God is here

Choir singing - Annual Conference
Photo by Regina Holmes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Boko Haram continues “Tactic of Fear”

In May, Boko Haram (BH) attacked the villages of Lassa and Dille. These villages are just 30 miles from the Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN) headquarters. They attacked Lassa late one night and Dille the next night. In Lassa the BH burned shops and businesses and in Dille they destroyed people’s food supplies.

Northeast Nigeria
Northeast Nigeria

We received the following information from a young correspondent, Joshua, who has relatives in Dille but whose family home is in Uba. Vigilantes (local persons who help with security) posted on a high hill near Dille, saw the Boko Haram approaching the town. They were about 5 miles away. They immediately informed the military stationed there so they could go out and stop the attack. But the military said they had to wait until they entered the town. So, the vigilantes went around the town from house to house warning families that the Boko Haram were coming. Most families picked up and ran to the bush or to nearby villages. One mother and her three children didn’t get out in time and spent the night listening to the attack but remained unharmed. The next day, they ran to Uba to stay with her relatives.

Another man escaped from Dille after being held by the BH for a few hours. He was released and told to run away because, “Our contract is not to kill people but to keep them from farming.” It seems the Boko Haram tactic is to keep fear alive. Through these random attacks, everyone is afraid their village will be next. If people are too afraid to go out and farm, how will they survive the next year?

Our correspondent said there were 30 relatives staying at his family home in Uba. When we asked how they provide food for so many, he answered, “We give what we have and then we rely on God to provide.” The 30 people will stay for a day, or a week or until they feel it is safe to return to their hometown of Dille.

Fear paralyzes people, it wears them down, it causes health problems, it is what Boko Haram feeds on. Rev Yuguda, Director of EYN Disaster Ministry shared, “The security situation is getting worse in our region. People have fled these communities (Lassa and Dille), while the neighboring villages are living in panic. We only trust and depend on God for his mercy.”

Continue to pray for the situation in Nigeria.

Correspondent, Joshua, at family home in Uba – with his parents
and Carl & Roxane Hill

Sunday morning stewardship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Filled with new life

www.brethren.org/giveoffering
Photo by Glenn Riegel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Entrepreneurship and One-On-One Lay Counseling

Entrepreneurship training for young women in Yola

50 young women attended a workshop in Yola. The focus of the workshop was to teach about entrepreneurship along with a hands on session. Many women are unemployed and lack the skills and initiative to provide for themselves. Poverty and hunger are rampant in Northeastern Nigeria and the situation is compounded by the large numbers of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s) who have nowhere to live and cannot support themselves. A relocation village (60 homes) was built in Yola which houses some of these IDP’s. Teaching women how to run a business and giving them skills and training is one way to help reduce poverty in the region. The women who attended the workshop were young; 2 were widows, 22 were married and 26 were single. Everyone learned how to take initiative; to start small but to do something for themselves and their families. At the end of the workshop all the women were shown how to make soap, shampoo, and cleaning supplies. They can use the products themselves but were encouraged to start up a small business by making the items and selling them to others. Several of the participants purchased the raw materials and have now started their own businesses. There is a large population near the Yola IDP village so they have a market for these products.

Pray for the EYN Women’s Ministry as they hold workshops and continue to provide assistance to the IDP’s.

One-on-One Lay Counseling in the Chibok area

Participant and lay counselor

Thirteen women and seven men were participants in a trauma workshop in the Chibok area. This workshop used lay counselors who met one-on-one with each participant. The counselors taught about trauma and how it affects each person then they encouraged each person to share their personal story. Finally forgiveness was emphasized as a means to overcome their trauma.

Maryamu said, “I met with Boko Haram face to face. They came to my house and set fire to it. I narrowly escaped but I lost everything I owned plus I lost my hope and confidence. This workshop by the EYN Peace Program has helped me to forgive the perpetrators (Boko Haram) and I am regaining my hope and confidence to continue with my life.

Rejoice shared, “I was seriously disturbed by what the Boko Harm Insurgents did to me. They slaughtered my brother-in-law in my presence and I was deeply disturbed whenever I remembered the gravity of what I witnessed. But today (after the workshop), I praise God for that I see myself as a normal person and I can sleep now unlike before. Moreover, I have forgiven Boko Haram and pray that God will change them, their attitudes and their conduct.

Continue to pray for the Peace/trauma leaders and the lay counselors as they minister to others.

Born anew

www.brethren.org/yya
Photo by Glenn Riegel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Disaster Relief Ministry visits IDP’s near Benin City

In March, the EYN  Disaster Relief Ministry Team traveled down to Edo state in southern Nigeria to visit an NGO called the International Christian Center. The NGO located just outside Benin City, was started in 1992 by Pastor Solomon Folorunsho. It’s purpose was to care for orphans and vulnerable children. When violence broke out in the Northeast and many people became Internally Displaced Persons(IDPs), the NGO opened its doors to this new set of IDPs. Up to 4000 persons, mostly children and widows, moved south. The women and children are given food, a place to live and education for the children.The costs to house this many people are very high and having enough food to feed them is always a problem.

                  

Since so many of the children at the International Christian Center are from the Northeast, leaders from EYN have made several visits to the Center. Salamatu Billi, wife of EYN President, accompanied the Disaster team in March. She visited the classrooms and encouraged the children to do their best. She also thanked Pastor Folorunsho for taking in these children.

One of the main reasons for the visit was to provide food assistance to the NGO. This was a large undertaking and included: 500 Yam tubers, 140 Gari bags, 53 bags of rice, a pallet of Plantains, 25 Jerri cans of palm oil and 42 bags of sugar.

The major challenges of the center according to the camp official are food shortage  and medical support. They also spend a lot of money on diesel to provide water.

Please pray for the Disaster Team, these children and all those providing their care.

Pictures and information provided by Zakariya Musa.

Greetings from Rwanda!

Photos by Josiah Ludwick

 By Josiah Ludwick, Global Mission worker in Rwanda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Nigeria Crisis work continues amidst the violence

There have been new reports of violence and attacks in Northeast Nigeria. Continue to pray for our brothers and sisters as they live in fear but continue to proclaim Jesus Christ as their strength.

As security continues to remain a concern, the EYN Disaster team has provided monetary assistance for the building of a wall which will surround the Kulp Theological Seminary and the church Headquarters area. This project is a huge under taking. Ten teams of block molders helped produce 21,000 blocks. Numerous other volunteers help move the dried blocks to where the bricklayers will construct the wall. Volunteers came from as far away as Maiduguri.

 

EYN Peace Program continues to work on trauma consciousness and resilience training. In February, workshops were held to measure the work of the newly trained Community Based Facilitators and encouraged these volunteers at the local level. The Community Based Facilitators are local volunteers who have been trained to assist others in dealing with the extreme trauma everyone is facing. As listeners, they give people a chance to share their stories. They  also teach some of the principles of trauma and encourage the forgiveness and resilience needed to live under such difficult circumstances. Four workshops took place in areas where Boko Haram are still active (Wagga, Madagali, Gulak and Midlu). The Peace program leaders had to travel back and forth from Michika each day as it was not safe to sleep in the towns holding the trainings.

All the churches in this eastern area of EYN have been burned and yet the churches continue to worship under temporary shelters. 81 facilitators, 22 females and 59 males, attended the four workshops; that’s 81 people at the local level trained to guide others through their trauma. Pray for all these volunteers and their trainers as they engage in such important work.