Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Newsline: April 29, 2014


Nigerian churches urge global prayer for 230 missing girls, most from EYN

Church of the Brethren leaders in the US are joining Nigeria’s largest church network, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), to call for prayer and fasting for the safe release of hundreds of teenage school girls abducted April 14. The girls were kidnapped from a school in Chibok, Nigeria, by Boko Haram, an extremist Islamic sect in northern Nigeria violently seeking a “pure” Islamic state. Most of the affected families are part of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (EYN--Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria).

In related news, Church of the Brethren Global Mission and Service executive Jay Wittmeyer has written to Illinois Senator Dick Durbin about the kidnapping of the girls, in order to raise awareness of the situation in Nigeria among US government officials.

Chibok is in Borno State in northeastern Nigeria, and in past decades was a mission station of the Church of the Brethren. Here are excerpts from a report by World Watch Monitor, which exists to report the under-reported story of Christians worldwide under pressure for their faith:

“The CAN leadership, especially our president, has called that all Christians pray and fast because of the security situation in the country: the recent bomb blast in Nyanya in Abuja, and then the abduction of students in a girls’ secondary school...and all the challenges of security that are going on,” said Musa Asake, general secretary of CAN. The local chapter of CAN in Borno State also decreed three days of prayer and fasting.

On April 14, at around 10 p.m., suspected members of Boko Haram swooped into Chibok in seven Hilux Toyota pick-ups. While some of the attackers set government and other buildings ablaze, others went to the senior secondary school where they overpowered the security guards before herding at least 230 of the female students onto trucks, and drove the girls (who were between the ages of 16 and 20) deep into the nearby Sambisa Forest.

“Such an attack where girls were taken away has never taken place. Even recently when they [Boko Haram militants] attacked a Federal Government College in Buni Yadi, the boys were killed but the girls were told to go away and leave the school. They never took them away. This is the first time they are taking such a number of girls in a school. So we are assuming they did so because most of the girls are Christians,” said a local church leader, whose identity could not be disclosed for security reasons.

State Governor Alhaji Kashim Shettima first announced that 52 girls had escaped, leaving 77 still missing. But the head teacher at the school Ms. Asabe Kwambura refuted his claims and said parents reported 230 girls were abducted, with 40 having escaped. All schools in the state were closed due to the insecurity.

The federal government has challenged Borno security agents to do everything possible to rescue the girls. Borno State Governor Shettima has offered a reward of 50,000,000 Naira (about $50,000) for any information leading to the rescue of the girls. But this is not enough to calm parents’ anger, and criticism of the military's handling of the crisis is mounting.

Samuel Dali, president of EYN, spoke to World Watch Monitor a week after the kidnapping. “We haven’t heard anything that the government is planning. Even some in the state government who are supposed to direct us are starting to complain that the federal government needs to do something. We just hear people saying we need to do something, we need to do something, but we just don’t know what needs to be done.”

Some parents have decided to take things into their own hands, and have pleaded with Boko Haram to release the girls, in vain. Others have ventured into the Sambisa Forest to look for their daughters, without the support of the military. About 60 kilometers into the forest, locals advised them not to proceed any further because it was too dangerous, as Boko Haram is equipped with much more sophisticated weapons than the sticks and machetes the parents were carrying.

“We call on President Goodluck Jonathan to take the necessary measures to free our children. We really feel neglected. I am convinced that if these abducted girls were their own daughters, they would have done something,” said a grieving father. “We call on the kidnappers to listen to our cry and sorrow and let our children come back home,” he added in despair.

A worker with Open Doors International, which partners with churches in northern Nigeria, added: “The abducted girls will most probably be responsible for cooking and cleaning for the insurgents. But there is every possibility that these children could be forcefully converted to Islam and married off to members of the group or other Muslim men.”

So far the affected parents have not received any psychological or medical assistance. Moreover, the girls who escaped have been already recalled to sit their examinations again. Some parents accused local authorities of attempting to prevent these escaped schools girls from retelling their ordeal to the media.

Meanwhile, the thoughts of the stunned Nigerian nation are with the girls who still remain in the forest. One commentator described to the BBC the mood of the nation as one of “present, continuous agony.”

-- This is excerpted from a report provided by World Watch Monitor. 

BBC reports on the kidnapping note that “Boko Haram, whose name means ‘Western education is forbidden,’ is fighting to establish Islamic law in Nigeria” and “often targets educational establishments.” BBC Nigeria correspondant Will Ross in an analysis piece compared this kidnapping to a notorious incident in Uganda: “The attack is an eerie echo of a mass abduction in northern Uganda back in 1996. A total of 139 girls aged between 11 and 16 were seized from dormitories at St Mary's School in Aboke. They were tied together with rope and were taken away by the Lords Resistance Army, which says it is fighting for a state based on the Biblical 10 Commandments. So, same terror tactics, different religion.” Go to www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-27187255 to read the full report from Will Ross.

For Brethren who wish to gain more insight, Global Mission and Service executive Jay Wittmeyer recommends “Our Bodies, Their Battleground: Boko Haram and Gender-Based Violence against Christian Women and Children in North-Eastern Nigeria Since 1999" by Atta Barkindo, a doctoral candidate with SOAS, London; Benjamin Gudaku of Eduwatch Consults and Research Centre, Abuja, Nigeria; and Caroline Katgum Wesley of Nigeria’s Political Violence Research Network. “Our Bodies, Their Battleground” was published by Open Doors International. Find it online at www.worldwatchmonitor.org/research/3117403.

Source: 4/29/2014 Newsline

Bethany Seminary to hold commencement

By Jenny Williams

Bethany Theological Seminary will hold its 109th commencement in Nicarry Chapel on the Bethany campus in Richmond, Ind., at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 10. Eight master of divinity degrees will be conferred. Admittance to the academic ceremony is by ticket only.

The public is invited to attend a worship service that afternoon at 2:30 p.m., also in Nicarry Chapel. Following tradition, it will be written, planned, and led by graduates and will center around the stories of biblical characters who received new, God-given names.

The 2014 commencement speaker will be Christopher Bowman, pastor of Oakton Church of the Brethren in Vienna, Va. His address, drawing from the fourth chapter of Jonah, is entitled “God Ordained a Worm.” A Bethany graduate, Bowman received his doctorate from San Francisco Seminary. His denominational service includes chair of the former General Board and moderator of Annual Conference, and he was selected to preach at both the Church of the Brethren’s Christmas Eve service broadcast in 2004 and the 300th Anniversary Celebration in 2008.

Both the commencement ceremony and the worship service will be webcast live and available to view as recordings. Those interested in viewing the events can access the webcasts at www.bethanyseminary.edu/webcasts.

The following seniors will receive master of divinity degrees:

  • Claire Flowers-Waggener, Albany, Ind.
  • Daniel Fullen, Tipp City, Ohio
  • James Grossnickle-Batterton, Iowa City, Iowa
  • Audrey Hollenberg-Duffey, Richmond, Ind.
  • Timothy Hollenberg-Duffey, Richmond, Ind.
  • Todd Peterson, Loveland, Ohio
  • Ronda Scammahorn, Arcanum, Ohio
  • Anita Hooley Yoder, Cleveland Heights, Ohio

-- Jenny Williams is director of Communications and Alumni/ae Relations for Bethany Seminary.

Source: 4/29/2014 Newsline

Revision to Ministerial Leadership Polity heads up Annual Conference business agenda

Photo by Glenn Riegel

Delegates to the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference pay close attention during a business session. This photo was taken at the 2011 Conference.
The business agenda for the Church of the Brethren’s 2014 Annual Conference in Columbus, Ohio, on July 2-6 includes proposed revisions to the Ministerial Leadership Polity, along with other returning business items that deal with guidelines for implementing the Congregational Ethics Paper, guidance for responding to the changing of Earth’s climate, a Vision of Ecumenism for the 21st century, and more equitable representation on the Mission and Ministry Board.

New business items on the docket include a proposed revision to the Special Response Process “A Structural Framework for Dealing with Strongly Controversial Issues,” as well as amendments to the bylaws of the Church of the Brethren Inc. and the Brethren Benefit Trust Articles of Organization. The delegate body also will hold elections and receive reports from the Conference agencies and representatives to ecumenical bodies.

Revision to Ministerial Leadership Polity

This document will return to the delegate body this year with further revisions, after the 2013 Conference returned it to the Mission and Ministry Board “for revision in accordance with Standing Committee concerns, to be brought back to the 2014 Annual Conference.” The revised polity has been in the works for several years, led by staff of the Office of Ministry and the Ministry Advisory Council along with other groups including the Mission and Ministry Board and the Council of District Executives. Find the full document coming to the 2014 Annual Conference at www.brethren.org/ac/2014/documents/business-items/2014-ub1-revision-to-ministerial-leadership-polity.pdf.

Query: Guidelines for Implementation of the Congregational Ethics Paper

A first hearing of the Congregational Ethics Revisions was presented to the 2013 Annual Conference by Joshua Brockway, director of Spiritual Life and Discipleship in the Congregational Life Ministries staff. The final draft is being presented to the 2014 Conference for approval. The document is a revision and replacement of the 1996 Ethics for Congregations polity. Find the full document coming to the 2014 Conference at www.brethren.org/ac/2014/documents/business-items/2014-ub2-congregational-ethics-paper.pdf.

Query: Guidance for Responding to the Changing of Earth’s Climate

This query was first adopted by Annual Conference in 2011 and referred to the then titled Washington Advocacy Office of the Global Mission Partnerships (now the Office of Public Witness). Progress reports were brought back to the 2012 and 2013 Conferences. A document titled “Responding to the Changing of Earth’s Climate” is being brought to the 2014 Conference for approval. Referring to biblical texts including Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,” and Genesis 2:15, the paper affirms the Church of the Brethren 1991 Annual Conference Statement “Creation: Called to Care” and calls on members of the church “to build on this foundational understanding of creation care by addressing the earth’s changing climate.” The paper includes sections on “Biblical and Brethren Foundations” and “Living in Hope.” Go to www.brethren.org/ac/2014/documents/business-items/2014-ub3-changing-of-earth-climate.pdf.

A Vision of Ecumenism for the 21st Century

This document originated with a new business item brought to the 2012 Conference from the Committee on Interchurch Relations Study Committee with recommendations to discontinue the Committee on Interchurch Relations and to have the Mission and Ministry Board and denominational Leadership Team appoint a committee to write a “Vision of Ecumenism for the 21st Century.” The committee has been appointed and has begun its work. It is bringing a progress report to this year’s Conference, and intends to present a statement at the 2015 Annual Conference. See www.brethren.org/ac/2014/documents/business-items/2104-ub4-a-vision-of-ecumenism.pdf.

Query: More Equitable Representation on the Mission and Ministry Board

This query was formulated by the Southern Pennsylvania District Board and adopted by the 2012 Annual Conference. The concerns of the query were the Mission and Ministry Board, which brought a proposal to last year’s Conference. However, the motion brought by the board to the 2013 Conference to make proposed amendments to the bylaws of the Church of the Brethren Inc. did not receive the required two-thirds majority vote. This year, the Mission and Ministry Board is bringing a recommendation that the current structure of the Mission and Ministry Board be maintained. The document is at www.brethren.org/ac/2014/documents/business-items/2014-ub5-equitable-representation-mmb.pdf.

Revision to the Special Response Process “A Structural Framework for Dealing with Strongly Controversial Issues”

The denomination-wide dialogue process known as “Special Response” was initiated by the 2002 Annual Conference. It is intended for use when needed to address strongly controversial issues in the life of the church. The process was adopted by the 2009 Annual Conference and first used by the 2011 Conference to address two queries related to human sexuality. After receiving evaluations, the 2012 Standing Committee of district delegates appointed a task committee to review the process and propose changes to strengthen it. The revised document is being brought to the 2014 Annual Conference for approval. Find the document with proposed changes indicated at www.brethren.org/ac/2014/documents/business-items/2014-nb3-revision-to-special-response-process.pdf.

Amendments to the Bylaws of the Church of the Brethren, Inc.

Amendments to the bylaws of the Church of the Brethren, Inc. are proposed by the Mission and Ministry Board in order to clarify “that the term of service for a director who is chosen to serve as chair elect becomes a new four-year term rather than the regular five-year term of service for other directors,” to clarify “that the full five-year term allowed for a director who serves less than half of an unexpired term is subsequent to that unexpired term, not in place of it,” and to update the bylaws to reflect the change of Oregon-Washington District’s name to Pacific Northwest District. Find the full proposal at www.brethren.org/ac/2014/documents/business-items/2014-nb1-amendments-to-bylaws.pdf.

Amendments to Church of the Brethren Benefit Trust Articles of Organization

A number of amendments to the BBT Articles of Organization are proposed, ranging from style changes, to adding a clause related to BBT’s socially responsible investing in a manner of conforming to Church of the Brethren values, to governance and reportability matters that clarify that a financial report and annual report will be submitted, to eligibility and implementation matters for members of the board, among others. Find the full listing at www.brethren.org/ac/2014/documents/business-items/2014-nb2-amendments-to-bbt-aticles-of-incorporation.pdf.

For details about the Annual Conference business and schedule, and to register to attend, go to www.brethren.org/ac.

Source: 4/29/2014 Newsline

New Annual Conference App designed to aid Conference-goers

A new Annual Conference App has been created to aid Conference-goers and delegates as they attend the Church of the Brethren annual meeting this year on July 2-6 in Columbus, Ohio.

Created primarily by Russ Otto of the Church of the Brethren web staff, in cooperation with the Conference Office and other staff, the app is intended to enhance the Conference experience and will provide detailed guidance for attendees.

With the 2014 Annual Conference App, Conference-goers will be able to:
  • Plan their Conference with a custom schedule
  • Set schedule reminders, in order never to miss a Conference event
  • Get updates when there are schedule changes
  • Navigate the Conference with maps of the Greater Columbus Convention Center
  • Find their way to local attractions with the area map
  • View profiles of speakers, presenters, and exhibitors
  • Stay informed with news and Twitter updates
Download the app at www.brethren.org/ac/app.html.

Source: 4/29/2014 Newsline

Congregations are invited to join in Annual Conference Sunday

Church of the Brethren congregations and individuals are invited to join in a special Annual Conference Sunday worship service from around the country on July 6. The Conference Office is inviting churches to join in the webcast of worship that Sunday, in order “to worship together as one virtual church.”

Congregations are invited to come together in celebration of Annual Conference Sunday by sharing in the worship webcast. The webcast can be broadcast live to churches who will then worship with thousands of other Brethren as a virtual congregation.

Find the webcasting link on the Annual Conference homepage at www.brethren.org/ac . Congregations in any location may join in the webcast at any time or restart the broadcast from the beginning, as well as comment and chat online with the webcast coordinator. A bulletin will be available to download and print from the Annual Conference webpage. 

In addition, all of the Conference business sessions and worship services will be webcast or streamed over the Internet. The schedule is as follows (all times are Eastern time):

Photo by Glenn Riegel

The webcasting of worship services and business sessions from Annual Conference is made possible by a group of dedicated people including Enten Eller (shown here, working at webcasting from the 2011 Conference in Grand Rapids, Mich.), David Sollenberger and a team of videographers, and Church of the Brethren communications staff who are responsible for the denominational website at www.brethren.org.
Wednesday, July 2
Opening Worship, 6:50-8:30 p.m.

Thursday, July 3
Bible Study and Morning Business Session, 8:30-11:30 a.m.
Afternoon Business Session, 1:55-4:30 p.m.
Evening Worship, 6:50-8:30 p.m.

Friday, July 4
Bible Study and Morning Business Session, 8:30-11:30 a.m.
Afternoon Business Session, 1:55-4:30 p.m.
Evening Worship, 6:50-8:30 p.m.        

Saturday, July 5
Morning Worship, 8:30-10 a.m.   
Morning Business Session, 10:15-11:30 a.m.   
Afternoon Business Session, 1:55-4:30 p.m.    

Sunday, July 6 – Annual Conference Sunday
Closing Worship, 8:30-10:30 a.m.  

Source: 4/29/2014 Newsline

National Youth Conference registration fee to increase May 1

Youth and advisors have a day to register for this summer’s National Youth Conference (NYC) before the price goes up to $500 on May 1. All participants are encouraged to register as soon as possible to avoid a late fee. For all information regarding the conference, visit www.brethren.org/NYC.

The NYC 2014 theme is “Called by Christ, Blessed for the Journey Together” (Ephesians 4:1-7). NYC will be held July 19-24 in Colorado, sponsored and organized by the Church of the Brethren Youth and Young Adult Ministry. It is held only every four years for senior youth and their adult advisors. All youth who have finished ninth grade through one year of college are eligible to attend.

The week of NYC includes worship services, Bible studies, workshops, small groups, hiking, service projects, and outdoor recreation. NYC is held on the campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo.

NYC is often characterized as a “mountaintop” event for youth who attend, and for most is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To learn more about NYC, or check out some of the week’s speakers and events, visit the NYC website. For all questions regarding NYC, please contact the NYC office at 800-323-8039 ext. 323 or cobyouth@brethren.org.

Source: 4/29/2014 Newsline

May is Older Adult Month: Celebrate the gift of aging

By Kim Ebersole

Each May, the Church of the Brethren observes Older Adult Month, an opportunity to celebrate God’s gift of aging and the contributions of older adults to our lives and our congregations. This year, the denomination’s Older Adult Ministry invites the church to consider the “Rhythms of Life: For Everything There Is a Season…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

Like the seasons, the ocean tide, and our favorite musical compositions, our lives have a rhythm--an ebb and flow that accompanies our living. To assist individuals, small groups, and congregations reflect on how the rhythms of our lives change, a variety of resources are available. Materials include meditations, a scripture rap, an evening examen, a dramatic interpretation of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, worship resources, and an entire order of worship.

Visit www.brethren.org/oam2014 to download resources or contact Kim Ebersole, director of Older Adult Ministry, at 847-429-4305 or kebersole@brethren.org.

-- Kim Ebersole of the Congregational Life Ministries staff provided this report.

Source: 4/29/2014 Newsline

Mission across margins is topic for webinars in May and June

Two webinars with Mike Pears will explore the theme of mission in marginal places. They are sponsored by the Church of the Brethren and its Congregational Life Ministries, with partners in the UK: Urban Expression, Bristol Baptist College, and BMS World Mission.

On May 21, a webinar will be offered on the theme “Mission in Marginal Places: Engaging with Power.” Church planters can spend months researching a new place in order to shape their strategy, however neighborhoods are not that easy to read, said an announcement. “Often we settle for a superficial understanding. Getting to know our neighborhood more deeply will change and challenge us in unexpected ways. It will open our eyes to what Jesus is doing around us and help us to be a prophetic church.” The webinar will offer practical tools for this exploratory journey.

On June 10, the webinar titled “Researching Neighborhoods: Practical Tools for a Prophetic Community” will address how poor neighborhoods are often stigmatized and the people who live there divided into insiders and outsiders. “When we do mission in these areas we realize that the issues are much more complex than they first appeared,” said the announcement. “We soon find ourselves with more questions than answers. What is marginalization? Why does it affect people so powerfully? What does mission look like in marginal places?” This webinar will explore these key questions.

Mike Pears will lead the webinars. He is coordinator of Urban Life--a center for urban mission in the UK. Pears has 30 years of experience in urban ministry, incarnational mission, and church planting, and is faculty at Bristol Baptist College and facilitator of Urban Expression. He is completing his doctoral studies in Mission and Urban Deprivation.

Time for both webinars is 2:30-3:30 p.m. Eastern time. Registration is free, go to www.brethren.org/webcasts. Ministers may earn 0.1 continuing education units for attending the live event. For more information contact Stan Dueck, director of Transforming Practices for the Church of the Brethren, at sdueck@brethren.org.

Source: 4/29/2014 Newsline

Protests reveal a country’s struggle: A BVSer reports from Bosnia

hoto by Stephanie Barras

The Stari Most (Old Bridge) that crosses the Neretva River in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina. BVSer Stephanie Barras provided this photo, among a series of pictures displaying both the beauty of an old city set before snowy mountain peaks, and the climate of protest resulting from the accumulated frustrations of a region still dominated by "war politics."
Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) worker Stephanie Barras provided this report from Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina, where she has been living since Sept. 2013. She is working at OKC Abrasevic, a youth cultural center:

I will do my best to explain what has been happening here after the Feb. 7 protests. A day or so before, there was a protest by workers in the city of Tuzla. This protest was specifically related to their workplace, but it turned into something much bigger. It seemed to trigger all the feelings of despair and anger that have been bubbling just under the surface for the past 20 years, following the war in the 1990s.

Bosnia-Herzegovina did have a period of time where things seemed to be improving and there was hope that life would be better. But ever since around 2006 or 2007, things started to go downhill in terms of the economy and politics.

There is a high level of unemployment, especially among the youth. People go several months without salary pay and the education system continues to dwindle. At the universities--an education students can barely afford--graduates almost never land a job related to what they studied.

The leaders in the country at all levels have been taking more than giving. In other words, they are not using money in the way that it should be used. Not only are the abandoned and destroyed buildings proof of this, but also the stories of the people. Even when the citizens realized that their country’s economy was going nowhere, almost no one took a stand against the government. Fear is implemented by many politicians/leaders in order to keep people divided. If they keep the citizens from uniting against them, it is easier for them to continue their corruptive behavior.

Photo by Stephanie Barras

Protests broke out on Feb. 7 in major cities in Bosnia-Herzegovina
While fear is still there for some, it has begun to fade and at the beginning of this year, numerous people took to the streets to protest. On Feb. 7, in major cities including the capital Sarajevo and Mostar, crowds went from building to building and, while a smaller number of people were destroying the building inside and out and then setting it on fire, a hundred others watched. People had finally had enough and these protests were just the beginning.

Soon after, peaceful protests began taking place in several cities and along with them assemblies--also called plenums--which simply means citizens gathering together in a public space in order to listen to each other as well as voice their own concerns and complaints about a particular problem. The protests are usually held at 5 p.m., with the plenum following right after. The very first plenum in Sarajevo had to be rescheduled because there was not enough room to seat all of those who showed up. Even though the number has fluctuated at the protests and plenums, there is a good steady number of people taking part in several cities in the country. There are moderators at the plenums and protests, encouraging people to voice their concerns.

There have been numerous demands, concerns, and stories of struggle from various citizens on all sides, from almost all backgrounds. A person who has seen the plenums said the following: “The two-minute statements by citizens covered a wide range of topics, but with a frequent focus on economic injustice, privileges of the political elites, and the lack of accountability for their misdeeds. Previous waves of privatization have been a perennial topic, as have the salary levels of officials” (Bassuener, K., web log message of Feb. 23, 2014, retrieved from www.democratizationpolicy.org/how-bosnia-s-protest-movement-can-become-truly-transformative).

When ordinary citizens began to organize themselves into protests and plenums, many threats and political games followed. I am not sure if it still happening, but there were numerous people who received phone calls warning them to stay away from the protests.

Photo by Stephanie Barras

A view of the city of Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina, taken from the Partisans Memorial.
Also, there have been several people attacked on the streets. Here in Mostar, a citizen was attacked at night and shot in the foot. There was only one article I could find about it when it happened and later I confirmed with a staff member from Abrasevic that it was true. Also, several arrests were made in various cities. There have been a few articles and stories that say the youth who have been arrested were beaten by police for no reason.

Many politicians have used scare tactics in order to gain more political points in order to win the next election, yet again. There has been a lot of finger pointing. Croat politicians have said that all the Bosniaks are behind the revolution. It seems like they keep looking for a way to keep everyone divided and against each other. The president of Republika Srpska, an entity of Bosnia, Milorad Dodik, said that it would be better if Bosnia just broke up into three countries. And a Bosnia Croat leader has urged the country to become three entities instead of two.

From “Mostar Rising”: “These people [the ones who set the buildings on fire on Feb. 7] are not hooligans or riotous young men, they are desperate people with much to lose. They are hungry, and they see how bloated and corrupt the government has become. Among the buildings burned, there were two that belonged to popular political parties. None of the nearby housing units or businesses were burned, none of them were even damaged. Nobody wanted to touch them. They are tired of nationalism, politics, corruption, and the structure of hopelessness created by the fascist nationalist system. They did not seek to destroy, they only wanted to convey the message that it’s been nearly 20 years since the war, but war politics still dominate the region….” (“Mostar Rising: The Most Divided City in Bosnia Is Standing up to Nationalism and Government Corruption,” Feb. 21, 2014, published online by Revolution-News.com ).

-- Stephanie Barras is a Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) volunteer working at the youth cultural center OKC Abrasevic in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Source: 4/29/2014 Newsline

Brethren bits

  • Through the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, the Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness is involved in a Christian response to Sarah Palin’s remarks about the use of the torture technique called waterboarding. Faithful America is the group spearheading the campaign to respond to her comment made during a speech to the National Rifle Association: "If I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists." Faithful America is inviting others to add their names to the following statement via an online petition: “For Christians, torture is not a joke or a political punchline, but a ghastly reminder of the suffering of Jesus upon the cross. By equating it with Holy Baptism--the act by which we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection--Sarah Palin is blasphemously twisting our faith into a weapon of hatred and violence. No media outlet should cover her remarks without reporting on how sincere Christians of all theological and political persuasions are appalled.” Go to http://act.faithfulamerica.org/sign/palinwaterboarding/?t=1&akid=314.234737.Kq49dM.
  • Warrensburg (Mo.) Church of the Brethren will celebrate its 100th anniversary Aug. 30-31 with the theme “Continuing the Work of Jesus: Celebrating 100 Years...Looking Back, Moving Forward,” said an announcement from the church. On Saturday, Aug. 30, an open house will be held from 4-6 p.m. followed by a Love Feast at 6 p.m. A youth worship and praise service will be held at 9 p.m. On Sunday, Aug. 31, the worship will begin at 10 a.m. with guest preacher, Sandy Bosserman, former district executive minister of the Missouri Arkansas District. A celebration luncheon will be held at noon. Anyone wishing to attend is welcome. For lodging information or more details, contact bbcrouse@cmh.edu or 660-441-7427. The church is located at 802 East Hale Lake Road, Warrensburg, MO 64093.
  • A report on the Polo (Ill.) Growing Project of three Brethren congregations and a Presbyterian church in Illinois recently appeared in the Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren newsletter. “This year the approach for the Polo Growing Project will consist of 40 acres of soy beans,” the newsletter reported. “This will be the tenth year for the Polo Growing Project which was started as a facet of the Polo congregation's 100th anniversary celebration.... Over its nine years the project has raised $295,000 for alleviating global hunger through the Foods Resource Bank.” Teaming together are Polo, Dixon, and Highland Avenue Churches of the Brethren and Faith Presbyterian in Tinley Park.Each church contributes $1,700 and area agribusinesses assist with supplies and cash. Highland Avenue is asking members and friends to support the project by sponsoring half-acre plots.  Jim and Karen Schmidt are the project coordinators and farmers tending the crop.
  • The Mid-Atlantic Disaster Response Auction begins at 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 4, at the Carroll County (Md.) Agriculture Center in Westminister.
  • The Southern Ohio District Camping and Retreat Ministry has announced a Caregiver’s day on Aug. 2, from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. The ministry is making arrangements with the Brethren Retirement Community Shuff Adult Day Care Center in Greenville, Ohio, to offer caregivers a day set aside for themselves, while their loved one is cared for by professionals trained to deal with a wide variety of adult health issues. “The event will offer educational opportunities and free time for the caregiver,” said a district announcement. “We hope you will take this opportunity as a caregiver to find renewal, relaxation, and network with others who share the same responsibilities, rewards, concerns, and joys that you do.” Cost for the day is $50 for both participants, and includes a light breakfast and dinner which the loved one and caregiver will share together. Registration will open in May.
  • The Timbercrest Spring Festival is June 5-7. The Timbercrest Senior Living Center in North Manchester, Ind., will be celebrating its 125-year anniversary at the three-day festival.
  • The Children’s Aid Society Lehman Caring Center held a 23rd Annual Benefit Auction today, April 29. The event was to feature sports memorabilia, antiques, art, food, and more. “Come out to support a center that helps children who are at risk for abuse and neglect and buy that item you have been searching for high and low,” said an invitation. The auction was held at the York County 4-H Center in York, Pa.
Photo courtesy of Fahrney-Keedy

Aryan Crouse, 2, with her grandmother, Shelley Barnhart (left), and Lorna Angle (right) at Fahrney-Keedy Home and Village’s annual Easter Egg Hunt. Barnhart is Bistro Manager at the Boonsboro, Md., retirement community, and Angle is a resident there. A Church of the Brethren continuing care retirement community, Fahrney-Keedy is located along Route 66 a few miles north of Boonsboro, Md., and with nearly 180 full- and part-time, and contract associates, serves a resident population of more than 200 women and men in independent living, assisted living, and long- and short-term nursing care.
  • The fifth Spring Open House at Fahrney-Keedy Home and Village, a Church of the Brethren retirement community in Boonsboro, Md., will be held on Saturday, May 10, from 1-4 p.m. There will be plenty for visitors to see and do, said a release. “Some new attractions are planned, as are some popular opportunities from years past.” New this year will be health screenings, a massage therapist, spiritual support from Fahrney-Keedy’s chaplain, and healthy cooking demonstrations with refreshments and snacks planned to “feed the mind.” Guests will be able to tour available independent living residences and other resident accommodations, view the expanded Therapy Gym, chat with residents and staff members, and learn more about various aspects of the Master Plan that envisions major expansion of facilities in the next 15 to 20 years. For more information contact Deborah Haviland, director of Marketing, at 301-671-5038, or Linda Reed, director of Admissions, at 301-671-5007.
  • The Annual Chicken Barbecue at the Brethren Home Community in Windber, Pa., is planned for June 6 from 12 noon-6 p.m. with the option to dine in or take out. “Delicious chicken dinners grilled to perfection!” said an announcement in the Western Pennsylvania District newsletter.
  • The Brethren Housing Association in Harrisburg, Pa., will celebrate its 25th anniversary in October with events at the Harrisburg Hershey Sheraton. More information will be made available at www.bha-pa.org/events.
  • “Are you still glowing like we are?! The gratitude & love keeps flowing,” said Mutual Kumquat in a Facebook post about a concert on April 26 at Manchester Church of the Brethren in North Manchester, Ind. “Truly was such an honor to share the evening with all of you and share the stage with some of our musical heroes!!” The evening with Brethren singers and song-writers was billed “Goodbye Still Night” and in addition to Mutual Kumquat featured Shawn Kirchner, Andy and Terry Murray, and Kim Murray Shahbazian.
Source: 4/29/2014 Newsline


Newsline is produced by the news services of the Church of the Brethren. Contact the editor at cobnews@brethren.org. Contributors to this issue of Newsline include Stephanie Barras, Becky Crouse, Chris Douglas, Stan Dueck, Kim Ebersole, Christopher Fitz, Kristin Flory, Tim Heishman, Jon Kobel, Michael Leiter, Glen Sargent, Jay Wittmeyer, and editor Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Newsline: April 22, 2014


Presidential inauguration highlights Bethany Seminary trustee meeting

By Jenny Williams

The inauguration of Jeff Carter as Bethany Theological Seminary’s tenth president was the central event of the seminary’s spring 2014 board of trustees meeting, held March 27-30 at the seminary campus in Richmond, Ind.  (The link to view the inauguration online is at www.bethanyseminary.edu/webcasts.)

In addition to several action items and reports from departmental committees, the board also devoted time to discussing issues presented by each committee pertaining to the operation of a seminary like Bethany in today’s social and cultural climate.

Photo courtesy of Bethany Seminary

Inauguration of Jeff Carter as president of Bethany Seminary
Presidential inauguration

On the morning of Saturday, March 29, nearly 170 people attended the presidential inauguration service in Nicarry Chapel. The theme chosen by Carter was “Can I Get a Witness?” a reference to 1 John 1:1-2: “The Word that gives life was from the beginning, and this is the one our message is about.... The one who gives life appeared! We saw it happen, and we are witnesses to what we have seen.” Guest speaker Thomas G. Long, Bandy Professor of Preaching at Candler School of Theology at Emory University, spoke to this theme with  an address entitled “Faithful Witness: Engaging the Senses.”

Long is widely known and respected in the field of homiletics, having also taught preaching at Princeton, Columbia, and Erskine Seminaries. The author of numerous books and articles on preaching and worship as well as biblical commentaries, he has served as senior homiletics editor of “The New Interpreter’s Bible” and is an editor-at-large for “Christian Century.”

A number within the Bethany community took part in the service, offering prayers, instrumental and vocal music, scripture reading, and introductions. Dan Ulrich, Wieand Professor of New Testament Studies, presented a “Witness of Bethany Theological Seminary” incorporating both historical and philosophical perspectives. Board chair Lynn Myers led the commissioning of the president and was joined by trustee, student, and faculty representatives in the laying on of hands. The gathering also heard statements from representatives of the Church of the Brethren, Manchester University, and the neighboring Earlham School of Religion.

Those gathered for the event attended a celebratory lunch following the service, and members of the Bethany community joined the board for an inaugural dinner that evening.

Board activity and actions

Carter opened the board’s general session with an overview of objectives to help Bethany meet current challenges. Emphasizing the value of what Bethany has to offer, he focused on continued strengthening of recruitment and retention strategies, balancing the needs of residential and Connections students, and increasing the accessibility of the seminary’s programs. The board also viewed comparative data from peer schools of similar size and programming, including enrollment and acceptance rates, student body demographics, faculty, cost of education, giving, and investments.

To help the board engage in current issues specific to each area of the seminary, questions for discussion were brought by the committees for Academic Affairs, Institutional Advancement, and Student and Business Affairs: What can Bethany do to prepare people for bivocational ministry? How do we communicate the concept of stewardship and habitual giving to younger generations? How can we use current resources to further our mission without hurting long-term strategy? Common discussion themes were the importance of building relationships, whether with new educational partners or millennial donors, and of creative and thoughtful planning.

Two faculty appointed to endowed chairs

Among the board’s action items was the opportunity to recognize the contributions and achievements of longtime faculty members with new appointments to endowed chairs.

Dawn Ottoni-Wilhelm, in her 16th year at Bethany, was named the Brightbill Professor of Preaching and Worship. The Alvin V. Brightbill Endowed Chair of Ministry Studies was established by Bill and Miriam Cable in 1982 to honor the 45-year tenure of Alvin Brightbill in teaching church music and speech.

Scott Holland, in his 15th year at Bethany, was named the Slabaugh Professor of Theology and Culture. Established in 1985 by Bethany alumnus and longtime Brethren pastor Foster Myers, the Warren W. Slabaugh Endowed Chair of Theological Studies honors a “master teacher” who taught at Bethany for 40 years before serving as interim president in 1952-53.

Budget, graduates, officers, committee chairs approved

In addressing items that appear on each spring’s agenda, the board approved the list of potential graduates for the current year, providing all academic requirements are met.

The board approved officers and committee chairs for the 2014-15 academic year: Lynn Myers, chair; David Witkovsky, vice chair; Marty Farahat, secretary; Jonathan Frye, chair of the Academic Affairs Committee; Miller Davis, chair of the Institutional Advancement Committee; Greg Geisert, chair of the Student and Business Affairs Committee and the Audit Committee; and Paul Brubaker, chair of the Investment Committee.

The board approved the seminary’s budget for the coming academic year. The 2014-15 budget is $2,649,240, a negligible increase from the previous year. Following discussion of current endowment policy and the seminary’s financial position, the board suspended the stabilization fund policy for the coming academic year, requesting Bethany’s administration to recommend revisions. The policy was established to help ensure financial security in the leaner years during relocation to Richmond.

A revision of the articles of organization of the Brethren Journal Association also was approved.

Departmental reports and activities

The Academic Affairs Committee reported that with the resignation of Malinda Berry, assistant professor of theological studies and director of the MA program, these roles within the faculty will be reviewed before a new search is begun by the end of 2014. Berry noted that current MA students are pursuing a variety of topics for study, with equal numbers choosing the traditional thesis option and the new portfolio option. The Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership introduced Carrie Eikler as the new coordinator of TRIM and EFSM and continued to highlight the success of SeBAH-COB, the Spanish-language ministry training program in cooperation with the Mennonite Church. The board also heard from visiting staff member Donna Rhodes, director of the Susquehanna Valley Ministry Center, regarding changes in personnel and class formats and Bethany faculty involvement in teaching. The center has a goal of making its partnership with Bethany and Elizabethtown (Pa.) College more explicit to constituents.

The Institutional Advancement Committee noted that with the four-year Reimagining Ministries campaign drawing to close this June, while the initial dollar goal has been reached more work is needed in building relationships with new donors. Conversations with individuals and groups around the denomination will continue for the next few months. Current giving numbers are positive, with the total of $2.25 million for calendar 2103 as the highest in the past eight years. Giving to date for fiscal 2013-14 is comparative with recent years and higher than a year ago due to a large grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc. Month-to-month annual fund giving has kept pace with or exceeded amounts in recent years; however, the 2013-14 goal of $900,000 is higher as part of the Reimagining Ministries campaign. A new website design, coordinating with Bethany’s new admissions materials, has been in process during the current academic year. The board saw sample pages of the new look, which was expected to go live within the next month.

The Student and Business Affairs Committee focused on issues of balancing resources for current mission priorities--such as enrollment--with long-term financial viability. Brenda Reish, executive director of Student and Business Services and treasurer, gave an orientation to the seminary’s financial practices and goals and the breakdown of its assets. This included a historical overview of investment return and endowment draw and their relationship to the operating budget. Tracy Primozich, director of Admissions, and Amy Ritchie, director of Student Development, spoke to the importance of engaging with both prospective students and those in the Connections program. Calling out persons with gifts for ministry who can connect with the distinctives of a Bethany education falls to mentors and leaders in the church as well as to Bethany staff. Those who commit to follow this call as distance learners are at a higher risk for withdrawal without the benefit of community support and involvement.

The Institute for Ministry with Youth and Young Adults task team reported on progress since its formation last year. Charged with developing the potential of the institute, it has reviewed programs, the plan for sustainability, staffing, and the advisory board structure. A three-year plan has been established to manage finances, maintain staffing, and develop additional activities or events. Advisory board terms and membership and a procedure for communication with the board of trustees have been formalized. The mission of the institute was clarified as helping church leaders minister to young people through educational programs that relate to Bethany’s mission--a purpose that differentiates it from other programs within the Church of the Brethren.

-- Jenny Williams is director of Communications and Alumni/ae Relations for Bethany Theological Seminary.

Source: 4/22/2014 Newsline

Church of the Brethren Benefit Trust supports Church Alliance filing of Amicus Brief in clergy housing exclusion case

The Church Alliance--a coalition of the chief executive officers of 38 denominational benefit programs including Church of the Brethren Benefit Trust (BBT)--has filed an amicus curiae brief in the Seventh Circuit US Court of Appeals (Chicago) in the case challenging the constitutionality of the clergy housing exclusion under Section 107(2) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (Code). BBT participates as a member organization of the Church Alliance, where BBT president Nevin Dulabaum serves as the Church of the Brethren representative. Church of the Brethren general secretary Stan Noffsinger and associate general secretary Mary Jo Flory-Steury have signed on in support of the brief on behalf of the denomination.

The case is Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc., et al. v. Jacob Lew, et al. (FFRF v. Lew). The US government is appealing a decision by Judge Barbara Crabb, US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin (November 2013), that Code §107(2) is unconstitutional.

Clergy housing exclusion

Code §107(2), commonly called “clergy housing exclusion” or “clergy housing allowance,” excludes from income taxation the cash compensation provided to “ministers of the gospel” (clergy) toward the cost of their housing. This section of the IRS code essentially excludes the value of clergy-owned housing from income taxation. It is related to Code §107(1), which excludes from a minister’s taxable income the value of church-provided housing (commonly called a parsonage, vicarage, or manse). The FFRF v. Lew appeal does not involve a challenge to Code §107(1).

Judge Crabb ruled that Code §107(2) is unconstitutional because it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Under the Establishment Clause, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion....” Judge Crabb stayed the effect of her ruling until all appeals are exhausted. The government’s opening brief was filed on April 2.

The Church Alliance brief adds a perspective not duplicated in the government’s brief, focusing on the jurisprudential history of permitted legislative accommodations of religion. The brief argues that Code §107(2) is a constitutionally permitted accommodation of religion when viewed in the context of Code §107(1), the parsonage exclusion, and Code §119, which excludes employer-provided housing from employees’ incomes in numerous secular circumstances.

“The Church Alliance has a substantial interest in the validity of Code §107(2) because of the immediate impact on compensation and housing of active clergy in the benefit plans of its member denominations, and also because of the indirect impact on retirement benefits,” said Barbara Boigegrain, chair of the Church Alliance and chief executive of the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits of the United Methodist Church.

Religious organizations represented

The members of the Church Alliance stand with other religious organizations in their vested interest in the outcome of this litigation. The clergy housing exclusion is important to millions of active and retired clergy from the 38 Church Alliance-represented denominations including, in addition to the Church of the Brethren, the American Baptist Churches in the USA, Church of the Nazarene, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Brothers Services, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Joint Retirement Board for Conservative Judaism, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reform Pension Board, Southern Baptist Convention, United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church, among others.

Numerous other churches, associations or conventions of churches, and other religious organizations with religious leaders eligible for the clergy housing exclusion under Code §107(2) are additional signers of the brief, supporting the filing of the Church Alliance’s brief and the positions advocated in it. They include the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Moravian Church, Rabbinical Assembly, Salvation Army, Union for Reform Judaism, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and Wisconsin Council of Churches, among others.

The Church Alliance first formed in 1975 as the “Church Alliance for Clarification of ERISA” to address the problems presented for established church plans by the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). The Church Alliance advocated for changes to the church plan definitions in ERISA and the Code. As a result of these efforts, Congress revised the definition of “church plan” in both ERISA and the Code when it passed the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act of 1980 (MPPAA) to make clear that a church plan can provide retirement and welfare benefits to employees of all church agencies. The Church Alliance continues to ensure that benefit-related legislative and regulatory initiatives fully address the unique nature of church plans.

For more information about Brethren Benefit Trust go to www.brethrenbenefittrust.org . For more information about the Church Alliance go to www.church-alliance.org.

-- Much of this report was provided by M. Colette Nies, managing director of Communications for the United Methodist Church General Board of Pension and Health Benefits.

Source: 4/22/2014 Newsline

Global Food Crisis Fund to assist Fisherfolk’s Association in Philippines

A grant of $10,000 from the Church of the Brethren’s Global Food Crisis Fund (GFCF) has been allocated for replacement of fishing equipment in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan. The recipient of the grant is Barangay District 1 Fisherfolk's Association of Babatngon, Leyte, the Philippines.

The grant is going to a community which was visited by Brethren Disaster Ministries and Global Mission and Service associate executive Roy Winter and Peter Barlow of Montezuma Church of the Brethren in Dayton, Va., during a recent assessment trip to the Philippines. Barlow worked with this community during his service with the Peace Corps.

The money will be used to acquire a new community fishing boat, for nets and materials to build cages destroyed during Typhoon Haiyan, and to purchase Milk Fish fingerlings that will be reared in the cages.

For more about the work of the fund go to www.brethren.org/gfcf.

Source: 4/22/2014 Newsline

Brethren Press offers summer curriculum

Brethren Press is offering a variety of curriculum for this summer, including the final quarter of Gather ’Round, the predecessor to the new Shine curriculum; A Guide for Biblical Studies on the topic “The People of God Set Priorities” written by Al Hansell; and a Vacation Bible School curriculum from MennoMedia focused on biblical hospitality, titled “Give and Receive God’s Great Love.”

Also new from Brethren Press: “Behind the Drama: The Old Testament You Missed,” a Covenant Bible Study by Eugene F. Roop.

To purchase any of these products from Brethren Press call 800-441-3712 or go to www.brethrenpress.com . A shipping and handling fee will be added to the listed price.
  • “Behind the Drama: The Old Testament You Missed” is a Covenant Bible Study by Old Testament scholar and former Bethany Seminary president Eugene F. Roop. “Our reading of the Old Testament is colored by dramatic texts in which God acts in extraordinary ways, calling and saving God’s people through fire and flood,” explains a description of this new Bible study. “But too often we focus on these familiar stories alone and ignore the seemingly unimportant parts, or avoid altogether the hard parts we don’t understand. This study explores a few of these scriptures--some overlooked, some troubling--and shows how God works in and through everyday situations and conflicts to bring hope and faith to ordinary lives.” Covenant Bible Studies are relational Bible studies for small groups. Each contains 10 sessions that promote group interaction and open discussion about practical aspects of the Christian faith. “Behind the Drama” is available for $7.95 per copy, plus shipping and handling.
  • Summer Gather ’Round: The final four-year cycle of Gather ’Round comes to a close this summer. “Stories of God’s People” is the summer theme for multiage (grades K-5), preschool (ages 3-4, with tips for 2s), and youth (grades 6-12). Lessons cover the weeks of June 1-Aug. 24. Stories focus on people around Jesus--Matthew, Mary, Martha, Zacchaeus, Nicodemus, Peter, John--and leaders in the early church--Paul and Ananias, Barnabus, Philip and the Ethiopian, Lydia, Aquila, Priscilla. Call Brethren Press at 800-441-3712 for pricing details.
  • A Guide for Biblical Studies: “The People of God Set Priorities” is the summer theme of this Bible study for adults, written by Al Hansell. The quarter uses texts from Haggai and 1 and 2 Corinthians to study the people of God in community. The first unit focuses on the call to community through the rebuilding of the temple. The second and third units turn to the New Testament and look at the church at Corinth in order to learn how to build and maintain community among believers. The lessons give emphasis to prayer, forgiveness, love, cooperation, and sharing. Order for $4.25 per copy or $7.35 for large print.
  • Vacation Bible School: “Give and Receive God's Great Love” (MennoMedia) is the Vacation Bible School curriculum available from Brethren Press for this summer. It highlights Bible stories about God's people who showed hospitality, inviting children to learn about God who welcomes each one of us. The curriculum is organized around five stories adaptable to a daily program, or a midweek or club plan. Stories are drawn from Genesis, 1 Samuel, Luke, and Acts. The curriculum offers worship resources, games, crafts, and a drama of each story. A starter kit may be purchased for $159.99.
For more information, go to www.brethrenpress.com .

Source: 4/22/2014 Newsline

Water, Holy Water: Praising God on Earth Day

By Bryan Hanger

April 22 is the day when the whole world pauses to celebrate the planet we call home. But for Christians there is a unique dimension to Earth Day, for creation cannot be spoken of without first remembering and praising the God who gave us this wonderful home.

It can be easy to forget the true miracle of creation, but before there was anything, God already had in mind the details of our world and how we humans would be the ones to inhabit and steward over it. What a wonderful vocation to be given! But the responsibilities of stewardship can sometimes get beyond us, and occasions like Earth Day give us time to pause and reflect upon the successes and failures of our attempted stewardship.

One of these failures has been our protection of the world's water. As we continue to see the effects of environmental degradation, climate change, and pollution on our water we are reminded that we have not fully heeded God's calling in scripture to be stewards of our water. Ezekiel reminds us of God's admonition to care for our water so that all may enjoy it and be nourished: “Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet?” (Ezekiel 34:18).

Water is sacred and vital to humanity's existence, but how we consume and use water has an effect on how others access and enjoy it. Our actions and inaction connect us to one another. When we abuse or take for granted this gift of water we can inadvertently affect others’ ability to live and thrive.

Jesus understands how important water is, and that's why he chooses it as a metaphor to explain how vital he is to our lives. When Jesus offers us living water, he very bluntly is telling us that we can't survive and thrive without him.

But God not only offers us living water that will quench our spiritual thirst, God also blesses us with physical water to give us relief, help us grow, and nourish creation. The Psalmist reminds us of how God’s great gift of water sustains and nurtures creation's development: “You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills, giving drink to every wild animal; the wild asses quench their thirst. By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation; they sing among the branches. From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work” (Psalm 104:10-13).

We know that the Lord's work is good, but what has been the fruit of our own work and stewardship? As we examine the effects of pollution, climate change, and other factors we see that more and more we have disrupted this beautiful cycle of life. We have been given the gift of water and have taken it for granted, used more than we needed, and distorted our relationship with creation. It is time for us to collectively realize this, repent, and begin anew as faithful stewards of God’s creation. The health and vitality of God’s creation depends on it.

This is the message that our friends at Creation Justice Ministries are raising up in their new publication “Water, Holy Water.” This publication has revealing stories from around the world, information about the state of our world's water, prayers to use during worship, and other resources for your congregation to use. We join them in lifting up this important issue, and encourage you and your congregation to reflect on these issues. Download “Water, Holy Water” from www.creationjustice.org.

Also, don’t forget to check out the Climate Change Study Resource our office helped put together. We encourage you to study and reflect on it before this year's Annual Conference when the official statement in response to the Climate Change query will be presented and voted on. The study resource is at www.brethren.org/peace/documents/climate-change-study-resource.pdf.

-- Bryan Hanger is advocacy assistant at the Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness.

Source: 4/22/2014 Newsline

The history of International Cane Awareness Day in Vietnam

By Tran Thi Thanh Huong

The first event of International Cane Awareness Day in Vietnam occurred in October 2011, at Nguyen Dinh Chieu Blind School, Ho Chi Minh City. An overall theme was chosen for this event: “The white-tipped cane is an adaptive, functional cane used by blind persons, which alerts people to give priority to the person using the cane.”

Grace Mishler with marchers on Cane Awareness Day
This message was the dream of a blind teacher and trainer in Mobility and Orientation. His name was Le Dan Bach Viet, a well-known leader of the disability rights grassroots movement in Ho Chi Minh City. Bach Viet was the first in Vietnam to receive a master’s degree in Mobility and Training. He got his degree from Philadelphia’s School of Optometry in 2006. The Ford Foundation provided for the necessary scholarship funding to achieve this goal.

Sadly, Bach Viet died of cancer in February 2011. Due to the voice of Bach Viet’s spirit of advocacy, a group of resource experts and advocates work tirelessly in being focused on the needs of blind students, mobility, and orientation training.

At the moment, there is a scarcity of trained individual instructors throughout Vietnam. Bach Viet trained the students on orientation and mobility. Grace Mishler, Global Mission volunteer was one of the benefactors upon her arrival in Vietnam. This group of experts is helping to shape a future field of studies in Mobility and Orientation Training. The primary advocate is headmaster of a well-known blind school, Nguyen Quoc Phong. Tran Thi Thanh Huong, Saigon Times journalist, is in charge of media activities in promoting the need of cane awareness in Vietnam. Within eight months after the death of Bach Viet, they were able to organize a first-time event in Vietnam from an idea suggested by Bach Viet before he died: our own International Cane Awareness Day.

2011 International Cane Awareness Day

Over 200 participants gathered in October at Nguyen Dinh Chieu Blind School, Ho Chi Minh City, where Bach Viet was a teacher, instructor, and trainer in Mobility and Orientation. Participants included blind students of special high schools like Nguyen Dinh Chieu School, Thien An School, Nhat Hong Center, Huynh De Nhu Nghia Shelter, and National College of Education 3, along with many individuals, teachers, people with disabilities, NGOs, and volunteers.

This event held a press conference in which journalists asked questions to experts and blind people about the conditions and difficulties in mobility of blind people. Participants and blind students then marched with their white-tipped canes on the streets around Nguyen Dinh Chieu School. That image attracted special attention of the press, and was reported and broadcast on many prestigious national newspapers and television channels. The slogan of the event was, “Please give priority to the persons with white canes.”

2012 International Cane Awareness Day

In 2012, the location changed to National Vietnam University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Ho Chi Minh City. It was initiated by social work students in relationship to the Faculty of Social Work. The message conveyed by the planning committee was, “Blindness is not from the eyes, but from the look.” This slogan was inspired by a saying of a blind student: “I don’t wish that I can see because it is impossible. I only wish that I am seen in people’s eyes.”

This message was to remind the community and society to recognize the existence and needs of blind people, including the needs for education, mobility, communication, assistance, and simply an effort to live a normal life. Through the talk and sharing between the students and blind persons, the students had a chance to understand more about blind people’s needs for communication and education. The event ended with marching collectively together with white canes.

A poster theme for Cane Awareness Day reads: "Walk happily with the white cane."
2013 International Cane Awareness Day

The location of the event remained at National Vietnam University of Social Sciences and Humanities. The message or theme of this year was to “Walk happily and independently.” This message was chosen so that with mobility and orientation training, blind students can have more confidence in their navigation with helpful assistance like the cane and peer helpers. A banner of the event read, “Walk happily with the white cane.”

This year there was a shift that occurred prior to the event. Social Work students, volunteers, and blind students practiced for hours over a course of one month in presenting a “flash mob” dance with the cane in which, the blind students were able to perform a complex motion of hands, canes, and feet from a traditional Vietnamese country song. Additionally, blind students engaged in a talk show, a Braille game show, and a contest in naming a piece of music.
The sighted and blind students danced together with the canes in a Vietnamese traditional song. What came out of this momentous event was mutually benefitting. Blind students were empowered and felt like equal participants and took leadership, while social work students learned better understanding of the life of a blind student. It gave everyone confidence to mobilize community events through a team work approach. The primary benefactors of this event were Nhat Hong and Thien An Blind Schools who together have 17 blind students attending university.

The students said that they were very impressed and touched by the inner strength to overcome difficulties and the optimistic spirit of the blind students. Since the blind students this year had time to prepare and practice in advance before the Cane Awareness Day, they were not just passive participants, but rather active, excited, and equally contributing. In other words, they were not just guests but they were given empowerment, as being the hosts to present their life experience with a voice of confidence and ability.

The media was also pretty successful in delivering the message. Many images about the life of blind people, their independence, and confidence in life, were uploaded into websites and recognized, well-known newspapers.

Blind people in Vietnam still have many messages needing to be delivered to the society, so that they can have a better and more independent life.

These past three years can be summarized:
  1. It takes a collective teamwork effort in the spirit of volunteerism to keep this yearly public service educational event happening.
  2. The hope of being based at the university follows the dream of Bach Viet and ongoing advocates that the university will be an anchor in training much needed degrees in Mobility and Orientation and Low Vision Rehabilitation.
You can see more about the Cane Awareness Day in Vietnam at www.facebook.com/ngay.caygaytrang?fref=ts&ref=br_tf.

-- Tran Thi Thanh Huong is a Saigon Times News journalist. Grace Mishler, whose work in Vietnam is supported by the Church of the Brethren Global Mission and Service office, helped review this report for Newsline. It was translated by Nguyen Vu Cat Tien. Photos were taken by Tran Thi Thanh Huong, Grace Mishler, Pham Do Nam, Pham Dung (Nguoi Lao Dong Newspaper).

Source: 4/22/2014 Newsline

Brethren bits

Courtesy of NYC Office

“Oak Grove's youth group has started on their NYC pillows! Has anyone else?” said a recent Facebook post from the National Youth Conference (NYC) office. Youth and advisors have just a few days left to register for NYC before the price goes up to $500 on May 1. All participants are encouraged to register as soon as possible to avoid a late fee. NYC is held every four years for youth who have finished ninth grade through one year of college, and their adult advisors. The week of NYC includes worship services twice a day, Bible studies, workshops, small groups, hiking, service projects, and outdoor recreation. NYC is held on the campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo. The NYC 2014 theme is “Called by Christ, Blessed for the Journey Together” (Ephesians 4:1-7). Go to www.brethren.org/NYC .
  • The Annual Conference First Aid Room is looking for trained medical personnel who are planning to attend the Conference this July in Columbus, Ohio, who are willing to volunteer for a few hours. If you are an RN, LPN, MD, DO, or EMT and could serve at least a few hours, would you please contact Dr. Judy Royer at: royerfarm@woh.rr.com .
  • Brethren Disaster Ministries is seeking new project leaders. A two-week training in August will give new leaders the tools needed to help manage the volunteer household, manage weekly volunteers, and support the construction projects. No specific skills are required, but some construction experience is very helpful. Project leaders stay on the work site for a month or more each year. Contact Jane Yount at jyount@brethren.org or call 800-451-4407.
  • “Please pray for EYN,” said an e-mail from a leading member of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN--the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria), after more than 200 girls attending a government secondary school in Chibok in northeastern Nigeria were kidnapped last Tuesday, April 15, by the terrorist group Boko Haram. The school was in Chibok, which is in the former Church of the Brethren Mission area in Nigeria, and the e-mail reported that most of the kidnapped girls are EYN members. “The media is not presenting true picture,” the e-mail added. Media reported incorrectly over the weekend that most of the girls had been rescued by the Nigerian military, a statement that was revealed to be incorrect in a Voice of America interview with the headmistress of the school. “Since the government decided to close down some schools in Bama, Maiduguri, and northern part of Adamawa State due to continued attacks on schools, southern Borno State became a save heaven for final year students,” reported another EYN staff member. “Chibok Government Girls Secondary School is an old school and has produced notable EYN members.”
Photo courtesy of Phil King

The Susquehanna Valley Ministry Center Governing Board held its spring meeting at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College on April 9. The meeting also included district executive ministers from Atlantic Northeast, Southern Pennsylvania, Middle Pennsylvania, Western Pennsylvania, and Mid-Atlantic Districts. Donna Rhodes, executive director of SVMC, noted an “exciting collaborative spirit was present at the meeting” which included Bethany Seminary president Jeff Carter, Bethany Seminary academic dean Steven Schweitzer, and executive director of the Office of Ministry and associate general secretary Mary Jo Flory-Steury. Carter spoke of his early ministerial training that included involvement with SVMC and reaffirmed the cooperative relationship between Bethany Seminary and the district-based ministerial training provided by SVMC.
  • Jordan Run (W.Va.) Church of the Brethren in West Marva District will host an “Evening to Share About Bethany Seminary” on April 27 May 27 at 7 p.m. Ted Flory of Bridgewater, Va., will be the guest facilitator, and any interested persons are encouraged to attend, said the district newsletter. For additional information contact 304-749-8172.
  • Two Praise Gatherings are planned this Spring in West Marva District. Each gathering will include a statement on the District Conference theme from moderator Steve Sauder, said the district newsletter. Adam and Katie Brenneman, Praise and Worship Leaders at Oak Park Church of the Brethren in Oakland, Md., will be among those leading worship at Living Stone Church of the Brethren in Cumberland, Md., on April 27 at 3 p.m. Music will be shared by the Bear Creek Church of the Brethren Choir as well as the Living Stone church’s Bluegrass Praise Band. The second gathering is to be at Shiloh Church of the Brethren near Kasson, W.Va., on May 25 at 3 p.m. An offering to support district ministries will be received at each event.
  • Ephrata (Pa.) Church of the Brethren is hosting a “Creative Church Workshop” on May 3, from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., led by Dave Weiss of AMOK Arts. “How do you take the unchanging message of the Gospel to an ever-changing world? Very creatively!” said an announcement in the Atlantic Northeast District newsletter. The event is for pastors, church leaders, “and creatives of all disciplines.” Cost is $30 per person. For more information contact amokarts@aol.com .
  • Gettysburg (Pa.) Church of the Brethren is planning ahead for the fall with a Peace Witness Event titled “Peace, Pies, and Prophets” on Sept. 21, presented by Ted and Company. “You will be entertained by a hilarious and poignant satire that explores peace, justice, and the American way--starring Ted Swartz and Tim Ruebke,” said an announcement. “This thought-provoking show allows us to laugh at ourselves, while engaging us to think about how to work for peace and justice worldwide.” The show “I’d Like to Buy an Enemy” will be interspersed with a pie auction fundraiser. Homemade pies will be auctioned for the cause of peace. Admission is free, but opportunities will be given for freewill offerings.
  • Western Pennsylvania District has designated April 27 as “Tithing Sunday” focusing on a text from Deuteronomy 16:16-17, “...Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord God has blessed you.” The district is providing a special bulletin insert that also includes other biblical references to giving and tithing, as well as quotes from famous people about giving and why we give. “Our tithe is our way of thanking God who gives so much to us,” said the document from the district Stewards and Finance Team.
  • Atlantic Northeast District will hold its district conference on Oct. 4, with the theme “Building up the Body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-16). The district newsletter has announced sectional meetings in September that will commit the district conference to prayer: Sept. 9 at Lancaster (Pa.) Church of the Brethren, Sept. 17 at Parker Ford Church of the Brethren in Pottstown, Pa., and Sept. 18 at Hershey (Pa.) Spring Creek Church of the Brethren. The district conference will be voting on a sectional reorganization of the district, among other items of business, the newsletter said. Sherry Eshleman is moderator of the conference.
  • Also in Atlantic Northeast District, several opportunities for senior adults are planned. The district is holding two Senior Adult Spring Banquets: April 24 a lunch and program at Hanoverdale (Pa.) Church of the Brethren features the Bollinger Family Music group (cost is $12.50); and May 7 a lunch and program at Indian Creek Church of the Brethren in Harleysville, Pa., features the Miracles Quintet (cost is $14). Three senior adult trips are planned for June and July: a bus coach trip to Cape Cod and area attractions June 16-19, $649; a bus coach trip to Annual Conference in Columbus, Ohio, July 2-6, $549; and a Pacific Northwest tour from Seattle to San Francisco including several national parks July 14-25, $4,598. Brochures with more information are available, contact 717-560-6488 or eziegler29@gmail.com .
  • The 20th annual Family Fun Walk will be hosted by COBYS Family Services at Peter Becker Community in Harleysville, Pa., on May 4. Registration begins at 3:15 p.m., the walk at 4 p.m. The three-mile walk will be followed by ice cream and refreshments, and door prizes. Walkers donate or enlist sponsors to benefit COBYS ministries to children and families. For more information contact 800-452-6517 or don@cobys.org .
  • Good Shepherd Workshops at Good Shepherd Home in Fostoria, Ohio, in April focus on the topics "Loving Well Through Difficult Times" on April 23, with refreshments at 6:30 p.m. and the workshop at 7-8 p.m. (this workshop is free and open to the public); and "Caring for the Caregivers" on April 24, starting with lunch at 12:30 p.m. and the workshop at 1-4:30 p.m.; and a second time on April 25, with continental breakfast at 8:30 a.m. and workshop at 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. (cost is $20 to cover workshop, meal, and CEU credits). The presenter is Susan Parrish-Sprowl, Ph.D., LCSW, president of Parrish-Sprowl and Associates Inc. in Indianapolis. These workshops are sponsored in part by Northern Ohio District. Continuing education credit for either workshop is .325 for clergy through the Brethren Academy, 3.25 for nurses through the Ohio Nurses Association. Call the chaplain's office at 419-937-1801 ext 207 with questions.
  • Camp Swatara dedicates a Memorial Garden on May 18 at 3 p.m. Funds to establish the garden were given in memory of Grace Heisey, who with her husband Adam served as Family Camp managers, and in memory of Ron Mellinger, said the Atlantic Northeast District newsletter. People connected to the camp can request permission to use the garden for depositing ashes following cremation.
  • Camp Galilee in West Marva District will host a Senior Citizen’s Camp on June 3. The morning events are led by David and Ann Fouts of Jordan Run Church of the Brethren, who will lead a discussion on opportunities to serve as volunteers and the choice to “wear out” and not “rust out.” A musical finale led by Jeannie Whitehair will follow lunch. A freewill offering will go toward repairs of a dam, as a local ministry. Register by May 27. Call the West Marva District Office at 301-334-9270.
  • The John Kline Homestead is remembering John Kline’s life, 150 years later, with a special event on June 14-15. The homestead in Broadway, Va., will remember the Civil War-era Brethren leader and martyr for peace with a two-day event for all ages on the 150th anniversary of his death. The commemoration will include activities for children and youth, tours of the homestead and other historic sites, lectures by noted historians, worship, a closing memorial service, and a play written by Paul Roth, “Under the Shadow of the Almighty.” For more information contact 540-896-5001 or proth@eagles.bridgewater.edu .
  • Jeffrey W. Carter, president of Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Ind., will provide the 2014 commencement address at Bridgewater (Va.) College on May 17, at 10 a.m. The topic of his address is “A Lasting Impression,” said a release from the college. As many as 385 seniors are expected to receive degrees at the commencement exercises, which will take place on the campus mall. W. Steve Watson Jr., associate professor of philosophy and religion, emeritus, will deliver the message at the baccalaureate service on May 16, at 6 p.m., on the campus mall. He will speak on “Why a Liberal Arts Education in a Christian Context?” Watson was a member of the Bridgewater faculty and community for 43 years, retiring at the end of the 2013 academic year. His students also included Dr. Carter. For more information go to www.bridgewater.edu .
Photo courtesy of Manchester University

Manchester University's Jo Young Switzer Center
  • Manchester University’s union has a new name: Jo Young Switzer Center. D. Randall Brown, chair of the Board of Trustees, announced the naming at an April 10 donor appreciation dinner that quickly turned to a celebration of the leadership of President Switzer, said a release from the college. President Switzer retires June 30. “At the dinner, Brown praised the president for contributing a legacy of strategic and mission-focused leadership that has transformed the university’s academic breadth, financial strength, enrollment, and visibility,” the release said. “During the Switzer tenure, Brown noted, the university has increased enrollment 25 percent, added a four-year Doctor of Pharmacy program on a new Fort Wayne campus, raised more than 95 percent toward a Students First! $100 million campaign, and dedicated several new learning facilities, including the union. Manchester also embraced a new name: University.” Switzer and her husband, professor Dave Switzer, also were recognized at the dinner as members of the Otho Winger Society--donors who have included the university in their estate plans. The $8 million Jo Young Switzer Center opened as the Union in 2007.
  • Composer Shawn Kirchner, of La Verne (Calif.) Church of the Brethren, will share his Middle Earth guide to daily creativity with his alma mater when he will be on the Manchester University campus in North Manchester, Ind., to give a lecture. Kirchner will talk about his unconventional process and perform his music on April 28 in the Jo Young Switzer Center. The free lecture begins at 7 p.m.; reservations are not necessary. “It’s about the ability to see big possibilities in small things,” he said in a release. “I call it a ‘Middle Earth’ schedule, because my day is divided into hobbit time, elf time, dwarf time, and human time,” he explained, referring to characters in the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. Kirchner is the Swan Family Composer in Residence for the Los Angeles Master Chorale. He provided vocals for box office hits “Avatar,” “The Lorax,” “Frozen,” and “X-Men First Class.” His choral compositions are performed throughout the United States and abroad in concert halls, churches, schools, and on radio, television, and YouTube. The release noted that he is best known for his arrangement of the Kenyan song “Wana Baraka.” More information is at shawnkirchner.com .
  • Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa., will dedicate its first single-room residence hall and the first new dormitory on campus since the 1970s, on April 25. A dedication ceremony will start with tours and refreshments at 4:15 p.m. at the building located off Cold Springs Road, said a release. The building is named Hilda Nathan Residence Hall in honor of Hilda Nathan, a longtime Juniata employee who worked in the treasurer's office 1946-76. “Hilda throughout her time at the college became well known to students for her efforts to do all she could to help them pay for a Juniata education,” said Gabriel Welsch, vice president for advancement and marketing, in the release. “Hilda's compassion for students is legendary among our alumni from the ’50s to the ’70s. She loaned students money, found scholarships, and helped them stay at Juniata when finances may otherwise have stood in the way of their earning their degrees.” The dedication ceremony itself will begin at 4:45 p.m. with several people bringing remarks including Juniata president James A. Troha, board of trustees chair Robert McDowell, chaplain David Witkovsky, president of student government Anshu Chawla and president-elect Kunal Atit, and Carly Wansing, project manager for Street Dixon Rick Architecture.
  • In more news from Juniata, the college gained third place in an AVCA Top 15 Coaches Poll. In a release, Jennifer Jones, director of Sports Information, reported that “a couple days after earning their second consecutive Continental Volleyball Conference (CVC) championship, Juniata College men's volleyball held onto its No. 3 national ranking, the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) poll announced.” To see the full coaches poll go to www.avca.org/divisions/men/3-poll-4-15-14 . Stay up-to-date on the Juniata College Eagles by logging onto www.juniatasports.net or following on Twitter @JuniataEagles .
  • In more news from the World Council of Churches, an international consultation on peace, reconciliation, and reunification of the Korean peninsula will be held in Geneva, Switzerland, in June. The announcement was made April 9 by WCC general secretary Olav Fykse Tveit at a press conference in Seoul, Republic of Korea. This follows on a statement on peace and reunification of the Korean Peninsula adopted by the WCC Assembly in Busan last year, said a release. Those invited to the consultation will include representatives from the Korean Christian Federation in North Korea, South Korean churches, and other ecumenical partners committed to work for peace and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula. Find the WCC statement on Peace and Reunification of the Korean Peninsula at www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/assembly/2013-busan/adopted-documents-statements/peace-and-reunification-of-the-korean-peninsula .
  • Kristen Bair, former administrative secretary for Northern Ohio District, appeared in Ashland (Ohio) County Common Pleas Court yesterday for a sentencing hearing. She was convicted in February of embezzling $400,000 from the district. She received a six-month sentence in the Ashland County Jail for the crime of aggravated theft. The judge suspended two months of the sentence, making the length of her incarceration four months, after which she will serve five years probation, reported the district office in an e-mail yesterday. In addition she must receive counseling for her problems with handling money, serve 400 hours of community service, and pay $395,000 in restitution to the Northern Ohio District.
Source: 4/22/2014 Newsline