Planting gardens in difficult days

By Jeffrey Boshart, manager of the Global Food Initiative

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.”
– Jeremiah 29:5, NIV

These are strange and difficult days. If you are like me, this year is not turning out like you had hoped. (This may be the biggest understatement ever!) My travel plans for the Global Food Initiative (GFI) in the spring and summer were cancelled. Our family’s spring break vacation was taken off the calendar. I was planning to host visitors from Haiti and Nigeria this summer, and that did not happen. COVID-19 brought many inconveniences for us; however, the reality for our international partners involves very real hardship, not just a change in schedule. 

A pastor in Honduras reported that there have been families in her community who cannot go to work and cannot purchase diapers or food for their children. A friend in Ecuador shared how fear swept the country after a rapid spread of the virus and many lives were lost in a major city. In Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Haiti, stay-at-home rules from the government were not accompanied by relief bills, unemployment checks, or any form of assistance, and therefore, staying at home meant going hungry.

Through the bad news and uncertainty about the future, I am encouraged by our partners around the world who have unwavering faith and hope that God will bring us through. They share the belief that it is important for Christ-followers to witness to their neighbors in word and deed, especially during these times. Like the Israelites exiled in Babylon, they continue to plant gardens and fields. This is also true here in the US where churches are using GFI grants for community gardens. During this pandemic, people are committed to doing more, reaching out more, and serving their neighbors sacrificially. Please prayerfully consider how you can help our sisters and brothers during this time of great need.

Your generosity to the Global Food Initiative prepares us to respond. Over the past year, we responded to requests for assistance from 27 partner organizations in 10 countries and in the US. The total amount provided in grants was more than $200,000! In 2020, the GFI continues to receive calls for support at a time of a global financial crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you for being part of this important ministry and empowering many to plant gardens in these difficult days.

Learn more about the Global Food Initiative of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/gfi or support its ministry today at www.brethren.org/givegfi.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

The road that makes all the difference

Photo by Traci Rabenstein

By Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”
-Matthew 4:1


During my junior and senior years in high school, I joined speech club. We would select readings (whether original pieces or stories, published articles, or famous poetry) to present for a panel of judges who would critique our delivery. Competitions were placed in categories, and the one I fell in love with, and participated in the most, was poetry reading.

While in speech club, I found Robert Frost. He had a few poems published in the US in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but it wasn’t until his family moved to England that he wrote and published two books of poetry that were successful immediately. In 1915, he returned to New England and continued to write. He won four Pulitzer Prizes for poetry and became the Poet Laureate Consultant for Poetry for the Library of Congress from 1958-59. He recited his poem “The Gift Outright” at the 1961 inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. Out of all his work, my favorite was (and still is) “The Road Not Taken.”

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
 
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
 
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
 
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

In the September 2015 issue of the Paris Review online magazine, David Orr wrote a review of the poem in which he said, “Most readers consider ‘The Road Not Taken’ to be a paean to triumphant self-assertion… but the literal meaning of the poem’s speaker tells us … the road he will later call less traveled is actually the road equally traveled. The two roads are interchangeable.”

I see parallels of this in my own journey. There are times when I stand before two decisions, two roads, and have to determine which one to take. Sometimes, after making a decision and heading down one pathway, I wonder what might have been if I had made the opposite decision. Would it have been easier to travel on the other road?

Over the past several months, we have found ourselves on a road not traveled often. One where we have had to shelter-in-place, wear masks when we are in public places, and learn how to stay connected in new, virtual ways as families and congregations. For some, this has been a season of slowing down and reflecting, taking time to identify what is most important. Some of us have been taking measures to slow down after realizing that the pace we had been living pre-pandemic was not the road we necessarily wanted to be on.

I’ve also been thinking about the road Christ journeyed. In the 40 days after Jesus’ baptism, he traveled into the wilderness and was tempted by Satan. Matthew and Luke provide examples of how Satan tried to entice Jesus into revealing himself as God’s son before the appointed time. I marvel at the willpower he had as someone who had been fasting and wandering alone in such a solitary place. Satan tried to divert him to another path, but he stayed the course of preparing for what was to come and taking the road “less traveled.”

In our own lives, when the hardships of humanity seem to hold us back, pressuring us to take “the other (road), as just as fair / And having perhaps the better claim / Because it was grassy and wanted wear,” we can look to the temptation of Jesus. From him we find how to address the stresses of life, face daily temptations, and find solace.  By following the path of Christ, we remain near to God and find strength and hope to stay in tune with his will and recognize his movements in our lives. This is the road, the “one less traveled by,” that makes all the difference.

The Office of Mission Advancement works to cultivate passion for the missions and ministries of the Church of the Brethren.  If you have any questions or if there is any way they can support you in this season, please reach out to MA@brethren.org.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Together: Living unto the Lord


www.brethren.org/missionoffering
Photo courtesy of Ruch Matos and Santos Terrero 

By Carol and Norm Waggy, interim directors of Global Mission

“So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.”
~Romans 14:12, NIV

We live in very trying times. With each passing day, it seems that there are ever more opportunities for disagreement and division. How do we respond at different stages of the pandemic? What should we think about social unrest? Who should we call upon for leadership? Even with much communal reflection and discussion, these topics can lead us to more questions than answers, and when disagreements occur, it can seem easier to find comfort with like-minded people than find common ground with those who think differently.

In Romans 14:1-12, Paul encourages the church in Rome to address differences and conflict with forbearance. We all belong to the Lord and we will all be accountable to God. Therefore, we should not pass judgment on our brothers and sisters when they make decisions that differ from our own. Again, examples of these differences abound and include:

– responses to COVID-19 restrictions (Is it the weak or the strong who wear masks?)
– theological differences (How do we love those who differ from us in our interpretation of scripture?)
– political differences (How do we function in unity as we approach an increasingly divisive election?)

On these issues and more, we are accountable to God when we make observations or decisions. William Greenway in Feasting on the Word shares:

“If you see any controversy dividing today’s church as a basis for exclusion of fellowship, Paul is speaking to you. Paul is not suggesting that we should stop advocating for our respective views. …Paul’s concern and passion here is the spirit of Christians who are arguing, not the rectitude of their position” (p.62).

As long as this life lasts, tension and conflict will exist. However, through loving one another and surrendering ourselves to the Lord, we can live as the body of Christ in the world. May the words of Paul both challenge and comfort you and your congregation in these (and future) trying times.

This reflection was written as a sermon starter for the 2020 Mission Offering of the Church of the Brethren. Find this and other worship resources or give an offering today at www.brethren.org/giveoffering.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

As the world changes… our goals stay the same

Read a Brethren Volunteer Service reflection by Alexander McBride
Alexander McBride from Brethren Volunteer Service Unit 322

By Alexander McBride, Brethren Volunteer Service Unit 322

Life at my project at Snowcap Community Charities has drastically changed in the past couple of months. Back in March we were able to bring clients into the pantry where they could select what food they wanted. However, within a couple of weeks our operations completely changed because of the threat from the COVID-19 pandemic. To keep our clients safe, we began distributing food boxes to them outside of the building and added changes to volunteer scheduling meant that there were some friends I did not see for several weeks. All of this coincided with a major adjustment to my living arrangement as my housemates were all recalled home early to Germany because of the virus, leaving me by myself. In a matter of a couple of weeks, the world around me had completely changed. How things were in February started to become like a distant memory.

Regardless of these changes, the core mission of SnowCap remains the same: providing food to those in need. Now more than ever, people need help to have enough food to make it through the week. It is wonderful to provide some food security during these tough times. The pandemic has even opened some new opportunities to provide food aid to more people. Earlier in May, Snowcap teamed up with the city of Gershan to hold a distribution drive, handing out food boxes to locals who needed them. Even during a time of great turmoil and change, my project’s mission has not changed, providing some form of stability in my changing life. Our lives may be going through a period of great change, but we must never lose focus of our goals in life. We must always strive to humbly serve those in need and bridge the gaps of inequities.

Learn more about Brethren Volunteer Service at www.brethren.org/bvs or support it today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Hope in every seed


Marigolds from Nancy McCrickard’s home garden.

By Nancy McCrickard, Mission Advancement advocate

During the “safer at home” restrictions this spring in response to COVID-19, did you plant anything—in the ground or in pots? For the first time in over a decade at our home, we planted various vegetable plants and several types of flowers. We even planted a few of them from seeds. This reminded me of growing up on a farm in West Virginia when we grew plants to sell to folks in the community.

Each spring, my family planted a variety of seeds in our two large greenhouses, transplanted the seedlings into our outside gardens when it was warm enough, and then tended the plants all summer – harvesting the produce as it matured, eating it fresh or preserving it for later consumption by canning or freezing. In addition to the vegetable gardens, we also planted numerous pots and areas of our yard with a variety of flowers (including some of my favorites like zinnias, scarlet sage, petunias, and marigolds).

While the growing process begins with planting the seeds, nourishing and tending those seeds (and subsequent young seedlings) to optimize their ability to produce a harvest or a beautiful flower is also important. As a youth, I can remember spending countless hours in our gardens, cultivating the soil and pulling the weeds that seemed to grow nonstop. In order to grow and produce a harvest, seeds must also receive sunlight and water. Overall, tending seeds or seedlings requires diligence and patience.

As we read scripture, we often find references to planting seeds of faith. Once Jesus was teaching and said:

 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. . . . (and) the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop” (Luke 8:11, 15; NIV).

From a Church of the Brethren perspective, how might this be applicable to daily life? How might this be embodied, for example, by a denomination that upholds “doing what Jesus did,” often through acts of service?

From my viewpoint, placing a value on service does not just happen spontaneously; we need to plant seeds of faith and service in those we encounter and then nurture those seeds. Whether vegetable seeds, flower seeds, or seeds of faith, tending those seeds happens over the lifetime of the plant (not just once) and is a continual process!

Did you know that plants can influence one another? l did not realize it at the time, but when planting our vegetable and flower gardens, my parents often did some “companion planting.” This method involves placing certain plants together to both improve growth and repel insects.

Like plants, people also can influence each other. In terms of “companions” and “influencers,” Dr. Laurent Daloz performed a study of people who lived lives of service to others and noted that “generosity was something learned in the first three decades of life” (“Can Generosity Be Taught?” Essay on Philanthropy No. 29. Indianapolis: Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, 1998).

The study also noted that the following was true of those generous individuals:

  1. They grew up in a home hospitable to the wider world.
  2. They had a parent that was publicly active.
  3. They had participated in religious or youth groups.
  4. They had contact with people who modeled public service.

According to another report (“Next Gen Donors: Respecting Legacy, Revolutionizing Philanthropy.” Allendale, MI: Johnson Center for Philanthropy, 2013) research further indicates that individuals involved in service are influenced extensively by:

  • Parents (89%);
  • Grandparents (63%);
  • Close friends (56%); and
  • Peers (47%).

In short, all of us have a profound impact on those near and dear to us. When we nurture generosity in our own lives, we can inspire others to do the same.

As a Mission Advancement advocate, I advocate for and strive to nurture generosity on behalf of the ministries of the Church of the Brethren: generosity of time, generosity of talent, and generosity of resources—all forms of service. I am, essentially, a generosity cheerleader!

Recognizing how important it is to do this work together in community, I invite you to join our Church of the Brethren cheer squad and consider your own “call to service.” How might you serve as a “generosity seed planter” for those you encounter? How might you be a role model/companion plant for generosity of time, talent, and resources? How might you help produce a bountiful crop?

Remember, there is hope in each seed! Happy planting at any time of year!

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

Building community in the time of a pandemic

The Everyday Ubuntu book discussion group earlier this month.

By LaDonna Nkosi, the director of Intercultural Ministries

The time of quarantine and sheltering in place has given us opportunities to connect and be in conversation together in new ways. Since March, Intercultural Ministries of the Church of the Brethren has been hosting #ConversationsTogether and online discussions about the book Everyday Ubuntu: Living Better Together the African Way.

I have very much enjoyed hosting #ConversationsTogether.  It has been a highlight each week to gather with people from across the denomination to listen and share stories as we journey together in reading and discussing Everyday Ubuntu. The chapters entitled “Put Yourself in the Shoes of Others,” “Strength Lies in Unity,” “Choose to See the Wider Perspective,”  “The Power of Forgiveness” and “Have Dignity and Respect for Yourself and Others” are just a handful of topics that have guided our conversation. We also were able to have a discussion with the author, Mungi Ngomane, and Brethren from both the US and Africa were in attendance. Mungi is a peace and justice advocate, a board member of the Tutu Foundation, and the granddaughter of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, and it was a blessing to talk with her.

Carolyn Fitzkee of Lancaster (Pa.) Church of the Brethren said, “Being an introvert, this online Zoom experience has stretched me out of my ‘comfort zone.’ I have been blessed by meeting new people from across the denomination and challenged in my faith by studying the concept of ‘ubuntu.’ I especially enjoyed finding scriptures to go along with each lesson.” 

Michaela Alphonse, pastor of Miami (Fla.) First Church of the Brethren shared, “The book discussion group has created a space to talk about race and justice, what it means to live in an interdependent society, and what it looks like to be in relationship with one another.”  

Reading and discussing Everyday Ubuntu has helped us “have a deeper respect for one another, in spite of major differences,” said Eric Anspaugh Central (Va.) Church of the Brethren of Roanoke.  “I am learning so much about myself and experiencing the insights of others.”

Ellen Whitcare Wile of Easton (Md.) Church of the Brethren shared that she has appreciated “talking with others from wide and varied experiences about how it is possible to build unity by working together.” She continued, “In order to live prosperously together, it is so important to reconcile where needed, and be truthful and respectful of each other.”

In what ways are you being in community in this season? How are you, your church, family, or community connecting with others during this time? Churches from around the denomination are connecting online and in other ways to break through isolation and build community. Virlina District and Central Church of the Brethren in Roanoke have welcomed more than 50 people in an online book discussion of The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby.  Harrisburg (Pa.) First Church of the Brethren will be discussing this book also.  Peace Covenant (N.C.) Church of the Brethren will be reading and discussing How to Be an Anti-racist by Ibram X. Kendi.

If you’re interested in joining a discussion:

> Connect online for #JourneyThroughJulyandAugust, an online series of racial justice and intercultural educational posts at the Intercultural Ministries Facebook page (www.facebook.com/interculturalcob).  #JourneyThroughJulyandAugust is co-hosted by the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy and Intercultural Ministries.

> Join us Thursday, Aug. 6, 1 p.m. Eastern Time for “What It Means to Be an Anti-racist Church in These Times,” an interview with Rev. Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim, professor of Theology at Earlham School of Religion.  She is the author of books including Reimagining Spirit, Keeping Hope Alive: The Sermons of Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. and co-author of Intercultural Ministry. This event is co-hosted by the Office of Ministry and Intercultural Ministries.

However you are able to connect with us and the larger church in this season, may the Lord bless you!

Learn more about Intercultural Ministries at www.brethren.org/intercultural, receive resources by joining the Intercultural Ministries email list at www.brethren.org/intouch, or support this Core Ministry of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/givediscipleship.

Bearing witness to the peace of Christ

By Nathan Hosler, director of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy

The Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, a witness of the Church of the Brethren, represents, organizes, and educates as a part of the historic and living commitment to embodying Christ’s peace in the world. We do this as part of denominational staff in support of and in partnership with congregations and individuals. As participants in the broader body, we contributed to and are now living into the compelling vision. Though the process of Annual Conference consideration of the compelling vision has been postponed a year, we are reflecting on how our ministry fits within it. The vision statement reads,

Together, as the Church of the Brethren, we will passionately live and share the radical transformation and holistic peace of Jesus Christ through relationship-based neighborhood engagement. To move us forward, we will develop a culture of calling and equipping disciples who are innovative, adaptable, and fearless.

As with any vision statement, we are challenged and invited to explore how the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy is already living this but also how we may need to modify our work. For example, there is sometimes tension between radical transformation and holistic peace and our work. Our work typically is slow, building over long periods, and growing with smaller steps. This often includes efforts to simply limit harm. An example of this is our work to fulfill the 2013 Annual Conference resolution on drone warfare. Through the faith-based working group we helped start, we have worked to reduce civilian casualties and to have these deaths accounted for and documented. These aims feel quite far from the transformation and holistic peace to which we aspire. They may feel like merely tinkering with (rather than transforming) violence; however, our office helped adopt a statement that is significant. This was one of the first official statements from a church raising these concerns.

This statement and these years of work are part of the broader ecumenical and interfaith community. These relationships and partnerships across church and religious lines are a form of the relationship-based neighborhood engagement called for in the compelling vision. As such, our work is both in regard to calling and equipping disciples within the Church of the Brethren and in service to the broader church. It also bears witness to the peace of Christ in the face of our nation’s tendency toward war and is part of efforts to support peacemaking globally.

Whether we are working with Intercultural Ministries to address racism,  Brethren Disaster Ministries to address the pandemic, or the National Council of Churches, or preaching at a local congregation, we aim to equip (and be equipped) as disciples who are innovative, adaptable, and fearless for the glory of God and for our neighbor’s good. Together, we embody the peace of Christ in the world.

Learn more about the Office Peacebuilding and Policy of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/peacebuilding or support its ministry today at www.brethren.org/giveopp .

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Caring for neighbors around the world

Carol and Norm Spicher Waggy with Emmanuel, head of the Rural Health Training program, in Garkida, Nigeria in 2016.
Photo courtesy of Roxane Hill

By Carol and Norm Spicher Waggy, interim directors of Global Mission

“‘Which of these three [the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan] do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’
The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’
Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” ~Luke 10:36-37


Question: What do the following 11 countries have in common:  Brazil, Dominican Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, India, Nigeria, Rwanda, Spain, Uganda, the United States of America, and Venezuela? 

Answer: These countries all have active Church of the Brethren denominations. This is not counting the numerous other countries where the US Church of the Brethren (that “not so big church”) is helping others through programs such as Brethren Volunteer ServiceGlobal Food Initiative, and Brethren Disaster Ministries grants.

Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan in response to the question of “who is my neighbor?” The implied answer is “anyone in need.” In today’s troubled world, doesn’t that mean everyone, everywhere?

For us to share Jesus in our neighborhood now means sharing Jesus in a global society. If the coronavirus epidemic has taught us anything, it is how interconnected we are with the whole world. A virus that initially impacted one city spread to virtually every country in the world within weeks.

A relative reached out to us last month after receiving her stimulus check. She was aware that many people are desperately in need of this additional financial help. However, she recognized she was fortunate that this was a surplus for her.  She asked for advice as to where she might share it to do the most good. She was not surprised that we endorsed the Church of the Brethren as a reliable and responsible recipient of any donation. We discussed the importance of giving to help people in need around the world as well as locally to help small businesses.

Some of our Church of the Brethren brothers and sisters in other countries cannot do their regular day-labor jobs due to government restrictions as a result of the pandemic. Consequently, there is no food that night for their family. There are others who, as immigrants, do not qualify for back-up support from government programs. Members of the Church of the Brethren family around the world are struggling and suffering due to the coronavirus. In addition to this affliction, in another country our Church of the Brethren congregations were impacted by a flood that destroyed 3,500 homes, on top of recent losses of jobs and food due to the pandemic.

As we relate to our partner churches in other countries, we are very aware that our financial resources are greater than theirs, so we want to give money to address their needs. But, even more, we want to be family to them, not banks simply handing out checks.

We pray that you will join us in being the presence of Jesus in our global neighborhood. To us, this means bringing healing and hope, relief and support, and encouragement and prayers to our partners as they share Jesus in their local neighborhoods. Peacefully, simply, together, we go into the world to make disciples—yes, especially in these difficult times. Thank you for supporting the ministry of Global Mission and Service, and caring for neighbors around the world.

Learn more about the Office of Global Mission and Service at www.brethren.org/global or support their ministry today at www.brethren.org/givegms.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Fear and faith

By Nolan McBride, Brethren Volunteer Service worker for Youth and Young Adult Ministry

“Through my fear, I trust in God.” Nobody at the National Youth Cabinet planning meeting last February guessed just how appropriate the theme we chose for this year’s National Youth Sunday (based on Psalm 56:1-4) would become. As we see rising rates of COVID-19 infection and related death totals on the news, fear is a natural reaction. It would be easy to say: “The Bible tells us not to fear and it will all work out as God wills.” Although this may be true, it is not exactly helpful in the moment.

The word “fear” appears 515 times in the New Revised Standard Version. Skimming through the results on Bible Gateway, many of those refer to fearing God—which itself could be an entire article. But scripture passages like Psalm 56 assure us we need not fear the threats of “mere mortals” when we trust in God.

The psalmist in Psalm 56 describes being persecuted by others. It is attributed to David, who pretended to be insane in order to escape the Philistine king he’d sought refuge from while evading King Saul. What if the danger is not an easily identifiable person or a group, but instead something invisible to the naked eye? In this moment, I am drawn to an image Julian of Norwich recounts in Revelations of Divine Love, the first known book to be written in English by a woman. A visionary, Julian recounts how God:

“Showed by a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, lying in the balm of my hand. It was as round as a ball, as it seemed to me. I looked at it with the eyes of my understanding and thought ‘What can this be?’ My question was answered in general terms in this fashion:  ‘It is everything that is made… It lasts, and ever shall last, because God loves it. And in this fashion all things have their being by the grace of God.’”

We are upheld by the love and grace of a God who, as the song many of us learned in childhood goes, has “got the whole world in his hands.” This too shall pass. There are no easy answers. But as God promises us in scripture, and as Jesus assured Julian:  “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

This article was originally featured in the spring Bridge newsletter produced by the Youth and Young Adult Ministry office. Learn more about this ministry of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/yya or support its work today at www.brethren.org/giveyya .

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)