Hope in every seed


Marigolds from Nancy McCrickard’s home garden.

By Nancy McCrickard, Mission Advancement advocate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building community in the time of a pandemic

The Everyday Ubuntu book discussion group earlier this month.

By LaDonna Nkosi, the director of Intercultural Ministries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you’re interested in joining a discussion:

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

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

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

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

Bearing witness to the peace of Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Caring for neighbors around the world

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Fear and faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

The gift of the Spirit

Photo by Glenn Riegel

An excerpt from a sermon starter by LaDonna Nkosi, director of Intercultural Ministries, for the 2020 Pentecost Offering of the Church of the Brethren

“On the evening of the first day of the week, when the disciples were together with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Again, 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. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’”
~John 20:19-23

On Pentecost, we celebrate the outpouring of God’s Spirit upon peoples from many nations speaking different languages. This is the gift that Jesus promised in John 14 and 15 and Acts 1 that was made manifest in Acts 2. Jesus says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

In our Pentecost Offering theme scripture of John 20:19-23, Jesus appears to his disciples who are locked in and afraid.  It is important to ask, “Why where they afraid? What was causing them to be locked in and afraid?”

Today in many towns, villages, cities, and nations, people are locked in and afraid.  People are doing their best to protect themselves and their neighbors from being infected by COVID-19.

The Bible records that Jesus himself breaks into their fear and locked-in places, and stands among them. This, my friend, will preach!

Jesus comes to us in our places of need, places of impossibility, places of uncertainty, and he himself stands among us, saying, “Peace be with you.”

What are the places where we need God to breathe on us? What are the places where you personally need Jesus himself to stand with you and breathe?

As we approach Pentecost, may we all receive a breath of fresh air from Jesus and celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Read this resource in full and find other worship resources and activities for this year’s Pentecost Offering.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Pentecost Offering 2020

Worship Resources for the 2020 Pentecost Offering
of the Church of the Brethren

Worship Resources for the 2020 Pentecost Offering
of the Church of the Brethren

Shine on: a study Bible” produced by Brethren Press

The day when God made church” by Rebekah McLeod Hutto

A message of hope

My dear friends in Christ Jesus:

As Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, “I thank my God every time I remember you” (1:3). During these days of physical distancing, I so much miss traveling throughout the church and seeing you in person.

The disruptions caused by COVID-19 have unfortunately become our routine. The uncertainty of what may come tomorrow and in the days ahead makes us anxious. And the physical separation required right now makes it more difficult to provide the community support that comes so naturally for us as the body of Christ.

COVID-19 is affecting some of us very personally, and we fear that will increase as time goes by. Let us continue to undergird each other with fervent prayer.

In these days of uncertainty and concern, I especially want to thank our pastors, who have been beacons of hope and encouragement. They are reflecting the resurrection hope of Jesus to their communities. Through creative pastoral leadership, they are helping all of us discover different ways to be Jesus in the neighborhood. 

In these last weeks, we all have been forced to make major changes in our lives and in our communities of faith. To support pastors and other church leaders, staff of the Church of the Brethren have been working to quickly provide many resources. You can find the latest information at the Church of the Brethren website, www.brethren.org. Please check the site frequently and subscribe to Newsline; information is being updated constantly in this rapidly changing time. 

The need is great, and this is an opportunity for the church to offer the cup of cold water and mutually support one another in our common ministries of Jesus Christ. The Church of the Brethren staff is committed to that end.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we live in the hope of the resurrection. Even with death comes new life. None of us knows what tomorrow will bring, but what we do know is that we can come together as the body of Christ to support the needs of our neighbors—those nearby and those far away. As Brethren around the world support each other with prayer and other expressions of love and care, we all feel the deep fellowship of our global Church of the Brethren.

Thank you for that fellowship, which remains strong even though we are apart. May God’s love and strength be with you.

All my gratitude and hope,

David A. Steele
General Secretary

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Are we ready to rise?

Photo by T. C. Perch

By Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement

    “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
     There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. . . .
     The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.’” ~Matthew 28:1-2,5-7

As Mary Magdalene and Mary went to the tomb, I can’t imagine what went through their minds as they experienced the earthquake and encountered the angel. Maybe a feeling of sickness in their stomachs? Feeling light-headed?  They must have looked at each other with confusion and concern about what everything meant. I wonder if they had to ask the angel to repeat the message—I wouldn’t have been thinking clearly enough the first time and would have needed to hear it again.

“Do not be afraid,” the angel said. “The One whom you seek is not here. He has risen just like He said. Go and tell the disciples that He will meet them in Galilee.”

Matthew says the women ran, with fear and great joy, to deliver the message to the disciples. Again, I wonder how many times the women needed to repeat the message:

“There was an earthquake. Did you feel it? An angel rolled the stone away and showed us that Jesus wasn’t in the tomb. He is alive! And we saw him! Touched him and held on for dear life. He told us to tell you he’ll meet you in Galilee. You can’t stay here hidden, you must go and meet him. He’ll be there!”

Other gospel accounts tell us that some of the disciples went to the tomb to see for themselves. They just couldn’t comprehend what the women were saying and struggled to believe them. Why didn’t they just pack up and start their trip to Galilee? Why didn’t they have faith?

As we reflect on all the events of Holy Week, why do we ever lack faith? Why do we continue to stare into an empty tomb; some days just going through the motions? Even now, it can be easy to become complacent and comfortable with the rituals of our daily lives. “Oh, I’ll read the Bible tomorrow.” “I’ll find time to pray later.” “I’ll make sure Easter is special for me/my family next year.”

What Jesus did—by dying and rising from the dead—was revolutionary. It was a game changer! Even when we endure hardship and loss or the earth rumbles beneath our feet, we don’t need to fear because Jesus has conquered all death, darkness, and despair. We now have hope of God’s presence right now and the promise of eternal life. Our relationship with Jesus gives us assurance that we no longer need to fear anything.

Our mission, much like for Mary Magdalene and Mary, is to pass along the wonderful news that our Savior is alive and waiting for us. We are called to join the revolution of Jesus by teaching about his transformative work and inviting others to come and see him.

Regardless of what we are thinking or feeling right now, Jesus is alive and well and waiting to have fellowship with us. Are we ready for our spirits to rise with our risen Lord? Will we flee from fear, share a message of hope, and show the world another way of living?

Learn how the ministries of the Church of the Brethren reveal another way of living at www.brethren.org or support them at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

The march toward positive peace


By Susuyu Lassa, associate of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy and Brethren Volunteer Service worker

Peacebuilding has always been a passion of mine. I’ve known from a young age that I am called to a life of volunteerism and service; I remember spending a number of my weekends throughout middle and high school volunteering however I could, be it spending the majority of a day painting the walls of a recently erected building at a mission compound, or spending just a few hours holding newborn babies at an orphanage.

(Continue reading the original blog post featured by
the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy.)

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)