By Jeff Boshart, manager of the Global Food Initiative
“Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” ~ Matthew 9:38, NIV
Greetings in the name of Jesus. My time as the manager of the Global Food Initiative Fund is nearing its end. The GFI has undergone various changes over the past 12 years, none of it possible without your generous and sacrificial giving to neighbors near and far. Recently I sat down and calculated the amounts sent to various partners around the world to support their work in agricultural development ministries. The total amount shared with churches and Christian non-profit organizations in 25 countries was nearly $2 million.
Internationally, the largest amounts were shared with the following countries: Haiti ($279,300), Honduras ($173,800), and Nigeria ($165,200). In the United States, through contributions to church-based community gardening efforts and support to Puerto Rican farmers after Hurricane Maria, the total allocated was $345,700. These dollars represent animals, fruit trees, seeds, tools, fertilizers, trainings, conferences, farmer-to-farmer exchanges, several Brethren Volunteer Service placements, and organizations working with immigrants to the US as well as organizations advocating for governmental policies leading to greater food security.
Volunteers who have traveled on behalf of the GFI have given their time and talents to enhance and add value to this ministry in areas such as farming, veterinary medicine, forage production and animal nutrition, appropriate technology, plant breeding, aquaculture, solar energy, clean water systems, grant writing, and program evaluation. Finally, I have had the privilege to meet some special servants of the Lord who are ministering and sharing Christ’s love in some of the most difficult places on earth. I believe these are the workers that Jesus called for when he told his disciples, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:38), and I am blessed beyond words to call them friends.
Although I am moving on, the work continues, and I am excited to see who God will call to walk with our sisters and brothers around the world. I pray that you will continue walking that journey with them.
“We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” ~1 Thessalonians 1:3
It is hard for me to fathom that this year marks my 10th year serving with the Global Food Initiative (GFI). Time passes quickly. As I reflect on the many changes in the past 10 years, some stick out. The GFI now counts solid partnerships in 12 countries and grants sent to a total of 23 countries in the past decade. Through your generosity, allocations totaling nearly $1.7 million are continuing to help families around the globe through generations of animals, fruit trees that bear more food with each passing year, and increased yields of vegetables and crops grown with improved farming techniques gained through numerous GFI-supported training activities.
One constant during my time in this position is the remarkable faithfulness of GFI supporters like you. Through economic downturns, pandemics, and political turmoil, people who care about hunger in this world, give and give and give again. As I travel, I hear the words of gratitude shared by GFI’s international partners and I wish you could hear them too. It is always humbling to be your representative and a reflection of your love wherever I go for the GFI.
Last year due to many worthy requests, the GFI balance fell to its lowest level in my time in this role; however, we were able to supply funding to all those projects and through your generosity, God supplied more than enough to return the GFI to a place where we can meet this year’s challenges. High food prices around the world stemming from manmade disasters (warfare, climate change, and trade embargoes, to name a few) have once again placed the greatest burden on those who can least afford them.
On a recent Sunday in church, a friend asked me if I find any hope when I visit places like Haiti, Honduras, or Nigeria. Without hesitation, I shared how I am inspired by the boldness of Christian servants to share their faith in word and action even as they endure extreme difficulty in their own lives. Recipients of GFI grants understand that the funds are coming from churches and individuals in the US and not a large organization or government program. I believe that personal touch makes a difference in the reverence with which the gifts are received. It certainly does for me. Thank you for being part of this important, hope-giving ministry.
By Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement
“How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? . . . May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.” ~1 Thessalonians 3:9 & 12, NIV
As I write this final reflection for 2021, it’s hard to believe that the year is almost over. My grandparents used to talk about how fast time was moving along. As a young girl, I didn’t really understand. Now I do. Each year seems to go by more quickly than the last, and near the end of each one, I find myself wondering: what impact is the Church of the Brethren making in this world and in our communities?
It is easy to get caught up in the drama and chaos of our country, to move to one side or the other of a discussion or political view, or to use that view as the lens in which we mold God into the image we prefer. We are called, however, to discern with scripture and the Holy Spirit what the shape of God actually is.
In his speech to the Greeks in the Areopagus, Paul told them that we cannot think of God as an object that we can shape. He said, “Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising” (Acts 17:29). Instead, we are called to increasingly embody the image of God through our transformative relationship with Jesus Christ and through him seek to love one another as he loved us.
The words of Paul to the church in Thessalonica contain encouragement and blessing for them. 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 was also written as a prayer for them. His words are a reminder to those who followed the teachings of Christ to be centered, not on themselves or their struggles, but on loving each other and showing compassion to all who were suffering. Indeed, by encouraging them to love generously, he was inviting them to “live and share the radical transformation and holistic peace of Jesus Christ”—a mission that we now carry together.
Through loving one another, we join together to show compassion to those who are in need and with whom we can serve and share God’s blessings. Your support this year allowed for the Global Food Initiative and Brethren Disaster Ministries to send grant monies across the globe to our partners who were in need of assistance during this pandemic season. Your contributions made a way for National Older Adult Conference to gather online and for our Intercultural Ministries to offer webinars to stretch us to think outside ourselves and toward survivors of all kinds of injustice. Your partnership has made it possible for Brethren Volunteer Service and FaithX to provide opportunities for service and workcamps in areas where support was needed. In all these ways and many more, the ministries of the Church of the Brethren have made a difference in 2021 with your help.
As this year ends and the next one begins, we thank God for you and celebrate all that we do together. Thank you for your generous gifts of finances, prayer, and service. Together our love increases and overflows for the glory of God and our neighbor’s good.
By Jeff Boshart, manager of the Global Food Initiative
“I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.” -Psalm 57:9-10, NIV
Last year I wrote to you at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, the US has seen some seasons of improvement, but many of our partners around the world have not. While experts are optimistic about the economic recovery in wealthy countries, the same is not true for poorer countries. Borders in many parts of the world remain closed or limit the flow of people and goods. Some countries that initially kept the spread of the virus low are now experiencing the most deaths and hospitalizations as vaccines remain in short supply. In some places, lockdowns and masks are still a daily part of life and likely will continue into 2022. It is against this backdrop that we praise God for faithfully providing and give thanks for Global Food Initiative partners who continue to be Christ’s hands and feet as they minister to those in great need.
With your generous prayerful and financial support in 2020, we were able to share $145,890 in grants for agricultural projects both domestically and internationally. Gifts to the GFI in total were $205,877, meaning we had a healthy balance to start this year. Recently, however, the pace of requests has picked up and the GFI is at its lowest level in 10 years. Since January, grants were distributed to undergird community gardens or food ministries in Maryland, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Illinois. New projects were also started with help from the GFI for a grain mill in Uganda, and a fruit tree nursery in South Sudan. In Nigeria (soybean production) and Ecuador (dairy cows and irrigation for organic vegetable production), partner organizations received grants to continue multi-year programs.
Looking ahead, the Church of the Brethren in Rwanda has begun distributing pigs to the Batwa people–a tribe that lives on the fringes of society. Materials for pens and funds for veterinary services are needed to expand this project. In the Dominican Republic, leaders of Iglesia de los Hermanos are planning to establish a farm credit program for church members and neighbors. In Honduras, plans for a backyard chicken project in an urban setting, though originally delayed by restrictions, are now back in motion. These are just a few partners that will need support from the GFI in the coming months.
If you are like me, you spent much time in prayer over the last year. I wasn’t sure at times how much support the GFI and its programming would receive while we were in uncertain circumstances. Looking back, I am humbled by God’s faithfulness and your generosity in 2020. I am excited about the future, and what God and our partners will do next as together we seek to serve our neighbors near and far in the name of Jesus. Thank you for partnering in this important ministry.
By Jeffrey Boshart, manager of the Global Food Initiative
“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” – Jeremiah 29:5, NIV
These are strange and difficult days. If you are like me, this year is not turning out like you had hoped. (This may be the biggest understatement ever!) My travel plans for the Global Food Initiative (GFI) in the spring and summer were cancelled. Our family’s spring break vacation was taken off the calendar. I was planning to host visitors from Haiti and Nigeria this summer, and that did not happen. COVID-19 brought many inconveniences for us; however, the reality for our international partners involves very real hardship, not just a change in schedule.
A pastor in Honduras reported that there have been families in her community who cannot go to work and cannot purchase diapers or food for their children. A friend in Ecuador shared how fear swept the country after a rapid spread of the virus and many lives were lost in a major city. In Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Haiti, stay-at-home rules from the government were not accompanied by relief bills, unemployment checks, or any form of assistance, and therefore, staying at home meant going hungry.
Through the bad news and uncertainty about the future, I am encouraged by our partners around the world who have unwavering faith and hope that God will bring us through. They share the belief that it is important for Christ-followers to witness to their neighbors in word and deed, especially during these times. Like the Israelites exiled in Babylon, they continue to plant gardens and fields. This is also true here in the US where churches are using GFI grants for community gardens. During this pandemic, people are committed to doing more, reaching out more, and serving their neighbors sacrificially. Please prayerfully consider how you can help our sisters and brothers during this time of great need.
Your generosity to the Global Food Initiative prepares us to respond. Over the past year, we responded to requests for assistance from 27 partner organizations in 10 countries and in the US. The total amount provided in grants was more than $200,000! In 2020, the GFI continues to receive calls for support at a time of a global financial crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you for being part of this important ministry and empowering many to plant gardens in these difficult days.
By Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. … You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. … Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:1, 13-15, 24-25).
These are not easy words for the church in Galatia to hear, nor for us today. Paul wrote this letter to Jewish believers who were teaching Gentile believers that they needed to follow the letter of the law in order to follow Jesus. In addition to correcting them, Paul was also calling them to find freedom in Christ. Since the Jews who believe in Jesus as their Messiah struggled with a split identity—growing up with strict adherence to the Torah and, now, celebrating their freedom in Christ—it’s no surprise that they also struggled with how a Gentile could now become a part of the family of God.
This tension divided the early church, and Paul wrote to urge them that their faith was no longer centered around the law but, rather, Jesus, who fulfilled it. Their former directive was now simplified to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Earlier in the letter, Paul shared about a time he rebuked Peter and other church leaders, and in chapter 5, he built a case for liberty and stated plainly that all believers were saved by faith, not by keeping the law. Their salvation through faith alone freed them to love and serve one another, carry each other’s burdens, and share kindness with everyone (chapter 6).
What does this mean for us today? The church in Galatia struggled to find loving unity and experienced bouts of dissension—an atmosphere that, unfortunately, can feel too close to home. Don’t we also struggle to live in loving unity? Experience disagreement with each other? Can our discord also lead into destructive postures? And can’t all of this harm our life together and our testimony?
While the Church of the Brethren may seem like an easy target for these questions, this can also be true for any church regardless of denominational affiliation. Many churches have struggled with one issue or another, and it has led to ugly feuding. When we are not motivated by love, we become more critical of others. We stop looking for good in them and see only their faults. Soon the unity of believers is broken.
According to Paul, there is a way to counteract division. He proclaimed repeatedly what it means to have freedom through Christ Jesus. He kept sharing the message that faith in Jesus Christ equals salvation, that salvation equals freedom, and that freedom leads us to love and serve every person made in God’s image without prejudice. The message is for every person. Salvation is offered to every person. Loving and serving are for every person. Freedom from selfish desire. Freedom from Satan’s agenda. Freedom from being overcome by the ways of the world. This is what transformation through faith in Christ looks like and this empowers us to bear a spirit of freedom with joy and confidence. It transforms us to serve the least of these without reservation, so that they may catch a glimpse of God through us.
As the Church of the Brethren, through the financial support of congregations and individuals, we reach to the corners of our country and the world, and we proclaim the message of freedom through faith in Jesus. We bear witness to the love that God has for all people through the ways we are present with and serve others. This happens through ministries like Global Mission and Service, Brethren Disaster Ministries, Brethren Volunteer Service, Discipleship Ministries, the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, and the Global Food Initiative. Through our shared work, we continue the work of Jesus. Peacefully. Simply. Together.
Even through seasons of tension and sharp disagreement, doubt and uncertainty, may we be Brethren who seek to find light and hope. May we find God’s presence within us and around us in our life together. And may we continue to focus on the work we are called to do as the body of Christ, doing it in love and in service to others.
“Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering.” – Psalm 96:7-8a
As 2019 concludes, we remember what God has done among us through the ministries of the Church of the Brethren.
We celebrate the ministries of international Brethren bodies and partnerships, the 1,064 individuals who attended Discipleship Ministries conferences this year, the ongoing work of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, 33 grants totaling $200,000 given by the Global Food Initiative to national and international projects, the continued work of Brethren Disaster Ministries to serve individuals and families through times of need, and 79 Brethren Volunteer Service workers who served in the US and around the world in 2019.
Thank you for your prayerful and financial support in 2019. Have a very blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Celebrate with us by making a year-end gift to the Church of the Brethren.
By Jeff Boshart, manager of the Global Food Initiative
As I travel for the Global Food Initiative (GFI) of the Church of the Brethren, I am sometimes asked, “How do you measure success?” Answering that question begins with an understanding that true success comes from the Lord. As Isaiah 10:15 reveals, tools need someone to wield them in order to be useful. Likewise, GFI is simply a tool that is used by God to help our partners serve effectively in their local communities. After acknowledging God’s involvement, I also say, “Good things ARE happening with GFI and its partners around the globe.” And it’s great when recipients of GFI grants share their stories.
Dawn Blackman from the Randolph Street Community Garden, an outreach of the Champaign (Ill.) Church of the Brethren, received a grant to pay community members in great need to labor in the garden. She wrote: “With the use of the [GFI] funds, we not only got more infrastructure work done this summer in the garden, but there were people trained to lighten my load and even take over when I needed help. Additionally, some casual labor recipients became volunteers in our other ministries. It has been a good year! We would love to be able to continue this program in its current form or to even increase our ‘Tools and Manual Library.’”
Etienne Nsanzimana in Rwanda shared: “Our ministry has been serving with the Batwa [Pygmy] people farming potatoes for the last 7 years. Traditionally they were hunter-gatherers living in the forests. When violence caused them to leave the forest, they became outcasts, surviving by begging and stealing. Now they are working and feeding themselves. Malnutrition has decreased in their children and many are going to school. Recently, 36 of the adult Batwa accepted Christ and some formed a choir in the church named “Makerubi” (meaning “Cherubim”). They are committed to spreading the love of Christ through their songs. We have seen a real change in their lives and have great hopes for the next generation.”
Lastly, Alfredo Merino in Ecuador wrote, “With the support of the GFI, the training project in agroecology and gastronomy for youth of the Pedro Moncayo-Pichincha area has been a success in all respects. Dozens of young people [over 500] have participated, resulting in increased environmental awareness. We will continue to encourage youth to cultivate their small gardens, eat better, and take pride in preparing their own food. Thank you for all your support. It is a blessing as we continue this work.”
Thank you for your partnership in the important work being done around the world through the Global Food Initiative. God is truly blessing this ministry and changing lives. Please prayerfully consider how you will help us respond to future needs.
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:
“And you will say in that day: 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!
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.
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.