|By Kim Gingerich, long-term disaster project leader|
As a long-term volunteer project leader with the Brethren Disaster Ministries (BDM) Rebuilding program, I have had the privilege of experiencing this ministry from the “inside” for more than five years. I’ve been given the opportunity to see our denomination through different eyes: the eyes of service, compassion, and love. The one thing that keeps standing out to me is how we are united, as opposed to how we might be divided. The “we” are volunteers who come from different districts across the denomination to serve together each week. I often comment to them during our end-of-week debriefing that this ministry is the best-kept secret of our denomination.
Why do I say that? Because those who come to serve strive for a common goal that we fulfill together. What is that common goal? To glorify God as we serve with our hands, feet, and hearts to help restore hope in our clients and the communities in which we serve. Because we have that common goal, we are united. Despite our differences, we are united. We are united because we are motivated by love—God’s love for us and our love for Him—which in turn compels us to love our neighbor as ourselves. As Galatians 5:13-14 tells us: “Serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
This is how we build the body and unite the church, week after week: through acts of service that provide opportunities to break down barriers and build relationships. Serving. United. Being the church.
Since BDM has combined its two project sites into one in Lumberton, N.C., we have received a lot of feedback from volunteers that illustrates this unity through service. Here are just a few:
• We are working with people for a common goal—an extraordinary goal.
• It’s the Holy Spirit taking human form, out of our hearts and into our hands.
• We’re so different but we have so much in common.
• Volunteers are like-minded people.
• We come as strangers but leave as friends or family.
• We are stronger together.
Together, across districts and denominations, we come. Different but the same, bound together by love, serving for a purpose, restoring hope, and being the church as we build homes and relationships. These are the real ministries the Rebuilding program of Brethren Disaster Ministries.
This reflection was originally featured in the summer issue of Bridges newsletter produced by Brethren Disaster Ministries. Learn more about the Rebuilding program at www.brethren.org/bdm/rebuild or support it today at www.brethren.org/bdm/givenow .
(Read this issue of eBrethren.)
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.
A reflection by Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement,
for Giving Tuesday 2018 on 11/27
“I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart! Where?
Down in my heart! Where? Down in my heart!
I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart! Where? Down in my heart to stay!
And I’m so happy, so very happy. I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart!
And I’m so happy, so very happy. I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart!”
– Verse 1 and chorus of “Joy in my heart” by George W. Cooke
Admit it! If you went to a summer Vacation Bible School as a child, you either started to hum the tune in your head as you read or even found yourself singing it by the end. I confess, my feet were tapping, and the tune of this song flooded my mind. It puts a smile on my face and reminds me of a time when summers were long, and you attended every Vacation Bible School in the area.
As I get older, each summer flies by faster than the last, and there seems to be less to smile about when I look at the world around us. Humanity continues to find ways to taunt and jab at each other, hurt one another, and in the extreme cases, take lives. It saddens the heart to hear how our children are bullied and the very institutions where we received education are no longer safe spaces, but instead are more like prison wards where padlocks and “visitor” badges are required. Our young adults grapple with body image issues and the pressures of having a “perfect” life because of the Pinterest-perfect, Instagram-ing, Facebook posting world in which we now live. Many of us are dodging and weaving the political rhetoric being spat at us from the very people for whom we prayerfully voted, and we now watch in amazement as grown, well-educated adults hurl accusations at one another at every level. Meanwhile the hungry grow hungrier and the poor become poorer, and the joy down in my heart seems like it could be snuffed out at any moment.
Thankfully, scripture can always provide hope:
Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
– Isaiah 12:4-6
My joy is deeper in my heart now than it was when I was younger—in part because of the things I’ve seen and heard while serving the denomination. I give thanks to the Lord because of what God has done among us and through us, and what God continues to do. These past two years have given me opportunities to talk with pastors, visit with congregations, attend district conferences, and go to special events in the life of our districts, and I sing praises to the Lord, for he has done great things.
Congregations are striving to learn the needs of those who live in the communities where they worship, and they are caring for them through the way Jesus taught us: by loving one another. This is very refreshing in a world full of hatred and division. One might say it’s another way of living!
Partnerships between congregations and denominational ministries provide a way to respond to the call of Jesus, “feed my sheep” (John 21:17). The Office of Peacebuilding and Policy and the Global Food Initiative, together and separately, provide ways for congregations to advocate for issues related to food, create sustainable community gardens, and, overall, care for the hungry in their neighborhoods.
Congregations also partner with Global Mission and Service to work alongside mission workers and international Brethren bodies as they start new church plants around the world—building churches, training pastors, and developing communities. Churches also support, in many ways, the efforts of Brethren Disaster Ministries. These ministries provide much needed humanitarian aid to those who have lived through disasters and simply need help.
Congregations are working with Discipleship Ministries to dig deeper into their relationships with God through use of deacon ministry resources, sending youth to National Youth Conference, empowering young adults through Young Adult Conference and Ministry Summer Service, and walking through the Vital Ministry Journey to discern how to more richly live into the Great Commission in their communities and circles of influence.
When I pause and think of all the stories that have been shared with me, stories that share the overwhelming effects of our ministry in the United States and globally, it sustains and renews my hope, and causes me to shout and sing for joy because of the great things God is doing among us.
As we give thanks through November and celebrate Giving Tuesday (11/27), we invite you to join us in shouting and singing for joy because of all that the Lord has done!
Join the celebration by making a gift to the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/givingtuesday.
First and foremost, I would want to thank God, and Church of the Brethren for giving me the opportunity to be at the Annual Conference and the one week of refreshing and learning about Brethren Disaster Ministry (BDM).
After the Sunday Service at Annual Conference, we started our journey to North Carolina with Brother Roy Winter who was driving. We spent over night at Peterson close to Greensboro. The next day, Monday, we continued with our journey to the rebuilding site. We arrived there at 11.25am. We met Harry and four volunteers working on the building, some were working on painting the interior walls, and others were cleaning the floor. Roy and I were given the permission to do the painting. Indeed, it was so nice that we worked for half an hour, laughing and enjoying the fellowship, we break for lunch at noon. Here I learned the commitment, willingness, sacrifice and humility of the volunteers.
After the lunch, we drove to another site, where we met four active volunteers working on the outer wall of the house. Ann, a young volunteer was leading the team, and I shared a few minutes discussing the work and then we went to the Methodist Church where all the volunteers were sleeping. During dinner I was introduced by Roy and the other volunteers did self-introductions. Afterwards I told my story of how the Lord saved us in Maiduguri in 2009 and in Mubi 2014 when Boko Haram attacked. There was a moment of sympathy and concerns for Nigeria. I saw their love and sacrifice.
After visiting the Ocean and an Aquarium, we continued with our journey to Maryland. I was first shown the Church of Brethren, where Roy worships. Then the next day, Thursday, 12th July 2018, we visited New Windsor. I was taken round by Roy to the School building which was formally Brethren Service Center property. I was shown where containers are received, from there we went around the warehouse and offices where I met with all volunteers and staff. It was amazing how things are well organized, volunteers are working with joy in their hearts, most especially, the man that is handling the machine for packaging of clothes. After that we had a meeting with Disaster Staff, (Jenn, was absent but she participated through Skype call). I was given the opportunity to share about our work in Nigeria and my story. After our meeting, we went to celebrate our work and my coming to the BSC at a restaurant (Hibachi) with a fantastic demonstration.
1. Brethren have the Spirit of service and humility
2. All Volunteers and Staff are caring
3. Things are well organized
4. Out of their overabundance, they are willing to touch many lives
5. Many people are continually praying for peace to reign in Nigeria
6. I saw a true heart of love, care, service and dedication in Brother Roy.
May the Lord continue to bless the entire Church of the Brethren.
By David Steele, General Secretary.
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people’” (Luke 2:8-10, NIV).
I recently received a text message from my 21-year-old daughter, Aubrey, who has Down syndrome. She told me that there were going to be thunderstorms at home and clarified, “Dad I hate storms rain.” As I have done many times before, I assured her that everything would be okay.
“Do not be afraid” are the words of comfort that parents offer their children as they hold them tightly through the thunderstorms of life. These words sometimes come easily with little forethought. Yet, as we hear about the hurricanes, flooding, and fires that have displaced many; the tragedy of a mass shooting; a medical diagnosis with an uncertain prognosis; or the death of a loved one, it is more difficult to find comfort or assurance in these words.
We continue to face those storms within our church as well: diminishing attendance and the possibility of having to close the doors; a long, tiring search process for a new pastor; changes that test the boundaries of our traditions, values, and biblical interpretations; finger pointing and conversations about the possibility of a split; the spread of misinformation; and broken relationships within the fellowship. These things give us great concern and can distract us from hearing the good news.
Living in the plains of Kansas while in college, I was fascinated by watching a thunderstorm develop many miles in the distance clouds billowing into the heights of the heavens and lighting bolts dancing from the sky to the earth. Of course, my fascination was replaced with fear as the severity of a storm increased and moved closer, especially with the uncertainty of how powerful the storm could become.
The shepherds faced not a storm but glory of the Lord, with the appearance of the angel. I like to think the fear, and yes, even terror, that we may experience during storms is like the initial terror of the shepherds as the angel appeared to them. Yet more significant than their fear is the proclamation of the angel, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”
It may be hard to hear the good news in the midst of our storms, especially when they have caused damage or great harm to us and those we love. Yet the good news is present for us and, in some cases, we represent that good news for others. As followers of Jesus, we carry that good news. As a church, we are at our best as we offer comfort and assurance to one another and to all those who fear the storms of life. We are at our best when we reach out to those who have suffered great loss due to the physical storms that have stripped them of their homes, belongings, and sometimes loved ones. Through our acts of service and grace, we also convey the good news to those who do not know Jesus.
Through your gifts of prayer and financial support, the Church of the Brethren has been able to share the good news of Jesus:
- More than 300 youth, young adults, and advisors served in 19 workcamps.
- 734 “Gift of the Heart” kits (for schools, health, or clean-up) were assembled or donated at National Older Adult Conference for Church World Service.
- The Disaster Ministry Response team of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) provided eight food distributions which fed more than 300 families on each occasion.
- Children’s Disaster Services sent 153 dedicated volunteers to 13 locations affected by disaster or trauma and cared for more than 2,328 children.
- 45 Brethren Volunteer Service volunteers faithfully served around the world.
Friends, “we (as the Church of the Brethren) hold an inexhaustible cup of cold water, water that can assuage the need of a thirsty world. We possess the cup, we are the cup, we know what it contains, and because we’ve experienced firsthand its wonderful promise we can pass it on. If we can accept and live this single metaphor, we and our work cannot fail, and will not end” (Reflections on Brethren Image and Identity, adapted).
This Advent, as we anticipate the birth of the one who will bring great joy for all people, may we together be the cup, share the good news, and be a source of comfort through the storms of life.
By David Steele, general secretary
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope”(Romans 15:13).
My first 100 days as general secretary have come and gone. These first weeks have been exhilarating, challenging, and joy-filled. Assessment, questions, review of past board and committee minutes, and many meetings have filled my days. What has been and will continue to be central in my work and ministry has been listening—listening to staff and you, the church. From the hallways and meeting rooms of the General Offices and Brethren Service Center to the listening sessions being held across the denomination, I am learning much. I count it a privilege to meet with you to hear your hopes, passions, and concerns, and I look forward to many more listening opportunities as I continue to schedule listening sessions in other districts.
What am I learning from your sharing? We are passionate about the Church of the Brethren and our common ministries of service, mission, discipleship, and evangelism. Yet, we are also distracted by dwindling numbers and whether we will split over our diverging or opposite views related to human sexuality and same-gender marriage. Many of your hopes have been centered in a desire for unity, reconciliation, and focusing on what unites us. Much of your sharing can be taken at face value; however, for some our desire for unity and staying together are tied to certain outcomes.
The issues we face as a church will not go away. Let’s not kid ourselves. Given our diversity, there is no decision that we can make about a social issue that will satisfy all of us. And when we do make a decision about a social issue, it will likely be replaced by another, and another, and another.
Being the church is messy. It always has been. I have always appreciated the diversity of the church and the opportunities and challenges such diversity offers. In 1 Corinthians 12:12 we read, “The body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body.” Each part of the body is essential and cannot be denied its place in the body. “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose” (12:18).
I believe we must work together as one body—the body of Christ—to attend to the issues before us and those that we will face in the future. Our rich diversity provides us the ability to speak to a very complex and diverse world and model another way of living—the way of Jesus. Our working together, despite our differences, is not a denial of our convictions, but an acknowledgment of our conviction that Jesus is central in our lives and that we are part of one body in Christ. Sure, it is easier to seek out and gather with those who think and believe like us, but where would be our sense of smell, sight, ability to walk, to touch? As one dear brother said in one of the listening sessions, “I need those of you calling me to purity equally as much as I need those calling me to grace and compassion.”
As we step into this new year, I am committed to our common struggle together as the body of Christ. In the midst of distractions, it has been most exhilarating in my first 100 days to experience firsthand the tireless efforts of staff and leaders to be the church. Mission work around the globe, disaster response ministries, workcamps for youth, discipleship ministries and working with congregations in efforts of vitality and evangelism, intercultural ministries, church planting coaching and support, and planning for Christian Citizenship Seminar, Young Adult Conference, and Inspiration 2017 (National Older Adult Conference)and the list could go on.
We are called to another way of living, a way that looks much different from the world around us. I invite you to support and join in our mission and ministry—to be the church. Being the church is where our body finds its unity and strength through Jesus.
By Mark Flory Steury, Donor Relations representative
“It’s amazing how much the Church of the Brethren is able to do.”
This is a comment I hear often as I talk with congregational leaders and pastors about the denominational work of the Church of the Brethren. It has been my joy to visit many congregations over the past five years, and to thank them for being so generous! For well over one hundred years, congregations have faithfully supported the work of the church through their offerings.
When I visit a congregation, we talk about the ways the Church of the Brethren is currently serving in ministry both domestically and abroad. Globally we have partners in Nigeria, India, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Haiti, Spain, South Sudan and many other places. We help people in times of need through Brethren Disaster Ministries, Children’s Disaster Services, and the Global Food Initiative. Volunteers serve as the hands and feet of Jesus through Brethren Volunteer Service and Workcamps. These are some of the ways that we extend the love of God to others.
We also provide resources for churches and individuals across the country. We support the work of new churches through the Church Planting Conference. We equip church leaders and members through the work of Congregational Life Ministries, the Ministry Office, and Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leaderships, and through materials like Vital Ministry Journey, the Anabaptist Worship Exchange, the Shine curriculum, and webinars. Faith-forming, community-fostering conferences and programs are provided throughout the year like National Junior High Conference, Christian Citizenship Seminar, Ministry Summer Service, National Young Adult Conference, and National Older Adult Conference. Conversation and information are shared through Newsline and Messenger magazine. We also have wonderful historical resources preserved through the Brethren Historical Library and Archives. This is just a brief overview of the many ministries we do together!
Amazing! How is the Church of the Brethren able to do all of this? It’s only with the support of congregations and individuals who are willing to work together for a common mission and ministry.
It is remarkable how much the Church of the Brethren is able to do. Thank you so much for your awesome support. We can do this work only because of your partnership. May God bless us as we continue in our work together.
Adapted from a sermon starter by José Francisco Morales Torres, director of Pastoral Formation at Disciples Seminary Foundation
“Where you go I will go; and where you stay I will stay” (Ruth 1:16, NIV).
The story of Ruth is a beautiful narrative about resilience and accompaniment. Rendered vulnerable by the deaths of their husbands and the natural disaster of famine, Ruth and Naomi clung to one another for comfort and strength.
As we read the book of Ruth, we see both a human story and a God story, the former “incarnating” the latter. As a human story, we read about the spirituality of solidarity. In the divine realm, we read of God’s redemption, which is mirrored in human action.
Redemption is a sign of God being with us. The divine act of redemption can be seen in the sacrificial commitment Ruth makes to Naomi to go where she goes and stay where she stays. Through Ruth, God is revealed in the very act of accompanying the most vulnerable in society—both then and now. This commitment to walk together is good news for a globalizing world that so often separates people groups into “them” and “us.”
As God walks with those who are vulnerable, we see God as we walk together with them as well. Consequently, we, like the outcast, come face-to-face with our own need and vulnerability; we need them to see God in our midst. Walking with those in need is an opportunity for us to reignite our faith and reframe our humanity in our encounter with the faith and humanity of another. We are able to recognize the transforming power of solidarity, not just for “them” but for “us.” Through the eyes of accompaniment, there is only a united “us!”
One Great Hour of Sharing is a special opportunity for you and your congregation to walk with those in need through the work of the Church of the Brethren. When you give to this special offering, you support Core Ministries like Brethren Volunteer Service, Congregational Life Ministries, Global Mission and Service, the Office of Ministry, and the Office of Public Witness. You also support the work of Brethren Disaster Ministries and Global Food Crisis Fund. With your help, we accompany those in need across the country and around the world. As we walk together, we recognize God among us and receive strength for the journey ahead.
A reflection by Stanley Noffsinger
When I graduated from Manchester University, my eyes were set on the future. I was filled with anticipation, hope, relief, and a modicum of anxiety. Little did I know that the path ahead would take unusual and unexpected twists and turns beyond my wildest imagination.
I am reminded of the story of Moses—a trusted and experienced shepherd—who was asked by his father-in-law, Jethro, to lead a flock through the wilderness. Moses set out with his faith and experience to get the flock moving, feed them, protect them, and return them home.
But Moses’ serenity was interrupted in an unexpected way—by an angel of the Lord through the burning bush. The last thing Moses expected was to be in the presence of the Divine, but as Moses heard God through a burning bush, he entered into an unimagined reality. Moses knew he was in the presence of Yahweh, the Lord God.
Moses was prepared for the future just like each of us. And like Moses, we will encounter a day when unexpected events will alter our journey. These unplanned detours may not be as dramatic as a burning bush but, nonetheless will change the course of our lives.
I never thought I would become the first lay person to hold the office of general secretary for the Church of the Brethren. Nor could I have imagined this position would allow me the privilege to have audience with Pope Benedict at the Vatican, with the former president of Iran, or the President of United States. All of these events and opportunities to interact with people from all over the world were moments when I experienced God’s presence.
During my time of service to the Church of the Brethren, we have seen spiritual growth with congregations the United States and around the world. We have witnessed lives changed and faith strengthened at conferences like National Youth Conference, National Older Adult Conference, National Junior High Conference, and WorkChristian Citizenship Seminar. We have responded to extreme national and international disasters, walking alongside leaders as they served their communities in a manner consistent with their context of living. We have persevered in a tradition of service through ministries like Brethren Volunteer Service and workcamps. We have spoken to the world and its leaders on important issues, hopeful that we might find alternative paths to resolving conflicts. In all of these things, we have truly witnessed God in our midst.
Looking to the future, we will be heading forward with great expectation, even though the paths we will take are truly unknown. While we still have much to learn about showing love to one another, I have the utmost confidence and trust that our faith and experience will serve us well. Inspired by our appointment with the Divine, we will persevere in our pursuit of life, relationships, and Christian service.
By Carl and Roxane Hill, co-directors of the Nigeria Crisis Response currently in Nigeria
Maiduguri is the Capitol city of Borno State located in northeast Nigeria. It has many distinctions. One is that it is credited as the birthplace of the Islamist insurgent group, Boko Haram. It is the largest city in all of northeast Nigeria with a population of over 2 million. During the violence that has been gripping this part of Nigeria many people have sought refuge in this heavily fortified city, swelling the population by some 50 to 100 thousand. The marketplace in Maiduguri has been closed for some weeks to protect its citizens from suicide bombings.
We met Reverend Yohanna when we were teaching at EYN’s Kulp Bible College. He was not only a lecturer there but served as the campus chaplain. His children were all well versed in English and found us to be welcoming to them and people they could talk to. We really enjoyed this family. However, last December the Chaplain (as we called him) was transferred to become the DCC Secretary of Maiduguri. Besides being a very dangerous assignment the temperatures can get as high as 115 degrees.
As Boko Haram violence escalated throughout 2014 Maiduguri became a bastion of safety for Christians and moderate Muslims. The military also decided that Maiduguri would be protected and additional forces were stationed there. The offensive conducted by the Boko Haram surrounded Maiduguri and became an important target for the terrorists to capture. Fighting rages all around this city in the desert. But it has held out against the radical Islamist sect. As supplies were brought into the city Rev. Yohanna served as the Chairman of the Distribution Committee and provided relief materials for over 50,000 people. He organized peaceful distributions and was one of the only ones to keep accurate records. Based on his documentation the government was able to gauge the amount of supplies to be delivered.
Rev. Yohanna told us that it was a big job to be responsible for so many needy people. He said not all were grateful but most of the people praised God for his fair and honest work. “I really saw the hand of God in this work.”