Creating a mosaic together

Read a reflection by Nancy McCrickard in this week's issue of eBrethren.
(Feel welcome to save this image and color it on your computer or on paper.)

By Nancy McCrickard, Mission Advancement advocate

Each time I receive an issue of Messenger magazine, I glance at the articles quickly and then turn to the back for the “Turning Points” section to review recent deaths. Later, I go back and read the articles more thoroughly.

Why, you may ask, do I look at the “Turning Points” section so intently?

Over the last three years of serving with the staff of the Church of the Brethren, I have formed relationships with many people across the denomination–people who are faithful, passionate supporters of the church.

As a Mission Advancement advocate for the denomination, I work to build relationships with ALL individuals who support the Church of the Brethren through their generosity of time, talent, and resources (regardless of the size of the gift). Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have “serenaded our supporters from the balcony” through phone calls, personal letters, handwritten notecards, emails, text messages, and Zoom meeting visits.

We have also embraced the paradigm shift in religious giving:  from a traditional perspective that is often summarized as “fundraising is raising money,” to an emerging paradigm that suggests that “fundraising is nurturing generosity” and that supporters are collaborative partners.

We have sought to make our supporters more than a name on a page or a number in our database. And each week in our Mission Advancement team meeting, I share donor stories from correspondence over the past week that have inspired me so that all of us can be inspired together.

Subsequently, while reading the list of deceased members in Messenger, I find myself pausing to reflect on my fondest memory of that person. Memories like:

  • visiting a woman who was a missionary with her husband in Nigeria and seeing the original manuscript he wrote that led to books about their work;
  • telling a retirement community resident that it was okay for us to stop talking long enough for him to take his medications from the nurse (and not keep her waiting any longer);
  • having lunch with a couple and videotaping an impromptu scripture reading for them for an online worship service;
  • sharing a bag of Herr’s potato chips with two supporters at Annual Conference in 2019;
  • spending time with a widow after the death of her husband (who had passed shortly before a previously scheduled visit), hearing stories about his life as a Church of the Brethren pastor;
  • talking with a gentleman on the phone (a few months before he unexpectedly passed away) when he reiterated his commitment of support to the Church of the Brethren;
  • giving a loaf of blueberry bread to a couple to express gratitude after the gift of a beautiful, homegrown lily on my previous visit, and receiving a call at the end of the week so he could report they were “fighting over the last piece of bread”;
  • working from the home of supporters who graciously hosted me for a few days, enjoying meals together, walking with them to a nearby yard sale, and shedding tears as we departed, knowing that we likely would not meet again.

These stories uplift just a few individuals who have passed away in the past year and a half. All were just ordinary Brethren who have supported our denominational work. Many were also members of our Faith Forward Donor Circle (FFDC) after choosing to include the Church of the Brethren in their estate planning. I am honored to have met many faithful Christ-followers who have enriched my life and work.

Over the last few years, I have often said that I am hoping to learn from the individuals I meet, forming a mosaic of memories and experiences of those supporters. Each of these individuals have added one or more colorful tiles to the mosaic of my life. As a result, I strive to honor their legacy within the Church of the Brethren and to celebrate our shared mission.

In Bread for the Journey, Henri Nouwen noted that each of us adds a piece to the story of faith, like colorful tiles, and that together we reveal a beautiful picture of God’s face to the world.

Today, I invite you to consider the many “tile opportunities” in your life. How will the mosaic of your life take shape today, this week, this month, and in the years ahead? And, in the spirit of re-aligning perspectives: how might you add a spot of color to someone else’s life mosaic?

Blessings to you in creating your mosaic!

Learn more about the mosaic of the Church of the Brethren and its ministries at www.brethren.org or support its life-changing work at www.brethren.org/give.

The war on terrorism and the erosion of human rights

By Angelo Olayvar

It is exactly one month before the impending May 1 deadline to pull out all US troops in Afghanistan. The destruction brought by the wars waged by the United States in the Middle East against terrorism along with the counterterror measures it curated have had far-reaching consequences that resulted in countless loss of human lives and hampered the promotion of human rights all over the globe.

The US-led global effort to counter terrorism and contain violent extremism has resulted in the death of at least 800,000 people due to direct war violence. This absurd number does not include the people who suffer and continue to suffer from physical, emotional, and/or mental trauma from the war. The destruction and instability resulting from the global war on terror has forced at least 21 million people in the Middle East to live as refugees and internally displaced persons, in extremely inadequate conditions. The never-ending wars on terror have cost US taxpayers at least $5.4 trillion and an additional $1 trillion for veteran care. These numbers are ridiculously excessive and it could have been avoided if the United States had adopted more responsible and peaceful methods in addressing terrorism and violent extremism.

The war has also created significant ripple effects on the economy of the United States that include job loss and an increase in interest rates. The federal government’s investment in military assets, in the duration of the wars, has made the United States lose the opportunity to fundamentally advance capital investments in core infrastructure such as roads and public transit. Given the fact that military spending creates fewer jobs, the United States should have just invested in clean energy, public education, and health care which could have resulted in the creation of millions of jobs for Americans and create a sector that can fundamentally address climate change. Even more, it is important to note that war spending is entirely financed by borrowing. The debt accrued from military spending has contributed to higher interest rates that basically charged borrowers such as new homeowners.

Reviewing the overview of the financial and human cost of the global war on terror does not shed light in discerning the full extent of the impact of the US-led global effort to counter terrorism and violent extremism. The global war on terror and the counterterror measures have resulted in gross human rights violations and obscured the promotion of human rights all over the globe.

The response to terrorism and violent extremism by the United States, along with the response of the United Nations, has been immoral, unethical, undemocratic, illiberal, and counterproductive. Instead of curbing terrorism and violent extremism, it has brought destruction, instability, seemingly endless wars, humanitarian crises, deaths, and loss of human rights of many people around the globe. It is apparent that the counterterror practices curated by the United States and the United Nations are being exploited by authoritarian regimes to legitimize their repressive and oftentimes violent acts towards their own population to maintain their grip on power. It is disheartening to learn that there has been an erosion of civil and political liberties in many democratic societies because their governments adopted authoritarian practices to counter terrorism and violent extremism. Since terrorism is a scourge of all modern civilized societies, state governments should and must not misuse counterterror measures and violate fundamental human rights to advance political gains.

Counterterror measures by democratic and authoritarian states necessitate the use of rhetoric to legitimize their anti-terrorism campaign. Oftentimes, these rhetoric results in the increase of anti-muslim sentiment. The rise of Islamophobia has detrimental effects on the basic human rights and dignity of Muslims and people of Middle-Eastern descent in many countries. Although Islamophobia existed even before 9/11, its frequency and notoriety increased dramatically during the past decade. In many western societies such as the United States and the United Kingdom, many people with Islamic background and Middle-Eastern descent are victims of discrimination, hate crimes, and racist acts due to the rhetoric adopted by the US government and political leaders.

Autocratic states such as China and Myanmar exploited counterterror measures and the global war on terror to strengthen their hold on power. In these autocratic regimes, Muslim ethnic groups lost their fundamental human rights due to the states’ paranoia in preserving territorial integrity, which is crucial in securing their regimes’ legitimacy. Millions of Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province are subject to human rights abuses and genocidal acts. The Chinese Communist Party links the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (a separatist group that operates in Xinjiang and uses Uighur dissent to attract members) to the Taliban and Al-Qeada groups to justify their so-called ‘counterterror measures’ against the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province. In Myanmar, the Tatmadaw (military of Myanmar) adopted the language of counterterror measures to justify their military operations against the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state. The Tatmadaw created a narrative linking the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (an insurgent group that aims to defend, salvage, and protect Rohingya Muslims) to Taliban groups. The military operations have resulted in ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, and genocide of the Rohingya Muslims, producing one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises in modern times. The lethargic provisions and vague language of the counterterror measures that the United States have curated and advocated for in the United Nations Security Council have far-reaching consequences in the promotion of human rights around the world. It is with great sadness to hear that 71 years after the holocaust, genocides are still happening.

It is important to note that many autocratic regimes and illiberal democracies have capitalized and exploited the global war on terror and various counterterror measures laid out by the United Nations Security Council to secure the legitimacy of their regimes. Countries such as Poland, Hungary, Russia, and the Philippines have implemented counterterror measures in order to silence political opponents and the civil society. The leaders of these countries have no respect for fundamental democratic principles. They create an enemy out of the civil society to justify their use of oppressive and repressive measures. The actions of these regimes have resulted in the dramatic erosion of civil and political rights.

The global war on terror, counterterrorism campaign, and the fight against violent extremism have had counterproductive and adverse results that culminated in the erosion of basic human rights. The United States along with the United Nations should design more comprehensive and humane counterterror measures so that authoritarian regimes would not exploit it to advance their political gains. The temptation to adopt autocratic practices in fighting terrorism and violent extremism is strong, but it is paramount that democratic states should maintain their adherence to liberal values and establish human rights as the bedrock of its campaign against terrorism and violent extremism. Furthermore, state governments and political leaders should be careful in using rhetoric that can incite paranoia and hatred towards religious and ethnic minorities and other traditionally disfavored groups.

Angelo Olayvar is an intern with the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy.

Preserving church history

Read a reflection by William Kostlevy and a Messenger magazine quote in this week's issue of eBrethren.
William Kostlevy, director of Brethren Historical Library and Archives,
 presenting in a recent Facebook live event.

By William Kostlevy, director of the Brethren Historical Library and Archives

In the summer of 1981, I served an eight-week internship at the Brethren Historical Library and Archives (BHLA). As a Bethany Seminary student with a master’s degree in history, it was a natural fit. But little did I realize that it would a life-changing experience that would lead to a career in archives management, new friendships, and an addiction to Brethren history.

On a normal day that summer I would ride from the old Bethany Oak Brook campus with the truly legendary Bob Faus, director of Ministry for the church. While many remember Bob for his wonderful sense of humor (which I enjoyed as much as anyone), I remember his generous mentorship and infectious love for the complex and diverse Church of the Brethren. In truth, I learned more about the Church of the Brethren from Bob’s marvelous stories than I learned from any class I took at Bethany.

My primary work that summer was processing the many smaller archival collections that had accumulated over the years. Many were collections documenting the work of the Church of the Brethren in Illinois and included papers of Illinois pastor and Bethany faculty member J. W. Lear and his equally accomplished wife, an ordained minister named Martha Lear; Brethren educator C. Ernest Davis; the Civil War era diaries of John Emmert; and the many small collections of Illinois congregations. To this day the names Cerro Gordo, Lanark, and Polo conjure up images of ordinary rural Brethren serving and transforming their communities in unexpected ways. I met many remarkable volunteers that summer including former Messenger editor Kenneth Morse; founder of the Fellowship of Brethren Genealogists, Gwen Bobb; and the very interesting Edith Barnes whose memories of the church and Elgin dated from the arrival of her father to head the Mission Board in the 1920s.

My summer in the archives opened unexpected doors to work in the archives of the University of Notre Dame, a rare PEW Charitable Trust funded opportunity to create a comprehensive list of manuscript collections documenting the Wesleyan Holiness tradition at Asbury Theological Seminary, and archivist positions at Asbury Theological Seminary and Fuller Theological Seminary. All of these culminated in me returning as the director of the BHLA in 2013.

As director of the BHLA, I have sought to continue the work of my predecessors Jim Lynch, Ken Shaffer, and Terry Barkley. Our primary task is to preserve the heritage of the Church of the Brethren and make documentation of that heritage available. In this role, I have experienced the truly worldwide significance of Brethren witness with visitors and outside researchers from India, Nigeria, Sweden, Belgium, Spain, Korea, and especially China, using BHLA materials to tell the story Brethren service and mission in their respective countries. Working with gifted interns Keith Morphew, Andrew Pankratz, Kelley Brenneman, Aaron Neff, Fred Miller, Haley Steinhilber, Maddie McKeever, Zoe Zorndran and Allison Snyder, I have attempted to highlight the uplifting stories of the largely unknown figures who witnessed to and lived the gospel of Jesus Christ in unforgettable ways in Europe, North America, and around the world.

In May of 2013, I had the opportunity to spend a day with Dale and Lois Brown acquiring one of the most important manuscript collections documenting the Brethren story in the second half of the twentieth century and, more personally, the papers of a friend and mentor. Equally important were trips acquiring the papers of Warren Groff, Donald E. Miller, and later Gene Roop, another favorite and important personal mentor. Other adventures included a trip to Santa Barbara, Calif., to interview the noted actor Don Murray who raved about his experiences as a conscientious objector, completing alternative service with the Church of the Brethren in Europe. I especially enjoyed interviewing Esther Frye, member of Mount Morris (Ill.) Church of the Brethren, who clearly recalled an afternoon spent at the home of Bethany Theological Seminary co-founder at E. B. Hoff, ninety years earlier.   

I will never forget the Chinese visitors whose enthusiasm for the work of Brethren missionaries in Shanxi Province reminded me that the Brethren story is truly a story that is not limited to North America. But closer to Elgin, I think of the truly extraordinary courage of Harold Row in offering Nathan Leopold, one of the most notorious figures of the last century, a chance to serve humanity outside a prison wall. Or the Indiana farmers who sought to end war and hunger by providing livestock to those in need. Or Anna Mow sharing the old Pietist dream of the possibility for all of us to have a new meaningful life in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In the end I am truly grateful to the Church of the Brethren for the priority and support given to the BHLA, and for giving me the privilege of having the job of a lifetime. Thank you for supporting the life-changing work of the Church of the Brethren and helping preserve our remarkable and rich history.

Learn more about the Brethren Historical Library and Archives at www.brethren.org/bhla, or support this Core Ministry of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/giveBHLA.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Taking Nature Black

by Susu Lassa

I was opportune to attend the 2021 Taking Nature Black Virtual Conference, which took place from Tuesday, February 23rd to Saturday, February 27th. It was put on by the Audubon Naturalist Society (ANS) as a Black history month celebration, with the theme being “Call and Response: Elevating Our Stories, Naturally.” Between classes this semester and work obligations, I was able to attend at least one panel a day. The panels I attended were: Living On and Off the Land; The Politics of the Environment; Breaking Decolonization’s Hold on the Environment; and Minding the Gap: Cultivating the Next Generation of Diverse Agricultural and EJ Activists. I intend to share some of my outtakes from these panels in this blog post, and I hope that the insights gleaned from this experience will foster a nuanced understanding of the experience of Black people in nature and ecological justice spaces.

How is the understanding of Black people in nature framed?

As this conference was intended as a space for healing, learning, dialogue, and organizing, an understanding of how the issue of black people in ecological and ecological justice (EJ) spaces is framed is essential to this endeavor. The issue is usually framed as “Black people are not in nature because they do not like nature/don’t want to be in nature.” However, the issue actually includes the centering of whiteness as normative or even aspirational and the reception of black people in these spaces, as well as the very real history of racism and segregation that deters black people from feeling safe in urban park and agricultural spaces. To that second point, I know the tangible hesitation that I personally felt being in public lands and parks in Washington D.C. after participating in the protests at the White House following the murder of George Floyd and various other people at the hands of the police. Seeing the highly militarized park police in riot gear brutalizing people and recognizing that such a militarized presence is present in public parks around the city and country make me weary of utilizing those spaces, and I do not think that I am alone in this sentiment.

What then is the experience of Black people in nature and in ecological justice spaces?

During the Living On and Off the Land panel, which was a conversation engaging Black farmers, the biggest issue experienced by Black people engaging with urban agriculture is access to land, so there not being enough land to feed entire communities. Throw in issues of soil quality in predominantly Black communities, and the issue gains more nuance. Militarized public spaces, issues around access to public lands, and hesitation to engage due to the legacy of slavery are also reasons that can help us develop an understanding of the experience of Black people in nature. During the Breaking Decolonization’s Hold on the Environment panel, the issue of ‘diversity and inclusion’ in ecological/ecological justice spaces came up, illumining an aversion to encouraging Black people -collapsed into ‘diversity’- into these white-centric spaces, when focus and effort should be geared towards interrogating the ownership of these spaces that see Black people as having to be ‘invited-in’. Thus, this perception of Black People as ‘diversity’ and not as stakeholders in these spaces forces Black people to pull back and invest in movements that do not pigeonhole them.

How and why is the environment political?

The environment is political by virtue of the inequitable nature of land use. Thus, the salient interest is proprietorship, and politics in an adversarial context elevates economic gain and profit at the expense of the environment. It is key to remember that the health and well-being of the environment is a political fight in a political space because it is less about the land itself and more about wealth.

Knowing what we know, how can we move forward?

A good first step would be encouraging a reorientation of minds from a consumption mindset to a mindset that encourages growth for both the land and the people. This insight was shared by a Black farmer in the south with the aim of shedding the reputation of sharecroppers imposed on black landowners and farmworkers in the south. A second step is to encourage an understanding of public land as a necessary component of Black healthy living. We can also find and support individual efforts geared at urban agriculture -if you live in an urban setting- as there is funding available for agricultural communities that are disbursed by NGOs which do not often trickle down to these efforts.

What can we do politically?

We should encourage and emphasize the interconnected nature of land stewardship issues taking place in various communities nationwide based on geographical location, while understanding that there is no one fix. We should also tie urban agriculture to bigger initiatives of the Biden administration’s climate initiatives, i.e.: growing food near to communities, which cuts down on carbon emissions. Lastly, we should make sure to always connect domestic EJ work to global issues. In the words of one of the panelists, “we can’t play whack-a-mole with these issues, as a solutions pop-up here and more issues there.”

What can we do educationally?

We should encourage environmental literacy, especially in young POC as young people live at the forefront of civil rights and social justice spaces. By providing youth with the tools for advocacy and empowerment regarding EJ issues, we will be able to utilize this current time in history and mobilize young people around EJ issues and natural science/agriculture fields. During the Minding the Gap: Cultivating the Next Generation of Diverse Agricultural and EJ Activists panel, I learned that some of the barriers to underrepresented youth pursuing natural science and agricultural fields include a deep stigma related to environmental/agricultural fields due to the history of racism, as well as a misunderstanding of the diversity of careers in these fields and a lack of representation (seeing people who look like they do). Thus, by creating channels for kids to foster relationships with people in these fields and nurturing the sense of agency and efficacy in young people, youth will be enabled to know their worth and value in community spaces addressing these issues and have the confidence to take on roadblocks.

In parting, those of us in EJ movement spaces and organizations must understand that it is not about being Black in movements, it is about changing the norm that centers and elevates whiteness in these spaces so that everyone can bring their talents and skills, regardless of social location, because in the words of Ella Baker, contact with all people, if you are interested in people, can be valuable.

This blog post was written by Susu Lassa, former BVSer, presently BTS and studying with OPP focusing on Ecological Justice.

Words of life

Photo by Russell De Boer

By Ed Woolf, director of Finance and Treasurer

In March of 2018, Loyola University had an improbable run in the Men’s National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament. With dramatic game winning shots, winning the first three games by a total of four points, and then beating a high-ranking team by a large margin, it seemed as though they were destined to play in the national championship game. Unfortunately, their run ended in the semi-finals.

Along with the team’s dramatic run, many also remember Loyola’s most famous fan—Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the team’s then 98-year-old chaplain. Sister Jean became a household name as she was interviewed regularly after games and was visible on TV as she cheered from the sidelines throughout the tournament.

Last year, as she approached her 101st birthday and in response to the growing pandemic, Sister Jean concluded a prayer for her alma mater with these words, “As the days go by, let us continue our team spirit. Let us bring happiness and joy to others. Let us ask our God to continue to protect us with our love.”

Words have purpose and meaning. They can divide, instill fear, and break people down, or they can empower and inspire others, lifting up their hearts and building them up. Surely, Sister Jean’s pre-game prayers and sage advice to the Loyola players were impactful, an important part of the team’s spirit that led to their success.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds us to use our words to build others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. In other words, we are called to use our words to speak life to one another, just as Jesus speaks life to each of us.

The last year has surely been a difficult one. It has been challenging to experience and hear stories of families being physically separated for long lengths of time and it has been heartbreaking to miss out on so many meaningful events that are important to us. In this socially distant environment, it could be argued that our words to one another matter even more now than ever before.

At this time when our Brethren value of hands-on service and our call to follow WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) may still be restricted, we must also consider WWJS (What Would Jesus Say). It’s important to remember that we can also be the hands and feet of Jesus to those we come in contact with every day through our words.

Even when we cannot meet in person, we can send a heartfelt text message or email to someone going through a difficult time. We can share something inspirational on social media. Or, a more novel idea, we can write a letter or perhaps send a post card (like those in the 2020 Annual Report “Living Letters,” still available for free by request) to friends or family who live far away. We can look over our fences and encourage our neighbors with a kindhearted word, giving them strength for whatever challenges they are facing. As the family of God, we can pray for someone whom we might not have thought to pray for before; another way to pray without ceasing.

There are also times when we, ourselves, are going through a difficult time and need to hear words of assurance. If this is the case, we can seek inspiring words wherever they can be found. We can talk with a dear friend. We can also look for encouragement in God’s Word, a daily affirmation, a devotional, a favorite hymn, or perhaps a Messenger article.

No matter how we choose to speak life to one another (or receive them), we are called to carefully choose words from the heart that are affirming, positive, genuine, life-giving, faith-filled, purposeful, fruitful, and inspiring. To faithfully follow Christ and the Word of God, our words will outdo one another in showing honor, reveal love to our neighbors and enemies, and put others ahead of ourselves.

Whether through seasons of victory or of difficulty, may we, like Sister Jean (who still serves as the chaplain of Loyola’s basketball team), continue our team spirit and choose to speak words of life to one another.

Learn about how the ministries of the Church of the Brethren speak life at www.brethren.org or support them today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Let love flow

Photo by Craig Thompson

A theme interpretation written by Rev. Erin Wathen for the 2021 One Great Hour of Sharing

During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear that many western world constructs that were intended to create a sense of safety actually promoted a false sense of security. In a global crisis, we were faced with a danger that defied our usual protective hedges. While some were made more vulnerable by economic and geographical factors, everyone was affected by the virus.

As it turns out, lines on a map don’t stop the spread of disease; a pandemic does not recognize human-made boundaries. Whether we like it or not, our lives are deeply intertwined. Our well-being is bound, inextricably, to that of neighbors close to home, and those halfway around the world.

The sooner we recognize that human interconnectedness, the better we can let love flow—generously and indiscriminately—to those who need it most.

When water comes to a village, everything changes. Improved sanitation promotes health. Crops thrive, providing food security and better nutrition. People can provide for their families and care for their communities today while also planning for the future. In the same way, when our love flows, brothers and sisters around the world are sustained through difficult circumstances and their lives are transformed.

Isaiah 49:8-12 articulates a stunning vision for a world of justice and equity; a world where everyone has enough, and all live in safety and abundance. It is also a vision for a healthy world of interconnectedness. In this vision, what is good for you is also good for your neighbor; what is good for one country is good for the whole world; and what harms any one of us harms us all.

That Kingdom-oriented vision in our shared ministry through One Great Hour of Sharing is much like the stream that runs through Isaiah’s Kingdom vision. Human-made constructs too often hinder human thriving.  A world built on that sort of imbalance is counter to God’s dream for creation. To help bring about that more just and abundant vision for humanity, One Great Hour of Sharing supports ministries around the world that create opportunities and empower communities. This includes:  farmers participating in educational opportunities and working to establish food security; volunteers preparing for a year of Christ-like service; Brethren pastors, leaders, and members sharing in meaningful conversations and events; and individuals encouraging people and rebuilding homes affected by disaster.

In many ways, our world was not prepared for the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic. But because of your past generosity through One Great Hour of Sharing, many communities were better prepared to meet the challenges presented by COVID-19. Through your past support, more people were equipped for the crisis and were empowered to prevent the spread of disease among their family and neighbors.

And when you continue to give generously, you continue to give life to people in need around the world. You continue to build on the dream of a world in which there is no thirst, no hunger, no suffering… just the abundance of life. 

When you share what God has provided, you “let love flow.” The love that we give—and the love that we receive from those who partner in ministry with us—crosses all sorts of spaces and dividing lines, knitting together a better human family, and bringing the Kingdom of God to earth in our time.

When you give to One Great Hour of Sharing, you support people near and far in tangible and spiritual ways. When you “let love flow,” lives are transformed—for the glory of God and our neighbor’s good.

The suggested date for this years One Great Hour of Sharing is March 21. Find worship resources or learn more at www.brethren.org/oghs.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

One Great Hour of Sharing 2021

Worship resources for the 2021 One Great Hour of Sharing of the Church of the Brethren

Community as a call for justice

Brethren Volunteer Service - winter The Volunteer newsletter

By Naomi Yilma, Brethren Volunteer Service Unit 325

“Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

According to a press release from the People’s Vaccine Alliance, 9 out of 10 people in poor countries are set to miss out on the COVID-19 vaccine in 2021, while rich countries have hoarded enough doses to vaccinate their entire populations nearly 3 times over. During a pandemic that has affected millions across the globe, the need for a beloved community becomes ever more urgent. This is a community that, according to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is based on the love of one’s fellow human beings and, in turn, puts the just treatment of all humans at the center of its values. In recognizing the humanity of those around us, we would work towards systems that give everyone in the community access to healthcare, food, and shelter, especially in crisis situations. In a beloved community, we would prioritize giving vaccines to those who bear the brunt of the health and economic fallout from the pandemic.

At my project with the Church of the Brethren’s Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, I have contributed to a series of blog posts on simple living, racial justice, environmental justice, and economic justice. My work so far has helped me recognize the interconnectedness of our society and the systems that exist within it. It has helped me recognize that systemic injustices that were fostered over decades play a huge role in magnifying the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 in Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. I have also learned that issues of justice are multidimensional and must be approached as such. In the words of former BVSer Susu Lassa, “Climate justice is economic justice and economic justice is racial justice.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached that the end goal of non-violence is a beloved community. As we build a beloved community that encompasses all forms of justice for all people, advocacy geared towards equitable distribution of resources and opportunities should take center stage.

This article was originally featured in the most recent issue of The Volunteer newsletter published by Brethren Volunteer Service. Learn more about this ministry of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/bvs or support it today at www.brethren.org/givebvs.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Make room

A woodcarving featured at New Carlisle Church of the Brethren.
Photo by Traci Rabenstein

By David Steele, general secretary

In these early days of 2021, I have found myself not only caught up in the unsettling events of recent weeks, but also reflecting on the last several years of life together in the Church of the Brethren. One cannot deny the pain, fear, brokenness, and division inside our church, neighborhoods, and world. The impact of the pandemic is real for many, but the cold and hollowness of division and the “us” versus “them” mentality pervades not only our culture but our church. Republican versus Democrat, progressive versus conservative, liberal versus evangelical, and the list goes on. The fences we have worked so hard to build in our neighborhoods—to protect ourselves from the things we fear or to keep those who do not believe like us on the other side—are now making it difficult for our neighbors to find us and, more significantly, making it difficult for us to reveal Jesus in our neighborhoods at a time when Jesus is needed most.

I grieve the place we have arrived in our life together, the families and congregations that have been torn apart by a vote, and the congregations, friends, and family who have left us. I mourn the loss of our ability to gather at the table to study scripture, pray, and have fellowship together without being suspicious of one another. I lament that we as the body of Christ struggle to celebrate the values, priorities, and hopes that we hold in common. And most of all, I regret that, for some, our faith in Christ and our commitment to follow him no longer seem to be enough.

During Advent, I was drawn to the words of the 2017 Casting Crown’s song Make Room. The song tells of the Savior’s birth into a fearful, lost, and hurting world, and offers the invitation to make room in our hearts for God’s story to be written in us and among us. This became my prayer for Advent and Christmas, and remains with me in this new year.

In this season of struggle and challenge, how are you making room in your heart for God’s unfolding story? Are you opening yourself to opportunities to participate in God’s redemptive work? I am excited about the renewed possibilities of God’s story within the Church of the Brethren as we prepare for our conversation and affirmation of the compelling vision at Annual Conference, together with the Mission and Ministry Board’s new strategic plan that is oriented around “Jesus in the Neighborhood.” These movements are worth celebrating.  However, before authentically finding this posture, we must make room in our hearts for a new chapter of God’s story by first acknowledging and praying for God’s blessings on those who feel called to ministry outside our fold, and second, by spending time in self reflection, repenting for:

  • failing to build up the body and contributing to division,
  • casting judgments on others and believing that we are right,
  • putting personal needs and preferences before the needs of others,
  • wielding power and influence against others,
  • using social media to tear down brothers and sisters in Christ,
  • believing that enforcing polity and policy will fix division and brokenness,
  • withholding prayerful (or other) support from the family of faith,
  • harboring a lack of grace and forgiveness,
  • diminishing the personhood of others and not loving our neighbor as ourselves, and
  • (add your own).

For us to make room in our hearts, we need to let go of what stands in the way of allowing God to write God’s story. In our broken and hurting world, country, and church, may we make a commitment to one another to make room in our hearts so that we can, with a renewed sense of call and purpose, be united in our efforts to live for Jesus in our neighborhoods.

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org or support them today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Service is never unbearable

BVS volunteer Evan Ulrich works at a Rebuilding project in Dayton, Ohio.
Photo courtesy of Evan Ulrich

By Evan Ulrich, member of Brethren Volunteer Service Unit 325

Dayton, Ohio, was never on my radar for places to live after I graduated from Juniata College. However, as a member of Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) Unit 325, I found myself signing up to spend my year of service with Brethren Disaster Ministries’ (BDM) Rebuilding Program.

And I am so glad I did. BVS helped steer me toward volunteering with BDM—an organization that allows Brethren (and anyone else willing to pick up a hammer) to act upon our shared belief of serving others. In that case, that means serving others by rebuilding homes that were destroyed or damaged by natural disasters.

What I find unique and remarkable about BDM is its long-term goal. Each site focuses on long-term recovery. After all the media coverage and initial assistance has died down, BDM comes in to pick up where others left off. Sometimes even years after a disaster there is still much work to be done.

As I write this there are two sites open for volunteers—one in Bayboro, N.C., to assist those hit by Hurricane Florence in 2018, and the other here in Dayton. Our site is located a few miles east of downtown, in a recently closed Presbyterian church. Our work encompasses the greater Dayton area as we help rebuild homes damaged when 15 devastating tornadoes ripped through the area on Memorial Day in 2019.

Due to the type of disaster, the majority of our work involves repairing damaged roofs, installing new siding, and performing interior repairs due to water damage. Hanging and finishing drywall seems to be a never-ending project. I’m getting lots of practice! The work can sometimes be tedious, hot, cold, and occasionally quite odorous. Added on top of this is the duty to keep everyone safe during the pandemic and adhering to all COVID-19 safety precautions.

But helping fellow humans through love is never unbearable. It is a true blessing and the highest privilege to lay your needs down and pick up the needs of a stranger. I am grateful for being able to see this occur every day with the volunteers who come out.

Being a part of the site long-term, I have the opportunity to see the timeline of recovery over its full span. Each week brings something new: a different set of volunteers, and a different energy. But what never ceases to amaze me is the amount of quality work that gets accomplished by even the most inexperienced group of volunteers. Everyone has an important job, no matter the skill set.

One survivor of a disaster expressed his gratitude by simply saying how nice it was to not have rain coming into his house. This short statement made me step back and realize how many comforts we take for granted—and how important it is for us to safely serve others through love.

Brethren Volunteer Service and Brethren Disaster Ministries are ministries of the Church of the Brethren. Support them today at www.brethren.org/give.

This reflection was originally featured in
Messenger magazine.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)