Humbled by God’s faithfulness

A project in Ecuador supported by the Global Food Initiative.

By Jeff Boshart, manager of the Global Food Initiative

“I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.” -Psalm 57:9-10, NIV

Last year I wrote to you at the beginning of  the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, the US has seen some seasons of improvement, but many of our partners around the world have not. While experts are optimistic about the economic recovery in wealthy countries, the same is not true for poorer countries. Borders in many parts of the world remain closed or limit the flow of people and goods. Some countries that initially kept the spread of the virus low are now experiencing the most deaths and hospitalizations as vaccines remain in short supply. In some places, lockdowns and masks are still a daily part of life and likely will continue into 2022. It is against this backdrop that we praise God for faithfully providing and give thanks for Global Food Initiative partners who continue to be Christ’s hands and feet as they minister to those in great need.

With your generous prayerful and financial support in 2020, we were able to share $145,890 in grants for agricultural projects both domestically and internationally. Gifts to the GFI in total were $205,877, meaning we had a healthy balance to start this year. Recently, however, the pace of requests has picked up and the GFI is at its lowest level in 10 years. Since January, grants were distributed to undergird community gardens or food ministries in Maryland, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Illinois. New projects were also started with help from the GFI for a grain mill in Uganda, and a fruit tree nursery in South Sudan. In Nigeria (soybean production) and Ecuador (dairy cows and irrigation for organic vegetable production), partner organizations received grants to continue multi-year programs. 

Looking ahead, the Church of the Brethren in Rwanda has begun distributing pigs to the Batwa people–a tribe that lives on the fringes of society. Materials for pens and funds for veterinary services are needed to expand this project. In the Dominican Republic, leaders of Iglesia de los Hermanos are planning to establish a farm credit program for church members and neighbors. In Honduras, plans for a backyard chicken project in an urban setting, though originally delayed by restrictions, are now back in motion. These are just a few partners that will need support from the GFI in the coming months.

If you are like me, you spent much time in prayer over the last year. I wasn’t sure at times how much support the GFI and its programming would receive while we were in uncertain circumstances. Looking back, I am humbled by God’s faithfulness and your generosity in 2020. I am excited about the future, and what God and our partners will do next as together we seek to serve our neighbors near and far in the name of Jesus. Thank you for partnering in this important ministry. 

Learn more about the Global Food Initiative of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/gfi or support its ministry today at www.brethren.org/givegfi.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Declaring the glory of God

Mission Offering 2021 banner photo

A theme reflection written for the 2021 Mission Offering by Matt DeBall, coordinator of Mission Advancement Communications

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of God’s hands.” ~Psalm 19:1, NIV

Since the beginning of time, humanity has looked to the skies. Whether for direction, agricultural planning, or inspiration, the heavenly bodies—near and far—have promoted ingenuity and amazement in our world.

King David was a sky-watcher, a stargazer. In his younger years as a shepherd tending his sheep, he surely spent plenty of days under the radiance of the sun and nights with little more than the heavenly bodies to keep him company. Taking in the warmth by day and the vast masterpiece at night, David concluded that the sun and stars above were telling a story, playing a song about the awesomeness of God—a song that, he reasoned, warranted words being written and sung along with it.

Psalm 19 is a wonderful hymn for the people of God in every age. It begins with observing the lights in the sky by night and by day, declares the greatness of the Lord who made them all, reflects upon the lifegiving nature of God’s word and promises, and concludes with a plea for protection from wrongdoing and a prayer.

As we consider the body of Christ in all the earth, many have witnessed the beauty of the skies and proclaimed how great God is for bringing them into being. Around the world, our sisters and brothers continue to be inspired by God’s power and goodness, and as a result, work to share great love with those around them. Indeed, all of us are invited to catch the tune of the heavens and to share fresh testimonies of God’s handiwork in the heavens, in our world, and in our very lives. It is together that we can tell (this and other) rich stories and sing melodious songs about the God who created all things and continues to sustain them through all seasons and struggles.

In a time when each of us greatly benefits from hearing statements of hope and promise, what words of Psalm 19 resonate with you or would encourage those around you? As you look to the heavens, what fresh (or refreshed) words of worship do you feel led to sing to God in this season?

No matter where we are located, as we look to the skies, may we with one voice declare the glory of God, singing new words to the song of the universe.

Find worship resources for this year’s offering or give an offering today at www.brethren.org/giveoffering.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Celebrating the fruit of denominational ministries

By Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement

“This is to God’s glory, that you bear much fruit,
showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
– John 15:8, NIV modified

Thank you for your generous contributions to the Church of the Brethren. Overflowing with gratitude, we celebrate your partnership, which sustains our missions and ministries, and the fruit that we bear together in the name of Jesus for the glory of God. 

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Serving with love

By Evan Ulrich, Brethren Volunteer Service Unit 325

My hope for the future is a world where we can use our unique gifts together to serve our communities with love. A future where the focus is less on money and personal wealth, and more on the collective well-being of all of our sisters and brothers on the Earth we share. My time with BVS and serving with Brethren Disaster Ministries has allowed me to see the good works that we can do when we all work together. It has shown me how everyone working as a team, given the proper tools and instruction, can do just about anything. Serving with love starts with a willingness to learn, a willingness to put others before self, and a willingness to work hard for no personal gain or motive.

This mindset of service is needed now more than ever. The gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is widening. More and more people are finding themselves without a safe home and without reliable sources of food, water, or heat. I have come to see this every day while rebuilding homes in rural eastern North Carolina.

I remember a conversation I had with one of the homeowners whose house we were working on that truly opened my eyes to how I want to live my life. She was sharing her story that was full of loss, struggles, and hardships. Things I could not ever imagine going through. Yet with every sentence she spoke, she did not stop telling me how blessed she was. And she sincerely meant it. It made me question and realize how easy it is for me to see the things I do not have, rather than give thanks for what is abundant in my life. From the outside looking in I was the one serving her, but she gave me something even more special in return: perspective.

I hope that we can realize how exceptionally important each of our lives are. As we live in this world together, we are called to lift up our neighbors with kindness, share the burdens of the people we are intricately connected with, and serve the world in love.

This article was originally featured in the summer issue of The Volunteer newsletter published by Brethren Volunteer Service. Learn more about this Core Ministry of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/bvs or support its ministry of serving with love at www.brethren.org/givebvs.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

The Saudi-Arabia-Iran Cold War and the Looming Nuclear Arms Race in the Middle East

by Angelo Olayvar

“While recognizing our limitations in fully perceiving the complexities and ambiguities pertinent to the Middle East conflict, we feel compelled to articulate our concerns on matters which are critical in modifying tensions in the area and moving toward a solution.” – Church of the Brethren 1975 Resolution: Concern for Peace in the Middle East.

The Church of the Brethren has long been concerned with issues of war as it goes against the teachings of Jesus Christ. The adherence of the Church to pacifism and promoting non-violent means of resolving conflicts is driven by its faith in the love of Christ. The instability of the Middle Eastern region greatly concerns the Church of the Brethren due to the immoral and unethical engagement of the United States military in the past decades. It is just and right to analyze and scrutinize all of the factors that exacerbate the conflict. The main focus of this blog would be the rivalry between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Islamic Republic of Iran and the looming nuclear arms race between the two states.

75 years ago — June 15, 1946: the United States presented the ‘Baruch Plan’ to the United Nations as an effort to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the world. The ‘Baruch Plan’ would require an immediate halt to the development of nuclear weapons by all countries, followed by the close monitoring of peaceful nuclear programs. In exchange for this proposal, the United States promised to turn over all its nuclear weapons to the agency — at a time when the United States possessed a monopoly on these destructive weapons. This plan, however, was rejected by the Soviet Union due to its fear and distrust of the United Nations – which was dominated by the United States and its Western allies. In turn, the Soviet Union presented their counterproposal, however, it was rejected by their American counterparts as expected. The series of events that followed the rejection of the plans both presented by the United States and Soviet Union resulted in the inexorable collapse of negotiations between the states, which eventually led to an extremely dangerous nuclear arms race. Today, the world faces a similar dilemma. The rivalry between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran is stirring up events that could lead to a nuclear arms race between the two countries. Furthermore, US involvement in the Middle East via military engagement, weapons sales, defense transfers, and security assistance are fueling the instability of the already volatile region.

The rivalry between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran is one of the many factors that has destabilized the Middle East. It has plunged the region into a cold-war style conflict that is complex, fueled not only by political differences but

religious ones. It elicited events that casted the region into a state of geopolitical instability defined by despair, countless deaths, endless wars, worsening humanitarian crises, and a looming nuclear arms race between the Saudis and Iran. The effects of the instability of the Middle Eastern region can be felt all over the globe due to the far-reaching negative implications it presents to global peace and security, global economy, and promotion of human rights.

How did the rivalry between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran come about? After the 1979 Iranian revolution the last Shah of Iran was overthrown, ending the 2,500-year-old Persian monarchy. It resulted in the establishment of the Islamic theocratic state of Iran with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as the Supreme Leader. He reinvisioned the purpose of Iran: establish Iran as a Middle East regional power through Shia Islam. Today, Iran strongly believes that the dynamic political climate of the Muslim world is needed to be seen as forces of change in the Middle East, a region which is long exploited by the US and other Western powers. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim state, which had seen itself as the long-established leader of the Muslim world and guardian of Mecca and Medina, the two holiest place in Islam, is threatened by the rise of Iran and its idea of how the Muslim world should be.

Throughout the years, Saudi Arabia and Iran have been involved in conflicts all over North Africa and the Middle East, even extending their competition in South Asia, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, the Balkans, and the Caucasus. Both countries have funded, trained, and armed opposing groups in the Middle East in order to establish power and dominance in the region. The involvement of the two Islamic states in conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa have resulted in disastrous humanitarian crises. It is important to note that these two Muslim countries would have not been able to successfully compete with each other without the support of powerful countries such as the United States, China, and Russia. With the United States backing Saudi Arabia and Russia and China supporting the Iranian cause, the complexity of the Middle Eastern cold war makes the region more volatile and prone to prolonged and intense conflict.

Although Iran’s nuclear program is not specifically aimed at Saudi Arabia, it stokes fear and distrust among its neighbors, especially to the Kingdom. Currently, Saudi Arabia does not possess any nuclear weapons and is a party to most relevant nonproliferation treaties and agreements. However, as mentioned by the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman on CBS program 60 Minutes in March 2018, “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran develops a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible”. The rivalry between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Iran exacerbates the potential for a nuclear arms race between the two countries.

Countries rely on weaponries to protect their sovereignty, preserve national security, and ensure their survival. Oftentimes, some countries pursue the production and/or acquisition of weapons that would give them an advantage over their competitor. In the context of the Saudi Arabia-Iranian rivalry, both states want to protect their sovereignty and national interests. The Iranian nuclear program greatly concerns the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia due to the threats it poses to their national security and interests. This compels the Kingdom to pursue policies that will address the issues posed by the Iranian nuclear program. Recently published reports declare that Saudi Arabia is working with China to build industrial capacity to produce nuclear fuel. The analysis of the report has alarmed many experts and American lawmakers because there might be a hidden agenda behind the cooperation between the two countries,which may allow the Kingdom to process raw uranium into a form that could be enriched into a fuel for a nuclear weapon. If the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia successfully produces its own nuclear weapon, it may result in the nuclear arms race with its rival, Iran. The United States along with it Western allies and its unlikely ally — Russia — need to ensure that no other countries obtain nuclear weapons, especially in the volatile region of the Middle East.

Producing weapons that are capable of causing cataclysmic events that can result in the extinction of the human race is ludicrous. If the United States and the world is bent on preserving global peace and stability and ensuring the survival of the human race, they would provide mechanisms that would prohibit the proliferation and eliminate nuclear weapons. In the context of the Middle Eastern Cold War, Saudi Arabia and Iran need to step and pursue diplomatic measures before adopting irrational decisions and repeat the same mistakes that the United States and Soviet Union did before. They need to set aside their differences, political and religious, to ensure that they would not obliterate each other and cause irreversible consequences.

Life moves fast

A reflection by Karly Eichenauer as featured in the Spring 2021 issue of Bridge

In my favorite movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the main character Ferris reflects at the end, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” In our work/school/play, life moves very fast. We busy ourselves with daily tasks or assignments. We plan events and meetings into the day.

This year has been tough for most people. In addition to great loss and suffering, social distancing and safety protocols have canceled many fun events that usually get planned into our schedules. Due to the pandemic, there have been fewer in-person social events to connect with friends, family, and the church community. Even hobbies have been modified to reduce social contact. These changes, layered on top of our busy daily schedules, contribute to stress, anxiety, and loneliness.

Despite this season of stress and loneliness, may we find the time to stop and look around, to slow life down, and appreciate where we are right now. In our own ways, we have experienced new growth and persevered through trying times. Wherever we are, God is guiding us and promises to be by our side. Slow down for a minute: breathe new energy into your body, to center your mind to focus your thoughts, and to release your worries to God.

May we open our eyes to find the joy that is all around us: the blooming of the daffodil flowers, the warming of spring days, and the birds singing in the morning. May we open our hearts to God’s call through the bustle of daily life: to changing paths, to stepping into the unknown, to trying something new. May we focus our sights on the glimmer of hope on the horizon: that we may soon be through this dark season once and for all, and we can reconnect with everyone in our community soon!

Learn more about Youth and Young Adult Ministries at www.brethren.org/yya or support it today at www.brethren.org/giveyya.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Testifying to the work of Jesus

Pentecost Offering 2021
www.brethren.org/pentecost

A theme reflection/sermon starter for the 2021 Pentecost Offering written by Matt DeBall, coordinator of Mission Advancement Communications

“When the Advocate comes . . . the Spirit of truth . . . will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify.” ~John 15:26-27a

Not a day goes by that we aren’t bearing witness to something. Sharing about today’s local weather and how well it matches the forecast. Talking about the incredible meal we had from our favorite restaurant. Telling confidants about the person who went out of their way to help (or harm) us. Whenever words pass our lips, we are sharing a testimony.

As the resurrected Christ prepared for his transition to the heavenly realms, he outlined the essential elements of experiencing new life in the Holy Spirit. Jesus trusted his followers to continue his work and promised to provide them with what they needed to do it. The emerging advocate, the Holy Spirit, would bear witness about Jesus, reminding his followers how to hold him in their minds. In addition to receiving words from the Spirit, to continue the work of Jesus meant the disciples would bear witness as well.

As we hear the words of Jesus from the 15th chapter of John’s Gospel, the mission to testify should not surprise us. The whole account of John prominently features the Greek word “martyreō” meaning “to bear witness”—more than any other gospel, in fact. In the NRSV, variations of the word “testify” are present 30 times and “testimony” is mentioned 12. Indeed, to follow Jesus is to reveal in word and deed what we have seen, heard, and experienced.

Beyond the faithful act of sharing testimonies, the apostle John also reveals whose testimonies to whom we should stay attuned. In the family of faith, our witness is collective. Just as we aim to lift Jesus by the words that we share, so also do we elevate him in the world by the voices that we hear, amplify, and echo. To honor the testimonies in John’s Gospel involves inclining an ear to the same people today. This means listening to the stories of social outcasts (who, like John the Baptist, may be very aware of the redemptive work of God), believing the testimonies of women (the only preachers on Resurrection Sunday), and hearing the voices of people of color (without whom we wouldn’t have a single letter of the entire biblical narrative). Though some voices might be overlooked in other circles, expressions of new life in Jesus can be found everywhere that the church lends an ear.

With your help, the ministries of the Church of the Brethren testify to the work of Jesus and amplify unique life-giving testimonies that need to be heard. Through online conversations and webinars, fearless disciples and leaders are equipped to reveal the ministry of Jesus in new ways. Thank you for supporting this collective work that builds up the body of Christ and speaks words of healing and hope to a hurting world.

How are you testifying about the work of Jesus? Whose testimonies are you hearing regularly? What new voices need to be heard (in your household, church, community) for the redemptive work of Jesus to become more tangible near you?  Together, empowered by the Spirit, how can we reveal the new life we have found in Christ to people in a broken world?

Whatever the conditions, the location, or the people you encounter, may we faithfully testify to the work of Jesus with each day that goes by.

Find worship resources for this year’s offering or give an offering today at www.brethren.org/giveoffering.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Christ is alive!

www.brethren.org/newandrenew

By Stan Dueck, director of Organizational Leadership and co-coordinator of Discipleship Ministries

Christ is risen!

This is the Good News of Easter. But is it really news? We know the story. We’ve heard it for years.  At times, it can be difficult to hear something new in this particular Good News.

Though this is the old, old story, our lives—renewed by the gospel of Jesus—are new each day. Every day is refreshed as we remember that Jesus Christ is alive, death has been conquered, our sins are forgiven, and we can live a new, confident, and courageous life. With the very real turmoil, distress, and risk of the world, our understanding of Christ’s victory brings daily renewal. The Easter response, “Christ is Risen, indeed!” echoes good news into each day. Though born centuries ago, Jesus is born again into our lives as we grow in faith. Though his resurrection occurred at a particular time in history, the resurrection power of Christ is ignited again and again as we connect with him through prayer, worship, service, and fellowship. Indeed, our faith endures because of new examples of how Jesus is alive in us and in the world.

Discipleship Ministries points toward new and renewing life in the Church of the Brethren. An example of this is the New and Renew Conference, happening next month (May 13-15). Once known as the Church Planting Conference, New and Renew emphasizes congregational renewal and new church starts. I have been encouraged to hear the stories of individuals who, after attending this event in past years, have planted a new church or provided leadership for the renewal of their congregation.

This year’s conference theme is “The Reward of Risk,” connected to Matthew 25:28-29a, “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live.” Often around the topics of church planting and church renewal, we talk about the possibility of failure due to risk. But have we ever stopped to ponder the possibility of reward amid risk? What might it look like to celebrate those who have taken risks faithfully for the Kingdom of God?

Though pandemic detoured plans for an in-person gathering, we are hosting a new virtual conference for pastors, leaders, members, and anyone who is passionate about new life in the church. Together we will worship, connect, and learn. This three-day virtual conference will lead us to think in new ways about church planting, congregational renewal, and leadership. In addition to workshops, inspirational worship and keynote speakers will nurture calling and passion for ministry as followers of Jesus.

We have invited more nationally known thought-leaders and practitioners to share their rich ideas and down-to-earth practices that empower churches to be the presence of Jesus in their neighborhoods and communities, and to share the Good News. In addition to incredible Brethren leaders, the depth of this conference’s speakers has never been greater with leaders such as Christiana Rice, José Humphreys, David Fitch, Coté Soerens, Darryl Williamson, and Michelle and Aaron Reyes.

As something new, the virtual conference will allow people to participate who otherwise would not have the opportunity due to challenges of finances, travel, church responsibilities, and work or personal schedules. You can register to attend the live events from wherever you are, or view the recorded sessions—3 sermons, 3 plenary sessions, and more than 20 workshops and breakout groups—at your leisure. (Ministers can earn more than 2.0 CEUs for both the live and recorded sessions.)

Thank you for generously supporting and participating in the work of renewal happening through Discipleship Ministries. We deeply appreciate your prayers and partnership. Together we declare that Christ is risen, confidently and courageously share God’s love, and walk toward a bright future.

Learn more or register at www.brethren.org/newandrenew, or support Discipleship Ministries, who hosts this life-changing conference, at www.brethren.org/givediscipleship.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)