Living your passion

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

By Dan McFadden, director of Brethren Volunteer Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(View this issue of eBrethren)

United: Pursuing peace together


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

The ministry of calling

Nancy Sollenberger Heishman as Annual Conference 2014 moderator.
Photo by Glenn Riegel

By Nancy Sollenberger Heishman, director of the Office of Ministry

“And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47b).

Every year I look forward to the celebration of the Pentecost season. It is an opportunity to marvel anew at the awesome power of the Holy Spirit at work in the church and the world. What wonders were unleashed by the Spirit’s power as, like a persistent wind, it swept into the souls and lives of new believers. Persons of varying cultures and generations, and socioeconomic, educational, and religious backgrounds were caught up in the mighty power. Being called into the body of Christ, they also were sent out to look for those on the margins and to call others into the new community of God.

In my work as director of the Office of Ministry, I hear wondrous stories of persons being called to something bigger than they ever dreamed of. David Banaszak, the newly called district executive of Middle Pennsylvania District, recently shared the story of his call, and it struck me as particularly delightful.

As a young man, David drove his wife, Linda, to choir practice at Windber Church of the Brethren but sat out in the car with their dog, Skippy, until practice concluded. Being raised a nominal Catholic, David didn’t feel comfortable entering the church building and preferred to spend the evening with Skippy instead. Each Thursday evening, taking notice of the situation, pastor Dave Shetler would visit with David at his car window, and, without fail, would invite him inside. And every week, David would politely choose to remain in the car. Eventually, however, Pastor Dave convinced him to come inside, and the rest is history, as the expression goes.

David became a member of the Windber congregation and Pastor Dave, seeing great potential in him, invited him to consider a call to the ministry. And now, after 30 years of pastoral ministry, David has been called to district executive leadership. For David and many others, great service for the family of God has come from the persistent call of the Spirit through a faithful pastor, a fellow Christ-follower, or a nurturing community.

The stories I hear and the conversations I have while traveling throughout the denomination encourage me to remember that the Holy Spirit’s desire is still to stir us by a revolutionary call. God intends for us to invite persons to dive deeply into the life of our congregations, to eagerly look for gifts of ministry in new persons, and to persistently welcome and offer hospitality to all whom we encounter.

The Holy Spirit binds us together with others in ministry, service, and mutual love, and this often includes those from whom we initially choose to be separate. As we open ourselves to one another, share about our calling, and hear how it intertwines with theirs, we participate in God’s deep yearning for this world to be reconciled on earth just as spectacularly as it is in heaven.

As you celebrate this season of Pentecost and share in the ministry of calling in your own congregation, we invite you to also support this ministry in the denomination. Your gifts support the calling and training of new ministers and leaders so that they may serve God, their communities, and the larger church.

Thank you for partnering in the ministry of calling.

Learn more about the work of the Office of Ministry at www.brethren.org/ministryoffice or support it today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Caring for the vulnerable

Tori Bateman (far left) at the meeting about Unarmed Civilian Protection.

By Tori Bateman, associate with the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy

“God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish” (Psalm 9:18, NIV).

The Church of the Brethren’s identity as a historic peace church means that we are committed to nonviolence and peacebuilding around the world. During my time as a Brethren Volunteer Service volunteer in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, I have had some amazing opportunities to advocate for peace in Washington, D.C.

Over the past several months, we have advocated for the practice of Unarmed Civilian Protection (UCP) in the Department of State, the United States Agency of International Development (USAID), and the Department of Defense. UCP is a method for keeping peace and safety in tense situations without the use of weapons or military action. Instead, unarmed individuals are empowered to work through relationships, mediation skills, and other peacekeeping methods to protect those living with conflict.

One example of the successful endeavor of UCP is from South Sudan. Women there were often raped by soldiers when they left their camps to collect firewood and water. To reverse this alarming trend, Nonviolent Peaceforce ran an accompaniment program that involved staff members going with women to collect firewood. As a result, whenever they encountered soldiers, the presence of international observers prevented rape from occurring. In 2015, there were no women afflicted by rape who were accompanied by Nonviolent Peaceforce staff. This is a great example of caring for vulnerable persons.

To present this innovative idea to U.S. policymakers, I worked with a colleague from a Catholic organization to coordinate a State Department meeting about Unarmed Civilian Protection. We invited Mel Duncan, co-founder of Nonviolent Peaceforce, and Nonviolent Peaceforce staff members to speak about the effectiveness of their practices.

The event was attended by staff from the Department of State, Department of Defense, and USAID. Attendees heard not only about the work of UCP, but also the amazing stories of the individuals in conflict zones who have been protected by the actions of UCP. The conversation lasted well after the event ended and we are excited about future opportunities to collaborate through relationships made at this meeting.

Your support for the Church of the Brethren makes possible this and other important peacebuilding initiatives. Thank you for helping us reframe the conversation about peacefully supporting and accompanying those in need.

Will you give to the Church of the Brethren today?
www.brethren.org/give

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Living into the kingdom of God

Dan McFadden with volunteers from BVS Unit 316
Photo by Kelsey Murray

By Dan McFadden, director of Brethren Volunteer Service

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’… But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:31, 33).

In our culture, we place high value on success. Success is often measured by appearance, material wealth, occupation, or career advancement. All these are external areas of our lives.

At Brethren Volunteer Service orientations, we invite Dana Cassell, pastor of Peace Covenant Church of the Brethren, to lead us for a day focused on vocation—particularly on what and how God calls us. During that time she shares a story from Henri Nouwen, who was at the top of his profession teaching psychology at Harvard, Notre Dame, and Yale, but left it all to work in a L’Arche community. It was a significant change to go from the halls of academia to closely serving persons with intellectual disabilities each day. During this experience, Nouwen learned three things: 1) Being is more important than doing, 2) The heart is more important than the mind, and 3) Doing things together is more important than doing things alone.

1) Being is more important than doing.

Almost 30 years ago I started working in the psychiatric unit at St. Joseph Hospital in Elgin, Ill., after graduating with a Master’s of Social Work. After several years in the social services field, I thought I had something to offer. A supervisor of the unit, a very wise nurse, took me aside and said, “Dan, the most important thing you will do here is listen.” In other words, being with the patients would be more important than doing anything for them. These words were difficult for me to hear. I had been trained to do things, to help others, and to help them figure things out. What did she mean by, “the most important thing you can do is listen?”

But she was right. Listening is one of the most challenging things to do. We can be so preoccupied with doing something for someone that we miss the opportunity to listen, to be present. This doesn’t mean we stop the doing—we still need to get things done—but, like Nouwen, we must realize that in the push to achieve the pinnacle of success, we often lose an essential component of life—being with people. The L’Arche community taught Nouwen this, and that was my supervisor’s lesson too. Being is more important than doing. Listening is the most important thing you will do.

2) The heart is more important than the mind.

Academic achievement certainly fits with our cultural value of success, and Nouwen certainly succeeded in this area as a professor at prestigious schools. However, he didn’t feel like he was supposed to be in those places. It was then that he asked God for a clear message about what to do next. After many years and an interesting call, he moved to a L’Arche community to serve alongside persons with intellectual disabilities. While this can be challenging work to say the least, it doesn’t require quite the brain power of an academic setting. Nonetheless, Nouwen felt fulfilled in that community and it was where he served the rest of his days. While the mind can be impressive, “love is where the heart is,” as the song goes, or maybe, the heart is where love is.

3) Doing things together is more important than doing things alone.

This is a very Brethren value. It’s even in our tagline: “Continuing the work of Jesus. Peacefully. Simply. Together.”

As members of the Church of the Brethren, we understand this, and many Christians do too. We understand following Jesus means working together in community. Together.

It does, however, run against cultural values of independence and success—being a self-made person, “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps,” and going it alone. One might think of things like Frank Sinatra’s famous line, “I did it my way.” We hear all the time about the success of someone doing something on their own, and it can be difficult to evaluate success when something is done together.

Even though our cultural lens limits success to individual achievement, Nouwen still affirmed that doing things together is more important, and I completely agree. I can’t lead Brethren Volunteer Service by myself; we need our whole team. And we can’t be the church by ourselves or do the work of Jesus alone; we need each other, the whole community, to discern and move forward together.

What Nouwen learned at L’Arche is still essential for us today. Instead of living for our own success, these principles guide us to be present, remain focused on matters of the heart, and value community. By embodying these lessons, may we more fully live into the kingdom of God.

Brethren Volunteer Service partners with L’Arche communities in Northern Ireland, Germany, and the US. Learn more about this ministry of the Church of the Brethren or support it today at www.brethren.org/bvs.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Bound together in Christ

Register at www.brethren.org/nyc

By Kelsey Murray, National Youth Conference coordinator

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:12-14, NIV).

National Youth Conference, which started in 1954, is one of the largest gatherings of Brethren in the United States. It brings youth and advisors from across the country, and some from other countries, to Fort Collins, Colo., for a week-long experience unlike anything else. Each day there is worship, small groups, service projects, hiking, recreation, free time, and so much more. As like-minded Christians and loving Brethren, we come together to deepen our faith, ask meaningful questions, and walk with one another as Christ is present in the midst of this inspirational, faith-forming week. 

The National Youth Cabinet chose the theme of “Bound Together: Clothed in Christ” with the idea that we as Christians need to be unified in times of division. In our everyday, ordinary lives we need to wear compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience for others like we wear our clothes. These are the ideals and characteristics that should bind us together to be united with our brothers and sisters—not only within our local communities, congregations, and daily lives, but in our global communities as well.

This summer at NYC we are excited to hold service projects on the campus of Colorado State University. This will create a space for youth to really learn about the place where they serve and to more intentionally understand why we as a denomination hold service as so valuable. During our offering time, we will collect items for clean-up buckets for Brethren Disaster Ministries that will later be organized and packed as one of three service projects. This project is one sample of how we are bound in community with our brothers and sisters who have been affected by natural disasters, and it is our hope that youth will see this first-hand as they pack the buckets. 

We invite churches that don’t have youth attending NYC but would like to support these projects, to send supplies for the buckets to the General Offices (1451 Dundee Ave. Elgin, IL 60120) and we will take them to NYC. Brethren Disaster Ministries is generously helping to supply the buckets, detergent, and cleaner to make travel to CSU for youth a little lighter. 

As excitement for NYC continually builds, we can see God constantly working in all aspects of the planning for the conference, and trust that God will work in those who attend this mountain-top event. We can’t wait to see how youth will explore what it means to be “Bound Together: Clothed in Christ” and the ways this theme is woven into their lives. 

Registration for National Youth Conference opens tomorrow evening (Thursday, Jan. 18). Learn more about NYC 2018 or register at www.brethren.org/nyc . 

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Do not be afraid

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

By David Steele, General Secretary.

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people’” (Luke 2:8-10, NIV).

I recently received a text message from my 21-year-old daughter, Aubrey, who has Down syndrome. She told me that there were going to be thunderstorms at home and clarified, “Dad I hate storms rain.” As I have done many times before, I assured her that everything would be okay.

“Do not be afraid” are the words of comfort that parents offer their children as they hold them tightly through the thunderstorms of life. These words sometimes come easily with little forethought. Yet, as we hear about the hurricanes, flooding, and fires that have displaced many; the tragedy of a mass shooting; a medical diagnosis with an uncertain prognosis; or the death of a loved one, it is more difficult to find comfort or assurance in these words.

We continue to face those storms within our church as well: diminishing attendance and the possibility of having to close the doors; a long, tiring search process for a new pastor; changes that test the boundaries of our traditions, values, and biblical interpretations; finger pointing and conversations about the possibility of a split; the spread of misinformation; and broken relationships within the fellowship. These things give us great concern and can distract us from hearing the good news.

Living in the plains of Kansas while in college, I was fascinated by watching a thunderstorm develop many miles in the distance clouds billowing into the heights of the heavens and lighting bolts dancing from the sky to the earth. Of course, my fascination was replaced with fear as the severity of a storm increased and moved closer, especially with the uncertainty of how powerful the storm could become.

The shepherds faced not a storm but glory of the Lord, with the appearance of the angel. I like to think the fear, and yes, even terror, that we may experience during storms is like the initial terror of the shepherds as the angel appeared to them. Yet more significant than their fear is the proclamation of the angel, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”

It may be hard to hear the good news in the midst of our storms, especially when they have caused damage or great harm to us and those we love. Yet the good news is present for us and, in some cases, we represent that good news for others. As followers of Jesus, we carry that good news. As a church, we are at our best as we offer comfort and assurance to one another and to all those who fear the storms of life. We are at our best when we reach out to those who have suffered great loss due to the physical storms that have stripped them of their homes, belongings, and sometimes loved ones. Through our acts of service and grace, we also convey the good news to those who do not know Jesus.

Through your gifts of prayer and financial support, the Church of the Brethren has been able to share the good news of Jesus:

  • More than 300 youth, young adults, and advisors served in 19 workcamps.
  • 734 “Gift of the Heart” kits (for schools, health, or clean-up) were assembled or donated at National Older Adult Conference for Church World Service.
  • The Disaster Ministry Response team of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) provided eight food distributions which fed more than 300 families on each occasion.
  • Children’s Disaster Services sent 153 dedicated volunteers to 13 locations affected by disaster or trauma and cared for more than 2,328 children.
  • 45 Brethren Volunteer Service volunteers faithfully served around the world.

Friends, “we (as the Church of the Brethren) hold an inexhaustible cup of cold water, water that can assuage the need of a thirsty world. We possess the cup, we are the cup, we know what it contains, and because we’ve experienced firsthand its wonderful promise we can pass it on. If we can accept and live this single metaphor, we and our work cannot fail, and will not end” (Reflections on Brethren Image and Identity, adapted).

This Advent, as we anticipate the birth of the one who will bring great joy for all people, may we together be the cup, share the good news, and be a source of comfort through the storms of life.

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)

Pass on the gift

Emily Tyler, Alexis Charles, and Jay Wittmeyer at the Nepal workcamp.
Photos courtesy of Emily Tyler

By Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of Global Mission and Service

My family has a tradition on Thanksgiving Day of going around the table two or three times and making a list of the things we are especially thankful for in the past year. This list is a testimony of the goodness of God manifested in our lives. We like to compare each year to the previous year and we like to receive these lists from others. “Thankful for acceptance to college.” “Thankful to be cancer-free.” “Thankful for camp counselors.” “Thankful for our new puppy.” I have said in the past, and will say again this year: I am thankful for the privilege to work for the Church of the Brethren.

Work for the church is not always easy, but it is immensely gratifying. Several of my journeys this past year stand out as significant. In January I joined a heads-of-mission delegation to Cuba with Church World Service to meet key leaders in Cuba and talk about US-Cuban relations. In April I was invited to preach at the Brethren annual gathering in Nigeria and traveled to Chibok to meet Brethren families and talk about life under the constant threat of violence. In May I visited a new Church of the Brethren ministry in Rwanda and heard my first Twa-Pygmy choir sing, dance, and drum in a Brethren congregation. In June I co-led a young adult workcamp to Nepal with Emily Tyler to reconstruct a school damaged by the earthquake. And in October I met families participating in dairy projects in Tanzania with Heifer International and heard powerful stories of how “passing on the gift” has transformed their lives.

Looking back, I also am reminded of the many places I was unable to visit. I wanted to visit Venezuela, but it takes two months to get a visa. Venezuela is collapsing economically but, ecclesiastically, a number of congregations have a visionto form a new movement based on Brethren ideals of peace, community, and service. I also was unable to consecrate a new Brethren church building in Ngovi, Democratic Republic of Congo, since violence spread too widely and quickly at the time of my journey, hindering my travels.

Heavy on my mind has been the work of the Brethren Peace Center in South Sudan. The center was looted by government forces in June. However, after much prayer and careful consideration of the state of unrest, Brethren mission worker Athanasus Ungang decided to return to Eastern Equatorial, South Sudan, and press on with his call to preach, disciple, and promote peace through trainings and workshops. The Church of the Brethren purchased a Land Cruiser two years earlier, but war prevented us from shipping it into the country. We believe now is the right time to send that vehicle to expand our work. There is a strong need for peace witness in South Sudan.

The Global Mission and Service program of the Church of the Brethren often works in unusual ways and in difficult situations, but we don’t think of it in that way ourselves. What seems challenging, dramatic, even peculiar to the average American, is quite normal for a church community seeking to be faithful disciples of the Prince of Peace.

When new acquaintances ask me about my work, I typically refer to some of our areas of focus, our programming, and then some countries where we are working. As I mention places with much conflict like Venezuela, Democratic Republic of Congo, North Korea, Haiti, northern Nigeria, and South Sudan, quite frankly, jaws drop and I often receive very puzzled looks. Global Mission and Service is not intentionally seeking to be in the “hard places” of the world, but is simply trying to be faithful to God’s leading and embody the church as doors open for us. I am very thankful to serve in a ministry that truly seeks to be the salt and the light of the world. 

I would encourage you to write a list of the things from this past year for which you are thankful and to celebrate this testimony of God’s goodness to you. I would then challenge you to “pass on the gift” so that others may also be blessed. Thank you for praying and supporting the Church of the Brethren.

Learn more about Global Mission and Service today at www.brethren.org/global. Support this and other ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Rejoice on Giving Tuesday

Photos by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, Jay Wittmeyer, and Emily Tyler

By Matt DeBall, coordinator of Donor Communications

“The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoice”
(Psalm 126:3).

Blessed are you, Lord, our God, Ruler of the Universe. We praise you for your steadfast love and for your mighty works in the world. Thank you for redeeming and restoring us, your church. Ignite our hearts to serve you and others more fully.
In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

Rejoice and be glad! God has been faithful to us. Despite the challenges and hardships we face, God continues to express love to us in profound ways. Overwhelmed by the goodness of God, it seems natural that we would respond with praise and gratitude.

As we give thanks to God in this season, we continue a long tradition. The Israelites, after being rescued from difficulty and distress, were filled with gratitude and love for God. They rejoiced with heartfelt singing and joyful dancing. They gave of the best of themselves as an act of praise.

Like the Israelites, there is much for which we can be thankful. Through the provision and love of God, the Church of the Brethren continues to share the peace of Christ.

This year alone, God has done many great things among us.

  • Approximately 302 youth, young adults,
    and advisors served in 19 workcamps.
  • The Mission and Ministry Board has approved two new mission projects in Venezuela and in the Africa Great Lakes region (Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi).
  • More than 800 individuals attended
    Inspiration 2017 (National Older Adult Conference).
  • The Office of Public Witness helped lead a conversation with elected officials to raise concerns and propose ways to address the humanitarian and food crisis in northeast Nigeria.
  • 45 Brethren Volunteer Service volunteers
    faithfully served around the world.

And God will continue to do great things in the days ahead.
On Giving Tuesday (November 28), join us in celebrating the great things God has done by making a gift to the Church of the Brethren.

Thank you for rejoicing with us on Giving Tuesday!

To make a gift to the Church of the Brethren for Giving Tuesday, visit www.brethren.org/GivingTuesday .

Loving our enemies

Participants at the North Fort Myers (Fla.) workcamp this past summer.
Photo courtesy of the Church of the Brethren Workcamp office

By Matt DeBall, coordinator of Donor Communications

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45).

The words of Jesus have always been radical. He carefully, yet firmly, addressed the concerns of the day and called his peers and adversaries into the transformative, often uncomfortable ways of God. For the Jews who had been scorned and oppressed by other nations for generations, the call to love enemies was not an easy one. It meant laying aside pain and pride, and offering care to those who had brought them harm. It meant working for the good of others whether or not the gesture was returned.

In a world where actions typically provoke similar reactions, this enemy-loving way of living can seem both ridiculous and risky. It’s natural to be stirred with anger when someone inconveniences you. It’s easy to justify retaliation when someone spreads destructive lies about you or threatens the wellbeing of your loved ones. And yet, it is the script-flipping maneuver of repaying aggression and harm with compassion that makes room for the work of the Holy Spirit. When we choose to offer grace instead of revenge, we allow God to work in us and we invite others—yes, even those who oppose us— to grow more fully into their identities as children of God.

We see this unrelenting love in the work of our partners in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan, and other places. Our sisters and brothers offer help to all who are in need. They reach across cultural divisions and allow programs for trauma healing and peacebuilding to bring restoration for people of an entire community, not simply their own.

In our congregations, we love our opponents (perceived or real) as we reach out into our communities. Through offering recreational or educational opportunities, we create meeting places where people of all walks of life can find common ground and build relationships. By creating safe spaces of hospitality, we invite people of different faiths, beliefs, and opinions to express their concerns and their hopes, and allow everyone to contribute for the well-being of all.

The ministries of the Church of the Brethren embody what it means to love all people, including enemies and opponents, and to work for reconciliation—with others and with God. Will you support this transformative work and join us in sharing the radical love of Jesus?

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren)