New experiences, new growth

Rachel setting up for the school Pack-a-Snack  program that she coordinates. Photo by Blake Prim

Rachel setting up for the school Pack-a-Snack
program that she coordinates.
Photo by Blake Prim

A reflection by Rachel Ulrich, BVS volunteer

Because I have lived in six places within the last four and a half years, change and adventure have become regular companions in my life. Between transferring colleges, studying abroad, and living in varying locations over the summer, I have participated in a repeated process of packing bags and venturing into the unknown.

This life of a 21st century American nomad can be thrilling and exhausting, exciting and intimidating, fulfilling and disorienting. This fall, I committed to another life-changing move by joining Brethren Volunteer Service. My transition into BVS began with what my new beginnings normally entail: openness to new experiences, concern about adjusting to a new place, and a love for adventure that beckons me into the unknown.

When I discovered the BVS position at Highland Park Elementary School in Roanoke, Va., I felt confident about serving at this site. This confidence bewildered me because I had no connection to Highland Park Elementary or Central Church of the Brethren, the congregation that created the BVS position at the school. Yet, as I watched a video about Central Church’s work with Highland Park Elementary, I thought straightforwardly, “That’s where I want to be.”

When I arrived in Roanoke, Central Church of the Brethren greeted me with a more loving welcome than I could have ever anticipated. I instantly felt at home with this congregation. I knew that the church supported me as a person in their community and as a person serving at Highland Park Elementary.

My first week volunteering as a teacher’s aide and project coordinator at the school proved to be rewarding and challenging. I had worked with children before, but not at a school. Entering daily classroom schedules during mid-October felt like leaping into a complicated jump rope event. I discovered that I needed to ask questions, clarify details, and remain resilient and flexible throughout innumerable surprises and mistakes.

I have now served in my volunteer placement for six months. I cannot imagine having never met the people at Central Church or the school. I also cannot imagine having never discovered what I have learned so far about myself, education, community, and volunteer service. I am reminded of the growth that comes with adventure and the development that comes with change. I am reminded of how there is deep worth in growing new roots in new places. I look forward to discovering what the rest of this adventure reveals.

Rachel Ulrich grew up in Richmond (Ind.) Church of the Brethren. Learn more about the work of Brethren Volunteer Service at or support it today at

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Blazing with holiness

Deanna (on the left) with fellow volunteers. Photo by Deanna Beckner

Deanna (on the left) with fellow volunteers.
Photo by Deanna Beckner

By Deanna Beckner, 2016 workcamp assistant coordinator

A year ago, if you had asked me what I would be doing after graduation, I would not have said coordinating workcamps for the Church of the Brethren. I had certainly considered serving in Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS), but didn’t know when or where. I often felt a call to serve for an extended length of time because I really enjoyed volunteering through various clubs and projects with my church. The key variable, however, was where I would be placed. I considered going abroad after enjoying my experience studying in Ireland. I considered going somewhere completely new like Portland, Ore. I also considered a few other places, but still struggled to decide what would be the best option for me and the skills I had to offer. At that time, I really wanted to do some “hands on” work where I could connect with other people and see the impact of my work.

Searching for another assistant workcamp coordinator, Emily Tyler, coordinator of workcamps and BVS recruitment, reached out to me a couple months later. I was hesitant to accept the position because I was still considering other places, but I saw some great opportunities with the position. Coordinating workcamps would allow me to use creativity, travel, work with youth, and also grow in my faith—all facets that were, and are still, important to me. After praying about it, talking with my family, and carefully weighing my options, I finally decided to accept the position. I felt God nudging me in this direction. After I told Emily that I wanted to coordinate workcamps, I prepared to move to Elgin, Ill.

Since I started serving at the end of August 2015, I have met incredible, knowledgeable, and kind people at the General Offices, learned helpful tricks about using computers, written materials for leader and participant booklets, answered questions about registration, coordinated a new workcamp location, and had many other learning experiences. I have been blessed to work with a cooperative group of people in the BVS office, and have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know my fellow housemates as we live in community at the BVS house.

As each day passes, I realize new areas where God has helped me learn and where God continues to call me to serve. I have learned more about myself and the talents God has given me. And though there are still details that I am nervous about (like driving a 15 passenger van in city traffic or not forgetting anything important during my summer of travel), overall my demeanor matches the 2016 workcamp theme: I am fired-up for a summer of “Blazing with Holiness.”

Deanna Beckner is a member of Columbia City (Ind.) Church of the Brethren and a graduate of Manchester University. She and Amanda McLearn-Montz serve as assistant workcamp coordinators for the 2016 season. Learn more, support, or register for workcamps at

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Move mountains

As we seek to raise valleys and lower mountains  to make way for our God, your help is essential. Photo by Glenn Riegel

As we seek to raise valleys and lower mountains
to make way for our God, your help is essential.
Photo by Glenn Riegel

By Matt DeBall, coordinator of Donor Communications

January. A new beginning. A fresh start. In these first few weeks of the year, we have the perfect opportunity to take stock of lifestyle habits, try new patterns, set goals, or even chart a new course altogether. For Christ-followers, it only seems natural to also consider how to love God and neighbor in new ways.

In seeking to respond anew to the movement of God, I can’t help but think of our recent celebration of Christmas. The prophet Isaiah shares, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low…. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed” (Isaiah 4:3-5).

While this scripture is traditionally used in beautiful Advent liturgies and alludes to the coming of the Christ-child, it is also a call to continually make way for the Kingdom of God in our world. Our God is coming, and we need to move mountains to make the road ready. This challenge from the prophet also reveals the way in which God, as our sovereign Lord, desires for us to be prepared for the Holy Spirit to make bold moves in us and through us every day.

Changing geological features as Isaiah describes certainly seems like a daunting task, but as Jesus shared with his disciples, faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains (Matthew 17:20). By trusting in our Savior, we have enough faith to raise any valley and flatten every mountain. With Jesus, every roadblock to God’s Kingdom is removed.

As we begin this year, your Church of the Brethren staff are planning for numerous opportunities to make way for our God and share love with one another. Brethren Volunteer Service is getting ready to recruit, train, and place volunteers in the US and around the world. Congregational Life Ministries is preparing to grow faith and train leaders at events like the Church Planting Conference and National Young Adult Conference, and partner with the Office of Public Witness to facilitate discussions about “Proclaiming Freedom: The Racial Injustice of Mass Incarceration.” The Workcamp Office is gearing up for a summer of “Blazing with Holiness” at more than 20 workcamps in the US, Puerto Rico, and Northern Ireland. Youth and Young Adult Ministries and the Office of Ministry are preparing for Ministry Summer Service interns and mentors. Global Mission and Service continues to walk with international partners and sense new places where God may be leading.

In preparing for God’s favor and a fruitful year of ministry, we recognize that we can’t do this alone. As the saying goes, “many hands make light work.” Now and throughout this year, we need your prayerful and financial support. As we seek to raise valleys and lower mountains to make way for our God, your help is essential. We pray that you will join us as we love God and neighbor in the year ahead.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Encounters with God

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at Photos by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, Don Knieriem, and Jean Bednar

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at
Photos by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, Don Knieriem, and Jean Bednar

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 ConferenceNational Older Adult ConferenceNational 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.

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at or support them today at

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

In God’s family we all belong

Ann Ziegler with children from Hogar de Niños Emanuel .

Ann Ziegler with children from Hogar de Niños Emanuel .

By Ann Ziegler, former Brethren Volunteer Service volunteer

Throughout the last two years as I lived at the Hogar de Niños Emanuel (Emanuel Children’s Home) in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, I learned more about what it means to be part of the family of God. When I arrived I didn’t know what to expect. I knew there were about 80 children being cared for by employees, but I knew nothing about these children, their backgrounds, or what they were like.

After two months, I learned the name of each child, and that many were siblings. I was sometimes surprised to find out who was a sibling to whom. In time though, I learned what it meant to be a member of the family that is Hogar de Niños Emanuel.

There is no doubt that on that plot of land surrounded by the city, there is a family of over 100 members—a family that is one of the most welcoming families I have ever met.

After living there for 8 months, 12 new children were brought to the home. It was an exciting day and everyone was curious about the newcomers. For me, these new children seemed out of place. Even after the first day, I felt as though they just didn’t quite belong. What I learned, however, was that in this giant family, everyone belongs. For this family there was no such thing as being a stranger. I saw every child welcome each of the new children to the table for lunch, proudly give newcomers tours of the home, and they all became brothers and sisters right before my eyes.

This experience was incredible, and it taught me a bit about my own prejudices and struggles with accepting change. This is not to say that everyone in the family of Hogar Emanuel always gets along, or even that they like each other all the time, and there are always “black sheep” in a family. However, all are loved as siblings, and everyone knows that they belong in this family.

I was privileged to be a member of that family. A glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven shines through those children. The way in which they live is an example for all of us. We are all called to invite one another to the table, regardless of someone’s background, and to become brothers and sisters in God’s great big family.

Ann Ziegler recently completed her term of BVS in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. To support the work of Global Mission and Service, including Brethren Volunteer Service visit

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Be strong and courageous

Photo by Kristen Hoffman

Photo by Kristen Hoffman

A reflection by Laura Whitman

It’s that time again. If you stay still you can almost feel it. Change. It’s constantly happening, but seems more prevalent this time of year: vacations end; a final burst of heat before the cool of fall; kids return to school. Even the General Offices feel this shift as summer busyness subsides, people return to their offices after summer travel, goodbyes are shared with Brethren Volunteer Service volunteers, and new volunteers arrive. Change.

With the uncertainty of change and transitions, there are three uninvited hitchhikers that tag along: anxiousness, worry, and fear. Swirling thoughts can keep us up at night: How will we get through this? What if something goes terribly wrong? These thoughts can become debilitating fears.

Deuteronomy 31 reveals a time of change and unknown. Moses was retiring from leadership and appointed Joshua to lead the Israelites to the promised land. I’m sure both Joshua and the Israelites felt anxious in this transition. In verse 6, Moses gives them a pep talk: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified… for the LORD your God goes with you”(NIV).

Be strong and courageous. I don’t know about you, but when I get lost in worry and anxiousness, I don’t feel strong and courageous—I feel like putting on sweatpants, hiding from my problems, and seeking temporary comfort from a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. In these moments, I also need a pep talk. Recently my favorite author, Elizabeth Gilbert, shared a story that spoke directly into my anxious soul.

Elizabeth wrote about a recent vacation to Miami Beach, Fla., where she was startled by a cell phone notification about a tornado warning in her vicinity. She began to panic and quickly sought shelter in a dressing room at a store. After another notification said the storm had passed, she realized that the warning was not for Miami, but rather for her hometown over 1,000 miles away. She wrote: “99.9% of the time I panic over NOTHING — allowing myself to become saturated with anxiety over imaginary tornadoes.… When the actual tornadoes of our life do come, my experience is this: we tend to be able to handle them. Oftentimes we handle real disasters better than we handle the FEAR of possible disasters.”

How many times are we like Elizabeth? Letting the fear of the unknown—tornadoes we invent during times of change—steer us off track until we find ourselves cowering in a dressing room unsure of what led us there. Instead of letting worries distract us, we can remain calm because God is with us through storms, imagined or real, and helps us face transitions and changes courageously.

Laura Whitman serves through Brethren Volunteer Service as a volunteer in Congregational Life Ministries. Learn more about the life-changing ministries of the Church of the Brethren at, or support them today at

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Serving God’s people

Theresa Ford and Hannah Shultz Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

Theresa Ford and Hannah Shultz
Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

By Theresa Ford and Hannah Shultz, 2015 workcamp assistant coordinators.

In just a few weeks, youth and young adults from around the country will gather together in a variety of locations to serve and worship together at workcamps. We’re really excited to be a part of this ministry. While the summer is a big part of our workcamp experience, we’ve also had a busy spring preparing for the workcamp season. We have traveled to each workcamp location, met with organizations, and visited places where we will be staying and sight-seeing. We call these on-site visits.

The organizations that we partner with for workcamps, though they serve diverse purposes, all have a powerful impact in the communities that they serve. Two organizations that we have particularly enjoyed connecting with are the Family Abuse Center in Waco, Texas, and Capstone in New Orleans. These were special on-site visits because these workcamp locations are new this year, and both are or have been Brethren Volunteer Service project sites.

Another memorable on-site visit was to Los Angeles. We’re excited about the Los Angeles workcamp because we will be reuniting after a summer apart and leading the week together. During this workcamp, we have the opportunity to serve on Skid Row by passing out health kits and food to those experiencing homelessness. During our visit, we got a small taste of what a powerful and humbling experience this will be.

One of our goals this summer is to excite participants about making service a strong component of their lives. We hope to get them thinking about what it might look like to serve in Brethren Volunteer Service one day! For ourselves, we hope to grow as leaders and set examples of what it means to compassionately serve others. We’re looking forward to nourishing a relationship with God, and building a community of faith. Through serving side by side, worshiping together, and enjoying fellowship through recreation and play, we will build friendships and create Christian communities that seek justice and serve God’s people.

Youth, young adults, and advisors will gather soon for 19 different summer workcamps. Workcamps provide a unique opportunity for youth to serve, worship, and learn together in community. These experiences shape lives and give youth direction for the future. Learn more about workcamps at or support them today at .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Be Still

BVS volunteer Sarah Seibert in one of her sacred spaces. Photo by Brethren Volunteer Service

BVS volunteer Sarah Seibert in one of her sacred spaces.
Photo by Brethren Volunteer Service

By Sarah Seibert, Brethren Volunteer Service Unit 305

I spend the majority of my day assisting in a kindergarten classroom in Roanoke, Va. I tie shoes, sound out words, and referee disputes. My mind is always whirling as I try to think one step ahead, make decisions on the fly, and respond to the chorus of little voices calling my name. As much as I love it, sometimes it is exhausting!

I also coordinate a weekend snack program that sends food home to the school’s neediest students. All its supplies are stored in a closet on the top floor of the building. Amidst the chaos of the classroom, this has become my reprieve. In this windowless pantry I am in total control. I organize, restore order, and strangely enough, have found a sanctuary. It is my sacred space in the school.

A synonym of “sacred” is “holy” which means “set apart.” The storage closet and the space I create when I curl up after a long week with dinner and a good book have become sacred to me because they are places that are set apart for me to rest.

Rest is essential for human beings. Our brains process information while we sleep, but our bodies were not built to be always on the go. God rested (Genesis 2:2-3), and when God brought his people out of slavery and established them as a new nation, God gave them the gift of Sabbath—regular times set apart for rest (cf. Deuteronomy 5:12-15, Leviticus 23).

My life is full of commitments and requests, and there is always more I wish I could do. The temptation to overfill my schedule is always present. Even so—or perhaps all the more—I am called to create sacred spaces to rest. Regular times of rest force me to prioritize, help me gain perspective, and give me a chance to recharge so I can return to work refreshed. These times of rest do not have to only be on Sunday. The purpose of the Sabbath is to ensure we finite humans regularly rest our bodies and reconnect with God.

I encourage you to find ways to create sacred spaces in your life. Embrace God’s gift of Sabbath rest wherever you can find it. Have the courage to be still; forgive yourself when you fail. Return restored and refreshed.

Learn more about Brethren Volunteer Service at or support it and many other life-changing ministries of the Church of the Brethren at .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Growing together

Debbie Eisenbise, director of Intergenerational Ministries Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

Debbie Eisenbise, director of Intergenerational Ministries
Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

An interview with Debbie Eisenbise

What excites you about your new role?

What excites me most is working with groups of people. I like bringing people together to learn and connect. Part of my job is helping lead National Older Adult Conference, and it’s like throwing a great party and bringing a whole bunch of people together to learn and worship.

I am also excited about raising awareness and advocating for vulnerable peoples. There are a variety of folks who have experienced or are experiencing issues, because of age or circumstance, that make them vulnerable. As the church gathers together, we can find ways to address their needs, but also integrate them into our communities, learn from them, and allow them to give too.

Why are intergenerational ministries important?

There can be tensions in our churches between age groups, and it really has to do with life perceptions. Each group has very different views of giving, church, life goals, and work. By becoming more cognizant of these differences and engaging together in intentional intergenerational conversation, we can inform each other and grow together in faith.

How can we become more involved in intergenerational ministries?

One way that people can get involved is by asking questions in their own context and congregations and seek to understand how they perceive people of different generations. Be willing to share your experiences and also listen to the stories of others.

Another way is by praying that the Spirit might open us up to each other in new ways. Pray for openness and the ability to grow beyond our own comfort zones and move into new life.

Debbie Eisenbise grew up in Wilmington, Del., and attended Davidson College, Pacific School of Religion, and Bethany Theological Seminary. She started as director of Intergenerational Ministries Jan. 15, but also served the Church of the Brethren in the 1990s as Brethren Volunteer Service coordinator of Recruitment and Orientation.

Learn more about Older Adult, Family, and Disabilities Ministries of the Church of the Brethren by e-mailing Debbie at . Support these and other life-changing ministries at .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Love for all creation

Unit 308 prepares to love all of God's creation at Brethren Volunteer Service orientation. Photo by Brethren Volunteer Service staff

Unit 308 prepares to love all of God’s creation at
Brethren Volunteer Service orientation.
Photo by Brethren Volunteer Service staff

A reflection by Emily Tyler

Vitality. Intergenerational. Intercultural. Transformation. Hope.

These are some of the buzz words that came up during our staff gathering last week. These words surrounded our discussion of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN) and the current situation in our church. While comparing our time together in discussion and reflection with Psalm 36, I could not help but notice the parallel.

“The God-rebel… has no regard for God.… When he’s loose on the streets, nobody’s safe. He plays with fire and doesn’t care who gets burned. / God’s love is meteoric, his loyalty astronomic, his purpose titanic, his verdicts oceanic. Yet in his largeness, nothing gets lost; not a man, not a mouse, slips through the cracks” (Psalm 36:1-6, The Message).

There is a stark contrast here: the terror and destruction in our world and God’s meteoric, all-surpassing love. It’s a lot to take in.

What I find interesting about these verses is the largeness of God’s love—spanning from meteoric to oceanic, and everything in between—and letting no person or animal slip through the cracks. This is professed directly after such evil is described. The enormity of God’s love even covers those who do evil.

In our culture, we are taught that life is a reward that we earn—through doing the right deeds, buying the right things, hanging out with the right people. Psalm 36 suggests otherwise. God’s astronomical love is a gift. It’s just given to us. But this gift of life and of God’s love is sometimes experienced along with great resistance, just as Psalm 36 shares.

It seems natural to pray for our own. We pray for the Chibok girls, our EYN sisters and brothers, and our Muslim sisters and brothers with whom we collaborate. We pray for our families, our church leaders, and those with whom we share in ministry.

But do we pray for Boko Haram? Pray for their mothers and fathers? Do we pray for our enemies and those who mean us harm? They, too, are part of God’s creation. I believe this is an expression of God’s love. Loving even those who “play with fire and don’t care who gets burned.”

As we struggled and engaged in conversation last week, I was filled with great hope. Just as our EYN sisters and brothers move forward through their current struggle, so also do we press on, seeking to express God’s love to all of creation.

Emily Tyler is coordinator of Workcamps and Brethren Volunteer Service Recruitment. Support this and many other ministries of the Church of the Brethren that share God’s love at .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)