Looking Back on Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2017

On the weekend of April 22nd, I had the opportunity to attend the 2017 Ecumenical Advocacy Days. This event brings together Christians from many different denominations to advocate for peace and justice around the world. This year’s theme, based on the words of Martin Luther King, Jr, was “Confronting Chaos, Forging Community.” This focus revolved around countering racism, materialism and militarism in our society- very fitting, considering that the venue was just minutes from the Pentagon. The political “ask” of the conference, to be presented to legislators during Hill visits on Monday, was for the U.S. budget to reflect our values, and to be a “moral document” that actively countered racism, materialism and militarism.

Friday night began with a keynote address from Tamika Mallory. She spoke powerfully about the need for communities to rally around the oppressed, and to recognize the structural injustice present in society. Silence and passivity in the face of injustice allow it to continue, and we must be intentional about speaking out against racism. In one of the most memorable moments, she noted that if you are fighting for social justice and your stomach isn’t in knots all the time, you aren’t doing it right.

Saturday’s speaker, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer, explored the often uncomfortable topic of white privilege. There are many implicit benefits to being white in our society, and it is important that we are intentional about recognizing the ways in which we each benefit from unjust societal structures. His advice for white job-seekers truly interested in employment equality was brilliant- before accepting any position, ask the interviewer how many people of color they have interviewed for the post. If the answer is none, decline the position.

On Sunday, a panel of global activists explored the impact of American militarization on people around the world. Panelist Amal Nassar, a farmer and peace advocate from the West Bank, saddened and inspired the crowd with the story of her family’s orchard, which has been destroyed repeatedly by Israeli settlers. Her family has had to fight unending, ridiculous legal battles, and yet her optimism and hope for the future remains strong. No matter what obstacles the farm faces, she said, her plan is always to plant more trees.

The workshops that I attended revolved around the U.S. drone program, the role of the International Criminal Court in Africa, and the work being done in Nigeria to build stability amidst insecurity and violence. It was great to see the presence of the Church of the Brethren’s work in many of these issue areas

On Monday, after an information-packed weekend, we were energized and felt ready to advocate for a moral budget! Conference-goers descended on the Hill for meetings with their legislators. Our PA delegation visited with staff from Senator Toomey’s and Senator Casey’s offices in the morning, and in the afternoon, a group of us from the 8th Congressional District visited with Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick. In these meetings, we told our legislators that our budget should reflect our values. Funding should be given to robust programs to help the poor both domestically and internationally, and should NOT be given to increase the already enormous military budget.

We were all acutely aware, however, that meetings with legislators can only accomplish so much. If we are to truly fight for social justice within our communities, it is essential that we build meaningful relationships, have honest, loving conversations, and commit to standing up for the rights of our neighbor even when it is uncomfortable for us to do so.

These reflections have been brought to you by Tori Bateman. Tori will be serving in Brethren Volunteer Service through the Church of the Brethren, Office of Public Witness beginning June 2017.

 

Trust and Obey

contributed by Pam Reist

Our Nigerian experience began yesterday, with a deeply meaningful and moving full-of-life worship service of about 500 at the EYN Church in Abuja: a modern worship team,  woman’s choir with drums, consecration of church leadership, awards presented to youth, and recognition of others for special service, all in addition to preaching and singing and praying – Alleluia! Amen!  While much of the music was new to us, when we sang When we walk with the Lord,’ we couldn’t help but think that just a few weeks ago, we sang that very hymn around the tables at Love Feast in Elizabethtown, with our beloved community.

And now, in this “land of many possibilities,” we are imagining that “trust and obey” may take on new meaning during these two months that we will be serving with our Nigerian sisters and brothers.  The hospitality has been overwhelming, even these first few days.  “You…are…welcome!” is a greeting we hear over and over.  And we do feel welcome to this land of many possibilities!

Dave Reist at Abuja church with Ayuba and Nancy Gwani

Salam alaikum,

Pam and Dave Reist

Better Late than Never

Earth Day Sunday was last week. Though I wasn’t here (I’m going off the word on the street) I heard that while mentioned and in some manner included in the prayer time it was not a main theme. In the end, the point is to focus on caring for creation so timing is really not particularly essential. Better late than never.

At Christian Citizenship Seminars, this past week we focused on Native American rights focusing particularly on food security. This history of displacement and violence and broken treaties and degraded land is significant—and ongoing. Again, better late than never to focus on this and seek to listen and address this. [CCS is a youth program of the Church of the Brethren organized by Youth and Young Adult Ministries and my office—the Office of Public Witness].

The land on which this church is built is the land of the Piscataway people. Though I’ve wanted to look this up for a while. I only now just did after spending a week discussing and hearing about the experience of Indigenous peoples of this continent. I guess, at least, its better late than never.

These are related to the land (and the people of the land). For example, on the edge of the Navajo reservation sits the Lybrook Community Ministries of the Church of the Brethren. Kim and Jim Therrien are the directors and they, along with Kendra Pinto, a young Navajo protector of the land, spoke at the Christian Citizenship Seminars the past week. They told of the devastation to land by the oil and gas companies and the disregard and abandonment of the Diné people in the “checkerboard” eastern side of the reservation in New Mexico. The land and the people who know the land—whose histories and beliefs and stories of creation relate to this land—cannot be separated.

Of course, at some point it might just be too late and then it is never. So, better late than never does not eliminate urgency it simply provides a way forward in the face of much harm. For example, Cherokee attorney Joel West Williams, of the Native American Rights Fund, who also spoke at CCS told me on the taxi ride to the session that there are only around 100 Cherokee individuals who speak the language fluently and around 5 or 6 for whom Cherokee is their first language. At some point, it might be too late but for now there is at least some time. Some time to hear the call to repentance, action, and right believing.

The road to Emmaus is a narrative of an encounter with the risen Jesus. Though word had gotten out, these disciples remained perplexed. The narrative is of an encounter and of the disciples’ inexplicable inability to recognize Jesus. This unrecognition in the narrative highlights the need for God’s revelation (Craddock, Luke, 285). Jesus walks and teaches them and in retrospect they note that their hearts burned. Jesus walks and teaches them, explaining the scripture. It is not until he breaks bread that they recognize him—that he is revealed.

Now this is a telling of the revelation of the resurrected Christ to Jesus followers—and as such drawing a general lesson is a bit risky. There is significance of the sharing of the bread—as a reminder of the last supper, as the eventual practice of communion, as the simple practical act of hospitality and sharing in the basic needs of life—just the significance of this bread beckons to be extrapolated. I remember breaking bread (in the form of individually wrapped pound cakes dipped in green bean stew) with a Somali refugee in Chicago as he broke Ramadan fast in the middle of our English lesson, or Elmira the grandmother aged homeless women I’d meet in the same city and who would give the college students pizza that people gave her while sitting along the street asking for food, or breaking fry bread with a Navajo man whose ancestors were displaced by my ancestors. Hospitality and breaking bread in the face of displacement is a sign of the presence of God. It can be a revelation.

Now these breakings of bread may be too far a stretch from the Emmaus road but it does catch my imagination. Jesus is brought up out of the grave as a revelation of the power of God which then is gradually revealed to the disciples. While such revelation may be hard to spot, and in some way, is finished (since we aren’t still adding to the scriptural text), God continues to revel Godself. The revelation of the power of God continues through the work of the Spirit and the work of the community in scripture, prayer, and worship while we continue on the road of following Jesus in the work of Jesus and listening to others.

As we all know, the church has not always gotten its teaching or actions right. Because of this, care is needed in teaching, reading scripture, and discerning action. One such troubling teaching that has far reaching consequences is the “Doctrine of Discovery.” Specifically, in America there was an appropriation of the Exodus story by the European settlers. They were the Israelites escaping the slavery of England (Egypt), crossing the Red Sea of the Atlantic Ocean, to the Promised Land of the “New World,” and seizing the land from the people they found there as an act of the will of God. This misreading then continued to animate the imagination of Europeans who pushed further westward and continued to seize land through direct violence, pressure, or through manipulations of the law in their favor.

Such activity found a basis in official church teaching. The World Council of Churches in a 2012 statement notes, “For example, the church documents Dum Diversas (1452) and Romanus Pontifex (1455) called for non-Christian peoples to be invaded, captured, vanquished, subdued, reduced to perpetual slavery and to have their possessions and property seized by Christian monarchs. Collectively, these and other concepts form a paradigm or pattern of domination that is still being used against Indigenous Peoples.” (WCC, Statement on the doctrine of discovery and its enduring impact on Indigenous Peoples, Feb 17, 2012).

Creation Justice Ministries’ Earth Day Resource this year asserts that, “Because the Doctrine of Discovery is based on principles that originated with the church, the church has a special responsibility to dismantle this unjust paradigm.” (http://www.creationjustice.org/uploads/2/5/4/6/25465131/indigenous.pdf?key=63038771, 4). Now while the Church of the Brethren has never officially ascribed to this doctrine we have still benefited from the stolen lands. Most of the early Brethren were farmers and we continue to live on the land. We are not fr.ee from responsibility

While I was in New York with the high schoolers Jenn suggested that the CCS topic of Native American rights and food security and Earth Day might be good topics for the sermon. I had already begun to look that the lectionary passages for the week. Though passages did not seem particularly related to either caring for creation or the rights of Native Americans, I began to see that there were several points of connection. For one, the 1 Peter passage made an intricate argument connecting belief and action. A commentator confirmed this observation writing, “1 Peter is not alone in the NT in accenting the truth that a believer’s ‘whole life’ is a journey to heaven in the footsteps of Jesus. Yet its testimony stands as a serious caution against three popular misconceptions: that salvation is merely something that happened to Christian believers in the past, that their only responsibility now is to wait passively for the second coming and that ‘going to heaven’ is something that begins when they die” (J.R.Michaels, “1 Peter,” in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and its Developments, 922).

1 Peter 1:17-23

17 If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. “If you invoke” in the NRSV is translated “If you call out for help” in the Message.

In the New International Version, it reads, Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.”

 [Exile—displacement—references the Israelites displacement from their promised land. There was a covenant by God to Abraham stating that he would be the father of a great nation. This people eventually formed into a nation but were then enslaved but then led to freedom through the power of God. They then wandered for years (40) and then went into the land that was promised. In their entering they displaced peoples and then were themselves displaced by violence and invasion. Though this narrative introduces many questions—such has “who was in the “promised land” before the Israelites?” and “What did the original peoples think about Israel’s conviction that they should enter the land?—it also is part of what “exile” references.

18 You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. Being brought from “futile ways.” The assumption of superiority and dehumanization, exploitation, and genocide of peoples surely must count as futile. Jesus saves us from these. Though one might object and say that Peter is talking for religious practices. Because of the blood of Christ, which is pictured here as in the role of the sacrificial lamb which is part of the religious practices of the Hebrew people. Elsewhere Jesus is pictured as a priest as well as the lamb. Jesus saves us from futile ways. Jesus can yet save us from practices that continue the legacy continues environmental racism (such as in Standing Rock which protests by a white community moved construction to sacred lands and near the water of the original peoples or in New Mexico where safety measures on oil and gas companies are enforced in white communities but not on the Diné (Navajo) reservation) and the inability to acknowledge whose land this was.

22 Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. 23 You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.

Obedience to the truth results souls that have been made pure. When we realize that the Church has not only been complicit in injustice, but as with the Doctrine of Discovery, has generated teaching that spurred on the conquest and dehumanization of peoples, we should seek to repent and change our ways. The Church, thank God, has also be part of the creation of beauty, the abolition of slavery, the expansion of civil rights. So, my urging us to mine our theological and biblical resources while also interrogating them and the church’s practice is not a self-loathing or a nagging self-righteousness but a continued seeking to live in the love and will of God.

Mark Charles, a Navajo theologian and activist, argues that both the oppressed and the oppressor communities suffer from historical trauma of genocide, forced displacement, policies and practices (such as board schools) which tried to destroy culture, and dehumanization. http://wirelesshogan.blogspot.com/ .Willie James Jennings, an African American theologian and professor, asserts that the Christian imagination has been distorted. Jennings writes,

Christian social imagination is diseased and disfigured. In making this claim I am not saying that the church is lost, moribund, or impotent. Rather, I want my readers to capture sight of a loss, almost imperceptible, yet articulated powerfully in the remaining slender testimonies of Native American peoples and other aboriginal peoples. This loss points out not only to deep psychic cuts and gashes in the social imaginary of western peoples, but also to an abiding mutilation of a Christian vision of creation and our own creatureliness. I want Christians to recognize the grotesque nature of a social performance of Christianity that imagines Christian identity floating above land, landscape, animals, place, and space, leaving such realities to the machinations of capitalistic calculations and the commodity chains of private property. Such Christian identity can only inevitably lodge itself in the materiality of racial existence (Jennings, The Christian Imagination, 293).

As we seek to follow the risen Christ as a community, we as the disciples along the Emmaus road, will experience the revelation of our Lord in what are at times unexpected ways and places. As we open ourselves to hear histories and stories of the indigenous communities of this land we must both mourn the past and our complicity but more importantly we must listen and seek to end this mistreatment and injustice in the present.

 

-Nathan Hosler, pastor at Washington City Church of the Brethren

Investigating a Brethren myth: A connection to the Peace Corps

Don Murray during his time in Brethren Service.
Photo from the Brethren Historical Library and Archives

By Bill Kostlevy, director of the Brethren Historical Library and Archives

As is fitting for a people who gather around Scripture, Brethren also gather around stories of heroes in the faith. Unfortunately, given the lack of documentary evidence, early Brethren history is often shrouded in mystery. Documentation is sparse and the room for conjecture large. This is where the Brethren Historical Library and Archives (BHLA) enters the equation.

Tasked with the assignment of collecting and preserving the historical record of the Brethren experience, the BHLA is the repository for far more than the official agencies of the Church of the Brethren. It is committed to preserving the documentary evidence for a movement that has left a deep impact wherever its members have been. This includes local communities in North America, the establishment of hospitals and schools in India, Shanxi Province China, and Nigeria. Brethren also pioneered in evangelical and social justice outreach in locations like Denmark, Austria, and even in war-torn countries of Spain and Vietnam.

As a historian, I know there are certain commonly believed Brethren stories, and even strongly held beliefs, where supporting evidence is either thin or non-existent. Despite the beard, Abraham Lincoln was not secretly baptized into the Dunker fold. Nor did the early Brethren invent Sunday school. Or on a more controversial note, it is puzzling that folks who believed in no force of religion also disciplined erring brothers and sisters by disowning them.

The story of Brethren influence in the creation of the Peace Corps has always intrigued me. Did Brethren Service really provide the model for the Peace Corps? In an age of false news and alternative truth, I sought to find the answer to this question.

In November, I interviewed Don Murray—a conscientious objector to war, distinguished actor, and former Brethren Service worker. He served in Brethren Service from 1953-1956 working in Germany, among refugees in Naples, and later in Sardinia with both Brethren Service and the Congregational Church. In Sardinia, he organized the Homeless European Land Program (HELP) which on 130 acres built homes and established several businesses providing both a community and employment for refugee families. For Don Murray, Brethren Service was a transforming experience. As he tells the story, the Peace Corps was the product of an importune speech he made in Hibbing, Minnesota, in 1956. A recent co-star with Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop, Murray was asked to introduce the Democratic vice-presidential candidate at a campaign rally. When the vice-presidential candidate’s plane was late, Murray was asked to entertain the audience with stories from Hollywood. Since the New York-based Murray, who had spent most of the last three years in Europe, had little Hollywood gossip, he regaled the audience with stories of his Brethren Service experience.

Among those in the audience was Minnesota Senator and later Vice-President Hubert Humphrey. A serious Christian and Methodist, Humphrey was moved by the story and arranged an interview for Murray with President Dwight Eisenhower. Although not enacted during the Eisenhower administration, Humphrey’s, or as Humphrey called it, “Murray’s plan,” was subsequently introduced in Congress. It was this legislation that laid the ground work for the Peace Corps.

Today Don Murray, who became a member of the Church of the Brethren and considers his time in Brethren Service as one of the most meaningful experiences in his life, remains deeply committed to the values he learned from his Church of the Brethren. He was blessed with many Brethren friends and mentors including Dan West, Harold Row, Dale Aukerman, Ken Kreider, and Don Miller.

The interview with Don Murray is one of many treasures housed in the Brethren Historical Library and Archives. While there may not be evidence for some of our Brethren myths, it is inspiring to know that there is for this one. Don Murray’s story is a reminder of the power of the faith and actions of all who are willing to serve the world in the spirit of our Savior.

Learn more about the Brethren Historical Library and Archives at www.brethren.org/bhla or support it today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Nigeria Tractor Project is a go!

Thank you to all who have been raising special funds for the Nigeria Tractor Project! Several churches and districts have contributed significantly and we are ready to buy the tractors and get the project underway. (Any additional funds raised for this project will go into purchasing seeds and fertilizer.) The recipients in Nigeria are very enthusiastic about this venture.

Markus Gamache reports, “Many of the people from Northeast Nigeria cannot return to their towns and villages because of unsafe conditions. It could take a year or two before the situation is under control enough for them to return and start a new life.  The main way for these people to support themselves and their families has always been through farming.  The country at the moment is facing large-scale economic inflation caused by political instability, religious discrimination, ethnic clashes, bribery, corruption and disputes over oil monies in the south. All this has contributed to the lack of educational opportunities for many of the children as well as a crumbling infrastructure that has left most social services inaccessible to a large part of the population. The result, especially in northeast Nigeria is widespread hunger and poverty.

Most farming is done by hand and is very labor intensive. The tractors will help greatly with this work. One tractor will be used at the EYN Headquarters in Kwarhi and the other with Displaced Persons around the Abuja area.

With the help of the tractors, they will be able to clear larger areas of land, form Co-op groups that will plant the crops and share the harvest among their members. Some of the crops will  be sold and the proceeds will provide for next year’s maintenance, purchase food for those in remote areas, and provide school fees and medicine.

Please continue to pray for the success of this project and for the people who will benefit from it!

 

Anticipating Annual Conference

Photo by Glenn Riegel

By Chris Douglas, conference director

I have looked forward to Annual Conference each and every summer since I became a member of the Church of the Brethren in the 1970s.

I remember so vividly an Annual Conference more than twenty years ago in which we saw story after story in David Sollenberger’s videos in the General Board Live Report of what the Church of the Brethren was doing in mission around the world. Then at the close of the live report, we stood and sang together, “This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.” I remember thinking, “all of the work of the church that I just saw really is MY story.”

There are many reasons why I love Annual Conference. It’s the place I see friends I only see once a year. It’s a place where we gather as a community to reflect on what it means to be Brethren and where we fellowship together, including with Brethren from around the world. And worship at Annual Conference is where we celebrate God’s majesty and holiness. Last summer I got goose bumps every time we sang, “Light of the World, into our darkness come.” We sang this at the opening of each worship time while candles were carried around the worship hall through the darkness. It was a wonderful reminder to be open to God’s leading.

This year’s theme, “Risk Hope”, is especially timely. Moderator Carol Scheppard’s monthly Bible studies have reminded us, “As we face the various storms of our times we gain strength and hope from the stories of God’s people in exile in Babylon.” When it is most difficult to find hope is the exact time that we must risk hope. This theme invites us to become a people who embody hope.

I am so grateful each summer when we can come together in person with our sisters and brothers to worship, sing, conduct business and fellowship together. Annual Conference also provides webcasting for persons who cannot be present so that, even from far away, Brethren can join in times of business and worship.

At its best, Annual Conference reminds us of who God is calling us to be as the body of Christ in the world. In the words of our mission statement: “Annual Conference exists to unite, strengthen, and equip the Church of the Brethren to follow Jesus.” In Grand Rapids this summer, may we take hold of the opportunities to unite, strengthen, and equip ourselves to follow Jesus!

Learn more or register for this year’s Annual Conference at www.brethren.org/ac .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

EYN Church to Maximize Soya Bean Production

By:  Zakariya Musa

Participants and Facilitators

EYN Church of the Brethren in Nigeria’s Agricultural Department embarked on a Soya Beans Chain Training Workshop. The three day workshop was planned to train 32 people from different communities, reported Rev. James T. Mamza, Director of Integrated Community Based Development Program (ICBDP) The workshop trained trainers who will go back to their farming communities to stepdown the knowledge to others. Although the workshop was designed for 32 people only 18  were able to attend; about 50% of the participants were women.

Three Facilitators: Mr. Kefas John, Mr. Daniel Y. Zafi and Mrs. Salamatu J. S. Billi were engaged to teach on soya beans as a crop, Soya beans production, use of inoculant in legumes, field measurement, and marketing soya beans. Other topics discussed include the use of agrochemicals and their side effects. Such teaching is coming to the farming communities who now embracing the use of agrochemicals to reduce farming cost.

This is an area that produces different crops such as Maize, Groundnuts, Beans, and Millet.  I asked  Rev. Mamza why they were emphasizing soya beans?  He replied, “Soya beans is referred to as a Golden crop because it has so many benefits:  it is easy to farm,  it improves soil nutrients in terms of nitrogen and fixation of soil, it destroy pests and suppresses weeds, and it has about 46% protein content to improve nutrition in the human body.”

One of the workshop participants from Chibok, Sister Gladys Mallum, commented that the training was an interesting one. Her concern is people’s acceptance to grab what she called “privilege to maximize farm produce and profit”. By embracing soya beans, she learned that people can fight poverty in their communities.

This is the first of a series of workshops sponsored by CoB and EYN; they will continue in other zones.

Can these bones live?

Photo by Matt DeBall

By Matt DeBall, coordinator of Donor Communications

“The hand of the LORD came upon me, and… set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones…. [God] said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord GOD, you know.’ Then [God] said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.… I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live’” (Ezekiel 37:1-5).

Nothing reveals death and destruction more clearly than a large heap of bones. For Ezekiel, this vision represented the destruction of his beloved people—the destruction of God’s chosen nation. Ezekiel must have been horrified and full of despair as he surveyed this valley of death.

Though our circumstances may not be as dire as Ezekiel’s vision, they can sometimes feel very similar. Even without intentionally searching, it’s easy to find decay in our world—in the brutal destruction of human life, in the ever-widening chasm of animosity between opposing groups, and, in general, in the diminishing focus to care for all people. If God asked us if broken forms could be restored, our words might mimic those of Ezekiel—whether of despair (“O Lord, [only] you know [if it’s possible]”) or even disgust (“O Lord, [surely] you know [it isn’t possible]”). What reason could we have to respond differently?

Thankfully, the God who asks the question is also the God who answers it. In Ezekiel’s vision, God instructed him to prophesy to the bones, and in response, God breathed new life into them and regenerated those broken bodies. This was a promise of restoration for Israel, but was it just a vision or a metaphor? Surely such things don’t happen in real life.

As we approach Easter, we remember that God does more than tell wonderful stories. We remember Jesus, the Savior, who became a lifeless bag of bones but did not stay that way. Though the conditions of nature declare that dry bones cannot be re-animated, the Creator and Redeemer of all life is not bound by these principles. What was only a shadow of hope in the vision of Ezekiel is fully realized in the resurrection of Jesus. And what God has done once, God can surely do again.

The resurrection power of God still works today. The new life of Jesus is the new life that we experience in following him. The resurrected body of Jesus is represented each year in the new life of plants and flowers. Though we may not see renewal in all areas and realms of life, God invites us to speak to any pile of bones, declaring God’s promise for restoration.

May we have the courage to accept God’s promise for restoration and declare it to a world full of death and decay. May God once again breathe new life into dry bones.

Learn more about the work of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org or make an Easter gift to the ministries that you love at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Sharing Lafiya!

Sally Rich at Pegi church in Nigeria

Contributed by Sally Rich

Every morning as we met with our Nigerian brothers and sisters in preparation for a day of work, we would hear and express the traditional Hausa greeting, “Lafiya,” wishing the receiver health in body, mind, and soul. This greeting was especially meaningful as we met our second morning with EYN members living in camps for displaced persons at Masaka and Gurku. These brothers and sisters have recently been traumatized by attacks of Boko Haram on their homes and families in the Chibok region. Many have witnessed the brutal killings of husbands, wives, and even parents. While they can call upon spiritual strength and innate courtesy to offer us a welcoming smile, often beneath that smile lies deep pain and a sense of desperation about their near and distant future. They need Lafiya.

Women learning to sew (CCEPI skills center in Yola)

While some of us felt sad to just visit and leave, our leader, Markus Gamache told us our visit took their mind off their troubles for awhile, and gave them a chance to share their troubles with brothers and sisters from far away. It gives them hope to know that we know their situation. One of Markus’ objectives is to create work programs for the people of the camps that keep their bodies, minds and souls busy with useful work, as they begin the healing process. There it is again: Lafiya, health in body, mind and soul.

 It’s even better when these programs provide an income that can be used immediately, as well as a skill that can be used in the future to create income. Programs where people learn tailoring, fishery skills, and new farming skills provide this kind of practical hope. The interfaith camp at Gurku is a pioneer in these areas, but other camps need the resources to create such programs as well. 

Simple sewing “shop” in Gurku

Some of us on the work camp were dreaming about a new kind of “sharing” camp, where each participant would come prepared to share gifts from their own experience, even as we accept gifts from the experiences of our Nigerian friends. An organic farmer may share some of what he has learned, and together find ways to adapt that knowledge to the local conditions. A music lover may come prepared to start a choir among camp members, and in turn learn songs to take back to our congregations at home. A physical therapist may share exercises tailored to the aches and pains people may be having. You get the idea…what might your gift be?

 I have a fair trade business selling jewelry and accessories made by women in Uganda. So in the spirit of a sharing camp, I went to Nigeria looking for a product or two that women there could make and I could sell. A friend from our church who works at our local Brethren nursing home suggested rice therapy pillows would be a great product to sell at nursing home gift shops. I was able to connect with a group of EYN women who are learning to sew, and they made me rice therapy pillows, walker bags, as well as scarves and headbands. At the Gurku camp, I met with a group of widows who had recently learned to make soaps and ointments from natural local materials, and I hope to have those by the time of Annual Conference, where I will have a booth. Look for me there! The name of our project: Lafiya! Of course. 

Clothes from a knitting business given to a displaced widow

Seeking the welfare of the city

Congregational Life Ministry staff Joshua Brockway (front row, second from left)
and Debbie Eisenbise (center) with spiritual directors at a retreat in June 2016.
Photo courtesy of Debbie Eisenbise

By Josh Brockway, director of Spiritual Life and Discipleship

I attended worship on New Year’s Eve with close friends at their congregation. The sermon that night emerged from the pastor’s study of Jeremiah 29. For that time of the year, his sermon was appropriately focused on verse 11: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

As I often do, I started reading the verses before that important verse. In reading the book of Jeremiah, we learn that the letter presented to the exiles in Babylon begins with a less than hopeful note, especially for those who were longing to be released. “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage.” For those in exile, it sounds like they are going to be waiting a while. And in fact, in verse 10, that truth is confirmed. “For thus says the Lord, only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.”

Certainly, this is a word from God to a people in a land not of their own making. That is the definition of exile. Yet, this word has a profound message beyond how long the people could expect to be held captive by Babylon. The people of God, says the prophet, are to “seek the welfare of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7). For in the peace of the city, the exiles will find their own welfare.

These words are not a weak reminder to live at peace with those around them. Rather, it is a posture with deep theological connotations. This welfare, this peace is nothing short of shalom, the peace of God that offers wellness and wholeness to all God’s people. The captives are to work for this kind of peace for their captors. They are not, as some false prophets suggested, to incite a revolt to overthrow the imperial rulers. Rather, the welfare of God’s people is bound up together with the peace of those who are also their judgment.

Today, many feel like our land is not our own. Some have even gone so far as to invoke the image of exile for the church. If we are indeed exiles, how then should we live? Should we pray for revolt, bloodless or otherwise, or should we seek the welfare of our neighbors, living by the peace of God in the midst of a foreign culture?

Brethren have long been misfits in Christendom. Much of our early growth can be traced to the peculiar way of life that sought the wellbeing of those around them. At the same time, the early Brethren refused to take part in revolution, either in the peaceful transition of power or by the sword itself. Instead, they continued to live within the blessing of God’s peace, praying for friend and foe alike.

Ministries and programs of the Church of the Brethren continue to shape us as disciples, sending us into the world as we seek the welfare of all. Congregational Life Ministries coordinates a network of spiritual directors who have the gifts and skills to help us look for where God is at work around us. The Office of Ministry supports pastors, district executives, and others through the ordination process, and asks that candidates for ordination work with a coach or spiritual director so that their own eyes are fixed on the presence of God in their ministries. The Office of Public Witness continues to provide avenues for our prayerful presence within an ever-changing culture. All of these and more reveal the sacrificial love of God and the peace of Christ, which are for all people.

As we envision the Church of the Brethren in the coming years, may we seek the welfare of the city. May we continue the long history of caring for the sick and marginalized. May we continue to find ways to teach our youth the blessing of God’s peace. And may we find ways to strengthen our congregations as places known for their local ministries of reconciliation.

Your prayers and financial support help keep this witness alive. Thank you for continuing to seek the welfare of the city, and for supporting the ministries of your local and denominational church. For our greatest witness to the world comes in our patient efforts to embody God’s shalom for all those around us.

Learn more about the work of Congregational Life Ministries at www.brethren.org/clm. Support these and all of the ministries of the Church of the Brethren today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)