Introductions + OPP Work Update

Hello! My name is Susuyu Lassa, and I am excited to join Nathan Hosler at the COB Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. I am glad to be here, because peacebuilding has always been a passion of mine, though it has gone by various names in my short 23 years of life. I’ve known from a young age that I am called to a life of volunteerism and service; I remember spending a number of my weekends throughout middle and high school volunteering however I could, be it spending the majority of a day painting the outer walls of a recently erected building at a mission compound, or spending just a few hours holding new born babies at an orphanage.

After graduating from Hillcrest School in Jos, Nigeria, I seamlessly transitioned into being a political science major on a pre-law track at Manchester University. I knew that I wanted to go into human rights and advocacy, and my passion for working with the disenfranchised and marginalized was born out of seeing my people suffer massive displacement and death at the hands of radical insurgency and ethno-religious conflict. I was convinced that if I went to school and became a lawyer, I would be equipped to move back to Nigeria and positively apply myself in the march towards the betterment of the lives of those affected by displacement and violent conflict. Then I spent a summer shadowing a slew of lawyers and realized law was not for me.

Back to the drawing board. I was devastated, not because of the realization that law would not be a good fit -in fact I was quite glad to have figured that out sooner than later- but because I found myself with no objective path to my goals. Law had been the plan since I was in middle school, and I found myself at the dreaded ‘what now?’ impasse. In the throes of the closest thing I had ever had to an existential crisis, my guardian angel, in the form of a few members of the Manchester Church of the Brethren, whispered to me, “what about policy advocacy?” That was my breakthrough. Halfway through the first semester of my last year of college, I began looking into how I could positively influence policy so as to better the lives of those in whom I had an active interest. I learned of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, about the work done specifically on Nigeria, and with marginalized groups within the U.S. such as people of color, and more recently refugees and immigrants. I spent three weeks of my January term unofficially interning at the office, and I became more and more curious about BVS.

Fast forward a few months later, and here I am, a BVSer serving as the associate in the OPP office this year. This is about the last place freshman-year Susu would have envisioned ending up, but therein lies the beauty of the organic nature of life; that we are constantly becoming. I am excited to plug in to the work being done on immigration and to join the various discussions being had on the hill surrounding the multi-faceted nature of conflict in Nigeria. In my short time here, I have been able to delve into immigration work by joining the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, and I have been blessed to have conversations and brainstorm ideas with folks from various Brethren churches who would like to plug into these issues and be a force for change within their local communities. Through the Nigeria Working Group, I have had the opportunity to hear diverse perspectives on pertinent issues such as the Farmer-Herder conflict, and am looking forward to the working group’s fall congressional briefing, during which the role of the U.S. foreign policy and humanitarian aid will be highlighted.

Recently, OPP director Nathan Hosler met with the in-going ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard, to brief her on the scope of OPP and the Nigeria Working Group’s work on Nigeria. He also attended the International Religious Panel roundtable meeting with Sam Brownback, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious freedom.

Nathan Hosler speaking at the International Religious Panel Roundtable

The Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, while small, is engaged in such important work. The need is vast, and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to try to nip away slowly at the vast injustices that plague our world by working in this office and using this platform to bear witness to the words of the Bible, which in Proverbs 31:8 calls us to “speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute.”

Sparking joy and saying, “Thank you, next”

Emily speaking to workcamp participants in Brooklyn.
Photo by Carol Elmore

By Emily Tyler, Brethren Volunteer Service director

As I write this, I am in the midst of writing position descriptions, learning more fully the ins and outs of our volunteer insurance policy, and responding to our BVS partners with organizational position statements. And then I looked at this issue’s topic, finding joy. I couldn’t help but chuckle.

In my nearly seven years of working for Brethren Volunteer Service, I have not very often struggled to find joy in my work. The BVS office in Elgin is a pretty fun place to be! However, I must be honest, in this time of transition with no BVS director after Dan McFadden’s resignation, to then being called to fill the position myself, creating joy has sometimes had to be a more intentional part of my work.

This winter, I hopped on the bandwagon of watching Marie Kondo “spark joy” for so many by helping them to purge and organize their belongings. There was one part of the process that I was admittedly skeptical of at first, but learned to appreciate when I put it into practice myself. When the homeowners decided that something was no longer sparking joy for them, before they put it in the “toss” pile, Marie had them thank that item out loud for serving them.

While I can’t toss out the tasks that I do every day that don’t spark joy for me, I can be intentional about finding the joy in those tasks–how they serve our volunteers and our program. It has also been important for me as I’ve settled into the role of director of BVS to think about the history of BVS and how it has served us, and moving forward, learning how to thank those pieces that no longer serve us and usher in new programming that sparks joy for the next generation of BVSers.

Joy may have to be intentionally found at times. But allowing our work and calling to spark joy while also letting go of and thanking the seasons in life that have served us but are no longer needed is a delicate but important balance. What would the world look like if we all followed a calling that sparked joy in us?

This reflection was originally published in the Summer installment of the “The Volunteer” newsletter. Learn more about Brethren Volunteer Service at www.brethren.org/bvs.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

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.)

Moving on, but not letting go?

By Lisa-Marie Mayerle, Brethren Volunteer Service Unit #319

This year, I decided to be a part of Brethren Volunteer Service, and trust me… it was not easy to make that decision. For me, joining BVS meant not knowing where I would end up, which project I would be going to, or how I would be living for the next year. But, it was the best decision I have ever made. Of course I had a lot of insecurities during the process, but in the end I knew that this was my best opportunity to serve for a year, to explore another culture, and to make a difference.

I would say that the worst part of the transition was saying goodbye—leaving everyone I love behind. All my friends and family in Germany would continue their lives without me, but my life would continue on as well. It felt like I needed to move on and let go. So, I left with a face full of tears and a heart full of sadness and happiness mixed together. I knew it was time for a new chapter of my life.

The moment I arrived at my project in Hagerstown, Md., everyone welcomed me with open arms and a big smile on their face. In that exact moment, all my concerns and doubts were gone, and I knew that it was the right decision. I also realized that I had never left someone or something behind. Despite missing Germany, and even though I could not see or hear my family and friends every day, I can remember that they are always with me.

I enjoy every minute at my project and I love to share about it with my loved ones. The people I work with are amazing and support me. I feel like I am a part of a bigger family, and the thought of leaving them one day brings tears to my eyes. Every single minute with the kids, my co-workers, and my friends is precious, and I am so glad that I can be here. I am thankful for this journey and the relationships I am creating.

Learn more about Brethren Volunteer Service or read the most recent issue of The Volunteer at www.brethren.org/bvs. Support the ministry of BVS today at www.brethren.org/give .

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

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.)

Righteous relationships

Tori Bateman, Monica McFadden, and Nathan Hosler of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy.

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

“I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9).

In 2007, the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference delegate body adopted the “Separate No More” statement, which calls us to become the multicultural, multiracial, multinational, and multilingual church envisioned in Revelation 7:9. The vision in scripture and the one to which we committed is greater than a photogenic diverse hymn sing. It is a vision that recognizes how, as we draw closer to God, we also draw closer to one another. We become more compassionate in relationships as we see one another the way God sees us. In an effort to better express this, we changed the names of two core ministry areas.

Discipleship Ministries (formerly Congregational Life Ministries) reminds us that our faith journey is not defined by our congregational affiliation, but by our spiritual journey—both individually and collectively. This also means that having a right relationship with God is shaped and shared through building right relationships with one another. The Office of Peacebuilding and Policy (formerly Public Witness) as a ministry in Washington, D.C., connects our faith with our national identity. To stand together, bridging the divides of the world, we are peacebuilders in the spirit of Christ.

The “Separate No More” statement gave us the following challenge:  “Congregations become informed about the conditions of life for ethnic and racial minorities within their neighborhoods and their congregations, so that when inequities are uncovered, they can make strong commitments of time and financial resources to local organizations working on these issues.”

In the New Testament, one Greek word used to describe the body of Christ is “dikaios,” which is translated righteousness but also justice. Since both can be used in English, we can call this work either racial justice or racial righteousness; however, scripture does not separate the two. By faith, we are called to be discipled within our church and, as a result, to work for change in systems, structures, and habits of racism in society. Not assuming that we already possess righteousness, we seek to have right relationships and to address problems in the world. The work to heal the wounds of racism is both internal and external and has the goals of justice and righteousness. To do this work means being shaped and formed by the process of discipleship.

Many congregations have been doing this work in their communities. Several members of the Mission and Ministry Board and staff have taken the Sankofa Journey. Young people attend Christian Citizenship Seminar in Washington, D.C., and New York to connect their faith with contemporary social justice work. Discipleship Ministries hosts a pre-Annual Conference training with the goal of exploring how our faith can shape our understanding of racialized hierarchies. Intercultural Ministries provide support to individuals and congregations engaged in ministry.

To increase our awareness of how government policy creates racialized experiences and discrepancies, we are testing a new Brethren Volunteer Service position in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy through a partnership with Intercultural Ministries and the Global Food Initiative. Monica McFadden, who served in our office last summer as a Ministry Summer Service intern, recently accepted the call to serve in this role.

Thank you for partnering in this work through your support of the Church of the Brethren. By working in your community and supporting these denominational ministries prayerfully and financially, this work can be expanded in the years ahead so that the church can better live into God’s vision of diversity. Through being faithful disciples—growing in righteousness and justice—all of us are engaging in the vital work of healing in our churches and communities.

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Living your passion

Dan McFadden being honored by Roy Winter at the 2018
Brethren Volunteer Service luncheon at Annual Conference.
Photo by Regina Holmes

By Dan McFadden, director of Brethren Volunteer Service

My BVS colleagues laugh at me when we start talking about BVS themes. Any time we are looking for a theme about how BVS has impacted your life, what is important about BVS, or an anniversary year, I seem to come back to the 50th anniversary theme, “Living the Story.” The staff say, “Not again, Dan! We have beaten that theme into the ground!” And yet it keeps working for me.

In 1996, soon after I started in this position, we formed a committee to plan the 50th anniversary of BVS. Don Snyder, a former BVS staff trainer in BVS’s New Windsor days, was on the committee. We were trying to come up with the right theme for that anniversary when Don said, “I was just singing the hymn ‘I love to tell the story of Jesus and his love,’ and I thought, in BVS we don’t tell the story of Jesus, we live the story of Jesus.” Bingo. Theme!

This is now the 70th year of BVS. How does one summarize a program that has influenced so many lives? All the time, people tell me how BVS has made an impact on their lives. “ My BVS years were some of the best years of my life,” they say. Here’s one of those stories: In 1956, Nancy Schall Hildebrandt and Carol Stephens Scott lived for a year on top of a mountain near Kingsport, Tenn., serving a small rural church in some of the most rustic conditions in which BVSers have served. They had no running water and made an indoor latrine. They rode horses to get around. They were two young women on their own in the hills of Appalachia. I wonder if any parents today would let BVS send their children into a setting like that. But Nancy says that year was very formative in her life. What is it about hardship and struggle that makes an experience like BVS so formative?

Not everyone’s year of service is hard. But in most cases the setting is unfamiliar and the culture is new (after all, any placement site is a new culture for the volunteer). The volunteer must develop connections and friendships just to survive. Those experiences of growth can influence a whole lifetime of living. The saying is true: BVS does “ruin” you for life.

My own BVS story started in the fall of 1981. Orientation for Unit 152 was held at the now closed Camp Woodbrook, in Mid-Atlantic District. There were 33 of us. We received 50¢ for breakfast, 75¢ for lunch, and $1 for dinner per person, per day, to buy the food for our meals. (That amount has gone up only 75¢ in 36 years). I was pre-assigned to serve in Honduras with Salvadoran refugees fleeing the war across the border. Looking back from my current chair as director, I wonder if that was wise. My Spanish wasn’t good enough. Steve Newcomer and I were sent to what was, for all practical purposes, a war zone.

Through no fault of the BVS staff, the receiving agency didn’t know who we were when we arrived. We had little support, and it was a difficult assignment. Perhaps the staff at the time wondered if they had made a mistake sending me there. And yet, I wouldn’t trade it for a different experience.

Since then? I came back to BVS as the director in late 1995. When I’m done, I will have served for 22 years and 11 months. I met my wife in BVS. Two of our children served in BVS and now live where they served. Our third entered BVS this summer. Do I have a passion for BVS? Absolutely! I recruit all the time. I buttonhole young adults while waiting to board a plane anywhere in the world. I’m expecting one of those recruits to show up any day now! Living the story? Those words still work for me.

Learn more about Brethren Volunteer Service at www.brethren.org/bvs or support its ministry at www.brethren.org/givegms.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Caring for the vulnerable

Tori Bateman (far left) at the meeting about Unarmed Civilian Protection.

By Tori Bateman, associate with the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy

“God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish” (Psalm 9:18, NIV).

The Church of the Brethren’s identity as a historic peace church means that we are committed to nonviolence and peacebuilding around the world. During my time as a Brethren Volunteer Service volunteer in the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, I have had some amazing opportunities to advocate for peace in Washington, D.C.

Over the past several months, we have advocated for the practice of Unarmed Civilian Protection (UCP) in the Department of State, the United States Agency of International Development (USAID), and the Department of Defense. UCP is a method for keeping peace and safety in tense situations without the use of weapons or military action. Instead, unarmed individuals are empowered to work through relationships, mediation skills, and other peacekeeping methods to protect those living with conflict.

One example of the successful endeavor of UCP is from South Sudan. Women there were often raped by soldiers when they left their camps to collect firewood and water. To reverse this alarming trend, Nonviolent Peaceforce ran an accompaniment program that involved staff members going with women to collect firewood. As a result, whenever they encountered soldiers, the presence of international observers prevented rape from occurring. In 2015, there were no women afflicted by rape who were accompanied by Nonviolent Peaceforce staff. This is a great example of caring for vulnerable persons.

To present this innovative idea to U.S. policymakers, I worked with a colleague from a Catholic organization to coordinate a State Department meeting about Unarmed Civilian Protection. We invited Mel Duncan, co-founder of Nonviolent Peaceforce, and Nonviolent Peaceforce staff members to speak about the effectiveness of their practices.

The event was attended by staff from the Department of State, Department of Defense, and USAID. Attendees heard not only about the work of UCP, but also the amazing stories of the individuals in conflict zones who have been protected by the actions of UCP. The conversation lasted well after the event ended and we are excited about future opportunities to collaborate through relationships made at this meeting.

Your support for the Church of the Brethren makes possible this and other important peacebuilding initiatives. Thank you for helping us reframe the conversation about peacefully supporting and accompanying those in need.

Will you give to the Church of the Brethren today?
www.brethren.org/give

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Living into the kingdom of God

Dan McFadden with volunteers from BVS Unit 316
Photo by Kelsey Murray

By Dan McFadden, director of Brethren Volunteer Service

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’… But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:31, 33).

In our culture, we place high value on success. Success is often measured by appearance, material wealth, occupation, or career advancement. All these are external areas of our lives.

At Brethren Volunteer Service orientations, we invite Dana Cassell, pastor of Peace Covenant Church of the Brethren, to lead us for a day focused on vocation—particularly on what and how God calls us. During that time she shares a story from Henri Nouwen, who was at the top of his profession teaching psychology at Harvard, Notre Dame, and Yale, but left it all to work in a L’Arche community. It was a significant change to go from the halls of academia to closely serving persons with intellectual disabilities each day. During this experience, Nouwen learned three things: 1) Being is more important than doing, 2) The heart is more important than the mind, and 3) Doing things together is more important than doing things alone.

1) Being is more important than doing.

Almost 30 years ago I started working in the psychiatric unit at St. Joseph Hospital in Elgin, Ill., after graduating with a Master’s of Social Work. After several years in the social services field, I thought I had something to offer. A supervisor of the unit, a very wise nurse, took me aside and said, “Dan, the most important thing you will do here is listen.” In other words, being with the patients would be more important than doing anything for them. These words were difficult for me to hear. I had been trained to do things, to help others, and to help them figure things out. What did she mean by, “the most important thing you can do is listen?”

But she was right. Listening is one of the most challenging things to do. We can be so preoccupied with doing something for someone that we miss the opportunity to listen, to be present. This doesn’t mean we stop the doing—we still need to get things done—but, like Nouwen, we must realize that in the push to achieve the pinnacle of success, we often lose an essential component of life—being with people. The L’Arche community taught Nouwen this, and that was my supervisor’s lesson too. Being is more important than doing. Listening is the most important thing you will do.

2) The heart is more important than the mind.

Academic achievement certainly fits with our cultural value of success, and Nouwen certainly succeeded in this area as a professor at prestigious schools. However, he didn’t feel like he was supposed to be in those places. It was then that he asked God for a clear message about what to do next. After many years and an interesting call, he moved to a L’Arche community to serve alongside persons with intellectual disabilities. While this can be challenging work to say the least, it doesn’t require quite the brain power of an academic setting. Nonetheless, Nouwen felt fulfilled in that community and it was where he served the rest of his days. While the mind can be impressive, “love is where the heart is,” as the song goes, or maybe, the heart is where love is.

3) Doing things together is more important than doing things alone.

This is a very Brethren value. It’s even in our tagline: “Continuing the work of Jesus. Peacefully. Simply. Together.”

As members of the Church of the Brethren, we understand this, and many Christians do too. We understand following Jesus means working together in community. Together.

It does, however, run against cultural values of independence and success—being a self-made person, “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps,” and going it alone. One might think of things like Frank Sinatra’s famous line, “I did it my way.” We hear all the time about the success of someone doing something on their own, and it can be difficult to evaluate success when something is done together.

Even though our cultural lens limits success to individual achievement, Nouwen still affirmed that doing things together is more important, and I completely agree. I can’t lead Brethren Volunteer Service by myself; we need our whole team. And we can’t be the church by ourselves or do the work of Jesus alone; we need each other, the whole community, to discern and move forward together.

What Nouwen learned at L’Arche is still essential for us today. Instead of living for our own success, these principles guide us to be present, remain focused on matters of the heart, and value community. By embodying these lessons, may we more fully live into the kingdom of God.

Brethren Volunteer Service partners with L’Arche communities in Northern Ireland, Germany, and the US. Learn more about this ministry of the Church of the Brethren or support it today at www.brethren.org/bvs.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Do not be afraid

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

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.

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)