MLK Day Reflection

As a historic peace church, how do we understand the meaning of “true” peace? As we reflect on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we can see how our understanding of peace amidst race relations has changed over the years.

If we look back to the time of slavery, we can see that Brethren were ahead of their time. Before the civil war, Brethren had already decided that slavery was against their beliefs and went counter to Scripture. Even in the 1700s, Brethren were holding yearly meetings, now known as Annual Conference. Statements against slavery can be found in minutes from these yearly meetings as early as 1782 when the Brethren unanimously decided that members of the denomination could not purchase or keep slaves. As a denomination, the Brethren “outlawed” slavery 80 years before the end of the Civil War, well before the Civil War was even a thought. As the years progressed, they also decided that those joining the denomination had to release their slaves, and members of the denomination could not accept labor from other people’s slaves. The statements were expanded on and reaffirmed throughout the 1800s.

There is no true peace without justice.

However, were the Brethren advocating for justice? Were the Brethren abolitionists advocating for the end of all slavery? In short, the answer is no. While the Brethren were against having slaves of their own or using slave labor, very few Brethren participated in actions to free others’ slaves. They did not pursue the freedom of all slaves. They simply restricted their own use of slaves, seeing slavery as sinful, which was still revolutionary in their time. But should they have done more? Should the Brethren have participated in anti-slavery efforts for the whole country, in addition to their own personal choice of not holding slaves? The Brethren’s stance worked toward the absence of tension between the Brethren and people of color, but was it true peace if it wasn’t advocating for justice of all?

As we move forward in history to the Civil Rights Movement, the Brethren’s story shifts. Many Brethren participated in various anti-racist efforts, working toward justice for all Black Americans, including 200 Brethren who participated in the March on Washington. Below are several stories of Brethren during the Civil Rights Movement:

Lunch Counter Sit-ins
While a student at Fisk University, Paul Laprad participated in nonviolent, peaceful sit-ins at the lunch counter. However, those sit-ins were often marred by violence and beatings in response to their protests. As a young white man, Paul received some of the most severe beatings because he was standing—well sitting—in solidarity with his fellow Black Americans.

MLK in Chicago
Tom Wilson was a pastor in Chicago, Illinois. During his pastorate, he worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. for two years. Jim Poling, the assistant pastor of First Church in Chicago gives the account of walking into the church, and there was Martin Luther King Jr. standing in the office at his desk. Tom Wilson and Dr. King worked toward open housing and eliminating the slums of Chicago.

Selma, Alabama
A group of Brethren including Ralph Smetzler and Juniata College faculty and students went down to Selma, Alabama following Bloody Sunday, a march where civil rights activists were attacked during a march. The Brethren went to Selma trying to promote peace between the white and black communities. During one of the following marches, there was so much violence in a counter protest that two of the faculty from Juniata were injured.

Each of these stories is about peaceful action promoting justice for Black Americans. Instead of simply trying to work toward an absence of tension between Brethren and Black Americans, many Brethren worked alongside Black Americans and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for equality —for justice.

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”

The irony is that justice is found through the tension. If we only seek the absence of tension as peace, we avoid tension and see the lack of tension in our own lives as peace. True peace is not the absence of tension. True peace is found working through the tension as we advocate for justice.

So as we reflect on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a few questions to ponder in our current day and work toward anti-racism:

(1) Which efforts from the Brethren were more in line with seeking true peace for Black Americans?
(2) Which efforts align more with how we are currently seeking peace as individuals and as a denomination?
(3) And regardless of our answer above, is there more we could do?

This post was written by Alexandra Toms

Holy ground

Workcampers at the Knoxville, Tenn. workcamp in 2019.
Photo by Marissa Witkovsky-Eldred

By Hannah Shultz, coordinator of short-term service for Brethren Volunteer Service

“This is holy ground.” The first time I heard Jason Haldeman, the former program manager at Camp Swatara, speak these words I got goosebumps. It was during staff training of my first summer working at camp and Jason was preparing us for the ministry we would be a part of in the upcoming weeks. He told us that God was present among us and that we were on holy ground. “This is holy ground” stuck with me throughout the summer as I planned evening vesper services, went on hikes, taught Bible classes, and sang silly songs around the campfire. I knew what Jason said was true. From the moment you drove through the archway onto camp property, something felt different. God was certainly present in that place. Camp is where I learned to encounter God in both the most mundane and the most serious moments.

Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest and theologian, has a book called an Altar in the World in which she talks about blurring the lines of what we consider to be sacred. We need not only encounter the Divine sitting in church pews and reading scripture, she says, but by keeping our hearts and minds open to the presence of God in the world—in the everyday activities and encounters in our lives. She also encourages us to follow the words of Jesus by recognizing how God cares for lilies and sparrows as well as women who prepare bread and laborers who wait to be paid. In all these cases, we find the work of God in the world as much as in scripture.

In Genesis, Jacob told us what to do when we encounter God in the world. As the story goes, Jacob and Esau both wanted their father Isaac to bless them on his deathbed. Since Esau was the firstborn, he was set to receive the blessing, but Jacob and his mother developed a scheme to trick Isaac into blessing Jacob instead. This enraged Esau, so Jacob fled for his life. He left with nothing and walked as far as he could. He was out in the wilderness when he finally decided to rest, and he went to sleep using a stone as his pillow. During the night he had a vision from God in which God promised him safety, children, and land. God said to Jacob, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.”

Genesis 28:16-18 reads:
“Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’ So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.”

God visited Jacob right where he was—out in the wilderness. Jacob realized that this ordinary place in the world must be part of the house of God, so he used a stone as an altar for God. In doing this, he taught us what to do when we encounter God in the world. Barbara Brown Taylor encourages us to follow his example and set up an altar, in the world or in our heart, to commemorate the places where the Divine meets us.

For the past few months, Kara and Liana and I have been writing the 2020 workcamp curriculum, centered on our theme, “Voices for Peace.” Through the workcamp experience, we hope to learn that encountering God does not just take place within church walls, but also when we serve and live in the world. Workcamps offer many opportunities to do physical acts of worship. Through pulling weeds on a farm in Florida, dishing out food at a soup kitchen in Los Angeles, and being in community and sleeping on hard church floors, we are challenged to find God in these daily, sometimes mundane, activities.

At workcamps, we also encounter God in the hard work of identifying injustice and doing something about it. Encountering God in the world often means getting involved in the messiness of human failure. It requires a willingness to be radical disciples in a world that may reject us. Jesus calls for an inbreaking of the kingdom of God on earth. His compassion and healing reaches out to those who are often ignored, and in his parables, he challenges his followers to consider the poor, the hungry, the widow, and the orphan. Similarly, we are called to challenge systems and structures that perpetuate injustice and to make God’s enduring presence known to everyone. We build altars in the world when we participate in activities that advance God’s love and justice, when we create more spaces where we can say “this is holy ground.”

Holy ground does not rise only out of church buildings, it is not just a place where we have sung to God or preached from scripture. Holy ground is the place where God’s beloved community is formed and where God’s reign of justice is made known on earth.

We are each on our own path to discovering holy ground, and as we journey through mundane circumstances and personal fatigue, there are moments to pay attention to the Divine. Like Jacob, we are called to recognize when we have encountered God in the wilderness and to celebrate that God meets us in the most unexpected places. Let us go into the wilderness, seeking God in the fight for justice and peace, and discovering divine possibility in our daily practices. And when we discover that we are on holy ground, let us make an altar to the Lord, revealing to others that God is in this place and still moving in our midst.

Church of the Brethren workcamps are for people of all ages to be the hands of Jesus and voices for peace in the world. Learn more about the workcamp ministry or register for a 2020 workcamp at www.brethren.org/workcamps. Registration opens tomorrow evening (1/16).

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Celebrate what God has done in 2019

Photos by Doretta Dorsch, Glenn Riegel, courtesy of Martin Hutchison,
and Church of the Brethren staff.

“Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering.”
– Psalm 96:7-8a


As 2019 concludes, we remember what God has done among us through the ministries of the Church of the Brethren.

We celebrate the ministries of international Brethren bodies and partnerships, the 1,064 individuals who attended Discipleship Ministries conferences this year, the ongoing work of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, 33 grants totaling $200,000 given by the Global Food Initiative to national and international projects, the continued work of Brethren Disaster Ministries to serve individuals and families through times of need, and 79 Brethren Volunteer Service workers who served in the US and around the world in 2019.

Thank you for your prayerful and financial support in 2019.
Have a very blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Celebrate with us by making a year-end gift to the Church of the Brethren.

www.brethren.org/give

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Stories from Maiduguri

While in Maiduguri recently, Carl and Roxane Hill visited various Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps, drove through the city, toured the largest EYN church and interviewed a peace activist. Here are some pictures and stories.

Markus Gamache introduced us to Gambo Muhammed in Maiduguri. He is a young man with a passion to see peace restored to his home in northeast Nigeria’s largest city. Maiduguri is infamously known as the birthplace of Boko Haram. Over the last ten years, these extremists have killed thousands of innocent Nigerians and chased millions more from their traditional homelands.

Gambo is associated with a group of youths in Maiduguri that are seeking peace. He is a tireless advocate of peace, representing the people in his city who are tired of the violence and want to live a normal life again. He told us that many people, both Christian and Muslim have grown tired of the killing and fear that has gripped his city and the surrounding countryside. The city of Maiduguri has become a haven for displaced people. Before the insurgency, Maiduguri’s population was somewhere around 2 million. But because of the danger outside the city – from Lake Chad in the north to the Cameroon boarder in the east to the Sambisa Forrest to the west and Madagali in the south, 7 million people now make Maiduguri their home.

Gambo made himself known in his city in 2015. He was invited to speak at the Swiss Embassy before numerous dignitaries and ambassadors. His topic was, “How to end the crisis with Boko Haram.” He challenged those present and demonstrated his passion to see peace restored to the area.

He listed some of the steps he advocated at this influential meeting. Number one was to restore trust between the security forces and the citizens of Maiduguri. This could be accomplished, he said, by creating humanitarian relief for countless people struggling to survive in Maiduguri. He suggested that the bad elements that had infiltrated the camps throughout the city be eliminated.

Number two was to provide skills acquisition training for the displaced and the youth of the city. This sounds basic but for people who know nothing but subsistence farming, acquiring an alternate skill to support themselves and their family is a huge step.

Number three, according to this energetic Muslim, was to take steps to curb drug abuse in the youth population. It was through the use of drugs that Boko Haram had attracted many young men to come into the ranks of the extremist cult of Boko Haram. The breakdown of opportunities for young people and the allure of drugs served as the main recruiting tool for Boko Haram membership. Gambo told me of the frustration that led many of his friends to follow Boko Haram’s leaders down the path of personal destruction.

Gambo, wise beyond his years, chose the alternative path of peace. What a breath of fresh air he was to us when we encountered him in the bustling, crowded city of Maiduguri, Nigeria.  

3 Stories of Escape from the Boko Harm

Ladi, Charity and Safiratu are three strong young women. They were taken captive by the Boko Haram sometime in 2014. These women along with many other men and children have been kept in villages around Ngoshe and Gwoza where the Boko Haram still controls the area. (Many remain in captivity.)

The conditions under captivity are terrible; food scarcity, forced labor, forced marriage, mistreatment, and forced Islamization. But somehow each of these three women survived and had the courage to attempt an escape from this horrific captivity. Even more amazing is the fact that these women did not lose their faith in Jesus Christ. The women were forced to dress in Muslim attire wearing a hajib in public and they were forced to participate in the daily Muslim prayers. However, in private they prayed to their God and worshiped Jesus in their hearts. The terrible conditions, rumors of the escape of others, and their faith gave them the courage to escape. Anything would be better than the life they had as prisoners. In 2018, they each snuck away in the night and climbed down the mountain to freedom.

Here are their stories…

Ladi is a young, single woman who had her whole life ahead of her. Her future was forever changed when she was abducted by the Boko Haram. She was forced into “marriage” and had a baby by her Boko Haram husband. She escaped down the mountain with her baby and ran to her family at the Maiduguri IDP camp. Yes, she is no longer in captivity, but she faces many difficulties and wonders what will become of her. Will anyone agree to marry her; will a husband take her child as his own? Will her child always have the stigma of a Boko baby?

Charity is a young, married woman, who now has a Boko Haram child. After her escape, she went to the camp in Maiduguri to be reunited with her husband who was an IDP there. At first, her husband did not want to take her back as his wife because of her forced Boko Haram marriage. But Charity did not give up, she kept begging him to take her back; both her and her child. Finally, after some counseling, the husband, received her again as his wife. Today, the couple has been living together as husband and wife for more than a year and they have three-month-old twins.

Safiratu is another married woman who escaped from the Boko Haram with her baby and ended up at the IDP camp. She too tried to reconcile with her husband. Her story differs from Charity in that her husband would not take her back no matter how hard she tried. Since she was not welcomed by her husband; life became too difficult in the camp. With the help of others, Safiratu moved to a town near the EYN headquarters where she is supported by her brother and assisted by EYN women’s ministry. What will become of her and her child? Will there ever be reconciliation between her and her husband?

Pray for all those who have escaped from the Boko Haram and for those who remain captive.

Patience, persistence, and peacemaking

Nathan Hosler, front right, talking with community leaders
on delegation with Churches for Middle East Peace
in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Photo by Weldon Nisly of Christian Peacemaker Teams

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

We live in a time of great urgency. Turmoil grips our communities and the communities of our sisters and brothers around the world. This isn’t news nor is it new. However, the persistence of injustice is not a reason to despair but to recognize that our calling to be peacemakers is all the more essential.

I grew up in Chiques Church of the Brethren in Manheim, Pa., and my grandfather and his brothers were conscientious objectors. I grew up believing that to follow Jesus meant serving others and being against war. In college, as my vocational call to ministry took shape, I realized that, even beyond opposing war, I needed to work for peace. Through experiences of tutoring Somali refugees in English and building relationships with homeless people on the streets of Chicago and Baltimore, I learned about systemic violence and racism. Through this education, the call to peacemaking began to sprout. 

In Washington, D.C., “peacemaking” is an odd word. Even for organizations whose work would be considered peacemaking, the term is unusual. “Peacebuilding” is much more common, and while I use the terms interchangeably, peacemaking comes from the biblical text, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

In Luke’s gospel, the prophecy of Zechariah proclaims the coming of Christ our savior and how we will continue his mission: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).

Guide our feet into the way of peace. We know that the awaited Jesus became the teacher who declared that peacemakers are the children of God and said, “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). This Lord guides our feet into the way of peace.

The peace of Christ cannot be forced. We cannot impose a peace that is both global and personal, of inward reconciliation and outward wellbeing, and that brings reconciliation with God and neighbor and even our enemy. We cannot—nor should we try to—force peace. We bear witness to it and proclaim it. We must struggle for it and dedicate ourselves to it. While peace is a gift of God, it is also a process built.

In The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, Mennonite Alan Kreider writes of the prominent role of patience in the writing and thinking of the early church. Specifically, he asks why is it that, with no documented focus on church expansion, the church grew in remarkable ways. He highlights the virtue of patience and trusting that God is in control, and a recurring theme of bearing witness through how one lives. Patience makes way for the freedom to do the slow work of peacemaking and not force an outcome.

This work is slow. Preaching the gospel of peace in a war-torn world is difficult. It is only through patience that we may persist in the slow and difficult work of nonviolent resistance to all oppression, injustice, and violence. We cannot impose peace but it is urgent that we work for it, train for it, prepare our youth for it, and build up institutions and organizations that add heft to our words.

Thank you for the ways you proclaim the gospel of peace and for your support of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. Though we live in a time of great urgency and the work before us is slow, the Lord is faithful and will surely guide our feet into the way of peace.

Learn more about the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy at www.brethren.org/peacebuilding or support it today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Faithful stewardship

By Matt DeBall, coordinator of Mission Advancement Communications

“The master commended the dishonest manager
because he had acted shrewdly.”
~Luke 16:8

The call to be a faithful steward can seem like a daunting task. Thankfully, the Lord Jesus not only calls us but also empowers us and equips us for the task. The parable shared in Luke 16 is one such exhortation.

As a master declared job termination and requested a final financial report, a dishonest manager threw a going-out-of-business sale—as in, he was going out of business and he cut deals with as many indebted partners as possible. Though, at first, it appeared his actions were merely for selfish gain, the manager was commended by the master for shrewdness.

This parable is interesting, to say the least, and may cause us to scratch our heads. Surely it is not an invitation to use dishonest financial practices or to fix the books. However, if a dishonest manager can be an effective example of stewardship, we can do even better. The dishonest yet shrewd manager exemplifies three important aspects of being a faithful steward.

Being generous. When the manager met with each debtor, he canceled almost a year and half worth of wages for a common laborer. How blessed each one must have felt! Many of us will never be able to give such a generous gift, but we can make a difference in the lives of people around us by giving faithfully of what we have received from God. Whenever we share, we prove to be good stewards when we do so generously.

Honoring others. As the manager canceled debts, he honored everyone involved. The debtors received generous pardons and the master was honored for being generous. To reinstate the canceled debts would harm the master’s reputation, and thus, by confirming the manager’s maneuvers, honor was maintained for all. Faithful stewardship honors others, and this also includes the Lord.

Preparing for the future. The manager was preparing to be out of a job and needing the help of others. Though our stewardship does not include consideration of selfish gain, we are called to look beyond the circumstances of today and, with God’s help, chart a course for the future. Again, this need not involve grand means or measures. It can involve doing simple but purposeful acts boldly and faithfully. Consider water:  over time, even a gentle and persistent trickle can wear away the face of a rock. Trusting God with the results, we can act simply and boldly now while working toward a future that we cannot yet see.

It’s a privilege and honor to witness all who give generously of themselves to the ministries of the Church of the Brethren—whether staff, volunteers, board members, or supporters like you. Thank you for using your gifts generously, honoring one another and the Lord. Thank you for investing what you have been given now, and preparing for the future with hope. As you practice faithful stewardship, may the Lord continue to bless you.

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Soybean Training and Field Observation

By Dennis Thompson

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating the wondrous work of God

Giving Tuesday 2019
www.brethren.org/givingtuesday

By Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

The fruit of our labor

Duvelis Altenor near Grand Bois, Haiti

By Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of Global Mission and Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)