Ambassadors of Christ

Photo by Glenn Riegel

A reflection by Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors,
as though God were making his appeal through us.”
~2 Corinthians 5:20, NIV

Even though we’ve entered a new year, I still find myself humming Christmas hymns. One chorus in particular has stuck in my mind:  “Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere. Go, tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born!”  The message of the song is simple, but in its simplicity is a strong call to action for the church. It is a call that challenges us to tell everyone about the transformative impact that Jesus Christ has in their lives and in our world. We are challenged to share the good news with all who will hear it, even shouting it from the mountaintops.

In Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, he calls them to the work of serving as ambassadors of Christ. Prior to verse 20 in chapter 5, Paul mentions that our love for Christ should compel us to no longer see anyone from a “worldly point of view” but, instead, to see each person as a new creation in Christ. “The old has gone, the new is here!” (2nd Corinthians 2:17, NIV). And as “new creations,” we inherently become ambassadors of Christ. We are now called by Jesus to be his messengers.
“Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere!”

In the Old Testament, being an ambassador for the king was a significant responsibility and honor. When ambassadors entered another country, they were treated just as if they were royalty themselves, and not just simply representatives. Being ambassadors today may not be exactly the same, but they still have the responsibility of sharing a message of the one whom they represent. While we may not be thrilled at the idea of being compared to government officials, it is important for us to remember that we represent Jesus and the kingdom of God in a very similar way.

I believe we are on earth at the right time for the right purpose to fulfill God’s greater plan for all people. We are here right now to fulfill God’s will, to speak as “new creations” in Jesus, and to welcome the new creation ordained by  God’s kingdom. Some of us are called to be ambassadors within the communities where we live, work, serve, and worship. Others are ambassadors at the district level, where the message of God can be extended further through the ministries supported by congregations.

Through denominational ministries, staff work diligently on behalf of the larger church to be Christ’s ambassadors, where the message reaches across the United States and out into the world. Through Brethren Volunteer Service and the Office of Global Mission and Service, some are called as missionaries who accompany brothers and sisters to nurture budding churches in places like South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Venezuela. Others witness to God’s message of peace and justice by speaking with local and national representatives with support from the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. Some hear the call to grow in discipleship or to revitalize and strengthen local ministries, and respond by attending events hosted by Discipleship Ministries. While these examples only scratch the surface of the work coordinated by Church of the Brethren staff, they reveal the importance of serving as Christ’s ambassadors.

Each of us, in our “new form,” have been blessed with gifts and talents that allow us to uniquely represent God where we are. Whether you volunteer your time and talent, pray for our ministries without ceasing, or support the work of the church through financial gifts, you are serving as an ambassador of Christ. Come, let us  “Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere” that Jesus Christ is making all things new.

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org or support them today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

BCCN: Re-framing Creation Care

by Brethren Creation Care Network

Gus Speth, an environmental law professor, noted a failure of environmental policy to a group of evangelical leaders in 2006:

“I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

Speth’s confession for a spiritual transformation suggests that the Christian faith has an important contribution to alleviating ecological degradation. Most of humanity has forgotten that nothing in creation is owned – rather, it’s on loan to us from the One who created it all.

Humanity stands at a very crucial point in our history. Instead of being distracted by the politics of the day, humanity needs a metanoia moment (Greek phrase meaning “to turn around”), which requires a change of the heart. We believe Christian hope can inspire this change. It is not a passive hope – waiting for external agencies to bring about what we desire; but rather an active hope – partnering with God to bring about transformation over despair.

The Church of the Brethren has the opportunity to be partners with Jesus in living out his active hope to the world. The Brethren Creation Care Network (BCCN) is our avenue towards a Christ-centered ministry for the healing of creation. We can rise to the challenge of creation care by building a community of support through your energy and talents. Please contact Nathan Hosler to join BCCN at nhosler@brethren.org.

We would also like to highlight an upcoming retreat hosted at Camp Emmaus (Illinois). Outdoor Ministry Association Board members Jonathan Stauffer and Randall Westfall have come to believe that living attuned with God’s creation is essential to our discipleship with Jesus. In recent years, we have rediscovered just how attuned to creation Jesus was. He knew God’s wisdom came from these encounters and sought them out intentionally. He sought the solace of the wilderness, the sea, the mountain, and the garden to regenerate his ministry and mission. Jesus was drawing on a blueprint as old as creation itself.

As a result, Jonathan and Randall have crafted an innovative weekend retreat entitled “Cultivating a Verdant Faith.” Sessions will be held March 8 – 10 at Camp Emmaus in the winter retreat lodge and on trails. By exploring the four directions of eco-discipleship, along with bible study, worship, and group discussions; participants will unearth their relationship with creation in new and profound ways. Ages 18 and up, are invited to unplug and rediscover the eco-blueprint of faith that our Creator gave us.

If you’re interested in registering for this unique spiritual formation experience, please see this brochure. For further questions about the event contact Jonathan and Randall. CEUs will be available through Brethren Academy. (Note: Retreat limited to 25 participants.) They hope to see you at Camp Emmaus in March 2019!

Nigeria Crisis Response helps thousands in 2018

      

Pictured – Medical Assistance, Skills & Business training for widows & orphans, Fertilizer & Seeds, Trauma Healing, Education Assistance, Clean Water Sources, Food Distributions, Special Relief to victims of Fulani Herdsmen, and Home Repairs were all part of the relief effort for 2018. (Pictures provided from 2018 Reports)

19 food distributions were organized for over 2500 families. One woman who received food had been captured by Boko Haram in 2015 and was freed with help from the Nigerian Army in November 2018. She was so appreciative of the food and household items because once freed they had nothing.

6300 people received medical help and screening for Hepatitis B. The medical officer and assistants travel thousands of miles to hold mobile clinics for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s) and this year they embarked on a screening and inoculation program for Hepatitis B.

169 homes were rebuilt costing about $1000 a home. This program is in high demand for all those whose houses were burned by Boko Haram. Only the most needy (about 20 per town) receive the assistance and the recipients must complete the walls before the Disaster Team provides the roofing.

Trauma workshops and counselling have been provided for around 500 people. This trauma awareness includes being able to tell their stories and is going a long way to help overcome the extreme trauma they have incurred. Forgiveness is emphasized and many who participate in a workshop go home and tell others so the healing is spreading.

The level of education in NE Nigeria has deteriorated over the past few years. Some schools were closed, some burned to the ground, and others used to house IDP’s. The Nigeria Crisis Response sponsors a boarding school, several learning centers and has provided school fees for more than 1000 children. Children of the IDP’s and many others still have not been able to go to school and more assistance is needed.

Most people in the NE survive by farming. The Response helped 2500 families  with seeds and fertilizer. This year the distribution was streamlined through the Districts. The District Leader from Mubi said the hardest thing is choosing who will receive the help when so many are in need. With 17 of his district’s 25 churches destroyed, the needs are overwhelming. A Soybean Value Chain project is also being sponsored with help from Global Food Initiative and Illinois Soybean Innovation Lab.

Good water sources are always in demand. The IDP camps all need to provide and maintain a water source. Some wells were destroyed by Boko Haram and other places have never had clean water. The Response provided 11 communities with wells/bore holes, helping thousands of Christian and Muslim households.

Widows and orphans must find ways to support themselves and their families. 5 skill training centers operated in 2018 graduating 269 students. Each student receives the tools necessary to start a business. In addition, 135 widows were give around $100 as start-up capital. Through the EYN Women’s Ministry, workshops have been held, literacy programs put in place and peace groups started. The influence of the women is growing throughout the society.

Numerous other activities were held during the year. Seminars were held for capacity building, the District Leaders received training in Disaster Preparedness, Yola IDP camp was fenced, Shaffa Theological Education by Extension office was repaired, a new vehicle was purchased, special relief efforts were organized for victims of the Fulani herdsmen attacks, 2 Tripartite meetings were held, a Muslim & Christian Peace conference was organized, joint church re-building workcamp were held in Michika, and much more. WHAT A  YEAR!

Please continue to pray for Nigeria.

 

 

 

Stitched with hope and love

By Matt DeBall, coordinator of Mission Advancement Communications

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for [God] has looked with favor on the lowliness of [God’s] servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.” ~Luke 1:46b-48

Do you have a favorite blanket? Mine is a purple, gray, black, and white afghan that my wife made for me years ago, right after we started dating. I was on a mission trip at the time, and it was carefully crocheted with the hope of my safe return, and with love.

As experienced during Advent, Mary’s song is a beautiful stitch in the larger, intricate blanket of God’s story. God’s promise to bless her and to save Israel filled her with joy, and she sang a new yet familiar song, testifying to what God had done and would do.

The song of Mary echoes the sentiments of an earlier song. “Give thanks to the LORD….Sing praises to the LORD, [who] has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. Shout aloud and sing for joy… for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 12:4-6). Mary and Isaiah both offered praise to God for past faithfulness, current presence, and future promise. Their eyes could not behold the fulfillment of God’s promises, but through faith, their hearts perceived God’s work as already complete. Their words are great for us to read (and sing) now because of all that God has done, is doing, and will still do in our midst.

As we reflect on this past year, God has surely done great things among us. Youth and advisors gathered at National Youth Conference to be challenged in their walk of faith. Church planters and others gathered at the New and Renew Conference for professional development and encouragement for the work of nurturing new disciples. Josiah and Christine Ludwick and their children began a year of service in Rwanda to preach, teach, and demonstrate a Brethren way of living. Brethren in Spain continued to add new congregations and expanded their membership. In Nigeria, Global Mission executive Jay Wittmeyer was present at the commissioning of a new EYN congregation at the Gurku Interfaith Camp for displaced people.  These are just a few examples of how your gifts helped add to our larger community blanket in 2018.

As you reach for your favorite blanket this winter season, please sing a song of thanksgiving for all that God has done through the Church of the Brethren, offer a prayer for the continued work of our ministries, and make a gift with hopeful expectation of what God will do. God surely has great things in store for us, and with God’s help and through your partnership, 2019 will be wonderfully stitched with hope and love.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Continuing the work of Jesus into 2019

By David Steele, general secretary

Greetings in the name of our Savior born for us—the Messiah, our Lord!

On behalf of our worldwide staff, volunteers, and the Mission and Ministry Board, I want to express our gratitude for the many ways you faithfully strive to live out the gospel—to simply try to do what Jesus did. The vital ministries of Church of the Brethren members and congregations, small and large, are at the heart of our denomination. Your witness is essential in our partnership as we together herald the Good News of the birth of Jesus Christ.

As we close the year, we celebrate that our Brethren witness is meaningfully extended into new places and in new ways. The Church of the Brethren is seeking to become a Global Church of the Brethren. Our growth around the world and our commitment to deeper and more meaningful relationships are helping this vision become a reality as we enter 2019.

In August, Josiah and Christine Ludwick and their children began a year of service in Rwanda to preach, teach, and demonstrate a Brethren way of living. Their appointment is vital to the efforts of establishing a peace testimony in the Great Lakes region of Africa as they host theological education and training, assist in the construction of church buildings, and deepen relationships.

In Venezuela, the Brethren witness is growing but economic turmoil has prevented the placement of mission staff at this time. Global Mission and Service staff and volunteers travel there when possible and work with Venezuelan leadership to broaden the understanding of our church’s theology and practice.

Brethren in Spain continue to add new congregations and expand their membership. Many are immigrants, but Spanish citizens are beginning to take notice and come to services.

Haitian Brethren have proved themselves faithful again this year by reaching out to the suffering when an earthquake struck in the north of the country.

In Nigeria, Global Mission executive Jay Wittmeyer was present at the commissioning of a new EYN congregation at the Gurku Interfaith Camp for displaced people. The Nigerian Brethren also commissioned their newest church district in Lagos, with EYN now numbering 55 districts. The Nigeria Crisis Response continues to bring healing and hope to thousands of families displaced by violence.

Embracing Jesus’ call to go and make disciples has been at the heart of our ministries throughout this year.

Youth and advisors gathered at National Youth Conference to be challenged in their walk of faith.

Church planters and others gathered at the New and Renew Conference for professional development and encouragement for the work of nurturing new disciples.

The Discipleship Ministries team provided resource leadership at congregational and district events, web-based learning opportunities, and collaboration with Bethany Seminary for an Urban Ministry intensive in Atlanta.

For Brethren Disaster Ministries, loss of Paradise Church of the Brethren and most of the congregation’s homes ended an intense year of responding to disasters—including a rebuilding project in North Carolina that closed during Hurricane Florence but quickly reopened to help people affected by Hurricane Matthew. In Puerto Rico, our disaster response expanded into the mountains around Castañer, where a long-term home rebuilding project will continue through next year.

Children’s Disaster Services supported families affected by floods, hurricanes, volcanoes, shootings, and the Camp Fire that burned Paradise.

Together, we have shared hope and God’s love. God has enabled us to extend Christ’s mission, serving those in need both near and far, growing disciples, calling and developing leaders, and transforming communities.  Thank you for your partnership, your generous support, and your prayers. May we together continue the work of Jesus.

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org or support them today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Livelihood Centers Graduate 180

Dr. Rebecca Dali is the Executive Director of the Center for Caring Empowerment and Peace Initiative (CCEPI). For the past 3 years CCEPI (supported by Nigeria Crisis Response) has been operating training centers for widows and orphans who are victims of the Boko Haram insurgency. The centers interview and screen applicants to ensure they are helping the most vulnerable and include both Muslims and Christians. In 2018, there were 4 centers located across the region with 180 students. The centers provide nine months of training for the students. When they graduate they are given the tools of the trade so they can immediately start a business. CCEPI’s program goes a long way in providing independence and self reliance. This year 75 were trained in computers, 70 in sewing, 18 in knitting and 18 in catering. All the students learn how to make soap and other cleaning products which they can use and sell.

The pictures below are from the graduation ceremonies where the students are given the sewing machines, computers, knitting machines and catering supplies.

Please continue to pray for these Livelihood Centers, the instructors and the graduates.

 

Guide our Feet in the Way of Peace 

By Nathan Hosler

This blog post is a sermon given by Office of Peacebuilding and Policy director Nathan Hosler. To learn more about Christian Peacemaker teams, visit their website here. 

Luke 1:68-79 

We are called to be a sign, a witness to the peace of Christ. To proclaim rightly, means that the peace of Christ cannot be forced. We can’t impose peace, at least not a true peace that is both geopolitical and personal, that is both an inward reconciliation and an outward wellbeing, that is both reconciliation to God and to neighbor and even, inexplicably, to our enemy. We cannot—nor should we try—to force peace. We bear witness to it, proclaim it. We must struggle for it—we must dedicate ourselves to it.  

In our Luke passage there are two layers of proclamation. One is of the coming savior. In verse 68 we hear—“The Lord has redeemed”. In the next verse “He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,..” This will be Jesus, Emmanuel—God with us. The Prince of Peace. This is the Advent waiting for the incarnate one. This is God coming near to heal.  

In a resolution on drone warfare initially drafted in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy and then passed at our 2013 denominational Annual Conference—we referenced this coming near to heal. It reads in part:  

All killing mocks the God who creates and gives life. Jesus, as the Word incarnate, came to dwell among us (John 1:14) in order to reconcile humanity to God and bring about peace and  healing. In contrast, our government’s expanding use of armed drones distances the decisions to use lethal force from the communities in which these deadly strikes take place. We find the efforts of the United States to distance the act of killing from the site of violence to be in direct conflict to the witness of Christ Jesus 

While our policies and practices often pull us apart, drive wedges between groups, and heighten animosity—our ministry of reconciliation and peacemaking is proclaimed by the one for whom we wait this advent.  

There is also a second layer of proclamation in Zechariah’s song—that of the messenger, John—who will be called John the Baptizer. He will prepare the way for the Holy one. In verse 76 we read, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,…”  

Throughout this text, through the two layers of proclamation we see the mighty acting of God on the plane of human history. The passages ends with— “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.” 

To guide our feet into the way of peace. Because many of us have read the story beyond Christmas, we know that the awaited baby Jesus will become the teaching Jesus who will say, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.” He will teach to love one’s enemy and pray for the one that persecutes you. He will teach to go and confront and be reconciled. He will guide our feet into the way of peace. 

In this town peacemaking is an odd word. Even for organizations that work for things that I would characterize as peace, peacemaking—the term—is a little unusual. While at dinner after speaking on a panel about Nigeria, I was talking with a colleague from one such organization. I was in the throes of dissertation writing and I revealed that I was writing on peacemaking within the work of Stanley Hauerwas. While she certainly didn’t know of Hauerwas she also wondered why the term peacemaking rather than the more common “peacebuilding.” I noted that while I use the terms somewhat interchangeably, the term peacemaking is based on the biblical text, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.”  

But why are these peacemakers called the children of God? A chapter later we read– Love your enemy because God who is your heavenly parent sends rain on both the righteous and unrighteous. God provides even for the enemy. To resemble your parent is to demonstrate that the you are a child. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” I am not sure when I first learned about Christian Peacemaker Teams, but I think it was sometime as a child. I grew up in a Church of the Brethren congregation 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 understanding of my vocational call to ministry took shape, I felt the same theological impulse that brought about CPT—If I am opposed to war, I need to be ready to work for peace. For my graduate work in international relations I almost wrote on Christian Peacemaker Teams.  

I have a vivid memory of being at the Church of the Brethren’s Annual Conference over the time when I was beginning to decide what I would research. We met up with Art Gish, an old CPTer, to talk about intentional community. While walking briskly through the crowds of people I told him I was considering writing on the power leveraged by CPT as international actors. The picture caught in my mind is him looking back at me, with his bushy white brethren beard, a big smile and laughing, saying “I don’t know why it works, but it works!” The earlier work of CPT focused on “Getting in the Way,” more explicitly using their international presence in nonviolent resistance to both stop violence and highlight the situation for the broader international community. This then plays on international institutions, geopolitics, and broadly international relations—hence my interest as a Historic Peace Church kid studying international relations. While CPT still works in this context its work and framing of its work has evolved over the years. We now describe the work thusly: “CPT builds partnerships to transform violence and oppression.”   

We then expand this by describing this short phrase by stating that the work is:
Inclusive, multi-faith, spiritually guided peacemaking. We approach injustice from a spirit of faith and compassion.   

CPT accompanies and supports our partners in their local peacemaking work in situations of violent oppression. 

Committed to undoing the structures of oppression that feed violence, both in society and within our organization. 

Christian Peacemaker Teams has projects in Iraqi-Kurdistan accompanying human rights defenders and supporting communities being bombed, the city of Hebron in the West Bank of Palestine accompanying during things such as the olive harvest and monitoring heavily militarized checkpoints that children pass through on the way to school, Winnipeg, Canada with the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Program, in Colombia with small holder farmers at risk of displacement from their land, and a regional project on the Island of Lesbos with arriving refugees.  

First, CPT’s work is Inclusive, multi-faith, spiritually guided peacemaking. We approach injustice from a spirit of faith and compassion. 

A few weeks ago, Marcos Knobloch, a full-time CPTer on the Colombia team, was with me DC. My office arranged a series of meetings with partners and US government bodies—specifically the Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights staff and with the State Department. In the course of telling about their work he noted that while there are a number of international organizations working in their area of Colombia, CPT is the only one that is faith-based. This spiritually guided peacemaking gives them a particular pastoral work as they accompany people that have suffered violence.  

Secondly, CPT accompanies and supports our partners in their local peacemaking work in situations of violent oppression.  

Marcos also spoke about CPT Colombia’s work to protect human rights defenders and vulnerable communities. Since the signing of the peace accords late in 2016 there have been 350 assassinations—approximately 1 every other day. In this context CPT works with the Corporation for Humanitarian Action for Peace and Coexistence in Northeastern Antioquia (CAHUCOPANA). CAHUCOPANA has being working for human rights for small scale miners and farmers for 14 years and because of this work has faced many threats. CPT has been working with them since 2009. While the government has agreed to provide such leaders protection, this is often limited to cities. In these isolated areas accompaniment is vital. In this, CPT plays an unique and critical role.  

Thirdly, CPT is Committed to undoing the structures of oppression that feed violence, both in society and within our organization. In Canada, with the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity project this involves working for decolonization and challenging corporate and government exploitation Indigenous nations. In Hebron this involves living and working in the old city—being a physical presence in a contested space and documenting the military occupation.  

 

 “CPT builds partnerships to transform violence and oppression.”   

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. 

In this second Sunday of Advent we continue to prepare for the coming of Jesus. The one who will embody peace, who will bring reconciliation and justice, and who will teach blessed are the peacemakers. The incarnation—the coming of Jesus—is the showing up of God to bring healing.  

Show up. Peacemaking, like the Incarnation, involves showing up.  

I invite you to continue with us in this important work. We need our teams on the ground. We need individuals to go on two-week delegations to learn, support, and then tell the story. We need funds, prayers, passing on our publications. As the Apostle Paul teaches in Romans–“For as in one body we have many members, and not all members have the same function.” (Romans 12). We are called to peacemaking. Our common call to peacemaking will look different. —may Christ guide us in the way of peace

Defend Human Rights: Ban Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems

It seems like something out of a dystopian novel- autonomous killer robots, making decisions about who is targeted and when to fire their weapons. Unfortunately, scenarios involving Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) aren’t as fantastical as we would like to believe. Many of the weapons used today are already employing artificial intelligence technology to aid in military operations, and the industry is headed rapidly towards the development of fully autonomous systems in which humans are not involved in the final decision to strike.

On this Human Rights Day, we call attention to the potential for LAWS to take away the basic human rights of “life, liberty and security of person” and the right to a hearing before an impartial tribunal in relation to criminal charges, as laid out in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Church of the Brethren laid out the biblical rationale for sanctity of life in a 2010 statement, saying, “sanctity of life was and is a fundamental value of our faith. According to the biblical witness we recognize the following as foundational for our conviction regarding the sanctity of life: God created human beings in the image of God (Gen. 1:26), and God proclaimed this creation “very good.” In Exodus God commands the Israelites to “not wrong or oppress a resident alien” (Ex. 22:21).”  The church’s commitment to human rights is evident in it’s work against the use of drones in warfare. Even the human-operated drone strikes have resulted in unacceptable loss of human rights for targeted communities, and autonomous weapons would accelerate our departure from human rights norms in how we deal with international conflict.

The trend towards development of autonomous weapons is chilling, and a wide range of industry representatives, faith communities and human rights NGOs have called for a complete ban on the development of and use of LAWS. The Future of Life Institute coordinated a Lethal Autonomous Weapons pledge, which has been signed by industry leaders like Google DeepMind and Elon Musk.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, the European Forum on Armed Drones, and many other disarmament-focused organizations are working to incorporate language against LAWS into United Nations and European Union policy. The Interfaith Working Group on Drone Warfare continues to advocate in Washington, D.C. for good drone policy on the United States’ end.

The Church of the Brethren affirmed it’s statement against the use of drones in warfare in 2013, and has been working with the Interfaith Working Group on Drone Warfare since then to enact policy changes in the United States. The Church views the use of drones as a moral issue, as it does all participation in war, saying in the 2013 statement that “war or any participation in war is wrong and entirely incompatible with the spirit, example and teachings of Jesus Christ,” (1918 Statement of Special Conference of the Church of the Brethren to the Churches and the Drafted Brethren) and that all “war is sin…[and that we] cannot encourage, engage in, or willingly profit from armed conflict at home or abroad.”

To urge the company responsible for the Predator and Reaper drones (General Atomics) to sign the Future of Life Institute pledge to not develop lethal autonomous weapons systems, our office is working with the Interfaith Working Group on Drone Warfare to host a faith rally on May 3rd in Washington, DC. At this event, we will share why drone warfare is illegal, immoral and ineffective, and our communities will call for an end to CIA drone strikes and for General Atomics to sign the Future of Life pledge on lethal autonomous weapons.

Join us for the rally on May 3rd! More details can be found here.  Can’t make it to D.C. for the rally? Organize your own demonstration in your own community, and support us on social media with the hashtag #EndDroneWarfare.

Drone strikes are being ordered on our behalf, as U.S. citizens. It is important that we take the time to speak up for justice for the victims of the drone strikes that are already happening, and preemptively protect human rights that would be taken away by the use of autonomous weapons.

Transforming communities

Joshua Brockway speaking at National Youth Conference in July 2018.
Photo by Nevin Dulabaum

By Joshua Brockway, director of Spiritual Formation

When have you seen a congregation transform its community? We could point to grand stories of movements in the whole country, but what about a local congregation being an active change-agent in the local community?

In January I had the privilege of helping teach a course on urban ministry with Bethany Theological Seminary and the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership. We met for two weeks in Atlanta at a ministry called City of Refuge. Those two weeks were eye-opening for all of us, and they challenged me to imagine how the local church can have a profound impact.

City of Refuge started when Bruce Deal was sent by his denomination to close a congregation in the worst part of Atlanta. This small and aging church had witnessed the neighborhood become a statistic—the zip code with the highest violent crime rate in all of Metro Atlanta. One of Bruce’s first Sundays, a woman came in from the street needing help. Bruce simply did what anyone could do—he helped by showing compassion and treating her with dignity. It was not long before their house and the church building were full of people. What started as a congregation on the brink of closing has grown into a multi-million-dollar agency that is a one-stop shop for housing, job training, education, medical care, and case management.

My eyes were opened to the reality of how the church can become a place of holistic
transformation. At City of Refuge, and many other communities, the distinction between the needs of the body and the needs of the soul is erased. I long to see our congregations become a catalyst for this kind of transformation in their local communities.

Thanks to my experiences in City of Refuge and the connections we made through the class this January, Discipleship Ministries has partnered with the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). CCDA is a network of ministry leaders who have the same desire to see the church become a change-agent in every local community. Over the last two decades, CCDA has gathered the wisdom of church leaders who seek to transform both the church and their neighborhood. Thanks to the wise leadership of John Perkins, Wayne Gordon, and many others, CCDA is providing resources and support for countless ministries like City of Refuge.

The Church of the Brethren is now the first denominational member of the Christian
Community Development Association. With this membership, we can connect every Church of the Brethren congregation and district with CCDA resources. It is our prayer that this partnership will help us—not just to dream about transformational Christianity, but to lead us towards the vision of reaching more young people, more diverse people, and more people in general with the gospel of Jesus. We pray that it will inform how we plant new churches and renew existing congregations so that each mission point across the country can minister to the body and soul of each person.

Your gifts have made this partnership and all of the ministries of the Church of the Brethren possible. Thank you for generously joining us and, in doing so, writing a testimony of transformation in your community.

Learn more about Discipleship Ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/discipleshipmin or support them today at www.brethren.org/givediscipleship.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Joy: Giving thanks to God

A scriptural exegesis of Isaiah 12 written by Emmett Witkovsky-Eldred, youth and young adult ministry assistant, for the 2018 Advent Offering

We’ve all been told “patience is a virtue.” And we’ve all heard that “good things come to those who wait.” Waiting isn’t always pleasant, but we often regard waiting as the price we pay for some ultimate payoff. We wait those excruciating 90 minutes in line at the amusement park for those magical sixty seconds on the rollercoaster. We wait those exhausting nine months to meet the newest member of our family. It’s easy to find joy in the things that are “worth the wait.” It’s much harder to savor the wait itself, to find joy in the very act of anticipation.

Isaiah spoke to a people in waiting. His prophetic ministry spanned an age of anticipation, transition, and anxiety for the people of Judah. He came into ministry during shallow prosperity—speaking above the noise of false peace and security to expose the deeper rot of corruption and injustice beneath the surface and a looming foreign threat beyond the horizon. The bubble was about to burst. Isaiah bore witness to the gathering cloud of the Assyrian empire’s raiding army—once distant, now on the doorstep, now ransacking the kitchen and rifling through the drawers. At last, the book of Isaiah tells the story of Babylon’s deliverance of the Judeans from Assyria. But trusting in political deliverance only gave way to new subjugation and oppression. The people of Judah were left to wonder who will deliver us from Babylon? They waited.

Waiting can be unbearable enough when we know that what comes next is worth waiting for. It’s much harder still when the future is uncertain: Waiting for the Hail Mary pass to come down, the lost dog to come home, the medical test to come in. This was the sort of wait that plagued Judah. How are we to know that deliverance will every truly come? When it does come, how are we to know if it’s truly better than what came before?

It’s not difficult to see how seeds of bitterness and fear can be scattered, especially when we’re powerless and afraid, and we have nothing to do but wait. But Isaiah invites those who wait to respond with the hymn of thanksgiving and praise found in Chapter 12. It’s not just a litany of what to say when deliverance finally comes. It’s a liturgy for how to wait for God: with joy, with faith, and with praise.

Isaiah’s poem recalls the resplendent joy that God’s people have experienced in the past when God comes through for them. Isaiah 12:2 quotes from the hymn that Moses and the Israelites sang after crossing the Red Sea, “The Lord God is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation” (Exodus 15:2, NRSV), a verse that echoes again in Psalms 118:14, a song of victory. The imperatives in Isaiah 12:4 recall psalms of promise (Psalm 105:1), wonder (Psalm 148:13), and above all praise. These are songs that echo across scripture and that resound in our hearts. We shouldn’t just sing them anew when the next glorious day arrives. They never faded away; we can—we should—sing them while we wait.

If only it were that easy. While Isaiah directly quoted the soaring praise found in the beginning of Exodus 15, the end of that chapter describes how we really tend to relate to God. No sooner have the sounds of the Israelites’ praise and thanksgiving faded when their grumbling and complaining sets in (Exodus 15:22-27). Facing exile in the desert, their trust in God waned. Their gratitude for God’s deliverance subsided to anxiety about what would lie ahead.

Isaiah sang of a better way to live with God. His hymn admonishes us to joyfully “draw water from the wells of salvation” (12:3) to beat back the scorching fear found in the desert. Centuries later, Jesus employed the same metaphor while speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob (John 4: 1-42). He offers life-giving water that forever quenches our thirst and never runs dry.  He doesn’t deliver us only to subjugate us. He delivers us to set us free.

We may not be under the thumb of Assyria or Babylon. We may not be wandering in the desert. But we face the same temptation to turn to temporary solutions that will crumble beneath our feet. We have that same urge to drink of worldly water that will only leave us thirsty again (John 4:13). We think that the next election, the next fad product, the next airstrike or sanction, the next stock market boom will scratch the itch, though it never does. We’re waiting for God, and we’re getting antsy.

Isaiah reminds us that we won’t be waiting forever. We will be awake once again to God in our midst (Isaiah 12:6). And in that day, we will “give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted” (Isaiah 12:4). Better to sing joyfully now than to be rusty, out of practice, and out of pitch when the wait is finally over.

Learn more and find worship resources for this year’s Advent Offering at www.brethren.org/adventoffering.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)