Soybean Training and Field Observation

By Dennis Thompson

The Integrated Community Based Development Program’s (ICBDP) AGRIC Department coordinated and hosted a second 2019 agricultural extension methodology training program for the inaugural 15-member class of Volunteer Extension Agents (VEA) and key AGRIC Department personnel. Program activities were conducted at or near the EYN Headquarters in Kwarhi and at select field sites from Yola in the south up to Michika in the north.

Field site observational and training visits included two AGRIC soybean seed production field locations and various soybean and maize demonstrations in addition to four locations established and operated by VEAs as community-based soybean and maize AGRIC Demonstration Fields.

COB’s technical and educational resource person who provided the training was Dr. Dennis Thompson. This was his fifth NE Nigeria in-country experience supporting EYN’s Soybean Value Chain project and efforts to help redevelop NE Nigeria in the past two years. In addition, over the last three years he has coordinated and lead two experiential learning activities for EYN to Ghana related to soybean value chain work. He shared the EYN Soybean Value Chain story during an evening breakout session at the 2019 COB Annual Conference in Greensboro, NC.

Initial classroom extension methodology training was provided to VEAs by Thompson (fondly referred to as Dr. Dennis) in March 2019 being companion information and supplemental to the technical training provided by the Agric Steering Committee pertaining to soybean and maize production. The September 2019 training focused upon extension methodology (in both the classroom and fields) and the real-life experiences garnered by VEAs from the time they moved to their community assignments, established and operated demonstration fields, and trained farmers on EYN agronomic practices to produce maize and soybean.

“The soybean value chain journey, envisioned to become a catalyst for redevelopment, will be long and hard. Creation, development and support of the nascent EYB Volunteer Extension Agent program is certainly a step in the right direction”, according to Thompson. “The eagerness, dedication, enthusiasm and hopefulness exhibited in the faces and actions taken by this inaugural class of Volunteer Extension Agents is remarkable and they are being groomed as the example to be followed by other VEAs in the future” he concludes.

Celebrating the wondrous work of God

Giving Tuesday 2019
www.brethren.org/givingtuesday

By Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement

“Bless the Lord God, the God of Israel–
the only one who does wondrous things!
Bless God’s glorious name forever;
let his glory fill all the earth!
~ Psalm 72:18-19, CEB

When was the last time you noticed the “wondrous things” God has done in your life? A question that my Sunday school teacher, Fran, at Mechanicsburg Church of the Brethren would ask is, “What were your God moments this week?” Sometimes she would begin with this question, but on other occasions, it would naturally seep into our conversation or even close our time together as people reflected on how they had seen “wondrous things.” I travel often in my role as director of Mission Advancement, and during a recent trip, I noticed a “God moment.”

I like to travel by train when I work at the General Offices in Elgin, Ill.—taking the Pennsylvanian from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh and then Capital Limited into Chicago’s Union Station. The autumn season sets a beautiful stage to travel the rails. Getting into the mountainous areas of central Pennsylvania, the end of the harvest season can be observed as you pass by fields. Orange, brown, green, yellow, and red are the colors that splash this canvas. Traveling by train slows things down and offers the opportunity to reflect on what I’ve seen and experienced. Most trips include having conversations with fellow travelers—hearing their stories, sharing my own, and providing words of encouragement, grace, and peace, if it’s needed.

A few weeks ago, at the conclusion of the October meeting for Mission and Ministry Board, I boarded the train at Union Station to begin the trip back to Pennsylvania. After beginning to talk with my seatmate, we noticed peculiar behavior from the passenger in front of us. This person had been flailing about in their seat, speaking loudly with colorful language, and causing a bit of a ruckus. There was a feeling of concern for those of us who were directly around this person, a sense of uncertainty as to whether their actions should be confronted, and concern about the outcome of a confrontation. As time went on, several people in the railcar shared concerns with Amtrak personnel, who eventually confronted the passenger. The final outcome was the removal of the passenger from the train by local law enforcement.

So, where did I see the wondrous things of God in this situation? God was present through each of my railcar mates. Two people were able to remove and dispose of alcohol that the passenger had brought onto the train by approaching them and asking for a drink. Another man engaged the person in conversation to distract them from causing further alarm. In general, we all looked out for each other as the situation unfolded and worked together to make sure that everyone, including the unruly passenger, was safe until the authorities arrived to intervene.

In this present age, though our culture makes it seem much easier to throw a fist than pass the peace, I watched a group of strangers come together and work to care for one another. We were “strangers no more, but part of one humanity.” This situation gave me a renewed hope for humanity and reminded me that God is always present with us.

Where do you see the wondrous things of God in your life, in your community, or in your place of worship? The Church of the Brethren reveals “another way of living” to those we serve, one in which God’s “glory fills all the earth!” We do this through our Global Mission and Service partnerships in Venezuela, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and other countries. Another way of living is revealed through the work of our Office of Peacebuilding and Policy as staff meet in Iraqi Kurdistan with ecumenical partners and government officials to talk about active USAID projects to respond to the genocide of Yazidis, the persecution of Christians, and other vulnerable groups. Through the programs of Discipleship Ministries and the Office of Ministry, congregations and pastors are cared for and encouraged. In these ministries and more, God is doing wondrous things around us.

As we enter this season of thankfulness, joy, and giving, we invite you to consider how you will partner with us. May we celebrate the wondrous work of God among us!

This reflection was written for Giving Tuesday on December 3. Join us in celebrating—now or then—by making a gift to the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/givingtuesday.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

The fruit of our labor

Duvelis Altenor near Grand Bois, Haiti

By Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of Global Mission and Service

On behalf of the Office of Global Mission and Service, thank you for your regular support of our ministries. It is hard to believe that I have served in this office for 10 years. This milestone has given me the opportunity to closely consider what has been achieved. Jesus calls us to remain in him, and, as a result, we will “bear much fruit” (John 15:8). What has been the fruit of our labor in the last decade?

In 2009, the first trips I made as executive director were to Haiti. There a team of US Brethren interviewed nine individuals to be licensed into the ministry of the Church of the Brethren in our efforts to start the fledgling mission. Among the nine were two brothers: Jean Altenor, in whose house the first Brethren congregation was started in Port-au-Prince, and his older brother, Duvelis Altenor, in a remote mountain village of Grand Bois on the Dominican Republic border.

When Frère (“brother”) Jean, as he is called in Haiti, encountered the Brethren and understood our unique perspective of the gospel, he immediately went home and shared the good news with his brother Duvelis. When we interviewed him in 2009, Duvelis was hard at work getting a new church established in Grand Bois. We asked about his sense of calling and ministry, and Duvelis, a very quiet man, shared that, besides being a pastor of the congregation, he would hike through the mountains and visit the sick and suffering. This has led to much growth in the church, making it the largest Church of the Brethren congregation in Haiti.

I have wanted to visit Grand Bois for many years (and did so after joining the Haitian Brethren for their seventh annual conference gathering). The journey to Grand Bois is dreadfully hard with hours of creeping along rocky donkey trails in 4-wheel drive until, just when you feel your body cannot handle another bump, you park the car and hike down into the village.

When we arrived, we visited the church first. Though the community is poor and agrarian—growing crops of maize and beans in stone-filled plots of land—it came together to purchase land and construct a Brethren meeting house. God has so blessed their ministry that the building cannot hold all of their 400 members.

Our second stop near Grand Bois was to the capped spring. Traditionally, the community has relied on a small, natural spring that flows from the mountains forming a small creek. Community members travel far to the creek but the water is never very clean. In the dry season, its flow is very limited. This year we were able to cap the spring with cement (which prevents animals from trampling through it), and build a series of tanks to move the water closer to the village with the aid of a pump and a generator. Communities are very sensitive to anyone messing with their only water source, but the Haitian Brethren have a reputation of trust and competence.

Our third stop was to the home of Duvelis and his family. He was thrilled to show us the cabinet of medicine and introduce us to the community health worker who manages it. The community pharmacy program provides treatment for basic needs. Their cabinet saves a person from needing to travel a full day’s journey out of the mountains to get treatment. Duvelis’s heart and passion for the sick is extending in ways we had not anticipated in 2009:  clean water, medical clinics, and now a community pharmacy. 

After 10 years, it’s wonderful to celebrate the growth of the church in Haiti. Fruit remains when fruit replicates more fruit. The church in Grand Bois sees itself as the church of the community and spends its time and effort serving the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of its community. It delights in the partnership it has with other Brethren churches in Haiti and with other Brethren congregations on Hispaniola, as well as in the US and around the globe. They intend to be an active participant in the global Church of the Brethren body.

Life is hard in Haiti and poverty is endemic, but a caring church inspires members to find a calling of service. This is what inspired Duvelis to embrace a Brethren understanding of a holistic gospel of compassion and peace, and, quite literally, a cup of cold water. Duvelis inspires me to share the good news of the compassion of Jesus.

What we see happening for the Haitian Brethren is one of many examples of how God has blessed the global church in the last decade. May we be encouraged by the fruits of ministry for our sisters and brothers around the world.

Learn more about Global Mission and Service ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/gms or support them at www.brethren.org/givegms.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Introductions + OPP Work Update

Hello! My name is Susuyu Lassa, and I am excited to join Nathan Hosler at the COB Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. I am glad to be here, because peacebuilding has always been a passion of mine, though it has gone by various names in my short 23 years of life. I’ve known from a young age that I am called to a life of volunteerism and service; I remember spending a number of my weekends throughout middle and high school volunteering however I could, be it spending the majority of a day painting the outer walls of a recently erected building at a mission compound, or spending just a few hours holding new born babies at an orphanage.

After graduating from Hillcrest School in Jos, Nigeria, I seamlessly transitioned into being a political science major on a pre-law track at Manchester University. I knew that I wanted to go into human rights and advocacy, and my passion for working with the disenfranchised and marginalized was born out of seeing my people suffer massive displacement and death at the hands of radical insurgency and ethno-religious conflict. I was convinced that if I went to school and became a lawyer, I would be equipped to move back to Nigeria and positively apply myself in the march towards the betterment of the lives of those affected by displacement and violent conflict. Then I spent a summer shadowing a slew of lawyers and realized law was not for me.

Back to the drawing board. I was devastated, not because of the realization that law would not be a good fit -in fact I was quite glad to have figured that out sooner than later- but because I found myself with no objective path to my goals. Law had been the plan since I was in middle school, and I found myself at the dreaded ‘what now?’ impasse. In the throes of the closest thing I had ever had to an existential crisis, my guardian angel, in the form of a few members of the Manchester Church of the Brethren, whispered to me, “what about policy advocacy?” That was my breakthrough. Halfway through the first semester of my last year of college, I began looking into how I could positively influence policy so as to better the lives of those in whom I had an active interest. I learned of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, about the work done specifically on Nigeria, and with marginalized groups within the U.S. such as people of color, and more recently refugees and immigrants. I spent three weeks of my January term unofficially interning at the office, and I became more and more curious about BVS.

Fast forward a few months later, and here I am, a BVSer serving as the associate in the OPP office this year. This is about the last place freshman-year Susu would have envisioned ending up, but therein lies the beauty of the organic nature of life; that we are constantly becoming. I am excited to plug in to the work being done on immigration and to join the various discussions being had on the hill surrounding the multi-faceted nature of conflict in Nigeria. In my short time here, I have been able to delve into immigration work by joining the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, and I have been blessed to have conversations and brainstorm ideas with folks from various Brethren churches who would like to plug into these issues and be a force for change within their local communities. Through the Nigeria Working Group, I have had the opportunity to hear diverse perspectives on pertinent issues such as the Farmer-Herder conflict, and am looking forward to the working group’s fall congressional briefing, during which the role of the U.S. foreign policy and humanitarian aid will be highlighted.

Recently, OPP director Nathan Hosler met with the in-going ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard, to brief her on the scope of OPP and the Nigeria Working Group’s work on Nigeria. He also attended the International Religious Panel roundtable meeting with Sam Brownback, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious freedom.

Nathan Hosler speaking at the International Religious Panel Roundtable

The Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, while small, is engaged in such important work. The need is vast, and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to try to nip away slowly at the vast injustices that plague our world by working in this office and using this platform to bear witness to the words of the Bible, which in Proverbs 31:8 calls us to “speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute.”

September Activities

Highlights include: 18 homes rebuilt, school fees for 33 children, food for 427 households, business grants for 56 women, and a security tips workshop for 92 (see pictures below)

In September the EYN Disaster Ministry continued its recovery efforts. 18 family homes were rebuilt in a village off the beaten path. Extra workers were employed to carry the roofing materials across the river. Those whose homes were repaired expressed their thanks; they thought no one would ever be able to reach them with this much needed help after their village was burned by the Boko Haram.

School is not free for children in Nigeria and sometimes the family cannot afford the school fees. As a new school year started, Disaster Ministry was able to pay the fees for 33 orphans.

Food distributions are still taking place across the region. Help was given at three camps for Internally Displaced Persons in Maiduguri. In Garkida region, a distribution for 132 families helped Christians and Muslims.

A workshop was held at the Headquarters for District leaders, staff, and heads of church programs. The workshop for 92 people dealt with how to handle ongoing security issues and gave tips and best practices during this difficult time.

In a subsistence farming culture, families try to grow enough food to feed themselves and then sell the excess for other necessities. In addition to farming, many people have a small business on the side but start-up capital is always hard to come by especially for widows. The Women’s Ministry coordinated Disaster Ministry funds to train 56 women in tailoring and business practices. At their graduation from the training, each woman was provided with $150 start-up capital to put their new skills to work.

Please continue to pray for Nigeria and the ongoing Disaster work.

How do you measure success?

Global Food Initiative
www.brethren.org/gfi

By Jeff Boshart, manager of the Global Food Initiative

As I travel for the Global Food Initiative (GFI) of the Church of the Brethren, I am sometimes asked, “How do you measure success?” Answering that question begins with an understanding that true success comes from the Lord. As Isaiah 10:15 reveals, tools need someone to wield them in order to be useful. Likewise, GFI is simply a tool that is used by God to help our partners serve effectively in their local communities. After acknowledging God’s involvement, I also say, “Good things ARE happening with GFI and its partners around the globe.” And it’s great when recipients of GFI grants share their stories.

Dawn Blackman from the Randolph Street Community Garden, an outreach of the Champaign (Ill.) Church of the Brethren, received a grant to pay community members in great need to labor in the garden. She wrote: “With the use of the [GFI] funds, we not only got more infrastructure work done this summer in the garden, but there were people trained to lighten my load and even take over when I needed help. Additionally, some casual labor recipients became volunteers in our other ministries. It has been a good year! We would love to be able to continue this program in its current form or to even increase our ‘Tools and Manual Library.’”

Etienne Nsanzimana in Rwanda shared: “Our ministry has been serving with the Batwa [Pygmy] people farming potatoes for the last 7 years. Traditionally they were hunter-gatherers living in the forests. When violence caused them to leave the forest, they became outcasts, surviving by begging and stealing. Now they are working and feeding themselves. Malnutrition has decreased in their children and many are going to school. Recently, 36 of the adult Batwa accepted Christ and some formed a choir in the church named “Makerubi” (meaning “Cherubim”). They are committed to spreading the love of Christ through their songs. We have seen a real change in their lives and have great hopes for the next generation.”

Lastly, Alfredo Merino in Ecuador wrote, “With the support of the GFI, the training project in agroecology and gastronomy for youth of the Pedro Moncayo-Pichincha area has been a success in all respects. Dozens of young people [over 500] have participated, resulting in increased environmental awareness. We will continue to encourage youth to cultivate their small gardens, eat better, and take pride in preparing their own food. Thank you for all your support. It is a blessing as we continue this work.”

Thank you for your partnership in the important work being done around the world through the Global Food Initiative. God is truly blessing this ministry and changing lives. Please prayerfully consider how you will help us respond to future needs.

Learn more about the Global Food Initiative at www.brethren.org/gfi or support it today at www.brethren.org/givegfi .

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Serving together for a purpose

Brethren Disaster Ministries long-term project leaders
Steve Keim and Kim Gingerich (first row from left) enjoy watching
friendships develop among volunteers coming from different
districts and backgrounds as they share God’s love together.
Photo by Brethren Disaster Ministries staff
By Kim Gingerich, long-term disaster project leader

As a long-term volunteer project leader with the Brethren Disaster Ministries (BDM) Rebuilding program, I have had the privilege of experiencing this ministry from the “inside” for more than five years. I’ve been given the opportunity to see our denomination through different eyes:  the eyes of service, compassion, and love.  The one thing that keeps standing out to me is how we are united, as opposed to how we might be divided. The “we” are volunteers who come from different districts across the denomination to serve together each week. I often comment to them during our end-of-week debriefing that this ministry is the best-kept secret of our denomination.

Why do I say that? Because those who come to serve strive for a common goal that we fulfill together. What is that common goal? To glorify God as we serve with our hands, feet, and hearts to help restore hope in our clients and the communities in which we serve. Because we have that common goal, we are united. Despite our differences, we are united. We are united because we are motivated by love—God’s love for us and our love for Him—which in turn compels us to love our neighbor as ourselves. As Galatians 5:13-14 tells us: “Serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command:  Love your neighbor as yourself.”

This is how we build the body and unite the church, week after week:  through acts of service that provide opportunities to break down barriers and build relationships. Serving. United. Being the church.

Since BDM has combined its two project sites into one in Lumberton, N.C., we have received a lot of feedback from volunteers that illustrates this unity through service. Here are just a few:

• We are working with people for a common goal—an extraordinary goal.
• It’s the Holy Spirit taking human form, out of our hearts and into our hands.
• We’re so different but we have so much in common.
• Volunteers are like-minded people.
• We come as strangers but leave as friends or family.
• We are stronger together.

Together, across districts and denominations, we come. Different but the same, bound together by love, serving for a purpose, restoring hope, and being the church as we build homes and relationships. These are the real ministries the Rebuilding program of Brethren Disaster Ministries.

This reflection was originally featured in the summer issue of Bridges newsletter produced by Brethren Disaster Ministries. Learn more about the Rebuilding program at www.brethren.org/bdm/rebuild or support it today at www.brethren.org/bdm/givenow .

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

100 Children Attend Trauma Workshops

n July, five workshops were held for children ages 10 to 17. Each workshop was held in a different town and included 10 girls and 10 boys. Most of the attendees were orphans; some lost their parents from natural deaths and others as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency. Many children have been victims of trauma and care was taken to invite those who had experienced the most trauma. Some children were chosen from the Madagali area where continued attacks occur and the area is still volatile.

Many of the children’s stories are heartbreaking. Part of the healing process involves telling your story, learning the effects of trauma, and forgiving those who caused the trauma.

Here are excerpts from three stories:

Jadiwar (14) – I ran into the bush and lived on a rock near one of the Boko Haram hideouts with very little food or water. I narrowly escaped but whenever I remember the event, it breaks my heart. I thank God for this workshop which has helped me to remember my hardship without letting it tear me apart.

Hauwa (15) – I was shot by Boko Haram militants in our house during the attacks. My father left me in a pool of blood and ran for his life. My brother came back and rescued me. Even though my physical wound was healed, I couldn’t work well or go to school. Before the workshop I found it difficult to forgive my father because I thought he hated my but now I have forgiven him.

Happy (15) – I lost both my parents and I was living with my elderly brother who started selling hard drugs to get money for our survival. He was arrested and put in prison. Due to the trauma, I could not sleep. But coming to this workshop has helped me regain my confidence and hope in life and I am sleeping better.

In other Disaster news…

On August 18, the town of Kidlindila was attacked by the Boko Haram. Although no persons were killed, the insurgents burned eight houses and ten businesses. Everyone fled the area and for several days no one could get back to asses the damage. Just three weeks after the attack, EYN Disaster Ministry provided an emergency distribution with food and sleeping mats for those affected.

Blessed and multiplied


Photo by Steve Buissinne

By Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement,

In May, I was blessed to attend Young Adult Conference. The theme scripture this year was Ephesians 3:16-20 and invited us to “test the lengths” of Christ’s love for us and to “reach out and experience the breadth” of the Holy Spirit within us. We are called to empower others to go where we can’t go and reach out to those whom we can’t reach. We do this by giving to support this work of the church. When we give what we are able, we trust in Christ’s transformative power. If Jesus used five loaves and a couple fish to feed more than 5,000 people, can’t our gifts, no matter their size, be blessed and multiplied in the same way?

Growing up, I was taught to give 10% of my income to the work of the church. I haven’t always been able to do this, and it took some time and creative budget planning to get to this point. What helped me was creating a spreadsheet to track my monthly income and spending. There are certainly all kinds of apps and software out there to do this now, but it can still be very valuable to see all your money outlined in an old-fashioned spreadsheet. Doing this exercise helped me become more intentional about giving to ministries that are important to me.

Today, while I still use a spreadsheet, I also use www.brethren.org/give . Through the online giving form, I scheduled a monthly recurring gift to support the ministries of the Church of the Brethren that I am passionate about. (Voluntarily, each member of my team has done this, too.)

If you would like more information about how to give, the mission and ministry of the Church of the Brethren, or would like a copy of the budget spreadsheet I use, feel free to reach out to me at trabenstein@brethren.org .

May you be blessed in your efforts to “test the lengths” of Christ’s love and to “reach out and experience the breadth” of the Holy Spirit.

This reflection was originally featured in Bridge, a publication of Youth and Young Adult ministries.

The way of Jesus

Joshua Brockway speaking at the Discipleship Ministries dinner
at Annual Conference 2019.
Photo by Glenn Riegel

By Joshua Brockway, director of Spiritual Formation

Earlier this year, I picked up March, a graphic novel by Congressman John Lewis.  The first volume of the series sketches the plotline from Lewis’s early life to the first success of the Nashville sit-ins in 1960.

One of the pages, in particular, caught my eye. On the day of the first arrests of the Nashville protests, a white student named Paul LaPrad was pulled from the lunch counter and beaten. The page stood out to me, not because LaPrad was white, but because I heard his story during my undergraduate studies at Manchester College. LaPrad was a Church of the Brethren young adult and would later graduate from Manchester. He attended James Lawson’s weekly workshops on nonviolence, heard the experiences of Jim Crow and racism from his black peers, and learned to withhold a violent response to verbal and physical attacks.

Since reading March and other accounts of the Nashville student movement, as well as talking with Paul LaPrad, I have come to one conclusion:  Peacemaking is a way of life.

We talk about peace often in the church—and rightly so—but when I read about Lawson and his nonviolence workshops, I realized how counter-intuitive nonviolence truly is. Violence, whether through fists or words, is ingrained in us at an early age when we are taught to stand up for ourselves. We are encouraged to share witty retorts to insults. We are entertained by verbal sparring on news channels and by retributive violence on big and small screens.

So in order to live nonviolent lives—and like Jesus—we must be re-formed. This means that peacemaking is not a means to an end but, rather, the result of a long and intentional process of formation. Through our discipleship, we are made into the likeness of the Prince of Peace.

Our ministries, from Sunday school classes using Guide for Biblical Studies to youth groups gathering to raise money for National Youth Conference, keep us in the path of the “long obedience in the same direction,” as the late Eugene Peterson would say. Our ministries don’t just teach the ideas of peace, but they invite us to read the Scriptures through the nonviolent life of Jesus. Our practices of mutual aid and service are not a means to happy living or random acts of kindness, but are acts of obedience to Christ. And our witness and advocacy in our communities and nation are extensions of our relationships with those pushed to the edge of our culture through unjust laws and policies.

Thank you for the ways you disciple others in the nonviolent way of Jesus. Thank you for the ministries you lead and support in your congregation, district, and the denomination. And most of all, thank you for promoting the practices of discipleship and peace through your gifts to the Church of the Brethren.

Learn more about Discipleship Ministries at www.brethren.org/discipleshipmin or support them today at www.brethren.org/givediscipleship.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)