Concerning love and trains

Photo by John Wood

By Nancy McCrickard

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” ~Corinthians 13:13, NIV

Would you join me in a cheer (Saying what is in the parentheses below aloud or writing them down)?
Give me an “L.” (“L”)
Give me an “O” (“O”)
Give me a “V” (“V”)
Give me an “E” (“E”)
What does that spell? (Love.)
Say it again! (Love!)

In my role as a Mission Advancement advocate for the Church of the Brethren, I essentially serve as a cheerleader for our ministries and all who support our shared work through their time, talent, and resources. You might call this a ministry of encouragement. Our team celebrates the generosity of supporters like you who share the love of God with others–near and far–through giving to our mission and ministries.

Do you like to ride on trains? In the B.C. era (before COVID, that is), I would ride the train quite often–especially to travel from my home in Maryland to the General Offices in Elgin, Ill. to attend Mission and Ministry Board meetings each Fall and Spring. Traci Rabenstein, our director of Mission Advancement, would even board the train along the way in Pennsylvania, and we would travel together.

During the time on the train, I’ve noticed many things along the way–particularly that riding the train gives ample time, not only to watch beautiful scenery pass by, but to think and reflect on whatever comes to mind. After all, there are no driving responsibilities, and while on the train there’s no rushing to get from one place to the next. Trust me, my mind has pursued many “trains of thought” during these trips. (I even keep a running list of them.)

What does love have to do with a train? To keep a train moving forward, someone must care enough to give it fuel and keep the engine and its parts running smoothly. It involves the faithful service of a team to ensure safe passage from one location to the next. To continue this train of thought:  those of us who serve as staff of the Church of the Brethren know full well that your gifts of love fuel our ministries. Your prayers, provisions, and acts of service provide continued momentum for our missions locally and globally. The ways that you care for those in your congregation and in your community help us continue the work of Jesus. With your faithful support, we can move forward together and enjoy the beautiful view that God reveals along the way. (If we kept a running list of the ways we’ve seen God working in the life of the church, I wonder how long it would be?)

Thank you for being a member of our team. We are grateful for how you support and participate in the work of the Church of the Brethren. It’s a blessing to partner with you and to experience the journey together.

Learn more about our faith-building and life-changing ministries at or support them today at

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Lessons on the road

By Chris Elliott

By Chris Elliott, a farmer and pastor from Pennsylvania who is serving with his daughter, Grace, in Rwanda on behalf of the Office of Global Mission

The other morning, Papa Timo and I delivered several sacks of feed to the pig farm (Global Food Initiative supported). Anytime we go somewhere together, Papa Timo will typically ask me to drive. I’m not certain of the psychology behind that, but I really don’t mind. Driving in Africa is quite a bit different that it is in the US. Though there are fewer cars and trucks on the road, the number of bicycles, motorcycles, farm animals and pedestrians can be overwhelming. At first I was extremely nervous, and while that has diminished significantly, I’m still very cautious.

There are a few paved roads, but most are very rough and rocky country roads. Drivers are constantly looking for the path of least resistance, weaving back and forth attempting to dodge the rocks, ruts, mud and washouts. Papa Timo’s main vehicle is a 1990’s Toyota Land Cruiser. It is essentially a pickup truck chassis with a station wagon body, making it ideal for carrying people and cargo over the bumps.

On this particular day, as we approached a spot where the road dips down sharply through a steep ravine, a queue of bicycles loaded with potatoes was waiting to traverse one at a time. With a couple hundred kilos of produce on their bikes, it was necessary to help each other hold back on the downside and push on the upside. A few 5-to-7-year-old boys jumped in to help. After a brief delay, we passed through and were on our way.

In the center of the village, we encountered a score of young men standing around with their hoes and shovels hoping to be hired for the day. All farm work is done with hand tools; there are no tractors or farm machinery. Unlike Americans, Rwandans don’t do things alone and will hire day laborers for the job. The locals have a word for plowing, cultivating, and harvesting that translates to “digging.”

Biblical allusions come quickly to mind. In the parable of the unjust steward, the steward said, “I cannot dig” (Luke 16:3). And, of course, there is the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) where the workers are waiting in the village square to be hired for the day. Coming from a farm background, I have always felt that “us farmers” have an edge on most others when it comes to understanding Jesus’ parables. Now I realize how much closer these folks are to the Bible’s truth because they live in it so much more fully every day.

Even Jesus’ words in The Lord’s Prayer come to life in a richer way:  “Give us this day our daily bread” (Luke 11:3). I have often made the remark that the average unemployed person in the US is better off than the average employed person most anywhere else in the world. This isn’t meant to trivialize the pain that any one individual might be experiencing, but for us to recognize that a very large number of people worldwide live on a dollar or two a day. They are literally trusting God for something to eat today, one day at a time. I’m gaining a new perspective on hunger and malnutrition.

When I’m out on the road I’ll be alert to the hazards. And I’ll keep my eyes open for the Bible lessons, too.

Find more updates about the ministry of Chris and Grace with the Church of the Brethren in Rwanda at or support their work today at

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Community recovery

Photos by Helen Wolf

By Jenn Dorsch‐Messler, director of Brethren Disaster Ministries

As we come to the end of Brethren Disaster Ministries’ Memorial Day 2019 tornado recovery project in the Dayton, Ohio, area it is wonderful to think of some of the highlights that have made it unlike most BDM rebuilding projects. These include the local district answering the call to serve wherever needed, a recovery community that continued to assist even during a pandemic, and a new program which was formed to serve a group of survivors not often helped after a disaster.

The Southern Ohio/Kentucky District stepped up in ways not usually seen on other BDM national projects where the closest Brethren church is typically hundreds of miles away. For months, beginning within days of the tornados, there were district volunteers helping to clear trees, tarp roofs, and canvas neighborhoods looking for those in need of help. District disaster coordinators Burt and Helen Wolf began coordinating with volunteers in the Dayton area even though they were away serving on the Coastal North Carolina rebuilding site when the tornados hit. Later they and other BDM representatives collaborated with others in the community in the formation of the Miami Valley Long-term Recovery Operations Group, which planned the next steps in the recovery of the whole community.

Following the initial work by district volunteers and leaders, a national BDM program rebuilding site was scheduled to open in April 2020. Everything about life and plans changed around that time, however, altering the timeline and halting all rebuilding work.

The global pandemic brought a lot of challenges and unknown factors, including travel recommendations that restricted travel for volunteers from outside the Dayton area. By July 2020, however, local volunteers from BDM and other organizations were able to join together to begin serving survivors. The long-term BDM disaster project leadership, typically provided by those who travel to serve on a site, was led by Christi “Sammy” Deacon, Phil Deacon, and Rex Miller, who served for many months within an hour of their homes.

The reduction in volunteerism and funding for most volunteer groups made it clear that if organizations did not work together in the safest way possible, families would be left out of their homes for even longer. And so, after a necessary delay to develop COVID-19 protocols and put them in place, non-profits in the area began new partnerships to work for homeowners with new ways to physically be in each other’s presence.

By August 2020, the project volunteer housing was opened and BDM volunteers from other states who agreed to observe the strict COVID-19 protocol began serving in Dayton. The project remained open through November 2020 and then again from April-October 2021. During this time, the number of volunteers able or willing to serve across all organizations was lower than usual, which made the local community even more thankful for those who came to serve.

The last rebuild that BDM worked on belonged to Ms. Lillie, who had part of the roof blown off two rooms in her home by the tornado. BDM’s volunteers helped her by saving thousands of dollars in contractor fees. Few days went by without Ms. Lillie coming by to say thank you or her neighbors in the tightknit community stopping to share their appreciation. A neighbor even purchased lunch for all the volunteers one day as a thank you for helping Ms. Lillie finally get back into her home after over two and a half years.

A focus other than repairing storm-damaged houses developed when a new set of public and private partners created the Tornado Survivor Pathways to Homeownership program (referred to as Pathways). This program supports renters, who had lost their housing due to the tornados, to return to their home neighborhoods and to purchase new or rehabilitated properties. Thanks to technology, the planning for this program took place virtually. The groundbreaking on the first home was on March 29, 2021. BDM volunteers have served on five of these Pathways houses. The first former renter/new homeowner moved in at the end of the BDM project.

Although scheduled to end in September 2021, the Dayton site was extended and the last group of national BDM volunteers left on Oct. 30. Incredibly, and in God’s timing, as local district volunteers closed out the remaining work in Dayton, another group of Southern Ohio/Kentucky District volunteers arrived in North Carolina on Oct. 31 as the first group to return to the Coastal NC project.

Thank you to all who volunteered, donated, and prayed for community recovery in Dayton!

This reflection was originally featured in Bridges,the newsletter of Brethren Disaster Ministries. Learn more about the work of Brethren Disaster Ministries at or support its work today at

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)