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.)

Disaster work continues with New Water Supplies, Trauma Training and more

Chibok area received 2 new bore holes at Birgizu – The people in the area were so happy that the Village Chief and four people from the community traveled to EYN headquarters to convey their thanks. The delegation told the Disaster Ministry team that EYN has wiped their longtime tears for potable water and proved to them what it means to be Brethren. The area had struggled with different diseases because of the kind of water they had access to. Politicians left them with many promises, but it was the church that came through. They thanked the EYN Leadership, the Disaster Ministry and the donors (Church of the Brethren and Mission 21). To show their happiness they the presented the leadership with several liters of honey.

Advanced Trauma Training was planned for a group from 4 districts still occupied by the Boko Haram. Security issues forced them to hold the training in Yola instead of locally. This proved to be a welcome respite for the participants as they were able to get away from the volatile conditions for several days. The participants of the Advance Training were selected based on their performances during the Basic Training on Healing and Rebuilding of our Communities (HEROC). They will serve as the Listening Companions in their various communities and will work in collaboration with the EYN Peace Program to foster their work on Trauma healing in the selected areas and IDPs Camps.

Here are two impact stories from the training:

I am by a name Lydia; despite the Basic Workshop I had my heart was still heavy whenever I recall what happened to me during the insurgency of Boko Haram. But this training has completely healed my wound and I now forgive Boko Harams.

 

My name is James; this workshop has personally changed and touched my life in diverse ways. First and foremost, I discovered that my life is precious and more important than anything, so I should not play with it but rather to take care of it. This training helped me to see myself as someone who can help others to see their problems in a realistic way and accept that even after a traumatic event life must continue but never attempt to destroy their lives because of devastation.

In addition, 15 children from the Garkida area were provided school fees; medical assistance and Hep B vaccinations were done at 3 locations; 5 homes were re-roofed in Lassa; and a food distribution was held at one of the relocation centers.

 

 

The ministry of calling

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

By Nancy Sollenberger Heishman, director of the Office of Ministry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for partnering in the ministry of calling.

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Women’s Ministry holds workshop and skill trainings for young women

A one day workshop was held at the EYN Headquarters. It was planned for 50-100 women but 329 ended up attending. The topics for the day were 1. Singleness is not a sin  2. Protect your virginity  3. Modesty – Proper ways to dress. The day also included HIV/AIDS education along with spiritual counseling.

Several Muslim girls also attended the workshop. One of these girls was in tears as she told the Women’s Director, Suzan Mark, that both her parents had been killed by Muslims and she wanted to associated with Christians. God has been using the Boko Haram Insurgency to convert Muslims to Christianity. Praise God for this witness and pray for those who convert.

EYN Women’s Ministry also organized skills training workshops in three different areas across the North-east with 186 attending. It was interesting that five boys asked to join the training stating that they too needed encouragement and assistance to make it in life. They were accommodated at the skills training and were such fast learners that they were able to help others in mastering some of the skills. Everyone at the skills training were encouraged to not stay idle but to try some small business that can generate a little income. Leaders of the training gave personal testimonies of how learning a skill gave them a reason for living and added value to their lives.

2018 OCHA report stated that 30% of households in the Northeast now have women heading the homes and have great difficulty in providing for their families. It also reported that 6 out of 10 women have experienced some sort of gender-based violence. Please continue to pray for the women in North-east Nigeria. Keep up the great work, EYN Women’s Ministry!

Being the church together

Photo by Emily Tyler

By Emily Tyler, coordinator of Workcamps and Brethren Volunteer Service recruitment

Hopeless. This was the word a man from the village of Kebalpur used to describe how he felt more than two years after the devastating earthquake in Nepal.

This summer, 16 of us traveled to the Dhading District of Nepal for the Young Adult Workcamp. We partnered with Heifer International to help rebuild two schools. Our time with the people of Nepal and their overwhelming resilience inspired me each day as we huffed and puffed up the mountain to our work sites.

On our last day of work in Kebalpur, our translator offered to give us a tour of homes that were affected by the earthquake in April 2015. It was the house of the man who felt hopeless that we visited first. I distinctly remember approaching the house with a corrugated tin roof held down by giant rocks. There were no signs that any rebuilding had happened since the earthquake. A baby lay on a blanket in the middle of the floor and the man solemnly sat by the door as we had a conversation through our translator.

Every interaction we had with people before this moment had been positive, happy, hopeful, and full of unspoken love. Over the last few days, we had laughed with the people of the village while we gave our best (unimpressive) effort to mix cement by hand, enjoyed playing kickball with their children and grandchildren, and even taught an elder of the village how to take a “selfie.” However, when this man shared with us, my entire perspective shifted. The reality of how this village was affected by the earthquake hit me like a ton of bricks. I was speechless. All I could do was sit in his doorway, listen, and be present.

The workcamp theme for the summer was “Say Hello” and was supported by 3 John 13-14, which shares about having heart-to-heart conversations and greeting people by name. The theme focused on communication with God and each other, and even ourselves. While we were in Nepal, however, we were not able to communicate with people in their native language. But in our language of service, smiles, and holding space for people’s hopelessness, we formed relationships with people. We experienced what it means to be the church together and to work for the good of one another.

Wherever we are, we are called to be the church not just in positive, happy, and hopeful times, but in difficult times of sitting in a doorway together and holding space for the despair that we see and feel all around us. When everything seems hopeless, we can share the burden and allow God to be present with us.

The people we encountered in Nepal may not have been impressed with our cement mixing skills. But as we worked side by side, the way they welcomed us, showed us radical hospitality, and allowed us to be present in their hopeLESSness and hopeFULness was remarkable. It was one of the most significant images of church I’ve seen.

Workcamps provide opportunities for people of all ages to serve, worship, and learn together in community. Registration for the 2018 workcamp season opens January 11, 2018. For more information on workcamps visit www.brethren.org/workcamps or support it 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)

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)

Understanding the Work of the Church: Reflections after a Year at The Office of Public Witness

 

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1 NIV

 

I’ve been asked what led me to serve with The Office of Public Witness. My time at Christian Citizenship Seminar in 2015 truly was a turning point for me. The CCS topic was immigration, and as I listened to the stories of the people behind the statistics, a wave of emotions engulfed me. I was struck with confusion, frustration, and fascination as various speakers used their expertise to educate our group about the many challenges surrounding the issue of immigration today. These narratives sparked my passion for social justice. I felt compelled to join in the work that the church was doing to form community through advocacy. The church empowered me, as a youth, to follow the work of Jesus.

 

My year-long position through Brethren Volunteer Service with The Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness will soon be coming to a close. As I reflect back on this year of service, I’m struck by the many amazing connections that I’ve made along the way. The experiences that I’ve had both during my daily work in the office and while working on special projects such as CCS have been unforgettable—from quirky conversations with the director Nathan Hosler to seeing the excitement and interest of youth at CCS. Although I was a member of The Church of the Brethren before my service began, this year with the OPW has deepened my appreciation for our denomination. Not just the Brethren faith itself, but the people who exhibit that faith through their actions.

 

Service is a major piece of both the work of Jesus and The Church of the Brethren. I made the decision to join BVS after high school, and I couldn’t be happier with the outcome. Learning to live simply, experiencing the challenges and joys of living in community, and working in the OPW have changed me. I’ve become more aware of how my actions can impact others. I’ve developed skills that I didn’t even know I had prior to BVS. My time working with OPW has fanned the flames of my passions for social justice, through gaining a whole new understanding of the politics of injustice and the strong voice that faith advocacy groups can have in the conversations surrounding the issues. My experiences in D.C. have been incredibly enriching, and I can say with confidence that I am ending my term with a new perspective of what it means to continue to work of Jesus.

 

Emmy will attend McPherson College in August to major in Communications with a minor peace studies.

Unplug, refresh, and change perspective

Photo by Traci Rabenstein

By Traci Rabenstein, congregational support representative

Every spring, with summer just around the corner, I dream about the beach! Squishing sand between my toes, sitting in a beach chair with a good book, people watching, and all around enjoying the majesty of the ocean—the mighty work of God.

A couple of years ago, I went to the Outer Banks in North Carolina with my mother and childhood best friend. We did several things during our week together, but watching the sun rise on the Atlantic Ocean was a favorite activity. Those tranquil moments were great for reflecting on life and God’s creation. The quiet, beautiful setting served as a powerful reminder of how awesome our Creator God is, and I found solace in those moments.

Unfortunately, those moments of peacefulness were (and are) fleeting. Just a few weeks after returning from our trip, I found myself in a tense and stressed posture. It was as if I had forgotten how to relax and feel centered. Looking out my office window and pondering what my life had become, I considered what it would take to unplug from the issues I dealt with.

My thoughts wandered to an article about what it means to “reboot.” Author Peter Bregman shared a story for Harvard Business Review about having Internet connection problems and becoming frustrated. Initially, instead of trying to fix the issue, he ignored it and worked to complete an article for his editor. After finishing the article, however, he still couldn’t connect to the Internet. He tried everything he could think of, which included yelling at the computer, but was unsuccessful. Then he remembered something that had worked before. He unplugged everything—the computer, the router, everything—and waited.

As he waited, he realized that his frustration and annoyance drifted away, and he wasn’t as angry about the situation as he was originally. He shares, “It’s strange, because one minute is so little time, but when the time was up, I felt noticeably different… [and] oddly refreshed. My situation hadn’t changed, but my perspective had.”

Changing our perspective is purposeful work and something that we need to practice regularly. A volatile mindset can become the agenda of our day, and lead us into a rhythm of hostility and lashing out at others when we get frustrated. However, as Christ-followers, we are called to a different rhythm. One that says, “love one another.” It is often easier said than done, and it can even seem easier when interacting with strangers than with one another, but it’s the work we’re called to do.

What can we do to unplug, reboot, and change perspective in the situations of life? It’s a difficult question, but a cherished Bible verse of my great-uncle might help: “I will lift up my eyes to the hills, From whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2. NKJV).

May we be willing to unplug from the grind of life, find time and space to refresh ourselves, and allow our perspective to be changed by the wonderful work of God around us and in us.

The ministries of the Church of the Brethren can help you or your congregation unplug, refresh, and change perspective. Learn more about them at www.brethren.org or support them at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

“Today We Pray–Tomorrow We Act” -Still Standing for Standing Rock

‘The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me.’  —Leviticus 25:23

Indigenous people and allies braved the sleet and 30 degree weather in Washington, D.C. on Friday, March 10th  to once again take a stand for Standing Rock. Years of work by water protectors was written away with the swipe of a pen on January 24th, when an order was presented to begin construction of the Dakota accesses pipeline, a 1,100-mile oil pipeline and Keystone XL pipeline through Indigenous land.

 

This recent order is not a new revelation; it’s another brick in the long, winding path through history of continued oppression of indigenous people. The Doctrine of Discovery, a thinly-veiled excuse to strip indigenous people of rights in the name of American entitlement, was written into US law in 1823. “Christian European nations” had assumed “ultimate dominion” over the lands of America during the Age of Discovery, and that – upon “discovery” – the Indians had lost “their rights to complete sovereignty, as independent nations,” and only retained a right of “occupancy” in their lands. [Johnson:574; Wheaton:270-1] This doctrine continues to linger within our court system as a way to dismiss minority claims.

The 1994 Brethren Annual Conference Statement “A Tribe of Many Feathers” addresses the genocidal history of the founding of the United States saying, “The arrival of Europeans was experienced by Native Americans as nothing less than an invasion. This invasion was not just of the land; it was an assault on the humanity of the native people and their holistic way of living. Europeans tended to regard anyone different from themselves as inferior subjects to be conquered and destroyed.” This history founded on oppression gives little room for change.

 

The annual conference statement not only addresses past wrongdoings but also the injustices subjecting Native Americans to acute mistreatment. “Reasons for distrust have continued into the present day. For instance, in many areas the reservations onto which native people were “relocated” (usually the least desirable, least livable land available) have been found to be rich in minerals and other resources. Federal and state governments now attempt to regain ownership of this land. “ This 1994 statement still hold true as construction of oil pipelines begin through this land.  

 

We’ve seen the horrific images of pepper spray and rubber bullets pounding the water protectors as they peacefully stand for one basic necessity–clean water. I am repeatedly shocked and saddened by first-person accounts of the actions taken by our government to enforce the construction of the pipeline and other forms of marginalization to indigenous people. Sadly, the tragedies at Standing Rock are not the only way that oppression is occurring in America today. Studies of Native American and Alaskan Native populations have shown that these groups are disproportionately affected by food insecurity–limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, which leads to chronic health issues like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

This year’s Christian Citizenship Seminar will host the theme “Native American Rights: Food Security.” From April 22nd through the 27th, a group of youth will spend time together in New York City and Washington D.C. exploring this topic and standing against the cruelty of recurring history. If you also share my distress as a Christian about the injustice of Standing Rock and other marginalizations of indigenous people, please take action. There’s still time for youth to register for this year’s CCS, so please help spread the word. Share your own personal experiences with social justice issues. Encourage youth from your congregation to attend CCS. Consider sponsoring a youth if you have the resources to do so. And, most importantly, pray. Pray for those who are organizing CCS that they will bring light to the darkness of this issue. Pray for CCS attendees that they discern ways they can share what they’ve learned about how to make a difference in their communities.

More information on CCS 2017-

http://www.brethren.org/yya/ccs/?referrer=https://www.google.com/

 

Resources-

http://www.creationjustice.org/blog/christian-communities-support-standing-rock-sioux-protest-of-dakota-access-pipeline