God is here

Choir singing - Annual Conference
Photo by Regina Holmes

A reflection by Becky Ullom Naugle, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries

“Our Father in heaven, reveal who you are. Set the world right; Do what’s best—as above, so below. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You’re in charge! You can do anything you want! You’re ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes” (Matthew 6:9-13, The Message).

It’s a non-traditional lullaby, but the song “Called or Not Called” is one of my go-to songs when my newest son needs comfort. Holding him, I step and turn, back and forth, singing Shawn Kirchner’s version with the noted “gospel swing”:  “Called or not called, God is here. Named or unnamed, known or unknown, seen or unseen–God is here.” The song soothes both of us. Being reminded that God is here, bidden or unbidden, is good medicine for a weary momma.

I’m always looking for good medicine, this balmy music. No, not music about sunny weather and gentle breezes, but music that heals my heart and renews my courage. You probably also have your “old favorites,” and are searching for new ones, too.

I recently discovered a new piece of choral music that made me cry the first time I heard it. I don’t know how I found the song “Baba Yetu,” but I loved it! (Here’s one version as sung by the choir of Stellenbosch University, the oldest university in South Africa.) It stirred my soul and I played it again as soon as it was over. Then, I learned that “Baba Yetu” is “the Lord’s Prayer” in Swahili. How had I not heard this song before? The “Lord’s Prayer” isn’t new material, I’ve been around church-y spaces for a few decades, and even sung in a choir or two. I was intrigued! Research seemed in order!

My next discovery dampened the excitement:  “Baba Yetu” is not a traditional African hymn. Its genesis? An American composer, Christopher Tin, wrote it … as the theme song … for a video game. Seriously? I wanted an epic history, as lyrical and inspiring as the music, and I didn’t want to have concerns about cultural appropriation.

Composer Christopher Tin was a fan of the video game “Civilization,” which was created by one of his former college roommates at Stanford. The game’s objective is to “Build an empire to stand the test of time.”

Others too, however, have found “Baba Yetu” inspiring. In 2011, it won a Grammy, making it the first piece of music composed for a video game to do so.

It’s absolutely fascinating to me that the text of the “Lord’s Prayer” would be used for the introductory music of a video game. I didn’t do enough research to learn why this happened–or how many people took notice–but as I sat with this odd fusion of religion and culture, ancient and modern, I grew less annoyed and more appreciative. Why not share a great piece of modern sacred music with unsuspecting secular culture? Isn’t this the call of Christians in every generation:  to rephrase God’s truth using contemporary tools? “Baba Yetu” is probably the closest contact some folks will ever have with the “Lord’s Prayer.” Shouldn’t I acknowledge and celebrate this? Glory be to God for finding a clever and cool way into the lives of so many! Known or unknown, God is here. Called or not called, God is here!

Just like it does for me, I hope “Baba Yetu” puts a bounce in your step!

Learn more about Youth and Young Adult Ministries at www.brethren.org/yya or support them today at www.brethren.org/givediscipleship.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Sunday morning stewardship

Excerpted from a reflection by Grace Duddy Pomroy, senior financial educator and content developer at Portico Benefit Services, co-owner of Embracing Stewardship, LLC, and member of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center Board of Directors

When I graduated from college and went to seminary, I hoped to find a church with a contemporary worship style and more casual liturgy, bursting at the seams with young adults. The first Sunday that my friend and I went out church shopping we decided to visit a church representing quite the opposite of my wish list—a historic church with traditional liturgy and organ music and where the median age was about 70.

While the church was beautiful, I was prepared to dislike it and resume our search again the following week. However, as the service unfolded, my heart was softened. The organ music was beautiful, the worship space was unlike any I had ever seen, and the preaching was engaging; but what impressed me most was what came after worship—the fellowship. As my friend and I worked our way up the center aisle to greet the pastor (and get on our way to brunch), we were stopped countless times by church members who seemed genuinely curious to get to know us. What brought us here? What were we studying in graduate school? Where did we live? They saw us not as much-needed able-bodies (and additional financial support) to serve this small congregation but as people whom they could welcome into this tight-knit but ever-expanding community. I don’t think I have ever felt more welcomed in my life! Despite our protests, we were ushered into the fellowship hall for snacks, coffee, and more conversation.

Intergenerational stewardship begins with the belief that we all have something to give and we all have something to receive. Age doesn’t matter, and in many ways, neither does wealth. Just because I was in my early 20s, I wasn’t any more or less valuable than the 70-year-old women I would serve alongside. We all have something to learn from one another.

As a small congregation, we needed each other. There was a deep belief that everyone had something to give and something to receive, no matter their age, and that was something to be celebrated. Everyone was encouraged to participate. On Sunday morning, people of all ages would take part in every aspect of the service from singing in the choir to lighting the candles before worship. The attitude that all were welcome was held together by a pervasive sense of humor and a laid-back approach to high liturgy. Participation was more important than perfection. And with the Spirit’s help, as we each offered our gifts, we made it happen Sunday after Sunday.

A year later when I was invited to serve as stewardship chair, I wanted to keep this same generous, intergenerational spirit alive. I chose a stewardship committee that reflected where the church was and where it wanted to be. Each person was invited specifically for the gift they would share: a pastoral intern for teaching and preaching, a book editor for editing communications, and a long-time member of the church for thanking people. Our ragtag group spanned the age spectrum, but we each had gifts to bring. Whenever we met, there was a spirit of mutual respect, generosity, and learning that pervaded the space. Together, we led an annual stewardship response program and started a year-round stewardship emphasis.

When people think about intergenerational stewardship they often see it as a new initiative to bring to their congregation. But what I found in the congregations I’ve attended, and the many I’ve visited over the years, is that it’s already there. It’s present in the variety of ages involved in collecting the offering, serving their community on Saturday morning, and giving generously.

Take a look around: Where is intergenerational stewardship already present in your congregation? What can you learn? How might you name it as stewardship?

This reflection was originally featured in the new digital format of Giving magazine produced by the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. Find stewardship resources for you and your congregation at www.stewardshipresources.org.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Filled with new life

www.brethren.org/giveoffering
Photo by Glenn Riegel

A scripture medley with Acts 2:1-12 for the 2019 Pentecost Offering

ONE:  When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.

ALL:  For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.

ONE:  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

ALL: The Lord God … breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

ONE:  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.

ALL:  In the last days I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.

ONE:  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

ALL:  I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.

ONE:  Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.

ALL:  You shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.

ONE:  And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

ALL:  I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

ONE:  Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?”

ALL:  For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.

ONE: Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,

ALL:  I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

ONE:  Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,

ALL: By your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves.

ONE: Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

ALL:  Now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

ONE:  All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

(Matthew 18:20, Genesis 2:7, Joel 2:28, John 14:16, Exodus 19:5-6, Isaiah 43:9, Matthew 19:26, John 10:16, Genesis 22:18, Ephesians 2:13)

Find this and other worship resources for the Pentecost Offering or support it today at www.brethren.org/giveoffering.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Born anew

www.brethren.org/yya
Photo by Glenn Riegel

By Emmett Witkovsky-Eldred, Brethren Volunteer Service volunteer for Youth and Young Adult Ministries

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (Acts 2:1-4).

I’ve always been shy. Just thinking about gathering with dozens of strangers and getting to know them makes me anxious and bashful. I never expected to spend a year in Brethren Volunteer Service helping plan that sort of event. Well, actually, three: Christian Citizenship Seminar (April 27-May 2), Young Adult Conference (May 24-26), and National Junior High Conference (June 12-14). During my service in Elgin, Ill., with Youth and Young Adult Ministries of the Church of the Brethren, I am responsible for shepherding people and wrangling details that allow these events to succeed.

Each event promises to kindle the flame of community that fills us with warmth and light. As all who attended a powerful denomination-wide event know, there’s something special about being gathered together to worship God under one big roof. Our hymns sound the richest, our prayers feel the deepest, and God’s spirit is the most palpable when we cross boundaries of race, gender, theology, and geography to simply be together.

As I’ve learned through summers in outdoor camping ministry, the potential for transformative community-building is amplified by the youthfulness and hopefulness of the people who go to these events. Because of their energy, their generosity of spirit, and their capacity for fun and friendship, youth and young adults are natural community-builders. This makes youth and young adult events of the Church of the Brethren ripe for interactions that resemble God’s beloved and sacred community.

Simply put, youth events like CCS, YAC, and NJHC are the moments when Pentecost comes alive—not a moment in the liturgical calendar but a revelation of what community looks like when anointed by the Holy Spirit. When we gather, we build our community upon love, free ourselves of jaded inhibition, and embrace diversity to foster unity. We find ourselves enflamed with love for God and each other. We develop an uncanny talent for speaking to one another in a language we can all understand.

I sometimes wonder how a shy person like myself would have fared at that first Pentecost. Could I have come out of my shell enough to speak to my neighbors in their own language? Could my energy sustain tongues of fire upon my head? Then I remember my own National Junior High Conference and my first Young Adult Conference. Those were moments when I felt enveloped by the community of God. This happened, not in spite of my quiet nature, but because in God’s kingdom, there is plenty of room for both extroverts and introverts. I belonged.

My hope for these events—much more than every detail being in its place—is for a spontaneous outbreak of community. May it spread like wildfire, and may it burn in each person’s own unique way. And may we be present in that moment to watch with wonder the church born anew in another generation.

Learn more about Youth and Young Adult Ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/yya or support them today at www.brethren.org/givediscipleship .

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Greetings from Rwanda!

Photos by Josiah Ludwick

 By Josiah Ludwick, Global Mission worker in Rwanda

Muraho and greetings from the Church of the Brethren in Rwanda!

Since August 2018, Global Mission and Service made it possible for my family to live in the beautiful country of Rwanda and to be a part of the budding ministry God is blessing here. The Church of the Brethren in Rwanda is nearly four years old. In that short time, God has worked mightily and there are already four congregations in the western part of the country.

More recently, however, the government has imposed strict guidelines for churches, which has been a significant challenge. Every week, hundreds of churches are being closed throughout the country. In response, the people of our churches gathered last November and gave sacrificially to raise nearly $3,000 (exceeding their original goal of $2,000) to begin improving their properties. Inspired by this act of faith by the Rwandese Brethren, many brothers and sisters in the US also have chosen to support these efforts.

As a result of this faithful giving and partnership, our churches in Gasiza and Mudende have been able to improve their worship spaces (above, left). The Brethren in Gisenyi also purchased land in hopes of building a denominational headquarters. This will be very important as we work to be recognized as a denomination by the national government. The recognition process has been arduous, but we have made progress and moved to the regional level. Praise be to God!

God is blessing the church in Rwanda through the teaching of Brethren beliefs. Even though new ideas are generally met with skepticism, the people have been really open to Brethren theology. We have assured them that our beliefs and practices aren’t new, simply new to them. Several leaders from each church have been trained with the help of Brethren Beliefs and Practices, authored by Galen Hackman in collaboration with EYN (Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria– Church of the Brethren in Nigeria), which recently was translated into the local language of Kinyarwanda. These leaders were trained so that they can lead small groups from their congregations through the book (top right).

As a result of these teachings, we have had two occasions for baptisms at Lake Kivu, which include multiple people from each congregation accepting Jesus, embracing the new way, and experiencing trine immersion. We are also planning the first Brethren love feast in Rwanda, one for Gisenyi and Gasiza and another for Humure and Mudende, to take place near the Easter holiday.

We also celebrate the ability to send three young Batwa men to university. The Twa are typically an underserved group, but the congregation in Mudende has taken great efforts to make them feel part of the faith community, to share how God loves them and we love them, and to reveal how they can accomplish anything with God’s help. Most Batwa don’t dream of finishing primary school, let alone secondary school, so for a few to go to university is truly a miracle. The three were recognized by pastor Etienne Nsanzimana, founder and overall leader of the Church of the Brethren in Rwanda (bottom right).

In the great tradition of being “blessed to be a blessing,” the village of Batwa has gone to another indigenous village to encourage them with the gospel of Jesus Christ and the love the Brethren have for them. This new group of about 20 Batwa has started attending the Humure congregation. This is what kingdom building is all about!

Through the ministry of Global Mission and Service and with God’s blessing and grace, all these things have been possible. Thank you for your continued support of all the Lord is doing globally through the Church of the Brethren. On behalf of myself, my family, and our Rwandese brothers and sisters, thank you!

Learn more about the work of Global Mission and Service at www.brethren.org/global or support it at www.brethren.org/givegms.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Letting go

By Wendy McFadden, publisher of Brethren Press and Communications

In an essay about lost gloves, Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich passes along the story of a woman who exited a train car and discovered that she had only one of her gloves. Just before the doors closed behind her, she tossed it back inside. “Better someone had two, if not her,” the storyteller recounted.

I know I couldn’t have acted so quickly, and I’m not sure that my first impulse would have been so generous. But with little hesitation, the woman leaving the train shifted from thinking of herself to thinking of someone else, from regretting the lost glove to giving her pair to another traveler. How does one learn to let go so easily?

There are people who give something up for Lent, but this month I’m thinking more about letting go. These are different, but not completely. Giving something up is about sacrifice; letting go is about freedom. Both clear space for what matters. Both can provide spiritual focus.

What shall we let go of?

  • Stuff that weighs us down—single gloves awaiting lost mates, unused dishes, clothes that don’t fit. I recently let go of the heaviest thing in the house, an upright piano that was too big for our small living room. (I thought someday I might take lessons, but let the unfulfilled idea go out the door with the piano.)
  • The compulsion to acquire more. It’s bad for us, our neighbors, and the earth. And someday we’ll have to haul that stuff to the second-hand store.
  • The need to be in control. We’re not. Go ahead and make long-range plans, but hold them lightly.
  • Resentments and complaints. Grudges are easy to nurse, but they eventually poison our hearts. Resentment can actually shorten our lives.
  • Fear of what might happen. We are not our best selves when we are afraid. Sometimes fear is a weapon used against others; sometimes it’s a cancer that attacks its own body. Either way it’s too violent for those who want to build peace.
  • Outrage. Sometimes it’s justifiable and sometimes it works, but it’s caustic. We would do better replacing outrage with lament and compassion and action.

That’s a lot of letting go, but if we keep practicing it will become easier—even second nature. When the doors are closing, we can turn losses into something good. We can be the stories that are passed along to others, who happily hold them as warm gifts in cold hands.

This reflection was originally featured in the March issue of Messenger magazine. Learn more or subscribe to Messenger today at www.brethren.org/messenger.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Moving on, but not letting go?

By Lisa-Marie Mayerle, Brethren Volunteer Service Unit #319

This year, I decided to be a part of Brethren Volunteer Service, and trust me… it was not easy to make that decision. For me, joining BVS meant not knowing where I would end up, which project I would be going to, or how I would be living for the next year. But, it was the best decision I have ever made. Of course I had a lot of insecurities during the process, but in the end I knew that this was my best opportunity to serve for a year, to explore another culture, and to make a difference.

I would say that the worst part of the transition was saying goodbye—leaving everyone I love behind. All my friends and family in Germany would continue their lives without me, but my life would continue on as well. It felt like I needed to move on and let go. So, I left with a face full of tears and a heart full of sadness and happiness mixed together. I knew it was time for a new chapter of my life.

The moment I arrived at my project in Hagerstown, Md., everyone welcomed me with open arms and a big smile on their face. In that exact moment, all my concerns and doubts were gone, and I knew that it was the right decision. I also realized that I had never left someone or something behind. Despite missing Germany, and even though I could not see or hear my family and friends every day, I can remember that they are always with me.

I enjoy every minute at my project and I love to share about it with my loved ones. The people I work with are amazing and support me. I feel like I am a part of a bigger family, and the thought of leaving them one day brings tears to my eyes. Every single minute with the kids, my co-workers, and my friends is precious, and I am so glad that I can be here. I am thankful for this journey and the relationships I am creating.

Learn more about Brethren Volunteer Service or read the most recent issue of The Volunteer at www.brethren.org/bvs. Support the ministry of BVS today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

More than we can imagine

A theme interpretation written by Chuck Blaisdell for the 2019 One Great Hour of Sharing

“Now to God be the glory, who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

Imagination.

It may seem like a weak word compared to all the need we see every day in the world. We hear “imagination” and we may think “fantasy” (“Imagine you are on a beach…”), of something that escapes the reality of the world as it is. We hear “imagination” and we wonder if it is truly helpful when some would say we actually need clear-eyed “realism” to address the challenges that we face.

Imagination.

Yet far from being a light or weak thing, far from being an aloof or escapist notion, far from being un-real, imagination is actually among the most powerful engines for change that human beings have! Long ago, the philosopher Aristotle said, “Thinking itself begins in wonder, begins in imagination,” and he was right. Imagination, particularly when fueled by a vision of God’s hopes for all humankind, can keep us energized, seeking to do good, and striving to better the lives of those whom we encounter.

Imagination.

The theme for the 2019 One Great Hour of Sharing is “More than we can imagine!” It is rooted in Ephesians 3:20 and reminds us that we are not alone in our imagining a better world for all of God’s children. Indeed, it is God’s imagination that fuels and empowers ours! You see, God imagines a world where:

  • No one is left to face the wreckage of natural disasters alone.
  • Each person has their daily needs of food and water met.
  • Every individual receives the respect and dignity that they deserve.
  • Families displaced from their homes are able to build new lives.
  • Disciples of all ages grow in faith and share the love of God with others.
  • Pastors and leaders are equipped to care for the needs of their communities.
  • Churches serve as beacons of hope for all to see.
  • AND far more than we could ever ask or imagine!

God also imagines Christians all over the world coming together to help make these things ever more a reality for more and more people.

Our imagination of what could be is founded and grounded in that for which God envisions and hopes. And we can help! Through our gifts of treasure and talent, prayer and presence, we can make this world ever more like the way God would wish it, ever more the way that God would imagine it.

Find this and other worship resources for the 2019 One Great Hour of Sharing at www.brethren.org/oghs or give to the offering today at www.brethren.org/giveoffering .

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Ambassadors of Christ

Photo by Glenn Riegel

A reflection by Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors,
as though God were making his appeal through us.”
~2 Corinthians 5:20, NIV

Even though we’ve entered a new year, I still find myself humming Christmas hymns. One chorus in particular has stuck in my mind:  “Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere. Go, tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born!”  The message of the song is simple, but in its simplicity is a strong call to action for the church. It is a call that challenges us to tell everyone about the transformative impact that Jesus Christ has in their lives and in our world. We are challenged to share the good news with all who will hear it, even shouting it from the mountaintops.

In Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, he calls them to the work of serving as ambassadors of Christ. Prior to verse 20 in chapter 5, Paul mentions that our love for Christ should compel us to no longer see anyone from a “worldly point of view” but, instead, to see each person as a new creation in Christ. “The old has gone, the new is here!” (2nd Corinthians 2:17, NIV). And as “new creations,” we inherently become ambassadors of Christ. We are now called by Jesus to be his messengers.
“Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere!”

In the Old Testament, being an ambassador for the king was a significant responsibility and honor. When ambassadors entered another country, they were treated just as if they were royalty themselves, and not just simply representatives. Being ambassadors today may not be exactly the same, but they still have the responsibility of sharing a message of the one whom they represent. While we may not be thrilled at the idea of being compared to government officials, it is important for us to remember that we represent Jesus and the kingdom of God in a very similar way.

I believe we are on earth at the right time for the right purpose to fulfill God’s greater plan for all people. We are here right now to fulfill God’s will, to speak as “new creations” in Jesus, and to welcome the new creation ordained by  God’s kingdom. Some of us are called to be ambassadors within the communities where we live, work, serve, and worship. Others are ambassadors at the district level, where the message of God can be extended further through the ministries supported by congregations.

Through denominational ministries, staff work diligently on behalf of the larger church to be Christ’s ambassadors, where the message reaches across the United States and out into the world. Through Brethren Volunteer Service and the Office of Global Mission and Service, some are called as missionaries who accompany brothers and sisters to nurture budding churches in places like South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Venezuela. Others witness to God’s message of peace and justice by speaking with local and national representatives with support from the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. Some hear the call to grow in discipleship or to revitalize and strengthen local ministries, and respond by attending events hosted by Discipleship Ministries. While these examples only scratch the surface of the work coordinated by Church of the Brethren staff, they reveal the importance of serving as Christ’s ambassadors.

Each of us, in our “new form,” have been blessed with gifts and talents that allow us to uniquely represent God where we are. Whether you volunteer your time and talent, pray for our ministries without ceasing, or support the work of the church through financial gifts, you are serving as an ambassador of Christ. Come, let us  “Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere” that Jesus Christ is making all things new.

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.)