Faith Rising out of the Ashes

By Donna Parcell (Volunteer in Nigeria)

On April 24th we were able to accompany a team from the Swiss Embassy to visit Mubi to see the EYN (Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria) headquarters, schools, and several EYN churches.  We saw the destroyed buildings and burned churches.  It was difficult to see.  The clinic at EYN headquarters was totally destroyed and lying in rubble.  We observed places that had been bombed, with shrapnel still by the roadside.  Abandoned military equipment was by the road.  There were bullet holes in cars still parked in the compound.  The EYN offices were vandalized and ransacked.  The churches were burned.  But rising out of the ashes is an unquenchable spirit of hope and reliance on God.  The people continue to worship in the shadow of their burned churches.  Community unity is very strong.  The people are relying on each other and on God.  There is much work to do for healing and peace, but the hand of God is at work.

While visiting a church in Mubi, I met Mrs, Gahara Bella.  On October 29, 2014 she was at home, the children were in school, her husband was out on the farm.  She heard gun shots and people screaming to run for your life.  She didn’t know what was going on or where her family was.  Filled with terror she started to run.  There was no time to take anything.   Her children escaped through holes in the wall at school.  She and her younger children headed for the mountains, as they are traditionally thought of as safe places.  They escaped to Cameroon.  Meanwhile her husband and oldest son tried to escape via the road.  Many men tried to escape on the roads while the women and children ran for the mountains.  The roads were blocked, and many of the men were shot, including her husband.  Her son hid himself under sheaves of maize until the soldiers were gone and was able to escape.   Several months later she still had no word of her husband.  When Mubi was reopened she went to search for him.  The soldiers had left his ID on him.  He had been shot and killed and was left by the road.  She was able to identify him by his clothes and identification.  Now she fully relies on God.  She trusts Him for all things and is hopeful.Donna

We met with women’s groups from several other EYN churches and discussed their trials, concerns, and needs.  Food and water are the two most prevalent needs.  They escaped without taking anything, and all of their possessions and food were taken or destroyed.  The rainy season is quickly approaching, and all crops have been destroyed and there is not time to replant.  The livestock has all been taken.  The bore holes have been vandalized so there is not access to clean water.  There is no source of income.  Their homes have been destroyed.  They are still living in constant fear and find it difficult to trust their Muslim neighbors.   In the midst of their extreme trials, their faith is strong.  They are working together and trust God in all things.

Too Much Armor, Too Little Brain: The Risks of Political Advocacy & the Hope Our God Offers

Working for peace in Washington often feels like a losing battle, but perhaps the problem is that we often view the work of peace through a combative lens. Whether the issue is gun violence, drones, or any other issue of militarism, we often talk of “fighting back” against these issues and eventually building up enough support to “defeat our opposition”. But what if this paradigm is limiting our imagination and holding us back from working for and embodying Christ’s transformative kingdom?

I reflected on this tension after attending a conference held at the United States Institute of Peace that covered the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. There were speakers from Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist backgrounds, and their testimonies and stories of the religious community’s advocacy were very compelling and in stark contrast to the message of perhaps the most anticipated speaker at the event, Anita Friedt, who works for the State Department on US Nuclear Policy.

Mrs. Friedt’s speech was a fairly typical DC speech that was short on concrete ideas or promises and chock full of vague legalese that boiled down to an appreciation of the work the religious community does to make the world safe from nuclear weapons, while simultaneously patting us on the head to let us know that the political reality was much more complicated. She even tried to reassure us that the United States would never consider using these weapons except in the most extreme circumstances, but neglected to enlighten us as to what those circumstances might look like.

My friend and colleague, Rev. Michael Neuroth summed up many of our reactions to Mrs. Friedt’s remarks by ending his subsequent presentation with a quote from longtime peace activist Rev. William Sloane Coffin who once said, “We are beginning to resemble extinct dinosaurs who suffered from too much armor and too little brain”.

We all approvingly applauded the succinct remark, but if we are not careful, the Church’s political advocacy and activism can become confined by this same armor employed by Mrs. Friedt. When the real life problems of our communities and world become “issues” we talk about abstractly, we can speak and act on them divorced from their context and the people actually affected. To do this betrays not only the people affected but also our vocation as the Church.

When we engage in this manner, we’ve allowed our own armor to shroud and influence our vision to the point that we cannot even begin to imagine a world that is wildly different and more restorative than the reality we currently inhabit. Scholar and theologian Walter Brueggemann speaks about this tension at length in his book the Prophetic Imagination. In our line of work, we often like to talk about hope and peace in our world, but Brueggemann rightly reminds us that these words mean nothing out of their context:

“Hope expressed only in the present tense will no doubt be co-opted by the managers of this age…Therefore the symbols of hope cannot be general and universal but must be those that have been known concretely in this particular history…The memory of this community begins in God’s promissory address to the darkness of chaos, to barren Sarah, and to oppressed Egyptian slaves. The speech of God is first about an alternative future. (The Prophetic Imagination, pg. 64)

We are not a people without a history and we are not a people without a God. We know and believe that the status quo is not the best we can hope for because we have this unique story of God’s freedom and liberation working in the world. The same spirit in the “Cloud by Day/Fire by Night” that guided the Israelites out of the wilderness continues to pull us forward today into new possibilities of liberation and reconciliation.

Francisco de Goya's "Fire By Night"

Francisco de Goya’s “Fire By Night”

To speak of such things in our society makes us sound strange and unfamiliar, but speaking about them also gives us a clinging hope that feels unwarranted and yet incredibly necessary

Especially necessary when we’re confronted with inexplicable madness like the kidnapping of the Nigerian girls in Chibok. To respond with disembodied calls for peace and hope in Nigeria from a cozy office in Washington feels inadequate at best and totally disingenuous at worst. But when we ground our work in communion and solidarity with our Nigerian sisters and brothers, we can once again plug back into our story and remind ourselves of who we are and whose we are.

Only when grounded in this context can we faithfully speak an energizing word of hope, advocate for a just policy, or pray a prayer for peace. Only when we tap into the imagination and creativity of the Spirit can we begin to embody the reality of God that is here waiting to be shared and lived into.

This is our hope as an office. To witness to the story we’ve been given and grafted into by Christ. To recognize the areas of our country and world where this witness and promise of God’s alternative reality can make a difference, and pray that our work is not in vain.

May we learn to strip off the armor that limits our hope and shrouds our vision. And may we remember that we are clothed in Christ, the one who renews our mind and spirit to be courageous disciples who have no need of any armor but the Spirit of the Lord that goes with us.

Amen.

-Bryan Hanger

Do you love me?

LENT_real_rest_FRONTPAGE

John 21

Prayer for the day:
Give me faith, Inviting God, to follow you. Amen

Question for reflection:
If you were in the boat with the disciples, after a long night of fishing without catching a single fish, and Jesus told you to cast your net on the other side of the boat, would you do it? If Jesus asked you, “Do you love me?” how would you respond? If Jesus called to you, “Follow me,” would you stop what you were doing and go? What is the difference between obedience and faith?

~ Kim Ebersole, Director of Family Life and Older Adult Ministries

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Lenten Devotional written by Duane Grady, pastor of Cedar Lake Church of the Brethren (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats). Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Duane’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.

Calmly present

LENT_real_rest_FRONTPAGE

Psalm 46

Prayer for the day:
You are my refuge and my strength, O God, yet I am still fearful when things change. Forgive me my lack of faith, and remind me that I need only be still and know that you are God.


Question for reflection:

When, in a time of chaos and uncertainty in your life, did you hear the still, small voice of God? What did it sound like?

~ Donna Kline, Director of Denominational Deacon Ministry

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Lenten Devotional written by Duane Grady, pastor of Cedar Lake Church of the Brethren (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats). Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Duane’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.

Do saints whine?

2013 Advent good_news_hi_res  Matthew 1:24-25

Prayer for the day:
God, I have questions every day. It’s not for me to know all the answers. Help me to trust in each moment. May I seek to have the faith and wisdom of the saints who have come before me.

Question for reflection:
In what ways can I seek to be more faithful in my own life each day?

~ Katie Cummings, National Youth Conference Coordinator

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Advent Devotional written by Tim Harvey, pastor of Central Church of the Brethren (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats). Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Tim’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.

A way out of no way

Lent 2013 Cover   Joshua 4:14-24

Question for reflection:
When have you seen or became aware of an opportunity but were afraid to enter it? What happened when faith allowed you to take the tentative steps into the chaotic waters of that experience?

Prayer for the day:
God, you reveal new opportunities to us. May our lives, our actions and our words be the invitation and encouragement that others need to step out in faith and receive Christ. Amen.

~ Stan Dueck, Director for Transforming Practices

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Lenten devotional, The Practice of Paying Attention, written by Dana Cassell, Minister of Youth Formation at the Manassas Church of the Brethren. (Available from Brethren Press in print and E-Book formats) Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Walt’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.

By Faith

A Community of Love     Hebrews 11: 1-19

Prayer for the Day:
Jesus, as your hands and feet in the world today, prick our consciousness more often. Nudge us with a firmer shove. Grant us wisdom to understand our callings, both large and small. Grant us courage to act by faith!

Question for reflection:
What is God calling you to do “by faith?”

~ Becky Ullom, Director of Youth/Young Adult Ministry

Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren is offering these simple prayers and questions in connection to this year’s Lent devotional written by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford. (Available from Brethren Press) Join us as we look and listen for the coming of the Word through the reading of scripture, Cheryl’s reflections, times of prayer, and conversations on this blog.