On Growing Pains

I have done a lot of growing in this year of service.

And no, it’s not the kind of growth that takes place with a background of sunshine and rainbows and peppy music, but the hard, achy kind of growth. Still I walk around with these growing pains, sitting with questions that push at my own personal perceptions of peacebuilding, service, and what it means to actively build the kind of peace that mandates liberation for all.

Earlier in the year, I wrote about the struggle of maintaining resolve in the face of what seems like a stagnant, and in some cases regressive, time in our political climate. In the time that since that piece, I know that my resolve has weakened, and naturally, anger was poised to take its place. COVID-19 ripped back the curtain on the various systemic problems  in the U.S and worldwide, and police brutality and racial injustice were once again cast into the limelight (with the help of live social media documentation of a phenomenon that is as old as the institution of policing itself).

In bearing cognizance of my anger and the ire that burns hot in my belly, I wondered what to do with this fire. After getting tired of letting it burn me out and leaving me weak, through the help of Audre Lorde, I came to realize its refining power. Through her words, I came to see the malleability of anger and its ability to be used as a powerful source of energy, and I utilized its energy for reflection.

Left to focus on the intent and motivation behind my work as opposed to the outcome -because the outcomes were increasingly unfavorable- I became aware of how little time and reflection I had devoted to this endeavor. As the observatory lens turned away from what change we could effect and towards the why and the how, I was awash in the light of the selfishness of my approach to service. There I sat, questioning why I was doing this work, and not being thrilled with the answers.

I noticed that my approach to this work centered the things I thought would be beneficial to the demographics that I was advocating for; it didn’t center their own needs, wants, and aspirations, and this was a glaring problem. This was something that I also noticed in various of the spaces that I interacted with while in this position, and I felt comfortable in my criticism of these spaces but remained oblivious to my complicit conceptualization of the very same service that I was engaged in.

It soon became obvious that I needed to look at my motivations for service, first and foremost, as an act of service to those that I am in-service of. I needed to make “basic and radical alterations in those assumptions underlining” why I serve as a peacebuilder, and in utilizing the refining fire of anger, I called out my own biases and began the process of reconstructing my perceptions and motivation around service and peacebuilding. This is an ongoing process, and I hope that it only ends with a world where ALL can grow, because we are not free until the most marginalized within our world is free.

This year has been one of learning and aching, and I gleefully rejoice for the work that I have been able to do on myself while actively in service of others. I came into this position with a reservoir of resolve and energy, and that reservoir has been severely depleted. However, I see this not as a bad thing, but as a necessary pre-condition to the work of understanding the assumptions around why I serve, and what the larger implications of my actions are for the well-being of demographics in which I have an active interest.

I know that in what should be a blog post about the work done in service of others this year, I have spoken more so about myself.

I think that is the point.

Service is a necessary, worthwhile, and laudable endeavor, but doing the work of examining why we serve is an act of service in and of itself. This year has helped to clarify my hazy assumptions and preconceived notions about what it means to truly be in service of others, and in that way has strengthened me as a peacebuilder. This work, for me, took place within my year of service, and while I am thankful that working at OPP provided me the conditions to come to this realization, I am cognizant that this is work that should be intentionally done by all who serve others, in all avenues and capacities.

I am better peacebuilder for working at the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy; its been a tumultuous year, but I believe that this refining process has instigated in me a process of discernment that is of paramount importance when working in service of others. I plan to head to Bethany Theological Seminary in the Fall to gain a Masters in Peacebuilding, and I hope to tailor my projects and reading materials to study theology from the perspective of African American Liberation Theology. Afterwards, I intend to continue in the vein of peacebuilding, because this is necessary work.

*Quote from Audre Lorde’s “The Uses of Anger”

MLK Day Reflection

As a historic peace church, how do we understand the meaning of “true” peace? As we reflect on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we can see how our understanding of peace amidst race relations has changed over the years.

If we look back to the time of slavery, we can see that Brethren were ahead of their time. Before the civil war, Brethren had already decided that slavery was against their beliefs and went counter to Scripture. Even in the 1700s, Brethren were holding yearly meetings, now known as Annual Conference. Statements against slavery can be found in minutes from these yearly meetings as early as 1782 when the Brethren unanimously decided that members of the denomination could not purchase or keep slaves. As a denomination, the Brethren “outlawed” slavery 80 years before the end of the Civil War, well before the Civil War was even a thought. As the years progressed, they also decided that those joining the denomination had to release their slaves, and members of the denomination could not accept labor from other people’s slaves. The statements were expanded on and reaffirmed throughout the 1800s.

There is no true peace without justice.

However, were the Brethren advocating for justice? Were the Brethren abolitionists advocating for the end of all slavery? In short, the answer is no. While the Brethren were against having slaves of their own or using slave labor, very few Brethren participated in actions to free others’ slaves. They did not pursue the freedom of all slaves. They simply restricted their own use of slaves, seeing slavery as sinful, which was still revolutionary in their time. But should they have done more? Should the Brethren have participated in anti-slavery efforts for the whole country, in addition to their own personal choice of not holding slaves? The Brethren’s stance worked toward the absence of tension between the Brethren and people of color, but was it true peace if it wasn’t advocating for justice of all?

As we move forward in history to the Civil Rights Movement, the Brethren’s story shifts. Many Brethren participated in various anti-racist efforts, working toward justice for all Black Americans, including 200 Brethren who participated in the March on Washington. Below are several stories of Brethren during the Civil Rights Movement:

Lunch Counter Sit-ins
While a student at Fisk University, Paul Laprad participated in nonviolent, peaceful sit-ins at the lunch counter. However, those sit-ins were often marred by violence and beatings in response to their protests. As a young white man, Paul received some of the most severe beatings because he was standing—well sitting—in solidarity with his fellow Black Americans.

MLK in Chicago
Tom Wilson was a pastor in Chicago, Illinois. During his pastorate, he worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. for two years. Jim Poling, the assistant pastor of First Church in Chicago gives the account of walking into the church, and there was Martin Luther King Jr. standing in the office at his desk. Tom Wilson and Dr. King worked toward open housing and eliminating the slums of Chicago.

Selma, Alabama
A group of Brethren including Ralph Smetzler and Juniata College faculty and students went down to Selma, Alabama following Bloody Sunday, a march where civil rights activists were attacked during a march. The Brethren went to Selma trying to promote peace between the white and black communities. During one of the following marches, there was so much violence in a counter protest that two of the faculty from Juniata were injured.

Each of these stories is about peaceful action promoting justice for Black Americans. Instead of simply trying to work toward an absence of tension between Brethren and Black Americans, many Brethren worked alongside Black Americans and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for equality —for justice.

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”

The irony is that justice is found through the tension. If we only seek the absence of tension as peace, we avoid tension and see the lack of tension in our own lives as peace. True peace is not the absence of tension. True peace is found working through the tension as we advocate for justice.

So as we reflect on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a few questions to ponder in our current day and work toward anti-racism:

(1) Which efforts from the Brethren were more in line with seeking true peace for Black Americans?
(2) Which efforts align more with how we are currently seeking peace as individuals and as a denomination?
(3) And regardless of our answer above, is there more we could do?

This post was written by Alexandra Toms

Patience, persistence, and peacemaking

Nathan Hosler, front right, talking with community leaders
on delegation with Churches for Middle East Peace
in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Photo by Weldon Nisly of Christian Peacemaker Teams

By Nathan Hosler, director of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy

We live in a time of great urgency. Turmoil grips our communities and the communities of our sisters and brothers around the world. This isn’t news nor is it new. However, the persistence of injustice is not a reason to despair but to recognize that our calling to be peacemakers is all the more essential.

I grew up in Chiques Church of the Brethren in Manheim, Pa., and my grandfather and his brothers were conscientious objectors. I grew up believing that to follow Jesus meant serving others and being against war. In college, as my vocational call to ministry took shape, I realized that, even beyond opposing war, I needed to work for peace. Through experiences of tutoring Somali refugees in English and building relationships with homeless people on the streets of Chicago and Baltimore, I learned about systemic violence and racism. Through this education, the call to peacemaking began to sprout. 

In Washington, D.C., “peacemaking” is an odd word. Even for organizations whose work would be considered peacemaking, the term is unusual. “Peacebuilding” is much more common, and while I use the terms interchangeably, peacemaking comes from the biblical text, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

In Luke’s gospel, the prophecy of Zechariah proclaims the coming of Christ our savior and how we will continue his mission: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).

Guide our feet into the way of peace. We know that the awaited Jesus became the teacher who declared that peacemakers are the children of God and said, “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). This Lord guides our feet into the way of peace.

The peace of Christ cannot be forced. We cannot impose a peace that is both global and personal, of inward reconciliation and outward wellbeing, and that brings reconciliation with God and neighbor and even our enemy. We cannot—nor should we try to—force peace. We bear witness to it and proclaim it. We must struggle for it and dedicate ourselves to it. While peace is a gift of God, it is also a process built.

In The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, Mennonite Alan Kreider writes of the prominent role of patience in the writing and thinking of the early church. Specifically, he asks why is it that, with no documented focus on church expansion, the church grew in remarkable ways. He highlights the virtue of patience and trusting that God is in control, and a recurring theme of bearing witness through how one lives. Patience makes way for the freedom to do the slow work of peacemaking and not force an outcome.

This work is slow. Preaching the gospel of peace in a war-torn world is difficult. It is only through patience that we may persist in the slow and difficult work of nonviolent resistance to all oppression, injustice, and violence. We cannot impose peace but it is urgent that we work for it, train for it, prepare our youth for it, and build up institutions and organizations that add heft to our words.

Thank you for the ways you proclaim the gospel of peace and for your support of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. Though we live in a time of great urgency and the work before us is slow, the Lord is faithful and will surely guide our feet into the way of peace.

Learn more about the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy at www.brethren.org/peacebuilding or support it today at www.brethren.org/give.

(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!

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.