Hold our feet to the path

Nancy McCrickard sharing at a virtual staff meeting of the Church of the Brethren.

By Nancy McCrickard, Mission Advancement advocate

We hear in Psalm 66:9, “He holds our lives in his hands, and he holds our feet to the path” (TLB).

Take a moment and look at your feet. What shoes are you wearing today? Take one off and hold it up. Are you wearing heels? Or flats? Tennis shoes? Or work boots?

At the end of October 2022, I donned my tennis shoes–and my apron–to volunteer for a week (in between the Church of the Brethren District Conference schedule) at the Brethren Disaster Ministries project site in Waverly, Tenn.

This was an incredible opportunity to show that love is more than a word–to demonstrate love in action. It was eye-opening to live in the disaster-affected neighborhood, inspiring to hear firsthand survivor stories, moving to witness firsthand the devastation, and exciting to connect “around the table” with fellow volunteers. It was hard work. Daily I helped prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the volunteers, and cleaned our living space, common bathrooms, and showers. I came away knowing that it truly takes everyone–with all abilities (and who wear varying types of shoes during their “day jobs”)–to be of service to our neighbors!

I’d like to share with you a glimpse of this experience:

“I hear…(on the television news)…and I forget.”
“I see…(in the newspaper)…and I remember.”
“I do…and I understand (better).”
– Confucius

A quote by Cathy Allen causes me to pause: “Life brings simple pleasures to us every day. It is up to us to make them wonderful memories.”

My week serving on this project brings so many cherished memories to mind: after dinner conversations with fellow volunteers, walking to local stores to purchase last-minute grocery items, and, my highlight, meal preparation with Doretta (simple tasks, yet now cherished memories). I realize, now more than ever before, that it is all about the people–the people we serve and those we serve with!

My fellow volunteers of “The Fun Bunch”

We are a people of service. May we be ever watchful for how we can “hold our feet to the path” and make Christ’s footprints more visible in neighborhoods across the country and around the world!

So let’s put on our shoes and enjoy the day!

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren that make the footprints of Jesus visible in the neighborhood at www.brethren.org/greatthings or support them today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Living as servant leaders

Photos courtesy of Chris Elliott

A reflection by Chris Elliott about ministry for the Church of the Brethren in Rwanda

Among my favorite places on the planet is the little village of Gasiza in Rwanda. Nestled in the Virunga mountains, it isn’t exactly remote, as it’s less than a one hour drive from our home in Gisenyi. But a good bit of the journey is over very poor roads, giving one the impression that it’s farther out than it really is. 

The location is so beautiful that it might be described as stunning. The farms are well maintained and very productive. There are onions, cabbages, potatoes, beans, tomatoes, maize, bananas, eggplant, mangoes, avocados – and the list goes on. One hears dairy cows lowing and sheep bleating in the background. The view is incredible. On a clear day you can see Lake Kivu in the distance, as well as the volcano Mt. Niyirigongo in neighboring Congo. 

But the real reason it is one of my favorite spots is the Gasiza Church of the Brethren. The congregation is led by Peter Claver Habimana, a fifty-something man with a dear little wife, Mama Josephine, and a family of eight children. When a younger man, he was, by his own description, a drunkard and an atheist. God miraculously saved him and changed his life. He eventually became the pastor of a Pentecostal church and ultimately joined the Brethren in 2015.

Pastor Claver, as we call him, doesn’t have much education. He is though, a very gifted preacher, with a big heart. He works very hard as a bi-vocational pastor. Along with service to the church he is a carpenter and a farmer. His embodiment of a solid work ethic is powerful in an environment where many pastors are expecting others to do and provide for them. As a student at the Great Lakes Bible School (GLBS), Pastor Claver is learning English, applying previously learned Bible knowledge, and just as importantly, serving as a wonderful example for others.

One of the key teachings we are emphasizing in the Great Lakes Bible School is servant leadership. While pastors are indeed leaders of people, pastors are also servants. I suppose that most would recognize the importance of a pastor’s submission to the Master Jesus Christ. But all too often, leaders are subsequently expecting their church members to be in submission to them, rather than leading with the understanding that we all are in submission to each other (Ephesians 5:21).

Another important feature of GLBS is the mix of students and faculty. Age, education and experience range across the spectrum. At 66, I’m the oldest one. Our view is that the older ones will mentor the younger and that the younger bring energy and vitality. It has been heartwarming to watch the interactions among the students. The mentoring is quite obviously taking place, but the energy is also apparent, not only from the younger to the elder, but a mutual iron-sharpening-iron. Even though pastors like Claver are the seasoned ones, there is no attitude of superiority.

This past Sunday, Theoneste (principal/head teacher) and I, along with our two Burundian students made the road trip to Gasiza for morning worship. We arrived at 9 as the folks were just gathering. The music started promptly, with lots of dancing to accompany the singing. The four choirs took turns leading the congregation as the pastor intermittently spoke and read from the Scriptures. The guest preacher (me) shared for a half hour or so. After a closing song and prayer, the service concluded shortly before noon.

As the congregation dispersed, we stayed behind with the pastor and deacons. A feast was spread before us of beef, potatoes, rice, beans and Fanta. I noticed that neither the pastor nor his wife were eating. They were both busy ensuring that everyone else was taken care of. Finally, when all were served, they sat down to eat their own meal. I pointed this out to Theoneste. He said, “You’re right – they are servant leaders.” It is my prayer that all of our church leaders here in the Africa Great Lakes region will learn by their example.

Learn more about the Church of the Brethren in Rwanda at www.brethren.org/global or support the Office of Global Mission at www.brethren.org/givegms.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

It’s time to share

It’s time to share

A theme reflection and scriptural exegesis written by Rev. Barbara Essex for the 2023 One Great Hour of Sharing

“So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all.” ~Galatians 6:9-10, The Message

“Give a person a fish and you feed them for one day. Teach a person to fish and you feed them forever.”* The meaning of this phrase seems clear—take care of a need now or empower others to do for themselves. 

While the Apostle Paul does not talk about fishing or hunger or food insecurity in his letter to the Galatians, he does talk about how Christians are to live: generously helping and caring for others.  

In Paul’s day, more than half of the population lived at or below subsistence level, barely able to make ends meet. Many died prematurely due to malnutrition and ailments that resulted from lack of healthy and plentiful food. Most people—adults and children—experienced food insecurity.

Those who had money and power contributed to building roads and water systems, and hosted lavish banquets for their colleagues. Their public displays of generosity were often self-serving, though: the bigger and more public their acts of giving, the more they were esteemed in the eyes of those they wanted to impress. Acts of charity, on any scale to make a difference for those in need, were few and far between. Government safety nets were non-existent.

Paul understands that God raises the bar on community life—the care of the poor and vulnerable; the use of resources to benefit those who really need help; loving one’s neighbor; caring for the environment; and advocating social justice so all can live and thrive. For Paul, communities grounded in Jesus’ sacrificial life and death are to practice radical hospitality and generosity: making a place for all and using financial resources to help those who really need help. Community life means meeting immediate needs (giving fish) and working for long-term progress (teaching to fish). Food security requires both.

Paul also understands that radical hospitality and generosity are tiring. The needs of people keep growing. The call to help and to share is insistent, urgent, unending, exhausting. Paul reminds the Galatians that their communities are different; they are shaped and sustained by God’s Spirit. Their loving acts are responses to God’s own loving acts towards each of them. God keeps on giving, and so should they.

Paul compares sacrificial, communal love to harvesting. So much is needed for a bountiful harvest, and anything can disrupt its outcome. Embedded in harvesting is fatigue, uncertainty, and anxiety—yet, the planting, pruning, and tending are done as one waits, in hope, for the outcome. 

Paul encourages the Galatians, and us, to look at the bigger picture. Guided and strengthened by God’s Spirit, we are called to work, plant, grow, and produce until the final harvest day—the harvest that marks the fulfillment of God’s Reign, already started and yet to be completed in God’s own time.

Perhaps we grow weary because we do not know if our efforts truly make a difference. Will our dollars improve the devastating effects of climate change? Will our contributions feed every hungry person in the world? Do our ministries adequately address the spiritual needs of our community? How can we know if our gifts are worth it?

The One Great Hour of Sharing of the Church of the Brethren answers these questions. Whether a person has hunger in their body or soul, the work we do together as the body of Christ can make a difference. Your gifts help the Global Food Initiative and Brethren Disaster Ministries to respond to immediate and long-term hunger issues, no matter the cause, both locally and globally. With the help of your partnership, Discipleship Ministries and Global Mission offer hope in places near and far.

We cannot physically be everywhere or see all the results with our own eyes, but through your generous offerings and special gifts, you help promote the loving community that Paul advocates. Through One Great Hour of Sharing YOU are reaching into the world; working in partnership with people we will never meet, yet with whom we are connected. Your contributions are transforming lives for generations to come and are part of the harvest into which Paul invites us. Your gifts bring the reign/kindom of God closer to us all.

We can make a difference. We do make a difference. Your generosity makes all the difference in the world.

There is power in doing good and changing the lives of others. We cannot grow weary or quit—lives are at stake. God’s Spirit energizes and re-energizes us when we get tired. God helps us to help others.

The need has never been greater. Let us continue this good work. Let us stay energized. Let us give generously. The opportunity is now. It’s time to share.

Find this and other worship resources for the 2023 One Great Hour of Sharing (suggested date: March 19) at www.brethren.org/oghs or give an offering today at www.brethren.org/giveoffering.

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* A version of this phrase appeared 138 years ago in Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie’s novel, Mrs. Dymond, believed to be the first instance of its use.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)