Discipleship and Leadership Formation

Find a reflection and video that interprets the work of Discipleship and Leadership Formation in this week's issue.
View the video.

“For just as each of us has one body with many and these members do not all have the same function so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We all have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.”
~Romans 12:4-6a

The Office of Discipleship and Leadership Formation, a recently restructured department of the Church of the Brethren, combines the staff and resources of Discipleship Ministries (including Intercultural Ministries, Youth and Young Adult Ministries, and Older Adult Ministries) with the Office of Ministry. This new team will continue to foster support for the calling and equipping of pastors and youth and young adults to become fearless disciples and leaders for and within our congregations. The change adds energy to planting new churches and renewing established ones.

Bringing these two areas together reinforces the denomination’s resolve to “develop a culture of calling and equipping disciples who are innovative, adaptable, and fearless.” It provides the intentionality we have been seeking to aid us in “passionately living and sharing the radical transformation” of Jesus Christ through church planting, renewal and revitalization, and a shared understanding of working together to live out the great commission.

The Ministry Office’s “Part-Time Pastor; Full-Time Church” program provides a way for the church to walk with, listen to, and advocate for part-time, multi-vocational, and not-paid-to-scale pastors, empowering them to live well by enriching their journey through relationships and thoughtful knowledge sharing. Circuit riders are assigned to pastors who participate in this program to “ride” alongside them as they work to build relationships, share their wisdom, and encourage pastors to take advantage of book studies, web video series, and other resources to strengthen their ministry. Additional pastoral resources are available online (found at www.brethren.org/ministryoffice) concerning the Ministry Assistance Fund, chaplaincy resources, and resources from the Pastoral Compensation and Benefits Advisory Committee and Ministers’ Association.

Staff will continue to focus on strengthening long-standing events and resources coming from Discipleship Ministries such as:

National Young Adult Conference was held in May at Camp Mack in Milford, Ind. with young adults coming together to fellowship, worship, study the Bible, participate in a service project, and have conversation around the scripture text of Jeremiah 18:1-6 and the conference theme “I’m not done with you.”

Christian Citizenship Seminar was held April 22-27 brought together youth from across the country to study the scripture text 1 Kings 17:7-16 centering on the theme “Hot and hungry” and wrestling with how we live out the calling from God to care for our neighbors and all of God’s creation.

The New and Renew Conference held this past May at the General Offices in Elgin, Ill., focused on the theme “Disciples – Called, Equipped, and Into the Neighborhood.” The three-day hybrid event had more than 20 sessions developed to broaden the understanding of church planting and congregational renewal. This is a vibrant gathering rooted in worship and prayer while providing practical training, nurturing conversation, and stimulating idea-sharing.

National Youth Conference met in the summer of 2022 with 901 students, advisors, volunteers and staff gathered on the campus of Colorado State University to root themselves in the theme “Foundational.”


National Junior High Conference was held in June on the campus of Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa., with junior high youth, advisors, volunteers and staff gathering to hear dynamic speakers and attend workshops centered on the theme “What does God want from Me?”

All of these events provide opportunities for growth, worship, fellowship, and resource sharing to provide our youth and young adults a foundation for them to not only stand on but grow from, and a safe space to learn from the speakers and each other as they share their thoughts with one another in rich conversation.

National Older Adult Conference will be held September 4-8 at Lake Junaluska, N.C. and center on the theme “God is doing a new things” based on Isaiah 43:19. This event provides a venue for our more seasoned members from across the denomination to foster relationships, tour the area around Lake Junaluska, praise God together through worship, singing, and dynamic speakers, and, of course, spending time in fellowship.

Discipleship and Leadership Formation, equipped with the core understanding of being “Jesus in the neighborhood” from the denomination’s newly adapted vision statement, is a dynamic group of leaders that provides coaching, collaboration, and consultation upon request to assist a congregation that desires to reach into and connect with their local communities. A collection of webcasts and workshops with a variety of online learning opportunities is a part of a denominational resource toolkit. Find “Tools for Community Engagement” at www.brethren.org/neighborhoodtools.

Thank you for sharing your unique gifts with the body of Christ. Contributions to Core Ministries support the work of Discipleship and Leadership Formation. Learn more about this ministry of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/discipleshipmin or support it today at www.brethren.org/givediscipleship.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Living as the flock of Jesus

Photo by Matthew McCrickard

By Matt DeBall, coordinator of Mission Advancement communications

“[Jesus said,] ‘What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.’” ~Matthew 18:12-14, NIV

Jesus shows abundant hospitality throughout the gospels. He was regularly welcoming, associating, and drawing near to people who were overlooked and neglected. On this particular occasion, the disciples had just asked Jesus who was the greatest among them. His response:  to welcome one of the children who was nearby and to share a story about who is most highly esteemed in God’s kingdom.

The parable of the lost or wandering sheep continues to be an inviting story. This earthly narrative with heavenly meaning details a sheep wandering away and a shepherd leaving the rest of the flock to go find it. Jesus surely wasn’t stating that those who remain faithful to the flock don’t matter in God’s family, but was emphasizing that God’s love stretches beyond human expectations to care for those who are wandering and lost. By sharing this story, Jesus was providing a snapshot of his mission to care for all people, especially the most vulnerable.

After reading this parable recently, I was blessed to remember how great the love of God is for you and for me. I was also drawn to an untold parable behind the parable; a story of how the flock responded after the lost sheep was returned by the shepherd. I invite you to reflect on the following poem.

When the lost sheep was brought home
did the flock grumble and groan,
or with love did they have a great party?

Did any try to heap on guilt,
trample on the bond they had built,
or did they hold back their comments
when they saw the sheep’s tired face.

Did they poke at his pain or shame,
did they play the blame game,
or with gentleness did they help him heal?

Did those near the fence keep their distance,
look at him with concern and resistance,
or did each one offer greetings with joy?

Were any of the flock still troubled
by how the sheep could have stumbled
or did a new peace fall on one and all?

Were any focused on the wrong done,
contending he had lost, they had won,
or did they remember their call
to faithfully care for each other.

Did any jump to ask why and how—
the questions they had, even now—
or with kindness did they wait
for the sheep to share?

Had any of them kept track of the time
from the moment he left until he was fine.
Did they grow in patience and in grace?

Did anyone try to send the lost sheep away—
begrudging that he chose to stray, not stay—
or did they remember the goodness of their shepherd?

As followers of Jesus, are we ready for who the Lord turns or returns to us? There are many ways to assess our life and ministry together, and the litmus test of Paul noted in Galatians 5:22-23 seems as good as any:  “The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” From your corner of the pasture in your congregation, in your community, and in the Church of the Brethren as a whole, let us consider:

> Which fruits of the Spirit are most present among us?

> Which fruits of the Spirit can we grow in?

> How will we welcome those who join us?

From my vantage point, faithfulness abounds as leaders, members, and supporters of the Church of the Brethren have a detailed history of offering time of service, talent in leadership, and treasure of resources to sustain all the work that we do. I have also witnessed love among us through how we care for one another and by how we value the work that we are able to do together.

Regarding the fruits of the Spirit we can grow in, the answer could certainly be ALL. Just like growing in faith, attending to the work of the Spirit among us is a journey and a process, not a destination. But what fruits could be riper among us?

The “how” question, we start in reflection and carry out in community. Just as we prepare our homes thoroughly and carefully for guests—whether for lunch or for a more extended stay—so also do we prepare the environment for our life together so that whoever joins us feels welcome. If I can expand how we interpret “priesthood of all believers,” this involves seeing that each of us is able to minister to one another, but also that we serve on the “welcoming committee of all believers.” Jesus is calling people to turn and return to him, and whenever we encounter them, it’s our responsibility to be ready to receive those whom the Lord brings.

Within the missions and ministries of the Church of the Brethren, we provide opportunities for the people of God to grow in discipleship and leadership formation and to embody and articulate their faith. We are cultivating relationships with partners around the world and living a life of serving in community. Together we are engaging our neighbors and sharing the holistic peace of Jesus Christ. Thank you for your self-less service to Christ and his church.

As the flock of Jesus, may love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control be abundant in our life together and in how we welcome the people the Lord brings to us.

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Peacefully, simply, together in the great outdoors

Photo courtesy of Camp Mardela

Peacefully, Simply, Together in the great outdoors:
The Camp Mardela Way 75 Years and Counting

by Jennifer Summy, camp administrator at Camp Mardela (Md.)

This year, Camp Mardela is celebrating its 75th anniversary, and we have had a lot of time to reflect on where we came from, and how far we’ve come. 2020 forced us to reprioritize our lives, and the pandemic showed us the importance of Church of the Brethren camping values. We were forced to remove the distractions and find peace; to remove unnecessary activities and simplify; to turn towards our families and prioritize time together. Many people learned the value of camp in this post-pandemic world.

In the years following the pandemic, we saw a slow return of campers, but this year, we are already seeing camper numbers start to bounce back to their pre-pandemic numbers! In addition to this, during the pandemic we saw tremendous growth in another area:  rental groups. These groups have DOUBLED in the past couple years, as groups anywhere from Brethren family reunions to a capella groups have found the value in retreating into nature to deepen relationships with each other, with nature, and with God. We are thrilled about this growing ministry opportunity, as we share our Brethren values with these groups, and as they learn to respect, and even adopt some of these values for themselves.

Our property can host a maximum of 42 campers for any given camp program week. For those who are familiar with larger camps, this seems like a small number, but this has provided great opportunity to have a tremendous ministry. Every week of camp, campers and staff get to know each other on a more personal level, and this is what has created such a deeply connected community at Camp Mardela. Some of my favorite camps have been with fewer than 10 campers, because I have gotten know those campers very well, form deeper connections, and steward their spiritual growth more personally than if they were at a larger camp.

As I’ve been exploring Camp Mardela’s history, I learned that from the very beginning Camp Mardela was built on volunteerism and deep community. Men and women worked together to build and run camp, and that culture has been maintained over camp’s 75 year history. Camp Mardela has grown steadily since its first year of operation in 1948. No one could have predicted that this camp would be where it is today, but God has guided us with purpose and Camp Mardela has become a place to grow together.

We are so excited to celebrate our rich history with our 75th anniversary celebrations. We hosted our annual Camp Appreciation Day on May 21 with the theme of “Happy Birthday Camp Mardela!” We had live music, birthday games, Camp Mardela history trivia, and more. We asked members of the churches to bring a dozen cupcakes each to share for this event. What amassed was a beautiful tapestry of all colors, flavors, sizes, and kinds of cupcakes–a beautiful representation of the wonderful people who make up this community, and make it so sweet!

Our BIG anniversary celebration will be September 1-3, 2023, which is during the week of our annual Family Camp. We will have previous administrators return to speak and share parts of their Camp Mardela story, including Pat Ecker, Bruce Layton, Jennifer Summy, and more. All are welcome to join our anniversary sessions for FREE. Guests can register to join us for meals or for overnight accommodations at www.campmardela.org/camp-programs.

In a recent conversation with Pat Ecker, who served as the camp administrator in the 1980s and 90s, she described a time where she comforted a camper and his mother as they were both nervous to be apart from each other for a week. Mrs. Ecker shared the advice to the mother, “You’ve given your child roots; now let us give him wings.” I could think of no better way to describe the value of camp in the lives of these children and youth. By living peaceably with each other, learning to be present without modern distractions, and to live together in community, we get to teach our campers eternal values that will help them grow together into stronger and more mature children of God.

Camp Mardela is a camp/outdoor ministry affiliated with the Mid-Atlantic District of the Church of the Brethren. If you want to learn more about Camp Mardela’s programs, events, history, and more, visit www.campmardela.org. Learn about the Outdoor Ministry Association at www.omacob.org or find a list of Church of the Brethren camps at www.brethren.org/camps/directory.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Living God’s Love


By Rhonda Pittman Gingrich, director of Annual Conference

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” ~Ephesians 5:1-2

The 2023 Annual Conference theme is “Living God’s Love.” As Tim McElwee, the 2023 Annual Conference moderator, has shared:
 “We are made in the image of God and our calling is to love like God loves. We know how God loves through the life and teachings of Jesus and through the love we share with and receive from each other. We know how God loves because though we are sinners and none of us could be worthy of God’s love, nevertheless God loves us fully and unconditionally. And we know how God loves because Jesus, the descent of God into our world and into our lives, loved inclusively, without limits, and extravagantly.”

Building on the work of the 2022 Annual Conference, Moderator Tim McElwee invites us to continue to apply our denomination’s vision statement by sharing Jesus with each other, living in harmony, embracing one another as Christ embraces us, and sharing God’s gift of inclusive love. The daily themes for this year’s Annual Conference will be:  Living God’s Love (Tuesday), Bearing the Fruit of God’s Love (Wednesday), Responding in Love to the Needs of Others (Thursday), Seeing and Loving Like God (Friday), and Loving the Least in the Family of God (Saturday).

Our hope for this year’s gathering is to continue reconnecting after COVID by:  renewing old friendships and forming new ones; being inspired and challenged to grow in faith to become more innovative, adaptable, and fearless disciples; building bridges across the political polarization of secular society in order to be the body of Christ together; returning home better equipped to minister with our neighbors; and, overall, living into the Annual Conference mission statement “to unite, strengthen, and equip the Church of the Brethren to follow Jesus.”

Annual Conference in Cincinnati will provide several unique opportunities:  Tours to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and the Nancy and David Wolf Holocaust and Humanity Center; a revitalized exhibit hall with performances on a coffeehouse stage, a silent auction, a game night, and ice cream, in addition to informative exhibits; a Public Witness for Gun Violence Prevention; and an opportunity to support our Witness to the Host City project Found House.

We look forward to connecting with you—in-person or virtually—for Annual Conference in Cincinnati!

The opportunity to register in advance to participate in the 2023 Annual Conference in-person ends this Saturday, June 10. (In-person participants who miss this deadline can register onsite at a higher cost.) Non-delegates can register to participate virtually through June 27 after which registration for virtual participation will close. Learn more about Annual Conference or register today at www.brethren.org/ac2023.

(Read this issue of eBrethren..)

The ministry of showing up

Read a reflection from Walt Wiltschek in this week's issue.
The group at the Brethren Volunteer Service mid-year retreat.

By Walt Wiltschek; office coordinator of Brethren Volunteer Service, at-large editor of Messenger magazine, and district executive for Illinois and Wisconsin District

When I was a youth pastor in Maryland fresh out of seminary, I was fortunate to have in the congregation a retired pastor who became a trusted and invaluable mentor for me. He said many wise things to me over the time I knew him, but one I most remember involved his grandchildren, who also attended the congregation. The family was going through a lot while I was there, so I had tried my best to get to know them and connect.

“You know,” this retired pastor said one day, “no matter how good a preacher you become (and I wasn’t a very good one then), or how many good sermons you preach, or how many Sunday school classes or youth activities you lead, that’s not what my grandkids are going to remember. They’re going to remember when you came to their house and shot basketball with them on their driveway. They love basketball, and when you came and shared that with them, that’s when you became real.”

It seemed a rather routine thing at the time–and I’m not very good at basketball, either—but that’s stuck with me ever since, and something I’ve tried to make part of the youth ministry I do, and the other ministry, as well. Woody Allen once famously said that “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” And while I’m not sure that Woody Allen is the best model for anything theological, in this case I think he might have gotten it right. It’s amazing how much of ministry is simply showing up—being there—accompanying people on the journey of life and faith.

In an article I encountered recently, author Rich Anderson noted that “The life of Jesus is the blueprint for just showing up.” Every miraculous and ordinary thing he did and said in his ministry exemplified showing up for people in need. Anderson goes on to give some contemporary examples of showing up, including a nurse who proved to be a great help to his nervous 100-year-old mother during an emergency hospital stay and even brought her flowers to help her smile—a nurse who hadn’t been scheduled to work that evening but came in for overtime because he felt it was important to show up that day.

In Matthew 10:40-42, in The Message translation, Jesus says, “Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger. Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice.”

Mother Teresa once famously said that we can do “small things with great love.” As we in the Church of the Brethren and other denominations sometimes bemoan our shrinking numbers, perhaps we can also do loving things with our great smallness. Whatever our size, we can still show up and let God use us. Sometimes just showing up itself and being there is enough. Sometimes that’s the first step to listening or responding or taking action. But it begins with being there.

Thank you for showing up in the ministries of your congregation, community, district, and the larger denomination. Thank you for responding to people in crises, connecting across cultures, volunteering, stewarding resources, equipping fellow believers, supporting pastors and churches leaders, or doing the behind-the-scenes work that keeps everything going smoothly. However you participate in the ministry of showing up, you’re doing holy work.

Learn more about the work of the Church of the Brethren that provides opportunities to carry out the ministry of showing up at www.brethren.org/greatthings or support our ministries at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Sent in the Spirit


A theme interpretation written by Matt DeBall, coordinator of Mission Advancement Communications, for the 2023 Pentecost Offering

“Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” ~John 20:21-22, NIV

It’s difficult to do anything without having sufficient support. It’s a privilege to be invited, but it’s a blessing to be given everything that is needed to move forward. When Jesus approached his terrified and weary followers, they needed divine vision but also heavenly provision.

To be clear, the disciples had good reason to be concerned. The Lord was known for being righteous and innocent of all crimes, but he was put to death as a scapegoat by a hate-filled religious mob and an unjust criminal justice system with more than one official who turned a blind eye to the whole ordeal. Those who followed Jesus were concerned that the people who pleaded for Jesus to be put to death would come after them next. Amid the uncertainty of their situation and of the future, Jesus appeared among them.

We may not be as fearful for our lives as the disciples, but we still have concerns about what the future holds. Offered compelling and compounding data that our sacred task is far too risky and our challenges too numerous, we convince ourselves that we can’t bring healing to our communities, to our country, to our world. And this conclusion, though morose, is correct. In our own strength and might, we simply can’t do or be all that is needed to step out of hiding and make a difference.

However, the Lord has not called us to abandon us. Sent by God, the risen Jesus set his transition plan in motion. Not only did Jesus put the train back on the track, but he also provided fuel for the engine. Like at the time of creation when God imparted the breath of life and animation to humanity (Hebrew “ruah”), so also does Jesus Christ breathe new life and reanimation into his followers (Greek “pneuma”)—with breath that revived his followers after the resurrection and stirs up new life in every age.

Through the missions and ministries of the Church of the Brethren, we recognize our God-given calling and that the Holy Spirit empowers us to continue the work of Jesus. We are calling and equipping fearless disciples and leaders, renewing and planting churches, and transforming communities. Your support of the Pentecost Offering supports these faith-building and life-changing endeavors that we do together—through the power of God and the unity of the Holy Spirit.

We have not been called and left hanging. We have been commissioned to important work and given the support we need to carry it out. We, indeed, have been sent in the Spirit. May we go forth with the Lord who has called us and the Spirit that sustains us.

Find this and other worship resources for the Pentecost Offering of the Church of the Brethren (suggested date May 28) at www.brethren.org/pentecost or give an offering today at www.brethren.org/giveoffering.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Food, fundraising, and fellowship

By Kathy Hackleman, public relations coordinator at Annville (Pa.) Church of the Brethren

A successful fundraising effort requires multiple things: a product or service people are willing to pay to obtain and volunteers who are willing to organize, set up, and carry out the efforts involved in the fundraising event. In the case of Annville Church of the Brethren, the product is chicken pot pie and the volunteers who have organized the fundraiser for the past 10 years are church members Kathy Schrader and Kate Wentling.

The most recent annual fundraising sale of Pennsylvania Dutch chicken pot pie (most accurately described as a thick noodle soup) sold by the quart raised approximately $4,000 in March 2023. The recipient of the funds raised this year has not yet been selected but in past years, the fundraiser has benefited denominational ministries, church outreach projects, expenses for church youth to attend church camp or National Youth Conference, church kitchen renovations, or a need of the community.

Originally started as a dinner at the church where tickets were sold, over the years the annual fundraising dinner transitioned into its current form where quarts of pot pie are pre-sold. In a typical year, between 625 and 650 quarts of chicken pot pie are bought. Due to the rising cost of ingredients, the cost increased slightly this year to $8.50 per quart.

Held annually in March, the exact dates for preparing the pot pie varies from year to year as Kathy and Kate work around Easter and their own schedules to set the date. The final product is always put together and finished on a Friday and Saturday. Kathy and Kate begin working behind the scenes soon after the start of each new year. “We begin watching for good deals on ingredients in January,” Kathy explains. Of course, the main ingredient of chicken pot pie is chicken, and for 625-650 quarts of finished pot pie, that means about 60 chickens. Church members volunteer to cook down the chickens, sometimes at their homes and other times in small groups in the church kitchen.

Once the chickens are cooked and the meat removed from the bones, other ingredients are weighed and measured in preparation for a small group of volunteers who gather in the church kitchen to complete the pot pie. Those volunteers spend two days on tasks like peeling potatoes, working and rolling dough, stirring the pot pie as it cooks, and filling the containers.

Volunteers are recruited through announcements at church and individual contacts. People can sign up for the day or days they want to volunteer and for the specific job they wish to do. Volunteers are rewarded with doughnuts and breakfast casseroles on the days they work. Each of the two-day shifts is between two and five hours.

The specific recipe used for the chicken pot pie is a secret. The recipe originated decades ago from church members Charlotte and Gladys Wampler. It has been tweaked only slightly over the years, most often when ingredients have increased significantly in price or are no longer available. The original recipe called for specific brands of ingredients, which became problematic as the years passed. Also, the recipe has been changed to reflect precise measurements (Kate reports the original version called for the “white mug full of onions” and a specific number of eggs, which Kathy and Kate have found is more accurately measured by cups, not number since the size of eggs can vary widely). Even with the recipe and years of experience, Kathy and Kate say some years they need to adjust on the fly—like adding additional broth to make the finished pot pie “just right.”

Once all of the containers filled with pot pie are out the door, the work continues. Kathy and Kate write notes to include in the decades-old chicken pot pie folder, which includes details from each year’s fundraiser: the amount of money raised, cost of ingredients, where the funds were distributed, and any suggestions they have for the following year.

The annual spring chicken pot pie sale is only one of a number of kitchen projects Kathy and Kate coordinate at Annville Church of the Brethren. Another major effort is making chicken pot pie for the annual Brethren Disaster Relief Auction in Lebanon, Pa. For that, volunteers prepare about 100 quarts of the pot pie and deliver it to the auction where it is sold as part of a meal or by the bowl.

Although dozens of volunteers put in hundreds of hours to prepare the pot pie, Kathy and Kate contribute the lion’s share of work. However, it’s an effort they clearly enjoy, although both say they wish there was an easier, faster way to get the chickens cooked and prepared. Pot pie is not a difficult dish to prepare, Kathy notes, but it does take quite a bit of time since it involves multiple steps and quite a few ingredients. It’s continuing a decades-long tradition that propels Kate to do the work each year. “Annville is known locally for its pot pie, and I enjoy being a part of that,” she says. Kathy explains, “I enjoy the fellowship and I like it when people compliment the final product. There are some years where I feel like I can’t do it again, but then people tell me how much they look forward to it and how they wait all year for it, and I decide to do it again.”

The Office of Mission Advancement of the Church of the Brethren is grateful for this reflection from Kathy Hackleman. It represents the creativity and passion we strive to nurture together as followers of Jesus. For more inspirational stories about congregations being “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.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Restored by love

By Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement

“When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked.  //  ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied.  //  Jesus wept.  //  Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’  //  But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’”
–John 11:33-37

In John 11 we find a story of restorative love when Jesus is called to go to Bethany because His dear friend, Lazarus, is deathly ill. Jesus heard this news, He didn’t rush to His friend’s side, but instead cared for what was in front of him before telling the disciples it was time to move toward Jerusalem. Reading between the lines, no one around Him could have truly grasped how Lazarus’ illness, and ultimately his death, would provide a final opportunity for Jesus to reveal that He was the Messiah.

I don’t know if we can fully understand the relationship Jesus had with the three siblings of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. We read of their interactions with Him a few times in the gospels, but we don’t have a full picture of how close they were. What I understand as I read the text is that this relationship between the four of them was one of mutual love, care, and support. The gospel writer uses the Greek verbs “phileo,” connected to “philia”(verse 3), meaning a “brotherly or friendly” love, and “agapao,” connected to “agape” (verse 5), referring to a “deeper, self-giving” love. It’s the deep agape love that is at the heart of God and it is genuine philia love that Jesus embodies in relationship. This is where we better understand the depth, width, and height of the Lord’s love for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. It also gives us a beautiful illustration of how Jesus loves us and how He desires to be in relationship with us and with all people.

When we live together in community, we celebrate love with hospitality for all, service to one another, and participation in each other’s afflictions. All of this creates a place where healing and restoration can occur because of the friendship we share. In these types of relationships, human predicaments are dealt with and well-being is restored.

We see Jesus participating in the painful predicaments of the world and through the resurrection offers us hope. He is Immanuel, God with us, not God “visiting” us. He is engaged with the world and is actively working in solidarity with the suffering of the world, because He experienced the worst parts of humanity. His mission is to engage with the suffering of the world and to redeem it and to restore humanity’s broken relationship with God. Discipleship calls for a similar type of engagement, for us to participate in the suffering of those around us, not to romanticize it, but to be realistic about the human condition and realize that our world aches for redemption.

A longing for restoration from destruction, for life after death, harkens back to Ezekiel chapter 37 where God asks the prophet “Can these dry bones live?” What follows is a direct command from Sovereign God to and through Ezekiel to proclaim, “Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you and will cause flesh to come upon you and cover you with skin and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 37:5-6, NRSVUE). The bodies began to mend, and with the Word of God, the breath of new life entered them. It was the living Word, the gift of the Spirit that brought full restoration.

With a brotherly love, Jesus drew near to the grieving sisters, approached the tomb, and wept, entering fully into human suffering. And with a God-filled love, Jesus proclaimed with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” and the word of God restored the breath of life. And beyond the cross of Good Friday and the empty tomb of Easter, we believe that God’s unconditional love paired with words of life raised Jesus from the dead.

As the body of Christ, we serve together as friends and share the agape love of God in the hope that those we encounter may experience the same restorative love we have in Jesus. Through the shared missions and ministries of the Church of the Brethren, we serve globally, throughout the US, and in our neighborhoods, sharing words of life with all people. Filled with God’s love and the living word, may we continue the work of Jesus.

Learn more about the loving work of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/greatthings or support its missions and ministries at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Hold our feet to the path

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

By Nancy McCrickard, Mission Advancement advocate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My fellow volunteers of “The Fun Bunch”

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

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

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)