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.)

Sunday morning stewardship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Filled with new life

www.brethren.org/giveoffering
Photo by Glenn Riegel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Born anew

www.brethren.org/yya
Photo by Glenn Riegel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Greetings from Rwanda!

Photos by Josiah Ludwick

 By Josiah Ludwick, Global Mission worker in Rwanda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)