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)

United: serving the Lord together

Find worship resources for this year’s Mission Offering at
www.brethren.org/missionoffering.
Photo by Donna Parcell

A theme interpretation written by Matt DeBall, coordinator of Donor Communications, for the 2017 Mission Offering

“How wonderful it is when God’s people dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1). Indeed, it is wonderful to see the body of Christ work together as one. Every person feeling connected to the mission and giving of themselves to the Lord and to others.

It’s beautiful, but it takes work. It’s possible, but it requires intentional effort and a willingness to make mistakes and try again. The endless pursuit of unity is one we experience in our congregations, within our districts and denomination, and as we strive in ministry with our sisters and brothers around the world.

The obstacles to unity that we face are not unlike those that the church has experienced throughout history. The early church especially had some heavy lifting to do. We see a glimpse of their struggle and labor in Paul’s letter to the Romans. As the church grew and people of all nations were invited to follow Jesus, differences became more apparent and disagreements arose. In particular, the Jews still practiced meaningful faith rituals and tried to impress them on Gentile believers. In return, Gentiles either felt inadequate for not following Jewish practices or insisted that these rituals were no longer relevant for the life of faith.

Both walks of faith could be pleasing to God, according to Paul. A person could follow Jesus regardless of which day was honored as the Sabbath and God could be glorified whether a person abstained from eating pork or chose to eat it in fellowship with others. As long as a person lived unto the Lord and withheld judgment from others who did the same, unity with God and each other was possible.

Though the issues we face are different from the early church, God’s call for us is the same. And, while ministry may look differently for our sisters and brothers around the world, we are united to one mission: serving Jesus Christ. This is what we are committed to together. May we devote our time and energy to loving each other more fervently instead of focusing on the differences that could divide us. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we are united, serving the Lord together.

Find a full order of service for the 2017 Mission Offering (suggested date Sept. 17) at www.brethren.org/missionoffering or give to the offering today at www.brethren.org/giveoffering.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Strengthening relationships

Jay Wittmeyer with Mr. and Mrs. Fafa Lawan Kapi from Chibok.
Photo by Marcus Gamache

By Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of Global Mission and Service

As executive director of Global Mission and Service, my responsibilities include strengthening relationships with our sister churches in other parts of the world. I recently returned from a trip to be with the Nigerian Brethren as they convened their 70th Majalisa (annual conference).

This conference was particularly significant for the Nigerian Brethren as they returned home after two years of displacement and exile. There have been ongoing efforts to de-Christianize the historic homeland of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN), and the Brethren counted it a tremendous blessing to be present in Kwarhi. To celebrate this and to express gratitude to the Church of the Brethren for assisting EYN through their time suffering, leadership invited me to participate in the Majalisa and deliver the opening sermon.

Among those present at the Majalisa were the governor of Adamawa State, who gave a speech, and his entourage. In response, EYN president Joel Billi shared. “We request a place. Our people have lived here for centuries,” he said, “and we want to continue to live here. We do not want to go anywhere else.”

Going to Nigeria also allowed me to visit Chibok for the first time. Chibok is about an hour from Kwarhi. The paved road finishes miles before Chibok and the remaining stretch is gravel with deep potholes. Chibok is noticeably drier than many areas and extremely dry in April.

The Brethren established a missionary presence in Chibok in the 1930s, started a school, and even established a Bible school. (To my amazement, I learned that the Bible school still holds classes and currently has 13 students.) Long-term mission worker Gerald Neher wrote several books focused on his time in Chibok.

Despite its deep Brethren roots, however, Chibok became known internationally on April 14, 2014, when the radical sect Boko Haram drove dozens of heavily armed vehicles into the compound of the Government Girls Secondary School and forcefully abducted 276 girls. This prompted international outrage, reflected in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. (Our prayers continue for these girls.)

The Nigerian security forces have a heavy presence in Chibok. But since I was traveling with Paul Yang, EYN district secretary, we were given permission to enter the town, visit EYN churches and the Bible school, and meet with EYN families. What had a significant impact on me in Chibok was seeing the youth brigades practice their marching. They are tasked to assist in patrolling the community and to alert the security forces of any attacks.

It was inspiring to meet Laban Wadi, an EYN member who, despite the attacks, decided he and his family should stay in Chibok. They were forced to flee and spend eight nights in the bush, but otherwise have been safe living in the town while others on the outskirts had to flee. Laban retired as a medical assistant, a trade he learned from the Brethren. He expressed gratitude for my visit and asked me to bring greetings to Brethren in the United States. He mentioned Roger Schrock, Owen Shankster, and Roger Ingold, and was saddened to learn that Gerald Neher passed away last year. Laban was baptized by Gerald in 1958. Laban also reported that the last rainy season was good and he harvested 30 bags of peanuts alone.

On our way back from Chibok, we stopped to see the church in Uba. When Boko Haram attacked the area in 2014, they went from town to town burning churches by the hundreds. EYN lost 250 large churches, and the church at Uba was among them. The congregation is now meeting under a temporary structure as it works to raise funds to rebuild. Several thousand members attend worship every week and the footprint of the new church is very large. It will not have wooden rafters and will not be easily burned.

When you give to the Church of the Brethren, you support new and ongoing partnerships around the world. Your prayers and financial contributions make it possible for relationships to grow and communities to thrive through the partnerships of Global Mission and Service. We are so thankful for your support of this important, life-changing ministry of the Church of the Brethren.

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Being the church

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

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

By David Steele, general secretary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Amazing

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

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

By Mark Flory Steury, Donor Relations representative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Developing leaders around the world

Jay Wittmeyer speaking at Annual Conference 2015. Photo by Glenn Riegel

Jay Wittmeyer speaking at Annual Conference 2015.
Photo by Glenn Riegel

A reflection by Jay Wittmeyer, Executive Director of Global Mission and Service

On a trip to the Dominican Republic (DR) in March, members of the Mission Advisory Committee and I were greatly inspired by the work that the DR Brethren are doing to reach out into their communities.

On the first day we joined Gustavo Lendi, a pastor and current treasurer of the denomination, to visit poor families living in cardboard huts in a shanty settlement of Haiti called “Parc Cadeau.” Many children in the refugee camp were actually born in the DR but refused re-entry when they traveled to Haiti to visit relatives. Brother Gustavo, who has helped many stateless Haitians procure legal Dominican residency, is advocating on their behalf.

We were very impressed with the intentional focus of training leaders in the church. The Dominican Brethren have partnered with an Anabaptist seminary to hold classes in Brethren communities so church members can attend. Four pastors are attending university to earn theology degrees, and the denomination also hosts an annual pastors’ conference. Most importantly, elders of the church regularly travel to remote areas and provide one-day Bible studies to share Brethren beliefs and practices with low-income, poorly educated church members.

During our visit, we traveled to several city churches. There we heard stories of members working in slum areas to support youth and prevent them from getting caught in the drug culture of the Caribbean. We met a young adult who was saved from the drug lifestyle. We even met four teenagers who regularly preach in church, which helps them stay out of trouble.

We also visited a small church of both Haitians and Dominicans in a remote, mountain village. This little Brethren church has local leadership, but pastors from the city go out a few times a month to preach and teach. The community is very pleased to have a church. In total, we visited at least 16 churches and met many church members.

The last thing we did on our trip was attend the Dominican Brethren’s annual conference. Celebrating their 25th annual conference, the Dominican Brethren are forming a strong Brethren identity, and many members have grown up with it being the only church that they know.

As I reflected on our visit, I recognize the importance of effective leadership at the denominational level. Just as a local church needs individuals to serve as pastors, elders, or board chairs to lead the congregation, so also do denominations need leaders to care for the flock. Moderators motivate pastors, create unity among members, and encourage sacrifice and mutuality. They focus not only on individual members or single congregations, but on relationships between congregations and their members.

Much of the work of Global Mission and Service is focused on leadership development and supporting international leaders. We partner with them as they listen to the wisdom of their unique community, make decisions, and find a healthy balance between the social ministry of outreach and the theological ministries of teaching and spiritual growth. Whether in the Dominican Republic, Spain, Haiti, or elsewhere, the Church of the Brethren is developing leaders, planting churches, and reaching out into communities for Christ. By giving to the Church of the Brethren, you make all of this possible. Thank you for helping us make a difference around the world.

Learn more about Global Mission and Service at www.brethren.org/partners or support it today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Songs of promise

Markus Gamache serving in Nigeria and  Linda Shank serving in North Korea Photos by Carl Hill and Robert Shank

Markus Gamache serving in Nigeria and
Linda Shank serving in North Korea
Photos by Carl Hill and Robert Shank

A reflection by Kendra Harbeck, manager of Global Mission and Service office

Do you remember when you first heard the birds sing this spring? I, unfortunately, do not. I’ve been so caught up in other things these past two months that I’ve missed the birdsongs of promise.

This is ironic because I have longed deeply for spring this year. I probably have every year, but it seems especially acute after the harsh winter our community has experienced with stings of financial concerns, significant leadership changes, and deaths.

I was more in tune last year with the singing of the birds. On a Sunday morning in February, I stepped outside in the still cold air, and I heard it. The sound was so normal and mundane, but had been absent for several months. The birds were singing the arrival of spring, and yet, it was still quite obviously winter by the calendar, the cold temperature, and the desolate landscape.

Curious, I investigated who those songbirds were and why they were singing in February. According to National Geographic, the chickadee and woodpecker are the first birds to announce spring. These birds survive harsh winters by finding whatever food and comfort is available. Woodpeckers, for example, drill into trees to find insects. As John Hanson Mitchell shares, “They must look at a little pinhole and say, there must be something in there.” These resilient winter birds, prompted by change in daylight, begin their singing.

As humans, we are fooled and encouraged by signs that are obvious but deceiving. We moan and groan until it’s noticeably warmer or trees are in bloom, and yet these signs may be gone soon after they appear. Thanks to instincts and hormones, however, birds are much wiser than us. They welcome spring inspired by a more reliable and trusted source: the light. It is also worth noting that it isn’t the newly returned, light-hearted birds that herald the promise of spring. It’s the same birds that remained all along, battered by winter storms but transformed by the changing light within.

In Global Mission and Service, we encounter many “winter birds” in our work— people who persist through cold, dark times, and are sustained by the light and a song within. I think about Markus Gamache, our liaison with EYN, who persists in showing love despite much violence through sharing his home with up to 50 displaced persons and through bringing Muslims and Christians together in shared community. I think about Linda Shank, who each year, despite significant health challenges, returns to North Korea with her husband, Robert, to teach English and agricultural science at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. We all have winter birds like these in our lives if we stop to think and notice.

We, too, are called to be winter birds. Like the chickadee, we can adapt to the winter by finding strength through community. Like the woodpecker, we can look at something tiny or insignificant, and say “There must be something in there.” Though we are winter birds in a winter world, we have a spring song of promise, energized by the never failing light of Christ that grows in our hearts.

Global Mission and Service is a Core Ministry of the Church of the Brethren. Learn more about our international partnerships at www.brethren.org/partners or support the work of Global Mission and Service today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Move mountains

As we seek to raise valleys and lower mountains  to make way for our God, your help is essential. Photo by Glenn Riegel

As we seek to raise valleys and lower mountains
to make way for our God, your help is essential.
Photo by Glenn Riegel

By Matt DeBall, coordinator of Donor Communications

January. A new beginning. A fresh start. In these first few weeks of the year, we have the perfect opportunity to take stock of lifestyle habits, try new patterns, set goals, or even chart a new course altogether. For Christ-followers, it only seems natural to also consider how to love God and neighbor in new ways.

In seeking to respond anew to the movement of God, I can’t help but think of our recent celebration of Christmas. The prophet Isaiah shares, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low…. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed” (Isaiah 4:3-5).

While this scripture is traditionally used in beautiful Advent liturgies and alludes to the coming of the Christ-child, it is also a call to continually make way for the Kingdom of God in our world. Our God is coming, and we need to move mountains to make the road ready. This challenge from the prophet also reveals the way in which God, as our sovereign Lord, desires for us to be prepared for the Holy Spirit to make bold moves in us and through us every day.

Changing geological features as Isaiah describes certainly seems like a daunting task, but as Jesus shared with his disciples, faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains (Matthew 17:20). By trusting in our Savior, we have enough faith to raise any valley and flatten every mountain. With Jesus, every roadblock to God’s Kingdom is removed.

As we begin this year, your Church of the Brethren staff are planning for numerous opportunities to make way for our God and share love with one another. Brethren Volunteer Service is getting ready to recruit, train, and place volunteers in the US and around the world. Congregational Life Ministries is preparing to grow faith and train leaders at events like the Church Planting Conference and National Young Adult Conference, and partner with the Office of Public Witness to facilitate discussions about “Proclaiming Freedom: The Racial Injustice of Mass Incarceration.” The Workcamp Office is gearing up for a summer of “Blazing with Holiness” at more than 20 workcamps in the US, Puerto Rico, and Northern Ireland. Youth and Young Adult Ministries and the Office of Ministry are preparing for Ministry Summer Service interns and mentors. Global Mission and Service continues to walk with international partners and sense new places where God may be leading.

In preparing for God’s favor and a fruitful year of ministry, we recognize that we can’t do this alone. As the saying goes, “many hands make light work.” Now and throughout this year, we need your prayerful and financial support. As we seek to raise valleys and lower mountains to make way for our God, your help is essential. We pray that you will join us as we love God and neighbor in the year ahead.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Beyond our control

Partners of Mano Amiga de los Hermanos, a ministry of the Spanish Church of the Brethren, celebrating the harvest. Photo courtesy of Santos Terrero

Partners of Mano Amiga de los Hermanos, a ministry of the
Spanish Church of the Brethren, celebrating the harvest.
Photo courtesy of Santos Terrero

A reflection by Kendra Harbeck, manager of Global Mission and Service office.

While our American holiday of sharing lists of gratitude while over-eating and watching football is still a week away, the Office of Global Mission and Service has been giving thanks with partners around the world for the past few months.

Mano Amiga a los Hermanos, a ministry of the Spanish Church of the Brethren, pulled in a beautiful harvest to help feed immigrants in need. Brethren in the Democratic Republic of Congo rejoiced in the maize harvest they shared with members of the Twa (Pygmy) group. A ministry with the Church of the Brethren in Brazil worked with inmates to grow a garden within a prison. And Global Mission and Service volunteer Turner Ritchie shared the joy of the rice harvest at Asian Rural Institute (ARI) in Japan.

At the same time, the past months have been filled with stories of hunger around the world, millions of people in need due to violence or drought in Central America, South SudanNigeria, and beyond. People are in need due to factors beyond their control.

From our God who works through juxtaposition, I hear the call to give beyond our control. It’s a hard challenge. And it always has been.

Matthew 14 tells us of a time when the disciples tried to convince Jesus to send away the massive, hungry crowd who was listening to him on a hillside. I bet the disciples were exhausted and in no mood to manage what could easily turn into a massive, angry crowd. Likely, they were also hungry and wanted to keep their meager rations for themselves. “We’ve given so much already,” they might have said. “We’re not ready to offer this too. Let us at least have some control over our own supper.” But Jesus would not be bossed around or controlled: “YOU give them something to eat.”

In this time of thanksgiving for God’s generosity and the fruits of creation, in this world of great abundance surrounded by great need, we are called to feed God’s sheep. We are not to worry about carefully calculating how much money we can pass on after we’ve met our needs, imagined needs, comforts, and wants. We are called to feed our sisters and brothers with more than we are ready to share. Called to give to anybody that asks of us, even and especially when it doesn’t fit into our plans. Called to open ourselves up to Christ’s way of selfless love and to let our lives be changed beyond our control.

My prayer is that God will help us to do so.

Global Mission and Service is a Core Ministry of the Church of the Brethren. Learn more about its programs at www.brethren.org/partners or support it today at www.brethren.org/give

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

In God’s family we all belong

Ann Ziegler with children from Hogar de Niños Emanuel .

Ann Ziegler with children from Hogar de Niños Emanuel .

By Ann Ziegler, former Brethren Volunteer Service volunteer

Throughout the last two years as I lived at the Hogar de Niños Emanuel (Emanuel Children’s Home) in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, I learned more about what it means to be part of the family of God. When I arrived I didn’t know what to expect. I knew there were about 80 children being cared for by employees, but I knew nothing about these children, their backgrounds, or what they were like.

After two months, I learned the name of each child, and that many were siblings. I was sometimes surprised to find out who was a sibling to whom. In time though, I learned what it meant to be a member of the family that is Hogar de Niños Emanuel.

There is no doubt that on that plot of land surrounded by the city, there is a family of over 100 members—a family that is one of the most welcoming families I have ever met.

After living there for 8 months, 12 new children were brought to the home. It was an exciting day and everyone was curious about the newcomers. For me, these new children seemed out of place. Even after the first day, I felt as though they just didn’t quite belong. What I learned, however, was that in this giant family, everyone belongs. For this family there was no such thing as being a stranger. I saw every child welcome each of the new children to the table for lunch, proudly give newcomers tours of the home, and they all became brothers and sisters right before my eyes.

This experience was incredible, and it taught me a bit about my own prejudices and struggles with accepting change. This is not to say that everyone in the family of Hogar Emanuel always gets along, or even that they like each other all the time, and there are always “black sheep” in a family. However, all are loved as siblings, and everyone knows that they belong in this family.

I was privileged to be a member of that family. A glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven shines through those children. The way in which they live is an example for all of us. We are all called to invite one another to the table, regardless of someone’s background, and to become brothers and sisters in God’s great big family.

Ann Ziegler recently completed her term of BVS in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. To support the work of Global Mission and Service, including Brethren Volunteer Service visit www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)