Persevere: Stand together in faith

Mission Offering 2016-bannerA theme interpretation written by Matt DeBall for the 2016 Mission Offering 

“Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).

The Apostle Paul was obsessed with unity. Ever since his perspective was changed from “the Jews are the chosen people” to “all people are welcome in God’s family,” he was compelled to bring all people to the table of Christian fellowship.

It doesn’t require much effort to find the motivation of Paul’s passion for Christian community. Jesus, too, was all about sticking together in God’s family. Before Jesus was arrested, he prayed for his disciples and for us (those who would believe because of their message): “that they may be one” (John 17:21). The unity that Jes us experienced with God the Creator and the Holy Spirit was the same unity he prayed over his disciples and all who would follow them. With the inspiration of Jesus, Paul’s obsession seems well founded and worthy of continuing.

In his letter to the Philippians, we hear Paul at it again. With the declared hope that th e believers at Philippi would be of one mind, we hear echoes of Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).

Signs of God’s love include living at peace with all sisters and brothers, and striving to be of one mind and mission. With his words, Paul paints beautiful pictures of what it looks like for the church to be faithful in loving God and loving others.

Paul’s words to the Philippians, however, are not solely to give us warm and fuzzy feelings about loving one another. Paul was calling the believers at Philippi to stick together through all situations and struggles of life. We all seek to love others without question until we realize how much it costs. Striving to walk with people through dark valleys and over in timidating mountains really tests the depth of our love and faith. Nonetheless, these are the roads to which God has called us to walk together “side by side.”

The Mission Offering highlights the international partners of the Church of the Brethren. As we partner with our sisters and brothers in places like Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nigeria, and South Sudan, there is much opportunity for mutual encouragement and strengthening of faith. Though how we minister within communities may look rather different, God’s call to all is share the love and hope of Jesus in all places.

As we walk with our sisters and brothers around the world, the words of Paul to the Philippians can still guide us today. Whether we are gathered together or far apart, the evidence of God’s love will be known through the unity we share. Though we may be nations and even oceans apart, we share an unbreakable bond within God’s family. Being held together by God’s love and caught up with what the Holy Spirit is doing, we can persevere and stand together in faith.

Find a full order of service for the 2016 Mission Offering (suggested date Sept. 18) at www.brethren.org/missionoffering or support the Church of the Brethren today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Walking Together

One Great Hour of Sharing 2016

One Great Hour of Sharing 2016

Adapted from a sermon starter by José Francisco Morales Torres, director of Pastoral Formation at Disciples Seminary Foundation

“Where you go I will go; and where you stay I will stay” (Ruth 1:16, NIV).

The story of Ruth is a beautiful narrative about resilience and accompaniment. Rendered vulnerable by the deaths of their husbands and the natural disaster of famine, Ruth and Naomi clung to one another for comfort and strength.

As we read the book of Ruth, we see both a human story and a God story, the former “incarnating” the latter. As a human story, we read about the spirituality of solidarity. In the divine realm, we read of God’s redemption, which is mirrored in human action.

Redemption is a sign of God being with us. The divine act of redemption can be seen in the sacrificial commitment Ruth makes to Naomi to go where she goes and stay where she stays. Through Ruth, God is revealed in the very act of accompanying the most vulnerable in society—both then and now. This commitment to walk together is good news for a globalizing world that so often separates people groups into “them” and “us.”

As God walks with those who are vulnerable, we see God as we walk together with them as well. Consequently, we, like the outcast, come face-to-face with our own need and vulnerability; we need them to see God in our midst. Walking with those in need is an opportunity for us to reignite our faith and reframe our humanity in our encounter with the faith and humanity of another. We are able to recognize the transforming power of solidarity, not just for “them” but for “us.” Through the eyes of accompaniment, there is only a united “us!”

One Great Hour of Sharing is a special opportunity for you and your congregation to walk with those in need through the work of the Church of the Brethren. When you give to this special offering, you support Core Ministries like Brethren Volunteer Service, Congregational Life Ministries, Global Mission and Service, the Office of Ministry, and the Office of Public Witness. You also support the work of Brethren Disaster Ministries and Global Food Crisis Fund. With your help, we accompany those in need across the country and around the world. As we walk together, we recognize God among us and receive strength for the journey ahead.

The suggested date for One Great Hour of Sharing is March 20. Learn more and find worship resources for the offering at www.brethren.org/oghs or give today at www.brethren.org/giveoghs .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Encounters with God

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org. Photos by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, Don Knieriem, and Jean Bednar

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org.
Photos by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, Don Knieriem, and Jean Bednar

A reflection by Stanley Noffsinger

When I graduated from Manchester University, my eyes were set on the future. I was filled with anticipation, hope, relief, and a modicum of anxiety. Little did I know that the path ahead would take unusual and unexpected twists and turns beyond my wildest imagination.

I am reminded of the story of Moses—a trusted and experienced shepherd—who was asked by his father-in-law, Jethro, to lead a flock through the wilderness. Moses set out with his faith and experience to get the flock moving, feed them, protect them, and return them home.

But Moses’ serenity was interrupted in an unexpected way—by an angel of the Lord through the burning bush. The last thing Moses expected was to be in the presence of the Divine, but as Moses heard God through a burning bush, he entered into an unimagined reality. Moses knew he was in the presence of Yahweh, the Lord God.

Moses was prepared for the future just like each of us. And like Moses, we will encounter a day when unexpected events will alter our journey. These unplanned detours may not be as dramatic as a burning bush but, nonetheless will change the course of our lives.

I never thought I would become the first lay person to hold the office of general secretary for the Church of the Brethren. Nor could I have imagined this position would allow me the privilege to have audience with Pope Benedict at the Vatican, with the former president of Iran, or the President of United States. All of these events and opportunities to interact with people from all over the world were moments when I experienced God’s presence.

During my time of service to the Church of the Brethren, we have seen spiritual growth with congregations the United States and around the world. We have witnessed lives changed and faith strengthened at conferences like National Youth ConferenceNational Older Adult ConferenceNational Junior High Conference, and WorkChristian Citizenship Seminar. We have responded to extreme national and international disasters, walking alongside leaders as they served their communities in a manner consistent with their context of living. We have persevered in a tradition of service through ministries like Brethren Volunteer Service and workcamps. We have spoken to the world and its leaders on important issues, hopeful that we might find alternative paths to resolving conflicts. In all of these things, we have truly witnessed God in our midst.

Looking to the future, we will be heading forward with great expectation, even though the paths we will take are truly unknown. While we still have much to learn about showing love to one another, I have the utmost confidence and trust that our faith and experience will serve us well. Inspired by our appointment with the Divine, we will persevere in our pursuit of life, relationships, and Christian service.

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)

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)

Proclaim: Rejoice in Christ

Find worship resources for this year's Mission Offering at www.brethren.org/missionoffering .

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

A theme interpretation written for the 2015 Mission Offering.

Amidst the busyness of life, it’s important to stay focused. Hardships, responsibilities, opportunities, short-comings, and “nay sayers” can all take our attention away from what is most important.

Challenges and obstacles are also a regular part of life for our partners around the globe. Facing daily persecution, violence, and limitations, their efforts to show love to God and neighbor is challenged regularly. Whether completing a project or staying dedicated to a mission, being faithful to what God has called us requires perseverance.

Staying focused in ministry has been a challenge since the very beginning of the church. In Paul’s words to the Philippians, he acknowledged their disappointments and wounds. Having experienced many challenges himself, Paul understood what it meant to come up short of a goal. However, while sitting in jail, Paul recognized the Philippians as a precious gift. In spite of the hardships experienced by Paul and the church of Philippi, Paul reminded them of what is most important: “that Christ is proclaimed in every way” (1:18). Despite the persecutions they had encountered, Paul reminded them not to worry about people and factors beyond their control.

The declaration and power of the gospel is not hindered by the short-coming of humanity. We can choose to obsess about the vain preachers or the peddlers of prosperity, or we can choose to celebrate the places where Jesus is proclaimed in word and action. God alone is able and worthy to judge the minds and hearts of each person. As the body of Christ, our first responsibility is to celebrate in the proclamation of Jesus’ name.

The ministry of Jesus and power of God in the world is not dampened by our failures either. If we ever lose focus or stumble, God’s love and grace remain present. If the good news of Jesus is proclaimed in our words and actions, there is reason for celebration through any season.

While it may seem that our own limitations or external challenges prevent us from celebrating the work of God, we can find comfort and joy each day if the name of Jesus is proclaimed. It is in witnessing this proclamation in every way that we have reason to rejoice in Christ.

Written by Matt DeBall, coordinator of Donor Communications. Find a full order of service written by Ken Gibble for the 2015 Mission Offering (suggested date Sept. 20) at www.brethren.org/missionoffering or support the Church of the Brethren today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Giving is a privilege

One Great Hour of Sharing Photo by Craig Thompson

One Great Hour of Sharing
Photo by Craig Thompson

An adaptation of an offertory meditation written by Amy Gopp for the 2015 One Great Hour of Sharing

“They voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints” (2 Corinthians 8:3-4).

During what the Apostle Paul calls a “severe ordeal of affliction,” the early churches of Macedonia somehow managed to “overflow in a wealth of generosity” for their sisters and brothers in need. Their own extreme poverty combined with their abundant joy resulted in this overflow, and as Paul testifies, they not only gave according to their means, they gave beyond their means. Yes, beyond their means! Even more remarkable, they actually begged to share in the “ministry to the saints.” Giving is a privilege.

Have you ever imagined what it would be like not to be able to give?

But God provides all we need, enabling us to be in a constant posture of giving. All that is ours is God’s, so everyone has a gift to give. God does not leave anyone out.

God has created a world where there is more than enough; the sheer joy of that blessing is sharing it! Giving back to God is a matter of faith—it is the natural reaction to our saying “yes!” to following Christ. Once you know the invincible love of God and the Good News of the Gospel, you can’t help but share it. In the sharing of your resources, you are living out your confession of faith as followers of Jesus the Christ.

For well over six decades, we have been putting our faith into action and making a difference, alongside literally millions of other Christians throughout North America, through One Great Hour of Sharing. This offering helps empower people across the nation and around the world.

Praise be to God!

Giving itself is a gift. A privilege. An opportunity to respond to God’s outpouring of love for you.

Giving through One Great Hour of Sharing not only changes the lives of individuals and communities in need, it changes the world.

Join our ministry of saints as we receive our offering. Let’s overflow in a wealth of generosity and feel our own hearts, minds, and lives change just as we help to improve and transform the lives of others. Amen.

One Great Hour of Sharing is a special opportunity for you and your congregation to support the life-changing ministries of the Church of the Brethren. Find worship resources for this year’s offering at www.brethren.org/oghs or give now at www.brethren.org/giveoghs .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Great things in 2014

From all of the staff, volunteers, and Mission and Ministry Board members of the Church of the Brethren, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

From all of the staff, volunteers, and Mission and Ministry
Board members of the Church of the Brethren,
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

Thank you for praying, serving, giving to support the Church of the Brethren in 2014. There are many things that we were able to do together:

2,390 students, advisers, staff, and volunteers attended National Youth Conference (and 19 from international Brethren groups).

123 volunteers served 248,720 hours at Brethren Volunteer Service projects.

9 Ministry Summer Service interns explored their vocations in ministry placements across the country.

Volunteers maintained a Brethren presence in 9 different countries.

Over 377 deacons and church leaders attended 9 deacon training events.

19 BVS volunteers served at international projects, and 11 international students served in the US.

98 individuals participated in the Church Planting Conference.

152 Global Mission Advocates are now connected to the network.

165 individuals attended 4 Intercultural Ministry related events.

140 participants served at 8 workcamps.

83 congregations began or continued participating in the Vital Ministry Journey.

62 individuals represented 13 districts at Young Adult Conference.

3 Mission and Ministry Board meetings were held and 3 new members were welcomed.

684 congregations financially supported the Church of the Brethren.

151 donors gave to the core ministries of the Church of the Brethren for the first time.

And so much more!

Thank you for generously giving to your church. Your faithful support is inspiring, and ensures that the many life-changing, loving-giving ministries of the Church of the Brethren will continue into the future.

If you are excited about or have been blessed by the ministries of the Church of the Brethren, support them at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Holy Ground

Photos by Glenn Riegel and Jenna Stacy

Photos by Glenn Riegel and Jenna Stacy

By Stanley J Noffsinger, general secretary

This summer I enjoyed hosting Ministry Summer Service interns for barbecue, traveling to visit your congregations, and attending Annual Conference and National Youth Conference. In these places and others, I have found myself standing on holy ground. You and I are blessed to serve a God who uses ordinary people like us in extraordinary ways: in our congregations, communities, country, and world.

When I hear about congregations fundraising to send youth to National Youth Conference, I am filled with hope for the future of our church. When Brethren gather to study scripture in intentional community on the Vital Ministry Journey, I give thanks for our foundation in God’s word, and for the way we value each other.

When another Brethren Volunteer Service unit completes orientation, and when workcampers travel to Haiti, Pennsylvania, or Washington, I am blessed by the ways Brethren show God’s love by being the hands and feet of Jesus. When I talk with partners in South Sudan, North Korea, Haiti, or Nigeria, I am humbled by the far reaches of our ministries and moved to prayer for sisters and brothers around the world.

We are truly a blessed people. We have a voice that the world needs to hear and a light the world needs to see.

Our sisters and brothers in the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria also carry that light, even as they face incredible trials and violence. They follow Jesus, enduring in faith, remaining dedicated to peace and showing love to everyone—even those seen as enemies.

Whether in Nigeria, Columbus, Fort Collins, or our own hearts, the journey of receiving the reconciling grace of Jesus is not easy. We discover that discipleship is often difficult, and we experience chaos because we are God’s people. Yet in the wild and crazy times of life, we may discover that we are standing on holy ground, standing in the presence of the Holy Spirit, God’s shalom, and Christ’s peace.

Support the life-changing ministries of the Church of the Brethren today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)