanoes, shootings, and the Camp Fire that burned Paradise.

Together, we have shared hope and God’s love. God has enabled us to extend Christ’s mission, serving those in need both near and far, growing disciples, calling and developing leaders, and transforming communities.  Thank you for your partnership, your generous support, and your prayers. May we together continue the work of Jesus.

Learn more about the 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.)

Transforming communities

Joshua Brockway speaking at National Youth Conference in July 2018.
Photo by Nevin Dulabaum

By Joshua Brockway, director of Spiritual Formation

When have you seen a congregation transform its community? We could point to grand stories of movements in the whole country, but what about a local congregation being an active change-agent in the local community?

In January I had the privilege of helping teach a course on urban ministry with Bethany Theological Seminary and the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership. We met for two weeks in Atlanta at a ministry called City of Refuge. Those two weeks were eye-opening for all of us, and they challenged me to imagine how the local church can have a profound impact.

City of Refuge started when Bruce Deal was sent by his denomination to close a congregation in the worst part of Atlanta. This small and aging church had witnessed the neighborhood become a statistic—the zip code with the highest violent crime rate in all of Metro Atlanta. One of Bruce’s first Sundays, a woman came in from the street needing help. Bruce simply did what anyone could do—he helped by showing compassion and treating her with dignity. It was not long before their house and the church building were full of people. What started as a congregation on the brink of closing has grown into a multi-million-dollar agency that is a one-stop shop for housing, job training, education, medical care, and case management.

My eyes were opened to the reality of how the church can become a place of holistic
transformation. At City of Refuge, and many other communities, the distinction between the needs of the body and the needs of the soul is erased. I long to see our congregations become a catalyst for this kind of transformation in their local communities.

Thanks to my experiences in City of Refuge and the connections we made through the class this January, Discipleship Ministries has partnered with the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). CCDA is a network of ministry leaders who have the same desire to see the church become a change-agent in every local community. Over the last two decades, CCDA has gathered the wisdom of church leaders who seek to transform both the church and their neighborhood. Thanks to the wise leadership of John Perkins, Wayne Gordon, and many others, CCDA is providing resources and support for countless ministries like City of Refuge.

The Church of the Brethren is now the first denominational member of the Christian
Community Development Association. With this membership, we can connect every Church of the Brethren congregation and district with CCDA resources. It is our prayer that this partnership will help us—not just to dream about transformational Christianity, but to lead us towards the vision of reaching more young people, more diverse people, and more people in general with the gospel of Jesus. We pray that it will inform how we plant new churches and renew existing congregations so that each mission point across the country can minister to the body and soul of each person.

Your gifts have made this partnership and all of the ministries of the Church of the Brethren possible. Thank you for generously joining us and, in doing so, writing a testimony of transformation in your community.

Learn more about Discipleship Ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/discipleshipmin or support them today at www.brethren.org/givediscipleship.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Joy: Giving thanks to God

A scriptural exegesis of Isaiah 12 written by Emmett Witkovsky-Eldred, youth and young adult ministry assistant, for the 2018 Advent Offering

We’ve all been told “patience is a virtue.” And we’ve all heard that “good things come to those who wait.” Waiting isn’t always pleasant, but we often regard waiting as the price we pay for some ultimate payoff. We wait those excruciating 90 minutes in line at the amusement park for those magical sixty seconds on the rollercoaster. We wait those exhausting nine months to meet the newest member of our family. It’s easy to find joy in the things that are “worth the wait.” It’s much harder to savor the wait itself, to find joy in the very act of anticipation.

Isaiah spoke to a people in waiting. His prophetic ministry spanned an age of anticipation, transition, and anxiety for the people of Judah. He came into ministry during shallow prosperity—speaking above the noise of false peace and security to expose the deeper rot of corruption and injustice beneath the surface and a looming foreign threat beyond the horizon. The bubble was about to burst. Isaiah bore witness to the gathering cloud of the Assyrian empire’s raiding army—once distant, now on the doorstep, now ransacking the kitchen and rifling through the drawers. At last, the book of Isaiah tells the story of Babylon’s deliverance of the Judeans from Assyria. But trusting in political deliverance only gave way to new subjugation and oppression. The people of Judah were left to wonder who will deliver us from Babylon? They waited.

Waiting can be unbearable enough when we know that what comes next is worth waiting for. It’s much harder still when the future is uncertain: Waiting for the Hail Mary pass to come down, the lost dog to come home, the medical test to come in. This was the sort of wait that plagued Judah. How are we to know that deliverance will every truly come? When it does come, how are we to know if it’s truly better than what came before?

It’s not difficult to see how seeds of bitterness and fear can be scattered, especially when we’re powerless and afraid, and we have nothing to do but wait. But Isaiah invites those who wait to respond with the hymn of thanksgiving and praise found in Chapter 12. It’s not just a litany of what to say when deliverance finally comes. It’s a liturgy for how to wait for God: with joy, with faith, and with praise.

Isaiah’s poem recalls the resplendent joy that God’s people have experienced in the past when God comes through for them. Isaiah 12:2 quotes from the hymn that Moses and the Israelites sang after crossing the Red Sea, “The Lord God is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation” (Exodus 15:2, NRSV), a verse that echoes again in Psalms 118:14, a song of victory. The imperatives in Isaiah 12:4 recall psalms of promise (Psalm 105:1), wonder (Psalm 148:13), and above all praise. These are songs that echo across scripture and that resound in our hearts. We shouldn’t just sing them anew when the next glorious day arrives. They never faded away; we can—we should—sing them while we wait.

If only it were that easy. While Isaiah directly quoted the soaring praise found in the beginning of Exodus 15, the end of that chapter describes how we really tend to relate to God. No sooner have the sounds of the Israelites’ praise and thanksgiving faded when their grumbling and complaining sets in (Exodus 15:22-27). Facing exile in the desert, their trust in God waned. Their gratitude for God’s deliverance subsided to anxiety about what would lie ahead.

Isaiah sang of a better way to live with God. His hymn admonishes us to joyfully “draw water from the wells of salvation” (12:3) to beat back the scorching fear found in the desert. Centuries later, Jesus employed the same metaphor while speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob (John 4: 1-42). He offers life-giving water that forever quenches our thirst and never runs dry.  He doesn’t deliver us only to subjugate us. He delivers us to set us free.

We may not be under the thumb of Assyria or Babylon. We may not be wandering in the desert. But we face the same temptation to turn to temporary solutions that will crumble beneath our feet. We have that same urge to drink of worldly water that will only leave us thirsty again (John 4:13). We think that the next election, the next fad product, the next airstrike or sanction, the next stock market boom will scratch the itch, though it never does. We’re waiting for God, and we’re getting antsy.

Isaiah reminds us that we won’t be waiting forever. We will be awake once again to God in our midst (Isaiah 12:6). And in that day, we will “give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted” (Isaiah 12:4). Better to sing joyfully now than to be rusty, out of practice, and out of pitch when the wait is finally over.

Learn more and find worship resources for this year’s Advent Offering at www.brethren.org/adventoffering.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Shout and sing for joy!

A reflection by Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement,
for Giving Tuesday 2018 on 11/27

“I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart! Where?
Down in my heart! Where? Down in my heart!
I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart! Where? Down in my heart to stay!
And I’m so happy, so very happy. I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart!
And I’m so happy, so very happy. I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart!”
– Verse 1 and chorus of “Joy in my heart” by George W. Cooke

Admit it! If you went to a summer Vacation Bible School as a child, you either started to hum the tune in your head as you read or even found yourself singing it by the end. I confess, my feet were tapping, and the tune of this song flooded my mind. It puts a smile on my face and reminds me of a time when summers were long, and you attended every Vacation Bible School in the area.

As I get older, each summer flies by faster than the last, and there seems to be less to smile about when I look at the world around us. Humanity continues to find ways to taunt and jab at each other, hurt one another, and in the extreme cases, take lives. It saddens the heart to hear how our children are bullied and the very institutions where we received education are no longer safe spaces, but instead are more like prison wards where padlocks and “visitor” badges are required. Our young adults grapple with body image issues and the pressures of having a “perfect” life because of the Pinterest-perfect, Instagram-ing, Facebook posting world in which we now live. Many of us are dodging and weaving the political rhetoric being spat at us from the very people for whom we prayerfully voted, and we now watch in amazement as grown, well-educated adults hurl accusations at one another at every level. Meanwhile the hungry grow hungrier and the poor become poorer, and the joy down in my heart seems like it could be snuffed out at any moment.

Thankfully, scripture can always provide hope:

“And you will say in that day:
Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
– Isaiah 12:4-6

My joy is deeper in my heart now than it was when I was younger—in part because of the things I’ve seen and heard while serving the denomination. I give thanks to the Lord because of what God has done among us and through us, and what God continues to do. These past two years have given me opportunities to talk with pastors, visit with congregations, attend district conferences, and go to special events in the life of our districts, and I sing praises to the Lord, for he has done great things.

Congregations are striving to learn the needs of those who live in the communities where they worship, and they are caring for them through the way Jesus taught us:  by loving one another. This is very refreshing in a world full of hatred and division. One might say it’s another way of living!

Partnerships between congregations and denominational ministries provide a way to respond to the call of Jesus, “feed my sheep” (John 21:17). The Office of Peacebuilding and Policy and the Global Food Initiative, together and separately, provide ways for congregations to advocate for issues related to food, create sustainable community gardens, and, overall, care for the hungry in their neighborhoods.

Congregations also partner with Global Mission and Service to work alongside mission workers and international Brethren bodies as they start new church plants around the world—building churches, training pastors, and developing communities. Churches also support, in many ways, the efforts of Brethren Disaster Ministries. These ministries provide much needed humanitarian aid to those who have lived through disasters and simply need help.

Congregations are working with Discipleship Ministries to dig deeper into their relationships with God through use of deacon ministry resources, sending youth to National Youth Conference, empowering young adults through Young Adult Conference and Ministry Summer Service, and walking through the Vital Ministry Journey to discern how to more richly live into the Great Commission in their communities and circles of influence.

When I pause and think of all the stories that have been shared with me, stories that share the overwhelming effects of our ministry in the United States and globally, it sustains and renews my hope, and causes me to shout and sing for joy because of the great things God is doing among us.

As we give thanks through November and celebrate Giving Tuesday (11/27), we invite you to join us in shouting and singing for joy because of all that the Lord has done!

Join the celebration by making a gift to the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/givingtuesday.

Righteous relationships

Tori Bateman, Monica McFadden, and Nathan Hosler of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy.

By Nathan Hosler, director of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy

“I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9).

In 2007, the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference delegate body adopted the “Separate No More” statement, which calls us to become the multicultural, multiracial, multinational, and multilingual church envisioned in Revelation 7:9. The vision in scripture and the one to which we committed is greater than a photogenic diverse hymn sing. It is a vision that recognizes how, as we draw closer to God, we also draw closer to one another. We become more compassionate in relationships as we see one another the way God sees us. In an effort to better express this, we changed the names of two core ministry areas.

Discipleship Ministries (formerly Congregational Life Ministries) reminds us that our faith journey is not defined by our congregational affiliation, but by our spiritual journey—both individually and collectively. This also means that having a right relationship with God is shaped and shared through building right relationships with one another. The Office of Peacebuilding and Policy (formerly Public Witness) as a ministry in Washington, D.C., connects our faith with our national identity. To stand together, bridging the divides of the world, we are peacebuilders in the spirit of Christ.

The “Separate No More” statement gave us the following challenge:  “Congregations become informed about the conditions of life for ethnic and racial minorities within their neighborhoods and their congregations, so that when inequities are uncovered, they can make strong commitments of time and financial resources to local organizations working on these issues.”

In the New Testament, one Greek word used to describe the body of Christ is “dikaios,” which is translated righteousness but also justice. Since both can be used in English, we can call this work either racial justice or racial righteousness; however, scripture does not separate the two. By faith, we are called to be discipled within our church and, as a result, to work for change in systems, structures, and habits of racism in society. Not assuming that we already possess righteousness, we seek to have right relationships and to address problems in the world. The work to heal the wounds of racism is both internal and external and has the goals of justice and righteousness. To do this work means being shaped and formed by the process of discipleship.

Many congregations have been doing this work in their communities. Several members of the Mission and Ministry Board and staff have taken the Sankofa Journey. Young people attend Christian Citizenship Seminar in Washington, D.C., and New York to connect their faith with contemporary social justice work. Discipleship Ministries hosts a pre-Annual Conference training with the goal of exploring how our faith can shape our understanding of racialized hierarchies. Intercultural Ministries provide support to individuals and congregations engaged in ministry.

To increase our awareness of how government policy creates racialized experiences and discrepancies, we are testing a new Brethren Volunteer Service position in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy through a partnership with Intercultural Ministries and the Global Food Initiative. Monica McFadden, who served in our office last summer as a Ministry Summer Service intern, recently accepted the call to serve in this role.

Thank you for partnering in this work through your support of the Church of the Brethren. By working in your community and supporting these denominational ministries prayerfully and financially, this work can be expanded in the years ahead so that the church can better live into God’s vision of diversity. Through being faithful disciples—growing in righteousness and justice—all of us are engaging in the vital work of healing in our churches and communities.

Learn more about the work of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy at www.brethren.org/peacebuilding or support it today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

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)