Facing the storms of life

By Matt DeBall, coordinator of Mission Advancement communications

If you could pick the weather for a perfect day, what would it be? Perhaps you love the warmth and sunshine of the summer. Or maybe the cooler temperatures and breezes of the fall are more to your liking. In any case, it would be lovely if we could reside in a place and season with wonderful weather all the time, but unfortunately the skies don’t always offer good news. And even on days with perfect conditions, there can still be storms of health, emotion, or thought that stir within us. Just as we need homes that can endure the weather, so also do we need lives that are weather-proof.

On one occasion (as found in Matthew 8:23-27), the disciples encountered a storm while sailing. As fishermen, some of them previously had experienced poor conditions on the Sea of Galilee, which was vulnerable to quick-forming storms. Nonetheless, the severity of the wind and waves on that day was reflected in the height of their fear and their urgency to ask Jesus for help. Just like the disciples, it’s natural to worry; however, do we let the storms amplify our anxieties or do we see our difficulties as an opportunity to call upon the Lord? As we recall the experience of the disciples on the raging seas that day, Jesus reveals two reasons why we can face any storm and accompany others through them.

First, we can face any storm because Jesus is present. As the disciples endured the storm, so also did Jesus. There isn’t a struggle we face that the Lord doesn’t face with us. Like a comforting friend in a time of need, Jesus is right next to us through it all. Even when conditions continue to give us concern, Jesus is available to hear us and to help us.

The second reason we can face any storm is because Jesus is powerful. As the disciples called upon Jesus for help, it is as if they believed that the Lord was capable of more than what they had witnessed. Jesus first attended to the concerns of the disciples and then addressed the chaos around them. With the same power that God used to bring all life into being, Jesus spoke into the storm and restored peace—to creation and to his companions.

As the body of Christ, we are called to care for others as the Lord cares for us. Our mission is to be present with those who are vulnerable and hurting, and to allow the power of Jesus to flow through us to bring comfort and hope.

It’s a privilege to hear how Brethren Disaster Ministries and Children’s Disaster Services prepare volunteers to be present with people who have survived natural disasters or endured trauma from violence. It’s a blessing to hear how Brethren Volunteer Service volunteers and representatives for the Office of Global Mission share and receive love as neighbors in communities near and far. It’s wonderful to behold Discipleship Ministries, the Office of Ministry, and the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy as they inspire leaders of many places and people of all ages to live into the restorative work of God that continues through both good and bad days. Your support of the missions and ministries of the Church of the Brethren allows the presence and power of Jesus to go out into all of the world and make a difference in people’s lives—both immediately and for eternity.

While some days offer beautiful weather, others are marked by storms. While it is natural to worry, every concern is an opportunity to call upon the Lord and see what he will do. Indeed, we can face each and every storm that comes our way because the Lord is present and powerful. May our faith in Jesus give us strength to find peace—and to share it—no matter the weather.

Learn more about the faith-building, life-changing ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/greatthings or support them today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

100 love feasts

Love feast, Church of the Brethren in Rwanda
Photo by Chris Elliott

By Chris Elliott serving with the Church of the Brethren in Rwanda on behalf of the Office of Global Mission

Because the Church of the Brethren in central Africa is still young, the ordinances we are so familiar with in the US are new here. The Brethren in the Africa Great Lakes have neither a foundation of tradition nor any baggage of hang-ups, bringing advantages and disadvantages. For me personally, having participated and/or officiated in more than 100 love feasts, I can pretty much go through it on autopilot. If I’m not intentional, I can easily lose sight of the beauty and significance of the ceremony. Introducing our African sisters and brothers to it has been a great joy and has restored my own passion for it.

Marla Abe, Gary Benesh, Galen Hackman, and I have led groups through several teaching sessions since 2016. It is a relatively small number of us that have had both the privilege and the responsibility of this, which is a sort of scary thought. Fewer people than the fingers on one hand are laying the foundation for a lot of new Brethren. If nothing else I want to thank you all for your prayers and support–and for trusting us with such an important task.

My favorite story from those early teaching sessions comes from Congo in 2016. Gary, Marla, and I had a good teaching time of explaining the parts of the love feast service, along with the biblical basis for it all, including the holy kiss. Regarding the holy kiss, I shared that the old tradition was for a kiss on the lips, but depending on the cultural context, it could be a hug and/or a kiss on the cheek, at the very least a handshake. To finish out the session we wanted to have a brief demonstration. We put four chairs in the front and enlisted 3 volunteers. I washed the feet of the first, then he washed the feet of the next, and so on, while I went to sit in the fourth seat and take off my shoes. Pastor Aluta washed my feet and when we stood for the embrace, he smothered me with “holy kisses!” Definitely an event I will never forget!

Expert Bukene, lead pastor/bishop of the Church of the Brethren in Burundi, began instituting the feet washing and communion as he read about it in “A Dunker’s Guide to Brethren History.” For whatever reason, he didn’t pick up on the meal part of the service. When I met him for the first time last fall and explained the three-part love feast, he went back home determined to “do it right.” Five months later, Pastor Etienne and I went to Burundi to visit. The other pastors excitedly told us that they were looking forward to the upcoming love feast on Maundy Thursday. Their bishop had promised to buy a lamb!

The Brethren in Rwanda have had several love feasts since 2016, so the one we observed on Easter Sunday afternoon was not their first. The morning worship service was a resurrection celebration of nearly 5 hours. It was followed with the love feast meal of lamb, beans, potatoes, ugali, and rice.  One of the pastors had butchered the lamb on Saturday.

As we moved toward the feet washing portion, I sensed that they were a little uncertain about procedure. Since this was the first time they had done it with a “muzungu” (a Swahili term for a Caucasian person) present, they watched me very closely as I demonstrated by washing and drying pastor Patrick’s feet, then hugged him and kissed him on the cheek. They seemed much more confident going forward from there. It truly was a beautiful time of fellowship and sharing.

The deacons prepared the bread and cup by first cutting white bread into half-size pieces and pouring Vital-O (a locally produced fruit flavored soft drink) into small communion cups. The elements were then passed to everyone. My preference at this point is for one of the local pastors to lead in the comments and prayer, as it can be awkward for me to share something solemn through a translator.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve had a part in more than 100 love feasts–but this was my first one in Africa.

Learn more about the Church of the Brethren in Rwanda at www.brethren.org/global or support their ministry today at www.brethren.org/give-rwanda.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Growing around the world

Eric Miller sharing about a recent Global Mission and Brethren Disaster Ministries trip to Haiti at a Facebook live event.

By Ruoxia Li and Eric Miller, co-directors of Global Mission

In recent years, there has been a concern about decline in the church in the US; however, the global church is growing in most of the 10 countries where the Church of the Brethren has sister denominations around the world. Annual grants provide critical funds to support leaders as they develop denominations in countries that are torn by conflict and disasters. Fellowships are forming in new countries. Churches are being built and leaders are being trained through programs in the US as well as those they design themselves or in nearby seminaries.

In the last year, major gifts have made possible the purchase of a new property for Delmas, the Haitian mother church. These gifts have supported the completion of the first translation of the Bible into Kamwe—a language in Nigeria—which is a culmination of work over decades. Your generosity has allowed us to send money to Nigeria to rebuild churches that were destroyed as Christians are persecuted and attacked. Your gifts also provide resources for building new churches in the African countries of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as well as in Venezuela. Evangelism of those churches is reaching people who have been marginalized in their own countries and gives them hope as they receive the Good News that Jesus cares and that they matter—to God and to the human family.

Your gifts help us build relationships with our brothers and sisters around the world. We pray for them, and they pray for us, and all of us are blessed. These relationships allow Brethren Disaster Ministries to respond quickly to needs that strike the areas where we have churches. As one example, churches in Rwanda and the DRC were able to distribute food to their members and neighbors after a volcano there. In addition to places where we have sister churches, your gifts also support projects in eight other countries around the world. This includes literally bringing sight to the blind in Vietnam, and supporting peacemakers in war-torn South Sudan.

Through your generosity, Brethren around the world will continue to do this and so much more in the coming year. They are able to do so much with so little. Despite many challenges, we can celebrate that our church is growing around the world!

Visit www.brethren.org/global/ for more information about the work of Global Mission and to sign up for the global mission prayer guide. Support this ministry of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/giveGM.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Growing the church around the world

Read a Global Mission reflection in this week's issue.
www.brethren.org/global

By Carol and Norm Spicher Waggy, interim directors of Global Mission

“Therefore, as you go, disciple people in all nations…” 

“…so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.”


– Matthew 28:19, Romans 1:12 (International Standard Version)

The Directional Goal of International Missions in the Strategic Plan of the Ministry and Mission Board for the last decade was: “Grow the church of Jesus Christ around the world in partnership with sisters and brothers within the Church of the Brethren and beyond.” This has been the guiding statement for the office of Global Mission.

A significant development during that time was the passing of the 2018 Annual Conference paper “A Vision for a Global Church of the Brethren.” It states, “We envision a Global Church of the Brethren as a spiritual community of independent, autonomous bodies that are mutually dependent on one another for fellowship, counsel, and mutual encouragement.” As the Church of the Brethren in the US tries to live into this vision, we are excited by the growing relationships with Church of the Brethren denominations in other countries. These relationships are highlighted in the “Global Church of the Brethren Communion” map.

Throughout this pandemic, through the newly instituted Country Advisory Teams, we have been able to share some of the joys as well as the challenges and prayer concerns with other countries. For example, the deaths of leaders in Brazil, Spain, and Venezuela and struggles due to COVID-19 in all our partnering countries have been shared on our social media outlets. Emergency Disaster Fund grants have been given to most of the places you will see on these two maps, and they are so much appreciated.

A second map (“Global Mission of the Church of the Brethren USA”) shows the 11 countries where there are registered denominations, shown in orange, along with an additional eight countries where we have partnerships, shown in green. For example, we have staff working in both South Sudan and China. India is striped in both orange and green because we have a partnership with the Church of North India as well as the First District Church of the Brethren in India, which is one of the global Church of the Brethren communions. The Global Food Initiative has given assistance to 27 different projects in an additional 10 countries, and there are international Brethren Volunteer Service placements in El Salvador, Japan, and Northern Ireland.

We are indeed growing the church of Jesus Christ around the world through these partnerships with our brothers and sisters. Thank you for your support of the Global Mission office. We are so grateful for your partnership.

Learn more about the Office of Global Mission at www.brethren.org/global or support its work today at www.brethren.org/givegms.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Together: Living unto the Lord


www.brethren.org/missionoffering
Photo courtesy of Ruch Matos and Santos Terrero 

By Carol and Norm Waggy, interim directors of Global Mission

“So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.”
~Romans 14:12, NIV

We live in very trying times. With each passing day, it seems that there are ever more opportunities for disagreement and division. How do we respond at different stages of the pandemic? What should we think about social unrest? Who should we call upon for leadership? Even with much communal reflection and discussion, these topics can lead us to more questions than answers, and when disagreements occur, it can seem easier to find comfort with like-minded people than find common ground with those who think differently.

In Romans 14:1-12, Paul encourages the church in Rome to address differences and conflict with forbearance. We all belong to the Lord and we will all be accountable to God. Therefore, we should not pass judgment on our brothers and sisters when they make decisions that differ from our own. Again, examples of these differences abound and include:

– responses to COVID-19 restrictions (Is it the weak or the strong who wear masks?)
– theological differences (How do we love those who differ from us in our interpretation of scripture?)
– political differences (How do we function in unity as we approach an increasingly divisive election?)

On these issues and more, we are accountable to God when we make observations or decisions. William Greenway in Feasting on the Word shares:

“If you see any controversy dividing today’s church as a basis for exclusion of fellowship, Paul is speaking to you. Paul is not suggesting that we should stop advocating for our respective views. …Paul’s concern and passion here is the spirit of Christians who are arguing, not the rectitude of their position” (p.62).

As long as this life lasts, tension and conflict will exist. However, through loving one another and surrendering ourselves to the Lord, we can live as the body of Christ in the world. May the words of Paul both challenge and comfort you and your congregation in these (and future) trying times.

This reflection was written as a sermon starter for the 2020 Mission Offering of the Church of the Brethren. Find this and other worship resources or give an offering today at www.brethren.org/giveoffering.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)