The march toward positive peace


By Susuyu Lassa, associate of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy and Brethren Volunteer Service worker

Peacebuilding has always been a passion of mine. 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 walls of a recently erected building at a mission compound, or spending just a few hours holding newborn babies at an orphanage.

(Continue reading the original blog post featured by
the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy.)

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Humanitarian Impacts of U.S. Sanctions on Iran: Food Insecurity

This blog post was written by Office of Peacebuilding and Policy Food Insecurity Intern Priscilla Weddle.

In 2018, the current administration withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and re-imposed sanctions on Iran. The sanctions cover shipping, finance, and energy with the goal of “limiting Tehran’s ability to fund destabilizing activities and forcing its leaders back into nuclear discussion” (Piven, 2020). These sanctions have had a devastating impact on the country’s economy and its citizens. Iran’s gross domestic product (GDP) contracted an estimated 4.8% in 2018 and was forecast to shrink another 9.5% in 2019 (International Monetary Fund, 2019). Living costs have also risen as a result of inflation. 

Inflation is estimated to reach 38% with rates being especially high for food items; for example, the cost of meat has gone up 116 percent (World Bank, 2019). The rising food prices and unemployment rate has resulted in many families being unable to purchase basic items. Zahra Abdollahi, the director of Iran’s Ministry of Health’s Department of Nutrition Improvement, has stated that “The eight provinces are suffering from food shortage and malnutrition problems along with other types of deprivation” (“Government In Iran Struggles To Provide Food Amid Shortages,” 2019). It has become increasingly difficult for the Iranian government to handle this situation as their resources continue to diminish as a result of the sanctions.

The Church of the Brethren Office of Peacebuilding and Policy has strong concerns about the welfare of the Iranian people because of the ways in which economic sanctions are correlated with insecurity and deprivation. We, as people of faith, have a moral impetus to advocate for “… the ways of living that lead toward a future filled with blessing and harmonious relationships rather than with violence and destruction,” as stated in the 1996 Statement on Nonviolence and Humanitarian Intervention. The U.S. should end its harsh trade sanctions that target the Iranian people.

Life as I know it

www.brethren.org/bvs

By Christina Kaake, Brethren Volunteer Service Unit 311

After leaving my three-year Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) term at incredABLE in Northern Ireland, I emailed my former boss about a reference for a job in the States. He said to me that no other job would ever be good enough for me, that they had ‘ruined me’ for other work by giving me too much freedom and too good of an experience. At the time, I laughed at him. A few months later, though, I told him he was right.

But it wasn’t totally incredABLE’s fault. It’s BVS’ fault, too.

Volunteer life is freeing in a way that’s difficult to convey and even more difficult to move past. I still had bills to pay during my placement—being in your mid-30s when you join up will do that—but spending that time focusing on only basic monetary needs frees a person to engage with other needs. As a BVS volunteer you get to focus on your social needs, the things that ‘fill your basket’ at work and learning to create and maintain the boundaries that feed your emotional health.

I had a fantastic plan for my own re-entry. I was going to transition so easily and simply back into the career I had been working in for 15 years. But a full-time office job, particularly with U.S. expectations and job culture, is something that doesn’t really appeal to me anymore. I know how much I’ll miss those freedoms, from the materialistic mindset and the general belief that you are where you work.

BVS changes you. You’ll learn to make genuine connections with strangers, to rely on community, to look at conflict differently, even to define home differently. It’s the most rewarding set of changes I can think of, and they make returning to life as you knew it before… impossible!

Learn more about Brethren Volunteer Service at www.brethren.org/bvs or support it today at www.brethren.org/givebvs.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Surrendering to God

Photo by Shah Rokh
A reflection written by Matt DeBall, coordinator of Mission Advancement communications

“Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. . . . Then the Lord was jealous for his land and took pity on his people.” ~Joel 2:12-13, 18
 
Life can be a wonderful thing, filled with many blessings, but no matter who we are, how much we have, or where we come from, each of us will experience circumstances and seasons that will knock us down. Whether it be personal tragedies, health concerns, natural disasters, or events of trauma caused by other people, all of us will endure hardship in this life.

The prophet Joel was speaking to a remnant of Judah, who had seen the destruction of the northern kingdom and had endured much disaster and hardship of their own. Joel tells us they had experienced swarms of locust and famine or, at least, food scarcity (natural disaster) but also leaves the impression that they had endured repeated attacks from Assyria and other nations as well (human-inflicted turmoil). To say the least, their lives were completely altered and they were brought to a very lowly and destitute place.

Some of us have endured natural disasters, but we also think of our sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico who have faced hurricanes over the last few years and earthquakes more recently. Many of us have also experienced hardship or trauma because of the actions of others.

While hardship can befall us as the natural consequence of poor actions—the focus of some prophets in the Old Testament—Joel is not concerned with why the people were stricken with turmoil and oppression. (And, indeed, we know that “good” people don’t just receive “good” things and “bad” people, “bad” things.) Instead, Joel is asking, “What are you/we going to do now that hardship has happened?”

The response of God’s people is meant to be both personal and communal. There is great value in checking ourselves and recognizing, whether we are close to God or far away, that new forms of surrender are necessary to find healing after hardship. Following the Old Testament practice, Joel recommends not only rending clothes but rending hearts, first and foremost. It is as if he warns us, “Be careful that your outward expressions are in line with your inward experience. Change and surrender your hearts first.”
 
Once inward repentance and return have started, it is also important to embody surrender in a communal response. The healing and comfort of God is found in community.

In Lent, we choose personally to give up things that distract us from God. But the fast that Joel declares is for the community—from the youngest babe to the most aged elder. We can fast from gossip, contributing to harmful conflict, and trying to promote our own agendas at the expense of others. We can fast from jumping to conclusions about things we don’t know and instead ask questions of one another. When we give up these things, we surrender to God together and find healing.

In a very simple way, whenever we observe the Lord’s supper, we mourn the sinfulness in our lives and the brokenness in our world. We grieve what has been lost and declare hope in the all-encompassing redemptive work that Christ will accomplish when he returns.

On Ash Wednesday, we remember the impending tragedy that we will face death. Our observance of this day serves as a helpful reminder for all of us. When hardship befalls us, it is not an opportunity to be concerned with why something as happened, but rather to understand how our next steps will be of surrender to God. Whatever hardship we face, it is an opportunity to check ourselves and to declare a fast from all that distracts us from God and the mission God has for us.

When we pause to repent or return, we are greeted by a God who is gracious and compassionate, who is slow to anger and abounding in love. Whether we are in a season of blessing or hardship, may we find the comfort and the mercy that we need when we surrender to God.

What are you fasting from for Lent? How is your church taking extra measures to surrender to God in this season? We would love to hear how. Share with us at MA@brethren.org.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)                  

The New Jim Crow

This resource is part of the joint program “Black History 2020: Looking Back to Live Forward” led by Rev. LaDonna Nkosi, the new Director of Intercultural Ministries and Alexandra Toms, Racial Justice Associate in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. We will be offering various blogs, videos, and articles throughout the month of February exploring the intersections of faith, Black history, and current day racism. We hope you join us this month to read, listen, and reflect as we look back through history, so we can better live into Christ.

Michelle Alexander, the author of “The New Jim Crow” explains in this Ted Talk how certain laws disproportionately affect people of color causing similar discrimination as was seen during the Jim Crow laws. This video gives a look into how policies that may not seem racist can perpetuate racial disparities.

If you are unable to watch the video in the blog, click the following link to open the video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQ6H-Mz6hgw&fbclid=IwAR2RZWmeYh3jwCCmZg4M3Rl0DvdchBQ2QDNhqBkzTBuv2cEOs_aSkjow1zw

Tell a Better Story

We have a special reading today from Josh Brockway, Director of Spiritual Formation who was inspired to write for the “Black History 2020: Looking Back to Live Forward” program led by Rev. LaDonna Nkosi, the new Director of Intercultural Ministries and Alexandra Toms, Racial Justice Associate in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. We will be offering various blogs, videos, and articles throughout the month of February exploring the intersections of faith, Black history, and current day racism. We hope you join us this month to read, listen, and reflect as we look back through history, so we can better live into Christ.

By Josh Brockway, Director of Spiritual Formation

I start my first lectures in my history class by asking the students to define history. The first student usually offers a riff on Santayana—those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. Usually the second one, however, is is that “History is told by the winners.” 

For centuries the record of the past has been composed by those who have the education and the time to write. Not only that, those persons in power have provided the means, money, and permission to tell the story. From this vantage point of wealth, leisure, and power, the stories inevitably leave out facts and people that did not reflect well on the powerful. 

I learned early in my training as an historian that while the powerful define and tell the story of the past, there are ways of finding out about everyday people. Traces of the past hold up remarkably well to the passage of time. Thanks to grocery lists scratched onto broken pieces of pottery, thoughts and memories sketched into journals, and letters lovingly wrapped with string and stored in hope chests we can knit together portraits of the past. Since history is fundamentally the story we tell about the past, access to these traces help us fill in the gaps in official histories, or the histories written by the powerful.

While the powerful define and tell the story of the past, there are ways of finding out about everyday people.

In the 20th century historians started looking specifically for traces of people on the margins or in the gaps of official histories. Women’s history, Black history, Hispanic history, and even histories about Children are now common conversations among scholars. Telling the stories of people overlooked in textbook histories helps us understand the past more completely. Though there is bound to be uncomfortable parts of these stories, bits of information we might not want to know or that challenge the stories were told growing up, histories focused on people at the margins make for a better story.

Black history month is one of those cultural moments each year when the stories of Black Americans are highlighted because these stories have been rarely told in textbooks. The story of Black Americans has not been a part of the dominant historical story taught in our schools and textbooks. Thankfully, though, Black historians have painstakingly compiled the data and Black communities have maintained rich stories about Black life in America. With Black History Month, all of us can hear whispers from the past thanks to these historians and story-tellers as it reaches the general—and white—public. 

Black historians are crafting compelling stories of black life in America based on their own questions and using the rich trace of Black life. These better stories are helping us all to understand the breadth of our past as a nation. And yes, these histories make us as white folks uncomfortable. They challenge what we have been taught, since what we learned came from those who benefited from that telling of history. 

We are all learning things like the racist origins of rich and poor neighborhoods through the economic practices ofredlining (Color of Law by Richard Rothstein https://wwnorton.com/books/The-Color-of-Law/). We are learning that racist policies have driven and formed racist ideas (Stamped from the Beginning, Ibram Kendi https://www.ibramxkendi.com/stamped-from-the-beginning). We are learning about the horrific and violent lynchings that terrorized Black people from south to north (Equal Justice Initiative, https://lynchinginamerica.eji.org/). And we are realizing that the stories we learned about the Lost Cause of the Confederacy were crafted by white supremacists after Federal Troops left the south at the end of Reconstruction (The Myth of the Lost Cause, Edward H. Bonekemper https://www.regnery.com/9781621574545/the-myth-of-the-lost-cause/).

And even then, we must realize that the better story of our shared past is more than racist policies, violent segregation, and mass incarceration.

Black History includes the beautiful and useful quilts made in Gee’s Bend Alabama. In this small Black community in the middle of the Alabama River, families passed down the craft of quilt-making in ways that few other communities could in the mobile times of the 20th century. The result is a stunning collection of utilitarian art that embodies the story of the people who sewed and used the quilts out of the cloth gathered from work clothes, remnants, and even feed sacks. https://www.soulsgrowndeep.org/gees-bend-quiltmakers

Black History includes the rich period of time known as the Harlem Renaissance. From 1910 to the 1930’s, Harlem was the locus of Black art, literature, and music. Notable writers like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston among many others gathered there to share their stories and ambitions. Musicians like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington added the sounds of Jazz to the nightlife of Harlem at clubs like the Savoy. Artists, playwrites, and actors all shared their creative productions with the community. And much like the rest of America, the crash of the stock market and the Great Depression signaled the decline of the Harlem economy, but the cultural works of the community remain apart of American culture to this day. https://www.history.com/topics/roaring-twenties/harlem-renaissance

A clearly American innovation in music, Jazz was the product of cultural interactions in the diverse city of New Orleans. Black musicians merged together ragtime, march, and the blues with improv solos and “trading fours” that mimicked the call and response of Black preachers, to make a distinct form of music. Rock and Hip-hop today have taken a number of cues from Jazz. It has also become a global music since Black artists like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and Charlie Parker performed all over Europe since they faced discrimination in America. https://americanhistory.si.edu/smithsonian-jazz/education/what-jazz

Jazz, the Harlem Renaissance, and Gee’s Bend Quilts are just a small snap-shot of the rich historical contributions of Black Americans to our culture. These snap-shots fill in the gaps of our text book histories so that we all learn a better story about our past. And yes, economic, physical, and emotional terrorism are interwoven into these stories. Yet, telling the better story means we tell the whole story about all the people.

The Systemic Sin of Redlining

This is the fifth resource in the joint program “Black History 2020: Looking Back to Live Forward” led by Rev. LaDonna Nkosi, the new Director of Intercultural Ministries and Alexandra Toms, Racial Justice Associate in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. We will be offering various blogs, videos, and articles throughout the month of February exploring the intersections of faith, Black history, and current day racism. We hope you join us this month to read, listen, and reflect as we look back through history, so we can better live into Christ.

One of the systemic sins in U.S. history is housing discrimination. People of color have been denied mortgages, charged higher interest rates, and have been denied access to homes in predominantly affluent and white neighborhoods. Even after the passing of the Fair Housing Act, these practices that have occurred across the last 100 years still impact the lives of people of color today. The following video includes interviews with Black Americans who share their stories of the housing discrimination they experienced in Chicago. For more information, click here to read an article that goes into greater detail about redlining in Chicago.

For more information, the following article (also listed above) goes into greater detail about redlining in Chicago. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/

Stepping Out of Our Comfort Zones: Combating Segregation in the U.S.

This is the fourth reading in the joint program “Black History 2020: Looking Back to Live Forward” led by Rev. LaDonna Nkosi, the new Director of Intercultural Ministries and Alexandra Toms, Racial Justice Associate in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. We will be offering various blogs, videos, and articles throughout the month of February exploring the intersections of faith, Black history, and current day racism. We hope you join us this month to read, listen, and reflect as we look back through history, so we can better live into Christ.

Written by Alexandra Toms, Racial Justice Associate in OPP


When picking a church, people try to find a church where they “fit in.” It may be that they attend a church that has a strong children’s program because they are a young family. It could be they attend a church with opportunities to share their musical talents or offers services with their preferred style of music and worship. If your Brethren, you make sure to find a church that has a lot of fellowship activities with awesome potlucks. Regardless, most people try to find a church that matches their beliefs in God and meets their needs and wants. What if one of those “wants” is that the fellow congregants are the same race as they are?

The most segregated time of the week is Sunday morning, when many citizens of the United States are attending church. As people choose the church they want to attend, they choose one where they “fit in.” We tend to “fit in” at churches where people look like us, act like us, and have similar customs. The race of people in our congregations often influences our choices even when we are not aware. We may feel comfortable in a congregation because of specific practices and traditions, but those traditions come from cultures. Different ethnicities and different cultures practice their faith and live out their faith in unique ways. For example, I teach as a college professor, and a student of mine from Puerto Rico shared how she was reprimanded in high school for wearing her rosary beads around her neck. In Puerto Rico, wearing one’s rosary was a symbol of faith! In the continental US, in a predominantly white Catholic high school, it was a sign of disrespect. So what type of church is she going to feel most comfortable attending? One where she can proudly wear her rosary or one where she feels condemnation for doing so? If you were Catholic, where would you want to attend?

Where we “fit in” at church ends up being segregated by race, which at face value may not sound like a bad thing. However, history has taught us that there is no such thing as separate but equal. What ends up happening is instead of simply coexisting in different churches, we become unaware of different churches. We become unaware of how others live out their faith. We become unaware of other customs, traditions, and ways of knowing the Divine. We become unaware that our way of knowing God is not the only way, and we forget how to learn. When we stop learning, we end up being the ones who criticize a young girl for how she wears her rosary beads.

When we practice our faith with people of different races, customs, and traditions, we learn more about who God is. The Lord created people of all races, cultures, and ethnicities to worship him in their own ways. As we practice our faith with people of various backgrounds, we learn more about who God is because different cultures connect to different characteristics of God. As a young white woman, the images and characteristics of God I have grown up with are different than the images and characteristics of God that a person of color may connect with. For example, for many people of color, the Lord is a God of liberation. God used Moses to free the people of Israel who were enslaved and oppressed. During his life, Jesus liberated people from oppressive forces in society: the sinners, the outcasts, the foreigner, the poor. He gave them a new life in a society that had pushed them to the margins. In Luke 4:18-19, we read that Jesus stood up in the synagogue and read from Isaiah, “‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’…’Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’” (NIV).

Jesus did not choose a church because he wanted to “fit in” nor did he spend time with people he fit in with. He chose to spend his time with the marginalized and the outcasts, but it was not solely for the purpose of healing. He broke bread with, lived with, ministered to, and was ministered to by those who were marginalized in society. He lived alongside the oppressed getting to know them, who they were, and what their needs were. If those in positions of power struggle to even learn about who God is from people who are oppressed, how are they going to learn about the person being oppressed and what their needs are. If I, as a young white woman, who is in a position of power simply because of my race do not live alongside people who are oppressed, I may never learn. If I never learn, then I will continue living a segregated life perpetuating discrimination.

Segregation is no longer considered illegal, however much of the U.S. is segregated by race including housing developments, schools, workforce, and employment. Even though a company may employ people of different races, quite often the jobs and duties are segregated by race. Even with affirmative action, there are various struggles that people of color disproportionately encounter. For example, a position that requires a master’s degree is often considered a high-level position, and these positions are disproportionately held by people who are white. The difficulty comes in attaining a master’s degree. Higher education in general is costly for people in the United State, including expenses beyond tuition such as room and board, textbooks, travel, etc. People of color have a greater likelihood of experiencing financial insecurity than people who are white. An undergraduate education often is a huge success and huge financial toll for anyone. For those who experience financial insecurity, education beyond undergraduate becomes even more difficult and may seem unattainable. This results in predominantly white affluent people achieving graduate level education, so the applicant pool for an upper level position requiring a master’s degree is predominantly white. Even with affirmative action, the monetary toll of graduate level education and the need to provide financially for one’s family limits integration in these areas of the workforce.

How do we know money is one of the hindrances to integration? It requires that people live and work alongside those who are oppressed, listening to their stories and learning from them. If people do not step out of their comfort zones and remain on the outside looking in, incorrect assumptions will continue to be made, assuming that people who are oppressed do not have the drive for graduate level education, or they do not desire those types of jobs. Or concluding that they have every opportunity as everybody else, but they choose not to get the education; they are self-segregating!

These assumptions would be wrong.

As we move about our daily lives, instead of always finding places that we fit in, maybe we need to be looking for places that we don’t fit? Live alongside people that are different from us and learn what it means for them to live. What brings them joy, pain, sadness, and trouble? Celebrate with them in the joyous moments. Mourn with them in the times of pain. Be present even when it is not comfortable. Live like Jesus lived.

Reflection Questions

In the United States, our churches are segregated, and the average American’s life mirrors this segregation. Below are various roles people have in our lives. For each of these roles, identify how many people you interact with regularly who are of a different race than you.

  • ______ Family
  • ______ Friends
  • ______ Congregants
  • ______ Coworkers
  • ______ Clients (people you work with who are not coworkers)
  • ______ Additional______________
  • ______ Additional_______________

What are ways that you could increase the diversity of the groups you are a part of? What are some ways you could break out of your comfort zone to live alongside people who are different than you?

Read Luke 10:25-37

The parable of the good Samaritan is often used to explain how our neighbors who we are to love are not just the people who are like us, but also the people who are different than us. It is a common Scripture used when discussing race because the Samaritan extended love and care for the person of a different race; of a race who he was supposed to despise. By stopping to take care of the man, the Samaritan showed love for his neighbor. He also stood up to racism in the process by crossing the racial divide of the two ethnic groups. The Samaritan put the needs of the person above his own comfort and above societal expectations.

  1. What are ways that the Priest and the Levite wanted to protect their comfort over helping the person in need? Who were they “fitting in” with?
  2. What was the Samaritan risking by stopping to help?
  3. When is a time that you saw a “man along the side of the ride,” a time that you encountered racism, but simply continued walking? What could you have done instead?
  4. When is a time that you were the Samaritan, and stood up against racism? How was the experience?

Invest in futures

www.brethren.org/giveoffering
Photo by Craig Thompson

An excerpt from a theme introduction written by Katie Shaw Thompson for the 2020 One Great Hour of Sharing

“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.”
~1 Corinthians 3:5-9

“Let us plant dates even though those who plant them will never eat them,” writes Brazilian theologian Rubem Alves. “We must live by the love of what we will never see.”

Date trees can take a decade to bear fruit and 100 years to reach their full height. The hands that plant such a tree may do so knowing they may never rest in that tree’s shade. Moved by love, they invest in that unseen future. “We are all co-workers together in God’s service,” writes Paul in 1 Corinthians 3. Some of us plant. Some of us water. But God gives the growth. Through Week of Compassion, we become like date tree planters: serving the fruitful future for which God yearns. Who knows what growth God may bring when we join hands together across distance, across traditions, and across time for the love of what we may never see?

When we give to One Great Hour of Sharing, we help make new life and growth possible. Through our sharing, we are connected as co-workers. Our combined gifts have the capacity to travel all over the world. Whether we are rebuilding communities after disaster, supporting communities through agriculture as they learn to sustain themselves, or empowering ministers and members to serve their communities, in these and so many other ways, we release the waters of God’s growth when we invest in the lives of others.

In sharing our gifts, we join together as both givers and recipients of generous investment in the growth God will bring. As Paul writes, “the one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose.” Moved by our common purpose, we share our gifts for the glory of God and for our neighbors’ good.

Find this and other worship resources for this year’s offering or make a gift to One Great Hour Sharing now at www.brethren.org/giveoffering .

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)