True religion: Caring for the hungry

Photos courtesy of Peter F. Johnson

By Peter F. Johnson, lead pastor of Hanoverdale Church of the Brethren in Hummelstown, Pa.

For years, our church hosted monthly community meals in our multi-ministry center. The kitchen crew made nourishing meals for about 200 people before children, youth, and adult midweek ministries would take place. Then COVID hit and all indoor eating meetings ended. In a time of health crisis and loss of jobs, food disparity became all the more prevalent.

Instead of closing the kitchen, we decided to double our efforts, sending out monthly mailers to households in our area letting them know that they could register for a free meal, and come to the front door of the church to pick it up in order to bring it home on a particular night each month. The response was tremendous.

Now three years later we continue to prepare, package, and provide monthly meals to between 500 and 600 people. Most recently, 650 meals were prepared and served on October 10, and 750 on November 14. In the bag with the meals we give information about our church and how to have a relationship with the Lord. On occasion people will ask for prayer, and we have the opportunity to pray with them in their cars before they return home to eat their meal.

Feeding the hungry has always been an important part of true religion. In Isaiah 58:10 we find, “Spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed.” James also showed how “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress. . . .  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 1:27; 2:15–16). The physical food offered in true religion leads to lasting relationship when the Spirit of God then opens the heart, and a person’s spiritual hunger is met as they come to faith in Jesus Christ.

The Office of Mission Advancement of the Church of the Brethren is grateful for this reflection from Peter Johnson. It represents our passion to grow in authentic faith and care for the hungry—physically and spiritually. For more inspirational stories about congregations living as “Jesus in the Neighborhood” visit Learn more about the missions and ministries of the Church of the Brethren at

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Praise for every second

Photos by Marissa Witkovsky-Eldred,
Brethren Disaster Ministries, and Benjamin Hoffman

By Matt DeBall, coordinator of Mission Advancement Communications

“Praise the Lord, all you nations; extol Him, all you peoples. For great is His love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord.” ~Psalm 117, NIV

More than 31.5 million seconds in a year, more than 2.2 billion seconds in a lifetime (of 70 years)—each one accounted for and cared for by God. And God has certainly been at work long before we (or anyone we have met) walked the earth. Before and ever since time began, God has been the loving creator, the gracious redeemer, and the faithful sustainer of all things. Short of fully understanding, we can rest in awe as we reflect on the greatness of God.

The wonderful work of God is still present and active among us. Through the missions and ministries of the Church of the Brethren, people of all ages serve as the hands and feet of Jesus, embody and articulate their faith, receive training and support for ministry, walk alongside vulnerable persons through seasons of long-term recovery, and nurture partnerships and relationships around the world. As we consider all that we are able to do together, we recognize that God deserves the honor and praise at every moment in time. We give thanks for God’s great love and enduring faithfulness—in all the world and through the Church of the Brethren.

On Giving Tuesday, November 28, join us for (at least) a handful of seconds to celebrate what God has done and will still do among us. Make a gift to our ministries to celebrate now or then at

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

God is doing a new thing

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Video text:
> 541 persons gathered at Lake Junaluska for NOAC 2023. This included attendees of the 1958 National Youth Conference that was also held at Lake Junaluska, and 4 participants over 90 years of age. Additional participants attended online.
> 1,375 hygiene kits were assembled for Church World Service. 84 walkers raised more than $4,500 for the new NOAC scholarship fund. Worship service offerings exceeded $26,000.
> Special thanks to the NOAC 2023 coordinator Christy Waltersdorff; planning team members Glenn Bollinger, Karen Dillon, Jim Martinez, Leonard Matheny, Don Mitchell, Bonnie Kline Smeltzer, and Karlene Tyler; and the NOAC news team members David Sollenberger, Larry Glick, and Chris Stover-Brown.
> See you for NOAC 2025, September 1-5.

God is doing a new thing:
National Older Adult Conference (NOAC) 2023

“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” –Isaiah 43:19

Reflection by Traci Rabenstein, executive director of Mission Advancement

When the email arrived with the announcement that it was time to register for National Older Adult Conference (NOAC), I couldn’t click on the link fast enough! After attending three other NOACs, I knew it was going to be in an opportunity to be with people who renew my spirit and recharge my batteries. It would be a week to have good fellowship, more activities to choose from than hours in the day, speakers that would challenge the lens I use to view the world around me, and sermons that would nourish my soul.

While my plans shifted and I couldn’t attend as many activities as originally thought, the fellowship with others attending the conference and the speakers with powerful sermons didn’t disappoint. Our office, Mission Advancement, hosted a table at the welcome center at the gymnasium behind the building where registration occurred. We spent the afternoon talking, laughing, sharing snacks and other goodies, and I was able to “do a new thing” right away. Well, an almost new thing.

For the past few in-person NOACs, Frances Townsend has brought an entire workshop of materials, dye, and other items needed for tie-dyeing. After seeing her decorate t-shirts and other items years ago during a previous NOAC, I finally had the chance to do tie-dying for myself with the help of her technique and expertise. I picked out a piece of material from the many items she had, and then she helped me fold and tie it for dyeing.

Frances showed me all the colored dye powders and an example of a completed piece, and I was inspired to use similar colors. Then we went to the lawn space where she had an activity station, strategically placed the powders on the material, and then used hot water to soak the color into the fabric. During that time, I thought about the week ahead and began to ponder the conference theme, “God Is Doing a New Thing.”

As I watched the color change from powder and seep deep into the fabric, I considered whether the work Frances and I put into each fold and turn, each string tightened and tied, would produce a beautiful thing. Would this piece of plain material be turned into something new and beautiful?

Isn’t this just like life? With twists and turns, situations that make us feel tightened and tied down, feeling the heat of whatever is weighing upon us, and not knowing exactly how we would come through to the other side. Just when we think we can’t bear one more thing, God’s peace and love spring forth and we find ourselves on the other side of the trial or tribulation forever changed… just like a dyed piece of fabric. It had been twisted and tied up tightly then exposed to hot and cold elements and emerged forever changed.

By the end of the week at NOAC, I found myself answering the question from the theme text found in Isaiah: “Yes, God! I do perceive it; you are doing a new thing.” And I offered praises of thanksgiving. What Christ did for me and for all, and what Christ has brought us through, makes us forever changed!

Learn more about National Older Adult Conference at or support its work today at

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Ask the Lord of the harvest

Photos by Grace Elliott, Penny Gay, Jeff Boshart, and Dennis Thompson

By Jeff Boshart, manager of the Global Food Initiative

“Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” ~ Matthew 9:38, NIV

Greetings in the name of Jesus. My time as the manager of the Global Food Initiative Fund is nearing its end. The GFI has undergone various changes over the past 12 years, none of it possible without your generous and sacrificial giving to neighbors near and far. Recently I sat down and calculated the amounts sent to various partners around the world to support their work in agricultural development ministries. The total amount shared with churches and Christian non-profit organizations in 25 countries was nearly $2 million. 

Internationally, the largest amounts were shared with the following countries: Haiti ($279,300), Honduras ($173,800), and Nigeria ($165,200). In the United States, through contributions to church-based community gardening efforts and support to Puerto Rican farmers after Hurricane Maria, the total allocated was $345,700. These dollars represent animals, fruit trees, seeds, tools, fertilizers, trainings, conferences, farmer-to-farmer exchanges, several Brethren Volunteer Service placements, and organizations working with immigrants to the US as well as organizations advocating for governmental policies leading to greater food security.

Volunteers who have traveled on behalf of the GFI have given their time and talents to enhance and add value to this ministry in areas such as farming, veterinary medicine, forage production and animal nutrition, appropriate technology, plant breeding, aquaculture, solar energy, clean water systems, grant writing, and program evaluation. Finally, I have had the privilege to meet some special servants of the Lord who are ministering and sharing Christ’s love in some of the most difficult places on earth. I believe these are the workers that Jesus called for when he told his disciples, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:38), and I am blessed beyond words to call them friends.

Although I am moving on, the work continues, and I am excited to see who God will call to walk with our sisters and brothers around the world. I pray that you will continue walking that journey with them.

Learn more about the Global Food Initiative at or support its ministry today at

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Share abundantly

By Shannon McNeil Smith, Mission Advancement advocate

“I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me. Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit.” ~Philippians 1:25-27, NIV

Sharing abundantly is something I equate to this plentiful season of fresh garden produce – especially the hot peppers we have grown the last few years. My husband has dutifully tended the seedlings from winter until we can plant in June. The work continues all through the season and well into fall. Early frosts mean our garage is filled with a cornucopia of planters with hot peppers yet to be harvested. Some of these plants have produced so plentifully that we have freezer bags full of prepared peppers ready to make hot sauce and dehydrated peppers in the pantry ready to make spices. So much abundance that we have shared with neighbors and friends, getting to know them through what our garden and hard work produces.
Similarly, shouldn’t we ABUNDANTLY share God’s everlasting love and the peace of Christ?! It can be daunting, much more difficult than talking to someone about produce. Yet it might not always be in evangelizing words that we share our joy. We may share abundantly in acts of service, showing others how much they are loved by our Creator. We could share abundantly by listening and showing the faith that is needed to be filled with Christ’s peace.
We all have different gifts that allow us to share with others the abundance that we have as children of God. As we are many parts to one body, we are called to use our gifts to glorify God. This week use your gifts to share abundantly!

This reflection was originally featured on a bulletin produced by Brethren Press. Learn more about the missions and ministries of the Church of the Brethren that inspire us to share abundantly at or support our shared work today at

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

New relationships and a new heart

By Chandler Poling, Brethren Volunteer Service Unit #204

After graduation from high school, I decided to enter Brethren Volunteer Service. I spent a year (1992-1993) at San Antonio Catholic Worker House, an intentional community that provided hospitality to families and individuals who needed a place to live or a hot meal.

On weekdays, we cooked a hot lunch and served it to roughly 50 people. We offered four rooms for families who needed a temporary place to live. We met basic needs, but the real aim of the work was solidarity. Families and workers lived in the same house, prayed, and ate meals together. Our guests were sometimes grateful and cooperative, sometimes manipulative or aggressive. Some were mothers fleeing a violent husband. Some, with breath smelling of alcohol, came every day for lunch before returning to their spot under the bridge. The abstract idea of “the homeless” was no longer meaningful to me as I built relationships with real human beings: Cowboy, Katharine, Juan, and others.

When I was a child, my family never missed a meal or worried about where we would sleep that night. I never feared that dad or mom would come home drunk or stay out late. I never feared violence or verbal abuse. I never realized that life could be any different for other people.

Those of us who have all our needs met face a temptation when thinking about people who are “poor,” “homeless,” or “mentally ill.” We may be tempted to blame them for their situation, or  dismiss them as “bums.” On the other hand, we might romanticize them as victims, and offer condescending charity. Both responses dismiss the full humanity of our struggling brothers and sisters. The “poor” are not all the same. Each is a human person made in the image and likeness of God, worthy of love, yet vulnerable to the same frailties as all of us.

BVS allowed me to build relationships with people I never would have met, and this changed my heart, making me more aware of the value of each person. As Jesus said: “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” When we listen and share our lives with those who are in need, we encounter Jesus, and our hearts are transformed.

Chandler Poling lives in Vermont with his wife, Stefanie, and three children: Elias, Mariam, and John. He teaches music and works in a non-profit whose goal is to end homelessness.

This reflection was originally featured in the summer issue of “The Volunteer,” a publication by Brethren Volunteer Service. Learn more about this Core Ministry of the Church of the Brethren and upcoming opportunities to grow in relationships and be transformed at Support BVS today at

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Giving thanks for one another

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“Ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus… I have not stopped giving thanks for you.” ~Ephesians 1:15-16

Global Mission prioritizes collaboration with leaders of sister Church of the Brethren bodies in countries around the world. We seek to join in their faithful witness to Jesus Christ and to learn from them while sharing our heritage and blessings with them. These churches are striving to follow the Bible and example of Jesus, and they see the Church of the Brethren holding a special gift and are drawn to the idea of continuing the work of Jesus: peacefully, simply, together.

2023 marks the 100 anniversary of the founding of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN), the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria. Thousands of church members and guests attended more than a dozen events held in 13 zones across the country. Celebrations included worship, prayer, scripture readings, preaching, singing, music, and traditional dances by groups representing the local tribes of each zone of the church. While the church has experienced much persecution over the years, they remain steadfast in their faith and have become a beacon of peace that is inspiring other denominations across Nigeria to seek the gospel of peace as well. We praise God with our Nigerian brothers and sisters and rejoice for their work in Africa.

In 2018, a “Vision for a Global Church of the Brethren” mission philosophy paper was adopted by Annual Conference. Global Mission staff and volunteers have gathered the Global Church of the Brethren Communion, a group of representatives from each of the national bodies of the Church of the Brethren, to discuss and discern how to function as the Global Church of the Brethren, to gather as autonomous Brethren bodies seeking mutual encouragement, to sharing resources, and to support each other.

The Church of the Brethren has been established in Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, India, Nigeria, Rwanda, Spain, Uganda, Venezuela, and the United States, and is emerging in other areas around the globe. People are choosing to be Brethren and are choosing to plant the church where they are. Each week, more than half a million people around the world worship in a Church of the Brethren congregation. This specific work is in line with our mission polity, which aims to “maintain close fraternal relationships with other regional conferences; seek to be of one mind with other regional conferences as to matters of faith and belief; participate in periodic world assemblies of the Church of the Brethren; and, when appropriate, cooperate with other regional conferences for activities and programs such as disaster relief, leadership training, church planting, and ecumenical activities.”

The Global Mission office works with our country partners in Burundi, China, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, South Sudan, and Vietnam. Volunteers, like Chris Elliot and his daughter Grace, Marla Abe, Galen Hackman, Bob Kettering, and others along with Global Mission executive director Eric Miller and Global Food Initiative manager Jeff Boshart work to give support to our country partners by providing education in agriculture practices and/or spiritual practices for those who are being called into ministry. For more information visit

Thank you for supporting servants of Christ near and far. Your gifts to the Mission Offering support the Office of Global Mission and our sisters and brothers around the world. Learn more about the Mission Offering (suggested date: September 10) and find worship resources at Give an offering today at

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Brethren Volunteer Service – Celebrating 75 years

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By Chelsea Goss Skillen, director of Brethren Volunteer Service

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” ~Romans 12:9-13

At Annual Conference in 1948, a young man stood on an orange crate to reach the mic. With palpable anticipation, a movement of youth were hoping to create a way to say ‘yes’ to the ways of peace through a program with the goal to serve. After some discussion, a unanimous decision was made by the conference, a spontaneous cheer came up from the youth sitting in the balcony, and at that moment, Brethren Volunteer Service was born.

Since its beginnings, over 7,000 volunteers have served through BVS, touching the lives of countless individuals and communities. With volunteer sites spanning the US and world, volunteers can be found working with disaster relief efforts, serving at sustainable development projects, working with those experiencing homelessness, living with individuals with intellectual disabilities, or serving at our beloved Brethren camps–just to name a few. BVS volunteers work toward building a more just and compassionate world by dedicating a year or two of their lives to serve and putting their faith into action.

As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of BVS, we honor the legacy of those who have dedicated their time, skills, and hearts to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Their commitment to service, their unwavering dedication, and their willingness to make a difference have left an indelible mark on the lives they have touched.

But BVS isn’t just about the impact it has on others. It is also a transformative experience for the volunteers themselves. Each individual who joins BVS embarks on a personal journey of growth, learning, and self-discovery. They immerse themselves in diverse cultures, challenging environments, and unfamiliar territories, gaining a deeper understanding of the world and their faith.

While Brethren Volunteer Service has evolved and adapted to meet the changing needs of the world, it continues to provide meaningful service opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds. BVS is committed to continue sharing God’s love through acts of service by Advocating Justice, Working for Peace, Serving Human Need and Caring for Creation. BVS holds dear its rich history of service as it looks forward to many more years of impacting the lives of our volunteers and the communities in which they serve.

You are invited to come join us in making a difference! Thank you for supporting servants of Christ around the world with hope and prayer.

Learn more about this ministry of the Church of the Brethren at or support it today at

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)