Hope in every seed


Marigolds from Nancy McCrickard’s home garden.

By Nancy McCrickard, Mission Advancement advocate

During the “safer at home” restrictions this spring in response to COVID-19, did you plant anything—in the ground or in pots? For the first time in over a decade at our home, we planted various vegetable plants and several types of flowers. We even planted a few of them from seeds. This reminded me of growing up on a farm in West Virginia when we grew plants to sell to folks in the community.

Each spring, my family planted a variety of seeds in our two large greenhouses, transplanted the seedlings into our outside gardens when it was warm enough, and then tended the plants all summer – harvesting the produce as it matured, eating it fresh or preserving it for later consumption by canning or freezing. In addition to the vegetable gardens, we also planted numerous pots and areas of our yard with a variety of flowers (including some of my favorites like zinnias, scarlet sage, petunias, and marigolds).

While the growing process begins with planting the seeds, nourishing and tending those seeds (and subsequent young seedlings) to optimize their ability to produce a harvest or a beautiful flower is also important. As a youth, I can remember spending countless hours in our gardens, cultivating the soil and pulling the weeds that seemed to grow nonstop. In order to grow and produce a harvest, seeds must also receive sunlight and water. Overall, tending seeds or seedlings requires diligence and patience.

As we read scripture, we often find references to planting seeds of faith. Once Jesus was teaching and said:

 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. . . . (and) the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop” (Luke 8:11, 15; NIV).

From a Church of the Brethren perspective, how might this be applicable to daily life? How might this be embodied, for example, by a denomination that upholds “doing what Jesus did,” often through acts of service?

From my viewpoint, placing a value on service does not just happen spontaneously; we need to plant seeds of faith and service in those we encounter and then nurture those seeds. Whether vegetable seeds, flower seeds, or seeds of faith, tending those seeds happens over the lifetime of the plant (not just once) and is a continual process!

Did you know that plants can influence one another? l did not realize it at the time, but when planting our vegetable and flower gardens, my parents often did some “companion planting.” This method involves placing certain plants together to both improve growth and repel insects.

Like plants, people also can influence each other. In terms of “companions” and “influencers,” Dr. Laurent Daloz performed a study of people who lived lives of service to others and noted that “generosity was something learned in the first three decades of life” (“Can Generosity Be Taught?” Essay on Philanthropy No. 29. Indianapolis: Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, 1998).

The study also noted that the following was true of those generous individuals:

  1. They grew up in a home hospitable to the wider world.
  2. They had a parent that was publicly active.
  3. They had participated in religious or youth groups.
  4. They had contact with people who modeled public service.

According to another report (“Next Gen Donors: Respecting Legacy, Revolutionizing Philanthropy.” Allendale, MI: Johnson Center for Philanthropy, 2013) research further indicates that individuals involved in service are influenced extensively by:

  • Parents (89%);
  • Grandparents (63%);
  • Close friends (56%); and
  • Peers (47%).

In short, all of us have a profound impact on those near and dear to us. When we nurture generosity in our own lives, we can inspire others to do the same.

As a Mission Advancement advocate, I advocate for and strive to nurture generosity on behalf of the ministries of the Church of the Brethren: generosity of time, generosity of talent, and generosity of resources—all forms of service. I am, essentially, a generosity cheerleader!

Recognizing how important it is to do this work together in community, I invite you to join our Church of the Brethren cheer squad and consider your own “call to service.” How might you serve as a “generosity seed planter” for those you encounter? How might you be a role model/companion plant for generosity of time, talent, and resources? How might you help produce a bountiful crop?

Remember, there is hope in each seed! Happy planting at any time of year!

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

On Growing Pains

I have done a lot of growing in this year of service.

And no, it’s not the kind of growth that takes place with a background of sunshine and rainbows and peppy music, but the hard, achy kind of growth. Still I walk around with these growing pains, sitting with questions that push at my own personal perceptions of peacebuilding, service, and what it means to actively build the kind of peace that mandates liberation for all.

Earlier in the year, I wrote about the struggle of maintaining resolve in the face of what seems like a stagnant, and in some cases regressive, time in our political climate. In the time that since that piece, I know that my resolve has weakened, and naturally, anger was poised to take its place. COVID-19 ripped back the curtain on the various systemic problems  in the U.S and worldwide, and police brutality and racial injustice were once again cast into the limelight (with the help of live social media documentation of a phenomenon that is as old as the institution of policing itself).

In bearing cognizance of my anger and the ire that burns hot in my belly, I wondered what to do with this fire. After getting tired of letting it burn me out and leaving me weak, through the help of Audre Lorde, I came to realize its refining power. Through her words, I came to see the malleability of anger and its ability to be used as a powerful source of energy, and I utilized its energy for reflection.

Left to focus on the intent and motivation behind my work as opposed to the outcome -because the outcomes were increasingly unfavorable- I became aware of how little time and reflection I had devoted to this endeavor. As the observatory lens turned away from what change we could effect and towards the why and the how, I was awash in the light of the selfishness of my approach to service. There I sat, questioning why I was doing this work, and not being thrilled with the answers.

I noticed that my approach to this work centered the things I thought would be beneficial to the demographics that I was advocating for; it didn’t center their own needs, wants, and aspirations, and this was a glaring problem. This was something that I also noticed in various of the spaces that I interacted with while in this position, and I felt comfortable in my criticism of these spaces but remained oblivious to my complicit conceptualization of the very same service that I was engaged in.

It soon became obvious that I needed to look at my motivations for service, first and foremost, as an act of service to those that I am in-service of. I needed to make “basic and radical alterations in those assumptions underlining” why I serve as a peacebuilder, and in utilizing the refining fire of anger, I called out my own biases and began the process of reconstructing my perceptions and motivation around service and peacebuilding. This is an ongoing process, and I hope that it only ends with a world where ALL can grow, because we are not free until the most marginalized within our world is free.

This year has been one of learning and aching, and I gleefully rejoice for the work that I have been able to do on myself while actively in service of others. I came into this position with a reservoir of resolve and energy, and that reservoir has been severely depleted. However, I see this not as a bad thing, but as a necessary pre-condition to the work of understanding the assumptions around why I serve, and what the larger implications of my actions are for the well-being of demographics in which I have an active interest.

I know that in what should be a blog post about the work done in service of others this year, I have spoken more so about myself.

I think that is the point.

Service is a necessary, worthwhile, and laudable endeavor, but doing the work of examining why we serve is an act of service in and of itself. This year has helped to clarify my hazy assumptions and preconceived notions about what it means to truly be in service of others, and in that way has strengthened me as a peacebuilder. This work, for me, took place within my year of service, and while I am thankful that working at OPP provided me the conditions to come to this realization, I am cognizant that this is work that should be intentionally done by all who serve others, in all avenues and capacities.

I am better peacebuilder for working at the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy; its been a tumultuous year, but I believe that this refining process has instigated in me a process of discernment that is of paramount importance when working in service of others. I plan to head to Bethany Theological Seminary in the Fall to gain a Masters in Peacebuilding, and I hope to tailor my projects and reading materials to study theology from the perspective of African American Liberation Theology. Afterwards, I intend to continue in the vein of peacebuilding, because this is necessary work.

*Quote from Audre Lorde’s “The Uses of Anger”

Building community in the time of a pandemic

The Everyday Ubuntu book discussion group earlier this month.

By LaDonna Nkosi, the director of Intercultural Ministries

The time of quarantine and sheltering in place has given us opportunities to connect and be in conversation together in new ways. Since March, Intercultural Ministries of the Church of the Brethren has been hosting #ConversationsTogether and online discussions about the book Everyday Ubuntu: Living Better Together the African Way.

I have very much enjoyed hosting #ConversationsTogether.  It has been a highlight each week to gather with people from across the denomination to listen and share stories as we journey together in reading and discussing Everyday Ubuntu. The chapters entitled “Put Yourself in the Shoes of Others,” “Strength Lies in Unity,” “Choose to See the Wider Perspective,”  “The Power of Forgiveness” and “Have Dignity and Respect for Yourself and Others” are just a handful of topics that have guided our conversation. We also were able to have a discussion with the author, Mungi Ngomane, and Brethren from both the US and Africa were in attendance. Mungi is a peace and justice advocate, a board member of the Tutu Foundation, and the granddaughter of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, and it was a blessing to talk with her.

Carolyn Fitzkee of Lancaster (Pa.) Church of the Brethren said, “Being an introvert, this online Zoom experience has stretched me out of my ‘comfort zone.’ I have been blessed by meeting new people from across the denomination and challenged in my faith by studying the concept of ‘ubuntu.’ I especially enjoyed finding scriptures to go along with each lesson.” 

Michaela Alphonse, pastor of Miami (Fla.) First Church of the Brethren shared, “The book discussion group has created a space to talk about race and justice, what it means to live in an interdependent society, and what it looks like to be in relationship with one another.”  

Reading and discussing Everyday Ubuntu has helped us “have a deeper respect for one another, in spite of major differences,” said Eric Anspaugh Central (Va.) Church of the Brethren of Roanoke.  “I am learning so much about myself and experiencing the insights of others.”

Ellen Whitcare Wile of Easton (Md.) Church of the Brethren shared that she has appreciated “talking with others from wide and varied experiences about how it is possible to build unity by working together.” She continued, “In order to live prosperously together, it is so important to reconcile where needed, and be truthful and respectful of each other.”

In what ways are you being in community in this season? How are you, your church, family, or community connecting with others during this time? Churches from around the denomination are connecting online and in other ways to break through isolation and build community. Virlina District and Central Church of the Brethren in Roanoke have welcomed more than 50 people in an online book discussion of The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby.  Harrisburg (Pa.) First Church of the Brethren will be discussing this book also.  Peace Covenant (N.C.) Church of the Brethren will be reading and discussing How to Be an Anti-racist by Ibram X. Kendi.

If you’re interested in joining a discussion:

> Connect online for #JourneyThroughJulyandAugust, an online series of racial justice and intercultural educational posts at the Intercultural Ministries Facebook page (www.facebook.com/interculturalcob).  #JourneyThroughJulyandAugust is co-hosted by the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy and Intercultural Ministries.

> Join us Thursday, Aug. 6, 1 p.m. Eastern Time for “What It Means to Be an Anti-racist Church in These Times,” an interview with Rev. Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim, professor of Theology at Earlham School of Religion.  She is the author of books including Reimagining Spirit, Keeping Hope Alive: The Sermons of Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. and co-author of Intercultural Ministry. This event is co-hosted by the Office of Ministry and Intercultural Ministries.

However you are able to connect with us and the larger church in this season, may the Lord bless you!

Learn more about Intercultural Ministries at www.brethren.org/intercultural, receive resources by joining the Intercultural Ministries email list at www.brethren.org/intouch, or support this Core Ministry of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/givediscipleship.

Churches for Middle East Peace Annual Advocacy Summit: Equal in God’s Eyes: Human Rights and Dignity for all in Israel/Palestine

OPP Report on the Churches for Middle East Peace Annual Advocacy Summit by Galen Fitzkee

Representatives of the Brethren Office of Peacebuilding and Policy (OPP) tuned in to the annual Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) Advocacy Summit on Monday, June 22, to become more educated about the Israeli-Palestinian relationship and advocacy efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. We were soon reminded that a virtual conference is not a perfect substitute for meeting together on Capitol Hill, however technical difficulties were resolved in short order and the program commenced. The theme of the webinar was Equal in God’s Eyes, Human Rights and Dignity for all in Israel and Palestine and focused heavily on the efforts we can all take to promote a peaceful and holistic solution to the fraught situation between Israel and Palestine.
Jeremey Ben Ami of J Street oriented those of us who were less knowledgeable with a brief summary of the human and political considerations involved in the fight against annexation of Palestine. He shared a message of optimism and encouraged each of us to get involved to change the course of American policy and thus the future of the Palestinian and Israeli people who both deserve a right to control their own futures. Ben Ami answered some questions about the immediate future of the region and layed out points of action that the US can take including clearly defining purposes for financial aid and making fair and balanced criticism of Israeli actions in international bodies.

COVID, Middle East, and Intersectionality

Next, we quickly transitioned into a panel of speakers from all over the world including Jerusalem, Gaza, Geneva, and the United States to talk about the human rights work of their various organizations. COVID-19 is making a tough situation worse throughout the Middle East and all around the world, according to World Council of Churches rep Carla Khijoyan. Jessica Montell, executive director of Israeli human rights organization HaMoked, reminded us that restrictions to reduce the spread of the virus are necessary but can be used as a pretext for human rights abuses and actually exacerbate other injustices. Bassam Nasser of CRS informed us about the current reality of life in Gaza, which has been defined by intense restrictions since before the pandemic. He noted new restrictions particularly affect access to education, which is usually a source of hope for Palestinians looking for a way to overcome their oppression. Overall, they encouraged us to get our information directly from the source and to focus on people rather than politics to both solve a humanitarian crisis and address the systems of power that undermine sovereignty and contribute to instability for all parties.

CMEP Overview

After a break for lunch, CMEP provided us an overview of their mission and programs that work to Educate, Elevate, and Advocate for the Middle East. Initiatives such as Pilgrimage to Peace Tours offer a first-hand look at the conditions in Israel/Palestine and help build relationships with local peacebuilders. CMEP also has made an effort to bring marginalized women’s voices to the forefront in the peace movement. Conflict resolution, even between extreme ideological groups. CMEP demonstrated that they have meaningful connections with faith leaders all across the region in places like Egypt and Iraq, and our very own Nathan Hosler made an appearance in a picture with members of CMEP and the Assyrian Church in Erbil. CMEP offers a wealth of video resources on their website as well as educational literature and ways to get involved with advocacy for peace. They often use the hashtag #ChurchesAgainstAnnexation on social media.

Protecting our Right to Stand for Palestinian Freedom

In light of the current unrest due to racial injustice in the United States, CMEP welcomed Dima Khalidi of Palestinian Legal Aid to draw parallels between the plight of Black Americans and Palestinians. “We are all held captive by a global system that prioritizes profit over people” she said as she encouraged us to hold fast to the truth about inequality and systemic realities that affect our neighbors here at home and abroad. Once we understand our origins, there is a responsibility to finally react to the work of black artists and organizers that implore us to act. We must follow their lead and listen to the solutions that they require in order to imagine an alternative society that is free of oppression. The response to movements against oppression such as the Black Lives Matter coalition has been and will continue to be repression and mislabeling, which we have seen first-hand in the United States. Palestinians face repression in the fight for their rights too. Leader reputations take a serious hit from smear campaigns and intense legal scrutiny in Palestine just because they speak out in favor of Palestinian rights. These threats and mischaracterizations of Palestine as terroristic or anti-Semitic have increased as grassroots support has grown. Pro-Israel groups have unleashed an assault on peaceful advocacy by bogging down efforts toward progress in legislation and seeking to criminalize and intimidate dissent strategies such as boycotting. While Khalidi wanted to make clear that the root causes of the situations in the US and Palestine are fundamentally different, it is amazing that we are witnessing similar strategies from the US and Israeli governments play out in real time. So, what can we do to stand with those fighting the uphill battle against oppression and subsequently repression? First, we must protect the right of advocacy and free speech rights as ways to dissent and fight for social justice. We should recognize that bold demands will not be easily accepted by the powers that be in either case because they have a stake in the oppression of minorities and the status quo. Finally, we must go back to the roots of the injustice in Palestine and the US so that reform and redevelopment can result in holistic and lasting changes. Khalidi left us to ponder a variation of the following question: Are we willing to listen to the oppressed and give up comfortability in order to finally achieve the worldly embodiment of Equality in God’s Eyes?

Foreign Policy and Election Panel

Since 2020 is an election year and the presidential election is fast-approaching, CMEP Senior Director of Advocacy and Government Relations Kyle Cristofalo hosted a panel of experts to address United States foreign policy. The consensus of these experts was that the current administration and ambassador to Israel David Friedman have been enabling Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s far right policies by encouraging de jure annexation and other illicit activities. They encouraged us to take a look at writings and actions that began at the outset of the administration’s term which include: recognizing Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel, moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, discontinuing aid to UNRWA and consequently Palestinian refugees, closing the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) mission in Washington, D.C., allowing incremental annexation of the Golan heights, failing to recognize violations of international law, and pushing a one-sided peace plan. The pattern of action in US foreign policy has been blatantly pro-Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people and hope for a two-state solution. Going forward, policy considerations should seek to reverse this steep trend towards the annexation of Palestinian territory and depoliticize the policies themselves. We were encouraged to maintain awareness of the human rights abuses occurring in the middle east. We can expect more of the same from a second term of a Trump administration who will likely continue to move the goalposts when it comes to opposing annexation as they seek to make changes irreversible. The speculation is that a Biden administration would not take a firm pro-Palestinian stance but may reengage with multilateral organizations and reverse extreme policy shifts that have occurred. It is likely that if Palestinians were able to vote in the US election that they would support a changing of the guard, however the unfortunately reality on the ground is that the Palestinian people continue to lose freedoms and the sovereignty of their own nation every day.

Closing

In closing, Grace Al-Zoughbi Arteen, a Palestinian Christian and accomplished instructor at Bethlehem Bible College, offered us a moving prayer in both English and Arabic. She reminded us of the meaning of the beatitudes for the oppressed, of our shared humanity and experiences, and of our hope in Jesus who offers us help, peace, and love.  

Bearing witness to the peace of Christ

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

The Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, a witness of the Church of the Brethren, represents, organizes, and educates as a part of the historic and living commitment to embodying Christ’s peace in the world. We do this as part of denominational staff in support of and in partnership with congregations and individuals. As participants in the broader body, we contributed to and are now living into the compelling vision. Though the process of Annual Conference consideration of the compelling vision has been postponed a year, we are reflecting on how our ministry fits within it. The vision statement reads,

Together, as the Church of the Brethren, we will passionately live and share the radical transformation and holistic peace of Jesus Christ through relationship-based neighborhood engagement. To move us forward, we will develop a culture of calling and equipping disciples who are innovative, adaptable, and fearless.

As with any vision statement, we are challenged and invited to explore how the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy is already living this but also how we may need to modify our work. For example, there is sometimes tension between radical transformation and holistic peace and our work. Our work typically is slow, building over long periods, and growing with smaller steps. This often includes efforts to simply limit harm. An example of this is our work to fulfill the 2013 Annual Conference resolution on drone warfare. Through the faith-based working group we helped start, we have worked to reduce civilian casualties and to have these deaths accounted for and documented. These aims feel quite far from the transformation and holistic peace to which we aspire. They may feel like merely tinkering with (rather than transforming) violence; however, our office helped adopt a statement that is significant. This was one of the first official statements from a church raising these concerns.

This statement and these years of work are part of the broader ecumenical and interfaith community. These relationships and partnerships across church and religious lines are a form of the relationship-based neighborhood engagement called for in the compelling vision. As such, our work is both in regard to calling and equipping disciples within the Church of the Brethren and in service to the broader church. It also bears witness to the peace of Christ in the face of our nation’s tendency toward war and is part of efforts to support peacemaking globally.

Whether we are working with Intercultural Ministries to address racism,  Brethren Disaster Ministries to address the pandemic, or the National Council of Churches, or preaching at a local congregation, we aim to equip (and be equipped) as disciples who are innovative, adaptable, and fearless for the glory of God and for our neighbor’s good. Together, we embody the peace of Christ in the world.

Learn more about the Office Peacebuilding and Policy of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/peacebuilding or support its ministry today at www.brethren.org/giveopp .

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Caring for neighbors around the world

Carol and Norm Spicher Waggy with Emmanuel, head of the Rural Health Training program, in Garkida, Nigeria in 2016.
Photo courtesy of Roxane Hill

By Carol and Norm Spicher Waggy, interim directors of Global Mission

“‘Which of these three [the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan] do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’
The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’
Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” ~Luke 10:36-37


Question: What do the following 11 countries have in common:  Brazil, Dominican Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, India, Nigeria, Rwanda, Spain, Uganda, the United States of America, and Venezuela? 

Answer: These countries all have active Church of the Brethren denominations. This is not counting the numerous other countries where the US Church of the Brethren (that “not so big church”) is helping others through programs such as Brethren Volunteer ServiceGlobal Food Initiative, and Brethren Disaster Ministries grants.

Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan in response to the question of “who is my neighbor?” The implied answer is “anyone in need.” In today’s troubled world, doesn’t that mean everyone, everywhere?

For us to share Jesus in our neighborhood now means sharing Jesus in a global society. If the coronavirus epidemic has taught us anything, it is how interconnected we are with the whole world. A virus that initially impacted one city spread to virtually every country in the world within weeks.

A relative reached out to us last month after receiving her stimulus check. She was aware that many people are desperately in need of this additional financial help. However, she recognized she was fortunate that this was a surplus for her.  She asked for advice as to where she might share it to do the most good. She was not surprised that we endorsed the Church of the Brethren as a reliable and responsible recipient of any donation. We discussed the importance of giving to help people in need around the world as well as locally to help small businesses.

Some of our Church of the Brethren brothers and sisters in other countries cannot do their regular day-labor jobs due to government restrictions as a result of the pandemic. Consequently, there is no food that night for their family. There are others who, as immigrants, do not qualify for back-up support from government programs. Members of the Church of the Brethren family around the world are struggling and suffering due to the coronavirus. In addition to this affliction, in another country our Church of the Brethren congregations were impacted by a flood that destroyed 3,500 homes, on top of recent losses of jobs and food due to the pandemic.

As we relate to our partner churches in other countries, we are very aware that our financial resources are greater than theirs, so we want to give money to address their needs. But, even more, we want to be family to them, not banks simply handing out checks.

We pray that you will join us in being the presence of Jesus in our global neighborhood. To us, this means bringing healing and hope, relief and support, and encouragement and prayers to our partners as they share Jesus in their local neighborhoods. Peacefully, simply, together, we go into the world to make disciples—yes, especially in these difficult times. Thank you for supporting the ministry of Global Mission and Service, and caring for neighbors around the world.

Learn more about the Office of Global Mission and Service at www.brethren.org/global or support their ministry today at www.brethren.org/givegms.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Good News Youth Devotional

By Becky Ullom Naugle, director of Youth/Young Adult Ministries for the Church of the Brethren

.

Ephesians 4:17-32 “…put off your old self…put on your new self…”

Life is full of transitions. Sometimes we seek out transition, and yet many times we are simply pushed into it. For example, we might choose to develop a new habit or skill. Yet other transitions in life, like graduating, tend to come whether or not we feel prepared for the next stage of life.

Right now, most of the world is learning how to deal with an unchosen transition. There are very few people alive today who have lived through a global pandemic before. This is new territory for everyone – you, your parents, your youth leaders, your coaches and teachers. We mourn that we’ve been forced into a new way of living. We don’t like it, and many would rather go back to their old selves, their old way of being.

Paul’s words in Ephesians are challenging! The kinds of things Paul says we need to change in our own lives involve chosen transitions that are HARD. We must “put away falsehood and speak truth to our neighbors.” That is hard. We must “be angry but not sin.” That’s HARD. And Paul was not nearly done with his list! “Let no evil talk come out of our mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” Y’all, this is seriously life-changing and seriously difficult stuff!

As we face the unchosen transitions related to a global pandemic, let’s take control of our “selves” and choose the kind of changes Paul encouraged. Let’s speak as truthfully as we can to each other.  Let’s figure out how to keep from sinning when we are angry. Let’s only speak words that are useful and grace-filled.

Good News: We can choose to be more Jesus-like in our words and interactions, no matter what else is going on around us.

Discussion question: As you think about your “old self” and then your “new self,” what is different? Can you name three concrete changes you will make?

Go one step further: Go change clothes. For the remainder of the day/evening, let the “fresh clothes” remind you of the “fresh, Godly perspective” you are choosing for your life.

Good News Youth Devotional

By Nolan McBride (Youth/Young Adult Ministries Assistant)

Ephesians 3:14-21 “…to graps how high and long and wide and deep is the love of Christ.”

We are living in a time of in-betweens. Life as we know it has shut down and changed radically since the beginning of this pandemic. Plans we had made have changed, events were canceled or moved online, and we cannot physically be together with each other. This is not how I planned to end my BVS year, and I am sure it is not how you planned to end this school year. I especially cannot imagine what those of you who are seniors must be experiencing. Though some of us live in states beginning to open up, it will be a long time before life returns to what it was before the pandemic, if it ever does.

Liturgically we are also living in an in-between time. Last Thursday our high church siblings celebrated Ascension Day, remembering when Jesus ascended into Heaven. Pentecost, which celebrates the Holy Spirit descending on the apostles and is sometimes referred to as the “birthday of the church”, is not until this coming Sunday. Imagine for a second what this must have been like for Jesus’s friends and loved ones. They had already mourned his loss once when he was brutally executed at the hands of the state. He had risen, and nothing would ever be the same! Now though, he was leaving them again. Granted, the circumstances were radically different and before he left Jesus did promise “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” But as we are all too painfully aware right now, being together in spirit is not the same as being together in person. They did not know what God had planned just around the corner.

In today’s scripture we are reminded of the limitless, unfathomable love of God in Christ. When Jesus dwells in our hearts we are united with each other and our siblings in Christ around the world. Yes, its not the same as being physically together. But we do not know what God has planned just around the corner.

Good News: Though a pandemic may stop us from being together in person, it cannot stop us from being one in spirit though the love of Jesus!

Discussion Question: How have you experienced the love of Jesus and/or unity with others through Christ during this pandemic? How might you deepen that relationship?

Go one step further: Every year Christians around the world join in praying together to spread the love and peace of Jesus during the period between Ascension Day and Pentecost. Find our more at https://www.thykingdomcome.global/

Good News Youth Devotional

By David Radcliff (Director, New Community Project)

Ephesians 3:1-13 “…the mystery of Christ…revealed by the Spirit…”

I admit I almost always prefer the gospels – the story of Jesus’ radical life of reaching out to the poor, the young, the sick, the hungry, the outcast – and angering the authorities in the process – rather than Paul’s writings – someone who mostly focused on Jesus’ death and organizing life in the new church. So I was a bit disappointed to see my assigned text from Ephesians. HOWEVER, when I read this passage, I saw that Paul, too, had a radical streak. First, he’s writing from jail – so he must’ve been doing something right to make people that mad at him. And he then writes of a “mystery” – hmmm…mysterious. What is it? That God’s love is for all, and that Jesus welcomes everyone into his church. This was scandalous in those days, as God was thought to be reserved only for the Jewish people. And the Romans had their gods, and the Greeks had theirs, and… you get the drift. So to have one God who welcomes all people – well, that was a page out of Jesus’ playbook. And of course it’s just as scandalous today. Churches often make a name for themselves more by who they keep out than by who they let in. And political leaders get elected by lifting up one group – race, income, religion – above others. A Brethren girl I know got in trouble with her friends by standing up for the poor. That didn’t stop her.

Good News: It’s no mystery – God loves everyone, and all are welcome among Jesus’ followers.

Discussion Question: Is it human nature to form exclusive groups? Why do we do it? Have you ever stood up for someone who is seen by others as “unworthy” – made fun of or otherwise pushed out? Think of a time when Jesus got in trouble for including someone others wanted to exclude.

Go one step further: Jesus welcomed women into his movement and treated them with respect. Today, girls and women around the world are often treated like second class citizens. On this page, there’s a zoom presentation telling about trafficking, bride burning, poverty and other things that affect girls – and what we can do about it. https://www.newcommunityproject.info/give-a-girl-a-chance

Good News Youth Devotional

By Linda Dows-Byers (Director of Youth Ministries at the Lancaster Church of the Brethren (PA))

Ephesians 2:11-22 “…in him you too are being built together…”

We live in a world of insiders and outsiders.

If you are reading this blog you have, most likely, already made a commitment to growing your relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you probably go to church (or you did before the stay at home order) and, odds are, it’s a Church of the Brethren. You might be an insider.

Imagine how intimidating it could be for a new Christian or someone just learning about the Christian faith to understand how a church service works. We have rules we don’t even know we have. We know when to stand up and sit down. We are used to singing together along with the choir or praise band. Most everyone has seen church represented on television or in the news, but being there is so different. A lot of underlying expectation go along with attending a church to worship–what to wear, where to sit (or not sit), how to pray, how the offering is taken. Do you raise your hands in praise or clap, or is that not what worship looks like at this place of worship? For people who have been church insiders for years, it is difficult to understand how someone joining in from the outside might experience church.

But outsiders have perspectives that are valuable to the church. There is newness and excitement when Jesus first grabs your heart. New followers often have ideas or vision about how church can grow or be more welcoming. New followers are hungry to learn about faith and grow in relationship with God–maybe just a little more than the insiders who have been doing this “church thing” for years.

In this time when churches are meeting online doors are open to people who might not be comfortable walking into church for the first time. Some of the barriers that intimidate people from joining in are absent. Some of us are literally going to church in our pajamas because there is no dress code for at home worship. We can sing loud, off key and mess up the words to the Lord’s prayer and no one looks our way. First time church-goers can go to worship without sneaking in and out of the side door.

The Bible passage in this devotional ends by telling us we all share a common foundation as followers of Christ–insiders and outsiders. Christ is key to the structure, He is in our cornerstone, holding down the 90 degree angle for the new bricks to be added. And those new bricks go in two different directions, but without the cornerstone, both walls would fail. Christ is the center. These bricks are made from Jesus’ teachings and lessons on building a relationship with God through faith in Him. How we worship, where we worship, or what time we worship is not as important as Who we worship. We are the church. We are the family of God. We are the next blocks in the creation of the church. Let’s build on Christ as our example.

Good News: God’s Kingdom welcomes everyone–insiders and outsiders–no matter your past, your family history, your level of education, your economic status, your accomplishments, or your failures.

Discussion Question: In your church, do you feel like an insider or an outsider? What brings you to that conclusion? Do you imagine God’s church growing or shrinking in this time of Covid-19? What is your evidence? How might this change your congregation in the future? Do you have unchurched friends who might watch an online church service? Have you invited them? What do you need to have a strong foundation in your relationship with God?

Go one step further: In this time of stay at home orders, invite a friend to watch your church’s online worship service or another online gathering of believers you are joining. Then talk about it later.

Go online and watch a Christian church service from a church that might not worship like yours. What is different? What is the same? Would these worshipers feel welcome to worship the same way in your church? Would you be comfortable changing your style of worship to “fit in”?

Take time to learn what the Christian faith and Jewish faith have in common (we already share the Old Testament). You might be surprised what things look and feel the same or what is different.