Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Brethren Service is recognized at Peace Fest in Germany.

Members of the Lutheran Pfarrkirche St. Marien and the Marburg Peace Initiative hosted a Peace Fest on Aug. 1, for Brethren attending the 300th Anniversary celebrations in Germany. The program focused on the history and progression of Church of the Brethren work in Europe from the post-war period to the present. More than 200 Brethren were joined by representatives of partner organizations for peace that the Brethren helped found after World War II.

Ken Rogers, a professor at Manchester College in North Manchester, Ind., introduced the evening's speakers, noting that Christians had been gathering in this location in Marburg for 900 years. The pastor of the Pfarrkirche, Ulrich Biskamp, greeted the meeting by saying, "Since the beginning, the Church of the Brethren has cared about peace. We will never forget the work of Church of the Brethren after the war, for which we are very thankful."

Ken Kreider reported on Brethren work in Europe, beginning with the work of Dan West in Spain in the 1930s. The Brethren next assisted in Europe following World War II, providing for prisoners in POW camps in England, the Netherlands, and Belgium, and distributing food in France.

Church of the Brethren leader M.R. Zigler was able to convince the US military to allow him to go into Germany after the war to assess needs there. The US military allowed the Brethren to provide for urgent physical needs of the population because according to the Geneva Convention, an occupying power is responsible for providing for the needs of the civilian population, Kreider reported.

Brethren aid following World War II also reached Poland, and Kassel in central Germany, which was 80 percent destroyed in the war. A few of the original volunteers who worked at the Brethren House in Kassel were present at the Peace Fest.

The US military after the war suggested that the church begin a student exchange program for German young people to go to the US for a year. Thus began the International Christian Youth Exchange (ICYE), which is now an independent organization. Four representatives of ICYE drove from Berlin to Marburg to be present at the Peace Fest.

Rogers noted in his presentation that after many years of relief work, "clearly more had emerged than just material aid. Sincere friendship had developed." Brethren Colleges Abroad (BCA) was organized in 1962 as a way to continue making meaningful connections between the Brethren and the people of Europe. The city of Marburg was the first BCA site, and the late Donald Durnbaugh was one of its first onsite directors. The program expanded into many countries outside of Europe under the direction of Allen Deeter, and now has participants from over 100 colleges.

Dale Ott, former coordinator of Brethren Volunteer Service (Europe), reported that "wherever there was division in Europe, BVS projects tried to be there." BVS sites have been places of dialogue for people to come together and understand one another, he said. During his work for BVS, Ott placed volunteers in N. Ireland, Berlin, Poland, Cypress, and Jerusalem, and visited churches in the Eastern bloc.

After churches and grassroots groups in East Germany started the movement which led to the Berlin Wall coming down, BVS expanded its project sites into the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Serbia, Croatia, and Belgrade, under the leadership of Kristin Flory, Brethren Service (Europe) coordinator for the past 20 years. Expansion occurred despite declining resources for the program. Flory quoted one volunteer as saying, "We live in a hurting world and churches need to respond to that in love."

Ott recognized Wilfried Warneck, who established Church and Peace, building on the efforts of M.R. Zigler and Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder. The organization established a Historic Peace Church network in Europe, together with the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. French Mennonite theologian and Church and Peace general secretary Marie-Noelle von der Recke remarked that the Church of the Brethren was key in the foundation of Church and Peace. Members of Church and Peace also were instrumental in leading the Decade to Overcome Violence of the World Council of Churches.

"Jesus' nonviolence belongs to the core of the Gospel and the church is called to give witness to this nonviolence in society" by showing God's love and compassion, von der Recke said. "Love of enemies is the way of the cross, confronting the myth of redemptive violence. Conscientious objection and peace service; justice and solidarity with the oppressed, victims of war, and injustice; and advocacy for justice in issues of economics and the environment give expression to our belief that Jesus is Lord. Peace and justice must be practiced on a daily basis.... True security is found in God."

Angela Koenig, director of Eirene International Christian Service for Peace, congratulated the Church of the Brethren on its 300th Anniversary. Eirene, the conscientious objector service in Europe founded by the Historic Peace Churches, cooperates with BVS in sending volunteers to the US, throughout Europe, South America, Morocco, Niger, and South Africa. Eirene celebrated its 50th anniversary this summer. "We wish and pray that the Brethren continue to stay strong and keep working in the spirit of your founders," Koenig said.

Wolfgang Krauss, who worked with the German Mennonite Peace Committee for 25 years, brought Mennonite congratulations on the 300th Anniversary. "The Anabaptist movement started almost 200 years before... so let me, as an older brother, congratulate my younger brothers and sisters!" he said.

The German Mennonite Peace Committee was founded in 1956 to recover an Anabaptist peace witness that had been lost, Krauss explained. "German Mennonites had lost their nonconformist peace position. Those who had gone to North America helped us a lot after World War II, with material relief and even more in helping us start a new discourse in peace theology."

European and North American Mennonite volunteers also are part of the Military Counseling Network that works with US military personnel who are considering conscientious objection. There are some 70,000 American GIs stationed in Europe.

Members of the Marburg Peace Initiative, who are also members of the St. Marien Parish, presented a summary of their activities for peace in the last 20 years. Marie-Luise Keller spoke for the group.

The crowd also was treated to organ music by the organist of the University Church in Marburg, the parish provided refreshments, and information tables were available to the guests.

After an evening of celebrating mutual mission efforts between the Church of the Brethren and its partner organizations in Europe, Rogers summed it all up by saying, "Thank you to our European brothers and sisters for giving the Church of the Brethren so much!"

--Myrna Frantz is a former Brethren Volunteer Service worker at Church and Peace.

Source: 8/26/2008 Newsline

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