Amazing Grace at Camp Harmony

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wreck like me. I once was lost but now am found was blind but now I see.”

One voice, low and hard to hear over the sound of the booming fireworks, was an 8th grade boy singing gruffly this well-known and moving song. No one joined him, but he didn’t seem to care. He carried on until the end and took no note if anyone was paying attention. I’m not sure anyone else heard him but me. God invites us to sing, to sing his praises not minding if anyone joins in – but to persist and sing nonetheless.

Camp Harmony Heroes

Camp Harmony Heroes. Photo by Laura Hay.


One of the sessions that our worship leader, Nick, talked about was being a “weirdo” and the implications that word has. Where Nick would use “weirdo,” I would say “rebel.” Christianity is mainstream. Being a “one hour a week Christian” is mainstream. But what if we had the rebellious spirit of that boy raising his voice above the fireworks? What if our actions, and not our words, called others to us and through us allowed them to see good in the world? That’s what being Brethren is to me.

One of the first days of camp there was a trash can that had been knocked over by a cat at the pavilion. One person began to pick up the trash. No one helping at first, but slowly more hands joined to help with the clean-up. That’s who Brethren are, that’s what we do. We live the life we feel is the best representation of Jesus and hope people see that and join in. Jesus was a “weirdo,” and he was rebellious. Be a “weirdo!” Be a rebel in the way Jesus was. Picking up that trash wasn’t the coolest thing to do. Getting all dirty and touching a bunch of disgusting garbage is gross. But it’s what this person felt was right.

While I was in Pennsylvania at Camp Harmony, many people from our denomination came together at Annual Conference to work at what it means to be Brethren and how we do that on the national level. I wasn’t there, but I hope that the conference kept that value in mind: Brethren show our faith through action, boldly following the rebellious spirit of Jesus and continuing that work – peacefully, simply, and together!

By Laura Hay, Youth Peace Advocate

Kids; Kids Everywhere

The mean age in Nigeria is 18. That means there are as many people under 18 as there are over 18. That also means there are a lot of children in Nigeria. Everywhere you go, you are surrounded by kids. It was especially fun to take Carter Beecham with us on our last visit to Nigeria. Carter is 14 and he had fun interacting with all the children. Some places we visited the children could hardly speak English so communication was difficult. The Favored Sisters School in Jos has worked hard at teaching and using English and Carter had fun conversations with the children who live at the school. We brought beach balls, soccer balls, and jump ropes to give out to each school and camp that we visited. It was probably the first beach balls the kids had seen and they had a lot of fun keeping them in the air.

Children in Nigeria do a lot of chores to help out around the home. Fetching water, watching younger siblings and helping with the farm are all jobs the children help with. School is not free in Nigeria and parents must come up with money for school fees. This is very difficult especially for the Internally Displaced Person’s who don’t have a way to earn a living. Some of the camps have makeshift schools but still many children have not received adequate education over the last 3 years.

We continue to pray for all the children in Nigeria!

Favored Sisters School

Wells benefit Christian and Muslim communities

EYN Disaster Ministry put in 2 wells and 2 bore holes around Shaffa and Kwajaffa area. Many wells were destroyed during the occupation by Boko Haram. These water sources will serve 300 families each. At one site, the majority of the people accessing the water are Internally Displaced Persons from the Gwoza area (they are mainly farmers who cannot return to their homes.) At another area, the well will be used by mostly Muslim families. Peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians is one of the goals for Northeast Nigeria. This water source put in by the church is a big step toward maintaining peace.

Guantanamo Bay

Two days ago, the President signed an Executive Order confirming that he will keep Guantanamo, the U.S. military prison in Cuba, open. In Guantanamo, prisoners are detained without trial and often mistreated psychologically and physically.
The Church of the Brethren is committed to speaking out against torture, which has consistently been a concern with this facility. Detainees are confined indefinitely without a trial, and denied basic legal human rights that should be afforded to all persons. A lack of transparency in the facility compounds the ethical problems, as the public is often not aware of the interrogation techniques and torture performed on their behalf.
The 2010 Church of the Brethren Resolution on Torture says that “torture is a blatant violation of the tenets of our faith. It injects into our character the sense that we are better than others and dehumanizes people. It seeks to break the human spirit. In reality it devastates both the one who is tortured and the one who tortures.”
Jesus makes it clear that the way we interact with others is of utmost importance. In Matthew 25:40, he says that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” The “least of these” certainly applies to those imprisoned without trial in our military prisons, and our treatment of these prisoners is a far cry from how we would treat Jesus.
The indefinite detention of prisoners by our government in Guantanamo is inconsistent with an ethic of peace and justice. As we seek to live in right relationship with others, we must hold the U.S. government accountable for it’s treatment of detainees. We condemn the decision to keep the Guantanamo Bay facility open, and urge the U.S. government to commit itself to the transparent, ethical treatment of all prisoners.
For more information about how you can get involved in seeking justice, visit the website of our partner, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. 

Insights from Peacebuilders Around the World

The following blog post is based on the report “Peacebuilding and Violent Extremism: Key insights and lessons from a global consultation convened by Peace Direct.”  You can find the report here.
 
As the convener of a working group on Nigeria, the Office of Public Witness works with a number of peace-focused organizations. One of these organizations is PeaceDirect, an “international charity that works with local people to stop violence and build sustainable peace.” In 2017, PeaceDirect convened experts from 36 different countries in a series of peacebuilding discussions focused on violent extremism. The result was a report entitled “Peacebuilding and Violent Extremism.” The collection of insights and expertise from local peacebuilders around the world is incredibly helpful as we develop a peace-focused worldview.
 
One insight from the discussion is the necessity of local engagement in peacebuilding processes. Too often, the international community is quick to step into violent conflict situations with ready-made solutions and top-down approaches to resolving problems. To build a lasting, sustainable peace, however, requires a much deeper engagement from the local communities.
 
One practical way to engage local communities, especially youth and women’s organizations, is to allow them to design their own peacebuilding programs rather than funding them to carry out programs that have been already designed. Rather than serving as contracting organizations, then, these international organizations would be directly empowering local communities to find and sustain their own long-term peacebuilding initiatives.
 
Another key takeaway from the report was the importance of working towards an ideal version of the world, rather than a pragmatic one. As peacebuilders- and especially as people of faith- it is our job to guide the world closer to the best that it can be, rather than making the kinds of compromises common in the policy world.
 
An overarching theme to the discussion was the importance of language, and how the ways that we frame conflict with our words has real-world implications for the way conflict situations are perceived globally. Nora Lester Murad articulated this most clearly when she said, “Those who control the discourse are able to frame certain questions in or out, to make certain ideas normal or extreme, and can use the legitimacy they gain from controlling discourse to marginalize certain voices.” One example of the power of language can be seen even in the term “Countering Violent Extremism,” which has been used primarily for actions against Islamic actors and not in reference to other extremist groups- for example, right wing hate groups.
 
Peacebuilding is important to the Church of the Brethren. We are called to be a living Peace Church, and to “facilitate dialogue among those committed to Biblical non-resistance, those committed to conscientious objection to armed conflict, and those committed to military action, to give expression to the Brethren Witness to Jesus’ way of making peace.” (2003 Call for a Living Peace Church:http://www.brethren.org/ac/statements/2003livingpeace.html)
 
The Office of Public Witness is grateful to wonderful peacebuilding partners like PeaceDirect for their work around the world. Insight from local, grassroots peacebuilders is essential to forming a peace-based worldview that takes into consideration multiple perspectives. As we seek to “live the peace of Jesus publicly,” we will continue to collaborate with and listen to the grassroots peacebuilders actively working to make the world a better place.

CCEPI graduates 119 students from 3 Livelihood Centers

Dr. Rebecca Dali

Dr. Rebecca Dali is the founder and executive director of the Non-profit called Center for Caring Empowerment and Peace Initiative (CCEPI). For several years the Church of the Brethren has been providing funds for CCEPI’s work. The last two years we have sponsored three Livelihood Centers in Jos, Yola, and Michika. The students are either widows or orphans (Muslims and Christians) who have no way to support themselves. The attend classes for nine months at the Centers and are trained in computer, sewing, or knitting and taught skills for running a successful business. At the graduation, the students are given a computer, sewing or knitting machine and sent out to start their own businesses.

2017 Graduation Ceremony

This fall 119 students graduated in joyful ceremonies that included dancing, singing and some tears. In addition to the specific training, all the students learn how to make shampoo, lotion and dish soap that they can use or sell. The students have all been traumatized in one way or another so they form close bonds and are an informal support group. During the nine months at the Livelihood training center, they also have a chance to tell their stories and these are written down.

Here are stories from two participants:

Hajara

HAJARA – On the 06-08-2012 my husband, Abubakar, of the Nigerian Army Rukuba Cantonment was drafted to Military for peace keeping. He spent almost four years in this exercise. From time to time he would collect a pass which enabled him come and see me and the children.

0n 10-7-2016 in the morning some soldiers came to my block and told me that on 10-6-2016 boko-haram attacked the Military unit in Sambisa Forest and killed Officers/Men and that my husband was among those killed. I just burst into tears and fainted.

His death has left me with five children to look after. His death benefit is yet to be worked out so life has not been easy for me and the children. I am very thankful to have been selected to attend the CCEPI Skills Acquisition Center.

Esther learning to sew

ESTHER – I lived in Gava II with by mother and siblings. On the 5/9/2014 by 9:00am, I was down with fever but I still had to fetch the water and check to see if my corn was ground. On the way from the well to the mill, I heard people shouting “ku gudu, ku gudu” in Hausa, meaning “lets run let’s run”. I started running but due to my ill-health, I could not run fast enough and when I was about to climb up the mountain, the boko haram caught me and brought me to Pulka along with five other women.

After five days under the care of one man called Aliyu, he took us to Gwoza. Here we joined Chibok girls by name Saratu Yahi and Saratu Tabbji who were kidnapped along with their mates in G.S.S Chibok. While in Gwoza, a man named Bana bought me as a slave/wife from Aliyu. I was taken to another village; while there, I got pregnant by the man, Bana.

My owner/husband, Bana, along with other boko haram members went for attack on innocent people. Unfortunately, he was killed by the soldiers. It was then that I began to plan my escape. With the help of God, I was able to follow one small road and then joined a vehicle traveling to Maiduguri. When the soldiers started asking questions during checks on the road, I told them that I had escaped from a boko haram camp. They immediately took me to their barracks in Maiduguri where they interrogated me on how I survived in the Sambisa. They asked me to call my parents to take me home.

Before I was kidnapped I was married to Ubale. When I came out of the Sambisa forest heavily pregnant by boko haram, I came to my husband but he drove me away and said that he was no longer interested in our marriage. When the Director of CCEPI, Dr. Rebecca S. Dali, heard of my case, she gave me a room, food, cooking utensils, mattress, and blanket. Then she enrolled me into her center where I am learning how to sew. I am very grateful to God and Dr. Rebeca S. Dali.

David Young: Thoughts on Washington DC

The following blog is a guest post from David Young, the founder of Capstone Community Gardens in New Orleans. You can learn more about his work at www.capstone118.org

I had the opportunity to be in Washington D.C. from September 20 through 23, 2017. This was made possible by the Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness and the Global Food Initiative. The main purpose was to do a presentation with Nathan Hosler of the Office of Public Witness, at the University of D.C. during their Urban Agriculture Symposium and Association of Vertical Farmers Summit. Our presentation topic was: Food and Faith; The New Orleans Story of the Church of the Brethren. It ended up being so much more than that.

One of the things the Office of Public Witness does is look at policy and how they effect Brethren and projects of the Brethren.

Having had previous meetings and discussions with Nathan he was familiar with some of the challenges Capstone faces as an urban farm. One of those is being in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans. Orleans Parish (county in other states) has a 100% urban designation by USDA which prevent us from using many of the benefits USDA makes available to those with rural designation.

Nathan and Tori from the Office of Public Witness arranged for me to meet with staff of the three legislators from Louisiana. Within a few hours of arriving I found myself on Capitol Hill, spending about 30 minutes with each staff person, explaining how federal, state, and local policy effect how we can operate with our mission to grow food and share it with those in need.

One of the most pleasant surprises was a World Day of Peace service at the Washington City Church of the Brethren. Multiple churches of different denominations worked together to coordinate the service on the evening of September 20th, a day early, since Nathan and I would be occupied at the symposium on the 21st. The garden theme was included as part of the service. It was a nice gathering with a handful of denominations represented as one worshiping and praying for peace.

The Urban Ag Symposium started with Nathan and I doing a brief TV interview about what the Office of Public Witness provides and the community mission of Capstone. Since the mid 70’s I have understood the important role our land grant colleges play with agriculture. The University of D.C. is the only Urban Land Grant College. I also found it surprising to hear the Dean of the University talk about the faith based involvement the university has.

Later that afternoon Nathan and I completed our presentation at the symposium which was well received. The symposium partnered with the Association of Vertical Farmers. There were presentations that talked about some of the various vertical farming systems. Capstone has a combination of in -ground farming, elevated farming (raised beds), as well as some vertical farming with the aquaculture systems.

The second day started the Association for Vertical Farming Summit. The make-up of those in attendance changed from the previous day. The Vertical Farmcing Summit included more people who held titles of Scientist, PhD, Artificial Intelligence (A.I.).

There was dialogue and presentations on controlled environment, high capacity, 6 to 30-foot-high vertical growing systems. Complete grow systems self-contained in shipping containers. There was also an emphasis on using technology and Artificial Intelligence to analyze and evaluate plant needs. This ranged from mini drones gathering samples in mid-air to leaf mounted cameras and scopes.

Going back to when I was part of commercial agriculture in the late 70 and 80’s and currently doing urban farming I ask, what are you testing for? Most people I know now typically do more harm to their crops by overreacting to the test results. The group agreed with me. I’ve never tested much, I look at the plant and figure out what if any corrections I should take. The group said we don’t have that experience or knowledge to do that.

It comes very close to feeling like I’m watching a movie that was made a long time ago and this would have been considered sci-fi. I found myself in unfamiliar territory as I ask myself are these scientists, PhDs, and Artificial Intelligence people our next generation of farmers even though they admit they don’t have any experience in growing food. One representative from USDA said this type of farming will never replace conventional farming.

One three story vertical system in Jackson Wyoming cost 4.5 Million dollars to build. While they are at the other end of the spectrum of production and a for profit business I think back to my first two seasons with the gardens at Capstone. 4’x14’ and I spent $100 each growing season. If someone wanted to help I asked them to bring the plants or seeds they wanted to have grown. We’ve grown considerably since then. Going to the Garden Grants and Global Food Initiative grants have been beneficial to our success. Even as we continue to grow I feel we maintain a solid well-grounded relationship between the food we grow and our community we share it with.

On the last day, we took a tour of two urban gardens that were operated by Cultivate the City. These two gardens have a combination of raised and vertical farming and are doing some aquaculture. Even though both were rooftop gardens these gardens had a more familiar feel to them. At one farm the founder said we have people water the plants with a watering can. I feel it makes them more attuned with what they are growing. Quite a contrast to having micro drones collect samples.

Here is where I share my lack of following sports or having TV coverage. While I was in Washington I kept seeing a large cursive “W”. I kept thinking a certain large drug store chain was doing a lot of advertising. It was only when we went to the baseball stadium to see their roof top garden and the “W” was more prominent that I realized the “W” was for the Washington sports teams.

In D.C. there are many rooftop gardens because there is a storm water fee. If you allow storm water to openly drain away from a building or hard surface such as a parking lot you pay a fee on that. The roof top gardens make flat roof areas green space for growing plants or food which in turn offers relief from the storm water fee.

The University of D.C has a large green roof including a greenhouse. They grow succulents as well as produce. At the baseball stadium, the roof top gardens are on top of the concession stands. You open a gate on an upper level in the parking garage, climb up a ladder, down the other side of a wall, and onto the roof. It’s covered with hundreds of milk crates. Each milk crate contains a 5-gallon bag made of recycled material. This holds soil or compost and the plants.

One benefit to this type of garden is if you have to relocate the garden due to turning over ownership of the site or other factors you simply pick up the milk crate with the soil and plants, load them and move them to their new location. When we harvest honey, we put the 5 gallons buckets containing honey in a milk crate to make them more stable for transport and easier to handle.

While the material expense may be above our budget I think the concept in an urban setting is great. Having rehabbed a total of 40 lots in the Lower 9th Ward and returning many of them to families or organizations who decided it was time to develop that property it would have made things much easier in some cases to be able to just load the entire garden on a trailer and move it to another site.

I don’t know that my visit to D.C. is going to change anything or even influence any of the policy decisions. I do know the response from several of the smaller urban farms has been positive as we look to continue the discussion and enhance our relationships and collaboration.

 

Public Perception of Drone Warfare

As drone strikes become all too common, the Church of the Brethren has taken a leadership role in the faith community’s response to drone warfare. Our 2013 Annual Conference Resolution on Drone Warfare makes it clear that the use of drones is at odds with our commitment to peace.

Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo

“All killing mocks the God who creates and gives life. Jesus, as the Word incarnate, came to dwell among us (John 1:14) in order to reconcile humanity to God and bring about peace and healing. In contrast, our government’s expanding use of armed drones distances the decisions to use lethal force from the communities in which these deadly strikes take place. We find the efforts of the United States to distance the act of killing from the site of violence to be in direct conflict to the witness of Christ Jesus.” -2013 Resolution on Drone Warfare

One of the biggest battles to be fought in the campaign against drone warfare will happen right on U.S. soil- in the hearts and minds of U.S. citizens. In 2015, Pew Research found that only 35% of Americans disapprove of the use of drones in warfare (link). An AP-GfK poll the same year found that only 13% of Americans opposed drone usage (link).

Numbers like these are disheartening, considering the tremendous ethical concerns and transparency issues that arise in the United States drone program. Humans on the ground are labeled as “targets” based not on proven crimes, but because they fit a profile of possible combatants. Children experience fear for their lives and families when they hear the telltale buzzing of a drone overhead. Soldiers operating drones face emotional and mental trauma. The use of drones even contributes to anti-American sentiments around the world- increasing the chances of more conflict later down the road.  

If the public had a greater understanding of the true impact of drone warfare on civilians, soldiers, and even American security, we believe that the percentage of Americans opposed to drone warfare would increase dramatically. If public perception of the drone program reflected the true moral, ethical, and security concerns, it would be much easier to get the U.S.

This is why it is so important to work towards increased public awareness of the U.S. drone program. Our government will not take steps to increase transparency and limit the use of drones without the American public speaking out for justice and peace.

Fortunately, there are ways to get involved in changing the public perception of the U.S. drone program! The Interfaith Network on Drone Warfare, one of our partners through the Interfaith Working Group on Drone Warfare, has put together five 30-minute documentaries that can be used in congregations to start the conversation on drone warfare.

Two of the documentaries feature Nathan Hosler, director of the Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness, who provides a Peace Church perspective.

We need individuals from congregations to host showings of these documentaries in their congregations. We will provide access to the documentaries and an easy-to-use discussion guide. These videos and discussions are a great way to engage your congregation in deep discussions about peacebuilding and the ethical problems with the drone program.  If you are interested in more information or if you decide to host a screening, please contact vbateman@brethren.org.

By helping the public understand the drone program, we can work towards a more just and peaceful world. Please join us in this effort by hosting a documentary viewing and discussion in your congregation!

 

Dr. Rebecca Dali named for Sergio Viera De Mello Award

What is the Sergio Vieira de Mello Award?

Sergio Vieira de Mello was a man with a long career in the United Nations. He was deeply involved with humanitarian issues and a strong supporter of those working to achieve peace in conflicts and war situations around the globe.  The Foundation started in his name has decided to give an award every two years. The award is intended to draw world attention to the unnoticed efforts made by an individual, group or an organization that has done something special and unique to reconcile people and parties in conflict. Candidates must be authentic, verifiable, community-based entities operating in areas of conflict and as such could be refugees, internally displaced persons or persons affected by conflict. The 2017 Award is being given to Dr. Rebecca Dali and her Non-profit agency, Center for Caring, Empowerment and Peace Initiative (CCEPI). 

Partner Profile

Church of the Brethren began working with Dr. Rebecca Dali, Executive Director of Center for Caring Empowerment and Peace Initiative (CCEPI), in January of 2014. Missionaries from the United States church, Carl and Roxane Hill, were teaching with Dr. Rebecca in Nigeria when she began distributing food and clothing to displaced persons living around Kulp Bible College.

Providing prayer and support for Nigeria at Annual Conference 2014

In the summer of 2014, Dr. Rebecca was a guest representing the Nigerian church, Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN), at Annual Conference of the U.S. Church of the Brethren.  She spoke powerfully about the plight of her fellow Nigerians and the crisis in Nigeria. Following her spirit filled plea, the Church of the Brethren pledged support and aid to  the Nigerian church, NGO’s working in Nigeria (like CCEPI), and those affected by the violence in Northeast Nigeria.

When EYN headquarters was overrun by Boko Haram in October of 2014, church leadership was relocated to Jos.  Dr. Rebecca accompanied her husband, Samuel Dali, then EYN President and she immediately began helping those displaced. A much-needed food distribution was held at the EYN Annex Headquarters in Jos.

Food Distribution in November 2014

Early in the Crisis, CCEPI concentrated on providing food and household supplies. Soon it was evident that there was a great need for the numerous widows and orphans created by the violent crisis. Under Dr. Rebecca’s leadership, CCEPI has created three Skills Acquisition Centers that teach a skill and provide each participant with the materials to start their own business. Through her organization, Dr Rebecca has also provided trauma healing, housing repairs, education for orphans, livestock for widows and moral support to those in need.

Wall of Healing displayed in Tampa Florida

 

Dr. Rebecca and CCEPI have been tireless in collecting data from the families affected by the violence. Although this is time consuming, it helps tell the full story of this crisis and honors the dead and their families. At the 2015 Church of the Brethren’s Annual Conference in Tampa, Florida, Dr. Rebecca’s data was displayed as a “Wall of Healing”. This wall consisted of 17 large banners with the names of over 10,000 victims of the violence sweeping through Northeast Nigeria.

Graduation at one of the Skill Acquisition Centers

Dr. Rebecca has been able to mobilize and organize CCEPI to provide food and supplies to the most vulnerable often at great personal risk. Her passion, and the quality of her work has attracted the attention and support of numerous sponsors to continue and expand these efforts. Her boundless energy and tireless work alongside her staff has provided assistance to men, women, children, Muslims, Christians, and especially widows and orphans. It is a privilege for Church of the Brethren to be in partnership with Dr. Rebecca and her outstanding organization as she pours her life into helping her fellow countrymen during this challenging time.

 

June Disaster Projects

In June, the Disaster Response Ministry of EYN was busy.

Food Distributions

They delivered food to 400 families in some of the hardest hit districts. A pastor in the area shared, “Last week, EYN headquarters gave us fertilizer and seed which we distributed to our members, today they brought us food items, this gives us joy! Truly, our main problem here is that we are prevented from farming, so no food and people are suffering.”

 

Rescued Mom and baby

After being rescued, a family held captive for several years was relocated to one of our newly built villages. The family consists of a mother and four children (ages 17, 8, 6, and 4 months.)

In addition, medical help was brought to a camp in Maiduguri where there are over 500 children under the age of 5.

Soybeans were planted as part of the special project designed to produce income along the value chain.

 

 

Solar panels were installed at Yola camp providing free water for them.

Please continue to pray for the EYN Disaster Ministry as it helps its people in many ways!