The work of the Disaster Ministry is demanding and sometimes dangerous. Many humanitarian relief agencies focus on one main area of assistance, but the Disaster Ministry does it all. Their areas of focus include food, shelter and home repairs, trauma counseling, medical care, education of orphans, livelihood development for widows, along with training others in security and disaster preparedness. The work involves a lot of travel over poor roads and often in semi-secure areas. President of EYN, Joel Billi, said, “We always say a prayer when we see members of the disaster ministry leave the headquarters because we know they face many challenges as they assist others.”
In July alone, 736 persons received food, 10 homes in a remote area were roofed, 12 leaders attended the security workshop, 946 people were screened for Hepatitis B, and 40 victims received trauma counseling.
Successes: The IDPs who live in the EYN relocation camp near Abuja are beginning to care for themselves; people have secured farm lands, built new shelters for their families, bought used cars, and established small businesses. Teachers at the school are receiving a small salary.
Challenges: In Maiduguri, one of the temporary camps is located on donated personal property and now the owner wants his land back. Where will they go? Villages continue to be attacked by Boko Haram, refugees from Cameroon want to return to Nigeria but have no place to live. Please pray for our sisters and brothers in Nigeria.
exhausted. I’ve got a serious farmer’s tan, several bug bites, and my hair
desperately needs cut. Eight straight weeks of either helping lead camp or
traveling to the next one takes a lot out of a person. I have been fighting off
a cold for the last couple of weeks. As soon as camp this week ended and I had
time to really rest it hit me with a vengeance. But I wouldn’t trade my
experience this summer for the world!
Camp Pine Lake in Iowa was my final week
of the summer and the youngest age group with which I worked – those who have
finished third through fifth grades. This group definitely skewed more towards
the third-grade side. While I had run a couple sessions for campers of this age
group or even younger before at other camps, this was the only week where they
were my primary target age. I had to readjust and revise my planned sessions
for this age group, but the camp staff was more than happy to help.
It was fitting to end at Pine Lake; in
a way, it was also the place I started the summer. The week after graduation
Manchester University’s A Capella Choir goes on tour. This year we were heading
for Kansas City, and stopped for a concert at Pine Lake. While helping to move
everything inside, I mentioned to the leadership that I would be back in a
couple months as the Youth Peace Advocate (YPA). At the end of the concert, I
was formally introduced by them as this summer’s YPA for the first time.
For most of the days, I ended up incorporating
parts of my sessions into the Bible study for the day. On Friday, I led the “Little
Red Riding Hood/Maligned Wolf” session with some help from the week’s “Camp Grandpa.”
The campers seemed to particularly enjoy the games I used as teaching examples.
My favorite memory from Pine Lake
was our Monday night campfire. We had reordered the daily themes for the week,
so we were focusing on Agape and how Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. That
night, staff left our four basins for the campers by the fire. Three were for
feet washing and one for handwashing. Nobody was forced to participate, but
campers and staff were encouraged to participate as they felt led to ask
another if they could wash their feet. Unlike most Love Feasts I’ve attended,
where the act is primarily symbolic, the water the campers were using quickly
got dirty with the dirt and grass of a long day spent in God’s creation. After
washing each other’s feet, some of the other staff and I brought around
communion bread that had been made by previous camps and offered each camper
and staff to break off a piece, and prayed together “This bread which we break
is the communion of the body of Christ.” (One of the councilors who is a pastor
explained to the campers that some churches ask people to be baptized before
they receive communion, but the decision to participate was “between you and
God.”) We they brought around the cups of grape juice and prayed together “This
cup which we drink is the communion of the blood of Christ.” For me, this was
one of the most significant moments of encounters with God and moments of
community of the entire summer.
While this was my last week as the Youth
Peace Advocate, it was Pine Lake’s Program Director Barbara Wise Lewczak’s last
camp before retiring from that position. Given what I was feeling with it being
my last camp as the Youth Peace Advocate, I cannot imagine what it must have
felt like for her. I was glad I was able to be there and work with her just
before this era of Pine Lake history draws to a close.
Thinking about legacies and cycles,
when I mentioned my parents had visited Camp Pine Lake under similar
circumstances thirty-three years ago one of the long-time councilor’s ears
perked up. After some discussion he remembered meeting them, as he had been a
councilor during their week at Pine Lake with the Outdoor Ministries
Association Team in 1986! I hope I have left a legacy worth of all those I’ve
built on and trust God to continue to lead us into the future.
This summer was hard work. During
orientation and my first week at Camp Colorado, I felt underqualified and
overwhelmed. But as I figured out my sessions and developed a rhythm, I fell in
love with the job. I wasn’t always sure if what I was trying to get across was
reaching the campers. But I almost always had at least a couple of campers come
up and tell me how much they loved my sessions. I was invited to a baptism. I
helped lead anointing and communion. I was pushed outside my comfort zone to
hike up mountains and lead campers in geocaching. I led campfires and learned
many new songs, and variations on old ones. Many campers asked if I would be
back next year. I would be more than happy to volunteer at any of the camps I
was at this summer again in some other role. It was an amazing summer. Now I am
looking forward to a couple weeks of rest before I start the next part of my
journey as this years BVS intern in the Office of Youth and Young Adult
Ministries in Elgin. It is in God’s hands now. Remember, Peace Works!
God of Peace,
the scriptures you show us your call for peace and reconciliation, and what
happens when we fail to live out your peace. Help us to remember Jesus’s
example that Peace Works. May we bring the lessons we have learned together to
our communities and be empowered by your Holy Spirit to bring forth the kingdom
of God in this world.
I’m almost the end of my summer.
Camp Emmaus was my second to last stop as the Youth Peace Advocate. Weirdly,
this summer has seemed simultaneously quick and long. On one hand, it seems
like starting out at Camp Colorado was just a short while ago. On the other
hand, I am really starting to feel the drain of each week of camp. As I move
towards the end, I have a whole mix of feelings. But for now, I enjoyed my time
at Camp Emmaus.
After a camp of ten at Brethren
Heights, Emmaus, though still smaller than some of the other camps I’ve visited
this summer, felt like a return to a larger group. I was with Jr. High age
campers again. Many of the councilors and staff for the week were old friends
who have been doing this for years, but I was not the only new person and never
felt excluded or unwelcome. Being in Illinois, I also got to meet several
people who I will probably get to know better when I move Elgin next month to
work in the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries as a BVSer.
I also appreciated having the chance
to reconnect with an old friend. Walt Wiltschek was the campus pastor at
Manchester University (MU) for the first semester I was a student there; this week
he was the was the chaplain for Camp Emmaus. I appreciated getting to hear his
perspective and share his sense of humor this week. It was an interesting experience
now that I’ve come out the other side of my time at MU, with all the ways I’ve
grown and changed since. It was a pleasure to work on my sessions with him.
On Tuesday we hiked to a state park
nearby for most of the morning and had lunch and horizontal hour at the park.
It was not near as steep as the hikes up the mountains I took at Camp Colorado and
Camp Blue Diamond, but walking down the road, stopping for rest, singing songs
and telling jokes and stories reminded me of my time on the Student Cross
pilgrimage when I studied abroad in Cheltenham, England through BCA. Like that
trip, the bonding and friendship that developed during the walk far outweighed
any exhaustion we felt.
Once again, I got a chance to lead
campfire songs for the camp. The campers and councilors enjoyed learning a
couple new songs and experiencing some new-to-them variations of old familiar
ones. For the talent show on Friday, the councilors sang a parody of “Proud
Mary,” recounting our week at camp. I got a chorus about me and my work as the
Youth Peace Advocate. Unfortunately, due to some other things I had to take
care of, I was unable to join the camp when they visited and sang at Pinecrest,
a nearby Brethren retirement community. At the end of the final campfire, we all
lit candles we arranged in the shape of a cross. Standing on the balcony of the
main lodge we looked down at the cross and sang together.
The theme of the final day of camp
is “aloha” again. The scripture is John 14:25-27, and the focus going out. To
be honest, this is the probably the daily theme I have engaged with the least. Because
most of the camps I have visited end on Friday, sometimes we didn’t make it to
this theme at all, or it was combined with “Sí Se Puede,” or if we did reach
the theme it was often overshadowed by the fact this was the last day of camp. In
this passage, Jesus assures us: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I
do not give it to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled,
and do not let them be afraid.” Christ is always with us, empowering us to be
God of Peace,
have promised to send your children your Holy Spirit and grant us your peace,
which the world cannot give. Help us to rest in your peace and share it with
the world. May we let it be known each day, building up your kingdom and making
it present here on earth.
A scripture medley with Romans 5:1-9 for the 2019 Mission Offering
ONE: We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.
ALL: I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. . . . For when I am weak, then I am strong.
ONE: Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.
ALL: No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
ONE: For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”
ALL: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. . . . As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.”
ONE: For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
ALL: And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
ONE: May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other [as] Christ Jesus,
ALL: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,
ONE: So that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
ALL: Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
ONE: Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
ALL: For Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
ONE: For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.
ALL: “I will bless those who bless you, . . . and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
As I write this, I am in the midst of writing position descriptions, learning more fully the ins and outs of our volunteer insurance policy, and responding to our BVS partners with organizational position statements. And then I looked at this issue’s topic, finding joy. I couldn’t help but chuckle.
In my nearly seven years of working for Brethren Volunteer Service, I have not very often struggled to find joy in my work. The BVS office in Elgin is a pretty fun place to be! However, I must be honest, in this time of transition with no BVS director after Dan McFadden’s resignation, to then being called to fill the position myself, creating joy has sometimes had to be a more intentional part of my work.
This winter, I hopped on the bandwagon of watching Marie Kondo “spark joy” for so many by helping them to purge and organize their belongings. There was one part of the process that I was admittedly skeptical of at first, but learned to appreciate when I put it into practice myself. When the homeowners decided that something was no longer sparking joy for them, before they put it in the “toss” pile, Marie had them thank that item out loud for serving them.
While I can’t toss out the tasks that I do every day that don’t spark joy for me, I can be intentional about finding the joy in those tasks–how they serve our volunteers and our program. It has also been important for me as I’ve settled into the role of director of BVS to think about the history of BVS and how it has served us, and moving forward, learning how to thank those pieces that no longer serve us and usher in new programming that sparks joy for the next generation of BVSers.
Joy may have to be intentionally found at times. But allowing our work and calling to spark joy while also letting go of and thanking the seasons in life that have served us but are no longer needed is a delicate but important balance. What would the world look like if we all followed a calling that sparked joy in us?
This reflection was originally published in the Summer installment of the “The Volunteer” newsletter. Learn more about Brethren Volunteer Service at www.brethren.org/bvs.
Being the Youth Peace Advocate at Camp Alexander
Mack was a very different experience than doing it anywhere else this summer.
Camp Mack is my home camp, where I’ve been attending in some form for
twenty-three years. Everywhere else I am Nolan, this year’s Youth Peace
Advocate. At Camp Mack I am Nolan, the former camper/CIT/councilor/Ministry
Summer Service intern who most people have known forever and is the Youth Peace
Advocate this year. It was good to be home.
During the week I was primarily working with the Followers and Splash camps. Both were for campers of Jr. High age. The team leaders (the same role as deans at almost every other camp) for Splash camp were my parents, Rosalie and Ryan McBride, which combined with my brother and sister working summer staff meant my entire family was at Camp Mack last week. After about a month of traveling across the country it was good for us all to be together. Additionally, I knew several other staff members of both camps, so it was very different to begin the week knowing so many people.
My daily schedule and responsibilities as the Youth Peace Advocate were also different. While exactly what was expected of me was different at each new place, all the camps before this week had explicitly set aside time for me lead my own sessions with the campers during the week. At Camp Mack both sets of team leaders already had schedules set up, and I was invited to participate and bring what I’ve put together into their plans as much or as little as I wanted. The Splash Camp leaders did explicitly ask me to lead a tour of the Brethren history murals in Quinter-Miller auditorium. Painted in 1949, the murals tell this history of the Church of the Brethren up to then, and include the artist’s prediction up to the 300th anniversary in 2008. A newer mural of more recent Brethren history was created in 2000. The murals have long been one of my favorite parts of camp, and I was excited to get to share about them. Of course, me being a History and Religious Studies major whose era of emphasis is the early modern period, this was kind of a dangerous thing to ask of me. Having recently studied the origins of the Pietist movement which shaped the Brethren movement, I might have spent a little longer than intended on “historical context.” (Hey, to understand the Brethren’s break with the state churches you need to know about the relationship between church and state in the middle ages, which means you need to know about Constantine, and so on.)
I also went boating twice with Splash Camp: kayaking Tuesday in Goshen and sailing Thursday on Lake Michigan. It was a great time, even if I fell into the river kayaking and took at least ten minutes trying to get back in.
The word of the day for the fifth day of camp is “heiwa,” a Japanese word meaning “balance.” The scripture is Mark 12:28-31, the two greatest commandments. I usually start my session for this day by asking the kids to play a game where they stand in a circle with one person being “it.” That person chooses another in the circle whom they attempt to make laugh any way short of touching them. If the laugh, they are now “it.” Afterwards I ask the campers how it was to try and not laugh, what techniques they used, and if they think it would be easier if they practiced this game every day. We then discuss the importance of practice in peacemaking, using the Civil Rights movement as an example, and the Christian life more generally. I play a section from the first episode of the Episcopal Church’s Way of Love podcast (11:38-17:36). It is an interview with the denomination’s Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who recently made headlines around the world for his sermon on love at last year’s royal wedding. Bishop Curry uses the metaphors of firefighter/first responder springing into action or an athlete training for their sport to talk about how practices such as prayer, Bible study, gathering for public worship, and others mold us to be more like Jesus, so we live out his call without having to think about it. It becomes our instinctual reaction. After discussing the main points of the interview, I ask the campers to list the practices we have been following at camp that mold us to be peacemakers and help us live more like Jesus. After we have a good list going, I challenge the campers to consider how they can incorporate these practices into their daily lives.
Redeeming God, We thank you that we are fearfully and wonderfully made and accepted and loved by you not because of anything we have done, but because of your very nature. Grant that through our life we may be drawn closer to you and molded into the image of your son, our savior, Jesus.
“Simon replied, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing. But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.’ So they dropped the nets and their catch was so huge that their nets were splitting. . . . Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people” (Luke 5:5-6, 10; CEB).
Many within the Church of the Brethren are not afforded the opportunity to regularly experience the church beyond a local congregation or district setting. Without the privilege to worship, meet, and engage with congregations and districts across the country, it is difficult for someone to truly appreciate the richness of what we call the Church of the Brethren. Without those opportunities, one could easily see a denomination unsure of its own identity and miss the forest for the trees.
While we may talk about membership decline and its impact on giving, I would caution against making any direct correlation of that decline with competing notions of identity or a denomination unsure of its identity. A common purpose and identity are essential to the success of any organization, and I won’t deny that some have doubts or disagree with the identity articulated by the Mission and Ministry Board and Church of the Brethren staff. However, from my experiences as a pastor and a district executive, I believe membership declines have less to do with any common understanding of a true north “Brethren-ism” and much more to do with cultural and familial shifts, our hesitation to move beyond “the way we’ve always done things,” and pastors and church leadership at all levels struggling to meet the ministry needs of local communities and to live into the great commission.
In many ways, our predicament resembles that of the tired fisherman that Jesus encountered. We have labored in less-than-ideal circumstances, been left wanting for better results, and are weary from difficult, often thankless, work. And yet, Jesus is calling us to cast out the net again—not just to continue our usual work but to do the work of fishing for people.
Despite our challenges, our ministries and missions continue. The Mission and Ministry Board, with the help and support of districts, congregations, and members, is working to fan the positive sparks that are emerging. The outcome of the denominational compelling vision process will inform the shaping of our next strategic plan—a plan that will guide our ministries for the future.
While these movements will lead us forward, each of us must take seriously the role that we hold. Max Lucado once wrote, “When those who are called to fish don’t fish, they fight.” Until we whole-heartedly unite for the work of fishing, we will continue to fight and continue to struggle for a common identity and purpose.
Friends, our governing principles and Annual Conference statements cannot save a church filled with imperfect people. Being the church is messy, and there always will be differences among us. Yet in the midst of our circumstances, if we listen carefully to members from across this country, we hear common and familiar themes: service, peace witness, community, living simply, mission, and discipleship—one might say “Brethren-isms” that still point true north. These are at the center of the work and ministries of the Church of the Brethren and the methods we will use together to fish for people.
If we look around us, we will see passionate disciples continuing the work of Jesus. As followers of Christ, may we focus on the work ahead and keep our attention on the work of fishing. We have something unique that the world so desperately needs, and the Lord who calls us is faithfully beside us for our mission. It is for this reason that we may trust that the Church of the Brethren will flourish.
The Church of the Brethren continues the faithful work of fishing for people in the name of Jesus. Support its ministries today at www.brethren.org/give.
In June, a 9 person delegation from EYN drove from Nigeria to visit the refugee camp at Minawao, Cameroon. The group consisted of three persons from the disaster ministry, the wife of EYN President, the Liaison officer, an EYN reporter, a student and two drivers. The trip was long and difficult with poor roads and several flooded rivers to cross.
The camp consists of 58,000 refugees living in close quarters. It stretches across 3.7 miles. There are Muslims, Christians, and some practicing traditional African religions. For the most part they live in harmony as they all struggle to survive. Christians are from 9 different denominations with the largest representation being EYN (Church of the Brethren in Nigeria). There are over 18,000 EYN members organized into 13 local churches; each with their own pastor. At a large meeting, the delegation brought greetings from EYN and presented the camp with $38,500 to assist in purchasing food. The refugees appreciated the visit and the meeting where they were encouraged to share about their struggles.
Four areas of difficulty were evident during the visit. Lack of food (a decrease in amount distributed by the United Nations who runs the camp), lack of water (long lines from morning to evening), few opportunities to farm and grow their own food, and schooling problems for the children. There are 16,000 elementary children registered at the camp but only about 10,000 are going to school. The school has no text books, few underpaid teachers (150 students to a class), and no official papers upon completion. The schooling is further hampered by the language barrier since this area of Cameroon is French speaking. Overlying the whole conversation is the desire of most of the refugees to return to their homelands in Nigeria. Although the Nigerian government claims the people can return home, the area is definitely not safe to live in.
We continue to pray for the refugees in Minawao, Cameroon and for the EYN Disaster Ministry as they help their fellow countrymen.
Pictures and information provided by EYN reporter, Zakariya Musa, and Liaison officer, Markus Gamache.
Ithiel is by far the most diverse camp, ethnically and religiously, I have
visited so far this summer. According to the program director, most of the kids
who attend camp at Ithiel are not Brethren. (Not to say none of the campers
were Brethren. (However, we did have a whole group from the Miami Haitian Church
of the Brethren.) I really appreciated having the chance to work with campers
and staff from a variety of different backgrounds and traditions.
camp is located in the middle of a well-to-do neighborhood in Gotha, Florida (near
Orlando). It felt kind of weird to see large mansions just across the lake from
week I led stations, part of a daily rotation for family groups. There were
four groups and only three stations, so one of the sessions I led each day was
extra-large and made of two family groups. This week was their Jr. High camp, and
junior higher are a tough crowd to read. Yet on the last day, several campers
thanked me for what I’d taught and asked if I was coming back next year. Something
must have resonated!
week I incorporated part of what Camp Brethren Woods developed for Shalom time,
and I expect to continue doing so for the rest of the summer. It has been an adventure
learning the “ins and outs” of each camp and what makes them each unique. I
hope I am able to share other good ideas and traditions between them as I move
towards the second half of my summer.
only had one campfire, but had Vespers in the camp’s chapel – which is also where the New Covenant Church
of the Brethren worships on Sundays. We didn’t sing any of the silly/secular
camp songs I usually enjoy leading, but had an excellent team of worship
leaders. Two of the staff were charged with leading Vespers, and a couple of
the councilors helped as well. I learned on the last day that they are part of
a band named “Civilization of Worship” and are working on their first album. Here
is a cover they released last Christmas (https://youtu.be/WF02_8LaFl8).
dean for the week led Morning Watch overlooking the lake every morning. I
appreciated getting the word and theme for the day into the campers’ minds at
the start of each day. In some of the previous camps, I have not had the chance
to see how the campers are engaging with the scriptures outside my sessions. As
I had the mornings free this week, I appreciated having that chance to here. The
worship leaders were very in-tune with the feeling of worship (orthopathy
or “right feeling” if you’re like me and like big, theological words) and often
provided underscoring for the reflections and prayers at Vespers.
the same time we were there, Camp Ithiel rented out one of its buildings to a
local Jewish day camp. A couple of campers struggled with sharing our space,
but I apricated their presence. Although we did not have any sort of cross-over
between the camps, it was good to see and hear them around.
fourth day of camp is “Agape” and the scripture is John 13:1-17, that gospel’s
account of the Last Supper and Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. The intended
theme is “God’s Reconciling Love.” This week, Camp Ithiel, I choose to use the “Little
Red Riding Hood/Maligned Wolf and M&M game” portions of Brethren Wood’s Shalom
session. I felt the mediation lesson was important to share.
your son Jesus you modeled for us what it means to serve one another and work
for peace and reconciliation in this broken world. Grant that we may follow his
example to love our neighbors as ourselves and be peacemakers in our own