Bearing witness to the peace of Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Caring for neighbors around the world

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Good News Youth Devotional

By Becky Ullom Naugle, director of Youth/Young Adult Ministries for the Church of the Brethren

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Ephesians 4:17-32 “…put off your old self…put on your new self…”

Life is full of transitions. Sometimes we seek out transition, and yet many times we are simply pushed into it. For example, we might choose to develop a new habit or skill. Yet other transitions in life, like graduating, tend to come whether or not we feel prepared for the next stage of life.

Right now, most of the world is learning how to deal with an unchosen transition. There are very few people alive today who have lived through a global pandemic before. This is new territory for everyone – you, your parents, your youth leaders, your coaches and teachers. We mourn that we’ve been forced into a new way of living. We don’t like it, and many would rather go back to their old selves, their old way of being.

Paul’s words in Ephesians are challenging! The kinds of things Paul says we need to change in our own lives involve chosen transitions that are HARD. We must “put away falsehood and speak truth to our neighbors.” That is hard. We must “be angry but not sin.” That’s HARD. And Paul was not nearly done with his list! “Let no evil talk come out of our mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” Y’all, this is seriously life-changing and seriously difficult stuff!

As we face the unchosen transitions related to a global pandemic, let’s take control of our “selves” and choose the kind of changes Paul encouraged. Let’s speak as truthfully as we can to each other.  Let’s figure out how to keep from sinning when we are angry. Let’s only speak words that are useful and grace-filled.

Good News: We can choose to be more Jesus-like in our words and interactions, no matter what else is going on around us.

Discussion question: As you think about your “old self” and then your “new self,” what is different? Can you name three concrete changes you will make?

Go one step further: Go change clothes. For the remainder of the day/evening, let the “fresh clothes” remind you of the “fresh, Godly perspective” you are choosing for your life.

Good News Youth Devotional

By Nolan McBride (Youth/Young Adult Ministries Assistant)

Ephesians 3:14-21 “…to graps how high and long and wide and deep is the love of Christ.”

We are living in a time of in-betweens. Life as we know it has shut down and changed radically since the beginning of this pandemic. Plans we had made have changed, events were canceled or moved online, and we cannot physically be together with each other. This is not how I planned to end my BVS year, and I am sure it is not how you planned to end this school year. I especially cannot imagine what those of you who are seniors must be experiencing. Though some of us live in states beginning to open up, it will be a long time before life returns to what it was before the pandemic, if it ever does.

Liturgically we are also living in an in-between time. Last Thursday our high church siblings celebrated Ascension Day, remembering when Jesus ascended into Heaven. Pentecost, which celebrates the Holy Spirit descending on the apostles and is sometimes referred to as the “birthday of the church”, is not until this coming Sunday. Imagine for a second what this must have been like for Jesus’s friends and loved ones. They had already mourned his loss once when he was brutally executed at the hands of the state. He had risen, and nothing would ever be the same! Now though, he was leaving them again. Granted, the circumstances were radically different and before he left Jesus did promise “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” But as we are all too painfully aware right now, being together in spirit is not the same as being together in person. They did not know what God had planned just around the corner.

In today’s scripture we are reminded of the limitless, unfathomable love of God in Christ. When Jesus dwells in our hearts we are united with each other and our siblings in Christ around the world. Yes, its not the same as being physically together. But we do not know what God has planned just around the corner.

Good News: Though a pandemic may stop us from being together in person, it cannot stop us from being one in spirit though the love of Jesus!

Discussion Question: How have you experienced the love of Jesus and/or unity with others through Christ during this pandemic? How might you deepen that relationship?

Go one step further: Every year Christians around the world join in praying together to spread the love and peace of Jesus during the period between Ascension Day and Pentecost. Find our more at https://www.thykingdomcome.global/

Good News Youth Devotional

By David Radcliff (Director, New Community Project)

Ephesians 3:1-13 “…the mystery of Christ…revealed by the Spirit…”

I admit I almost always prefer the gospels – the story of Jesus’ radical life of reaching out to the poor, the young, the sick, the hungry, the outcast – and angering the authorities in the process – rather than Paul’s writings – someone who mostly focused on Jesus’ death and organizing life in the new church. So I was a bit disappointed to see my assigned text from Ephesians. HOWEVER, when I read this passage, I saw that Paul, too, had a radical streak. First, he’s writing from jail – so he must’ve been doing something right to make people that mad at him. And he then writes of a “mystery” – hmmm…mysterious. What is it? That God’s love is for all, and that Jesus welcomes everyone into his church. This was scandalous in those days, as God was thought to be reserved only for the Jewish people. And the Romans had their gods, and the Greeks had theirs, and… you get the drift. So to have one God who welcomes all people – well, that was a page out of Jesus’ playbook. And of course it’s just as scandalous today. Churches often make a name for themselves more by who they keep out than by who they let in. And political leaders get elected by lifting up one group – race, income, religion – above others. A Brethren girl I know got in trouble with her friends by standing up for the poor. That didn’t stop her.

Good News: It’s no mystery – God loves everyone, and all are welcome among Jesus’ followers.

Discussion Question: Is it human nature to form exclusive groups? Why do we do it? Have you ever stood up for someone who is seen by others as “unworthy” – made fun of or otherwise pushed out? Think of a time when Jesus got in trouble for including someone others wanted to exclude.

Go one step further: Jesus welcomed women into his movement and treated them with respect. Today, girls and women around the world are often treated like second class citizens. On this page, there’s a zoom presentation telling about trafficking, bride burning, poverty and other things that affect girls – and what we can do about it. https://www.newcommunityproject.info/give-a-girl-a-chance

Good News Youth Devotional

By Linda Dows-Byers (Director of Youth Ministries at the Lancaster Church of the Brethren (PA))

Ephesians 2:11-22 “…in him you too are being built together…”

We live in a world of insiders and outsiders.

If you are reading this blog you have, most likely, already made a commitment to growing your relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you probably go to church (or you did before the stay at home order) and, odds are, it’s a Church of the Brethren. You might be an insider.

Imagine how intimidating it could be for a new Christian or someone just learning about the Christian faith to understand how a church service works. We have rules we don’t even know we have. We know when to stand up and sit down. We are used to singing together along with the choir or praise band. Most everyone has seen church represented on television or in the news, but being there is so different. A lot of underlying expectation go along with attending a church to worship–what to wear, where to sit (or not sit), how to pray, how the offering is taken. Do you raise your hands in praise or clap, or is that not what worship looks like at this place of worship? For people who have been church insiders for years, it is difficult to understand how someone joining in from the outside might experience church.

But outsiders have perspectives that are valuable to the church. There is newness and excitement when Jesus first grabs your heart. New followers often have ideas or vision about how church can grow or be more welcoming. New followers are hungry to learn about faith and grow in relationship with God–maybe just a little more than the insiders who have been doing this “church thing” for years.

In this time when churches are meeting online doors are open to people who might not be comfortable walking into church for the first time. Some of the barriers that intimidate people from joining in are absent. Some of us are literally going to church in our pajamas because there is no dress code for at home worship. We can sing loud, off key and mess up the words to the Lord’s prayer and no one looks our way. First time church-goers can go to worship without sneaking in and out of the side door.

The Bible passage in this devotional ends by telling us we all share a common foundation as followers of Christ–insiders and outsiders. Christ is key to the structure, He is in our cornerstone, holding down the 90 degree angle for the new bricks to be added. And those new bricks go in two different directions, but without the cornerstone, both walls would fail. Christ is the center. These bricks are made from Jesus’ teachings and lessons on building a relationship with God through faith in Him. How we worship, where we worship, or what time we worship is not as important as Who we worship. We are the church. We are the family of God. We are the next blocks in the creation of the church. Let’s build on Christ as our example.

Good News: God’s Kingdom welcomes everyone–insiders and outsiders–no matter your past, your family history, your level of education, your economic status, your accomplishments, or your failures.

Discussion Question: In your church, do you feel like an insider or an outsider? What brings you to that conclusion? Do you imagine God’s church growing or shrinking in this time of Covid-19? What is your evidence? How might this change your congregation in the future? Do you have unchurched friends who might watch an online church service? Have you invited them? What do you need to have a strong foundation in your relationship with God?

Go one step further: In this time of stay at home orders, invite a friend to watch your church’s online worship service or another online gathering of believers you are joining. Then talk about it later.

Go online and watch a Christian church service from a church that might not worship like yours. What is different? What is the same? Would these worshipers feel welcome to worship the same way in your church? Would you be comfortable changing your style of worship to “fit in”?

Take time to learn what the Christian faith and Jewish faith have in common (we already share the Old Testament). You might be surprised what things look and feel the same or what is different.

Good News Youth Devotional

By Walt Wiltschek (Pastor at the Easton Church of the Brethren (MD) and at-large editor of Messenger magazine)

Ephesians 2:1-10 “…it is by grace you have been saved through faith…”

One of my favorite Southern sayings is, “Grace is like grits. It just comes.” And it’s true. When we used to travel to visit my relatives in Texas, if you stopped in somewhere for breakfast—and sometimes for other meals—you would find a pile of grits on your plate when it arrived. It usually didn’t matter whether or not you had ordered them. They just appeared. It’s like a “lagniappe” in New Orleans: a bonus gift that comes unexpectedly with your purchase.

In Ephesians, Paul tells the church that God’s gift of grace comes much the same way. They didn’t deserve such a grand gift. They had screwed up. They had disobeyed. They had made mistakes. But God loved them anyhow. And because of God’s grace through Jesus Christ, they had been saved from all of that—not because of anything they had done to earn it, but simply because they were “God’s handiwork.” And for those who accept that, the grace just comes.

Good News: How do you come up with any better news than the gift of God’s grace? Ask forgiveness for the places and times that you’ve screwed up, and experience it for yourself.

Discussion Question: Take a look at the lyrics of the hymn “Amazing Grace” by John Newton. Are there any verses or phrases that particularly grab you? Why? Are there parts you still wonder about?

Go one step further: Check out a video of Chris Tomlin’s contemporary take on the hymn “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone).” You can find one set to some beautiful scenery below. Soak in the words. What does grace mean to you?

Good News Youth Devotional

By Alyssa Parker (Operations Manager at Brethren Community Ministries (bcmPEACE) (PA))

By Matthew 28:16-20 “…but some doubted…”

Jesus had just risen from the dead. A miracle unmatched. The disciples were continuing to obey the wishes of Jesus even though He was no longer there with them physically. The scripture reads that Jesus appeared to them once they had reached Galilee, just as he said He would, and they worshiped at His feet – even though some doubted. It’s important to note that there were in fact disciples that had harder time believing, but they were given the same experience as those that had no doubt. They were still given the same command as the others and Jesus showed Himself to them the same.

Sometimes, we feel that if we have questions, or doubt, it means God loves us or cares for us less. He knows that we may have imes of doubt. But they continued to worship Him even in the midst of doubt. They did not give up and leave protesting falseness, they stayed and praised Him. We have to remind ourselves that God loves us through our storms and our doubts. We have the same command now as the disciples did then – to go and make disciples of ALL the nations, even those who may have moments of doubt.

Good News: Jesus is ALIVE and with us ALWAYS, even in our doubts and storms, as he calls us to GO and make disciples of ALL nations.

Discussion Question: Has there been a time where you doubted? Do you still have doubt? What do you do to challenge that doubt and get out of your storms? Have you been told that doubting means you don’t really believe? Is this true? Can your faith actually be strengthened through times of doubt?

Go one step further: Take time to record your storms and moments of doubt. This can be through journaling, music, painting, whatever way is best for you. Everytime you record something, share a testimony of God working in your life with someone. You can challenge that doubt and fear into spreading the good news and remembering the larger picture – God!

A great mini sermon on doubt

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.)

Good News Youth Devotional

By Deanna Beckner (Guest Services Director at Camp Alexander Mack (IN))

Ephesians 1:1-10 “…to bring all things under heaven and on earth under one head…”

As I sit here humming “Come Together” by The Beatles, I think about the blessing of being a part of God’s family—how we all come together through Jesus. Paul, in his poetic start to his letter to the church in Ephesus, written while in jail, communicates that with love, God had already predestined everyone to be heirs to the holy kingdom, joint heirs with Jesus. Jews and Gentiles, you, me, and everyone has a place at the table with God. Jesus, the Messiah, died on the cross and brought the gift of unity to all, fulfilling God’s plan. From suffering came forgiveness and grace! We are so blessed.

Thanks be to God for revealing the mystery of his will and for choosing us, long before we were even put on this earth, to be connected so deeply.

Good News: We have an undeniable and incredible connection to the family of God because of Jesus!

Discussion Question: With this amazing gift unifying everyone, how can we connect with each other more? We are all a part of the family of God, after all. How do you feel unity with those around you? With your neighbors around the world? You are not alone.

Go one step further: Think of three people you know who live very close to you or with you, and then think of three people who live far away from you, preferably family, friends, or people you have taken time to get to know at least a little bit. Reflect for a moment on who each person is and how you know each of them. Now ask yourself, “What connects all of us?” and “How has God been a part of these relationships?” As you are able to dedicate time, consider writing each a message or letter through any platform, phone, email, postal mail, etc.Thank them for their connection to you and to God. Let them know how blessed you are that you are siblings in the family of God together! May you feel a bit closer to each person regardless of physical location, and may you feel God’s guidance and love, now and always.

Check out this website for free ecards with kind messages: https://www.crosscards.com/cards/