Newsline for June 6, 2007

“Be still, and know that I am God!”

Psalm 46:10a


1) Church of the Brethren membership decline continues.
2) Brethren Benefit Trust screens top 25 defense contractors.
3) On Earth Peace board meets with Cross-Cultural Consultation.
4) Letter to President Bush supports UN Population Fund.
5) Brethren bits: Corrections, remembrance, personnel, and more.


6) Nancy Klemm retires as managing editor of Brethren Press.


7) Southern Pennsylvania District dinner informs about missions.
8) Iraq reflection: Anger, forgiveness, and healing.

Go to http://www.cobwebcast.bethanyseminary.edu/ for an interview with Belita Mitchell, moderator of the 2007 Church of the Brethren Annual Conference, and Lerry Fogle, executive director of the Conference. The webcast reviews the upcoming Annual Conference in Cleveland, Ohio, on June 30-July 4. Mitchell and Fogle discuss the many areas of preparation, from inspiring worship and challenging business, to Bible studies, age-group activities, and other arrangements. They call on Brethren to prepare for the Conference with prayer, study, dialogue, and discernment.
Para ver la traducción en español de este artículo, “La Celebración Intercultural se reúne con el tema de la paz,” vaya a www.brethren.org/genbd/newsline/2007/apr2507.htm#1a. (For a Spanish translation of the article, “Cross-Cultural Celebration meets on the theme of peace,” from the Newline of May 9, go to www.brethren.org/genbd/newsline/2007/apr2507.htm#1a.)
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1) Church of the Brethren membership decline continues.

Membership in the Church of the Brethren declined by 1,814 in 2006, according to reports received by the denomination. That represents a decrease of 1.4 percent from the previous year, about the same as the decline in 2005. Total reported membership in the US and Puerto Rico now stands at 127,526.

Denominational membership has been on a steady decline since the early 1960s, as for most mainline denominations in the US. Statistics are collected annually by the “Church of the Brethren Yearbook” published by Brethren Press. The figure does not include Church of the Brethren membership in other countries including Nigeria, Brazil, India, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. The Nigerian church is the largest Brethren body in the world.

Sixteen of the 23 US districts reported net membership declines last year, while seven reported increases. Some trends reversed from the previous year: Pacific Southwest District, which had the largest decrease in 2005, had the largest percentage increase in 2006, up 84 members or nearly 3.5 percent. In fact, much of the growth was west of the Mississippi, with the districts of Idaho, Southern Plains, and Western Plains also reporting net membership increases. Illinois and Wisconsin, Shenandoah, and Southeastern were the other districts reporting gains. Shenandoah District had the largest numerical increase, up 89 members.

Meanwhile, Atlantic Southeast District–which had the largest percentage increase in 2005–reported the largest percentage loss in 2006, down 8.9 percent (a decrease of 178 members). Five districts had declines of at least three percent. Southern Ohio District reported the greatest numerical decline, with a net loss of 371 members.

Atlantic Northeast remains the largest district, with 14,860 members at the end of 2006, followed by Shenandoah and Virlina. Missouri/Arkansas District is the denomination’s smallest, with 549 total members.

The number of full congregations fell by five, to 1,010, and the number of fellowships dropped from 42 to 39. Church planting, however, resulted in a net increase of five new projects, for a total of 15. Total reported average weekly worship attendance dropped by 1,572 from the year before, to 63,571. The number of baptisms was at its lowest level in decades, with just 1,657 reported.

Giving was mixed, with donations to the General Board’s General Ministries Fund and On Earth Peace up slightly, while giving to Bethany Theological Seminary and the Association of Brethren Caregivers was down. Average per capita giving was $41.

Updated “Yearbook” figures are based on data provided by congregations that turn in statistical reports. In 2005, 68.7 percent of the congregations reported, a fairly consistent response to previous years; 69 percent reported in 2004. The “Yearbook” also lists contact information and statistics for congregations, districts, denominational agencies, and related Brethren organizations. The 2007 edition is available from Brethren Press; to order call 800-441-3712.

–Walt Wiltschek is editor of the Church of the Brethren’s “Messenger” magazine.

2) Brethren Benefit Trust screens top 25 defense contractors.

As part of its socially responsible investment policy, Brethren Benefit Trust (BBT) each year requests Boston Common Asset Management, one of its investment managers, to compile a list of the US military’s top 25 defense contractors. The list is based on the size of contracts awarded by the Department of Defense. As directed by BBT’s investment guidelines, the firms on this list are then automatically screened from BBT’s investment portfolios by the investment managers.

Since some of the firms on the list are privately owned and not within BBT’s potential investment universe, BBT’s Board of Directors voted in April to not invest in the top 25 defense contractors that are publicly traded companies. Tightening this social screen has meant that five privately held companies were dropped from BBT’s list and five new names were added.

Screening requires that BBT’s managers drop the companies from BBT’s portfolio and either replace them with another firm in the market sector or allow the portfolio to become less weighted in that market sector.

Many of the names on the list are readily identifiable as part of the American war machine, such as General Dynamics, but some of the names are not immediately associated with the US military, most notably FedEx. FedEx primarily contracts with the Department of Defense to provide airlift cargo services. The US military contracts heavily with commercial carriers–in the first Gulf War, according to Boston Common, 27 percent of all cargo was shipped by commercial carriers.

FedEx also provides the military with “White Glove Services” to transport sensitive materials that need to be carefully guarded and tracked throughout the shipping process. FedEx’s inclusion on the list gives evidence to the ubiquitous reach of the US military-industrial complex.

Since BBT believes strongly that it should screen out FedEx from its investments because it is a top defense contractor, BBT cannot in good conscience patronize FedEx for BBT’s regular office needs. BBT will no longer use FedEx as its package-delivery service of choice.

The top 25 publically owned defense contractors are: 1. Lockheed Martin; 2. Boeing Company; 3. Northrop Grumman; 4. General Dynamics; 5. Raytheon; 6. Halliburton; 7. L-3 Communications Holding; 8. BAE Systems PLC; 9. United Technologies; 10. Computer Sciences; 11. Humana; 12. ITT Industries; 13. General Electric Company; 14. Health Net; 15. Electronic Data Systems; 16. Public Warehousing; 17. Honeywell International; 18. Textron; 19. Armor Holdings; 20. URS; 21. Amerisource Bergen; 22. Harris; 23. FedEx; 24. British Petroleum PLC; 25. Exxon Mobil.

–Jay Wittmeyer is manager of publications for Brethren Benefit Trust. This article is reprinted from the second quarter 2007 issue of “BBT Benefit News.”

3) On Earth Peace meets with Cross-Cultural Consultation.

The Board of Directors of On Earth Peace met April 20-22, at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md. The meeting was scheduled in conjunction with the Cross-Cultural Consultation, so that both groups could benefit from joint sessions and informal interaction.

The On Earth Peace board and staff took part in worship, Bible study, discussions, and lively conversations with other participants in the celebration. A number of new relationships were formed that promise cooperative efforts in the future. Already, plans are being formed for peace education and organizing to support the work of peacemakers in the Cross-Cultural Ministries community.

In other agenda items, the board held a session on its development role, led by Theresa Eshbach; received reports from liaison relationships with Christian Peacemaker Teams and the UN NGO Subcommittee on the Elimination of Racism; received a midyear financial report; heard an update on changes in staff responsibilities, with co-director Barbara Sayler moving to the half-time role of communications coordinator, and co-director Bob Gross continuing as executive director in a solo role. Program activity reports from all six staff members reflected an energetic and comprehensive program of education, networking, support, resources, and leadership for peace and reconciliation ministries.

Annual Conference-related business included a report on Conference plans for 2007-08 from Lerry Fogle, executive director; a compilation and analysis of the survey taken at the 2005 Conference to measure beliefs regarding the peace and reconciliation roles of the church; introduction of bylaw updates to be put before On Earth Peace members at this year’s Conference; and consideration of the Review and Evaluation report coming to the Conference.

Recognizing the pain of violence near at hand as well as around the world, board and staff gathered in prayer for the families of victims of the shootings at Virginia Tech and approved a message of remembrance and consolation to be posted on the On Earth Peace website.

The fall meeting of the On Earth Peace board is scheduled for Sept. 20-22, in New Windsor.

–Bob Gross is executive director of On Earth Peace.

4) Letter to President Bush supports UN Population Fund.

The Brethren Witness/Washington Office has sent a letter to President Bush regarding funding of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The letter dated April 20 was signed by Phil Jones as director of the office, which is a ministry of the Church of the Brethren General Board.

The letter described the fund as “an international development agency that promotes the right of every woman, man, and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity,” and said the fund supports countries in “using population data for policies and programs to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV/AIDS, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.”

Referring to the action of the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference in support of the UN Millennium Development Goals, the letter stated in part, “One of the most critical concerns of our church today is the inadequate healthcare and support of women in our world. Repeated studies have shown that due to inadequate healthcare, poor nourishment, lack of education, and other conditions and situations brought on by poverty and hunger that millions of women are at risk in regards to their health, and most often the health of their children.”

The Millennium Development Goals recognize specific goals of education and empowerment of women, reduction of child mortality, and care for the maternal health of women.

In other news from the Brethren Witness/Washington Office, an action alert on May 31 invited Brethren to support efforts against the use of torture. The office has joined ecumenical partners and other communities of faith and faith-based organizations in endorsing a statement by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. The office also is encouraging attendance at a June 26 “Day of Action to Restore Law and Justice” in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, and the Leadership Council on Civil Rights. Find information at http://action.aclu.org/site/DocServer/flyer-v2_sm_a.pdf?docID=1361.

Another upcoming event receiving support is the Jubilee USA Conference at Loyola University in Chicago on June 15-17. Jubilee USA Network is an alliance of 75 religious denominations, faith communities, and other groups, including the Brethren Witness/Washington Office, working for the cancellation of crushing debts to fight poverty and injustice in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. For more visit http://www.jubileeusa.org/.

Contact the Brethren Witness/Washington Office at 337 N. Carolina Ave. SE, Washington, DC 20003; 800-785-3246; washington_office_gb@brethren.org.

5) Brethren bits: Corrections, remembrance, personnel, and more.

  • Corrections: In the Newsline of May 23, the name of the individual receiving the Ecumenical Citation was given incorrectly–Anna N. Buckwalter is the recipient; also, in the listing of Bethany Seminary graduates, Michael Benner’s yoked congregation should be listed as Koontz Church of the Brethren in New Enterprise, Pa., and Waterside (Pa.) Church of the Brethren.
  • Raymond W. Bowman, 86, the first administrator of the “new” Pinecrest Manor (now Pinecrest Community) built in 1963 in Mount Morris, Ill., died May 20 at St. John’s Hospice in Springfield, Ill. Pinecrest Manor replaced the Brethren Home in Mount Morris. Under Bowman’s leadership, 25 residents moved from the old building, and in less than a year the population of Pinecrest Manor numbered over 100, according to a history of the Brethren homes. Residency at Pinecrest also was no longer restricted to members of the Church of the Brethren. Bowman and his family served as Lutheran missionaries during the 1950s in Nigeria, where his association with the Church of the Brethren began. Soon after returning to the family home in St. Louis, he was asked to accept the role of administrator of the Brethren Home. He served as administrator of Pinecrest until 1974, when he accepted a position as administrator of Heritage Square, a retirement facility under development in Dixon, Ill. During his tenure in longterm care administration he also was a member of the Board of Directors for the Illinois Association of Homes for the Aging. Upon his retirement in 1986, he served as an accountant for the nonprofit organization Trees for Life, headquartered in Wichita, Kan. Bowman is survived by his wife of 65 years, Anna Ruth Bowman of Springfield, as well as his six children, 12 grandchildren, and 12 great-grandchildren.
  • The University of La Verne (ULV) in La Verne, Calif., has welcomed Alden Reimonenq as its new provost and vice president of academic affairs. Reimonenq previously spent 17 years teaching at St. Mary’s College in California, and then continued his career in administration at California State University, Northridge, and California State University, East Bay, after leaving St. Mary’s in 1999. Since 2003 he served as dean of the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences at CSU East Bay. He holds a master’s degree and doctorate in English literature, and has studied at the University of New Orleans, Purdue University, the British Museum in London, and the University of Arizona. He also is a poet and Shakespeare scholar. He started in the position at ULV on March 1.
  • Laura Barlet of Elizabethtown, Pa., will work as an intern in the Brethren Historical Library and Archives in Elgin, Ill., for the months of June and July. She graduated from Bryn Mawr College in May.
  • The US Conference Board of the World Council of Churches (WCC) seeks a Young Adult Ecumenical Formation coordinator to fill a half-time position located in New York City. Responsibilities include serving as staff for the Young Adult Task Force, working with the youth body and young adult program executive of the WCC and colleagues at other ecumenical organizations; working to connect young adults with member communions; facilitating planning of young adult gatherings; promoting interaction and communication with young adults through visits to member church colleges, universities, and seminaries, and representation at denominational gatherings and ecumenical events; creation and maintenance of a website, web-blogs, listservs, etc.; sharing “best practices” and stories of young adults in ecumenical leadership; and assisting the Decade to Overcome Violence to nurture links with young adult ecumenical interfaith networks for justice and peace; among many others. Deadline for applications is July 16; start date is Oct. 1. For the full job description including qualifications, compensation, and application process go to http://www.wcc-usa.org/.
  • The Material Resources program (formerly Service Ministries) seeks volunteers to work with Church World Service Gift of the Heart Kit program at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md. Thousands of kits are processed and shipped to disaster locations, refugee camps, and programs throughout the world. Help is needed to check items in donated kits so that each recipient is assured a complete and appropriate kit. This requires standing, as well as some lifting and stretching. Volunteer opportunities are available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Lunch is provided for volunteers who work six hours or more. For more information or to schedule a date to volunteer, contact the New Windsor Conference Center at 410-635-8700.
  • Stan Noffsinger, general secretary of the Church of the Brethren General Board, recently signed on to ecumenical letters and statements on current issues. On the issue of global warming, Noffsinger and the Brethren Washington/Witness Office endorsed a statement of Faith Principles on Global Warming; the National Council of Churches will submit a list of the religious communities that have endorsed the statement to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on June 7; the principles focus on justice, stewardship, sustainability, and sufficiency (go to www.nccecojustice.org/climateprinciples.html). On the issue of health insurance, Noffsinger signed a letter to Max Baucus, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, urging increased commitment to health care services for children, and asking for fulfillment of a commitment Congress made to include $50 billion over five years in additional funding for children’s health, following up on efforts to reauthorize the State Child Health Insurance Program funding. On the subject of travel to Cuba, Noffsinger was invited by Church World Service to support the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act (S 721); Noffsinger noted a 1985 Annual Conference resolution on Normalizing Relations with Cuba and a 1992 General Board resolution on Humanitarian Aid to Cuba. The letter asks specifically to end restrictions on religious travel by national, regional, and local church bodies and by ecumenical and interfaith organizations.
  • The annual Ministry Summer Service orientation began June 2 at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill., and continues through the morning of June 7. This is the first time the orientation has been held at the General Offices. The orientation includes 15 interns and their mentors. Interns will serve congregations and church agencies. Ministry Summer Service is a leadership development program for college students in the Church of the Brethren, sponsored by the General Board’s Youth and Young Adult Ministry Office and Office of Ministry. Four of the Brethren colleges–Bridgewater, Elizabethtown, Manchester, and McPherson–provide $2,500 scholarships to students who participate; Ministry Summer Service provides $2,500 tuition grants to students from other colleges. Interns also receive room and board and a stipend.
  • Irvin and Nancy Heishman, mission coordinators for the Church of the Brethren in the Dominican Republic, will travel on June 14 to the US for a bi-annual home service visit. They will be visiting among churches, attending Annual Conference, and enjoying a time of rest and refreshment. Church visits include Chiques Church of the Brethren in Manheim, Pa., on June 15 during evening Vacation Bible School; Wolgamuth Church of the Brethren in Dillsburg, Pa., on Sunday morning June 17; Pottstown (Pa.) Church of the Brethren on June 24 in the morning; Indian Creek Church of the Brethren in Harleysville, Pa., on June 24 in the evening; and HIS Way Fellowship/Iglesia Jesucristo El Camino in Hendersonville, N.C., on Sunday, July 8.
  • The Ministers’ Association has extended the deadline for pre-registration for the continuing education event scheduled ahead of Annual Conference in Cleveland, Ohio, on the theme, “Excellence in Ministry.” The deadline has been extended until June 15. The event will be held June 29-30 in the Crown Plaza Hotel. Greg Jones, event leader and dean of the Duke Divinity School, will speak on another way of understanding excellence, rooted in the Christ hymn of Philippians 2 that sings praise to Christ’s humility. Find the pre-registration form at www.brethren.org/ac/cleveland/infopacket_specific.pdf.
  • Manchester College in North Manchester, Ind., has honored four “alumni who make a difference,” including Association of Brethren Caregivers (ABC) executive director Kathy Goering Reid. She is a 1973 graduate, has served on several task forces concerned with child welfare, is a former executive director of the Texas Homeless Network, and while in Texas founded a Mennonite congregation. As executive director of ABC, she fosters a Brethren agency dedicated to ministries of giving and receiving care, connecting and undergirding people and communities in lifelong journeys toward wholeness. The others honored are 1987 graduate Cara M. Bergen, 1959 graduate Harry L. Keffer, and 1968 graduate J. Michael Jarvis, who also serves on the college board of trustees. For more go to http://www.manchester.edu/.
  • The Debate Team of the University of La Verne, Calif., went head to head with Ivy League schools and top colleges and universities across the nation, and finished ranked number one in the country, according to the university’s “Voice” magazine. Students Josh Martin and Rob Ruiz earned top honors at the 2007 US Universities Debating Championships March 31-April 1.
  • Church World Service (CWS) has urged action on immigration with a “Take 5” campaign, calling on participants to take five minutes each day June 5-8 to call their senators about the immigration bill before Congress. CWS has called for reforms to improve the system to reduce waiting times for separated families, who currently wait many years to be reunited; legal avenues for immigrants to work in the US with employee rights protected; opportunity for earned legalization for all people who already contribute to the economy, to keep families together and remedy abuse of undocumented workers; safeguards for asylum seekers by ensuring a fair legal process without penalizing them with increased bureaucracy; and implementation of “smart, targeted enforcement, not fences.” For action alerts go to http://www.cwsspeakout.com/.
  • World Council of Churches (WCC) member churches and related organizations have been holding a week of prayers, seminars, and advocacy on June 3-9, to mark this month’s anniversary of the start of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war (go to www.oikoumene.org/index.php?id=3627). A Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum also will be launched at a conference June 17-21 in Jordan to coordinate church advocacy work and promote new efforts for peace.
  • The Tears and Ashes bus tour sponsored by CrossRoads Valley Brethren-Mennonite Heritage Center on July 21 will feature Civil War battlefields in the Cross Keys, Port Republic, and New Hope areas of eastern Rockingham County, Va. Murphy Wood, an authority on the battlefields, will serve as tour guide. The tour begins and ends at Mill Creek Church of the Brethren in Port Republic. The $60 fee includes a lunch served by the Mill Creek Church youth and a tour booklet. Call 540-438-1275 by July 16 to register.
  • *The Brethren Revival Fellowship is sponsoring the 34th Annual Brethren Bible Institute on July 23-27, to be held on the campus of Elizabethtown (Pa.) College. The scripture theme is from Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” For registration forms, write to Brethren Bible Institute, 155 Denver Rd., Denver, PA 17517. The registration deadline is June 28.
  • ”For Just Such a Time: Living Out the Call,” on June 30-July 1 in San Francisco, is sponsored by the Supportive Communities Network, the Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Interests (BMC), First Mennonite Church of San Francisco (host), and MennoNeighbors. Keynote presenter is Jay E. Johnson, an Episcopal priest on the faculty at Pacific School of Religion and acting executive director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry in Berkeley. Contact bmc@bmclgbt.org.
  • James Loney has refused to testify against his kidnappers, because he believes they will not receive a fair trial, according to a letter from him published in the May 23 issue of “The Toronto Star,” a Canadian newspaper. Loney was one of four members of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) kidnapped in Iraq on Nov. 26, 2005, and held by Iraqi insurgents for four months. One of the four, Tom Fox, was killed, and the others were freed by British and American soldiers. Those alleged to be the kidnappers are in US custody, Loney wrote. “The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Scotland Yard want us to testify in a trial to be conducted in the Central Criminal Court of Iraq. An RCMP officer told us, ‘The death penalty is on the table.’” Loney said he has learned everything he can about the court, quoting among other sources a UN report that the court “consistently failed to meet minimum fair trial standards.” His letter said, “I cannot participate in a judicial process where the prospects of a fair trial are negligible, and more crucially, where the death penalty is a possibility.”
  • A resident of Peter Becker Community, a Church of the Brethren retirement center in Harleysville, Pa., celebrated her 105th birthday on June 5. Marion Schaul was surrounded by friends, family, and staff members at a party in her honor. She has been a resident at Peter Becker Community since 1999, and has attended Bible Fellowship Church in Harleysville.

6) Nancy Klemm retires as managing editor of Brethren Press.

Nancy Klemm has announced her retirement as managing editor of Brethren Press, a ministry of the Church of the Brethren General Board, effective Sept. 28. She has worked for the General Board since 1985 and has completed more than 22 years of service.

She began work for the board as a secretary and editorial assistant for the People of the Covenant program. Over the years she assumed additional responsibilities in the Parish Ministries Commission and Brethren Press. Her job titles have included editorial assistant, copy editor, associate editor, and managing editor. Among her varied tasks, she has carried major responsibility for Guide for Biblical Studies, the Living Word Bulletin Series, Covenant Bible Studies, Perspectives, Brethren Press books, and copyrights and permissions. She assumed her current post in 2000.

Klemm culminates her employment with completion of a major project, the newly published “Fresh from the Word” daily devotional for the 300th anniversary of the Brethren.

7) Southern Pennsylvania District dinner informs about missions.

Three years ago, the Southern Pennsylvania District Witness Commission determined there was a need to help congregations become more aware of the numerous areas where the Church of the Brethren is in mission. As a result, the commission organized the First Annual District Missions Dinner.

This year marks the Third Annual District Missions Dinner. As May 5 approached (the date for the dinner), commission members were concerned that ticket sales were quite low. It seemed that graduations, other community events, and church events were going to affect attendance.

But on the Friday before the dinner, I breathed a sigh of relief, as ticket sales increased to 96. Although this number was about 200 below the previous two years, witness chair Ray Lehman and I were pleased that with those 96 people, the commission had an opportunity to teach about the work of the denomination in mission.

Mechanicsburg (Pa.) Church of the Brethren hosted a lovely family-style dinner, with pastor Del Keeney as host. The Bermudian Men’s Group lifted praise to God through song, while the Dinner Planning Committee provided a backdrop of a display of items from different cultures.

Stan Noffsinger, general secretary of the General Board, gave a presentation about where the Church of the Brethren is serving in mission, and some of the areas of concern in mission, such as cultural settings. He said that a prime concern is the church membership’s willingness to support missions launched for the long haul. Noffsinger fielded questions from the floor about being more evangelical in our outreach methods, and possibilities for planting churches.

An offering goal was set for $5,500, to benefit the Global Missions Partnerships of the General Board. A round of praise went up as the offering this year was announced: $5,353. To God be the glory for the faithful response of Southern Pennsylvania District Mission Dinner attendees!

–Georgia Markey is associate district executive minister for Southern Pennsylvania District.

8) Iraq reflection: Anger, forgiveness, and healing.

We were Sunni Muslim, Yezidi, and Christian–two Christian Peacemaker Team members, and two Kurdish Iraqi companions. We had taken a trip together to learn about and explore relationships with a community in northwest Iraq that has suffered religious persecution, poverty, and mass displacement. On our trip home, the four of us were kidnapped at gunpoint and taken to a family compound in a small village.

Our religious differences suddenly became a big deal when our guard asked each of us who we were and about the organizations we were a part of. The questions about our religion raised an extra layer of fear in our Iraqi companions. Depending on the background of our captors, their religious identity could mean life or death.

When our guard asked me if I was a Christian, I simply said, “Yes.” But after he repeated the question, I sensed a veiled threat in what he asked. Then I knew I needed to say more. I wanted to be sure our guard would understand, so I asked one of my companions to translate my words.

“You are holding us here, and you would do us harm,” I said, “I am a Christian, and because I am, I will forgive you!” Our guard seemed taken aback at first, and then responded defensively, “No, we will not harm you! You are like my mother.”

My words about forgiveness startled me. Mixed with my fear was also anger toward these men who held us. I had no idea what they would do with us. I wanted to be able to forgive them, but I knew I wasn’t there yet.

We were very thankful when two days later our kidnappers released one of our Iraqi companions and me. They released the others six days later.

Since then, I have been walking on a path toward healing, which I believe includes forgiveness of all involved in the kidnapping. I want to be free of the burdens of resentment toward those who took us captive and threatened to harm us, yet allow room for a healthy anger toward injustice and abuse.

Looking back, I see that the anger I felt during the kidnapping was a gift God gave me and has been part of the forgiving process. This anger helped me combat the feelings of helplessness encroaching on me at that time and made it possible for me to speak the truth about the harm our captors were doing. My comments, in turn, interrupted the guard’s threatening questions.

Now, recognizing and facing these feelings of anger keeps me honest and real about my need for healing and God’s grace.

–Peggy Gish is a Church of the Brethren member and long-term worker with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in Iraq. This reflection appeared in a release from CPT on May 31; the kidnapping happened earlier this year. Since then CPT’s Iraq team has returned home for healing, examination, and discernment.


Newsline is produced by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren General Board, cobnews@brethren.org or 800-323-8039 ext. 260. J. Allen Brubaker, Colleen M. Hart, Jon Kobel, Jeri S. Kornegay, Karin Krog, and Wendy McFadden contributed to this report. Newsline appears every other Wednesday, with the next regularly scheduled Newsline set for June 20; other special issues may be sent as needed. Newsline stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. For more Church of the Brethren news and features, subscribe to “Messenger” magazine, call 800-323-8039 ext. 247.

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