Exporting Violence: How preoccupation with U.S. economic interests is undermining peace around the world

As members of the Church of the Brethren, it is easy to forget that there are worldviews other than “peacefully, simply, together.” In our communities of faith, we are much more likely to have discussions about how we can make peace or build relationships with global competitors than we are to have discussions about how to gain coercive economic power over our international peers. As it says in the statement Justice and Nonviolence, “persons who aim to maximize their wealth and power rather than serve human needs deny the sacredness of life.” This lens is not universal, however- something that is made abundantly clear when looking at the United States’ approach to national security in recent years.

The National Security Strategy released earlier this year by the Trump administration lists “Promote American Prosperity” among it’s three main pillars, arguing that “a strong economy protects the American people, supports our way of life, and sustains American power… A growing and innovative economy allows the United States to maintain the world’s most powerful military and protect our homeland.” This view is driven home by presidential advisor Peter Navarro in a New York Times op-ed, where he highlights the administration’s belief that “economic security is national security.”

This focus on American prosperity in relation to national security has begun to impact the global community, as U.S. arms sale policies are adjusted for the express purpose of benefiting the U.S. economically. This economic focus comes at a cost- a decrease in focus on the impacts of U.S. weapons sales on peace efforts, humanitarian situations and human rights.

  • The gun manufacturing industry has pushed for rule changes that would loosen oversight of foreign military sales. The proposed change would move the foreign sale of certain semi-automatic weapons under the jurisdiction of the Department of Commerce rather than the State Department. This move would make it easier to sell these weapons abroad, and more difficult for human rights actors to track where guns are going and how they are used.

It is ethically problematic to suggest that the economic interests of the American people outweigh the human rights of people impacted by U.S. arms sales. In its statement entitled Call to Peacemaking, the Church called for policies that “convert our national priorities to peaceful and life affirming production.” In its Justice and Nonviolence statement, the church called for the United States to “cease immediately its sales of arms to other countries.”

So what can we do to push back on this economic focus?

We can support legislation that will counteract the proposed rule changes- especially bills like H.R. 4765, which would counteract the shift of semiautomatic weapons to the jurisdiction of the Department of Commerce. Let your Representative know that the bill has been introduced, and ask them to add themselves as a co-sponsor.

We can learn from and support coalitions and organizations working to make the arms trade more transparent, and those working to put pressure on defense contractors. Check out  organizations like the Forum on the Arms Trade, the Stimson Center, the Divest from the War Machine campaign, and the Security Assistance Monitor to learn more about this issue.

We can recognize the legitimate concerns that those employed in defense-related industries have for their livelihoods. We must restructure the economy in a way that allows for a just transition for these people into jobs that contribute to the well-being of humanity rather than to war.

Most importantly, we must continue view the world through the lens of the Brethren values that have been reiterated time and time again through our discussions and statements at Annual Conferences. This includes self-sacrificing perspectives on the relationship between economic gain, national security and global power, a commitment to non-violent solutions to conflict, and the desire for all of humanity to live with peace and justice.

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.)

Happy #IndigenousPeoplesDay!

“Creation Story,” 2000. Harry Fonesca, 1946-2006. Nisenan Maidu/Native Hawaiian/Portuguese.
National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian

Happy #IndigenousPeoplesDay! Today and every day we recognize the many vibrant and resilient Native American tribes and communities around the United States.

Join the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy and Intercultural Ministries during the month of November, Native American Heritage Month, for the Native American Challenge—30 days of daily resources and weekly conference calls to foster learning, conversation, and awareness. Go to http://www.brethren.org/intercultural/continuing-together.html for more information.

“The scriptures also call us to work alongside indigenous people to seek justice and peace on their behalf, as they are among those on our planet whose lives and cultures are most in jeopardy. The church has an obligation to join with them to protect their human and political rights, their cultural expressions, their claims to land, and their religious freedom, at any point that such efforts are in keeping with the purposes of God for human life.” —Community: A Tribe of Many Feathers, 1994 Annual Conference Statement

Make Peace and Justice a Campaign Issue!

In 1989, the Church of the Brethren passed an Annual Conference Statement on Church and State. In this statement, the Church recognized the importance of speaking out against the government when it is “doing things that negate and deny God’s will as revealed in Jesus Christ and the Bible,” and in support of government when its work aligned with the “general direction of God’s will and way (human well-being, justice and peace).”

As we get closer to election day, candidates for public office will be available to you at town halls, campaign events, and even online question sessions. These are opportunities for you to let your current or future legislators know which issues matter to you as a person of faith. Other voters present at these events may also have their interest in the issue piqued by your questions!

Please consider taking advantage of these opportunities to show politicians that Christians care deeply about justice domestically and globally, and are willing to speak up about our commitment to peace.


Types of Events:

  • Town Halls
    • Town halls are a chance for legislators or candidates to meet their constituents, give legislative updates and answer questions from the community. You can find a list of town halls in your congressional district at The Townhall Project. Most of these events are in-person, but some may be virtual.
  • Campaign Events
    • Candidates for office often travel throughout the community to meet their potential future constituents and share their views with voters. These are typically listed on the individual’s campaign website or social media. While there may not be a scheduled time for questions, you may be able to bring up the issues in conversation with the candidate.
  • What if my candidates aren’t available? 
    • There are still plenty of opportunities to get your candidates’ attention. Social media is often just as public a forum as a town hall, and your message has the potential to be amplified by other interested voters! Find your candidate on Twitter and Facebook, and use the sample posts below to bring up the same concerns.

Issues to Bring Up: 

Drone Warfare

Drone strikes are used by the United States around the world, including countries like Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Afghanistan. These strikes are shrouded in secrecy, often kill civilians, and incite fear and anger in the affected communities.

Our office works with the Interfaith Working Group on Drone Warfare to tell Congress that drone strikes are immoral, illegal, and ineffective. We need your help to tell legislators that their constituents care!

One Church of the Brethren member from Michigan asked Rep. Justin Amash questions on drone warfare this past spring. Check out his example here. 

  • Sample Town Hall Questions
    • If you are elected, what steps will you take to curb the harmful impacts of the U.S weaponized drone program on communities around the world?
    • Can you commit to supporting legislation that would end the CIA’s authority to conduct drone strikes?
  • Sample Tweets
    • [CandidatesHandle], can you commit to supporting legislation that would end the CIA’s authority to conduct drone strikes? #EndDroneWarfare
    • {CandidatesHandle], if elected, what steps will you take to curb the harmful impacts of the U.S. weaponized drone program? #EndDroneWarfare

Refugee Resettlement

This month, the administration announced goal refugee resettlement numbers lower than at any point in the program’s history. This change denies stability to thousands of refugees fleeing conflict and disaster, and weakens the refugee resettlement structures- including faith-based organizations like Church World Service! This action is directly counter to the commitments we have made as a church to care for immigrants and refugees, and it is important that people of faith step up to advocate for these marginalized communities.

  • Sample Town Hall Questions
    • This past year, the administration released the lowest refugee resettlement goal in the program’s history. If elected, what will you do to ensure that the United States provides a home to those fleeing violence, oppression and disaster?
  • Sample Tweets
    • [CandidatesHandle], This year’s refugee resettlement goal numbers were released- lowest in program’s history. If elected, what will you do to make sure the United States continues to welcome refugees?  #RefugeesWelcome

Able to ask a question at a town hall? We’d love to hear about it! Email us the story and any pictures/video to vbateman@brethren.org, so we can share your work with other Brethren interested in getting involved. 


Interested in learning more? You can find additional background on the Church of the Brethren’s approach to these issues here: 

Drones: 

Refugee Resettlement: 

  • The Church of the Brethren is a member of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, which advocates for policies that treat refugees and immigrants with dignity and justice. 
  • The recent release of the low refugee resettlement numbers is detailed in this article from the New York Times.
  • Church of the Brethren Statement on Undocumented Persons and Refugees states that: We need to affirm that everything belongs to God and that we are part of an immigrant people who are looking for better land. Our brother and sister immigrants are reminders of who we are and whom we serve. The refugees and immigrants bring needs with them but they also bring considerable skills, rich cultures, and great spirits which can enrich us all. We look forward to a time when all people will be free to move from one nation to another and to choose their homeland without restriction. If that seems impossible to us now, it is only because sinful greed and fear still divide the nations East and West North and South, poor and rich, crowded and spacious.

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.

 

 

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)

Ready for Peace – Hammond Mills

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

And… my cheeks ache from smiling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I can’t.

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

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

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

Washington D.C. Nigeria Working Group

This analysis was written by Zakaria Bulus, who interned in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy this summer through Ministry Summer Service. 

Nigeria has been referred to as the Giant of Africa in terms of population and economy, and it is the largest democracy in Africa. The state has topped the list of wealthiest African economies.“ It has overtaken South Africa in 2014 with GDP valued at $568.5 primarily due to its richness in oil and gas reserves. This short paper is an analysis of the Nigeria Working Group meetings, resolutions and other related events in the United States capital on issues concerning the well-being, challenges and the progress of Nigeria. Currently, the group is discussing the 2019 general election, the farmer-herder conflict and issues of humanitarian support that will  inform the policy makers in the United States.

About the Nigeria Working Group

The Nigeria Working Group is coordinated by Dr. Nathan Hosler, Director of the Church of the Brethren, Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. It started after the 2014 Chibok kidnappings, when over 200 school girls in Chibok local government of Borno State were taken as hostages by Boko Haram.  Civil society advocacy groups met during a “Bring Back Our Girls” rally, and agreed to continue meeting to discuss their Nigeria efforts.

The Nigeria Working Group (NWG) consists of organizations and individuals that work on Nigerian issues within  the context of U.S. policy. The group includes different international organizations in Washington DC. Some of these organization have field offices in Nigeria.

The NWG meets monthly to discuss the current situation of the Nigeria crisis and the operation of the government in general towards the welfare of its citizens, as well as how Nigeria influences the rest of Africa. Since its inception, the group has coordinated congressional briefings, written letters to various public officials, and organized discussions on providing support to Nigeria. They also meet with key stakeholders and policymakers to brief them on what is happening in the field to gain support that will improve livelihood as well as foster peaceful coexistence in the country, especially as the 2019 election approaches. This includes the State Department and legislators and their staff  on issues affecting Nigeria.

NWG  are working on issues around human rights, peaceful coexistence, research, and providing humanitarian and other developmental support by organizations within the group. Beneficiaries include the victims of farmer-herder conflict, victims of the Boko Haram insurgency in IDP camps and host communities. Due to  their in-country presence, they receive regular updates regarding the situation on the ground in Nigeria. It should be noted that most of the organizations working in Nigeria are also from the United States.The NWG also intends to draft a joint letter on the farmer-herder conflict and another joint letter to Secretary of State after consultation with members for their inputs about the broad strategy on elections in Nigeria.

Recommendations:

The group should continue inviting Nigerian citizens that are in the US and are well informed about the issues in Nigeria to bring diversity into the group discussions. This will bring diversity into the group deliberation with more relevant ideas and insights on the Nigerian situation. It would also make Nigerians themselves keep reflecting on what they can do while in  diaspora for the development of their country.

As Nigeria approaches its general election in February 2019, the group should develop   a strategy on how to be involved in election monitoring so that they can have firsthand information on election credibility and its outcome.

The working group should pay close attention and  time to the issue of religion in relation to conflict as most of the facts on the causes of religious conflict are  viewed as a result of poverty, ethnicity, or the growing population of people looking for livelihood which are part of the sources of conflict but the role of faith cannot be overemphasized in Nigerian peaceful coexistence.

For the congressional briefing, the NWG should reflect on the violence surrounding the 2011 presidential election and the peaceful outcome of 2015 general election. This will provide an opportunity to learn lessons from the elections’ outcome and how they impact Nigerian  polls positively or negatively.

Another issue of concern is the safety of and the provision of basic amenities for the returnees from the IDP camps and those in  host communities as they return to their places of origin so that their livelihood, education, shelter, and healthcare can be guaranteed. The group should also advocate for the support of local peacebuilding efforts in the conflict-affected states and non-conflict states, and increase their call for good governance within the three tiers of government in bringing healing and trust among the people.

Nigeria has the potential to be an example of good governance and peaceful coexistence in Africa, but is weak due to lack of good   governance, tribalism,lack of good public educational system, devaluation of its currency, and religious fundamentalism among others. Presently, its GDP has dropped to $375.77 billion in 2017. Hence, the Nigeria Working Group in DC is strategic in coming out with recommendations to the government on how to support Nigeria sustainably since they have some considerable knowledge about the happenings in Nigeria. Their meeting outcomes can serve as an eye-opener to the Nigerian government, the US Congress and the United States government towards policies that affect the country. By continuing to pursue its current advocacy work and  incorporating the suggestions above, the Nigeria Working Group can have a positive impact on policies that impact the country.

We wash feet

Former Youth Peace Travel Team members at National Youth Conference 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and Prayers,

Laura Hay

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)