How do you measure success?

Global Food Initiative
www.brethren.org/gfi

By Jeff Boshart, manager of the Global Food Initiative

As I travel for the Global Food Initiative (GFI) of the Church of the Brethren, I am sometimes asked, “How do you measure success?” Answering that question begins with an understanding that true success comes from the Lord. As Isaiah 10:15 reveals, tools need someone to wield them in order to be useful. Likewise, GFI is simply a tool that is used by God to help our partners serve effectively in their local communities. After acknowledging God’s involvement, I also say, “Good things ARE happening with GFI and its partners around the globe.” And it’s great when recipients of GFI grants share their stories.

Dawn Blackman from the Randolph Street Community Garden, an outreach of the Champaign (Ill.) Church of the Brethren, received a grant to pay community members in great need to labor in the garden. She wrote: “With the use of the [GFI] funds, we not only got more infrastructure work done this summer in the garden, but there were people trained to lighten my load and even take over when I needed help. Additionally, some casual labor recipients became volunteers in our other ministries. It has been a good year! We would love to be able to continue this program in its current form or to even increase our ‘Tools and Manual Library.’”

Etienne Nsanzimana in Rwanda shared: “Our ministry has been serving with the Batwa [Pygmy] people farming potatoes for the last 7 years. Traditionally they were hunter-gatherers living in the forests. When violence caused them to leave the forest, they became outcasts, surviving by begging and stealing. Now they are working and feeding themselves. Malnutrition has decreased in their children and many are going to school. Recently, 36 of the adult Batwa accepted Christ and some formed a choir in the church named “Makerubi” (meaning “Cherubim”). They are committed to spreading the love of Christ through their songs. We have seen a real change in their lives and have great hopes for the next generation.”

Lastly, Alfredo Merino in Ecuador wrote, “With the support of the GFI, the training project in agroecology and gastronomy for youth of the Pedro Moncayo-Pichincha area has been a success in all respects. Dozens of young people [over 500] have participated, resulting in increased environmental awareness. We will continue to encourage youth to cultivate their small gardens, eat better, and take pride in preparing their own food. Thank you for all your support. It is a blessing as we continue this work.”

Thank you for your partnership in the important work being done around the world through the Global Food Initiative. God is truly blessing this ministry and changing lives. Please prayerfully consider how you will help us respond to future needs.

Learn more about the Global Food Initiative at www.brethren.org/gfi or support it today at www.brethren.org/givegfi .

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Serving together for a purpose

Brethren Disaster Ministries long-term project leaders
Steve Keim and Kim Gingerich (first row from left) enjoy watching
friendships develop among volunteers coming from different
districts and backgrounds as they share God’s love together.
Photo by Brethren Disaster Ministries staff
By Kim Gingerich, long-term disaster project leader

As a long-term volunteer project leader with the Brethren Disaster Ministries (BDM) Rebuilding program, I have had the privilege of experiencing this ministry from the “inside” for more than five years. I’ve been given the opportunity to see our denomination through different eyes:  the eyes of service, compassion, and love.  The one thing that keeps standing out to me is how we are united, as opposed to how we might be divided. The “we” are volunteers who come from different districts across the denomination to serve together each week. I often comment to them during our end-of-week debriefing that this ministry is the best-kept secret of our denomination.

Why do I say that? Because those who come to serve strive for a common goal that we fulfill together. What is that common goal? To glorify God as we serve with our hands, feet, and hearts to help restore hope in our clients and the communities in which we serve. Because we have that common goal, we are united. Despite our differences, we are united. We are united because we are motivated by love—God’s love for us and our love for Him—which in turn compels us to love our neighbor as ourselves. As Galatians 5:13-14 tells us: “Serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command:  Love your neighbor as yourself.”

This is how we build the body and unite the church, week after week:  through acts of service that provide opportunities to break down barriers and build relationships. Serving. United. Being the church.

Since BDM has combined its two project sites into one in Lumberton, N.C., we have received a lot of feedback from volunteers that illustrates this unity through service. Here are just a few:

• We are working with people for a common goal—an extraordinary goal.
• It’s the Holy Spirit taking human form, out of our hearts and into our hands.
• We’re so different but we have so much in common.
• Volunteers are like-minded people.
• We come as strangers but leave as friends or family.
• We are stronger together.

Together, across districts and denominations, we come. Different but the same, bound together by love, serving for a purpose, restoring hope, and being the church as we build homes and relationships. These are the real ministries the Rebuilding program of Brethren Disaster Ministries.

This reflection was originally featured in the summer issue of Bridges newsletter produced by Brethren Disaster Ministries. Learn more about the Rebuilding program at www.brethren.org/bdm/rebuild or support it today at www.brethren.org/bdm/givenow .

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Blessed and multiplied


Photo by Steve Buissinne

By Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement,

In May, I was blessed to attend Young Adult Conference. The theme scripture this year was Ephesians 3:16-20 and invited us to “test the lengths” of Christ’s love for us and to “reach out and experience the breadth” of the Holy Spirit within us. We are called to empower others to go where we can’t go and reach out to those whom we can’t reach. We do this by giving to support this work of the church. When we give what we are able, we trust in Christ’s transformative power. If Jesus used five loaves and a couple fish to feed more than 5,000 people, can’t our gifts, no matter their size, be blessed and multiplied in the same way?

Growing up, I was taught to give 10% of my income to the work of the church. I haven’t always been able to do this, and it took some time and creative budget planning to get to this point. What helped me was creating a spreadsheet to track my monthly income and spending. There are certainly all kinds of apps and software out there to do this now, but it can still be very valuable to see all your money outlined in an old-fashioned spreadsheet. Doing this exercise helped me become more intentional about giving to ministries that are important to me.

Today, while I still use a spreadsheet, I also use www.brethren.org/give . Through the online giving form, I scheduled a monthly recurring gift to support the ministries of the Church of the Brethren that I am passionate about. (Voluntarily, each member of my team has done this, too.)

If you would like more information about how to give, the mission and ministry of the Church of the Brethren, or would like a copy of the budget spreadsheet I use, feel free to reach out to me at trabenstein@brethren.org .

May you be blessed in your efforts to “test the lengths” of Christ’s love and to “reach out and experience the breadth” of the Holy Spirit.

This reflection was originally featured in Bridge, a publication of Youth and Young Adult ministries.

The way of Jesus

Joshua Brockway speaking at the Discipleship Ministries dinner
at Annual Conference 2019.
Photo by Glenn Riegel

By Joshua Brockway, director of Spiritual Formation

Earlier this year, I picked up March, a graphic novel by Congressman John Lewis.  The first volume of the series sketches the plotline from Lewis’s early life to the first success of the Nashville sit-ins in 1960.

One of the pages, in particular, caught my eye. On the day of the first arrests of the Nashville protests, a white student named Paul LaPrad was pulled from the lunch counter and beaten. The page stood out to me, not because LaPrad was white, but because I heard his story during my undergraduate studies at Manchester College. LaPrad was a Church of the Brethren young adult and would later graduate from Manchester. He attended James Lawson’s weekly workshops on nonviolence, heard the experiences of Jim Crow and racism from his black peers, and learned to withhold a violent response to verbal and physical attacks.

Since reading March and other accounts of the Nashville student movement, as well as talking with Paul LaPrad, I have come to one conclusion:  Peacemaking is a way of life.

We talk about peace often in the church—and rightly so—but when I read about Lawson and his nonviolence workshops, I realized how counter-intuitive nonviolence truly is. Violence, whether through fists or words, is ingrained in us at an early age when we are taught to stand up for ourselves. We are encouraged to share witty retorts to insults. We are entertained by verbal sparring on news channels and by retributive violence on big and small screens.

So in order to live nonviolent lives—and like Jesus—we must be re-formed. This means that peacemaking is not a means to an end but, rather, the result of a long and intentional process of formation. Through our discipleship, we are made into the likeness of the Prince of Peace.

Our ministries, from Sunday school classes using Guide for Biblical Studies to youth groups gathering to raise money for National Youth Conference, keep us in the path of the “long obedience in the same direction,” as the late Eugene Peterson would say. Our ministries don’t just teach the ideas of peace, but they invite us to read the Scriptures through the nonviolent life of Jesus. Our practices of mutual aid and service are not a means to happy living or random acts of kindness, but are acts of obedience to Christ. And our witness and advocacy in our communities and nation are extensions of our relationships with those pushed to the edge of our culture through unjust laws and policies.

Thank you for the ways you disciple others in the nonviolent way of Jesus. Thank you for the ministries you lead and support in your congregation, district, and the denomination. And most of all, thank you for promoting the practices of discipleship and peace through your gifts to the Church of the Brethren.

Learn more about Discipleship Ministries at www.brethren.org/discipleshipmin or support them today at www.brethren.org/givediscipleship.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

United: Pursuing the mind of Christ

www.brethren.org/missionoffering
Photo by Smith Gameti

A scripture medley with Romans 5:1-9 for the 2019 Mission Offering

ONE:  We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.

ALL:  I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. . . . For when I am weak, then I am strong.

ONE:  Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.

ALL:  No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

ONE:  For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”

ALL:  “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. . . . As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.”

ONE:  For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

ALL:  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

ONE:  May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other [as] Christ Jesus,

ALL:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,

ONE:  So that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

ALL:  Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

ONE:  Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

ALL:  For Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

ONE:  For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.

ALL:  “I will bless those who bless you, . . . and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

(Romans 15:1-9, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, 1 Corinthians 10:24, John 15:18-19, Romans 5:5, Philippians 2:6-7, Ephesians 4:13; John 13:35, Genesis 12:3; NIV)

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Sparking joy and saying, “Thank you, next”

Emily speaking to workcamp participants in Brooklyn.
Photo by Carol Elmore

By Emily Tyler, Brethren Volunteer Service director

As I write this, I am in the midst of writing position descriptions, learning more fully the ins and outs of our volunteer insurance policy, and responding to our BVS partners with organizational position statements. And then I looked at this issue’s topic, finding joy. I couldn’t help but chuckle.

In my nearly seven years of working for Brethren Volunteer Service, I have not very often struggled to find joy in my work. The BVS office in Elgin is a pretty fun place to be! However, I must be honest, in this time of transition with no BVS director after Dan McFadden’s resignation, to then being called to fill the position myself, creating joy has sometimes had to be a more intentional part of my work.

This winter, I hopped on the bandwagon of watching Marie Kondo “spark joy” for so many by helping them to purge and organize their belongings. There was one part of the process that I was admittedly skeptical of at first, but learned to appreciate when I put it into practice myself. When the homeowners decided that something was no longer sparking joy for them, before they put it in the “toss” pile, Marie had them thank that item out loud for serving them.

While I can’t toss out the tasks that I do every day that don’t spark joy for me, I can be intentional about finding the joy in those tasks–how they serve our volunteers and our program. It has also been important for me as I’ve settled into the role of director of BVS to think about the history of BVS and how it has served us, and moving forward, learning how to thank those pieces that no longer serve us and usher in new programming that sparks joy for the next generation of BVSers.

Joy may have to be intentionally found at times. But allowing our work and calling to spark joy while also letting go of and thanking the seasons in life that have served us but are no longer needed is a delicate but important balance. What would the world look like if we all followed a calling that sparked joy in us?

This reflection was originally published in the Summer installment of the “The Volunteer” newsletter. Learn more about Brethren Volunteer Service at www.brethren.org/bvs.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

The ministry of fishing

By David Steele, general secretary

“Simon replied, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing.
But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.’ So they dropped the nets and their catch was so huge that their nets were splitting. . . . Jesus said to Simon,

‘Do not be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people”
(Luke 5:5-6, 10; CEB).

Many within the Church of the Brethren are not afforded the opportunity to regularly experience the church beyond a local congregation or district setting. Without the privilege to worship, meet, and engage with congregations and districts across the country, it is difficult for someone to truly appreciate the richness of what we call the Church of the Brethren. Without those opportunities, one could easily see a denomination unsure of its own identity and miss the forest for the trees.

While we may talk about membership decline and its impact on giving, I would caution against making any direct correlation of that decline with competing notions of identity or a denomination unsure of its identity. A common purpose and identity are essential to the success of any organization, and I won’t deny that some have doubts or disagree with the identity articulated by the Mission and Ministry Board and Church of the Brethren staff. However, from my experiences as a pastor and a district executive, I believe membership declines have less to do with any common understanding of a true north “Brethren-ism” and much more to do with cultural and familial shifts, our hesitation to move beyond “the way we’ve always done things,” and pastors and church leadership at all levels struggling to meet the ministry needs of local communities and to live into the great commission.

In many ways, our predicament resembles that of the tired fisherman that Jesus encountered. We have labored in less-than-ideal circumstances, been left wanting for better results, and are weary from difficult, often thankless, work. And yet, Jesus is calling us to cast out the net again—not just to continue our usual work but to do the work of fishing for people.

Despite our challenges, our ministries and missions continue. The Mission and Ministry Board, with the help and support of districts, congregations, and members, is working to fan the positive sparks that are emerging. The outcome of the denominational compelling vision process will inform the shaping of our next strategic plan—a plan that will guide our ministries for the future.

While these movements will lead us forward, each of us must take seriously the role that we hold. Max Lucado once wrote, “When those who are called to fish don’t fish, they fight.” Until we whole-heartedly unite for the work of fishing, we will continue to fight and continue to struggle for a common identity and purpose.

Friends, our governing principles and Annual Conference statements cannot save a church filled with imperfect people. Being the church is messy, and there always will be differences among us. Yet in the midst of our circumstances, if we listen carefully to members from across this country, we hear common and familiar themes: service, peace witness, community, living simply, mission, and discipleship—one might say “Brethren-isms” that still point true north. These are at the center of the work and ministries of the Church of the Brethren and the methods we will use together to fish for people.

If we look around us, we will see passionate disciples continuing the work of Jesus. As followers of Christ, may we focus on the work ahead and keep our attention on the work of fishing. We have something unique that the world so desperately needs, and the Lord who calls us is faithfully beside us for our mission. It is for this reason that we may trust that the Church of the Brethren will flourish.

The Church of the Brethren continues the faithful work of fishing for people in the name of Jesus. Support its ministries today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

The powerful name of Jesus


By Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement

“When Peter saw [how they responded to the man being healed], he addressed the people, ‘You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, … but you rejected the Holy and Righteous One. . . . Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out’” (Acts 3:12-19).

What a commotion there was when Peter and John visited the temple in Jerusalem. The people were filled with disbelief when Peter healed the lame man by simply declaring the name of Jesus. We know that the Holy Spirit had just descended on the believers at Pentecost, giving them the ability to perform miracles like Jesus. However, it seems that many of the people at the temple hadn’t gotten the memo and wondered, “How can this be?”

Peter seemed caught off guard by their reaction and questioned why they were marveling at him and John when it was the name of Jesus and the power of God that had healed the man. Through faith in Christ, the disciples received the Holy Spirit, and because of that same faith, the lame man was healed.

Despite clear explanations in life, just like the one that Peter gave, don’t we still ask, “How can this be?” Our Lord Jesus Christ gave selflessly of himself, suffered and died, and was raised. Do we believe in the powerful name of Jesus and are we open to receive the healing that it brings? Do we fully embrace the protection and the comfort that believing in the risen Savior gives to us?

There are moments when our faith holds strong and we believe whole-heartedly that the Holy Spirit of God is active in our lives and in our world. On those days, we walk taller and with confidence in the name of Jesus. However, we also have moments and days when we are plagued with doubt. When things go wrong, when we can’t see a way out, or when it seems like things couldn’t possibly get any better, we sit in disbelief at what is happening around us.

I sit in disbelief because it has been five years since the girls of Chibok were kidnapped. While we rejoice for those who have been restored, we are still saddened by those who haven’t. I sit in disbelief that it has been nearly 10 years since the first insurgency of Boko Haram occurred against the Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, Church of the Brethren). I sit in disbelief that people take pride in our nation because it started with influence from the Christian faith but they also struggle to be kind and loving to others.

Despite everything that prompts disbelief, we can stand with hopeful expectation of when Christ will return to usher in the next phase of God’s plan for all of creation. Peter reminded the people of why Christ entered the world, and even though some who were sitting in the temple that day were part of the crowd who sentenced Jesus to death, they still had the opportunity to repent and accept the healing and transformative power of God. With Christ’s death and resurrection, our sins were wiped away, and, through believing in Jesus, we are healed.

It is wonderful to trust in the name of Jesus. It is exciting to serve in a church where we show the world another way of living. It is empowering to know that the same Spirit that resided in the risen Savior resides in you and me. The question and challenge we have is: what will we do with this power?! Will we sit and do nothing? Or will we evoke the name of Jesus and continue his work?

May God give us strength and wisdom to persevere through disbelief, and may the Holy Spirit open our eyes and hearts to do mighty works in the powerful name of Jesus.

The ministries of the Church of the Brethren are carried out in the name of Jesus. Learn more about them at www.brethren.org or support them today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

God is here

Choir singing - Annual Conference
Photo by Regina Holmes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)