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.)

Life as I know it

www.brethren.org/bvs

By Christina Kaake, Brethren Volunteer Service Unit 311

After leaving my three-year Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) term at incredABLE in Northern Ireland, I emailed my former boss about a reference for a job in the States. He said to me that no other job would ever be good enough for me, that they had ‘ruined me’ for other work by giving me too much freedom and too good of an experience. At the time, I laughed at him. A few months later, though, I told him he was right.

But it wasn’t totally incredABLE’s fault. It’s BVS’ fault, too.

Volunteer life is freeing in a way that’s difficult to convey and even more difficult to move past. I still had bills to pay during my placement—being in your mid-30s when you join up will do that—but spending that time focusing on only basic monetary needs frees a person to engage with other needs. As a BVS volunteer you get to focus on your social needs, the things that ‘fill your basket’ at work and learning to create and maintain the boundaries that feed your emotional health.

I had a fantastic plan for my own re-entry. I was going to transition so easily and simply back into the career I had been working in for 15 years. But a full-time office job, particularly with U.S. expectations and job culture, is something that doesn’t really appeal to me anymore. I know how much I’ll miss those freedoms, from the materialistic mindset and the general belief that you are where you work.

BVS changes you. You’ll learn to make genuine connections with strangers, to rely on community, to look at conflict differently, even to define home differently. It’s the most rewarding set of changes I can think of, and they make returning to life as you knew it before… impossible!

Learn more about Brethren Volunteer Service at www.brethren.org/bvs or support it today at www.brethren.org/givebvs.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Surrendering to God

Photo by Shah Rokh
A reflection written by Matt DeBall, coordinator of Mission Advancement communications

“Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. . . . Then the Lord was jealous for his land and took pity on his people.” ~Joel 2:12-13, 18
 
Life can be a wonderful thing, filled with many blessings, but no matter who we are, how much we have, or where we come from, each of us will experience circumstances and seasons that will knock us down. Whether it be personal tragedies, health concerns, natural disasters, or events of trauma caused by other people, all of us will endure hardship in this life.

The prophet Joel was speaking to a remnant of Judah, who had seen the destruction of the northern kingdom and had endured much disaster and hardship of their own. Joel tells us they had experienced swarms of locust and famine or, at least, food scarcity (natural disaster) but also leaves the impression that they had endured repeated attacks from Assyria and other nations as well (human-inflicted turmoil). To say the least, their lives were completely altered and they were brought to a very lowly and destitute place.

Some of us have endured natural disasters, but we also think of our sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico who have faced hurricanes over the last few years and earthquakes more recently. Many of us have also experienced hardship or trauma because of the actions of others.

While hardship can befall us as the natural consequence of poor actions—the focus of some prophets in the Old Testament—Joel is not concerned with why the people were stricken with turmoil and oppression. (And, indeed, we know that “good” people don’t just receive “good” things and “bad” people, “bad” things.) Instead, Joel is asking, “What are you/we going to do now that hardship has happened?”

The response of God’s people is meant to be both personal and communal. There is great value in checking ourselves and recognizing, whether we are close to God or far away, that new forms of surrender are necessary to find healing after hardship. Following the Old Testament practice, Joel recommends not only rending clothes but rending hearts, first and foremost. It is as if he warns us, “Be careful that your outward expressions are in line with your inward experience. Change and surrender your hearts first.”
 
Once inward repentance and return have started, it is also important to embody surrender in a communal response. The healing and comfort of God is found in community.

In Lent, we choose personally to give up things that distract us from God. But the fast that Joel declares is for the community—from the youngest babe to the most aged elder. We can fast from gossip, contributing to harmful conflict, and trying to promote our own agendas at the expense of others. We can fast from jumping to conclusions about things we don’t know and instead ask questions of one another. When we give up these things, we surrender to God together and find healing.

In a very simple way, whenever we observe the Lord’s supper, we mourn the sinfulness in our lives and the brokenness in our world. We grieve what has been lost and declare hope in the all-encompassing redemptive work that Christ will accomplish when he returns.

On Ash Wednesday, we remember the impending tragedy that we will face death. Our observance of this day serves as a helpful reminder for all of us. When hardship befalls us, it is not an opportunity to be concerned with why something as happened, but rather to understand how our next steps will be of surrender to God. Whatever hardship we face, it is an opportunity to check ourselves and to declare a fast from all that distracts us from God and the mission God has for us.

When we pause to repent or return, we are greeted by a God who is gracious and compassionate, who is slow to anger and abounding in love. Whether we are in a season of blessing or hardship, may we find the comfort and the mercy that we need when we surrender to God.

What are you fasting from for Lent? How is your church taking extra measures to surrender to God in this season? We would love to hear how. Share with us at MA@brethren.org.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)                  

Invest in futures

www.brethren.org/giveoffering
Photo by Craig Thompson

An excerpt from a theme introduction written by Katie Shaw Thompson for the 2020 One Great Hour of Sharing

“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.”
~1 Corinthians 3:5-9

“Let us plant dates even though those who plant them will never eat them,” writes Brazilian theologian Rubem Alves. “We must live by the love of what we will never see.”

Date trees can take a decade to bear fruit and 100 years to reach their full height. The hands that plant such a tree may do so knowing they may never rest in that tree’s shade. Moved by love, they invest in that unseen future. “We are all co-workers together in God’s service,” writes Paul in 1 Corinthians 3. Some of us plant. Some of us water. But God gives the growth. Through Week of Compassion, we become like date tree planters: serving the fruitful future for which God yearns. Who knows what growth God may bring when we join hands together across distance, across traditions, and across time for the love of what we may never see?

When we give to One Great Hour of Sharing, we help make new life and growth possible. Through our sharing, we are connected as co-workers. Our combined gifts have the capacity to travel all over the world. Whether we are rebuilding communities after disaster, supporting communities through agriculture as they learn to sustain themselves, or empowering ministers and members to serve their communities, in these and so many other ways, we release the waters of God’s growth when we invest in the lives of others.

In sharing our gifts, we join together as both givers and recipients of generous investment in the growth God will bring. As Paul writes, “the one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose.” Moved by our common purpose, we share our gifts for the glory of God and for our neighbors’ good.

Find this and other worship resources for this year’s offering or make a gift to One Great Hour Sharing now at www.brethren.org/giveoffering .

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)