Being the church

David Steele speaking with the group at the Atlantic Northeast District Listening Session. Photo by Glenn Riegel

David Steele speaking with the group at the
Atlantic Northeast District Listening Session.
Photo by Glenn Riegel

By David Steele, general secretary

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope”(Romans 15:13).

My first 100 days as general secretary have come and gone. These first weeks have been exhilarating, challenging, and joy-filled. Assessment, questions, review of past board and committee minutes, and many meetings have filled my days. What has been and will continue to be central in my work and ministry has been listening—listening to staff and you, the church. From the hallways and meeting rooms of the General Offices and Brethren Service Center to the listening sessions being held across the denomination, I am learning much. I count it a privilege to meet with you to hear your hopes, passions, and concerns, and I look forward to many more listening opportunities as I continue to schedule listening sessions in other districts.

What am I learning from your sharing? We are passionate about the Church of the Brethren and our common ministries of service, mission, discipleship, and evangelism. Yet, we are also distracted by dwindling numbers and whether we will split over our diverging or opposite views related to human sexuality and same-gender marriage. Many of your hopes have been centered in a desire for unity, reconciliation, and focusing on what unites us. Much of your sharing can be taken at face value; however, for some our desire for unity and staying together are tied to certain outcomes.

The issues we face as a church will not go away. Let’s not kid ourselves. Given our diversity, there is no decision that we can make about a social issue that will satisfy all of us. And when we do make a decision about a social issue, it will likely be replaced by another, and another, and another.

Being the church is messy. It always has been. I have always appreciated the diversity of the church and the opportunities and challenges such diversity offers. In 1 Corinthians 12:12 we read, “The body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body.” Each part of the body is essential and cannot be denied its place in the body. “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose” (12:18).

I believe we must work together as one body—the body of Christ—to attend to the issues before us and those that we will face in the future. Our rich diversity provides us the ability to speak to a very complex and diverse world and model another way of living—the way of Jesus. Our working together, despite our differences, is not a denial of our convictions, but an acknowledgment of our conviction that Jesus is central in our lives and that we are part of one body in Christ. Sure, it is easier to seek out and gather with those who think and believe like us, but where would be our sense of smell, sight, ability to walk, to touch? As one dear brother said in one of the listening sessions, “I need those of you calling me to purity equally as much as I need those calling me to grace and compassion.”

As we step into this new year, I am committed to our common struggle together as the body of Christ. In the midst of distractions, it has been most exhilarating in my first 100 days to experience firsthand the tireless efforts of staff and leaders to be the church. Mission work around the globe, disaster response ministries, workcamps for youth, discipleship ministries and working with congregations in efforts of vitality and evangelism, intercultural ministries, church planting coaching and support, and planning for Christian Citizenship Seminar, Young Adult Conference, and Inspiration 2017 (National Older Adult Conference)and the list could go on.

We are called to another way of living, a way that looks much different from the world around us. I invite you to support and join in our mission and ministry—to be the church. Being the church is where our body finds its unity and strength through Jesus.

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren)


Mark Flory Steury at the Church of the Brethren General Offices. Photo by Dewayne Heck

Mark Flory Steury at the Church of the Brethren General Offices.
Photo by Dewayne Heck

By Mark Flory Steury, Donor Relations representative

“It’s amazing how much the Church of the Brethren is able to do.”

This is a comment I hear often as I talk with congregational leaders and pastors about the denominational work of the Church of the Brethren. It has been my joy to visit many congregations over the past five years, and to thank them for being so generous! For well over one hundred years, congregations have faithfully supported the work of the church through their offerings.

When I visit a congregation, we talk about the ways the Church of the Brethren is currently serving in ministry both domestically and abroad. Globally we have partners in Nigeria, India, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Haiti, Spain, South Sudan and many other places. We help people in times of need through Brethren Disaster Ministries, Children’s Disaster Services, and the Global Food Initiative. Volunteers serve as the hands and feet of Jesus through Brethren Volunteer Service and Workcamps. These are some of the ways that we extend the love of God to others.

We also provide resources for churches and individuals across the country. We support the work of new churches through the Church Planting Conference. We equip church leaders and members through the work of Congregational Life Ministries, the Ministry Office, and Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leaderships, and through materials like Vital Ministry Journey, the Anabaptist Worship Exchange, the Shine curriculum, and webinars. Faith-forming, community-fostering conferences and programs are provided throughout the year like National Junior High Conference, Christian Citizenship Seminar, Ministry Summer Service, National Young Adult Conference, and National Older Adult Conference. Conversation and information are shared through Newsline and Messenger magazine. We also have wonderful historical resources preserved through the Brethren Historical Library and Archives. This is just a brief overview of the many ministries we do together!

Amazing! How is the Church of the Brethren able to do all of this? It’s only with the support of congregations and individuals who are willing to work together for a common mission and ministry.

It is remarkable how much the Church of the Brethren is able to do. Thank you so much for your awesome support. We can do this work only because of your partnership. May God bless us as we continue in our work together.

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

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Developing leaders around the world

Jay Wittmeyer speaking at Annual Conference 2015. Photo by Glenn Riegel

Jay Wittmeyer speaking at Annual Conference 2015.
Photo by Glenn Riegel

A reflection by Jay Wittmeyer, Executive Director of Global Mission and Service

On a trip to the Dominican Republic (DR) in March, members of the Mission Advisory Committee and I were greatly inspired by the work that the DR Brethren are doing to reach out into their communities.

On the first day we joined Gustavo Lendi, a pastor and current treasurer of the denomination, to visit poor families living in cardboard huts in a shanty settlement of Haiti called “Parc Cadeau.” Many children in the refugee camp were actually born in the DR but refused re-entry when they traveled to Haiti to visit relatives. Brother Gustavo, who has helped many stateless Haitians procure legal Dominican residency, is advocating on their behalf.

We were very impressed with the intentional focus of training leaders in the church. The Dominican Brethren have partnered with an Anabaptist seminary to hold classes in Brethren communities so church members can attend. Four pastors are attending university to earn theology degrees, and the denomination also hosts an annual pastors’ conference. Most importantly, elders of the church regularly travel to remote areas and provide one-day Bible studies to share Brethren beliefs and practices with low-income, poorly educated church members.

During our visit, we traveled to several city churches. There we heard stories of members working in slum areas to support youth and prevent them from getting caught in the drug culture of the Caribbean. We met a young adult who was saved from the drug lifestyle. We even met four teenagers who regularly preach in church, which helps them stay out of trouble.

We also visited a small church of both Haitians and Dominicans in a remote, mountain village. This little Brethren church has local leadership, but pastors from the city go out a few times a month to preach and teach. The community is very pleased to have a church. In total, we visited at least 16 churches and met many church members.

The last thing we did on our trip was attend the Dominican Brethren’s annual conference. Celebrating their 25th annual conference, the Dominican Brethren are forming a strong Brethren identity, and many members have grown up with it being the only church that they know.

As I reflected on our visit, I recognize the importance of effective leadership at the denominational level. Just as a local church needs individuals to serve as pastors, elders, or board chairs to lead the congregation, so also do denominations need leaders to care for the flock. Moderators motivate pastors, create unity among members, and encourage sacrifice and mutuality. They focus not only on individual members or single congregations, but on relationships between congregations and their members.

Much of the work of Global Mission and Service is focused on leadership development and supporting international leaders. We partner with them as they listen to the wisdom of their unique community, make decisions, and find a healthy balance between the social ministry of outreach and the theological ministries of teaching and spiritual growth. Whether in the Dominican Republic, Spain, Haiti, or elsewhere, the Church of the Brethren is developing leaders, planting churches, and reaching out into communities for Christ. By giving to the Church of the Brethren, you make all of this possible. Thank you for helping us make a difference around the world.

Learn more about Global Mission and Service at or support it today at .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Songs of promise

Markus Gamache serving in Nigeria and  Linda Shank serving in North Korea Photos by Carl Hill and Robert Shank

Markus Gamache serving in Nigeria and
Linda Shank serving in North Korea
Photos by Carl Hill and Robert Shank

A reflection by Kendra Harbeck, manager of Global Mission and Service office

Do you remember when you first heard the birds sing this spring? I, unfortunately, do not. I’ve been so caught up in other things these past two months that I’ve missed the birdsongs of promise.

This is ironic because I have longed deeply for spring this year. I probably have every year, but it seems especially acute after the harsh winter our community has experienced with stings of financial concerns, significant leadership changes, and deaths.

I was more in tune last year with the singing of the birds. On a Sunday morning in February, I stepped outside in the still cold air, and I heard it. The sound was so normal and mundane, but had been absent for several months. The birds were singing the arrival of spring, and yet, it was still quite obviously winter by the calendar, the cold temperature, and the desolate landscape.

Curious, I investigated who those songbirds were and why they were singing in February. According to National Geographic, the chickadee and woodpecker are the first birds to announce spring. These birds survive harsh winters by finding whatever food and comfort is available. Woodpeckers, for example, drill into trees to find insects. As John Hanson Mitchell shares, “They must look at a little pinhole and say, there must be something in there.” These resilient winter birds, prompted by change in daylight, begin their singing.

As humans, we are fooled and encouraged by signs that are obvious but deceiving. We moan and groan until it’s noticeably warmer or trees are in bloom, and yet these signs may be gone soon after they appear. Thanks to instincts and hormones, however, birds are much wiser than us. They welcome spring inspired by a more reliable and trusted source: the light. It is also worth noting that it isn’t the newly returned, light-hearted birds that herald the promise of spring. It’s the same birds that remained all along, battered by winter storms but transformed by the changing light within.

In Global Mission and Service, we encounter many “winter birds” in our work— people who persist through cold, dark times, and are sustained by the light and a song within. I think about Markus Gamache, our liaison with EYN, who persists in showing love despite much violence through sharing his home with up to 50 displaced persons and through bringing Muslims and Christians together in shared community. I think about Linda Shank, who each year, despite significant health challenges, returns to North Korea with her husband, Robert, to teach English and agricultural science at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. We all have winter birds like these in our lives if we stop to think and notice.

We, too, are called to be winter birds. Like the chickadee, we can adapt to the winter by finding strength through community. Like the woodpecker, we can look at something tiny or insignificant, and say “There must be something in there.” Though we are winter birds in a winter world, we have a spring song of promise, energized by the never failing light of Christ that grows in our hearts.

Global Mission and Service is a Core Ministry of the Church of the Brethren. Learn more about our international partnerships at or support the work of Global Mission and Service today 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)

Beyond our control

Partners of Mano Amiga de los Hermanos, a ministry of the Spanish Church of the Brethren, celebrating the harvest. Photo courtesy of Santos Terrero

Partners of Mano Amiga de los Hermanos, a ministry of the
Spanish Church of the Brethren, celebrating the harvest.
Photo courtesy of Santos Terrero

A reflection by Kendra Harbeck, manager of Global Mission and Service office.

While our American holiday of sharing lists of gratitude while over-eating and watching football is still a week away, the Office of Global Mission and Service has been giving thanks with partners around the world for the past few months.

Mano Amiga a los Hermanos, a ministry of the Spanish Church of the Brethren, pulled in a beautiful harvest to help feed immigrants in need. Brethren in the Democratic Republic of Congo rejoiced in the maize harvest they shared with members of the Twa (Pygmy) group. A ministry with the Church of the Brethren in Brazil worked with inmates to grow a garden within a prison. And Global Mission and Service volunteer Turner Ritchie shared the joy of the rice harvest at Asian Rural Institute (ARI) in Japan.

At the same time, the past months have been filled with stories of hunger around the world, millions of people in need due to violence or drought in Central America, South SudanNigeria, and beyond. People are in need due to factors beyond their control.

From our God who works through juxtaposition, I hear the call to give beyond our control. It’s a hard challenge. And it always has been.

Matthew 14 tells us of a time when the disciples tried to convince Jesus to send away the massive, hungry crowd who was listening to him on a hillside. I bet the disciples were exhausted and in no mood to manage what could easily turn into a massive, angry crowd. Likely, they were also hungry and wanted to keep their meager rations for themselves. “We’ve given so much already,” they might have said. “We’re not ready to offer this too. Let us at least have some control over our own supper.” But Jesus would not be bossed around or controlled: “YOU give them something to eat.”

In this time of thanksgiving for God’s generosity and the fruits of creation, in this world of great abundance surrounded by great need, we are called to feed God’s sheep. We are not to worry about carefully calculating how much money we can pass on after we’ve met our needs, imagined needs, comforts, and wants. We are called to feed our sisters and brothers with more than we are ready to share. Called to give to anybody that asks of us, even and especially when it doesn’t fit into our plans. Called to open ourselves up to Christ’s way of selfless love and to let our lives be changed beyond our control.

My prayer is that God will help us to do so.

Global Mission and Service is a Core Ministry of the Church of the Brethren. Learn more about its programs at or support it 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)

Walking with Brethren in the Dominican Republic

Pastor Sauveur Charles from La Descubierta Church of the Brethren in the Dominican Republic explains the regularization process to Jeff Boshart. Photo by Nathan Hosler

Pastor Sauveur Charles from La Descubierta Church of the Brethren in the Dominican Republic explains the regularization process to Jeff Boshart.
Photo by Nathan Hosler

By Nathan Hosler, director of the Office of Public Witness

Statelessness. Ecumenical cooperation. Regularization. These are words that describe the work of the Office of Public Witness. Words that make many eyes glaze over. But these words of jargon are closely linked to the actual lives of our sisters and brothers in the Dominican Republic. For them, these words are critical—not abstract, theoretical, or of little interest.

This past December, Jeff Boshart, manager of the Global Food Crisis Fund and the Emerging Global Mission Fund, and I traveled to Haiti and the Dominican Republic to visit the Brethren churches there. In 2013, there was a change of legislation declaring that all persons of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic after 1929 were rendered not Dominican. Since they were not born in Haiti, they were also deemed not Haitian. People caught between these parameters became stateless—a legal issue of citizenship but also an enormous risk of exploitation and trafficking. Additionally, those who immigrated to the Dominican Republic before 2007 needed to complete an expensive, difficult regularization process.

As Jeff and I met with people in this situation, it became increasingly apparent that the system wasn’t working. Many could not begin the process of regularization because of the great distances from their homes to the appropriate offices. Others had begun the process, but had spent all their money through repeated trips with little or no progress. In this situation we, and the Brethren in the D.R., engaged in ecumenical cooperation and coordinated between US denominational programs to offer help.

As you read this now, much has changed. In late spring, Global Mission and Service began assisting Dominican pastors to support Brethren in the registration process, and Church of the Brethren congregations in Miami, Fla., sought ways to provide support. Also, in Washington, D.C., the Office of Public Witness communicated concerns and shared in strategic collaboration with organizations like Church World Service. Recently, with the threat of mass deportations from the D.R., that may begin as soon as August 1, the government of Haiti has said it is unprepared to handle a great influx of people. Nonetheless, we continue to advocate for all who are stateless.

The issues we see in the Dominican Republic and in other places are not simply for a policy wonk or theologian—they are issues of life, livelihood, and family. I know many of us feel overwhelmed by the great needs we see, the seemingly endless conflicts, and continued injustices. However, we must endure in faithfully bearing witness to Jesus who gives life and a sense of belonging to all.

Grants of $16,000 have already been allocated by Global Mission and Service and the Emergency Disaster Fund (with plans to give more) to support Dominican Haitian Brethren in the regularization process. Learn more about Church of the Brethren international partnerships at .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

Reframing lives

Village leaders meeting in Lohila, South Sudan. Photos by Becky Rhodes

Village leaders meeting in Lohila, South Sudan.
Photos by Becky Rhodes

A reflection by Becky Rhodes

While women were out cultivating the fields, village leaders sat on benches under the large shade tree in the center of Lohila in South Sudan. The 500-year-old village, often isolated during the rainy season, has never had a school for their children or a church building for worship. In November 2014, villagers identified these buildings as their great need—an opportunity for a better future following the prolonged violence.

The community of Lohila is a longstanding partner of the Church of the Brethren’s Global Mission and Service program. The success of this partnership to construct the school and church depends on mutual investment and commitment.

On a recent visit, which included members of the Mission Advisory Committee, a spokesman of the village shared plans for building the foundations and walls for the church and school. Roger Schrock, a former missionary in Sudan and the co-leader of our group, applauded the inclusion of women on the village’s building committee. Athanasus Ungang, the Church of the Brethren staff member in Torit, provided an update on supplies en route from Kenya and introduced our group.

As the leaders spoke, the number gathered under the tree began to grow. Women and children gradually approached and began listening to the conversation from the periphery. Then an unexpected yet powerful voice rose from the group. A tall, statuesque woman holding a baby stepped out of the crowd. “Others have come here with promises, but they never came back,” she said. “Your coming to us today is God coming to us. As God parted the water for Moses, God has parted the grass [since South Sudan is land locked] to lead you here. Your presence blesses us, and God is blessing you.”

History tells us the biblical story has influenced great leaders. In his Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln referenced Psalm 90:10 and God as Creator. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech reached its highest point with echoes of the prophet Isaiah: “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low… and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” Great leaders reframe people’s lives in the biblical context.

I experienced an immediate and deep connection with this woman as she spoke our shared language of the Bible. She talked about the same Moses I know and love: the imperfect servant leader who cared for his people. There were many leaders in Lohila that day, but the most powerful voice belonged to the woman holding the baby. She is a great leader. Her words invoked our shared belief and trust in God. She reframed our lives, our relationship, and our work in the context of the biblical story. God is with us! And God with us is a solid foundation on which to build.

Learn more about Global Mission and Service at or support it today at .

(Read this issue of eBrethren)

New steps in the new year

Where will God lead you in 2015? Photo by Glenn Riegel

Where will God lead you in 2015?
Photo by Glenn Riegel

By Matt DeBall, coordinator of Donor Communications

January can be a great time for setting goals and reflecting; a time to observe our steps from last year and chart a new path for this year. We might make personal challenges related to fitness, nutrition, recreation, relationships, or finances, but sometimes we also receive challenges from God.

God has surely given great challenges to others in the past. For Abraham, God called him to leave his family and explore a foreign land filled with unfamiliar people. For Esther, God led her to a new role and called her to take a great risk to save her people. For both, the choice was available to reject God’s call, but by trusting in God and summoning a great amount of courage, they stepped forward and accepted God’s challenge.

In 2015, there are many events and opportunities to partake in ministry through the Church of the Brethren. Perhaps God is calling you to participate in one or more of the following ways:

Pray for our international partners by receiving the weekly Global Mission Prayer Guide.

Grow by attending a transformative conference like the Intercultural Gathering, Young Adult Conference, National Junior High Conference, Annual Conference, and National Older Adult Conference.

Serve through Brethren Volunteer Service for a year-long project, attend a summer workcamp of the Workcamp Ministry, or spend a week at a disaster project of Brethren Disaster Ministries.

Give to support the continued work of the many life-changing ministries of the Church of the Brethren.

Like Abraham and Esther, we have the choice to remain where we are or to follow where God is leading. While it would be easier to carry on in 2015 just as we did in 2014, God may be challenging us to do something new. May we listen to the Spirit of God, step forward in faith, and trust God to guide our steps in the coming year.

(Read this issue of eBrethren)