-- “I hope that relations between the Cuban churches and the new president will be very good, given how he welcomed the CWS group last year,” says Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of Global Mission and Service for the Church of the Brethren. Wittmeyer was part of a Jan. 2017 delegation to Cuba with “heads of mission” of US churches and representatives from Church World Service (CWS). The visit was made in partnership with the Council of Churches in Cuba. The American church leaders met with newly named Cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canel, who was at the time serving as vice president. Wittmeyer remembers a warm welcome from Diaz-Canel. The delegation presented him with a Bible, and engaged in good conversation.
-- Children’s Disaster Services (CDS) is deploying a small team of volunteers to set up childcare in a Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC) in Taloga, Okla., on Monday and Tuesday. This is a response to wildfires in the area. Reports Kathleen Fry-Miller, CDS associate director, “The MARC coordinator said, ‘We don't anticipate a large number of families on any given day, but rather a few coming in each day. Red Cross has been doing casework and has seen 61 families so far over the course of about a week. Clients have been bringing their children with them.’” CDS is a ministry within Brethren Disaster Ministries and the Church of the Brethren's Global Mission and Service. For more information go to www.brethren.org/cds .
-- The Church of the Brethren General Offices has been hosting lots of meetings over the past couple of weeks.
The National Youth Conference office hosted meetings of the NYC Worship and Music Coordinators including Rhonda Pittman Gingrich, Cindy Lattimer, David Meadows, Virginia Meadows, Brian Messler, and Shawn Flory Replogle; and meetings of the National Youth Cabinet including Hannah Buck, Erika Clary, Emilie Deffenbaugh, Haley Dulabaum, Carol Elmore, Trevor Haren, Nathan Hollenberg, and Connor Ladd.
Brethren Volunteer Service held meetings of the BVS Think Tank. “It is always a highlight for the team to welcome the BVS Think Tank to the building,” said a Facebook post. “So much wisdom and innovative thinking around this table. Thank you to each Think Tank member for your energy and time!” Those in attendance from out of town were Alison Burchett of the Center for Faith and Service in Chicago; Bonnie Kline-Smeltzer, former BVSer and pastor of University Baptist and Brethren Church in State College, Pa.; Jim Lehman of Highland Ave. Church of the Brethren in Elgin, Ill.; Marie Schuster, former BVSer working with refugee resettlement in Rochester, N.Y.; and Jim Stokes-Buckles, former BVSer and a social worker in Florence, Mass.
The new Compelling Vision Process Team held meetings this week. The members include Michaela Alphonse of Miami, Fla.; Kevin Daggett of Bridgewater, Va.; Rhonda Pittman Gingrich of Minneapolis, Minn.; Donita Keister, moderator-elect of Annual Conference, from Mifflinburg, Pa.; Brian Messler of Lititz, Pa.; Samuel Sarpiya, moderator of Annual Conference, from Rockford, Ill.; Alan Stucky of Wichita, Kan.; and Kay Weaver of Strasburg, Pa.
-- Bethany Seminary hosted the Council of District Executives for professional growth opportunities and meetings on the school’s campus in Richmond, Ind., during the week of April 9. Faculty members Nate Inglis, Dawn Ottoni-Wilhelm, and Dan Ulrich held classes for the district executives, and Bethany president Jeff Carter led a class on strategic planning. The council was able to attend the weekly chapel service, heard master of divinity student Tim Heishman preach his senior sermon, and attended master of arts student Charlotte Loewen's thesis presentation, “From the Reflecting Pool: Exploring Brethren and Mennonite Attitudes toward One Another.” Students had the opportunity to meet with the district executives for conversation over a lunch, and faculty and staff also had opportunities to interact with them over shared meals. On April 11, the Church of the Brethren Leadership Team and general secretary David Steele arrived on campus to meet with the group, and students had the opportunity to meet with Annual Conference moderator Samuel Sarpiya.
-- In news from the Brethren Academy for Ministerial Leadership, the denomination’s Spanish-language ministry training is emerging from a time of transition. In early November, former coordinator Nancy Sollenberger Heishman left to become director of the Church of the Brethren Office of Ministry. In mid-January, Roxanne Aguirre began as coordinator. In the interim, other academy staff kept things going. “As we look back on those months between coordinators, the academy staff is deeply grateful to all the students, supervisors, instructors, and colleagues who helped to keep SeBAH-COB and EPMC moving forward,” said the academy newsletter. “Through open and ongoing communication, assistance with technology, acceptance of less-than-perfect translation, unending patience, and enduring prayer, we have reached the other side. God is good. Special gratitude is expressed for the two new instructors who joined us mid-transition, Marcos Inhauser and Otto Kladensky Jr.” Each of the new instructors created a first-of-its-kind course for SeBAH: Inhauser, a leader of the Church of the Brethren in Brazil, taught “La Historia, Teologia de la COB, y el Pietismo”; Kladensky, an educator in the field of global evangelism, is teaching “Vitalidad de la Igelsia y Evangelismo” from his home in Costa Rica. For more about the Brethren Academy, a partnership of the Church of the Brethren and Bethany Seminary, go to https://bethanyseminary.edu/brethren-academy .
-- A Nigeria briefing for legislators in Washington, D.C., is being offered by the Church of the Brethren Office of Peacebuilding and Policy (formerly the Office of Public Witness). “Boko Haram violence and farmer-herder conflicts continue to pose challenges for our Nigerian brothers and sisters,” says an action alert that will be distributed Monday. “Displaced people are being encouraged to return to liberated areas that may not be safe, social trust between communities has eroded, and a lack of governmental transparency has compounded problems for those living in IDP camps. There is a great need for an improved response to these challenges from the Nigerian government, and the United States government has the ability to encourage constructive responses.” The congressional briefing will be held on Friday, April 27, 9-10:30 a.m. in the Rayburn House Office Building Gold Room. The event is intended for policy makers and their staff members, to give them the tools and knowledge they need to enable constructive responses to conflict in Nigeria from the Nigerian government. “Please urge your representative, senators, and their staff members to attend the briefing,” says the action alert, which includes a sample email to inform legislators about the event.
-- “Open Elgin” on this Saturday, April 21, will again feature the Church of the Brethren General Offices as one of the showcase buildings open to the community as an “architectural gems” This second annual Open Elgin event is sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, and the buildings on the self-guided tour will be open to the public from 1-5 p.m. Visitors to the General Offices will view the unique stone-walled chapel, the front lobby, and the cafeteria, and will be welcome to make a circuit of hallways around the building’s two courtyards. Find out more at www.openelgin.com .
-- In related news, the City of Elgin’s Heritage Commission has chosen the Church of the Brethren General offices to be a recipient of the 2018 Mayor’s Award for preserving an excellent example of mid-century modern architecture and furniture. The award also recognizes the General Offices’ part in a National Trust tour of Elgin architecture last November. A public awards ceremony takes place the evening of Monday, May 1.
-- A stark report about the post-hurricane situation in Castañer, Puerto Rico, has been published by National Public Radio this week. The report includes input from leaders at the Castañer hospital that was started by the Church of the Brethren. “Many of the town's people continue to experience acute stress and anxiety attacks,” Dr. Javier Portalatin, a clinical psychologist and director general for mental health at the hospital, told NPR. “More than six months after Hurricane Maria, daily life in Castañer isn't close to normal,” the report says. “Children attend school half the day. A nearby school is closed for at least two years, and families who lost their homes have set up beds and couches in its classrooms.... With no harvest this spring, idle men spend hours on the plaza or in the town bar. In the months since the storm, the hospital has become the town's organizing center....” Read the NPR piece at www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/04/18/600913104/in-a-puerto-rican-mountain-town-hope-ebbs-as-the-hardship-continues .
-- Prince of Peace Church of the Brethren in Littleton, Colo., was part of the organizing group for a gun violence event at Clement Park next to Columbine High School on April 19, a day before the 19th anniversary of the mass shooting at the school on April 20, 1999. The organizing group included students, teachers, faith leaders, and Columbine families, reported pastor Gail Erisman Valeta. “And people are being flown in from Parkland and Sandyhook,” she wrote to Newsline, mentioning two of the schools that have suffered mass shootings in the years since. Find out more about the event at www.vote4ourlives2018.com and on the Facebook event page at www.facebook.com/events/617004708638409 .
-- A note about the latest Dunker Punks podcast: Brethren have incorporated themselves into society while still maintaining their beliefs for centuries. In this modern era, publications like “Brethren Life and Thought” provide a platform for an ever-globalizing denomination to stay connected and in community with each other. Explore this concept and more as Jonathan Stauffer interviews the social media editor for the Brethren Journal Association, Chibuzo Petty, on this episode of the Dunker Punks Podcast. Listen at http://bit.ly/DPP_Episode55 or subscribe on iTunes at http://bit.ly/DPP_iTunes .
-- A resource for churches to use around Earth Day is provided by Creation Justice Ministries, an ecumenical organization that offers Christian education materials to equip faith communities to protect, restore, and more rightly share God’s creation. This year’s resource is intended to be useful year-round, on Earth Day Sunday April 22, or later in the year for the “Season of Creation” from Sept. 1-Oct. 10. The theme is “Sense of Place: Surely the Lord Is in This Place,” and the resource “offers insights about living in harmony with local ecosystems and watersheds, rightly sharing places with a diversity of peoples, and respecting the history of your place,” said an announcement. The resource is free to download, but sign in is required. Go to http://action.creationjustice.org/p/salsa/web/common/public/signup?signup_page_KEY=11166 .