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)

What to preach

Find worship resources at www.brethren.org/adventoffering
Photo by Matt DeBall

A sermon starter written for the 2017 Advent Offering by Thomas Dowdy, pastor of Imperial Heights Church of the Brethren in Los Angeles, Calif.

“When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.’… The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’”(Luke 4:16-18, 20-22)

Preaching in your hometown can be very challenging. For some people, it will be difficult to see who you are today because they can only see who you used to be. Some have high expectations, while others remain very critical.

Recently, I received an invitation to attend my high school class reunion. Most class reunions involve people rehashing old stories and checking up on your current status in life. As such, I was very reluctant to attend because I always prefer looking forward rather than backward. I even shared with a friend that I didn’t want to go. He felt it was important for me to attend. He said, “You are a different person now.” I realized he had a point, recognizing that I am in ministry now. He went on to say, “I’m sure someone there will need to hear from you.”

I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’s options when he visited the temple in his hometown of Nazareth. He could have not gone, or he could have only said something that made the people feel good about themselves, but he did the opposite. Jesus had a mission to fulfill the promise of God. He knew it was going to upset the status quo, and yet he did it anyway.

Coming home to share good news is exciting to both the giver and receiver; however, sharing words of perceived condemnation is altogether another matter. The people in the temple felt good hearing Jesus read the words of Isaiah because they were words of perceived hope and fulfillment to those that believed they were of the chosen ones. However, the purpose of Jesus was to share God’s message of inclusion not exclusion. When Jesus read from the scroll, people felt good about the encouraging words because they believed it was only meant for them. But when Jesus continued to expound on the text, the people became angry as it exposed their inner, self-seeking purposes.

The Spirit continues to expose us today. Does it make you angry to include others in “your ministry”? Do you feel upset when others outside your church or group benefit from the work of your (perceived chosen) group? If so, your thinking about God’s Kingdom needs to grow. Your purpose and our purpose is to spread good news to the poor. Heal the broken hearted and free the captives. Provide wide open spaces to those who are imprisoned. Comfort the grieving. And so much more.

This greater mission should make you feel good. God’s word is fulfilled as you share the good news of inclusion. This is what must be preached in your hometown and everywhere you go.

The suggested date for the Advent Offering is December 17. Find worship resources at www.brethren.org/adventoffering or give today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Get out of the boat

The 2017 Ministry Summer Service interns at orientation.
Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

By Becky Ullom Naugle, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries

“Before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him… they were terrified… Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ ‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’ ‘Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus” (Matthew 14:25-29, NIV).

When I think of the courage and faith it took for Peter to step out of that boat, I am in awe. The disciples were on a boat by themselves, in the middle of a huge body of water, in the middle of the night, and they saw a figure walking on the waves toward them. Seriously?! What would you have done in that situation? Would you have had the courage to respond to the mysterious, perhaps even frightening, voice you’d heard, as Peter did? And if you did have the courage to respond verbally, would your faith have given you the strength to get out of the boat?

Just like Peter, we all probably would cry out for help if we felt ourselves sinking, but I wonder if most of us would have even gotten that far. Many of us may have been too frightened—by the storm itself, by the odd approach of Jesus, or both—to do anything but sit in the boat, close our eyes, clutch our arms a bit tighter, and try to imagine anything other than the current, alarming situation.

I see a strong parallel between the courageous steps of Peter and the courageous steps of Ministry Summer Service (MSS) interns. Clearly none of the interns have walked on water, but each has indeed responded to a sense of call. And beyond just sensing a call, these college students chose to leave familiar, comfortable environments and “get out of the boat.” They traveled to unknown places to explore ministry while also living in a new place, meeting new people, eating new food, and learning a new culture. These tasks aren’t exactly “walking on water,” but they do demand faith, courage, and often a healthy sense of humor! Like Peter, interns may, at times, feel like they are being swallowed up by overwhelming waves. But Jesus will no more allow an MSS intern to “sink” than he allowed Peter to sink. Of course, one’s faith could always be stronger, but consider how much faith it takes to get out of the boat in the first place!

Our 2017 interns have finished their service with MSS, but still need prayer. Please pray for Kaylie, Laura, Brooks, Cassie, Laura, Nolan, and Monica (featured above in the front row, from left to right). Pray that the Holy Spirit would continue to move powerfully in their lives and make clear their vocations. We also invite you to pray for the 2018 interns, who have yet to be identified. Is there anyone you could encourage to participate in Ministry Summer Service as a way to explore ministry while earning a scholarship?

I am grateful to all who pray for and give to Ministry Summer Service, the Church of the Brethren program that supports young adults as they consider their vocational calling from God. I am grateful to the mentors and ministry sites who journey with MSS interns for a summer. And I am grateful for the young adults who are brave enough to spend 10 weeks of their summer thinking about their faith, their lives, God’s world—and how those elements will be woven into the fabric of their future! Will you take a step of faith, like our interns, and support the Church of the Brethren?

Ministry Summer Service (MSS) is a leadership development program for college students in the Church of the Brethren who spend 10 weeks of the summer working in the church (local congregation, district office, camp, or national program). Applications for MSS 2018 are due January 5, 2018. Learn more about this ministry of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/mss or support it today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Blessings Box

Members of the Nokesville Church of the Brethren participating
in the Blessings Box dedication service.
Photo courtesy of Nokesville Church of the Brethren

By Angela Finet, pastor of Nokesville (Va.) Church of the Brethren

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35, NIV).

At the beginning of 2017, our Sunday School class began a study of the Lord’s Prayer. When we got to the phrase, “Give us this day our daily bread,” it gave us pause. We pondered, “What would it mean for us to live each day wondering where we would get food?”

After discussion and prayer, we decided to join the “Blessings Box” phenomenon. Our box is a large, upright Rubbermaid storage container that sits unlocked on the corner of our church property. Inside are 4 shelves filled with non-perishable food, laundry detergent and dish soap, diapers and wipes, and personal hygiene products. The box is identified with a large sign that reads “Blessings Box” and smaller signs that read “Take what you need,” and “Share what you have.”

Earlier this year, we held a service of commissioning as part of our Sunday worship service, and since then, the box has taken on a life and ministry of its own. We’ve learned that there is a tremendous need for these items here in our community. People are taking and sharing virtually every day. As a result of the box being available 24/7, we’ve also noticed a decrease in the number of people calling to ask for financial assistance.

The best way for us to partner with area food banks is to focus more on the non-food items. Food banks do not provide diapers, detergent, and hygiene products. Additionally, since food stamps cannot be used for diapers, they have been most requested and taken from our Blessing Box. A parent cannot take her children to daycare if she doesn’t have diapers, and diapers cannot be bought without going to work for income. It’s a real catch-22 for some families!

We have also discovered the need for food dramatically increases when the schools are closed. Children who receive lunch assistance really suffer when school is not in session, and we’ve seen that translate into a greater demand for food items during that time.

What has been most rewarding is seeing that people who receive help from area food banks want to participate in blessing others. We find that food items from food banks are being left in the box in exchange for toiletry and household items. This truly embodies “take what you need and share what you have.”

And we’ve reaffirmed that we are part of an incredibly generous community both inside and outside the church. Several area dentists have supplied toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss. Several individuals, including families from our Kid’s Club and scouting programs, have committed to making weekly and monthly contributions to the box. Even local businesses have joined in by hosting “diaper drives.” Folks who want to participate but cannot make financial contributions are invited to stop in and create “diaper packs”—repackaged bags of six. We have a cabinet in the church set up to store the packs so that the box can easily be restocked as needed. We also have those who pray regularly for this ministry and for all those who participate that all who give and all who receive will be blessed.

To say the least, the Blessings Box has been transformative for all who have given to and received from this ministry. Our church learned more about what it means to feed the hungry, offer water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, and work for God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven.” We hope that you will be encouraged and inspired by our story.

The Nokesville Church of the Brethren exhibits what it means to be a vital congregation of the Church of the Brethren. Their discernment process around the Lord’s prayer has empowered them to be “creatively intentional in outreach to new people” and to be an “instrument of God’s Kingdom.” What vision may God have for your community? The Vital Ministry Journey could help your congregation explore this question.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)