Dr. Rebecca Dali named for Sergio Viera De Mello Award

What is the Sergio Vieira de Mello Award?

Sergio Vieira de Mello was a man with a long career in the United Nations. He was deeply involved with humanitarian issues and a strong supporter of those working to achieve peace in conflicts and war situations around the globe.  The Foundation started in his name has decided to give an award every two years. The award is intended to draw world attention to the unnoticed efforts made by an individual, group or an organization that has done something special and unique to reconcile people and parties in conflict. Candidates must be authentic, verifiable, community-based entities operating in areas of conflict and as such could be refugees, internally displaced persons or persons affected by conflict. The 2017 Award is being given to Dr. Rebecca Dali and her Non-profit agency, Center for Caring, Empowerment and Peace Initiative (CCEPI). 

Partner Profile

Church of the Brethren began working with Dr. Rebecca Dali, Executive Director of Center for Caring Empowerment and Peace Initiative (CCEPI), in January of 2014. Missionaries from the United States church, Carl and Roxane Hill, were teaching with Dr. Rebecca in Nigeria when she began distributing food and clothing to displaced persons living around Kulp Bible College.

Providing prayer and support for Nigeria at Annual Conference 2014

In the summer of 2014, Dr. Rebecca was a guest representing the Nigerian church, Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN), at Annual Conference of the U.S. Church of the Brethren.  She spoke powerfully about the plight of her fellow Nigerians and the crisis in Nigeria. Following her spirit filled plea, the Church of the Brethren pledged support and aid to  the Nigerian church, NGO’s working in Nigeria (like CCEPI), and those affected by the violence in Northeast Nigeria.

When EYN headquarters was overrun by Boko Haram in October of 2014, church leadership was relocated to Jos.  Dr. Rebecca accompanied her husband, Samuel Dali, then EYN President and she immediately began helping those displaced. A much-needed food distribution was held at the EYN Annex Headquarters in Jos.

Food Distribution in November 2014

Early in the Crisis, CCEPI concentrated on providing food and household supplies. Soon it was evident that there was a great need for the numerous widows and orphans created by the violent crisis. Under Dr. Rebecca’s leadership, CCEPI has created three Skills Acquisition Centers that teach a skill and provide each participant with the materials to start their own business. Through her organization, Dr Rebecca has also provided trauma healing, housing repairs, education for orphans, livestock for widows and moral support to those in need.

Wall of Healing displayed in Tampa Florida

 

Dr. Rebecca and CCEPI have been tireless in collecting data from the families affected by the violence. Although this is time consuming, it helps tell the full story of this crisis and honors the dead and their families. At the 2015 Church of the Brethren’s Annual Conference in Tampa, Florida, Dr. Rebecca’s data was displayed as a “Wall of Healing”. This wall consisted of 17 large banners with the names of over 10,000 victims of the violence sweeping through Northeast Nigeria.

Graduation at one of the Skill Acquisition Centers

Dr. Rebecca has been able to mobilize and organize CCEPI to provide food and supplies to the most vulnerable often at great personal risk. Her passion, and the quality of her work has attracted the attention and support of numerous sponsors to continue and expand these efforts. Her boundless energy and tireless work alongside her staff has provided assistance to men, women, children, Muslims, Christians, and especially widows and orphans. It is a privilege for Church of the Brethren to be in partnership with Dr. Rebecca and her outstanding organization as she pours her life into helping her fellow countrymen during this challenging time.

 

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.

The unseen details of ministry

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

Photo courtesy of Joe Detrick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June Disaster Projects

In June, the Disaster Response Ministry of EYN was busy.

Food Distributions

They delivered food to 400 families in some of the hardest hit districts. A pastor in the area shared, “Last week, EYN headquarters gave us fertilizer and seed which we distributed to our members, today they brought us food items, this gives us joy! Truly, our main problem here is that we are prevented from farming, so no food and people are suffering.”

 

Rescued Mom and baby

After being rescued, a family held captive for several years was relocated to one of our newly built villages. The family consists of a mother and four children (ages 17, 8, 6, and 4 months.)

In addition, medical help was brought to a camp in Maiduguri where there are over 500 children under the age of 5.

Soybeans were planted as part of the special project designed to produce income along the value chain.

 

 

Solar panels were installed at Yola camp providing free water for them.

Please continue to pray for the EYN Disaster Ministry as it helps its people in many ways!

A passion to serve

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

By Paige Butzlaff

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

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

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

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Stories from Michika

 These stories were provided by Center for Caring Empowerment and Peace Initiative (CCEPI), a non-profit organization run by Dr. Rebecca Dali. Her organization operates 3 Skills Acquisition Centers in Northeast Nigeria. These centers have been a wonderful way to begin rebuilding lives.

Ladi – When Michika was invaded by Boko Haram militants, I and  my entire family ran to the mountain to hide. We were there on the mountain for several days before even the mountain became insecure because the Boko Haram Militants were coming up and hunting for our men. After some days, we decided to leave the mountain and head for Dlaka village. It was on our way to Dlaka that we fell into the hands of the enemies we so much dreaded. They instantly seized my husband and other men who were in the group. They gave my husband and the other men a choice to either renounce Christianity and convert to Islam, or face death. My husband and the other men refused and so they paid with their lives. We spent many months moving from one place to the other in search of food, shelter and security. Finally we returned to Michika when everything had died down. That was when we started another life all together.

Monday – The past few years of my life have been very uneasy for me as a teenager. I lost my father as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency in Michika. I was 13 years old when all of this happened. I have also tasted hardship even at that very tender age, during the course of our plight trying to escape the Boko Haram militants. I tasted hunger, sickness, cold and saw some of the most horrific sights ever in my entire life. The experiences of my past are things I don’t ever want to experience ever again in my life. I am 17 years old now and I am learning to forsake my past and move on with my life. I appreciate the opportunity given to me by CCEPI to acquire skills so that I can have a better future.

Awa – I am a double orphan, having first lost my mother long before the Boko Haram Insurgency; and my father who was killed by the advancing Boko Haram insurgents. When the Boko Haram started approaching Michika, I and other people fled to Kwapale and settled there. While we were there, there was so much hardship and I barely ate more than once in a day. As a result, I started prostituting around with soldiers who offered me money and slept with me. That was how I was able to manage my life for a very long time. One day, a certain woman approached me and admonished me concerning my way of life. The woman encouraged me to abandon prostitution and find a legitimate way of earning a living. I felt encouraged because the woman understood my situation and did not judge me, rather she gave me a listening ear and showed me that there was hope.  One day, while in church I heard the advertisement about CCEPI and what it does. I developed interest and applied into the sewing department. While attending my classes and also selling Kunu (Gruel), I got into a relationship and eventually got married. Today, I am a committed student of the sewing department of CCEPI’s livelihood centre in Michika. I have learnt a lot and still learning. CCEPI has helped me to find a new meaning for my life. I am happily married and also involved in petty trading. I have moved on from my past and now believe that there is hope for the future. To God be the Glory.

Fadi – I am a widow and a mother of 7. My husband was killed on the 26th day of February, 2014 by Boko Haram militants who invaded Michika and shattered our lives and livelihood. The death of my husband meant I had to take care of our 7 children all by myself. It has not been easy for me but I have been trying my best with God’s help. I am now a student in CCEPI’s livelihood centre Michika, where I am acquiring new skills and learning to live again. I have come to learn that everything happens for a reason and I have decided to concentrate on raising my children, rather than entertaining regrets and bitterness for the past.

Peacebuilding in Tense Times: The Church of the Brethren and Russia

The Russia-U.S. relationship has become increasingly complicated over the past few years. The Syrian conflict has attracted both U.S. and Russian involvement, becoming a proxy war between several international actors. Accusations of cyber- and information warfare between the nations persist, and complex questions of global leadership have arisen.

The tensions should concern all who seek international peace. In one recent example of conflict, the United States shot down a Syrian warplane. In response, the Russians suspended the use of a military communication program that helped to prevent accidental in-air collisions in Syrian airspace. They also threatened to shoot down any U.S. plane that traveled west of the Euphrates River.

The dissolution of communications structures like these, combined with military action and general posturing on the part of each national actor, does not bode well for regional or international security.

When suspicion clouds the relationship between nations, it is often difficult to see past our national allegiances and fear. However, peacebuilding requires us to build relationships where others only see conflict.

Quote from 1947 Annual Conference statement on Russia, referenced in the Brethren Encyclopedia.

The Church of the Brethren has a fascinating peacebuilding history in relation to Russia. During the Cold War, in which tensions ran high and peace was fragile, the Church of the Brethren maintained connections with the Soviet Union in hopes that relationships could prevent nuclear war.

As part of this work, the Church of the Brethren participated in two cultural exchanges in 1963 and 1967. While in the United States, Russian church leaders ate, talked, and joked with their American hosts, and were especially interested in visiting with the youth. Their American counterparts, while visiting Russia, were fascinated by the unfamiliar political ideology and relationship between the Church and State.

A 1967 Messenger article on the cultural exchange

At these meetings, delegates were able to experience each other’s culture, learn about their religious beliefs and structures, and gain new perspectives on the other nation. These were not meant to be high-level religious or political discussions- rather, they were meetings of Christians from different countries, earnestly seeking to understand one another and forge a peaceful future.

The work done by the Church of the Brethren during this era is strikingly relevant to modern interfaith connections in U.S. and Russia. The same general distrust and military posturing that occurred during the Cold War has resurfaced in more modern contexts. As the political rhetoric once again heats up, it is essential that the faith community works to discern its role in the U.S.- Russia relationship.

There are many relational and advocacy opportunities for churches, including the Church of the Brethren, to work towards greater interpersonal understanding and large-scale investment in peace. Like the leaders of the Church of the Brethren during the Cold War, we can, and should, use our faith commitments as a powerful platform for international dialogue and peacebuilding work.

While we recognize that there are many ways in which the current tensions are different from Cold War tensions, we believe that it is important to adapt the Church of the Brethren’s historic peacebuilding mindset to the modern context. At the Office of Public Witness, we hope to continue the Brethren legacy of peacebuilding in this region, and will be working to discern our role in the relationship over the next few months.

***

A huge thanks to the staff at Brethren Archives for their research assistance!

Interested in reading more about these cultural exchanges? Check out these Messenger articles:

https://archive.org/stream/messenger1967116126mors#page/n823/mode/2up/search/%22Russian+Orthodox+Church%22%22

https://archive.org/stream/gospelmessengerv112mors#page/n83/mode/2up/search/%22Russian%22

https://archive.org/stream/gospelmessengerv112mors#page/n1243/mode/2up/search/%22Russian%22

 

Disaster Response Ministry in Maiduguri

From EYN Disaster Ministry Reports

Food Distribution

The road from Kwarhi (EYN Headquarters) to Maiduguri is less than 150 miles but it is a treacherous journey. The section from Damboa to Maiduguri  goes through an area close to a Boko Haram stronghold and is only accomplished with a Military escort. Hundreds of vehicles line up with Military at the front, rear and middle hoping to ensure a safe passage. As the EYN disaster ministry traveled this road they witnessed the Boko Haram’s destruction of homes and businesses. The farms on the outskirts of Damboa lie fallow; it continues to be too dangerous to work the fields despite the fact that the survival of most people in the area is dependent on farming.

Upon arrival at Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, the Disaster Response Ministry held three large food & supplies distributions; helping 577 families. Medical assistance was also provided at the distributions. Recipients of the relief were extremely thankful and many told tragic stories of the death of family members.

Participants in a Trauma workshop

Ester Kashim shared, “I was sick when the Boko Haram caught me and took me away from my home in Gavva. I spent two years and three months with them in the Sambisa forest and in another location around Lake Chad. When a fight occurred between the Boko Haram and some military, I was released and ran away. By this time I was pregnant but got to Maiduguri where I stayed at a military barracks for a month before an uncle found me and took me to his home. My baby has now been born, her name is Rebecca, and I am trying to take my High School exams. Thank you for your assistance!”

Teaching on Forgiveness

Trauma workshops have also been held recently in the Maiduguri area. Testimonies from these workshops confirm the need for this ministry. Maryamu testified after her workshop, “I was angry and hardly forgave before, but now I have learned the importance of forgiveness; hence from now on I will forgive people who hurt me.”

Violence continues in Maiduguri and the surrounding countryside. Attacks have occurred within the city and on the road from Damboa despite the Military escort. We continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in Nigeria.

Stewardship in the small church


A reflection by H. Fred Bernhard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren)