An excerpt from a theme introduction written by Katie Shaw Thompson for the 2020 One Great Hour of Sharing
“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.” ~1 Corinthians 3:5-9
“Let us plant dates even though those who plant them will never eat them,” writes Brazilian theologian Rubem Alves. “We must live by the love of what we will never see.”
Date trees can take a decade to bear fruit and 100 years to reach their full height. The hands that plant such a tree may do so knowing they may never rest in that tree’s shade. Moved by love, they invest in that unseen future. “We are all co-workers together in God’s service,” writes Paul in 1 Corinthians 3. Some of us plant. Some of us water. But God gives the growth. Through Week of Compassion, we become like date tree planters: serving the fruitful future for which God yearns. Who knows what growth God may bring when we join hands together across distance, across traditions, and across time for the love of what we may never see?
When we give to One Great Hour of Sharing, we help make new life and growth possible. Through our sharing, we are connected as co-workers. Our combined gifts have the capacity to travel all over the world. Whether we are rebuilding communities after disaster, supporting communities through agriculture as they learn to sustain themselves, or empowering ministers and members to serve their communities, in these and so many other ways, we release the waters of God’s growth when we invest in the lives of others.
In sharing our gifts, we join together as both givers and recipients of generous investment in the growth God will bring. As Paul writes, “the one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose.” Moved by our common purpose, we share our gifts for the glory of God and for our neighbors’ good.
By Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. … You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. … Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:1, 13-15, 24-25).
These are not easy words for the church in Galatia to hear, nor for us today. Paul wrote this letter to Jewish believers who were teaching Gentile believers that they needed to follow the letter of the law in order to follow Jesus. In addition to correcting them, Paul was also calling them to find freedom in Christ. Since the Jews who believe in Jesus as their Messiah struggled with a split identity—growing up with strict adherence to the Torah and, now, celebrating their freedom in Christ—it’s no surprise that they also struggled with how a Gentile could now become a part of the family of God.
This tension divided the early church, and Paul wrote to urge them that their faith was no longer centered around the law but, rather, Jesus, who fulfilled it. Their former directive was now simplified to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Earlier in the letter, Paul shared about a time he rebuked Peter and other church leaders, and in chapter 5, he built a case for liberty and stated plainly that all believers were saved by faith, not by keeping the law. Their salvation through faith alone freed them to love and serve one another, carry each other’s burdens, and share kindness with everyone (chapter 6).
What does this mean for us today? The church in Galatia struggled to find loving unity and experienced bouts of dissension—an atmosphere that, unfortunately, can feel too close to home. Don’t we also struggle to live in loving unity? Experience disagreement with each other? Can our discord also lead into destructive postures? And can’t all of this harm our life together and our testimony?
While the Church of the Brethren may seem like an easy target for these questions, this can also be true for any church regardless of denominational affiliation. Many churches have struggled with one issue or another, and it has led to ugly feuding. When we are not motivated by love, we become more critical of others. We stop looking for good in them and see only their faults. Soon the unity of believers is broken.
According to Paul, there is a way to counteract division. He proclaimed repeatedly what it means to have freedom through Christ Jesus. He kept sharing the message that faith in Jesus Christ equals salvation, that salvation equals freedom, and that freedom leads us to love and serve every person made in God’s image without prejudice. The message is for every person. Salvation is offered to every person. Loving and serving are for every person. Freedom from selfish desire. Freedom from Satan’s agenda. Freedom from being overcome by the ways of the world. This is what transformation through faith in Christ looks like and this empowers us to bear a spirit of freedom with joy and confidence. It transforms us to serve the least of these without reservation, so that they may catch a glimpse of God through us.
As the Church of the Brethren, through the financial support of congregations and individuals, we reach to the corners of our country and the world, and we proclaim the message of freedom through faith in Jesus. We bear witness to the love that God has for all people through the ways we are present with and serve others. This happens through ministries like Global Mission and Service, Brethren Disaster Ministries, Brethren Volunteer Service, Discipleship Ministries, the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, and the Global Food Initiative. Through our shared work, we continue the work of Jesus. Peacefully. Simply. Together.
Even through seasons of tension and sharp disagreement, doubt and uncertainty, may we be Brethren who seek to find light and hope. May we find God’s presence within us and around us in our life together. And may we continue to focus on the work we are called to do as the body of Christ, doing it in love and in service to others.
By Hannah Shultz, coordinator of short-term service for Brethren Volunteer Service
“This is holy ground.” The first time I heard Jason Haldeman, the former program manager at Camp Swatara, speak these words I got goosebumps. It was during staff training of my first summer working at camp and Jason was preparing us for the ministry we would be a part of in the upcoming weeks. He told us that God was present among us and that we were on holy ground. “This is holy ground” stuck with me throughout the summer as I planned evening vesper services, went on hikes, taught Bible classes, and sang silly songs around the campfire. I knew what Jason said was true. From the moment you drove through the archway onto camp property, something felt different. God was certainly present in that place. Camp is where I learned to encounter God in both the most mundane and the most serious moments.
Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest and theologian, has a book called an Altar in the World in which she talks about blurring the lines of what we consider to be sacred. We need not only encounter the Divine sitting in church pews and reading scripture, she says, but by keeping our hearts and minds open to the presence of God in the world—in the everyday activities and encounters in our lives. She also encourages us to follow the words of Jesus by recognizing how God cares for lilies and sparrows as well as women who prepare bread and laborers who wait to be paid. In all these cases, we find the work of God in the world as much as in scripture.
In Genesis, Jacob told us what to do when we encounter God in the world. As the story goes, Jacob and Esau both wanted their father Isaac to bless them on his deathbed. Since Esau was the firstborn, he was set to receive the blessing, but Jacob and his mother developed a scheme to trick Isaac into blessing Jacob instead. This enraged Esau, so Jacob fled for his life. He left with nothing and walked as far as he could. He was out in the wilderness when he finally decided to rest, and he went to sleep using a stone as his pillow. During the night he had a vision from God in which God promised him safety, children, and land. God said to Jacob, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.”
Genesis 28:16-18 reads: “Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’ So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.”
God visited Jacob right where he was—out in the wilderness. Jacob realized that this ordinary place in the world must be part of the house of God, so he used a stone as an altar for God. In doing this, he taught us what to do when we encounter God in the world. Barbara Brown Taylor encourages us to follow his example and set up an altar, in the world or in our heart, to commemorate the places where the Divine meets us.
For the past few months, Kara and Liana and I have been writing the 2020 workcamp curriculum, centered on our theme, “Voices for Peace.” Through the workcamp experience, we hope to learn that encountering God does not just take place within church walls, but also when we serve and live in the world. Workcamps offer many opportunities to do physical acts of worship. Through pulling weeds on a farm in Florida, dishing out food at a soup kitchen in Los Angeles, and being in community and sleeping on hard church floors, we are challenged to find God in these daily, sometimes mundane, activities.
At workcamps, we also encounter God in the hard work of identifying injustice and doing something about it. Encountering God in the world often means getting involved in the messiness of human failure. It requires a willingness to be radical disciples in a world that may reject us. Jesus calls for an inbreaking of the kingdom of God on earth. His compassion and healing reaches out to those who are often ignored, and in his parables, he challenges his followers to consider the poor, the hungry, the widow, and the orphan. Similarly, we are called to challenge systems and structures that perpetuate injustice and to make God’s enduring presence known to everyone. We build altars in the world when we participate in activities that advance God’s love and justice, when we create more spaces where we can say “this is holy ground.”
Holy ground does not rise only out of church buildings, it is not just a place where we have sung to God or preached from scripture. Holy ground is the place where God’s beloved community is formed and where God’s reign of justice is made known on earth.
We are each on our own path to discovering holy ground, and as we journey through mundane circumstances and personal fatigue, there are moments to pay attention to the Divine. Like Jacob, we are called to recognize when we have encountered God in the wilderness and to celebrate that God meets us in the most unexpected places. Let us go into the wilderness, seeking God in the fight for justice and peace, and discovering divine possibility in our daily practices. And when we discover that we are on holy ground, let us make an altar to the Lord, revealing to others that God is in this place and still moving in our midst.
Church of the Brethren workcamps are for people of all ages to be the hands of Jesus and voices for peace in the world. Learn more about the workcamp ministry or register for a 2020 workcamp at www.brethren.org/workcamps. Registration opens tomorrow evening (1/16).
“Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering.” – Psalm 96:7-8a
As 2019 concludes, we remember what God has done among us through the ministries of the Church of the Brethren.
We celebrate the ministries of international Brethren bodies and partnerships, the 1,064 individuals who attended Discipleship Ministries conferences this year, the ongoing work of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, 33 grants totaling $200,000 given by the Global Food Initiative to national and international projects, the continued work of Brethren Disaster Ministries to serve individuals and families through times of need, and 79 Brethren Volunteer Service workers who served in the US and around the world in 2019.
Thank you for your prayerful and financial support in 2019. Have a very blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Celebrate with us by making a year-end gift to the Church of the Brethren.
By Nathan Hosler, director of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy
We live in a time of great urgency. Turmoil grips our communities and the communities of our sisters and brothers around the world. This isn’t news nor is it new. However, the persistence of injustice is not a reason to despair but to recognize that our calling to be peacemakers is all the more essential.
I grew up in Chiques Church of the Brethren in Manheim, Pa., and my grandfather and his brothers were conscientious objectors. I grew up believing that to follow Jesus meant serving others and being against war. In college, as my vocational call to ministry took shape, I realized that, even beyond opposing war, I needed to work for peace. Through experiences of tutoring Somali refugees in English and building relationships with homeless people on the streets of Chicago and Baltimore, I learned about systemic violence and racism. Through this education, the call to peacemaking began to sprout.
In Washington, D.C., “peacemaking” is an odd word. Even for organizations whose work would be considered peacemaking, the term is unusual. “Peacebuilding” is much more common, and while I use the terms interchangeably, peacemaking comes from the biblical text, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).
In Luke’s gospel, the prophecy of Zechariah proclaims the coming of Christ our savior and how we will continue his mission: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).
Guide our feet into the way of peace. We know that the awaited Jesus became the teacher who declared that peacemakers are the children of God and said, “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). This Lord guides our feet into the way of peace.
The peace of Christ cannot be forced. We cannot impose a peace that is both global and personal, of inward reconciliation and outward wellbeing, and that brings reconciliation with God and neighbor and even our enemy. We cannot—nor should we try to—force peace. We bear witness to it and proclaim it. We must struggle for it and dedicate ourselves to it. While peace is a gift of God, it is also a process built.
In The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, Mennonite Alan Kreider writes of the prominent role of patience in the writing and thinking of the early church. Specifically, he asks why is it that, with no documented focus on church expansion, the church grew in remarkable ways. He highlights the virtue of patience and trusting that God is in control, and a recurring theme of bearing witness through how one lives. Patience makes way for the freedom to do the slow work of peacemaking and not force an outcome.
This work is slow. Preaching the gospel of peace in a war-torn world is difficult. It is only through patience that we may persist in the slow and difficult work of nonviolent resistance to all oppression, injustice, and violence. We cannot impose peace but it is urgent that we work for it, train for it, prepare our youth for it, and build up institutions and organizations that add heft to our words.
Thank you for the ways you proclaim the gospel of peace and for your support of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. Though we live in a time of great urgency and the work before us is slow, the Lord is faithful and will surely guide our feet into the way of peace.
By Matt DeBall, coordinator of Mission Advancement Communications
“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.” ~Luke 16:8
The call to be a faithful steward can seem like a daunting task. Thankfully, the Lord Jesus not only calls us but also empowers us and equips us for the task. The parable shared in Luke 16 is one such exhortation.
As a master declared job termination and requested a final financial report, a dishonest manager threw a going-out-of-business sale—as in, he was going out of business and he cut deals with as many indebted partners as possible. Though, at first, it appeared his actions were merely for selfish gain, the manager was commended by the master for shrewdness.
This parable is interesting, to say the least, and may cause us to scratch our heads. Surely it is not an invitation to use dishonest financial practices or to fix the books. However, if a dishonest manager can be an effective example of stewardship, we can do even better. The dishonest yet shrewd manager exemplifies three important aspects of being a faithful steward.
Being generous. When the manager met with each debtor, he canceled almost a year and half worth of wages for a common laborer. How blessed each one must have felt! Many of us will never be able to give such a generous gift, but we can make a difference in the lives of people around us by giving faithfully of what we have received from God. Whenever we share, we prove to be good stewards when we do so generously.
Honoring others. As the manager canceled debts, he honored everyone involved. The debtors received generous pardons and the master was honored for being generous. To reinstate the canceled debts would harm the master’s reputation, and thus, by confirming the manager’s maneuvers, honor was maintained for all. Faithful stewardship honors others, and this also includes the Lord.
Preparing for the future. The manager was preparing to be out of a job and needing the help of others. Though our stewardship does not include consideration of selfish gain, we are called to look beyond the circumstances of today and, with God’s help, chart a course for the future. Again, this need not involve grand means or measures. It can involve doing simple but purposeful acts boldly and faithfully. Consider water: over time, even a gentle and persistent trickle can wear away the face of a rock. Trusting God with the results, we can act simply and boldly now while working toward a future that we cannot yet see.
It’s a privilege and honor to witness all who give generously of themselves to the ministries of the Church of the Brethren—whether staff, volunteers, board members, or supporters like you. Thank you for using your gifts generously, honoring one another and the Lord. Thank you for investing what you have been given now, and preparing for the future with hope. As you practice faithful stewardship, may the Lord continue to bless you.
By Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement
“Bless the Lord God, the God of Israel– the only one who does wondrous things! Bless God’s glorious name forever; let his glory fill all the earth!” ~ Psalm 72:18-19, CEB
When was the last time you noticed the “wondrous things” God has done in your life? A question that my Sunday school teacher, Fran, at Mechanicsburg Church of the Brethren would ask is, “What were your God moments this week?” Sometimes she would begin with this question, but on other occasions, it would naturally seep into our conversation or even close our time together as people reflected on how they had seen “wondrous things.” I travel often in my role as director of Mission Advancement, and during a recent trip, I noticed a “God moment.”
I like to travel by train when I work at the General Offices in Elgin, Ill.—taking the Pennsylvanian from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh and then Capital Limited into Chicago’s Union Station. The autumn season sets a beautiful stage to travel the rails. Getting into the mountainous areas of central Pennsylvania, the end of the harvest season can be observed as you pass by fields. Orange, brown, green, yellow, and red are the colors that splash this canvas. Traveling by train slows things down and offers the opportunity to reflect on what I’ve seen and experienced. Most trips include having conversations with fellow travelers—hearing their stories, sharing my own, and providing words of encouragement, grace, and peace, if it’s needed.
A few weeks ago, at the conclusion of the October meeting for Mission and Ministry Board, I boarded the train at Union Station to begin the trip back to Pennsylvania. After beginning to talk with my seatmate, we noticed peculiar behavior from the passenger in front of us. This person had been flailing about in their seat, speaking loudly with colorful language, and causing a bit of a ruckus. There was a feeling of concern for those of us who were directly around this person, a sense of uncertainty as to whether their actions should be confronted, and concern about the outcome of a confrontation. As time went on, several people in the railcar shared concerns with Amtrak personnel, who eventually confronted the passenger. The final outcome was the removal of the passenger from the train by local law enforcement.
So, where did I see the wondrous things of God in this situation? God was present through each of my railcar mates. Two people were able to remove and dispose of alcohol that the passenger had brought onto the train by approaching them and asking for a drink. Another man engaged the person in conversation to distract them from causing further alarm. In general, we all looked out for each other as the situation unfolded and worked together to make sure that everyone, including the unruly passenger, was safe until the authorities arrived to intervene.
In this present age, though our culture makes it seem much easier to throw a fist than pass the peace, I watched a group of strangers come together and work to care for one another. We were “strangers no more, but part of one humanity.” This situation gave me a renewed hope for humanity and reminded me that God is always present with us.
Where do you see the wondrous things of God in your life, in your community, or in your place of worship? The Church of the Brethren reveals “another way of living” to those we serve, one in which God’s “glory fills all the earth!” We do this through our Global Mission and Service partnerships in Venezuela, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and other countries. Another way of living is revealed through the work of our Office of Peacebuilding and Policy as staff meet in Iraqi Kurdistan with ecumenical partners and government officials to talk about active USAID projects to respond to the genocide of Yazidis, the persecution of Christians, and other vulnerable groups. Through the programs of Discipleship Ministries and the Office of Ministry, congregations and pastors are cared for and encouraged. In these ministries and more, God is doing wondrous things around us.
As we enter this season of thankfulness, joy, and giving, we invite you to consider how you will partner with us. May we celebrate the wondrous work of God among us!
This reflection was written for Giving Tuesday on December 3. Join us in celebrating—now or then—by making a gift to the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/givingtuesday.
By Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of Global Mission and Service
On behalf of the Office of Global Mission and Service, thank you for your regular support of our ministries. It is hard to believe that I have served in this office for 10 years. This milestone has given me the opportunity to closely consider what has been achieved. Jesus calls us to remain in him, and, as a result, we will “bear much fruit” (John 15:8). What has been the fruit of our labor in the last decade?
In 2009, the first trips I made as executive director were to Haiti. There a team of US Brethren interviewed nine individuals to be licensed into the ministry of the Church of the Brethren in our efforts to start the fledgling mission. Among the nine were two brothers: Jean Altenor, in whose house the first Brethren congregation was started in Port-au-Prince, and his older brother, Duvelis Altenor, in a remote mountain village of Grand Bois on the Dominican Republic border.
When Frère (“brother”) Jean, as he is called in Haiti, encountered the Brethren and understood our unique perspective of the gospel, he immediately went home and shared the good news with his brother Duvelis. When we interviewed him in 2009, Duvelis was hard at work getting a new church established in Grand Bois. We asked about his sense of calling and ministry, and Duvelis, a very quiet man, shared that, besides being a pastor of the congregation, he would hike through the mountains and visit the sick and suffering. This has led to much growth in the church, making it the largest Church of the Brethren congregation in Haiti.
I have wanted to visit Grand Bois for many years (and did so after joining the Haitian Brethren for their seventh annual conference gathering). The journey to Grand Bois is dreadfully hard with hours of creeping along rocky donkey trails in 4-wheel drive until, just when you feel your body cannot handle another bump, you park the car and hike down into the village.
When we arrived, we visited the church first. Though the community is poor and agrarian—growing crops of maize and beans in stone-filled plots of land—it came together to purchase land and construct a Brethren meeting house. God has so blessed their ministry that the building cannot hold all of their 400 members.
Our second stop near Grand Bois was to the capped spring. Traditionally, the community has relied on a small, natural spring that flows from the mountains forming a small creek. Community members travel far to the creek but the water is never very clean. In the dry season, its flow is very limited. This year we were able to cap the spring with cement (which prevents animals from trampling through it), and build a series of tanks to move the water closer to the village with the aid of a pump and a generator. Communities are very sensitive to anyone messing with their only water source, but the Haitian Brethren have a reputation of trust and competence.
Our third stop was to the home of Duvelis and his family. He was thrilled to show us the cabinet of medicine and introduce us to the community health worker who manages it. The community pharmacy program provides treatment for basic needs. Their cabinet saves a person from needing to travel a full day’s journey out of the mountains to get treatment. Duvelis’s heart and passion for the sick is extending in ways we had not anticipated in 2009: clean water, medical clinics, and now a community pharmacy.
After 10 years, it’s wonderful to celebrate the growth of the church in Haiti. Fruit remains when fruit replicates more fruit. The church in Grand Bois sees itself as the church of the community and spends its time and effort serving the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of its community. It delights in the partnership it has with other Brethren churches in Haiti and with other Brethren congregations on Hispaniola, as well as in the US and around the globe. They intend to be an active participant in the global Church of the Brethren body.
Life is hard in Haiti and poverty is endemic, but a caring church inspires members to find a calling of service. This is what inspired Duvelis to embrace a Brethren understanding of a holistic gospel of compassion and peace, and, quite literally, a cup of cold water. Duvelis inspires me to share the good news of the compassion of Jesus.
What we see happening for the Haitian Brethren is one of many examples of how God has blessed the global church in the last decade. May we be encouraged by the fruits of ministry for our sisters and brothers around the world.