Being the church

David Steele speaking with the group at the Atlantic Northeast District Listening Session. Photo by Glenn Riegel

David Steele speaking with the group at the
Atlantic Northeast District Listening Session.
Photo by Glenn Riegel

By David Steele, general secretary

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope”(Romans 15:13).

My first 100 days as general secretary have come and gone. These first weeks have been exhilarating, challenging, and joy-filled. Assessment, questions, review of past board and committee minutes, and many meetings have filled my days. What has been and will continue to be central in my work and ministry has been listening—listening to staff and you, the church. From the hallways and meeting rooms of the General Offices and Brethren Service Center to the listening sessions being held across the denomination, I am learning much. I count it a privilege to meet with you to hear your hopes, passions, and concerns, and I look forward to many more listening opportunities as I continue to schedule listening sessions in other districts.

What am I learning from your sharing? We are passionate about the Church of the Brethren and our common ministries of service, mission, discipleship, and evangelism. Yet, we are also distracted by dwindling numbers and whether we will split over our diverging or opposite views related to human sexuality and same-gender marriage. Many of your hopes have been centered in a desire for unity, reconciliation, and focusing on what unites us. Much of your sharing can be taken at face value; however, for some our desire for unity and staying together are tied to certain outcomes.

The issues we face as a church will not go away. Let’s not kid ourselves. Given our diversity, there is no decision that we can make about a social issue that will satisfy all of us. And when we do make a decision about a social issue, it will likely be replaced by another, and another, and another.

Being the church is messy. It always has been. I have always appreciated the diversity of the church and the opportunities and challenges such diversity offers. In 1 Corinthians 12:12 we read, “The body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body.” Each part of the body is essential and cannot be denied its place in the body. “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose” (12:18).

I believe we must work together as one body—the body of Christ—to attend to the issues before us and those that we will face in the future. Our rich diversity provides us the ability to speak to a very complex and diverse world and model another way of living—the way of Jesus. Our working together, despite our differences, is not a denial of our convictions, but an acknowledgment of our conviction that Jesus is central in our lives and that we are part of one body in Christ. Sure, it is easier to seek out and gather with those who think and believe like us, but where would be our sense of smell, sight, ability to walk, to touch? As one dear brother said in one of the listening sessions, “I need those of you calling me to purity equally as much as I need those calling me to grace and compassion.”

As we step into this new year, I am committed to our common struggle together as the body of Christ. In the midst of distractions, it has been most exhilarating in my first 100 days to experience firsthand the tireless efforts of staff and leaders to be the church. Mission work around the globe, disaster response ministries, workcamps for youth, discipleship ministries and working with congregations in efforts of vitality and evangelism, intercultural ministries, church planting coaching and support, and planning for Christian Citizenship Seminar, Young Adult Conference, and Inspiration 2017 (National Older Adult Conference)and the list could go on.

We are called to another way of living, a way that looks much different from the world around us. I invite you to support and join in our mission and ministry—to be the church. Being the church is where our body finds its unity and strength through Jesus.

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org or support it today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Amazing

Mark Flory Steury at the Church of the Brethren General Offices. Photo by Dewayne Heck

Mark Flory Steury at the Church of the Brethren General Offices.
Photo by Dewayne Heck

By Mark Flory Steury, Donor Relations representative

“It’s amazing how much the Church of the Brethren is able to do.”

This is a comment I hear often as I talk with congregational leaders and pastors about the denominational work of the Church of the Brethren. It has been my joy to visit many congregations over the past five years, and to thank them for being so generous! For well over one hundred years, congregations have faithfully supported the work of the church through their offerings.

When I visit a congregation, we talk about the ways the Church of the Brethren is currently serving in ministry both domestically and abroad. Globally we have partners in Nigeria, India, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Haiti, Spain, South Sudan and many other places. We help people in times of need through Brethren Disaster Ministries, Children’s Disaster Services, and the Global Food Initiative. Volunteers serve as the hands and feet of Jesus through Brethren Volunteer Service and Workcamps. These are some of the ways that we extend the love of God to others.

We also provide resources for churches and individuals across the country. We support the work of new churches through the Church Planting Conference. We equip church leaders and members through the work of Congregational Life Ministries, the Ministry Office, and Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leaderships, and through materials like Vital Ministry Journey, the Anabaptist Worship Exchange, the Shine curriculum, and webinars. Faith-forming, community-fostering conferences and programs are provided throughout the year like National Junior High Conference, Christian Citizenship Seminar, Ministry Summer Service, National Young Adult Conference, and National Older Adult Conference. Conversation and information are shared through Newsline and Messenger magazine. We also have wonderful historical resources preserved through the Brethren Historical Library and Archives. This is just a brief overview of the many ministries we do together!

Amazing! How is the Church of the Brethren able to do all of this? It’s only with the support of congregations and individuals who are willing to work together for a common mission and ministry.

It is remarkable how much the Church of the Brethren is able to do. Thank you so much for your awesome support. We can do this work only because of your partnership. May God bless us as we continue in our work together.

Learn more about the 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)

Walking Together

One Great Hour of Sharing 2016

One Great Hour of Sharing 2016

Adapted from a sermon starter by José Francisco Morales Torres, director of Pastoral Formation at Disciples Seminary Foundation

“Where you go I will go; and where you stay I will stay” (Ruth 1:16, NIV).

The story of Ruth is a beautiful narrative about resilience and accompaniment. Rendered vulnerable by the deaths of their husbands and the natural disaster of famine, Ruth and Naomi clung to one another for comfort and strength.

As we read the book of Ruth, we see both a human story and a God story, the former “incarnating” the latter. As a human story, we read about the spirituality of solidarity. In the divine realm, we read of God’s redemption, which is mirrored in human action.

Redemption is a sign of God being with us. The divine act of redemption can be seen in the sacrificial commitment Ruth makes to Naomi to go where she goes and stay where she stays. Through Ruth, God is revealed in the very act of accompanying the most vulnerable in society—both then and now. This commitment to walk together is good news for a globalizing world that so often separates people groups into “them” and “us.”

As God walks with those who are vulnerable, we see God as we walk together with them as well. Consequently, we, like the outcast, come face-to-face with our own need and vulnerability; we need them to see God in our midst. Walking with those in need is an opportunity for us to reignite our faith and reframe our humanity in our encounter with the faith and humanity of another. We are able to recognize the transforming power of solidarity, not just for “them” but for “us.” Through the eyes of accompaniment, there is only a united “us!”

One Great Hour of Sharing is a special opportunity for you and your congregation to walk with those in need through the work of the Church of the Brethren. When you give to this special offering, you support Core Ministries like Brethren Volunteer Service, Congregational Life Ministries, Global Mission and Service, the Office of Ministry, and the Office of Public Witness. You also support the work of Brethren Disaster Ministries and Global Food Crisis Fund. With your help, we accompany those in need across the country and around the world. As we walk together, we recognize God among us and receive strength for the journey ahead.

The suggested date for One Great Hour of Sharing is March 20. Learn more and find worship resources for the offering at www.brethren.org/oghs or give today at www.brethren.org/giveoghs .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Encounters with God

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org. Photos by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, Don Knieriem, and Jean Bednar

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org.
Photos by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, Don Knieriem, and Jean Bednar

A reflection by Stanley Noffsinger

When I graduated from Manchester University, my eyes were set on the future. I was filled with anticipation, hope, relief, and a modicum of anxiety. Little did I know that the path ahead would take unusual and unexpected twists and turns beyond my wildest imagination.

I am reminded of the story of Moses—a trusted and experienced shepherd—who was asked by his father-in-law, Jethro, to lead a flock through the wilderness. Moses set out with his faith and experience to get the flock moving, feed them, protect them, and return them home.

But Moses’ serenity was interrupted in an unexpected way—by an angel of the Lord through the burning bush. The last thing Moses expected was to be in the presence of the Divine, but as Moses heard God through a burning bush, he entered into an unimagined reality. Moses knew he was in the presence of Yahweh, the Lord God.

Moses was prepared for the future just like each of us. And like Moses, we will encounter a day when unexpected events will alter our journey. These unplanned detours may not be as dramatic as a burning bush but, nonetheless will change the course of our lives.

I never thought I would become the first lay person to hold the office of general secretary for the Church of the Brethren. Nor could I have imagined this position would allow me the privilege to have audience with Pope Benedict at the Vatican, with the former president of Iran, or the President of United States. All of these events and opportunities to interact with people from all over the world were moments when I experienced God’s presence.

During my time of service to the Church of the Brethren, we have seen spiritual growth with congregations the United States and around the world. We have witnessed lives changed and faith strengthened at conferences like National Youth ConferenceNational Older Adult ConferenceNational Junior High Conference, and WorkChristian Citizenship Seminar. We have responded to extreme national and international disasters, walking alongside leaders as they served their communities in a manner consistent with their context of living. We have persevered in a tradition of service through ministries like Brethren Volunteer Service and workcamps. We have spoken to the world and its leaders on important issues, hopeful that we might find alternative paths to resolving conflicts. In all of these things, we have truly witnessed God in our midst.

Looking to the future, we will be heading forward with great expectation, even though the paths we will take are truly unknown. While we still have much to learn about showing love to one another, I have the utmost confidence and trust that our faith and experience will serve us well. Inspired by our appointment with the Divine, we will persevere in our pursuit of life, relationships, and Christian service.

Learn more about the 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 Nigeria: An Island in the Desert

Rev. Yohanna Budwara & Carl

Rev. Yohanna just after he arrived in Jos from Maiduguri

By Carl and Roxane Hill, co-directors of the Nigeria Crisis Response currently in Nigeria

Maiduguri is the Capitol city of Borno State located in northeast Nigeria. It has many distinctions. One is that it is credited as the birthplace of the Islamist insurgent group, Boko Haram. It is the largest city in all of northeast Nigeria with a population of over 2 million. During the violence that has been gripping this part of Nigeria many people have sought refuge in this heavily fortified city, swelling the population by some 50 to 100 thousand. The marketplace in Maiduguri has been closed for some weeks to protect its citizens from suicide bombings.

We met Reverend Yohanna when we were teaching at EYN’s Kulp Bible College. He was not only a lecturer there but served as the campus chaplain. His children were all well versed in English and found us to be welcoming to them and people they could talk to. We really enjoyed this family. However, last December the Chaplain (as we called him) was transferred to become the DCC Secretary of Maiduguri. Besides being a very dangerous assignment the temperatures can get as high as 115 degrees.

As Boko Haram violence escalated throughout 2014 Maiduguri became a bastion of safety for Christians and moderate Muslims. The military also decided that Maiduguri would be protected and additional forces were stationed there. The offensive conducted by the Boko Haram surrounded Maiduguri and became an important target for the terrorists to capture. Fighting rages all around this city in the desert. But it has held out against the radical Islamist sect. As supplies were brought into the city Rev. Yohanna served as the Chairman of the Distribution Committee and provided relief materials for over 50,000 people. He organized peaceful distributions and was one of the only ones to keep accurate records. Based on his documentation the government was able to gauge the amount of supplies to be delivered.

Rev. Yohanna told us that it was a big job to be responsible for so many needy people. He said not all were grateful but most of the people praised God for his fair and honest work. “I really saw the hand of God in this work.”

Nigeria Crisis Response Announcement

We are happy to announce that Cliff Kindy recently returned safely to his home in the US! Thank you for all your prayers and best wishes during his time spent walking with our EYN brothers and sisters during this crisis and reporting back. Some of his material will be still be shared in the future but he is no longer in Nigeria right now.

We do ask for your prayers for Carl and Roxane Hill, the co-directors of our Nigeria Crisis Response, who have safely arrived in Nigeria this month. They are meeting with EYN leaders and congregation members and will be reporting back on the Response while they are there. Watch for reports on this blogsite and thank you for your continued support.

Reports from Nigeria: Returning Home

By Cliff Kindy, Brethren Disaster Ministries volunteer who wrote this while in Nigeria. He has since returned home safely.

The dynamics of the violence in Nigeria are changing dramatically in the recent weeks. Boko Haram has lost the momentum that they previously had in waging battles where they chose and usually overcoming any opposition. They have been unable to hold the initiative in any recent conflicts. They have sustained heavy losses, had hundreds of fighters arrested by Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad. Their camps and headquarters have been overrun by Nigerian troops supported by heavy air bombardment.

Boko Haram fighters are scattered but in their frustration are striking out at any soft targets. So places like Chibok are again facing attacks from those groups. An EYN member from Chibok reported that Boko Haram had gone door to door in that community killing inhabitants and burning houses. Suicide bombings are scattered across the north of Nigeria. Individuals carry out those bombings – one seven year old girl was strapped with a bomb and the other recent suicide attack was a man boarding a long distance bus when his explosives detonated. But Boko Haram is no longer able to rally large forces for any major attacks. There are even reports that Nigeria has arrested the Boko Haram leadership.

With these changing dynamics and some communities protected by Nigerian security for a couple months already, individuals and families are anxious to return home. But what does that mean on the ground?

They return with nothing in most cases. Where do they start? What do they eat? Where will there be protection from the rains that have arrived in Jos? What about tools? Seeds? Animals? Electricity? Community infrastructure?

Homes have been burned. Churches are leveled, clinics bombed. Belongings have been looted and carried off. There are no longer stores or shops in most communities. Bridges are destroyed. Cars were stolen. Tools are missing or unusable. Wells in some communities have dead bodies in them. Maybe the departing Boko Haram raiders left explosives to greet returnees. Energy is sapped by the original trauma and there is new trauma facing those returning home.

Government is not likely to generate the massive aid needed in this kind of situation. Relief aid will only make a small dent in the total rebuilding of society that will be required. How does a community gather the united energy required to begin the process of starting over from scratch?

Churches thrive on hope. The love of the church provides encouragement and support when everything is at the bottom. Just as the early church in Acts lived an alternative reality from the Roman political system, so that will be true today with a church like EYN in Nigeria. The woman who told me about Chibok under attack again will be among the leaders of the trauma healing group that crisscrosses EYN in Nigeria and Cameroon.

Returning home will start with little steps from NGOs like Women and Youth Empowerment for Advancement and Health Initiative supplying families with machines to generate income, animals and seeds for providing food. Other NGOs like Lifeline Compassionate Global Initiatives through their interfaith efforts with displaced families are building the relationships for healed societies that will be required if communities will succeed in overcoming enormous obstacles. Both of these NGOs are among others that are funded by the Church of the Brethren through Brethren Disaster Ministries.

The Crisis Management Team of EYN is still doing emergency feeding, is just starting on building temporary housing for displaced families and is ready to begin the training of a large cadre of trauma trainers who face an enormously daunting task. At the same time the Team is helping EYN itself recover from the total displacement of its organization. But what lies ahead is larger by far than all they have tackled thus far. Re-establishing devastated communities from scratch is nearly impossible for strong organizations that have done the work previously, but for a group like EYN which has no experience in disaster response, can it even be imagined?!?

Yes, the hard work of thinking ahead is started in EYN. Church of the Brethren volunteers are walking alongside EYN. The experience of EYN-related NGOs can pave the way for larger responses. EYN is a strong church with creative leaders. EYN’s reliance on God’s care and leading will cover many stumbles in the months and years ahead. The future is rising from the ashes. People are returning home.

Reports from Nigeria: God’s Distribution

God's Distrib in Bui Blog

Congregation at EYN church in Biu where distribution took place.

By Cliff Kindy, Brethren Disaster Ministries volunteer who recently returned from Nigeria

Three Crisis Team members traveled to Biu on a Saturday at the end of February to complete a relief distribution. One day earlier it had appeared as though the process might fall through. Vehicle plans were not coming together and finances seemed to be held up even though approval for the funds had taken place a couple weeks earlier.

Our driver picked me up at eight Saturday morning. One of the two DCC secretaries from Biu was traveling with the Team. We stopped to pick up the other two team members as we drove out of Jos. There had been some question whether it was safe for me, a very visible white person, to travel into this region that had experienced Boko Haram attacks several places along the route.

The road deteriorated as we traveled through three states before reaching Borno State. The last two hours were slow because of heavily potholed road surface. There were regular security check points and occasional vigilante road blocks to supplement government patrols. Around Gombe and as we neared Biu there were increasing signs of the Boko Haram suicide bombings and fire attacks against check point sites, police stations, a hospital and a gas station close to an intersection with another security checkpoint.

When we arrived at the EYN LCC #1 Biu compound most of the supplies were already on site, delivered by a local EYN businessman the Team had called the evening before. We still did not have definite numbers for the EYN displaced families or individuals. There were some outdated pages recording IDPs but the numbers we started hearing from the two DCC secretaries were much higher than we had figured because of recent attacks on EYN communities outside of BIU.

We asked congregations during their worship at the six nearby churches to announce our plans for a 1PM relief distribution. All of these churches were hosting IDPs in the churches or with families. When the one o’clock time arrived the church building was packed with people and others were outside.

We had decided the night before to ask for just one representative from each family to attend the distribution and had decided that we only might have enough supplies for one item per family – a big bag of rice, a larger bag of maize or a box containing packages of noodles. We also had boxes of soap and we intended to give two bars to each family. To make the process smoother we made tickets, color coded and numbered for the total supply of the three items.

With the crowds of people before us Sunday afternoon we considered providing one item for every two families. We were worried that the distribution could deteriorate quickly. Then three ideas surfaced in rapid succession. 1) We would prioritize displaced pastors. 2) Widows would also receive priority. 3) We would start handing out tickets (each family representative picked a ticket from a bag), starting with people ages sixty to seventy and keep moving down a decade until all tickets were gone. That ticket indicated which item they would receive and the order in which they could collect the item.

It meant some expectant persons would not receive one of the three food items but it would be the younger persons who could more easily find jobs in the city to provide food. At the start there was a mass push toward the supplies but with local helpers we were able to make clear that the distribution would start with the order of numbers from inside the church.  Inside the church was also much cooler than the hot sun out in the courtyard.

Even with the kinks in the process and a long careful explanation to make the process clear at the beginning over one thousand people received supplies within three hours. One serendipitous event was deciding to not hand out soap to each family. This meant that there was sufficient soap to give three bars to even the individuals who had not received a ticket and others who were waiting hopefully in the courtyard outside the church.

As the distribution proceeded many recipients thanked us for the process and for assuring that everyone received something. It was a team effort that accomplished the distribution task. The DCC secretaries were key to the process. The youth brigade supplied the manpower to move food items to recipients. Local church staff provided escort and number checking for each group of ten people moving from inside the church to the warehouse distribution center. Vigilante volunteers provided security for the courtyard. And the Team of three provided coordination of the process. The patience and good humor of the recipients was essential for a smooth flow during the distribution. As one of the DCC secretaries commented, “The process was an act of God. I was worried when I saw so many potential pitfalls in the distribution.”

Giving is a privilege

One Great Hour of Sharing Photo by Craig Thompson

One Great Hour of Sharing
Photo by Craig Thompson

An adaptation of an offertory meditation written by Amy Gopp for the 2015 One Great Hour of Sharing

“They voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints” (2 Corinthians 8:3-4).

During what the Apostle Paul calls a “severe ordeal of affliction,” the early churches of Macedonia somehow managed to “overflow in a wealth of generosity” for their sisters and brothers in need. Their own extreme poverty combined with their abundant joy resulted in this overflow, and as Paul testifies, they not only gave according to their means, they gave beyond their means. Yes, beyond their means! Even more remarkable, they actually begged to share in the “ministry to the saints.” Giving is a privilege.

Have you ever imagined what it would be like not to be able to give?

But God provides all we need, enabling us to be in a constant posture of giving. All that is ours is God’s, so everyone has a gift to give. God does not leave anyone out.

God has created a world where there is more than enough; the sheer joy of that blessing is sharing it! Giving back to God is a matter of faith—it is the natural reaction to our saying “yes!” to following Christ. Once you know the invincible love of God and the Good News of the Gospel, you can’t help but share it. In the sharing of your resources, you are living out your confession of faith as followers of Jesus the Christ.

For well over six decades, we have been putting our faith into action and making a difference, alongside literally millions of other Christians throughout North America, through One Great Hour of Sharing. This offering helps empower people across the nation and around the world.

Praise be to God!

Giving itself is a gift. A privilege. An opportunity to respond to God’s outpouring of love for you.

Giving through One Great Hour of Sharing not only changes the lives of individuals and communities in need, it changes the world.

Join our ministry of saints as we receive our offering. Let’s overflow in a wealth of generosity and feel our own hearts, minds, and lives change just as we help to improve and transform the lives of others. Amen.

One Great Hour of Sharing is a special opportunity for you and your congregation to support the life-changing ministries of the Church of the Brethren. Find worship resources for this year’s offering at www.brethren.org/oghs or give now at www.brethren.org/giveoghs .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Reports from Nigeria: A phone report from Cliff Kindy

Phone Report from Cliff Kindy to Carl and Roxane Hill on Feb. 3, 2015. Cliff is currently a Brethren Disaster Ministries volunteer reporting from Nigeria.

  • Cliff is helping organize a
    Cliff at Garku

    Cliff Kindy (right) volunteering in Nigeria. Photo courtesy of EYN Nigeria.

    Peace and Democracy Conference in Yola: promoting civic responsibility as the national elections draw near (scheduled for 14 February)

  • He will accompany delegates from the Swiss Embassy as they visit IDP (internally displaced persons) camps in Yola and survey the conditions in Mubi
  • Boko Haram insurgents continue their campaign of fear with bomb blasts in Gombe where President Goodluck Jonathan was campaigning earlier this week
  • Cliff has been instrumental in encouraging and participating in various Trauma Healing workshops – Mennonite Central Committee is sponsoring one for EYN leadership this week, helping these leaders to lead despite the trauma they may be experiencing
  • Cliff received reports that the Nigerian military attacked Boko Haram headquarters in the Sambisa Forest. With the successful defense of the city of Maiduguri, it appears that Boko Haram is being limited to hit-and-run tactics
  • With Cliff’s encouragement, EYN’s director of education has established a teacher-training program and set up locations to begin teaching at the five IDP camps in Jos
  • Cliff is asking for prayers for his mother who was recently hospitalized
  • Continued prayer for Cliff’s safety and health as he continues his important work in Nigeria
  • Lastly, as most of us are digging out of the recent snow storm, Cliff is enduring 100-degree heat with failing electricity and fighting mosquitoes in humid east Nigeria – way to go, Cliff!