Shout and sing for joy!

A reflection by Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement,
for Giving Tuesday 2018 on 11/27

“I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart! Where?
Down in my heart! Where? Down in my heart!
I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart! Where? Down in my heart to stay!
And I’m so happy, so very happy. I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart!
And I’m so happy, so very happy. I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart!”
– Verse 1 and chorus of “Joy in my heart” by George W. Cooke

Admit it! If you went to a summer Vacation Bible School as a child, you either started to hum the tune in your head as you read or even found yourself singing it by the end. I confess, my feet were tapping, and the tune of this song flooded my mind. It puts a smile on my face and reminds me of a time when summers were long, and you attended every Vacation Bible School in the area.

As I get older, each summer flies by faster than the last, and there seems to be less to smile about when I look at the world around us. Humanity continues to find ways to taunt and jab at each other, hurt one another, and in the extreme cases, take lives. It saddens the heart to hear how our children are bullied and the very institutions where we received education are no longer safe spaces, but instead are more like prison wards where padlocks and “visitor” badges are required. Our young adults grapple with body image issues and the pressures of having a “perfect” life because of the Pinterest-perfect, Instagram-ing, Facebook posting world in which we now live. Many of us are dodging and weaving the political rhetoric being spat at us from the very people for whom we prayerfully voted, and we now watch in amazement as grown, well-educated adults hurl accusations at one another at every level. Meanwhile the hungry grow hungrier and the poor become poorer, and the joy down in my heart seems like it could be snuffed out at any moment.

Thankfully, scripture can always provide hope:

“And you will say in that day:
Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
– Isaiah 12:4-6

My joy is deeper in my heart now than it was when I was younger—in part because of the things I’ve seen and heard while serving the denomination. I give thanks to the Lord because of what God has done among us and through us, and what God continues to do. These past two years have given me opportunities to talk with pastors, visit with congregations, attend district conferences, and go to special events in the life of our districts, and I sing praises to the Lord, for he has done great things.

Congregations are striving to learn the needs of those who live in the communities where they worship, and they are caring for them through the way Jesus taught us:  by loving one another. This is very refreshing in a world full of hatred and division. One might say it’s another way of living!

Partnerships between congregations and denominational ministries provide a way to respond to the call of Jesus, “feed my sheep” (John 21:17). The Office of Peacebuilding and Policy and the Global Food Initiative, together and separately, provide ways for congregations to advocate for issues related to food, create sustainable community gardens, and, overall, care for the hungry in their neighborhoods.

Congregations also partner with Global Mission and Service to work alongside mission workers and international Brethren bodies as they start new church plants around the world—building churches, training pastors, and developing communities. Churches also support, in many ways, the efforts of Brethren Disaster Ministries. These ministries provide much needed humanitarian aid to those who have lived through disasters and simply need help.

Congregations are working with Discipleship Ministries to dig deeper into their relationships with God through use of deacon ministry resources, sending youth to National Youth Conference, empowering young adults through Young Adult Conference and Ministry Summer Service, and walking through the Vital Ministry Journey to discern how to more richly live into the Great Commission in their communities and circles of influence.

When I pause and think of all the stories that have been shared with me, stories that share the overwhelming effects of our ministry in the United States and globally, it sustains and renews my hope, and causes me to shout and sing for joy because of the great things God is doing among us.

As we give thanks through November and celebrate Giving Tuesday (11/27), we invite you to join us in shouting and singing for joy because of all that the Lord has done!

Join the celebration by making a gift to the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/givingtuesday.

Righteous relationships

Tori Bateman, Monica McFadden, and Nathan Hosler of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy.

By Nathan Hosler, director of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy

“I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9).

In 2007, the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference delegate body adopted the “Separate No More” statement, which calls us to become the multicultural, multiracial, multinational, and multilingual church envisioned in Revelation 7:9. The vision in scripture and the one to which we committed is greater than a photogenic diverse hymn sing. It is a vision that recognizes how, as we draw closer to God, we also draw closer to one another. We become more compassionate in relationships as we see one another the way God sees us. In an effort to better express this, we changed the names of two core ministry areas.

Discipleship Ministries (formerly Congregational Life Ministries) reminds us that our faith journey is not defined by our congregational affiliation, but by our spiritual journey—both individually and collectively. This also means that having a right relationship with God is shaped and shared through building right relationships with one another. The Office of Peacebuilding and Policy (formerly Public Witness) as a ministry in Washington, D.C., connects our faith with our national identity. To stand together, bridging the divides of the world, we are peacebuilders in the spirit of Christ.

The “Separate No More” statement gave us the following challenge:  “Congregations become informed about the conditions of life for ethnic and racial minorities within their neighborhoods and their congregations, so that when inequities are uncovered, they can make strong commitments of time and financial resources to local organizations working on these issues.”

In the New Testament, one Greek word used to describe the body of Christ is “dikaios,” which is translated righteousness but also justice. Since both can be used in English, we can call this work either racial justice or racial righteousness; however, scripture does not separate the two. By faith, we are called to be discipled within our church and, as a result, to work for change in systems, structures, and habits of racism in society. Not assuming that we already possess righteousness, we seek to have right relationships and to address problems in the world. The work to heal the wounds of racism is both internal and external and has the goals of justice and righteousness. To do this work means being shaped and formed by the process of discipleship.

Many congregations have been doing this work in their communities. Several members of the Mission and Ministry Board and staff have taken the Sankofa Journey. Young people attend Christian Citizenship Seminar in Washington, D.C., and New York to connect their faith with contemporary social justice work. Discipleship Ministries hosts a pre-Annual Conference training with the goal of exploring how our faith can shape our understanding of racialized hierarchies. Intercultural Ministries provide support to individuals and congregations engaged in ministry.

To increase our awareness of how government policy creates racialized experiences and discrepancies, we are testing a new Brethren Volunteer Service position in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy through a partnership with Intercultural Ministries and the Global Food Initiative. Monica McFadden, who served in our office last summer as a Ministry Summer Service intern, recently accepted the call to serve in this role.

Thank you for partnering in this work through your support of the Church of the Brethren. By working in your community and supporting these denominational ministries prayerfully and financially, this work can be expanded in the years ahead so that the church can better live into God’s vision of diversity. Through being faithful disciples—growing in righteousness and justice—all of us are engaging in the vital work of healing in our churches and communities.

Learn more about the work of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy at www.brethren.org/peacebuilding or support it today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Watching for the Spirit

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Gardeners gathered for the Going to the Garden retreat and vision meeting. Photo by Growing Power

A reflection by Nathan Hosler, director of the Office of Public Witness

It was late March a few years ago, and the winter chill seemed to be breaking. Since the day was beautiful and I was feeling good, I decided, mid-run, to go a little farther. After crossing the Anacostia River at the 11th Street bridge, I continued along the riverside trail. The morning sun was shining on my left shoulder and my back as I trotted on the bike trail, tall and dry meadow grass on both sides. I then saw a red-winged blackbird. It was perched and wobbling on a plant. The bird tipped toward me and then—as I caught a full view of red-orange patches illuminated in direct morning sunlight—it took flight.

A few days before Pentecost this year, I was running in the morning, again. This time it was in Wisconsin at a Going to the Garden retreat and vision meeting. On this particular run through the farmland I noticed a wild turkey take flight—fast, heavy, barreling through the sky just above the field. Upon returning to our lodging, I paused next to a flowering bush and watched hummingbirds flit and dip.

We had gathered to watch for the Spirit with gardeners from the lower ninth ward in New Orleans, Maryland, Alaska, and near a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. Going to the Garden began several years ago as a way to encourage and support congregations to engage their communities and address food insecurity and hunger. This project has been a joint effort between the Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C., and the Global Food Initiative (formerly the Global Food Crisis Fund).

Most of the gardeners did not start with a grand plan but caught a glimpse of a new possible reality. In Alaska, a connection with people from the Gwich’in First Nation was formed through a shared experience of hunting, which led to a new relationship and an invitation to return. Through this relationship, we learned about the health challenges of the Gwich’in community, and consequently drew Brethren to garden there every summer for nearly 10 years.

From the Wisconsin gathering emerged the idea of garden advocates. Several interested Going to the Garden partners will be able to apply for funding through the Global Food Initiative to fund a member of their local community to become a garden advocate. These advocates will work to expand the capacity of the projects, engage with the Office of Public Witness in local and national level advocacy as it relates to food security and hunger, and provide additional support for publicity and outreach.

We have heard stories of efforts meeting community needs for food, connections forming between churches and their communities, youth being empowered, grandparents in Native American communities sharing food-growing knowledge with youth, and how valuable denominational staff have been for support. The movement of the Spirit has been evident and noted. Many of these stories have and will continue to show up in places likes Messenger magazine, the Going to the Garden Facebook page and webpage, and on YouTube.

The Holy Spirit often is pictured as a dove. I don’t want to claim too much for the red-winged blackbird, the hummingbird, or even the turkey, but the flight of these birds is a reminder of the movement of God all around us. While denominational structures shift, individuals in leadership change, and programs morph for new vision, the Spirit continues to move.

As we continue to watch for the Spirit, I invite you to support the ongoing work of the Office of Public Witness, and all of the ministries of the Church of the Brethren, both financially and prayerfully. Your partnership is essential for the ongoing work of these programs, and it is only through your support that these ministries continue.

Learn more about the work of the Office of Public Witness at www.brethren.org/witness or support it today at www.brethren.org/give .

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 with Brethren in the Dominican Republic

Pastor Sauveur Charles from La Descubierta Church of the Brethren in the Dominican Republic explains the regularization process to Jeff Boshart. Photo by Nathan Hosler

Pastor Sauveur Charles from La Descubierta Church of the Brethren in the Dominican Republic explains the regularization process to Jeff Boshart.
Photo by Nathan Hosler

By Nathan Hosler, director of the Office of Public Witness

Statelessness. Ecumenical cooperation. Regularization. These are words that describe the work of the Office of Public Witness. Words that make many eyes glaze over. But these words of jargon are closely linked to the actual lives of our sisters and brothers in the Dominican Republic. For them, these words are critical—not abstract, theoretical, or of little interest.

This past December, Jeff Boshart, manager of the Global Food Crisis Fund and the Emerging Global Mission Fund, and I traveled to Haiti and the Dominican Republic to visit the Brethren churches there. In 2013, there was a change of legislation declaring that all persons of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic after 1929 were rendered not Dominican. Since they were not born in Haiti, they were also deemed not Haitian. People caught between these parameters became stateless—a legal issue of citizenship but also an enormous risk of exploitation and trafficking. Additionally, those who immigrated to the Dominican Republic before 2007 needed to complete an expensive, difficult regularization process.

As Jeff and I met with people in this situation, it became increasingly apparent that the system wasn’t working. Many could not begin the process of regularization because of the great distances from their homes to the appropriate offices. Others had begun the process, but had spent all their money through repeated trips with little or no progress. In this situation we, and the Brethren in the D.R., engaged in ecumenical cooperation and coordinated between US denominational programs to offer help.

As you read this now, much has changed. In late spring, Global Mission and Service began assisting Dominican pastors to support Brethren in the registration process, and Church of the Brethren congregations in Miami, Fla., sought ways to provide support. Also, in Washington, D.C., the Office of Public Witness communicated concerns and shared in strategic collaboration with organizations like Church World Service. Recently, with the threat of mass deportations from the D.R., that may begin as soon as August 1, the government of Haiti has said it is unprepared to handle a great influx of people. Nonetheless, we continue to advocate for all who are stateless.

The issues we see in the Dominican Republic and in other places are not simply for a policy wonk or theologian—they are issues of life, livelihood, and family. I know many of us feel overwhelmed by the great needs we see, the seemingly endless conflicts, and continued injustices. However, we must endure in faithfully bearing witness to Jesus who gives life and a sense of belonging to all.

Grants of $16,000 have already been allocated by Global Mission and Service and the Emergency Disaster Fund (with plans to give more) to support Dominican Haitian Brethren in the regularization process. Learn more about Church of the Brethren international partnerships at www.brethren.org/partners .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)