Living your passion

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

By Dan McFadden, director of Brethren Volunteer Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Privatization of War

Profiting off the pain or exploitation of another human being is wrong. Not only does it make one complicit in the harm of another, it provides an economic incentive to continue in the harmful behavior. This is just as true for profit from war and violent conflict as it is for profiting from human trafficking or theft. The Church of the Brethren Annual Conference Statement on War, approved in 1970, affirms that, “We, therefore, cannot encourage,engage in, or willingly profit from armed conflict at home or abroad.”
 
This refusal to willingly profit from violence is relevant to the current public discussion on privatizing the war in Afghanistan. Erik Prince, who founded the mercenary firm Blackwater- infamous for the Nisour Square massacre of Iraqi civilians in 2007- first proposed privatizing the war in Afghanistan while the Trump administration was re-evaluating its strategy last year.
 
While the administration ultimately decided to go in a different direction, the proposal has resurfaced in recent days as Prince launched a media campaign to influence President Trump’s approach to Afghanistan. Appearing on television news sources as diverse as MSBCCBS and Fox News, Prince recommends that the United States replace U.S. forces with a smaller contractor force of alumni Special Forces/NATO fighters.
 
If Prince’s plan were implemented, privately contracted security forces would be embedded with Afghan troops, assisting the local forces in pushing back the Taliban. Prince proposes replacing the current 15,000 troops and 30,000 contractors with a smaller force of about 2000 military special-ops, and 6000 contractors. He also calls for the use of CIA in the region, backed by air power. The stated objectives of Prince’s plan- a reduction in military spending and a decrease in the number of troops on the ground, would technically move us in a positive direction. However, the underlying motivation of the change- making war more economically efficient, is counterproductive to our work towards long term stability, peace and justice worldwide.
 
The Church of the Brethren believes that “all war is sin”, but it is important to expressly take a stand against war that is explicitly bringing economic incentives for military action. Private military companies (PMCs), the contractor forces who carry arms and are engaged in direct security and combat operations, have commoditized conflict. As profit-seeking entities, there is little reason to believe that private companies would be free of self-interested decisions that would extend conflict to ensure continued income. A free-market for force could also lead to PMCs from various countries competing to be the most effective security forces- which would include pressure to lower the bar for adhering to human rights standards that limit the range of acceptable security activities in which they can engage.
 
It is important to recognize that economic incentives for military action are not new, and not limited to mercenary firms. In the 1970 AC statement on war, the Church of the Brethren said that although it recognizes “that almost all aspects of the economy are directly or indirectly connected with national defense, we encourage our members to divorce themselves as far as possible from direct association with defense industries in both employment and investment.” These concerns about public military spending and the economic incentives created by military production remain and are of huge concern to us. However, moving from a public military force to a private military force would exacerbate the negative impact of market forces on our propensity to resort to violence.  
 
In addition to increasing the economic incentives for violence, private military companies raise huge oversight concerns. Legally legitimate use of force in conflict zones being outsourced by nations to private companies reduces the extent to which these armed actors are directly accountable to our democratic institutions. Concerns over weak oversight have plagued the private defense industry, as military actors and civilian actors operate under different legal expectations and accountability mechanisms. For example, the Blackwater employees who killed Iraqi civilians in 2007 saw their case go through civilian courts rather than military courts.  A lack of transparency also makes oversight of contractors difficult. Because the companies can claim certain information as “proprietary,” researchers and journalists have difficulty understanding and analyzing the true impact of these firms.
 
In 1934, the Church of the Brethren passed an Annual Conference statement on war that said, “As a people we have opposed wars at all times throughout our entire history of over two hundred twenty-five years and we have stood with equal consistency for constructive peace principles in all relationships of life. We hate war because we love peace, our way of life at all times.” This sentiment, which has remained a core value of the Church of the Brethren, must inform our thinking on proposals like Prince’s. Rather than encouraging the privatization of war, the U.S. government should channel the frustration with our long-running military engagement into a positive re-evaluation of military tactics, one that uses the momentum towards “new ideas” to use innovative alternatives towards violence. Diplomacy, nonviolent direct action, Unarmed Civilian ProtectionCivilian-Based Defense, and other creative solutions to violent conflict have lacked investment.
 
With its incredible access to funding, research capabilities, and sway over public and political opinion, the Pentagon has an opportunity to make huge steps towards peace as the country reevaluates the effectiveness of traditional military action. We must push the administration and the Department of Defense to prepare for peace, rather than continuing along our path of militarization.

What you should know about #PrisonStrike2018

Image courtesy of incarceratedworkers.org

Hebrews 13:3, “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.”

On August 21, incarcerated people across the country began what has become the largest prison strike the U.S. has ever seen. “We are demanding humane living conditions, access to rehabilitation, sentencing reform, and the end of modern-day slavery,” their website says. Their full list of demands call for these ten actions:

  1. Immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women.
  2. An immediate end to prison slavery. All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.
  3. The Prison Litigation Reform Act must be rescinded, allowing imprisoned humans a proper channel to address grievances and violations of their rights.
  4. The Truth in Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform Act must be rescinded so that imprisoned humans have a possibility of rehabilitation and parole. No human shall be sentenced to Death by Incarceration or serve any sentence without the possibility of parole.
  5. An immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of Black and brown humans. Black humans shall no longer be denied parole because the victim of the crime was white, which is a particular problem in southern states.
  6. An immediate end to racist gang enhancement laws targeting Black and brown humans.
  7. No imprisoned human shall be denied access to rehabilitation programs at their place of detention because of their label as a violent offender.
  8. State prisons must be funded specifically to offer more rehabilitation services.
  9. Pell grants must be reinstated in all US states and territories.
  10. The voting rights of all confined citizens serving prison sentences, pretrial detainees, and so-called “ex-felons” must be counted. Representation is demanded. All voices count.

The demands of the strike place a strong emphasis on access to rehabilitation, something that the Church of the Brethren has supported through pushing for restorative justice and an end to mass incarceration. Our commitment to God’s peace is a radical one, one that we should carry to everyone, especially those in prison. The U.S. prison system is one of deep violence and trauma, and rehabilitation is a healing balm we should offer to all who seek it. 

The demands also call us to recognize that prison labor is a form of modern-day slavery, paying workers little to nothing and forcing them to work in horrible conditions. We must turn to see the most invisible laborers in our society and the injustices they so consistently endure. As we said in our 2008 Annual Conference resolution on 21st century slavery, “We commit to educating ourselves and others about modern-day slavery and initiating and supporting anti-slavery action at home and abroad. This includes measures to prevent enslavement, to end slavery, to care for those who have been victimized by slavery, and to change our personal lifestyle habits that support it.”

Furthermore, the strike laments the extreme disparity between the treatment of people of color and white people in the current criminal justice system, with many laws on the books that target black and brown people. Mass incarceration and racial injustice are two issues tightly woven together.

At its very core, the strike is calling for the recognition that imprisoned people are humans. “We must see that the denial of basic human rights and the violence and counter-violence that terrorize humanity are all related; we cannot address one without addressing the others. They are connected” (Making the Connection, A.C. Statement 1986).

Getting Involved

The strike ends on September 9 and, with less than a week left, there has been little national news coverage and an increase in punishment for the prisoners who organized the movement. This is a rare moment when prisoners themselves—not simply outsiders speaking on their behalf—are trying to make their voices heard. During the second week of the strike, organizers released a statement saying:

“Right now we know that thousands of prisoners are risking torturous repression to bring this agenda forward, and we do not take their sacrifice lightly and neither should you. Prisoners are facing repression right now as we speak and it is our duty on the outside to do whatever we can to shield them from that violence of the state.”

This is simply a call to action—with only a few days left to the strike, there is still much to be done. A list of ways to take action (as well as many more resources and information on all relevant issues) is on the strike’s website, and the strike’s statement on August 28 lists the states with prisons with known participation. Call your representatives (202-224-3121) to tell them you support the strike and the prisoners’ demands, specifically to be implemented in your state’s prisons. Follow the strike on social media with #August21 and #PrisonStrike and make your support known by amplifying the voices of those involved.

We are called to release the captives, let the oppressed go free, and when our brothers and sisters behind bars desperately ask for peace and rehabilitation, who are we to deny them?

 

2016 Christian Citizenship Seminar on Mass Incarceration

2010 Annual Conference Resolution on Torture

2008 Annual Conference Resolution on Slavery in the 21st Century

1986 Annual Conference Statement on Making the Connection

National Religious Campaign Against Torture

 

With Actions and In Truth: An introduction to OPP’s new racial justice position

New BVSer Monica McFadden joins director Nathan Hosler and current BVSer Tori Bateman at the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy.

“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. “ — I John 3:17

In 2007, the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference adopted the Separate No More statement, which challenges the church to intentionally move toward being more intercultural and ethnically diverse.

In 1994, Annual Conference adopted the statement Community: A Tribe of Many Feathers, which sought to show support for Native Americans and reckon with the role the Brethren have as a part of the colonizing power in America.

In 1991, Annual Conference received a report on Brethren and Black Americans, which carefully examines how Brethren have engaged, or not engaged, with Black Americans and how we will seek to address systemic racism in our denomination and our society.

Back during the Civil War, Brethren grappled with their relationship with this oppressed “other,” asserting that “it would be best for a follower of Jesus Christ to have nothing at all to do with slavery,” a very controversial topic in the church at the time.

While it’s clear the Brethren have long been considering these issues, adopting a number of statements discussing racial discrimination and our relationships with minority groups, these statements have yet to be fully realized. In order to pursue the goals of these statements more intentionally, the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy created a new Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) position dedicated to the topic of racial justice and reconciliation as it applies internally to our denomination and outwardly to our society.

I’ve just finished up my three weeks at BVS orientation and am excited to delve into all the work this new position requires—working alongside minority communities in food deserts through Going to the Garden, teaming up with the interfaith community in criminal and racial justice working groups, leading visits and workshops for Brethren groups in D.C., and everything in between. The Church of the Brethren has a long history of standing up for justice, peace, fairness, and mercy, and this is no time to slow down.

In his book Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer advocating on behalf of those sentenced to death row, says:

“I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.”

Our nation’s complicated history with race is often tied up in how we decide who is poor, who is disfavored, or who is accused. Through Christ, “who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14), we can seek God’s justice to help break down those barriers. The beginning of this new position on racial justice stands as an open call for church members or youth interested in racial justice-oriented tours of the D.C. area, workshops, or museum visits to contact our office.

Sometimes, it is easier to look across the globe at people being oppressed than it is to look within our own communities and neighborhoods, our own states and districts, and open our eyes to the people suffering right beside us. This position is one step toward seeing our brother or sister in need and witnessing racial discrimination, and then seeking righteousness with actions and in truth. I hope that you will join hands with me for the difficult work ahead.

 

Monica McFadden is the new Racial Justice Associate at the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. She graduated from the University of Denver in June with a B.A. in Political Science and Art History. Contact her at mmcfadden@brethren.org.

Nigerian Brethren provide relief for victims of Fulani herdsmen attacks

On June 23rd Fulani Herdsmen in the Jos Plateau area attacked numerous villages. Officials report 238 persons killed in 17 villages. The attackers also burnt and vandalized the villages, destroying homes, churches and properties. The people cannot return home. Some reports indicated that roads to outlaying villages are blocked by the Fulani. Many families are displaced and living with relatives or in temporary camps.

Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria’s (EYN) main area is in Northeast Nigeria but it has a presence in the Jos Plateau area where the June attacks occurred. The Middle Belt of Nigeria has many Christians from numerous denominations. When EYN’s Disaster Response Ministry got word of the numerous displaced persons in Bokkos LGA, they were ready to help. The Disaster team organized a large distribution for 1639 persons in the Bokkos area. 9000 pounds of corn, 7,700 pounds of rice along with beans, gari, palm oil, spices and blankets were distributed. 

Recipients of the food distribution were so grateful. They noted that EYN’s methods were different than other relief/government agencies; they actually stayed to distribute the materials, gather data and listen to people’s stories. The devastation of these villages will have long reaching consequences for all those involved. The Disaster team is well aware of this because of their work in the Northeast.

Despite all the work the Disaster team has going on as they help in the Northeast, they came to the aid of their fellow Nigerians in a time of desperate need . Well Done Nigerian Brethren!

United: Pursuing peace together

Learn more about the 2018 Mission Offering at www.brethren.org/missionoffering

A scriptural exegesis written by Joshua Brockway, director of Spiritual Life and Discipleship, for the 2018 Mission Offering.

“Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:19).

The early Brethren were part of the Pietist movement within the German Reformed church of their time. Pietists were those folks who sought to live what the Bible said. Those around them, also part of the church, did not use the name “Pietist” in a nice way. It was a slur. Today it would be like calling someone “holier than thou.”

It may be hard for us to think of piety as something negative. And though the word is not used as much as it was in the 18th century, the idea remains embedded within our tradition. We strive to live lives according to the Scriptures. As one Annual Conference theme reminded us, we “take Jesus seriously.” Yet, we should remember that what is pious to us may be legalistic to others.

That was Paul’s concern as he wrote these chapters in Romans. It appears that the Christians in Rome did not get along very well. As the capital city of the empire, it was home to people from all over. Some were Roman, either by birth or by citizenship, and had adopted the customs and practices of “good” Roman people. Historians now call these people Hellenists. They spoke Latin or Greek, or both, and saw the world through the prism of the great civilizations of Greece and Rome. There were also Hebrew people in the capital city. Though they were far from the worship practices of the temple in Jerusalem, they practiced their faith and culture with conviction. These diaspora people, or those scattered from their homeland, saw their religious customs as key to their identity, just as the Romans did their own culture.

For the early Christian community of Rome, these two cultural systems seem to have been a significant source of conflict. Much of Paul’s letter deals specifically with the conflict of law, religion, and culture that quickly emerged between Hellenist and Hebrew followers of Jesus. This letter, one that scholars and theologians call his most eloquent and succinct articulation of the gospel, was written to bring these to cultural groups together.

Food customs provided one of the sources of contention. Hebrew religious practice certainly dictated what food could and could not be eaten. And surely for the Hellenists, those customs were odd and parochial. Food valued by the Hellenists, even delicacies, were not within Hebrew kosher practice. Such a conflict might seem minimal to our modern sensibilities, but for the early church, eating together was a significant part of their life. Paul focused on this conflict because it was doing exactly the opposite of what shared meals in the church meant. Instead of bringing the people together, it was dividing them.

Ever the reconciler, Paul chastised the Roman Christians without naming fault. Instead, he revealed how any kind of piety practiced without faith and concern for others in the community, was not just divisive, it was sin. He did not call into question the sincerity of their customs, but instead highlighted how the practices of their piety were more about pride than they were about faith. Here, the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount echo just beneath the page: “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1, NRSV).

Paul’s critique, however, came with an instruction. “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual edification” (Romans 14:19, NRSV). We might be tempted to emphasize Paul’s exhortation to peace in the church, but that would miss the qualifying clause at the end. Peace is not the end, in and of itself. Rather, the peace within the church is so that all believers might be edified and grow in their faith. Setting aside religious practices is not a decision to be made lightly. Rather, Paul’s admonition was for the church to emphasize two things—their shared faith in Christ and their need to build each other up in the faith. If the pious practices were sowing discord, they were also undermining the each one’s discipleship to Jesus.

For us good Pietists, Paul’s words to the Roman church are a clear challenge. While we deeply value the practices of our faith we must continue to examine our motivations and the impact on fellow believers. Peace, in this regard, is a characteristic of our community and our practices. When our practices sow discord and conflict, Paul warns us, we are not true Pietists. May our practices and changes of practice, both rooted in our faith, lead us to be United: Pursuing peace together.

Find a full order of service for the 2018 Mission Offering (suggested date Sept. 16) at www.brethren.org/missionoffering or support the Church of the Brethren today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

A place of safety

Laura Hay, Youth Peace Advocate, with a peace pole.

Camp Pine Lake! This week has been full of joys and sorrows. It was a camp which invited conversation, and with a mostly silent group, that conversation grew in interesting ways. The conversation was there and prevalent but presented itself in creative ways.

Camp Pine Lake has a program called “Human Body Image,” or HBI for short. It was something I have only encountered this week. This unique program divided females and males into two groups for the first session and talked about different ways that their gender was portrayed in the media and the effects it has on the people growing up in our society. The campers were able to talk in broad terms or about things being held more closely to their hearts. This is a challenging topic to take on in a week-long camp, but if nothing else, it made the campers more aware of the language being used around their gender and the ways in which they could have better self-talk. And that is a tremendous accomplishment.

Because this was such a unique experience, I decided to bring in an exercise I hadn’t used yet. On the last day I had the opportunity to lead a silent recognition activity. Since we didn’t have the most talkative group, I thought they might feel more comfortable to be in silence and anonymously recognize the people who had affected them positively this week. Many of the campers were moved to know how much they had affected others, and others were moved by having the courage to recognize those who really affected them. Recognition and building a community based on the needs of the people within it is one of the first things to work towards as a peace building community. May the camp remain a place of safety: a place to be vulnerable and a place to expand our views about ourselves and the world around us.

–Laura Hay, Youth Peace Advocate

Reflections on the Washington, DC Workcamp

This summer, the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy welcomed a group of junior highers for the Washington, D.C workcamp. The following is a guest blog post from Marilyn, a junior high workcamper who participated in the workcamp.

Workcampers meet with a staff member from Senator Casey’s office.

On July 29th, 2018, three other members of the Mountville Church of the Brethren and I packed our bags and drove to a Christian work camp in Washington, D.C. All of us, including our two advisors, were extremely excited. But I had no idea how much my experiences would positively impact my life and mindset. It was here where I realized how much being a Christian and being a citizen overlap.

During this workcamp, me and 10 other campers worked in the Marvin Gaye Parks. On the first day of work, we weeded and composted in the Marvin Gaye urban gardens, where people who normally wouldn’t be able to buy fresh fruits and vegetables can pick their own in exchange for garden work. This makes these gardens valuable to people in need of fresh produce.

On the rest of the camp’s work days, all the campers participated in removing Kudzu plants from some of the parks’ beautiful land and trees. This invasive plant was concealing the beauty of nature that parks can provide that people living in the city rarely get to experience.

One day, after a much needed shower and a change of clothes, everyone walked to the Senator’s office to advocate for the LWCF. The LWCF stands for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and it is a program where the government works to protect national, state and local parks by helping to fund them.

The money given to the parks is often used to help keep it clean and safe. Through working in the Marvin Gaye Parks, all the campers realized that parks play big parts in our communities, especially parks in the city, where people have an opportunity to escape the busy, crowded place that they live in. But this important fund will expire on September 30th, if Congress doesn’t take action. So, in the Senator’s office, we spoke to PA’s senator’s education board about why the LWCF should stay in action. The person we talked to listened to our every word and said she would do all she could to help keep the fund going.

Parks such as the Marvin Gaye Parks are very important to our communities, but we often take them for granted. Parks give people a place to exercise, socialize, and learn about nature. So conserving them is a big deal, and at work camp, we learned that being a Christian means standing up for what you may, or not believe is good for our communities.

While being a Christian does mean standing up for what you believe in, it also means serving God by serving people. When you help to take care of your community and its citizens, you are also loving God and that is where being a Christian and being part of a community overlap.

When our workcamp ended, I had a completely different mindset than I had before it started. From working and caring for a park, I realized that helping our communities is a big part of loving God, and that is what being a Christian is all about.

 

To be or not to be?

muddy people at Camp Emmaus

Mud at Camp Emmaus

To be or not to be? To answer the call, to take the challenge, or to choose a more simple, less intimidating path? A week before beginning my journey as Youth Peace Advocate, I was terrified. I was mortified at the prospect of traveling the country alone, talking about a subject I wasn’t sure I knew how to address, and feeling as if I wasn’t worthy of the task for which I was called. At “senior campfire night” at Camp Emmaus, every student stood up and said something very similar – about at first being afraid to come to camp, but as soon as they arrived, having those worries relieved.

When I was packing up my room I found a box of temporary tattoos. I had gotten them at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival before my freshman year of college, and there was one tattoo left in the box: “To be or not to be?” It went on jet black and crisp; it almost looked like a real tattoo! The words were edged on my left shoulder blade and it felt right. I didn’t think of it at the time, but it was a question I had been asking myself 500 times a day since accepting the call to be the Youth Peace Advocate. To be or not to be? (I’m a little angsty, but you know what, so was Hamlet). These tattoos usually last between 1 and 2 weeks. Believe me, I’ve gone through a whole box of them. But this question seemed to linger, staying planted on my left shoulder blade and in the back of my mind. To be? Can I do this? Is this a call I can handle and will be valuable for others? Or not to be? Who would I be if I let my anxiety about it take over? In the first weeks, I had to learn that being the Youth Peace Advocate is different than being on the travel team, and I was going to bring different things to the camps. Maybe I haven’t brought the high energy skits and songs or the funny anecdotes that people might expect from the Youth Peace Travel Team. But I did bring other things, and I know that is different and valuable in itself.

This week, my temporary tattoo washed off and with it, the question. Camp Emmaus has felt loving, accepting and is a safe place to express vulnerability. Seeing the seniors be so vulnerable in their stories and seeing how much this place effects their lives was a moving and inspiring experience. Maybe that is a reason I feel brave enough to share this struggle with you. I feel safe. I may not have anything profound to say this week. I’m not going to try to tell you how to be Brethren or the importance of peace or even the sequence of events that happened at Camp Emmaus. Instead I’ll tell you: I know the answer to my question and it has taken me as long (or longer) than the magnificent seniors here at Camp Emmaus. And the answer is this: Be. Follow the call. These campers have found a safe place where they feel heard and honored, and they have learned how to gift that to others. They gifted it to me!

Follow the call. The senior highers have found an amazing home here at Camp Emmaus, and although I haven’t been here nearly as long, I feel like I’ve gained a permanent home outside of a little town named Oregon, Illinois. Even if I never get to come back, the mark that this place has made on my heart is far from temporary.

#AintNoMountainHighEnough
#Iloveyoubaby
#TheBeaverSong
#Supertrooper
#Thunderdome
#Peaceme

–Laura Hay, Youth Peace Advocate

Amazing Grace at Camp Harmony

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wreck like me. I once was lost but now am found was blind but now I see.”

One voice, low and hard to hear over the sound of the booming fireworks, was an 8th grade boy singing gruffly this well-known and moving song. No one joined him, but he didn’t seem to care. He carried on until the end and took no note if anyone was paying attention. I’m not sure anyone else heard him but me. God invites us to sing, to sing his praises not minding if anyone joins in – but to persist and sing nonetheless.

Camp Harmony Heroes

Camp Harmony Heroes. Photo by Laura Hay.


One of the sessions that our worship leader, Nick, talked about was being a “weirdo” and the implications that word has. Where Nick would use “weirdo,” I would say “rebel.” Christianity is mainstream. Being a “one hour a week Christian” is mainstream. But what if we had the rebellious spirit of that boy raising his voice above the fireworks? What if our actions, and not our words, called others to us and through us allowed them to see good in the world? That’s what being Brethren is to me.

One of the first days of camp there was a trash can that had been knocked over by a cat at the pavilion. One person began to pick up the trash. No one helping at first, but slowly more hands joined to help with the clean-up. That’s who Brethren are, that’s what we do. We live the life we feel is the best representation of Jesus and hope people see that and join in. Jesus was a “weirdo,” and he was rebellious. Be a “weirdo!” Be a rebel in the way Jesus was. Picking up that trash wasn’t the coolest thing to do. Getting all dirty and touching a bunch of disgusting garbage is gross. But it’s what this person felt was right.

While I was in Pennsylvania at Camp Harmony, many people from our denomination came together at Annual Conference to work at what it means to be Brethren and how we do that on the national level. I wasn’t there, but I hope that the conference kept that value in mind: Brethren show our faith through action, boldly following the rebellious spirit of Jesus and continuing that work – peacefully, simply, and together!

By Laura Hay, Youth Peace Advocate