Churches for Middle East Peace Annual Advocacy Summit: Equal in God’s Eyes: Human Rights and Dignity for all in Israel/Palestine

OPP Report on the Churches for Middle East Peace Annual Advocacy Summit by Galen Fitzkee

Representatives of the Brethren Office of Peacebuilding and Policy (OPP) tuned in to the annual Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) Advocacy Summit on Monday, June 22, to become more educated about the Israeli-Palestinian relationship and advocacy efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. We were soon reminded that a virtual conference is not a perfect substitute for meeting together on Capitol Hill, however technical difficulties were resolved in short order and the program commenced. The theme of the webinar was Equal in God’s Eyes, Human Rights and Dignity for all in Israel and Palestine and focused heavily on the efforts we can all take to promote a peaceful and holistic solution to the fraught situation between Israel and Palestine.
Jeremey Ben Ami of J Street oriented those of us who were less knowledgeable with a brief summary of the human and political considerations involved in the fight against annexation of Palestine. He shared a message of optimism and encouraged each of us to get involved to change the course of American policy and thus the future of the Palestinian and Israeli people who both deserve a right to control their own futures. Ben Ami answered some questions about the immediate future of the region and layed out points of action that the US can take including clearly defining purposes for financial aid and making fair and balanced criticism of Israeli actions in international bodies.

COVID, Middle East, and Intersectionality

Next, we quickly transitioned into a panel of speakers from all over the world including Jerusalem, Gaza, Geneva, and the United States to talk about the human rights work of their various organizations. COVID-19 is making a tough situation worse throughout the Middle East and all around the world, according to World Council of Churches rep Carla Khijoyan. Jessica Montell, executive director of Israeli human rights organization HaMoked, reminded us that restrictions to reduce the spread of the virus are necessary but can be used as a pretext for human rights abuses and actually exacerbate other injustices. Bassam Nasser of CRS informed us about the current reality of life in Gaza, which has been defined by intense restrictions since before the pandemic. He noted new restrictions particularly affect access to education, which is usually a source of hope for Palestinians looking for a way to overcome their oppression. Overall, they encouraged us to get our information directly from the source and to focus on people rather than politics to both solve a humanitarian crisis and address the systems of power that undermine sovereignty and contribute to instability for all parties.

CMEP Overview

After a break for lunch, CMEP provided us an overview of their mission and programs that work to Educate, Elevate, and Advocate for the Middle East. Initiatives such as Pilgrimage to Peace Tours offer a first-hand look at the conditions in Israel/Palestine and help build relationships with local peacebuilders. CMEP also has made an effort to bring marginalized women’s voices to the forefront in the peace movement. Conflict resolution, even between extreme ideological groups. CMEP demonstrated that they have meaningful connections with faith leaders all across the region in places like Egypt and Iraq, and our very own Nathan Hosler made an appearance in a picture with members of CMEP and the Assyrian Church in Erbil. CMEP offers a wealth of video resources on their website as well as educational literature and ways to get involved with advocacy for peace. They often use the hashtag #ChurchesAgainstAnnexation on social media.

Protecting our Right to Stand for Palestinian Freedom

In light of the current unrest due to racial injustice in the United States, CMEP welcomed Dima Khalidi of Palestinian Legal Aid to draw parallels between the plight of Black Americans and Palestinians. “We are all held captive by a global system that prioritizes profit over people” she said as she encouraged us to hold fast to the truth about inequality and systemic realities that affect our neighbors here at home and abroad. Once we understand our origins, there is a responsibility to finally react to the work of black artists and organizers that implore us to act. We must follow their lead and listen to the solutions that they require in order to imagine an alternative society that is free of oppression. The response to movements against oppression such as the Black Lives Matter coalition has been and will continue to be repression and mislabeling, which we have seen first-hand in the United States. Palestinians face repression in the fight for their rights too. Leader reputations take a serious hit from smear campaigns and intense legal scrutiny in Palestine just because they speak out in favor of Palestinian rights. These threats and mischaracterizations of Palestine as terroristic or anti-Semitic have increased as grassroots support has grown. Pro-Israel groups have unleashed an assault on peaceful advocacy by bogging down efforts toward progress in legislation and seeking to criminalize and intimidate dissent strategies such as boycotting. While Khalidi wanted to make clear that the root causes of the situations in the US and Palestine are fundamentally different, it is amazing that we are witnessing similar strategies from the US and Israeli governments play out in real time. So, what can we do to stand with those fighting the uphill battle against oppression and subsequently repression? First, we must protect the right of advocacy and free speech rights as ways to dissent and fight for social justice. We should recognize that bold demands will not be easily accepted by the powers that be in either case because they have a stake in the oppression of minorities and the status quo. Finally, we must go back to the roots of the injustice in Palestine and the US so that reform and redevelopment can result in holistic and lasting changes. Khalidi left us to ponder a variation of the following question: Are we willing to listen to the oppressed and give up comfortability in order to finally achieve the worldly embodiment of Equality in God’s Eyes?

Foreign Policy and Election Panel

Since 2020 is an election year and the presidential election is fast-approaching, CMEP Senior Director of Advocacy and Government Relations Kyle Cristofalo hosted a panel of experts to address United States foreign policy. The consensus of these experts was that the current administration and ambassador to Israel David Friedman have been enabling Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s far right policies by encouraging de jure annexation and other illicit activities. They encouraged us to take a look at writings and actions that began at the outset of the administration’s term which include: recognizing Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel, moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, discontinuing aid to UNRWA and consequently Palestinian refugees, closing the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) mission in Washington, D.C., allowing incremental annexation of the Golan heights, failing to recognize violations of international law, and pushing a one-sided peace plan. The pattern of action in US foreign policy has been blatantly pro-Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people and hope for a two-state solution. Going forward, policy considerations should seek to reverse this steep trend towards the annexation of Palestinian territory and depoliticize the policies themselves. We were encouraged to maintain awareness of the human rights abuses occurring in the middle east. We can expect more of the same from a second term of a Trump administration who will likely continue to move the goalposts when it comes to opposing annexation as they seek to make changes irreversible. The speculation is that a Biden administration would not take a firm pro-Palestinian stance but may reengage with multilateral organizations and reverse extreme policy shifts that have occurred. It is likely that if Palestinians were able to vote in the US election that they would support a changing of the guard, however the unfortunately reality on the ground is that the Palestinian people continue to lose freedoms and the sovereignty of their own nation every day.

Closing

In closing, Grace Al-Zoughbi Arteen, a Palestinian Christian and accomplished instructor at Bethlehem Bible College, offered us a moving prayer in both English and Arabic. She reminded us of the meaning of the beatitudes for the oppressed, of our shared humanity and experiences, and of our hope in Jesus who offers us help, peace, and love.  

Humanitarian Impacts of U.S. Sanctions on Iran: Food Insecurity

This blog post was written by Office of Peacebuilding and Policy Food Insecurity Intern Priscilla Weddle.

In 2018, the current administration withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and re-imposed sanctions on Iran. The sanctions cover shipping, finance, and energy with the goal of “limiting Tehran’s ability to fund destabilizing activities and forcing its leaders back into nuclear discussion” (Piven, 2020). These sanctions have had a devastating impact on the country’s economy and its citizens. Iran’s gross domestic product (GDP) contracted an estimated 4.8% in 2018 and was forecast to shrink another 9.5% in 2019 (International Monetary Fund, 2019). Living costs have also risen as a result of inflation. 

Inflation is estimated to reach 38% with rates being especially high for food items; for example, the cost of meat has gone up 116 percent (World Bank, 2019). The rising food prices and unemployment rate has resulted in many families being unable to purchase basic items. Zahra Abdollahi, the director of Iran’s Ministry of Health’s Department of Nutrition Improvement, has stated that “The eight provinces are suffering from food shortage and malnutrition problems along with other types of deprivation” (“Government In Iran Struggles To Provide Food Amid Shortages,” 2019). It has become increasingly difficult for the Iranian government to handle this situation as their resources continue to diminish as a result of the sanctions.

The Church of the Brethren Office of Peacebuilding and Policy has strong concerns about the welfare of the Iranian people because of the ways in which economic sanctions are correlated with insecurity and deprivation. We, as people of faith, have a moral impetus to advocate for “… the ways of living that lead toward a future filled with blessing and harmonious relationships rather than with violence and destruction,” as stated in the 1996 Statement on Nonviolence and Humanitarian Intervention. The U.S. should end its harsh trade sanctions that target the Iranian people.

Stories from Maiduguri

While in Maiduguri recently, Carl and Roxane Hill visited various Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps, drove through the city, toured the largest EYN church and interviewed a peace activist. Here are some pictures and stories.

Markus Gamache introduced us to Gambo Muhammed in Maiduguri. He is a young man with a passion to see peace restored to his home in northeast Nigeria’s largest city. Maiduguri is infamously known as the birthplace of Boko Haram. Over the last ten years, these extremists have killed thousands of innocent Nigerians and chased millions more from their traditional homelands.

Gambo is associated with a group of youths in Maiduguri that are seeking peace. He is a tireless advocate of peace, representing the people in his city who are tired of the violence and want to live a normal life again. He told us that many people, both Christian and Muslim have grown tired of the killing and fear that has gripped his city and the surrounding countryside. The city of Maiduguri has become a haven for displaced people. Before the insurgency, Maiduguri’s population was somewhere around 2 million. But because of the danger outside the city – from Lake Chad in the north to the Cameroon boarder in the east to the Sambisa Forrest to the west and Madagali in the south, 7 million people now make Maiduguri their home.

Gambo made himself known in his city in 2015. He was invited to speak at the Swiss Embassy before numerous dignitaries and ambassadors. His topic was, “How to end the crisis with Boko Haram.” He challenged those present and demonstrated his passion to see peace restored to the area.

He listed some of the steps he advocated at this influential meeting. Number one was to restore trust between the security forces and the citizens of Maiduguri. This could be accomplished, he said, by creating humanitarian relief for countless people struggling to survive in Maiduguri. He suggested that the bad elements that had infiltrated the camps throughout the city be eliminated.

Number two was to provide skills acquisition training for the displaced and the youth of the city. This sounds basic but for people who know nothing but subsistence farming, acquiring an alternate skill to support themselves and their family is a huge step.

Number three, according to this energetic Muslim, was to take steps to curb drug abuse in the youth population. It was through the use of drugs that Boko Haram had attracted many young men to come into the ranks of the extremist cult of Boko Haram. The breakdown of opportunities for young people and the allure of drugs served as the main recruiting tool for Boko Haram membership. Gambo told me of the frustration that led many of his friends to follow Boko Haram’s leaders down the path of personal destruction.

Gambo, wise beyond his years, chose the alternative path of peace. What a breath of fresh air he was to us when we encountered him in the bustling, crowded city of Maiduguri, Nigeria.  

3 Stories of Escape from the Boko Harm

Ladi, Charity and Safiratu are three strong young women. They were taken captive by the Boko Haram sometime in 2014. These women along with many other men and children have been kept in villages around Ngoshe and Gwoza where the Boko Haram still controls the area. (Many remain in captivity.)

The conditions under captivity are terrible; food scarcity, forced labor, forced marriage, mistreatment, and forced Islamization. But somehow each of these three women survived and had the courage to attempt an escape from this horrific captivity. Even more amazing is the fact that these women did not lose their faith in Jesus Christ. The women were forced to dress in Muslim attire wearing a hajib in public and they were forced to participate in the daily Muslim prayers. However, in private they prayed to their God and worshiped Jesus in their hearts. The terrible conditions, rumors of the escape of others, and their faith gave them the courage to escape. Anything would be better than the life they had as prisoners. In 2018, they each snuck away in the night and climbed down the mountain to freedom.

Here are their stories…

Ladi is a young, single woman who had her whole life ahead of her. Her future was forever changed when she was abducted by the Boko Haram. She was forced into “marriage” and had a baby by her Boko Haram husband. She escaped down the mountain with her baby and ran to her family at the Maiduguri IDP camp. Yes, she is no longer in captivity, but she faces many difficulties and wonders what will become of her. Will anyone agree to marry her; will a husband take her child as his own? Will her child always have the stigma of a Boko baby?

Charity is a young, married woman, who now has a Boko Haram child. After her escape, she went to the camp in Maiduguri to be reunited with her husband who was an IDP there. At first, her husband did not want to take her back as his wife because of her forced Boko Haram marriage. But Charity did not give up, she kept begging him to take her back; both her and her child. Finally, after some counseling, the husband, received her again as his wife. Today, the couple has been living together as husband and wife for more than a year and they have three-month-old twins.

Safiratu is another married woman who escaped from the Boko Haram with her baby and ended up at the IDP camp. She too tried to reconcile with her husband. Her story differs from Charity in that her husband would not take her back no matter how hard she tried. Since she was not welcomed by her husband; life became too difficult in the camp. With the help of others, Safiratu moved to a town near the EYN headquarters where she is supported by her brother and assisted by EYN women’s ministry. What will become of her and her child? Will there ever be reconciliation between her and her husband?

Pray for all those who have escaped from the Boko Haram and for those who remain captive.

The way of Jesus

Joshua Brockway speaking at the Discipleship Ministries dinner
at Annual Conference 2019.
Photo by Glenn Riegel

By Joshua Brockway, director of Spiritual Formation

Earlier this year, I picked up March, a graphic novel by Congressman John Lewis.  The first volume of the series sketches the plotline from Lewis’s early life to the first success of the Nashville sit-ins in 1960.

One of the pages, in particular, caught my eye. On the day of the first arrests of the Nashville protests, a white student named Paul LaPrad was pulled from the lunch counter and beaten. The page stood out to me, not because LaPrad was white, but because I heard his story during my undergraduate studies at Manchester College. LaPrad was a Church of the Brethren young adult and would later graduate from Manchester. He attended James Lawson’s weekly workshops on nonviolence, heard the experiences of Jim Crow and racism from his black peers, and learned to withhold a violent response to verbal and physical attacks.

Since reading March and other accounts of the Nashville student movement, as well as talking with Paul LaPrad, I have come to one conclusion:  Peacemaking is a way of life.

We talk about peace often in the church—and rightly so—but when I read about Lawson and his nonviolence workshops, I realized how counter-intuitive nonviolence truly is. Violence, whether through fists or words, is ingrained in us at an early age when we are taught to stand up for ourselves. We are encouraged to share witty retorts to insults. We are entertained by verbal sparring on news channels and by retributive violence on big and small screens.

So in order to live nonviolent lives—and like Jesus—we must be re-formed. This means that peacemaking is not a means to an end but, rather, the result of a long and intentional process of formation. Through our discipleship, we are made into the likeness of the Prince of Peace.

Our ministries, from Sunday school classes using Guide for Biblical Studies to youth groups gathering to raise money for National Youth Conference, keep us in the path of the “long obedience in the same direction,” as the late Eugene Peterson would say. Our ministries don’t just teach the ideas of peace, but they invite us to read the Scriptures through the nonviolent life of Jesus. Our practices of mutual aid and service are not a means to happy living or random acts of kindness, but are acts of obedience to Christ. And our witness and advocacy in our communities and nation are extensions of our relationships with those pushed to the edge of our culture through unjust laws and policies.

Thank you for the ways you disciple others in the nonviolent way of Jesus. Thank you for the ministries you lead and support in your congregation, district, and the denomination. And most of all, thank you for promoting the practices of discipleship and peace through your gifts to the Church of the Brethren.

Learn more about Discipleship Ministries at www.brethren.org/discipleshipmin or support them today at www.brethren.org/givediscipleship.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Youth Peace Advocate: Camp Mack

Being the Youth Peace Advocate at Camp Alexander Mack was a very different experience than doing it anywhere else this summer. Camp Mack is my home camp, where I’ve been attending in some form for twenty-three years. Everywhere else I am Nolan, this year’s Youth Peace Advocate. At Camp Mack I am Nolan, the former camper/CIT/councilor/Ministry Summer Service intern who most people have known forever and is the Youth Peace Advocate this year. It was good to be home.

During the week I was primarily working with the Followers and Splash camps. Both were for campers of Jr. High age. The team leaders (the same role as deans at almost every other camp) for Splash camp were my parents, Rosalie and Ryan McBride, which combined with my brother and sister working summer staff meant my entire family was at Camp Mack last week. After about a month of traveling across the country it was good for us all to be together. Additionally, I knew several other staff members of both camps, so it was very different to begin the week knowing so many people.

My daily schedule and responsibilities as the Youth Peace Advocate were also different. While exactly what was expected of me was different at each new place, all the camps before this week had explicitly set aside time for me lead my own sessions with the campers during the week. At Camp Mack both sets of team leaders already had schedules set up, and I was invited to participate and bring what I’ve put together into their plans as much or as little as I wanted. The Splash Camp leaders did explicitly ask me to lead a tour of the Brethren history murals in Quinter-Miller auditorium. Painted in 1949, the murals tell this history of the Church of the Brethren up to then, and include the artist’s prediction up to the 300th anniversary in 2008. A newer mural of more recent Brethren history was created in 2000. The murals have long been one of my favorite parts of camp, and I was excited to get to share about them. Of course, me being a History and Religious Studies major whose era of emphasis is the early modern period, this was kind of a dangerous thing to ask of me. Having recently studied the origins of the Pietist movement which shaped the Brethren movement, I might have spent a little longer than intended on “historical context.” (Hey, to understand the Brethren’s break with the state churches you need to know about the relationship between church and state in the middle ages, which means you need to know about Constantine, and so on.)

I also went boating twice with Splash Camp: kayaking Tuesday in Goshen and sailing Thursday on Lake Michigan. It was a great time, even if I fell into the river kayaking and took at least ten minutes trying to get back in.

The word of the day for the fifth day of camp is “heiwa,” a Japanese word meaning “balance.” The scripture is Mark 12:28-31, the two greatest commandments. I usually start my session for this day by asking the kids to play a game where they stand in a circle with one person being “it.” That person chooses another in the circle whom they attempt to make laugh any way short of touching them. If the laugh, they are now “it.” Afterwards I ask the campers how it was to try and not laugh, what techniques they used, and if they think it would be easier if they practiced this game every day. We then discuss the importance of practice in peacemaking, using the Civil Rights movement as an example, and the Christian life more generally. I play a section from the first episode of the Episcopal Church’s Way of Love podcast (11:38-17:36).[1] It is an interview with the denomination’s Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who recently made headlines around the world for his sermon on love at last year’s royal wedding. Bishop Curry uses the metaphors of firefighter/first responder springing into action or an athlete training for their sport to talk about how practices such as prayer, Bible study, gathering for public worship, and others mold us to be more like Jesus, so we live out his call without having to think about it. It becomes our instinctual reaction. After discussing the main points of the interview, I ask the campers to list the practices we have been following at camp that mold us to be peacemakers and help us live more like Jesus. After we have a good list going, I challenge the campers to consider how they can incorporate these practices into their daily lives.

Redeeming God, We thank you that we are fearfully and wonderfully made and accepted and loved by you not because of anything we have done, but because of your very nature. Grant that through our life we may be drawn closer to you and molded into the image of your son, our savior, Jesus.

In His name we pray,

Amen


[1] https://wayoflove.episcopalchurch.org/episodes/season/1/episode/1

Youth Peace Advocate: Camp Ithiel

Camp Ithiel is by far the most diverse camp, ethnically and religiously, I have visited so far this summer. According to the program director, most of the kids who attend camp at Ithiel are not Brethren. (Not to say none of the campers were Brethren. (However, we did have a whole group from the Miami Haitian Church of the Brethren.) I really appreciated having the chance to work with campers and staff from a variety of different backgrounds and traditions.

The camp is located in the middle of a well-to-do neighborhood in Gotha, Florida (near Orlando). It felt kind of weird to see large mansions just across the lake from the camp!

This week I led stations, part of a daily rotation for family groups. There were four groups and only three stations, so one of the sessions I led each day was extra-large and made of two family groups. This week was their Jr. High camp, and junior higher are a tough crowd to read. Yet on the last day, several campers thanked me for what I’d taught and asked if I was coming back next year. Something must have resonated!

This week I incorporated part of what Camp Brethren Woods developed for Shalom time, and I expect to continue doing so for the rest of the summer. It has been an adventure learning the “ins and outs” of each camp and what makes them each unique. I hope I am able to share other good ideas and traditions between them as I move towards the second half of my summer.

We only had one campfire, but had Vespers in the camp’s chapel  – which is also where the New Covenant Church of the Brethren worships on Sundays. We didn’t sing any of the silly/secular camp songs I usually enjoy leading, but had an excellent team of worship leaders. Two of the staff were charged with leading Vespers, and a couple of the councilors helped as well. I learned on the last day that they are part of a band named “Civilization of Worship” and are working on their first album. Here is a cover they released last Christmas (https://youtu.be/WF02_8LaFl8).

The dean for the week led Morning Watch overlooking the lake every morning. I appreciated getting the word and theme for the day into the campers’ minds at the start of each day. In some of the previous camps, I have not had the chance to see how the campers are engaging with the scriptures outside my sessions. As I had the mornings free this week, I appreciated having that chance to here. The worship leaders were very in-tune with the feeling of worship (orthopathy or “right feeling” if you’re like me and like big, theological words) and often provided underscoring for the reflections and prayers at Vespers.

At the same time we were there, Camp Ithiel rented out one of its buildings to a local Jewish day camp. A couple of campers struggled with sharing our space, but I apricated their presence. Although we did not have any sort of cross-over between the camps, it was good to see and hear them around.

The fourth day of camp is “Agape” and the scripture is John 13:1-17, that gospel’s account of the Last Supper and Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. The intended theme is “God’s Reconciling Love.” This week, Camp Ithiel, I choose to use the “Little Red Riding Hood/Maligned Wolf and M&M game” portions of Brethren Wood’s Shalom session. I felt the mediation lesson was important to share.

Loving God,

In your son Jesus you modeled for us what it means to serve one another and work for peace and reconciliation in this broken world. Grant that we may follow his example to love our neighbors as ourselves and be peacemakers in our own communities.

            In your son’s name we pray,

                        Amen.

Youth Peace Advocate: Camp Brethren Woods

To be honest, I was a bit on edge the first couple of days at Camp Brethren Woods. While I root all my sessions in scripture and avoid getting too political, I am cautious as I learn the context of each new camp. For the first couple of days, I am unsure of how what I say will be received. As I got to know the staff, campers, and camp and after some conversations with my mentor for the summer, Ben Bear, I realized I shouldn’t have worried.

Brethren Woods has a tradition of Shalom Time which they asked me to lead, and has a curriculum for this session they developed with the Fairfield Center, a local organization offering mediation services. Using two retellings of Little Red Riding Hood, one from her perspective and one from the wolf’s perspective, helps to get kids thinking about how people can experience the exact same event and yet interpret it very differently.

I also helped with several other activities around camp, including the water carnival and a geocaching session. One evening, the camp held a World Fair. The camp had three counselors from South Africa and one from the Netherlands. As an alumni for BCA’s Cheltenham program, I volunteered to represent the UK (as well as Japan and India) with teatime.

I was frustrated after the World Fair. One of my favorite parts of camp is campfires, and at Brethren Woods I looked forward to Vespers every evening. While we were cleaning up after teatime, one of the staff noticed the pile of unwashed dishes in the kitchen and asked that while we were cleaning all the cups from the tea that we wash those as well. I was frustrated because washing dishes isn’t in my job description and having to clean meant I would likely miss Vespers. The camp lifeguard called me out on my complaining, challenging me to remember I am serving this summer for the Gospel. It’s not about me – it’s about the campers. I should strive to serve cheerfully, even if I’m not doing something I enjoy. I tried to change my mood, and we finished in time to catch the very end of Vespers. On the way there we caught an amazing view of the sunset, which we wouldn’t have seen if we had left earlier.

The third day of camp’s theme is Shalom, the focus in on responding to conflict, and the scripture is Genesis 27: 1-26, the story of Jacob tricking his father Isaac into giving him the blessing Isaac intended to give to his brother Esau. In my session I take the story further to explain the how they later make up, but I also note that Jacob told his brother he’d meet him in Seir, but then headed to Succoth. We usually end the story when Jacob and Esau make up, but generations later the book of Obadiah records that Edom (the nation descended from Esau) is fighting and oppressing the defendants of Jacob. Jacob and Esau forgave each other but failed to solve their core conflict. Consequently, the conflict transferred to their children and later descendants. When I asked the Sr. High campers if they could think of any similar unresolved generational conflicts in the modern day, one brought up the Civil War. Regardless of individual perspectives about that conflict, it is still very relevant to our country’s conversations and struggles today. I’d suggest that the treatment of Native Americans and the legacy of slavery in the United States also reflects this Biblical narrative.

God of Jacob and Esau,

In the history of the decedents of Jacob and Esau, you show us the cost of failing to address conflict and passing it on to the next generation. Help us to see where these conflicts are present in our own lives, and to be discontent with thinking the past is none of our concern. May we strive to make your peace present in the world.

Amen

Youth Peace Advocate: Camp Blue Diamond

Each of the camps I have visited so far this summer have felt at once familiar and new. Located in the midst of a state forest, I was there for Camp Blue Diamond’s first full week of camp. Working with junior (elementary age) and junior high camp was a definite change of pace from senior high the week before. I got to lead sessions with each cabin group or unit, which combined with the different age groups meant I needed to make some changes and revisions to the outlines I had drafted the previous week and the way I presented my material. Nevertheless, I enjoyed my time in Pennsylvania.

 This week I really began to feel settled in as the Youth Peace Advocate. While changes were made and plans improved, I had a solid foundation to work from with what I developed in Camp Colorado. Because there were two camps there while I was, I only had two individual sessions with each cabin group.

Because each cabin group scheduled their time with me based on what fit best with their larger schedule for the week, I did have some lopsided days. Wednesday was also hike day, and I joined the Jr. High group taking Tussey Trail. I was warned it was the hardest, but figured after last week’s hike through the Colorado mountains I would be fine. That was a mistake. On the other hand, the view was amazing, and I got a chance to share some of my favorite camp songs with campers on the way down. (Their counselors were so happy I taught the kids “Cheese” and “The Green Grass Grew All Around.”) Another highlight was homemade ice-cream with one of the Junior camp groups.

The Sunday before camp started, I attended Stone Church of the Brethren on Juniata College’s campus, and got to see Connor Ladd, a friend and fellow Ministry Summer Service intern. Connor and I attended Camp Mack together, and he is a current student at Manchester University, where I just graduated from. We were also both involved with ROBOT (Radically Obedient Brethren Outreach Team), a group of Brethren students at Manchester students who lead worship at local congregations. I had met Ben Lattimer, one of the congregation’s pastors and Connor’s mentors for the summer together with his wife Cindy, during Ministry Summer Service orientation. It was good to see Connor and Ben again! It was my first-time visiting Juniata’s campus, and I was glad to see another Brethren school.

The camp curriculum’s theme for the first full day of camp is “Ubuntu,” a South African word that Archbishop Desmond Tutu defines it as “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours… [A] person is a person through other persons… It is not, ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Rather, I am human because I belong. I participate. I share.”[1] The scripture passage of the day is 1 Corinthians 12:1–27, Paul’s description of the church as the body of Christ made of many different members. In the camps we have been using this day to build our camp community for the week.

In the session I have run these first two weeks after meditating on a portion of the scripture passage, I ask the group to consider the pros and cons of four different metaphors for community. I ask them to think of community as: a melting pot, where those who enter in melt into and conform to the dominant group; a boiling gumbo, where each person keeps their own individuality and contributes to a greater whole although there is tension and conflict; a seven-layer salad, where the individuals keep their identity and contribute but there is a hierarchy where some are valued over others; and a kaleidoscope, a unified whole where differences are valued and no part is more important than any other. While each metaphor has limits, I have been intending to lead the conversation to the kaleidoscope as the best model but have been surprised by the number of times so far when the campers have suggested the gumbo or melting pot as the best. What do you think? The session ends the campers making a web of yarn, telling each other something they appreciate about and/or how they see God in each other.

Loving God,

            In the scriptures it says you gather your children under your wing like a hen gathers her chicks. Gather us together into one community that we may come to know, love, and serve each other following the example of Jesus, in whose name we pray,

Amen.


[1]  Desmond Tutu, No Future without Forgiveness (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 196, 197.

Youth Peace Advocate: Camp Colorado

The campfire circle (more than a mile high!) at Camp Colorado.

A friend of mine who was raised Catholic once compared attending an Anglican worship service to someone coming into your house and rearranging all the furniture. I think this is an appropriate metaphor for my week at Camp Colorado. The basic format was very familiar from my years as a camper and councilor at Camp Mack, but Camp Colorado also has its own distinct identity. I have the sense this will be a continuing pattern this summer.

As someone who enjoys ritual and liturgy, I appreciated that on Sunday night for the first campfire of the week we celebrated the ordinances of communion and anointing, though I’ve never used chocolate chip cookies for communion bread before. We also celebrated communion with fruit snacks later in the week. I was prepared to learn new camp songs and different variations on familiar ones, though as someone who loves leading campfires it was a little it felt weird to be the one who didn’t know the songs.

Camp Colorado has a beautiful campground located high up in the mountains in the midst of a national forest. It had been built up as one of the most beautiful Brethren camps and did not disappoint. On Tuesday we hiked to the to the top of Devil’s Head nearby. It was a long hike that I certainly wasn’t prepared for, but the view from the top was breathtaking. By making it to the lookout station I officially joined the “Ancient and Honorable Order of Squirrels.” (I would have thought that was headquartered at Manchester University, but apparently not.) Thursday, we had a chance to swim in a nearby river. The water was ice cold, unsurprising given the river starts with melted snow from the mountaintops. I did eventually submerse myself, though it took a while. One of the campers was kind enough to warn me against leaning my elbows on the table during meals unless I wanted to run around the main lodge.
           

Camp Colorado was a great place to start my journey as the Youth Peace Advocate. This week was their Sr. High camp, and we had set aside “Peace Time” every full day of camp. Highlights included making a web of yarn while sharing with each other what we appreciated about them/how we saw God in them, playing charades with the camper’s ideas of how they can work for peace in their communities, and making skits that adapted the parable of the Good Samaritan to the modern day. When things were drawing to a close they told me that despite only knowing me for a week, they felt like they had known me their whole life.

The word of the day for the first day of camp curriculum this summer is “Aloha.” The scripture is Luke 14:15-24 (The Parable of the Great Banquet), and the theme is hospitality. May we remember to never be too wrapped up in our own lives to ignore what God is calling us to, and to welcome and love everyone we meet just as he welcomes and loves us.

            Abundant God,

            Your kingdom subverts the powers and expectations of this world. You provide a place at the table for everyone, not because of what they have done but because of who you are. Help us to live out your example, especially among those we would rather not share the meal with.

            In your son Jesus’s name we pray,

            Amen

Meet 2019 Youth Peace Advocate: Nolan McBride

Hi! I’m Nolan McBride, and I will be the Youth Peace Advocate this summer! I am extremely excited, as I have wanted to be on the Youth Peace Travel Team since they visited Camp Mack when I was a camper. Having just graduated from Manchester University (with a double major in History and Religious Studies with a concentration on Social Justice and a minor in Peace Studies in case you were wondering), I am finally getting the chance to live that dream this summer!

I am from Elkhart, Indiana, and am a member of Union Center Church of the Brethren in Nappanee, where Frank Ramirez is the pastor. Just over a year ago I became bi-denominational and also worship at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Elkhart. Camp Alexander Mack is my home camp, and I’ve been going there all of my life – literally! I am a triplet, and my sister Jamie and brother Alex are both working at Camp Mack this summer. In college, I was active in the A Capella Choir, theater department, Simply Brethren (the Brethren student group on campus), and the Campus Interfaith Board. I also spent my Junior year studying abroad at the University of Gloucestershire in Cheltenham, England. I also contribute to the Dunker Punks podcast. (My episodes are 39, 52, 65, and 79 if you want to hear my voice!)

As Youth Peace Advocate, I am being sponsored by the Church of the Brethren’s offices of Youth and Young Adult Ministry and Peacebuilding and Policy, Bethany Theological Seminary, On Earth Peace, and the Outdoor Ministries Association. I will first go to Camp Colorado, followed by Camp Blue Diamond, Camp Brethren Woods, Camp Ithiel, Camp Alexander Mack, Camp Brethren Heights, Camp Emmaus, and finally Camp Pine Lake.

Peacemaking and peacebuilding is central to my understanding of the teachings and example of Jesus. I hope to be able this summer to encourage campers engage with the scriptural foundations of the Brethren’s peace witness, and help them understand that peacebuilding is not simply the absence of violence, but actively pursuing nonviolent methods (which are statistically more effective and quicker than violence) to address and transform the injustices in our world. To that end it is convenient for me that the camp curriculum this year is “Peace Works,” which focuses specifically on the Biblical foundations of peacemaking, especially as practiced by Jesus.

Recently, I’ve be preparing for the summer – first with Youth Peace Advocate orientation, followed by Ministry Summer Service orientation. I hope you will enjoy following along this adventure with me!