Worship resources for the 2024 One Great Hour of Sharing of the Church of the Brethren
“Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” ~1 Thessalonians 5:11, NIV
Thank you for the ways you encourage and build up others in your community and for your faithful partnership in the work of the Church of the Brethren!
Your gifts do great things! Support our missions and ministries that build up others by contributing to our matching gift campaign at www.brethren.org/matching-gift-2024 or starting a recurring gift at www.brethren.org/recurring-gift.
by Sherri Kimmel, leadership team member at Mechanicsburg (Pa.) Church of the Brethren
“Nothing compares with being a refugee; you are robbed of context and you flail about, searching for self-definition.” —Peter C. Newman, journalist and refugee from Nazi Germany
This was not the parting I’d imagined. Actually, I hadn’t really envisioned a parting—yet here we were in early September, enfolded in a tight embrace, Najiba’s face pressed into my shoulder. As she clutched me tighter and sobbed loudly, I patted her back, murmuring, “It’s okay, it’s okay.” We held each other far longer than we ever had all those times over the last 18 months when we’d exchanged quick hugs as I came and went from her home.
Before long, tears were streaming down my face, too. I had to beat a quick retreat, too rattled to retrieve the yellow snow shovel propped outside the townhouse. I’d given it to her husband, Naser, last winter after our only significant snowfall. For the last two days, he’d been asking members of our Church World Service welcome team to take back items we’d donated.
Even though they were taking just the bare necessities for the cross-country move, they were leaving with more than they had when they arrived in the United States in September 2021 as refugees from a chaotic Afghanistan toting an infant, a three-year-old, and four duffle bags.
Now, on Sept. 11, 2023, they were leaving central Pennsylvania with a newborn (their third girl) in their Honda Civic that Mechanicsburg Church of the Brethren and two other local congregations had helped them purchase a year earlier. Their destination: Aurora, Colo., where several family members and former neighbors from their remote mountain village in central Afghanistan had settled.
A new mission
When I learned in August 2021 about the fall of Kabul and the desperate departure of Afghans who feared the Taliban, I immediately thought of an Afghan student whose essay I’d recently featured in Bucknell Magazine, which I edited. Her academic adviser, a close friend of mine, was trying desperately to find a way out for the student’s family. I offered to do what I could, but all avenues were closed. If not her family, I wondered, were there others I could help rescue?
Then I thought about the Vietnamese refugee family my home church, Brookville (Ohio) Church of the Brethren, had sponsored 50 years earlier during the ill-fated Vietnam War. I remembered how the Truong family had thrived in our community with the support of our church family. Knowing the relationship our denomination has with Church World Service, I reached out to the CWS Lancaster (Pa.) office.
CWS was one of nine resettlement agencies the US government tapped to resettle the 76,000 Afghan allies flooding into our country. Conveniently for me, CWS decided to open a new office in nearby Harrisburg to help handle the largest influx of refugees since the Vietnam War.
I approached our church leadership about sponsoring a family, simultaneously using professional and personal contacts to enlist two other local congregations—Grantham Brethren in Christ and Mechanicsburg Presbyterian. In September 2021, our new 10-member CWS welcome team held its first meeting. We began ironing out our organizational structure and started collecting furniture, household goods, and other items for the yet-unknown refugees we would be supporting. All we needed was a family.
When the time came, we had less than a week’s notice, but we were ready for the family to arrive. All we knew was that the parents were in their mid-20s and had two small children.
This excerpt was originally featured in the January/February issue of Messenger magazine. Read this article in full online or support the publishing ministry of Messenger magazine.
(Read this issue of eBrethren.)
By Traci Rabenstein, executive director of Mission Advancement
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” ~1 Peter 4:10, ESV
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!
It is with great excitement that we share about a special opportunity as we enter this new year! Donors have already shared generously with the denomination in 2024. A group of anonymous individuals have dedicated their time, prayers, and financial resources in the past to further the work of Jesus and this year have generously donated $100,000 for a matching gift campaign in support of the Church of the Brethren’s Core Ministries. With the help of those who respond with matching gifts, and with your help, our work will be strengthened in the year ahead.
TOGETHER we join Jesus in the neighborhood as we venture to live and serve one another. Together we grow as courageous disciples, extend generosity and witness, and steward God’s blessings. We passionately work in unity as the body of Christ. We pray with one accord for the missions and ministries of the Church of the Brethren and for those who carry them out. We discern in harmony how we can make a difference both locally and globally. Lastly, we acknowledge that our contributions and their impact are greater as we continue the work of Jesus together.
When we asked one supporter why they partner in the work of the Church of the Brethren, they shared, “We appreciate efforts the Church of the Brethren is making to love neighbors around the world, and are blessed to be financially a part of that ministry.”
All missions and ministries under the Core Ministries umbrella represent the heart of our faith, values, and identity. Global Mission supports various projects and ministries of our global partners and furthers the international mission of the Church of the Brethren. Brethren Volunteer Service and FaithX provide long-term and short-term service opportunities. The Office of Peacebuilding and Policy shares our voice, and the voices of our partners, with our elected officials concerning endeavors that support peacemaking around the world. Discipleship and Leadership Formation strives to empower, encourage, and educate our youth, young adults, older adults, lay leaders, and pastors who work to meet Jesus in their neighborhoods. Organizational Resources and the ministries under the General Secretary’s office—such as Information Technology, Buildings and Grounds, the Finance Office, Communications, Messenger magazine, Brethren Press, and Mission Advancement—support the work of the entire organization. An unrestricted gift to the Church of the Brethren provides the financial support needed to sustain all of the moving parts of the denominational work we carry out TOGETHER.
We encourage you to pray and discern how you can join all of our supporters and congregations to be the hands and feet of Jesus. TOGETHER we will have a greater impact in 2024.
Learn more about the work of our Core Ministries at www.brethren.org/greatthings. Double the impact of your contribution by giving to our matching gift campaign at www.brethren.org/matching-gift-2024.
“For great is God’s love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord.” ~Psalm 117:2, NIV
As 2023 concludes, we celebrate the ways God’s love has been visible through the work of the Church of the Brethren. Through your partnership in our core ministries and various missions, many things have been possible this year.
783 total (in-person and virtual) participants for Christian Citizenship Seminar, Young Adult Conference, National Junior High Conference, and National Older Adult Conference.
400+ new pen pals were assigned through the Death Row Support Project.
199 people attended seven in-person training events and 140 people attended seven live webinars connected to the work of Discipleship and Leadership Formation.
172 individuals participated in 12 junior high, senior high, we are able, and adult service trips through FaithX.
101 attendees joined in-person and virtually for the New and Renew Conference.
49 volunteers, including 21 new volunteers from two orientations, were supported by Brethren Volunteer Service.
20 projects (15 international and 5 domestic) were funded through grants from the Global Food Initiative totaling $124,111.
17 applicants received grants from the Brethren Faith in Action fund.
12 countries including the US received grants from the Emergency Disaster Fund totaling $1,024,565.
5 District Executive search teams began their work, assisted by the Office of Ministry, and 2 new district executive ministers were installed.
4 equipping sessions were provided for the Part-time Pastor, Full-time Church program.
1 international partner officially joined the Global Church of the Brethren Communion, bringing the total to 12 countries.
Thank you for supporting these and many more endeavors with your prayers and gifts. We give thanks for your partnership and for God’s faithfulness in 2023.
If you haven’t already, you can make a year-end offering to the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/year-end-offering.
A theme interpretation written by Matt DeBall, coordinator of Mission Advancement Communications, for the 2023 Advent Offering of the Church of the Brethren
“The young woman, who has never had a man, will give birth to a son. They will give Him the name Immanuel. This means God with us.” ~Matthew 1:23, NLV
“Only God can save.”
This phrase was repeated by our Christian Theology professor in undergraduate studies. This simple yet profound statement emphasizes God’s ability to help humanity in ways that we are not able to help ourselves. Through the redemptive work of Jesus, we understand that is not by human intervention, but by the work of God that healing and salvation are found for all that ails the earth.
As humans, it is natural for us to believe that we’re in control of our lives, but as God-fearing people, we believe every heartbeat and every breath is a gift from God. And just as God’s life-giving presence sustains every rhythm of our bodies, we understand that God provides strength for our mouths to speak encouraging words, stability for our hands to share in acts of service, and support for every way we show compassion to others.
During the season of Advent, we remember the promise of Immanuel, God with us. We prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus and the fresh expression of God’s presence in the world. We acknowledge the renewed invitation to declare our dependence on the God who reveals great love and saves.
Within the Church of the Brethren, we believe that God’s presence guides and sustains every mission and ministry that we carry out together. In the life of congregations and the larger church, it is because God is among us that we have come this far and can remain hopeful about the future.
Remembering how the peaceful and love-filled ways of God save, let us celebrate how God is with us. Through Advent and onward, let us pray for God’s presence to be increasingly seen and experienced among us.
By Peter F. Johnson, lead pastor of Hanoverdale Church of the Brethren in Hummelstown, Pa.
For years, our church hosted monthly community meals in our multi-ministry center. The kitchen crew made nourishing meals for about 200 people before children, youth, and adult midweek ministries would take place. Then COVID hit and all indoor eating meetings ended. In a time of health crisis and loss of jobs, food disparity became all the more prevalent.
Instead of closing the kitchen, we decided to double our efforts, sending out monthly mailers to households in our area letting them know that they could register for a free meal, and come to the front door of the church to pick it up in order to bring it home on a particular night each month. The response was tremendous.
Now three years later we continue to prepare, package, and provide monthly meals to between 500 and 600 people. Most recently, 650 meals were prepared and served on October 10, and 750 on November 14. In the bag with the meals we give information about our church and how to have a relationship with the Lord. On occasion people will ask for prayer, and we have the opportunity to pray with them in their cars before they return home to eat their meal.
Feeding the hungry has always been an important part of true religion. In Isaiah 58:10 we find, “Spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed.” James also showed how “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress. . . . Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 1:27; 2:15–16). The physical food offered in true religion leads to lasting relationship when the Spirit of God then opens the heart, and a person’s spiritual hunger is met as they come to faith in Jesus Christ.
The Office of Mission Advancement of the Church of the Brethren is grateful for this reflection from Peter Johnson. It represents our passion to grow in authentic faith and care for the hungry—physically and spiritually. For more inspirational stories about congregations living as “Jesus in the Neighborhood” visit www.brethren.org/church/#church-stories. Learn more about the missions and ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/greatthings.
By Matt DeBall, coordinator of Mission Advancement Communications
“Praise the Lord, all you nations; extol Him, all you peoples. For great is His love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord.” ~Psalm 117, NIV
More than 31.5 million seconds in a year, more than 2.2 billion seconds in a lifetime (of 70 years)—each one accounted for and cared for by God. And God has certainly been at work long before we (or anyone we have met) walked the earth. Before and ever since time began, God has been the loving creator, the gracious redeemer, and the faithful sustainer of all things. Short of fully understanding, we can rest in awe as we reflect on the greatness of God.
The wonderful work of God is still present and active among us. Through the missions and ministries of the Church of the Brethren, people of all ages serve as the hands and feet of Jesus, embody and articulate their faith, receive training and support for ministry, walk alongside vulnerable persons through seasons of long-term recovery, and nurture partnerships and relationships around the world. As we consider all that we are able to do together, we recognize that God deserves the honor and praise at every moment in time. We give thanks for God’s great love and enduring faithfulness—in all the world and through the Church of the Brethren.
On Giving Tuesday, November 28, join us for (at least) a handful of seconds to celebrate what God has done and will still do among us. Make a gift to our ministries to celebrate now or then at www.brethren.org/givingtuesday.
> 541 persons gathered at Lake Junaluska for NOAC 2023. This included attendees of the 1958 National Youth Conference that was also held at Lake Junaluska, and 4 participants over 90 years of age. Additional participants attended online.
> 1,375 hygiene kits were assembled for Church World Service. 84 walkers raised more than $4,500 for the new NOAC scholarship fund. Worship service offerings exceeded $26,000.
> Special thanks to the NOAC 2023 coordinator Christy Waltersdorff; planning team members Glenn Bollinger, Karen Dillon, Jim Martinez, Leonard Matheny, Don Mitchell, Bonnie Kline Smeltzer, and Karlene Tyler; and the NOAC news team members David Sollenberger, Larry Glick, and Chris Stover-Brown.
> See you for NOAC 2025, September 1-5.
God is doing a new thing:
National Older Adult Conference (NOAC) 2023
“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” –Isaiah 43:19
Reflection by Traci Rabenstein, executive director of Mission Advancement
When the email arrived with the announcement that it was time to register for National Older Adult Conference (NOAC), I couldn’t click on the link fast enough! After attending three other NOACs, I knew it was going to be in an opportunity to be with people who renew my spirit and recharge my batteries. It would be a week to have good fellowship, more activities to choose from than hours in the day, speakers that would challenge the lens I use to view the world around me, and sermons that would nourish my soul.
While my plans shifted and I couldn’t attend as many activities as originally thought, the fellowship with others attending the conference and the speakers with powerful sermons didn’t disappoint. Our office, Mission Advancement, hosted a table at the welcome center at the gymnasium behind the building where registration occurred. We spent the afternoon talking, laughing, sharing snacks and other goodies, and I was able to “do a new thing” right away. Well, an almost new thing.
For the past few in-person NOACs, Frances Townsend has brought an entire workshop of materials, dye, and other items needed for tie-dyeing. After seeing her decorate t-shirts and other items years ago during a previous NOAC, I finally had the chance to do tie-dying for myself with the help of her technique and expertise. I picked out a piece of material from the many items she had, and then she helped me fold and tie it for dyeing.
Frances showed me all the colored dye powders and an example of a completed piece, and I was inspired to use similar colors. Then we went to the lawn space where she had an activity station, strategically placed the powders on the material, and then used hot water to soak the color into the fabric. During that time, I thought about the week ahead and began to ponder the conference theme, “God Is Doing a New Thing.”
As I watched the color change from powder and seep deep into the fabric, I considered whether the work Frances and I put into each fold and turn, each string tightened and tied, would produce a beautiful thing. Would this piece of plain material be turned into something new and beautiful?
Isn’t this just like life? With twists and turns, situations that make us feel tightened and tied down, feeling the heat of whatever is weighing upon us, and not knowing exactly how we would come through to the other side. Just when we think we can’t bear one more thing, God’s peace and love spring forth and we find ourselves on the other side of the trial or tribulation forever changed… just like a dyed piece of fabric. It had been twisted and tied up tightly then exposed to hot and cold elements and emerged forever changed.
By the end of the week at NOAC, I found myself answering the question from the theme text found in Isaiah: “Yes, God! I do perceive it; you are doing a new thing.” And I offered praises of thanksgiving. What Christ did for me and for all, and what Christ has brought us through, makes us forever changed!