How Do We Love Like Jesus?

This is the third reading in the joint program “Black History 2020: Looking Back to Live Forward” led by Rev. LaDonna Nkosi, the new Director of Intercultural Ministries and Alexandra Toms, Racial Justice Associate in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. We are offering various blogs, videos, and articles throughout the month of February exploring the intersections of faith, Black history, and current day racism. We hope you join us this month to read, listen, and reflect as we look back through history, so we can better live into Christ.

By Alexandra Toms, Racial Justice Associate in OPP


“How do you deal with Jesus the man, the Christ? Do you take him seriously? His life – his words – his death – his victory? The more I have studied of Jesus the more I realize you cannot take him lightly. What he did was not just for the people in his century, not only Jews or Gentiles, but for men of all ages and all races…. Can I as a Christian and an American remain neutral on the subject? Can I show love for Christ if I do not show love for all of the people for whom he lived and died? Can I show love for God if I do not show love for my neighbor? How can I love God whom I have not seen, if I do not show love for my brother whom I have seen?” – Jay Gibble

The above quote was preached by Jay Gibble to the Altoona Church of the Brethren at the height of the Civil Rights movement in 1965. And yet, these prophetic words are still relevant to racism in the United States today in 2020. In fact, it might be even harder to live out these words in current day. During the Civil Rights movement, many around the country rallied together to oppose Jim Crow, segregation, and overt discrimination against people of color. There were organized marches, sit-ins, and protests of unfair discriminatory laws and policies. It was clear what it meant to love your neighbor.

Loving your neighbor meant opposing overt discrimination. Loving your neighbor meant opposing laws that oppressed based on skin color. Loving your neighbor meant, for many Brethren, protesting alongside people of color in the March of Washington and participating in sit-ins at lunch counters. It meant standing in solidarity with fellow Black Americans and fighting for their freedom.

Since the Civil Rights movement, there have been laws passed to prevent overt discrimination based on one’s race. However, there are still many Black Americans who experience regular discrimination and the after-effects of slavery and Jim Crow. Only now it is much harder to see because we often believe the laws fully prevent discrimination. It is harder to see because, while some of the discrimination is based on blatant racial prejudice, sometimes it is based on our own implicit biases that we are unaware of influencing decisions that we make. If you pass a black man on the street, do you happen to clutch your purse a little tighter or cross to the other side of the road? Do you do this more often when it is a black man than a white man?

I caught myself doing this recently. I was taking the metro, and as I was getting off and riding up the escalator, a couple college age students passed by me and bumped into my bag. I started looking through my bag to make sure that nothing was taken, that nothing would have been out in the open that could be snatched, and that all was accounted for. The person who bumped into me was a well-dressed young black man. I caught myself. Have I had multiple people bump into me on the metro? Oh my yes. It is a crowded space. If I frantically looked through my bag every time I got bumped, that is all I would be doing getting on and off the train. So why did I freak out this time? I could tell myself it was just the situation. It could have been the overall behavior of the group or because they were walking past me, not just standing alongside when I was bumped. Though I do not know for sure, it was likely influenced by the fact he was a young black man. What I do know is that because of racial stereotypes, I have to question why I had that thought. Because of implicit prejudice, this young man has probably had many people have a similar reaction that I, as a white woman, will never elicit from people. No matter how much I study about race, I still catch myself in moments of implicit prejudice that I am constantly trying to unlearn.

The problem is, these small moments can lead to larger consequences for people of color. Research conducted by economists in 2004 showed prejudice toward “black sounding names” when measuring callbacks for interviews after sending out 5,000 resumes.[1] When identical resumes were submitted to various jobs, those with black sounding names received fewer callbacks than those with white sounding names, even though the resumes had the same qualifications. In fact, those with white sounding names and a criminal record still received more call backs than those with black sounding names and no criminal record. This type of discrimination leads to long lasting consequences where Black Americans make on average less money than white Americans even when education is accounted for, and Black Americans have 1/10 the amount of wealth as their white counterparts.[2]

So how do we love our neighbors amidst these implicit prejudices? How do we love our neighbors when these circumstances seem beyond our control? When I think of Jesus’ life on earth, I think of the man who did not just love by being nice to the people he was around. Jesus loved by changing people’s worlds. Many of the people Jesus healed were outcasts of society, discriminated against because of some physical quality. An example that comes to my mind is the woman who bled for 12 years (Mark 5:25-34). Quite often when we hear her story, we focus on her faith. All she had to do was touch Jesus’ cloak, and she was made well. Her faith in this Scripture is evident, but let us look at a slightly different angle.

Why was she so desperate for Christ’s healing? Not only had she bled for 12 years straight, something no one wants to endure, but she was also outcasted from society because of her condition. When a woman was on her menstrual cycle, she was unable to touch anybody, or else they would be deemed unclean. Anything she sat on would be deemed unclean, and if someone touched an object that she had touched, that would cause them to be unclean.[3] This woman would have spent 12 years unable to have human contact, and unable to be in a public space. Anyone she would have been around would have been suspect and anything she may have touched would have been suspect. The healing Jesus provided not only healed the physical ailment of the issue of blood but also reconciled her relationship with society, giving her new life where she was no longer an outcast.

What if our racist policies and our prejudices are the “issue of blood” that support Black Americans being outcasted in society, causing us to question things they touch; question who they are with; question their presence? What if instead of praying for healing of discrimination in the US as a healing of the Black situation that keeps them pushed down, we pray for a healing in our hearts and the hearts of people, and we pray for healing in our policies to support Black Americans? We pray that God moves us to action like Jesus was moved to action because of the woman’s faith. Maybe loving our neighbors, who are of different races, is a process of confronting our own racial prejudices, learning about racial discrimination that is still occurring, and working toward making change; working toward Jesus’ healing in ourselves and in our country. 

Activity and Reflection

As part of working toward healing, it is important to know what implicit prejudices may influence us. Below is a link to the Implicit Associations Test (IAT) developed by Harvard University. The IAT is intended to measure how quickly we may associate certain words with others. The idea is that we tend to associate words more quickly if we believe they are similar. To learn more about the IAT, click here. The IAT usually takes about 10 minutes to complete. If you are interested in completing one of the tests, please click here and choose one of the IAT’s on race.

Read Mark 5:25-34

  1. Beyond the examples provided above, what were some ways people would have interacted with the woman because of her condition?
  2. How would this have impacted her relationships with others? How would this have impacted her ability to provide for a family?
  3. What did your IAT score come back as? Are you surprised by the score?
  4. According to Harvard, most of the race-based IAT results show preference for white over black in some capacity. How does this pattern result in similar outcomes for people of color as seen in biblical times for the bleeding woman before her healing?

[1] Marianne Bertrand Marianne and Sendhil Mullainathan. “Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination.” American Economic Review 94 (2004): 991-1013.

[2] A. Javier Trevino, Investigating Social Problem, 2nd edition (California: Sage Publishing, 2019), 61-62

[3] Leviticus 15:19-33

Color Blind or Color Brave?

This is the second reading in the joint program “Black History 2020: Looking Back to Live Forward” led by Rev. LaDonna Nkosi, the new Director of Intercultural Ministries and Alexandra Toms, Racial Justice Associate in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. We are offering various blogs, videos, and articles throughout the month of February exploring the intersections of faith, Black history, and current day racism. We hope you join us this month to read, listen, and reflect as we look back through history, so we can better live into Christ.

Reflection by Alexandra Toms, Racial Justice Associate in OPP

A common concept used when discussing race is being color blind: “I don’t see race, I see people.” While this sentiment seems to come from good intentions, it can have negative implications. In the following TED Talk, Mellody Hobson discusses the complications of being color blind. However, she offers another perspective, a way to be “color brave.”

Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-26

“Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.”

1 Corinthians 12:14-15 NRSV

Have you ever looked at this Scripture and said, “My foot is part of my body. I don’t see feet; I only see a body.” It’s not a statement I have ever said, and it sounds quite foolish to me; but why? If we do not recognize our foot as its own unique part of the body, we do not recognize its unique contributions. Without feet, we would have difficulty walking, running, and simply standing, as many people unfortunately have had to experience. The body is changed significantly because of the loss of a specific, unique part. This change would be experienced very differently than the loss of a different body part, such as a gallbladder. A foot and a gallbladder serve different functions. They have distinct gifts that they provide for the body, and not having that gift would mean a significant change in how the body works and the lifestyle the person would live.

From a young age, we teach kids to identify various body parts, through songs like “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” As they grow older, we teach the same thing about people and the Body of Christ. We recognize different spiritual gifts, such as teaching, speaking in tongues, healing, and prophecy. We recognize intellectual gifts, encouraging some to be doctors, some to be teachers, and others to be electricians. Yet, often when we look at race, we think we should be color blind and not see any differences.

I believe some of this movement came about with the intentions of reducing discrimination. If I don’t see color, then I will hire the best person for the job without letting racial prejudice affect my judgment. The problem is, by removing someone’s race, we are removing someone’s gift. We don’t see the unique perspectives and life experiences someone has had because of their race. We don’t see their unique qualities and value. We also do not see the distinctive ways people have been oppressed because of their race, remaining blind to networks of oppression and policies that uniquely affect people of color.

When we remain color blind, we also don’t recognize that we have unique experiences and perspectives because of our race, and since those experiences are unique, they are not the same for everybody in the U.S. Our view of life is not the standard. Our perspectives and lived experiences are just as different, but no more or less important, than the hand is from the foot. The hand, foot, and gallbladder are all distinct parts, but they are parts of one body allowing that body to function in a specific way. The diversity of experiences, perspectives, and assumptions of all people of all races, cultures, and backgrounds are necessary for the Body of Christ to be whole and for God’s Kin-dom to flourish.

Reflection Questions

  1. How were you taught to think about race? Were you taught to be color blind or were you taught to recognize and value differences based on race?
  2. The TED Talk mainly focused on the benefits of being color brave in a corporate setting.  What are other benefits of being color brave and benefits of diversity?
  3. Reread verses 25-26. If our foot suffers, the whole body suffers. If a member of the Body of Christ suffers, are we all suffering? Does being color blind inhibit our ability to suffer alongside people of a different race?

Why Do I Need to Talk About Racism?

This is the first reading in the joint program “Black History 2020: Looking Back to Live Forward” led by Rev. LaDonna Nkosi, the new Director of Intercultural Ministries and Alexandra Toms, Racial Justice Associate in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. We will be offering various blogs, videos, and articles throughout the month of February exploring the intersections of faith, Black history, and current day racism. We hope you join us this month to read, listen, and reflect as we look back through history, so we can better live into Christ.

Written by Alexandra Toms; Racial Justice Associate in OPP

Why do I need to talk about racism?

Why as a Christian should I be concerned about racism? I myself am not racist. I am raising my children not to be racist. I even have friends who are not white. So what more do you want me to do?

Why do I need to talk about racism?

There are laws on the books that prevent further racism. Brown vs the Board of Education ensures integrated schools. The Civil Rights Act protects against discrimination in public and in jobs. We have even gone as far as Affirmative Action to help right some of these wrongs.

Why do I need to talk about racism?

It’s been over 150 years since slavery ended and over 50 years since the Civil Rights Movement. Individuals may have been slower to change, but they are growing older. The younger generations do not even see the color of your skin. Discrimination is now part of the past.

Why do I need to talk about racism?

Even though 50 years have passed, for some it seems like just yesterday. A grandmother drops her grandkids at school, reflecting on the taunts and jeers experienced when she first went to a white school. She remembers drinking from the “colored” water fountain and being denied a seat at the lunch counter. The freedom riders assaulted; buses burned integrating rest stops. The memories and pain, not as absent as she had once hoped.

And now that the grandmother takes her grandkids to school in a time known for integration, she looks around hoping that her grandkids future is different. But her grandkids’ school is predominantly black. Her grandkids being raised in Harlem, not more than a block away from where she raised the kids’ mother.

Despite the integration that her parent’s generation work for, this grandmother sees her grandkids in such a similar situation. The schools are barely integrated, with only a few white children. Teachers are understaffed, the system underfunded. The students’ textbooks haven’t been replaced since early 2000. The history books not even reflecting the nation’s Black President.

Grandma watches her grandkids and hopes they can break the cycle of poverty and despair, go to trade school or college, get an education, and a job that is stable. Because they could be the first to buy a home for themselves, be able to take out a mortgage, denied to her, unaffordable for her children.

Maybe they will leave Harlem, move into the suburbs. They can raise a family, their kids at a school with new textbooks and iPads. But for now she just prays they get through middle school, not having to worry about these things that race through her mind in the school yard. She hopes that despite the educational system, they will be happy young kids, ready to conquer the world. She knows they’ll need that spunk and grit, for the uphill battle they don’t know they’ll have to climb.

So why do I need to talk about racism?

Because the struggle the grandmother and her grandkids work through, are ones that have developed from a long line of discrimination. Patterns of behavior from slavery and segregation, have paved the way for this young family’s current situation. A lack of training and opportunity, and a lack of family wealth have all been created by the past oppression denying civil rights.

So maybe I’m not racist, and I am teaching my kids not to see color, but am I actually doing the right thing, or should I do more to be anti-racist. What’s mine to do about structures creating oppression? Where can I speak out and up for those pushed down despite legislation.

Do I know a family like the grandmother and grandkids, have I shown them grace, or cast judgment on their situation? Can I look beyond the moment, at present decisions, and see what other factors have led to what I have deemed “personal choices?”

This is why we talk about racism, so we can see the grandmother and her grandkids as fellow children created in the Lord’s image. If we are to love the Lord’s children, love our neighbors as ourselves, we can’t be okay with the oppression they have experienced, the discrimination they have felt.

But we have to be able to see it, to recognize there is still discrimination, or else we blindly believe the grandmother’s situation is based solely on poor decisions. And this blind belief leads back to the original thinking that racism is over, solved by laws, legislation and colorblind thinking. If that is our thought, we miss an entire network of oppression, keeping God’s children below us, participating in the discrimination.

Reflection Questions and Scripture

  1. When you think of racism, what thoughts and emotions are brought up for you?
  2. As we start this journey learning and relearning about Black history in the U.S., what do you hope to gain?
  3. Do you have any fears or concerns as we enter into this month? Are there reasons you may be feeling tentative?

Read Psalm 139:14 and Ephesians 2:10

In Psalm 139:14, David writes that “we are fearfully and wonderfully made.” Ephesians 2:10 says that we are “God’s masterpiece.” If a close friend of yours loaned you a piece of artwork that they had created, their masterpiece, how would you care for that piece of art? If you had to travel with the artwork to get it to point A to point B you would most likely handle it with an immense amount of care. You would probably take extra precaution getting it in and out of the car. You may even drive a little slower if it is something delicate. I worked at alongside a wedding coordinator for several years, and the most anxiety provoking part of the entire job was dealing with the wedding cake. Usually, we would just add some decorations to the table, and add some flowers to the cake, and even that little amount was done in very slow, deliberate movements. The worst time was when the cake arrived the day before, and we were in charge of taking it from the walk-in cooler and setting it on the cake table. I do not think I ever pushed that cart so slow or had my heart racing so fast at a wedding. This was someone’s masterpiece, and not just the person who made it, but also the couple who it was made for.  It was their masterpiece.

  1. We are God’s masterpieces; each of us, made by God, in the Lord’s image. What if we treated each other with as much respect, care, and sensitivity as the cake? How would the world be different?
  2. If something would have happened to the wedding cake, not only would I have been horrified that a masterpiece was damaged, but I would have been embarrassed, ashamed, and sorrowful for the couple who commissioned the cake. When we hurt other people, fellow masterpieces, do we feel ashamed, embarrassed, and sorrowful in response to God?
  3. How is racism causing harm to God’s masterpieces?

Set free to love and serve

Chains broken
Photo by Elias Sch

By Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. … You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. … Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:1, 13-15, 24-25).

These are not easy words for the church in Galatia to hear, nor for us today. Paul wrote this letter to Jewish believers who were teaching Gentile believers that they needed to follow the letter of the law in order to follow Jesus. In addition to correcting them, Paul was also calling them to find freedom in Christ. Since the Jews who believe in Jesus as their Messiah struggled with a split identity—growing up with strict adherence to the Torah and, now, celebrating their freedom in Christ—it’s no surprise that they also struggled with how a Gentile could now become a part of the family of God.

This tension divided the early church, and Paul wrote to urge them that their faith was no longer centered around the law but, rather, Jesus, who fulfilled it. Their former directive was now simplified to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Earlier in the letter, Paul shared about a time he rebuked Peter and other church leaders, and in chapter 5, he built a case for liberty and stated plainly that all believers were saved by faith, not by keeping the law. Their salvation through faith alone freed them to love and serve one another, carry each other’s burdens, and share kindness with everyone (chapter 6).

What does this mean for us today? The church in Galatia struggled to find loving unity and experienced bouts of dissension—an atmosphere that, unfortunately, can feel too close to home.  Don’t we also struggle to live in loving unity? Experience disagreement with each other? Can our discord also lead into destructive postures? And can’t all of this harm our life together and our testimony?

While the Church of the Brethren may seem like an easy target for these questions, this can also be true for any church regardless of denominational affiliation. Many churches have struggled with one issue or another, and it has led to ugly feuding. When we are not motivated by love, we become more critical of others. We stop looking for good in them and see only their faults. Soon the unity of believers is broken.

According to Paul, there is a way to counteract division. He proclaimed repeatedly what it means to have freedom through Christ Jesus. He kept sharing the message that faith in Jesus Christ equals salvation, that salvation equals freedom, and that freedom leads us to love and serve every person made in God’s image without prejudice. The message is for every person. Salvation is offered to every person. Loving and serving are for every person. Freedom from selfish desire. Freedom from Satan’s agenda. Freedom from being overcome by the ways of the world. This is what transformation through faith in Christ looks like and this empowers us to bear a spirit of freedom with joy and confidence. It transforms us to serve the least of these without reservation, so that they may catch a glimpse of God through us.

As the Church of the Brethren, through the financial support of congregations and individuals, we reach to the corners of our country and the world, and we proclaim the message of freedom through faith in Jesus. We bear witness to the love that God has for all people through the ways we are present with and serve others. This happens through ministries like Global Mission and Service, Brethren Disaster Ministries, Brethren Volunteer Service, Discipleship Ministries, the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, and the Global Food Initiative.  Through our shared work, we continue the work of Jesus. Peacefully. Simply. Together.

Even through seasons of tension and sharp disagreement, doubt and uncertainty, may we be Brethren who seek to find light and hope. May we find God’s presence within us and around us in our life together.  And may we continue to focus on the work we are called to do as the body of Christ, doing it in love and in service to others.

Support our shared work of love and service today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

MLK Day Reflection

As a historic peace church, how do we understand the meaning of “true” peace? As we reflect on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we can see how our understanding of peace amidst race relations has changed over the years.

If we look back to the time of slavery, we can see that Brethren were ahead of their time. Before the civil war, Brethren had already decided that slavery was against their beliefs and went counter to Scripture. Even in the 1700s, Brethren were holding yearly meetings, now known as Annual Conference. Statements against slavery can be found in minutes from these yearly meetings as early as 1782 when the Brethren unanimously decided that members of the denomination could not purchase or keep slaves. As a denomination, the Brethren “outlawed” slavery 80 years before the end of the Civil War, well before the Civil War was even a thought. As the years progressed, they also decided that those joining the denomination had to release their slaves, and members of the denomination could not accept labor from other people’s slaves. The statements were expanded on and reaffirmed throughout the 1800s.

There is no true peace without justice.

However, were the Brethren advocating for justice? Were the Brethren abolitionists advocating for the end of all slavery? In short, the answer is no. While the Brethren were against having slaves of their own or using slave labor, very few Brethren participated in actions to free others’ slaves. They did not pursue the freedom of all slaves. They simply restricted their own use of slaves, seeing slavery as sinful, which was still revolutionary in their time. But should they have done more? Should the Brethren have participated in anti-slavery efforts for the whole country, in addition to their own personal choice of not holding slaves? The Brethren’s stance worked toward the absence of tension between the Brethren and people of color, but was it true peace if it wasn’t advocating for justice of all?

As we move forward in history to the Civil Rights Movement, the Brethren’s story shifts. Many Brethren participated in various anti-racist efforts, working toward justice for all Black Americans, including 200 Brethren who participated in the March on Washington. Below are several stories of Brethren during the Civil Rights Movement:

Lunch Counter Sit-ins
While a student at Fisk University, Paul Laprad participated in nonviolent, peaceful sit-ins at the lunch counter. However, those sit-ins were often marred by violence and beatings in response to their protests. As a young white man, Paul received some of the most severe beatings because he was standing—well sitting—in solidarity with his fellow Black Americans.

MLK in Chicago
Tom Wilson was a pastor in Chicago, Illinois. During his pastorate, he worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. for two years. Jim Poling, the assistant pastor of First Church in Chicago gives the account of walking into the church, and there was Martin Luther King Jr. standing in the office at his desk. Tom Wilson and Dr. King worked toward open housing and eliminating the slums of Chicago.

Selma, Alabama
A group of Brethren including Ralph Smetzler and Juniata College faculty and students went down to Selma, Alabama following Bloody Sunday, a march where civil rights activists were attacked during a march. The Brethren went to Selma trying to promote peace between the white and black communities. During one of the following marches, there was so much violence in a counter protest that two of the faculty from Juniata were injured.

Each of these stories is about peaceful action promoting justice for Black Americans. Instead of simply trying to work toward an absence of tension between Brethren and Black Americans, many Brethren worked alongside Black Americans and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for equality —for justice.

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”

The irony is that justice is found through the tension. If we only seek the absence of tension as peace, we avoid tension and see the lack of tension in our own lives as peace. True peace is not the absence of tension. True peace is found working through the tension as we advocate for justice.

So as we reflect on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a few questions to ponder in our current day and work toward anti-racism:

(1) Which efforts from the Brethren were more in line with seeking true peace for Black Americans?
(2) Which efforts align more with how we are currently seeking peace as individuals and as a denomination?
(3) And regardless of our answer above, is there more we could do?

This post was written by Alexandra Toms

Holy ground

Workcampers at the Knoxville, Tenn. workcamp in 2019.
Photo by Marissa Witkovsky-Eldred

By Hannah Shultz, coordinator of short-term service for Brethren Volunteer Service

“This is holy ground.” The first time I heard Jason Haldeman, the former program manager at Camp Swatara, speak these words I got goosebumps. It was during staff training of my first summer working at camp and Jason was preparing us for the ministry we would be a part of in the upcoming weeks. He told us that God was present among us and that we were on holy ground. “This is holy ground” stuck with me throughout the summer as I planned evening vesper services, went on hikes, taught Bible classes, and sang silly songs around the campfire. I knew what Jason said was true. From the moment you drove through the archway onto camp property, something felt different. God was certainly present in that place. Camp is where I learned to encounter God in both the most mundane and the most serious moments.

Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest and theologian, has a book called an Altar in the World in which she talks about blurring the lines of what we consider to be sacred. We need not only encounter the Divine sitting in church pews and reading scripture, she says, but by keeping our hearts and minds open to the presence of God in the world—in the everyday activities and encounters in our lives. She also encourages us to follow the words of Jesus by recognizing how God cares for lilies and sparrows as well as women who prepare bread and laborers who wait to be paid. In all these cases, we find the work of God in the world as much as in scripture.

In Genesis, Jacob told us what to do when we encounter God in the world. As the story goes, Jacob and Esau both wanted their father Isaac to bless them on his deathbed. Since Esau was the firstborn, he was set to receive the blessing, but Jacob and his mother developed a scheme to trick Isaac into blessing Jacob instead. This enraged Esau, so Jacob fled for his life. He left with nothing and walked as far as he could. He was out in the wilderness when he finally decided to rest, and he went to sleep using a stone as his pillow. During the night he had a vision from God in which God promised him safety, children, and land. God said to Jacob, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.”

Genesis 28:16-18 reads:
“Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’ So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.”

God visited Jacob right where he was—out in the wilderness. Jacob realized that this ordinary place in the world must be part of the house of God, so he used a stone as an altar for God. In doing this, he taught us what to do when we encounter God in the world. Barbara Brown Taylor encourages us to follow his example and set up an altar, in the world or in our heart, to commemorate the places where the Divine meets us.

For the past few months, Kara and Liana and I have been writing the 2020 workcamp curriculum, centered on our theme, “Voices for Peace.” Through the workcamp experience, we hope to learn that encountering God does not just take place within church walls, but also when we serve and live in the world. Workcamps offer many opportunities to do physical acts of worship. Through pulling weeds on a farm in Florida, dishing out food at a soup kitchen in Los Angeles, and being in community and sleeping on hard church floors, we are challenged to find God in these daily, sometimes mundane, activities.

At workcamps, we also encounter God in the hard work of identifying injustice and doing something about it. Encountering God in the world often means getting involved in the messiness of human failure. It requires a willingness to be radical disciples in a world that may reject us. Jesus calls for an inbreaking of the kingdom of God on earth. His compassion and healing reaches out to those who are often ignored, and in his parables, he challenges his followers to consider the poor, the hungry, the widow, and the orphan. Similarly, we are called to challenge systems and structures that perpetuate injustice and to make God’s enduring presence known to everyone. We build altars in the world when we participate in activities that advance God’s love and justice, when we create more spaces where we can say “this is holy ground.”

Holy ground does not rise only out of church buildings, it is not just a place where we have sung to God or preached from scripture. Holy ground is the place where God’s beloved community is formed and where God’s reign of justice is made known on earth.

We are each on our own path to discovering holy ground, and as we journey through mundane circumstances and personal fatigue, there are moments to pay attention to the Divine. Like Jacob, we are called to recognize when we have encountered God in the wilderness and to celebrate that God meets us in the most unexpected places. Let us go into the wilderness, seeking God in the fight for justice and peace, and discovering divine possibility in our daily practices. And when we discover that we are on holy ground, let us make an altar to the Lord, revealing to others that God is in this place and still moving in our midst.

Church of the Brethren workcamps are for people of all ages to be the hands of Jesus and voices for peace in the world. Learn more about the workcamp ministry or register for a 2020 workcamp at www.brethren.org/workcamps. Registration opens tomorrow evening (1/16).

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Celebrate what God has done in 2019

Photos by Doretta Dorsch, Glenn Riegel, courtesy of Martin Hutchison,
and Church of the Brethren staff.

“Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering.”
– Psalm 96:7-8a


As 2019 concludes, we remember what God has done among us through the ministries of the Church of the Brethren.

We celebrate the ministries of international Brethren bodies and partnerships, the 1,064 individuals who attended Discipleship Ministries conferences this year, the ongoing work of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, 33 grants totaling $200,000 given by the Global Food Initiative to national and international projects, the continued work of Brethren Disaster Ministries to serve individuals and families through times of need, and 79 Brethren Volunteer Service workers who served in the US and around the world in 2019.

Thank you for your prayerful and financial support in 2019.
Have a very blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Celebrate with us by making a year-end gift to the Church of the Brethren.

www.brethren.org/give

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Stories from Maiduguri

While in Maiduguri recently, Carl and Roxane Hill visited various Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps, drove through the city, toured the largest EYN church and interviewed a peace activist. Here are some pictures and stories.

Markus Gamache introduced us to Gambo Muhammed in Maiduguri. He is a young man with a passion to see peace restored to his home in northeast Nigeria’s largest city. Maiduguri is infamously known as the birthplace of Boko Haram. Over the last ten years, these extremists have killed thousands of innocent Nigerians and chased millions more from their traditional homelands.

Gambo is associated with a group of youths in Maiduguri that are seeking peace. He is a tireless advocate of peace, representing the people in his city who are tired of the violence and want to live a normal life again. He told us that many people, both Christian and Muslim have grown tired of the killing and fear that has gripped his city and the surrounding countryside. The city of Maiduguri has become a haven for displaced people. Before the insurgency, Maiduguri’s population was somewhere around 2 million. But because of the danger outside the city – from Lake Chad in the north to the Cameroon boarder in the east to the Sambisa Forrest to the west and Madagali in the south, 7 million people now make Maiduguri their home.

Gambo made himself known in his city in 2015. He was invited to speak at the Swiss Embassy before numerous dignitaries and ambassadors. His topic was, “How to end the crisis with Boko Haram.” He challenged those present and demonstrated his passion to see peace restored to the area.

He listed some of the steps he advocated at this influential meeting. Number one was to restore trust between the security forces and the citizens of Maiduguri. This could be accomplished, he said, by creating humanitarian relief for countless people struggling to survive in Maiduguri. He suggested that the bad elements that had infiltrated the camps throughout the city be eliminated.

Number two was to provide skills acquisition training for the displaced and the youth of the city. This sounds basic but for people who know nothing but subsistence farming, acquiring an alternate skill to support themselves and their family is a huge step.

Number three, according to this energetic Muslim, was to take steps to curb drug abuse in the youth population. It was through the use of drugs that Boko Haram had attracted many young men to come into the ranks of the extremist cult of Boko Haram. The breakdown of opportunities for young people and the allure of drugs served as the main recruiting tool for Boko Haram membership. Gambo told me of the frustration that led many of his friends to follow Boko Haram’s leaders down the path of personal destruction.

Gambo, wise beyond his years, chose the alternative path of peace. What a breath of fresh air he was to us when we encountered him in the bustling, crowded city of Maiduguri, Nigeria.  

3 Stories of Escape from the Boko Harm

Ladi, Charity and Safiratu are three strong young women. They were taken captive by the Boko Haram sometime in 2014. These women along with many other men and children have been kept in villages around Ngoshe and Gwoza where the Boko Haram still controls the area. (Many remain in captivity.)

The conditions under captivity are terrible; food scarcity, forced labor, forced marriage, mistreatment, and forced Islamization. But somehow each of these three women survived and had the courage to attempt an escape from this horrific captivity. Even more amazing is the fact that these women did not lose their faith in Jesus Christ. The women were forced to dress in Muslim attire wearing a hajib in public and they were forced to participate in the daily Muslim prayers. However, in private they prayed to their God and worshiped Jesus in their hearts. The terrible conditions, rumors of the escape of others, and their faith gave them the courage to escape. Anything would be better than the life they had as prisoners. In 2018, they each snuck away in the night and climbed down the mountain to freedom.

Here are their stories…

Ladi is a young, single woman who had her whole life ahead of her. Her future was forever changed when she was abducted by the Boko Haram. She was forced into “marriage” and had a baby by her Boko Haram husband. She escaped down the mountain with her baby and ran to her family at the Maiduguri IDP camp. Yes, she is no longer in captivity, but she faces many difficulties and wonders what will become of her. Will anyone agree to marry her; will a husband take her child as his own? Will her child always have the stigma of a Boko baby?

Charity is a young, married woman, who now has a Boko Haram child. After her escape, she went to the camp in Maiduguri to be reunited with her husband who was an IDP there. At first, her husband did not want to take her back as his wife because of her forced Boko Haram marriage. But Charity did not give up, she kept begging him to take her back; both her and her child. Finally, after some counseling, the husband, received her again as his wife. Today, the couple has been living together as husband and wife for more than a year and they have three-month-old twins.

Safiratu is another married woman who escaped from the Boko Haram with her baby and ended up at the IDP camp. She too tried to reconcile with her husband. Her story differs from Charity in that her husband would not take her back no matter how hard she tried. Since she was not welcomed by her husband; life became too difficult in the camp. With the help of others, Safiratu moved to a town near the EYN headquarters where she is supported by her brother and assisted by EYN women’s ministry. What will become of her and her child? Will there ever be reconciliation between her and her husband?

Pray for all those who have escaped from the Boko Haram and for those who remain captive.

Patience, persistence, and peacemaking

Nathan Hosler, front right, talking with community leaders
on delegation with Churches for Middle East Peace
in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Photo by Weldon Nisly of Christian Peacemaker Teams

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

We live in a time of great urgency. Turmoil grips our communities and the communities of our sisters and brothers around the world. This isn’t news nor is it new. However, the persistence of injustice is not a reason to despair but to recognize that our calling to be peacemakers is all the more essential.

I grew up in Chiques Church of the Brethren in Manheim, Pa., and my grandfather and his brothers were conscientious objectors. I grew up believing that to follow Jesus meant serving others and being against war. In college, as my vocational call to ministry took shape, I realized that, even beyond opposing war, I needed to work for peace. Through experiences of tutoring Somali refugees in English and building relationships with homeless people on the streets of Chicago and Baltimore, I learned about systemic violence and racism. Through this education, the call to peacemaking began to sprout. 

In Washington, D.C., “peacemaking” is an odd word. Even for organizations whose work would be considered peacemaking, the term is unusual. “Peacebuilding” is much more common, and while I use the terms interchangeably, peacemaking comes from the biblical text, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

In Luke’s gospel, the prophecy of Zechariah proclaims the coming of Christ our savior and how we will continue his mission: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).

Guide our feet into the way of peace. We know that the awaited Jesus became the teacher who declared that peacemakers are the children of God and said, “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). This Lord guides our feet into the way of peace.

The peace of Christ cannot be forced. We cannot impose a peace that is both global and personal, of inward reconciliation and outward wellbeing, and that brings reconciliation with God and neighbor and even our enemy. We cannot—nor should we try to—force peace. We bear witness to it and proclaim it. We must struggle for it and dedicate ourselves to it. While peace is a gift of God, it is also a process built.

In The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, Mennonite Alan Kreider writes of the prominent role of patience in the writing and thinking of the early church. Specifically, he asks why is it that, with no documented focus on church expansion, the church grew in remarkable ways. He highlights the virtue of patience and trusting that God is in control, and a recurring theme of bearing witness through how one lives. Patience makes way for the freedom to do the slow work of peacemaking and not force an outcome.

This work is slow. Preaching the gospel of peace in a war-torn world is difficult. It is only through patience that we may persist in the slow and difficult work of nonviolent resistance to all oppression, injustice, and violence. We cannot impose peace but it is urgent that we work for it, train for it, prepare our youth for it, and build up institutions and organizations that add heft to our words.

Thank you for the ways you proclaim the gospel of peace and for your support of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. Though we live in a time of great urgency and the work before us is slow, the Lord is faithful and will surely guide our feet into the way of peace.

Learn more about the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy at www.brethren.org/peacebuilding or support it today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)