Newsline for March 22, 2012

Quote of the week:
“Are we ready to serve
as each other’s bread and wine?”– Congregational Life Ministries executive Jonathan Shively at yesterday’s chapel service at the Church of the Brethren General Offices, inviting the congregation to a traditional Brethren time of self examination before sharing footwashing and communion. The special service was held with a group of guests from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) led by general minister and president Sharon Watkins, and including Robert Welsh, president of the Council on Christian Unity, and Ron Degges, president of Disciples Home Missions (look for the story in the next issue of Newsline).

“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33b).

1) Board adopts 2012 budget, discusses financial policies for self-funding ministries.
2) New phone system is installed at Church of the Brethren offices.
3) Giving among US and Canadian churches drops $1.2 billion.

4) Boshart to manage Global Food Crisis Fund, Emerging Global Mission Fund.
5) New unit of BVS volunteers begins service.

6) Illinois Central Song and Story Fest will precede Annual Conference.
7) Registration for Mission Alive 2012 opens April 1.

8) From Vietnam: The amazing story of 30 blind students.

9) Brethren bits: Personnel, jobs, Kony 2012, march for Trayvon, Bittersweet tour, much more.


1) Board adopts 2012 budget, discusses financial policies for self-funding ministries.

A 2012 budget for the denominational ministries was the top business item at the spring meeting of the Church of the Brethren Mission and Ministry Board. Chair Ben Barlow led the March 9-12 meeting, which was held at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md.

Also on the agenda were an allocation from the Global Food Crisis Fund, the Ministerial Leadership paper, an appointment to the Brethren Historical Committee, and a number of items presented for conversation and input from the board including financial policies related to self-funding ministries, the proposed denominational Vision Statement, and an emerging effort of Congregational Life Ministries called “Vital Ministry Journey.”

The Ecumenical Call to Just Peace document also was presented for board conversation. World Council of Churches (WCC) representative Michael Hostetter and general secretary Stan Noffsinger invited the board into conversation about the content of the paper, with special attention to its relevance to the Church of the Brethren. The document comes to the next Assembly of the WCC in 2013.

Ben Barlow chairs the Spring 2012 meeting of the Church of the Brethren Mission and Ministry Board
Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
Ben Barlow (center) chaired the Spring 2012 meeting of the Church of the Brethren Mission and Ministry Board. At right is vice chair Becky Ball-Miller, with general secretary Stan Noffsinger shown at left.

Finances and 2012 budget

Treasurer LeAnn Wine presented financial reports for 2011 (see her report in the Feb. 22 issue of Newsline, go to ) as well as a proposed 2012 budget for denominational ministries. The board had delayed approval of a 2012 budget because of financial decisions in late 2011.

The board approved a total budget for denominational ministries (including self-funding ministries) of $8,850,810 income, $8,900,080 expense, with an expected net loss of $49,270. The net loss is related to the closure of the New Windsor Conference Center. The conference center will continue to host groups and retreats until it closes June 4. The denomination’s other ministries at the Brethren Service Center are continuing.

Wine also informed the board of staff discussions about policies related to self-funding units. A review of those policies is part of the organization’s strategic plan, which has a directional goal on “sustainability.” The self-funding programs include Brethren Press, Brethren Disaster Ministries, New Windsor Conference Center, Global Food Crisis, Material Resources, the Conference Office, and “Messenger” magazine.

Although many different internal policies govern these self-funded ministries, one aspect gained the attention of the board: a practice of charging interest on interfund borrowing by self-funding departments. The board asked the treasurer to do additional study and bring a recommendation on whether this practice should be discontinued.

GFCF grant

The board approved a grant of $58,000 to support agricultural development in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). This grant for the Ryongyon Community Development Program continues long-term Brethren support for four farm cooperatives that feed and are home to 17,000 people. The program is carried out in cooperation with other members of the Foods Resource Bank, and is directed by Dr. Pilju Kim Joo of Agglobe International.

“The need for food security is great,” said the grant request. “Caritas reports that floods, a harsh winter, poor farming infrastructure, and rising global food prices have left two-thirds of the 24.5 million population without enough to eat.” Find out more about the church’s work in North Korea at .

Ministerial Leadership paper

The board reviewed the provisional approval it gave at its last meeting to a draft of the Ministerial Leadership document, and approved the document to be brought to the 2012 Annual Conference. The proposal to the Conference will be to approve the document as a study paper, before it comes back for final adoption. The document reviewed by the board at this meeting included revisions from the previous version, with a new section of “Scriptural Theological Perspective,” as well as new sections of additional recommendations and a glossary of terms, among other smaller revisions. For more information go to .

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
A new concept of “Share and Prayer Triads” was experienced at the Mission and Ministry Board meeting. Congregational Life Ministries executive Jonathan Shively led the board in small group Bible study, personal sharing, and prayer. The model is part of the Vital Ministry Journey initiative that Congregational Life is putting into place in collaboration with districts.

Vital Ministry Journey

An emerging effort of Congregational Life Ministries, the “Vital Ministry Journey” is a new way for denominational staff to partner with congregations and districts toward holistic health. Built around conversation, Bible study, prayer, and storytelling, the first phase seeks to identify churches that are ready to grow their “mission vitality.”

Initially developed with Middle Pennsylvania District, which plans to launch the process in  September, the Vital Ministry Journey is a work in progress said Jonathan Shively, executive director of Congregational Life Ministries. As he presented an outline of the goals and steps envisioned for the two phases of the journey, Shively emphasized that at its core the process is adaptable and intended to be customized by congregations and districts.

Practices supporting the process include coaching, training, networking, mutual support, and the cultivation of shared mission among congregations. Shively led the board in an experience of “Share and Prayer Triads,” three-member study groups that will be in place for 60 days in a congregation, a time intended for self-study and discernment of a church’s state of health, calling as a community, and next steps in mission.

In other business

The Executive Committee appointed Dawne Dewey to a four-year term on the Brethren Historical Committee. She is head of special collections and archives at Wright State University in Ohio and attends Pleasant Hill Church of the Brethren in Southern Ohio District.

Board members worshiped with Frederick (Md.) Church of the Brethren, attending two of the four Sunday morning services held by the congregation. Frederick is the largest Church of the Brethren in the US. Following worship, the board was given lunch by the congregation, and pastor Paul Mundey led the board in a private workshop on “Developing Leadership Skills in Turbulent Times.” The board also held a conversation in closed session (see a release from the board below).

During the board meetings, Annual Conference moderator Tim Harvey led devotions focused on the proposed Vision Statement for the Church of the Brethren coming to the 2012 Conference. On behalf of the Conference officers, who also were meeting in New Windsor over the weekend, he made a recommendation that the Church of the Brethren as a whole and each congregation spend a month this fall focusing on the Vision Statement through Bible studies and small group discussions. Find the proposed statement, a study guide, a new theme hymn, and worship resources at .

Release from the Mission and Ministry Board: Executive Session Report

Recognizing the importance in the life of a board for generative time, the Mission and Ministry Board entered into executive session on Sunday afternoon, March 11, at the Frederick Church of the Brethren.

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
Pastor Paul Mundey preaches at Frederick (Md.) Church of the Brethren. The denomination’s Mission and Ministry Board during its Spring meeting worshiped with the Frederick congregation. The events on Sunday, March 11, 2012, also included a lunch provided by the host church, and an afternoon session that Mundey led for the board on “Developing Leadership Skills for Turbulent Times.”

As a board development component of the afternoon, Frederick pastor Paul Mundey led the board through a seminar on “Developing Leadership Skills in Turbulent Times.”

General Secretary Stan Noffsinger brought a progress report on the New Windsor Conference Center closure and potential retasking of conference center facilities.

The board then entered into a conversation about how best to communicate with each other and with the wider church. The board focused on decisions made in the past year regarding BVS [Brethren Volunteer Service] project approvals. Specifically, the board spoke about the approval of the Brethren Mennonite Council’s BVS project application. The timeline and the process that led toward the decision was shared by the General Secretary and the board Chair.

In January 2011, the Executive Committee discussed the approval process for BVS projects in general and potential placements with BMC in particular. The Executive Committee affirmed that all BVS volunteers must be engaged in service consistent with the values of the Church of the Brethren as articulated by Annual Conference statements and policies. The Executive Committee further affirmed that any project placement meeting this criterion and not involving advocacy against Church of the Brethren positions should receive consideration. The Executive Committee then instructed the General Secretary and an Executive Committee member to engage in conversation with BMC representatives to determine whether potential BMC placements could meet those criteria and, if so, consider such placements. The General Secretary determined that the BMC project met the criteria articulated by the Executive Committee.

The board agreed that, going forward, all BVS projects should be reviewed periodically to assure that they meet these criteria.

The board acknowledged that the Executive Committee could have communicated this decision and its rationale more effectively with the wider board and the larger church and expressed regret for the confusion and pain that resulted.

Given that experience, the board committed itself in the future to find ways to communicate more effectively with the larger church. The board seeks in all of its work to be a unifying force that is respectful of all members of the Church of the Brethren.

The board ended its closed session in prayer, seeking God’s wisdom and guidance in its role in providing leadership for the Church of the Brethren.

2) New phone system is installed at Church of the Brethren offices.

A new telephone system has been installed for the Church of the Brethren at the General Offices in Elgin, Ill. The new VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) system is expected to save the church thousands of dollars and is a significant upgrade of telephone service. Installation took place March 12.

Main telephone numbers for the Church of the Brethren offices remain the same: 847-742-5100, 800-323-8039 (toll free), 847-742-6103 (fax). Also unchanged is the Brethren Press customer service number at 800-441-3712.

Brethren Benefit Trust (BBT) main numbers continue to be 847-695-0200 and 800-746-1505.

Employees have been assigned new extension numbers. New capabilities also offer staff the ability to view voice mail, identify callers via a computer connection, and forward calls to cell phones when away from the office.

There are new options for those calling in as well. On calling either 847-742-5100 or 800-323-8039, a caller may dial an extension number at any time, or press 1 to access a menu of departments. Callers also may dial an employee’s last name to be connected.

A listing of Church of the Brethren staff extensions is at .

3) Giving among US and Canadian churches drops $1.2 billion.

Churches continue to feel the effects of “the Great Recession” of 2008 as contributions dropped $1.2 billion, according to the National Council of Churches’ 2012 “Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.”

Membership trends in denominations reporting to the Yearbook remain stable, with growing churches still growing and declining churches still declining, reports Eileen Lindner, Yearbook editor.

The 80th annual edition of the Yearbook, one of the oldest and most respected sources of church membership and financial trends in the US and Canada, may be ordered for $55 each at .

Not all churches report their financial information to the Yearbook, Lindner said, but the downward trends are reasons for concern. The nearly $29 billion contributed by nearly 45 million church members is down $1.2 billion from figures reported in the 2011 Yearbook, Lindner said. “This enormous loss of revenue dwarfs the $431 million decrease reported last year and provides clear evidence of the impact of the deepening crises in the reporting period,” Lindner wrote.

In terms of per capita giving, the $763 contributed per person is down $17 from the previous year, according to Lindner, a 2.2 percent drop. The decline “took place in the context of ongoing high unemployment and a protracted economic downturn,” Lindner wrote.

The decline in church giving has deeply affected national churches and member communions of the NCC, many of which are dealing with severe financial exigencies.

Church membership increases or declines continued as they have for several years, the Yearbook reports. “The direction of membership (growth or decline) remains very stable,” Lindner wrote. “Most churches which have been increasing in membership in recent years have continued to grow and likewise, those churches which have been declining in membership in recent years have continued to decline.”

Changing habits in church attendance among younger generations have had a noticeable impact on declining churches, Lindner suggests. “For the age cohorts known as Gen Xers and Millennials (people now in their 30s and 20s respectively), formal membership may lie outside of their hopes and expectations for their church relationships,” according to Lindner. (The 2012 Yearbook includes Lindner’s essay, “Can the Church Log In with the ‘Connected Generation?’ The Church and Young Adults”).

The 80th annual edition of the Yearbook reports a continuing decline in membership of virtually all mainline denominations. Membership figures reported in the 2012 Yearbook were collected by the churches in 2010 and reported to the Yearbook in 2011.

The Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s second largest denomination and long a reliable generator of church growth, reported a decline in membership for the fourth year in a row, down .15 percent to 16,136,044 members.

The Catholic Church, the nation’s largest at 68.2 million members, reported a membership growth of .44 percent.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints grew 1.62 percent to 6,157,238 members and the Assemblies of God grew 3.99 percent to 3,030,944 members, according to figures reported in the 2012 Yearbook.

Other churches that continued to post membership gains in 2010 are Jehovah’s Witnesses, up 1.85 percent to 1,184,249 members, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church, up 1.61 percent to 1,060,386 members.

“Four of the 25 largest churches are Pentecostal in belief and practice,” Linder wrote. “Strong figures from the Assemblies of God, and a big jump in the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World…balanced against relatively modest losses from the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), might suggest a continuing increase in total adherents to Pentecostal groups.”

Among mainline denominations, the sharpest rate of membership decline (down 5.90 percent to 4,274,855 members) was posted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Others posting declines include the Presbyterian Church USA (down 3.45 percent to 2,675,873), the Episcopal Church (down 2.71 percent to 1,951,907), the United Church of Christ (down 2.02 percent to 1,058,423), the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) (down 1.45 percent to 2,278,586), the United Methodist Church (down 1.22 percent to 7,679,850), and the American Baptist Churches USA (down .19 percent to 1,308,054).

Nine of the 25 largest churches did not report updated figures. The 2012 Yearbook reports on 228 national church bodies. The Yearbook also includes a directory of 235 US local and regional ecumenical bodies with program and contact information and provides listings of theological seminaries and Bible schools, religious periodicals, and guides to religious research including church archive listings. Information in the Yearbook is kept up to date in two regular electronic updates each year. Access to this Internet data is provided through a unique pass code printed inside the back cover.

Total church membership reported in the 2011 Yearbook is 145,691,446 members, down 1.15 percent over 2011.

For more information, or to purchase a copy of the 2011 Yearbook, see . Yearbooks from earlier years may be available at a discounted price at 888-870-3325.

— Philip E. Jenks is a member of the National Council of Churches communications staff.


4) Boshart to manage Global Food Crisis Fund, Emerging Global Mission Fund.

Photo by Wendy McFadden
Jeff Boshart (center right) has begun work as manager of the Global Food Crisis Fund and the Emerging Global Mission Fund. Most recently he has wprked for Brethren Disaster Ministries as Haiti disaster response coordinator. He is shown here in Haiti with colleague Klebert Exceus (center left) helping orient a delegation from the US who were visiting on the occasion of the completion of the 100th home rebuilt by the Brethren.

Jeff Boshart started March 15 as manager of the Church of the Brethren’s Global Food Crisis Fund (GFCF) and Emerging Global Mission Fund (EGMF). This new position located at the General Offices in Elgin, Ill., combines management of the two funds.

Formerly managed by Howard Royer until his retirement in December, the GFCF is the primary way the church helps develop food security and works against chronic hunger. In existence for over 25 years, it has served community development programs in 32 countries. Grants develop sustainable agriculture through providing seeds, livestock, tools, and training, and also work on related issues such as providing clean and potable water. GFCF grants have totaled around $300,000 annually, in recent years.

The EGMF supports development of new and emerging international mission, but also is intended to support the New Church Development Advisory Committee’s work encouraging church planting in the US. Currently it is funding mission in Brazil and Haiti.

As manager of GFCF, Boshart will represent the Church of the Brethren at the Foods Resources Bank and other ecumenical bodies to address hunger.

Most recently he has been the Haiti disaster response coordinator for Brethren Disaster Ministries, since Oct. 2008. He and his wife Peggy worked for the Church of the Brethren from 2001-04 as community development coordinators in the Dominican Republic, implementing a microloan program. In Haiti from 1998-2000 they served in agricultural development with ECHO (Educational Concern for Hunger Organization).

Boshart holds a master’s of professional studies degree in agriculture from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and a bachelor’s of science in biology from Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa., and is vice president of the board of directors of FARMS International, a Christian micro-credit organization. He speaks Haitian Kreyol and Spanish. He is a member of Rockford (Ill.) Community Church of the Brethren. He and his family live in Fort Atkinson, Wis.

5) New unit of BVS volunteers begins service.

The Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) Winter Orientation Unit 296 completed training from Jan. 29-Feb. 17 in Gotha, Fla. Following are the volunteers, their congregations or hometowns, and placement sites:

Willi Berscheminski of Schifferstadt, Germany, will work at the Meeting Ground in Elkton, Md.

Sarah Marie Dotter of Wyomissing (Pa.) Church of the Brethren is working with Cincinnati (Ohio) Church of the Brethren.

Bryan Eby of Trinity Fellowship Church of the Brethren in Waynesboro, Pa., is going to Hope House in Quinter, Kan.

MaryBeth Fischer of Hempfield Church of the Brethren in Manheim, Pa., will work at Highland Park Elementary in Roanoke, Va.

Damon Fugate of West Milton (Ohio) Church of the Brethren is serving with the Palms in Sebring, Fla.

Amanda Glover of Mountainview Church of the Brethren in McGaheysville, Va., is going to SnowCap in Portland, Ore.

Alex Harney of Creekside Church of the Brethren in Elkhart, Ind., will be at ABODE Services in Fremont, Calif. Also going to ABODE are Sophia Mangold of Muenstertal, Germany, and Natalie Pence of Mountainview Church of the Brethren.

Max Knoll of Meiningen, Germany, will serve with Su Casa Catholic Worker in Chicago, Ill.

Marc Kratzer of Nuremburg, Germany, is to serve with Talbert House in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Laban Wenger of Stone Church Church of the Brethren in Huntingdon, Pa., is going to CooperRiis in Mill Spring, N.C.

Melissa Wilson of Copper Hill (Va.) Church of the Brethren is working with Brethren Disaster Ministries at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md.

For more information about BVS go to .


6) Illinois Central Song and Story Fest will precede Annual Conference.

The Song and Story Fest that is held each year around the time of Annual Conference this year will be July 1-7 at Camp Emmanuel near Astoria, Ill. The family camp featuring Brethren musicians and storytellers is titled “Illinois Central Song and Story Fest: All Aboard!” with a railroad theme.

“We’re going to celebrate railroads and trains…and take some of our themes and titles from songs and stories about trains,” said publicity for the event. “Our country has been interlaced with railroad tracks for almost 200 years, but those tracks are fast disappearing, like the other physical connections we have with each other. We’ll explore the impact of our increasingly virtual (not to be confused with virtuous) world on our relationships and on the role of the church in keeping face-to-face communities alive.”

Storytellers and workshop leaders will include Deanna Brown, Bob Gross, Kathy Guisewite, Reba Herder, Jonathan Hunter, Jim Lehman, and Sue Overman. Musicians will include Rhonda and Greg Baker, Patti Ecker and Louise Brodie, Peg Lehman, LuAnne Harley and Brian Kruschwitz, Jenny Stover-Brown and Jeffrey Faus, Chris Good and Drue Gray of Mutual Kumquat, and Mike Stern.

Co-sponsored by On Earth Peace, the Song and Story Fest is an intergenerational camp for all ages. The schedule includes worship and workshops for adults, children, and youth, as well as afternoon free time for recreation, nature walks, story swaps, and jamming. Evenings feature campfires, snacks, and concerts or a folk dance. This is the sixteenth summer in a row for the Song and Story Fest.

Registration includes all meals, on-site facilities, and leadership, and is based upon age. Registration fees begin at $260 for adults, $200 for teenagers, $130 for children age 4-12, with children three and under welcome at no charge and a maximum fee per family of $780. Daily fees are available. An additional 10 percent late fee is charged for registrations made after June 1.

Register at . Contact Bob Gross at On Earth Peace if you need financial help to attend, 260-982-7751 or . More about Camp Emmanuel is at . For additional information about Song and Story Fest contact director Ken Kline Smeltzer at 814-571-0495 or 814-466-6491, or .

7) Registration for Mission Alive 2012 opens April 1.

“Sign up early for your spot at the Church of the Brethren missions conference, Mission Alive 2012!” invites the church’s Global Mission and Service office.

Global Mission and Service along with Brethren World Mission and the Brethren Mission Fund, are co-sponsoring Mission Alive 2012. The conference takes place Nov. 16-18 hosted at Lititz (Pa.) Church of the Brethren.

“As we are ‘Entrusted with the Message’ in 2 Corinthians 5:19-20, this conference aims to encourage, inspire, and ignite passion in each participant to become an advocate for Christ through Church of the Brethren mission and service in whatever way they’re able–through local congregational efforts or perhaps through a term of service abroad,” said the invitation. “Come prepared to be challenged, equipped, and commissioned to continue the mission of reconciling the people of our nation and world to Christ in this generation.”

Cost to attend the full conference is $65, with a daily fee of $40. Students in high school, college, or seminary will pay only $50 to attend the full conference. Register a family for the full conference for $150. Online and paper registration open April 1. Register at . Contact 800-323-8039 ext. 363 or with questions.


8) From Vietnam: The amazing story of 30 blind students.

Photo by Nguyen to Duc Linh
Students at the Warming House (Thien An) school in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The school serves 30 blind students, led by Principal Nguyen Quoc Phong.

This story of a visit to the Warming House, a school for 30 blind students in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, is written by Nguyen to Duc Linh. She is personal assistant to Grace Mishler, a program volunteer working in Vietnam through the Church of the Brethren Global Mission and Service. This article is edited with help from Betty Kelsey, a member of Mishler’s Mission Support Team:

On a sunny day, a group including a professional social worker, two assistants, and a fourth-year social work student from National Vietnam University of Social Sciences and Humanities, paid a visit to the Warming House (Thien An). The school is a spacious five-story house in Tan Quy Ward, Tan Phu District, in Ho Chi Minh City.

We were warmly greeted by the school’s headmaster, Nguyen Quoc Phong. The room we met in on the ground floor looked much like a living room. The area displayed awards, trophies, and medals that Principal Phong and his students have achieved in Special Olympics sports competitions in Vietnam and abroad. The medals and awards sparkle as they proudly show the great pride felt not only by the principal but by all the students as well. These awards are reminders of much hard work over the years.

We shared with Mr. Phong the purpose of our visit, and he was glad to give us a tour of the school. The center we visited is new, built four years ago. Cost of construction was solicited by Mr. Phong and his friends and funded by national and international nongovernmental organizations.

Next to a massage room was the book room, which displayed the marvelous achievements of Mr. Phong and other professors. After many years of research, these professors translated textbooks, the Bible, and other legal and educational resources into Braille. Mr. Phong proudly told us that the school is the pioneer in research software, converting texts from Word format to Braille letters. With this software, teachers can transfer books, course materials, and exam questions from Word into Braille for blind students. Conversely, visually impaired students can do their homework in Braille and then transfer it into Word format. This vitally important improvement not only reduces the burden on teachers but also promotes the integration of visually impaired people into community and higher education. Principal Phong noted that visually impaired students study at general education schools for sighted students and receive equal treatment as do other students.

The mobility of the visually impaired students surprised us. When a student entered the book room, a staff member informed him, “Professor Phong is talking with visitors right now.” The student, who had just returned from the university, turned and said, “Hello,” to us. We did not realize he was visually impaired. Students run, use the stairs, and find their way around their environment without tripping, as though their eyes can see.

Photo by Nguyen to Duc Linh
Braille markings on handrails (shown here) as well as distinct patterns on the first or last step of each stairway help blind students navigate the staircases and identify floor levels at the Warming House.

Nguyen Thi Kieu Oanh, one of the first visually impaired students to graduate, came back as a teacher, following in the footsteps of her headmaster. Ms. Oanh shared how all the equipment and furniture in the school must be put back in its location after use so the next person can find it. It helps their mobility and orientation. Students remember and visualize the location of each piece of furniture, room, or corner in the school like a map. In addition, on the first or last step of each stairway, the surface of the step is designed so students know how to handle the next step. The handrails of the stairs have clear symbols marking which floor they are on.

We visited a classroom where students were doing homework. Two students were working on math exercises, some writing essays, and others engrossed in reading books about computer science. They worked so hard and passionately, we did not hear a noise or giggle from anyone. Watching a student focused on carving out letters on Braille paper, I asked, “How long does it take to remember each letter simply by using your fingertips?” He told me it took him two months to memorize the letters and another month to put letters into words.

The next room was a large, spacious music room with various musical instruments hanging on the walls. Mr. Phong demonstrated a new type of piano the school purchased from Singapore, with sound settings such as flute, a river flowing, sounds of vehicles, etc., to serve the needs of school performances.

I chatted with an older student who was playing piano. He said his hometown is far away, but people told him about the school and Mr. Phong. Coming to Ho Chi Minh City and enrolling in the school, he can continue to develop his artistic abilities.

The most impressive thing to me was the abundance of books at this blind school. There are shelves of books in every room in the school–living room, reading rooms, computer room, dining room, and bedrooms. Professor Phong encourages a spirit of reading in all his students. There are basic textbooks, advanced textbooks, reference books, computer science books, Braille books on national laws and policies related to disabilities, the entire Bible, and famous novels–all in Braille. Visually impaired children find it difficult to explore our beautiful world, so Mr. Phong wants them to “see” the world through books, recorded tapes, and talking books.

As we walked into the computer lab, groups of students used computers for homework. The room is modern, spacious and airy with 20 modern computers available around the room. Principal Phong introduced us to a visually impaired student who is in his second year at the College of Mathematics and Information Technology. He was one of five students from Thien An school enrolled in university. Like Kieu Oanh, this student’s desire is to finish university and return to the school to help teach with Principal Phong.

The school has a prayer room for the Christian students. Every Saturday a local priest comes to celebrate prayer and offers a spiritual message to these students.

In addition to being integrated into society, the school also teaches everyday chores like washing clothes, cleaning house, washing dishes, cleaning rooms and bedrooms, and mobility training with a cane on Saturdays, if needed.

Before we left, Mr. Phong suggested that we sing a song together. You can sense that love is not “somewhere out there,” but is budding right here at this school, in this small room, where people are visually impaired but not handicapped. The rose of Thien An school is scented with the strong vitality of life.

9) Brethren bits: Personnel, jobs, Kony 2012, march for Trayvon, Bittersweet tour, much more.

Bridgewater (Va.) College students are planning a “March for Justice” to protest the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida. The march is planned for March 26, starting at 6 p.m., according to a release from the college. Marchers will wear hoodies and walk from the Kline Campus Center down Dinkel Ave. to a 7-Eleven store where they will purchase Skittles and a bottle of iced tea–items found on the body of Martin, who was shot and killed by a neighborhood watchman who has claimed self defense. After making the purchase, the group will march back to the college mall for a candlelight vigil. The march is organized by Visible Men, a college-based enrichment program that “focuses on meeting the unique needs of underrepresented male students through leadership, personal, career, and professional development.”

— Moala Penitani has resigned from the Church of the Brethren, as of March 30. She has worked as customer service/inventory specialist for Brethren Press since Oct. 4, 2010. During her employment with the church, she also served part-time as an assistant to the Older Adult Ministry helping to prepare for the 2011 National Older Adult Conference. She came to Brethren Press from Elkhart, Ind., after graduating from Manchester College with a degree in marketing and management. She is leaving to pursue interests in the Boston metropolitan area.

— Christian Churches Together in the USA (CCT) is seeking an executive director who will provide strategic leadership for the engagement of denominational church bodies and other faith-based organizations at the national level in order to build and strengthen the effectiveness of the mission of CCT. Responsibilities and activities include developing and implementing strategy for engagement with communions and denominational church bodies and other faith-based organizations in order to build participation and strengthen the effectiveness of CCT; be a public face of CCT by representing CCT at conferences, meetings, and events; facilitating relationships between CCT participants and between CCT and other Christian unity organizations; organizing the Annual Meeting and doing follow-up; organizing and facilitating meetings of the Steering Committee and other committees; developing and overseeing fundraising; overseeing tasks of the national office, including finances, communication, and the work of an administrative assistant; helping CCT regularly review its vision and methods; encouraging development of local expressions of CCT. Knowledge and skill required include extensive experience in ecumenical relations and knowledge of a range of Christian churches; strong relational skills; program or operational management experience, including staff supervision, budgeting, and fundraising; writing and editing skills; capability of traveling; a master of divinity degree or equivalent. Location is negotiable. Compensation is a base salary plus benefits.  CCT is an equal-opportunity employer. Minority candidates are encouraged to apply. The Search Committee chairman is Bishop Don diXon Williams. To apply send a letter and resume to (write “CCT-USA Executive Director Position” in the subject line). For more information go to .

— Cross Keys Village ( ), a retirement community in New Oxford, Pa., seeks a chief executive officer to lead its 900 resident/700 employee campus with a $40MM budget. Located on 232 acres in south/central Pennsylvania, this Church of the Brethren-affiliated organization seeks candidates with the following qualifications: strong financial acumen, extensive board experience, at least a bachelor’s degree (master’s degree preferred), and at least eight years of senior management experience in a complex organizational setting. Interested candidates should contact Caryn Howell with MHS Alliance at or 574-537-8736.

— The Cedars, a Church of the Brethren retirement community in McPherson, Kan., is looking for an experienced development officer to be involved in marketing, development, and work with tax sheltered annuities. As a key member of the management team, duties involve working with board members and business leaders. Salary is commensurate with experience. For more information contact Carma Wall, CEO, at 620-241-0919.

— Brethren Press seeks a part-time customer service inventory specialist to work at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill. Applications will be received until the position is filled. Position description and application form are available on request to contact information below. Responsibilities are to provide professional customer service by handling phone, fax, mail, and Internet orders; maintain a thorough knowledge of products offered by Brethren Press; optimize an e-commerce website with consistent product additions, updates, and promotions; carry primary responsibility for answering the customer service phone line and processing orders; provide resource information to congregations and individuals; maintain inventory; provide sales and marketing support services; assist in coordinating and developing standardized procedures and maintain written documentation. Qualifications include ability to become familiar with Church of the Brethren organization and beliefs and operate out of the vision of the Mission and Ministry Board; ability to relate with integrity and respect in and beyond the organization; skills for effective interaction with customers and colleagues; fundamental understanding of accounting; good listening and phone skills and competency in oral and written communication; keyboarding and data entry; ability to work well in a team environment and juggle several tasks simultaneously; knowledge of Christian education and resourcing congregations. Required education and experience include customer service functions and computer literacy as essential, along with experience in sales, marketing, inventory management, and reporting. A high school diploma or general education degree is required, some college preferred. Apply by completing an application form, submitting a resume and letter of application, and requesting three references to send letters of recommendation to Office of Human Resources, Church of the Brethren, 1451 Dundee Ave., Elgin, IL 60120; 847-742-5100 ext. 367; .

— Brethren Mutual Aid Agency is seeking a licensed agent (Property/Casualty and Life/Health) to work with church accounts. The successful candidate will be honest and ethical, and possess a strong understanding of church insurance needs, estimating the value of church buildings, and identifying and managing ministry risks. A faith-based, service-minded spirit, coupled with a strong desire to act in the client’s best interest is mandatory. Responsibilities include sales, service, and retention of insurance plans to churches and their related ministries. This position offers a flexible schedule, team environment, full office support, and a strong marketing communications program. Compensation includes a competitive salary, based on applicable experience, and a very generous benefit package. Send a letter of interest and resume to Brethren Mutual Aid Agency, Attn: Kim Rutter, 3094 Jeep Road, Abilene, KS 67410 or e-mail to .

— Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) seeks an interim CPTnet editor. The one year, quarter-time, temporary position starts this summer when the current editor begins a sabbatical. Responsibilities include editing CPTnet; following the releases that teams on project locations are writing for CPTnet (as well as blogs, Facebook, and Twitter accounts of individual CPTers in the field as time allows); vetting, organizing, and editing releases from teams in English; posting edited releases to CPTnet, CPT’s English language news service; communicating with translators and posting Spanish versions of releases to redECAP, CPT’s Spanish language news service; if time allows, taking on other communication-related responsibilities. Approximately 10 hours a week, flexible location and work hours. Compensation is a need-based stipend and “satisfaction of having participated in important work supporting peacemakers around the world,” said the announcement. Contact Carol Rose, CPT Co-Director, at no later than April 2. She will respond with application materials. Full application materials are due April 22.

— CPT also seeks applicants to join the Christian Peacemaker Corps. Applications are due before May 1. “Did you participate in a recent CPT delegation that whetted your appetite for embodied peace work, partnering with others working nonviolently for justice, and confronting the injustice that leads to war?” said an invitation. “Does CPT’s style of peacemaking, confronting injustice, and undoing oppressions work fit with yours? Is now the time to take the next step and join the Peacemaker Corps? If so, please send your application.” CPT seeks applicants available for stipend-eligible service, as well as reservists. Once accepted, applicants must participate in a Peacemaker Training in Chicago on July 13-Aug. 13. Find the application form at . For questions contact .

— Three Church of the Brethren women leaders have been nominated to the National Council of Churches (NCC) Circles of Names project: Ruthann Knechel Johansen, president of Bethany Theological Seminary; Judy Mills Reimer, former general secretary of the Church of the Brethren; and Nancy Faus Mullen, professor emerita at Bethany Seminary and former leader in the Hymnal Project that produced the “Hymnal: A Worship Book.” The nominations were made by general secretary Stan Noffsinger, who noted that each of the women “have in their own way made significant contributions to the life of the Church of the Brethren and the ecumenical movement.” The Circles of Names project on International Women’s Day, March 8, celebrated completion of a campaign raising $100,000.00 to support the ongoing work of the Women’s Ministries office of the NCC. For more information go to .

— This week’s Action Alert from the Advocacy and Peace Witness Office offers analysis of Kony 2012, a popular social media campaign to stop the atrocities committed by Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony. Kony is leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, which has been active in eastern Africa for more than 20 years, and is responsible for wide-spread violence as well as the abduction of children for use as child soldiers and sex slaves. “I am writing in order to reflect on this video, the advocacy it is part of, the solution that it suggests, and what might be a Brethren response to all of this,” comments Nathan Hosler in the alert, which suggests points for Brethren may consider from the Annual Conference statement on “Nonviolence and Humanitarian Intervention.” “As we read and hear about what is happening in the world I pray that we act with wisdom, in line with biblical teaching and our Annual Conference statements,” Hosler writes. “The Church of the Brethren supports and partners with a number of organizations throughout Africa and the world which are doing good work to alleviate suffering, poverty, and violence.” Read the alert at .

— Media reports of an attack on a church of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN) have been confirmed by church leaders in Nigeria. On March 6 the radical Islamic sect Boko Haram attacked an EYN church in Kunduga, near the northeastern city of Maiduguri, as well as a Roman Catholic church and a police station. There were no reports of loss of life or injuries to EYN members. The pastor and his family foresaw the trouble and members of the congregation fled before the mob arrived at the church premises.

— An annual program commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is being celebrated today in New York. Doris  Abdullah, Church of the Brethren United Nations representative, and chair of the UN NGO Human Rights Sub-Committee on Racism, gave welcoming remarks at a panel discussion that featured Corann Okorodudu, professor of Psychology and Africana Studies and a UN representative for the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues; Vilna Bashi Treitler, professor of Black and Hispanic Studies at Baruch College, City University of New York; and Theddeus Iheanacho, MD, of the Department of Psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine, among others. Co-sponsors were the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the NGO Committee on Migration, the NGO Committee on Mental Health, and the NGO Committee on the UN International Decade of the World ‘s Indigenous Peoples.

— New Lenten screensavers are available to download from the denominational website. Go to .

— A number of congregations in Pennsylvania and Virginia are hosting the Bittersweet Gospel Band for a Spring tour. The band features Gilbert Romero of Los Angeles’ Bittersweet Ministries; Scott Duffey of Staunton, Va.; Trey Curry, also of Staunton, on the drums; Dan Shaffer of Hooversville, Pa., on the bass guitar; David Sollenberger of North Manchester, Ind., on the lead guitar; and Jose Mendoza of Roanoke, Va., on keyboard. The tour schedule is: April 16, 6:30 p.m., at Somerset (Pa.) Church of the Brethren; April 17, 7 p.m., at Everett (Pa.) Church of the Brethren; April 18, 7 p.m., at York (Pa.) First Church of the Brethren; April 19, 10 a.m., at Brethren Village in Lancaster, Pa.; April 19, 7 p.m, at Bermudian Church of the Brethren in East Berlin, Pa.; April 20, 7 p.m., at York Second Church of the Brethren; April 21, 7 p.m., and April 22, 11 a.m., at Alpha y Omega Church of the Brethren in Lancaster. The band has added a pre-tour Benefit for Emergency Disaster Relief at Staunton (Va.) Church of the Brethren on April 14, at 6 p.m. The love offering will go to disaster relief work and attendees are asked to bring Church World Service hygiene kits or items for emergency clean-up buckets (for lists of kit items go to ). All services and concerts are open to the public. For more go to .

Photo by: courtesy of Children’s Aid Society
Robert A. Witt, executive director of Children’s Aid Society, Southern Pennsylvania District Church of the Brethren, with Izyek, a special guest, at the 1st annual fundraising CAS dinner.

— Southern Pennsylvania District’s Children’s Aid Society has been selected as a finalist in the Central Penn parents 2012 Healthcare Heroes Awards in the “Children’s Health Advocate” category, according to a release. A unique nonprofit that began helping children in 1913, Children’s Aid Society provides services at the Frances Leiter Center (Franklin County), the Nicarry Center (Adams County), and the Lehman Center (York County). Services include art/play therapy, family advocacy, parent support groups, and a crisis nursery with a 24-hour hotline. During last year the society provided 3,670 therapy sessions, 34,906 hours of respite care at the crisis nursery, 620 home/office visits with the Family Advocate, and 428 parents participated in Parent Support Group sessions. “As we begin preparations for our 100th anniversary, the Healthcare Hero recognition validates the ministry and rich history of Children’s Aid Society,” said Robert A. Witt, executive director.

— Responding to urgent needs created by recent tornadoes across the Midwest, the Southern Ohio District Brethren Disaster Ministries has announced a collection for Church World Service emergency clean-up bucket kits. “By purchasing items carefully, and in bulk, we are able to obtain the items needed to assemble the kits for $20 less than the estimated cost per bucket,” said an announcement. “Our goal is to collect enough money to assemble 300 clean-up buckets ($10,000).” Send donations to Southern Ohio District Church of the Brethren, 2293 Gauby Rd., New Madison, OH 45346. For questions contact Barbara Stonecash at 937-456-1638 or Dick and Pat Via at 937-456-3689 or e-mail .

— Dates are April 9-12 and 16-17 for the annual Meat Canning Project of Mid-Atlantic and Southern Pennsylvania Districts. This year’s goal is to process 67,500 pounds of chicken.

— March 31 is FUNdraiser Day at Woodland Altars, a Church of the Brethren camp and outdoor ministry center near Peebles, Ohio. The day begins with a 5K Walk/Run, continues with a hog roast lunch, followed by a corn hole tournament. For more information contact Matt Dell at or Gene Karn at . Proceeds support outdoor ministries.

— The Brethren Woods capital campaign has collected over $800,000, according to a report in the Shenandoah District newsletter from Galen Combs, prayer coordinator for the campaign. Brethren Woods Camp and Retreat Center is located near Keezletown, Va. “Fifteen acres of adjoining land has been purchased, and the roof to the dining hall has been replaced!” said the report. “Let us thank our God in prayer for what He is doing at Camp Brethren Woods.” In more news from Brethren Woods, its Spring Festival is April 28. Go to .

— Bridgewater (Va.) College students are planning a “March for Justice” to protest the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida. The march is planned for March 26, starting at 6 p.m., according to a release from the college. Marchers will wear hoodies and walk from the Kline Campus Center down Dinkel Ave. to a 7-Eleven store where they will purchase Skittles and a bottle of iced tea–items found on the body of Martin, who was shot and killed by a neighborhood watchman who has claimed self defense. After making the purchase, the group will march back to the college mall for a candlelight vigil. The march is organized by Visible Men, a college-based enrichment program that “focuses on meeting the unique needs of underrepresented male students through leadership, personal, career, and professional development.”

— After serving 14 years at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa., president Tom Kepple will retire following the 2012-13 school year, according to an announcement on the school’s website. A presidential search committee has started the search for his replacement and hired search consultant R. Stanton Hales of Academic-Search, Inc. The committee also has provided students, faculty, administrators, and the community with opportunities to voice their opinions and say what they want to see in the next president. For periodic updates on Juniata’s presidential search see .

— The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) has recognized Bridgewater (Va.) College as a leader among institutions of higher education for its support of volunteering, service-learning, and civic engagement. Bridgewater was named to the 2012 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for engaging its students, faculty, and staff in meaningful service that achieves measurable results in the community.

— The Springs of Living Water initiative for church renewal has announced its next spiritual disciplines folder for Easter through Pentecost. The folder “Walking in New Life with the Risen Lord” can be found at . It follows lectionary readings and topics used for the Brethren Press bulletin series. Along with suggested Sunday texts and messages, there are daily scripture readings that lead up to the next Sunday’s service. An explanation of the theme and an insert helps members learn how to use the folders as well as discern their own next incremental step in spiritual disciplines for growth in discipleship. Bible study questions that can be used by individuals, small groups, or Sunday school classes are written by Vince Cable, pastor of Uniontown Church of the Brethren near Pittsburgh, Pa., and can be found on the website. For more information contact Joan and David Young at .

— Heeding God’s Call, a Historic Peace Church initiative to prevent gun violence in America’s cities, is holding its Fourth Annual Interfaith Good Friday Service at the site of the Mike and Kate’s Gun Shoppe in northeast Philadelphia, Pa. The event convenes April 6 at  4 p.m. at Redeemer United Methodist Church, then processes to the gun shop, ending at about 5:15 p.m. Each of the past three years Heeding God’s Call has held an interfaith service next to a gun store for which there is a published report that “straw buying” has occurred. The services “are times for the faithful to gather at a critical juncture of the gun violence that plagues our city,” said an announcement. For more go to .

— Following an announcement that Rowan Williams will be stepping down as Archbishop of Canterbury, the World Council of Churches (WCC) expressed admiration for his leadership and contribution to the ecumenical movement. The release from the WCC said Williams is accepting a new position as master of Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge beginning in January 2013. He leaves the office of Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of December, concluding his decade-long leadership of the Anglican Communion that started in 2003.

– South Sudanese people living in the north of Sudan are facing a deadline to leave the north, according to Ecumenical News International. “Sudanese Christians who have barely a month to leave the north or risk being treated as foreigners are starting to move, but Christian leaders are concerned that the April 8 deadline set by Islamic-majority Sudan is unrealistic,” ENI reported. Roman Catholic Bishop Daniel Adwok of the Khartoum archdiocese auxiliary told ENI that, “We are very concerned. Moving is not easy…people have children in school. They have homes…. It is almost impossible.” In February, Sudan announced the deadline for former citizens it had stripped of nationality after South Sudan’s vote to secede. The deadline may affect up to 700,000 people, mainly Christians of southern origin, many of whom have lived in the north for decades after fleeing the civil war in the South. More recently, AFP reported that the pressure of the deadline may be reduced by an agreement made during African Union talks. Under the deal, both the north of Sudan and South Sudan agreed to accelerate their cooperation to provide identification and other documents related to the status of people.

Contributors to this issue of Newsline include Deborah Brehm, Charles Culbertson, Scott Duffey, Anna Emrick, Mary Kay Heatwole, Caryn Howell, Kendra Johnson, Carma Wall, and editor Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren. Look for the next regularly scheduled issue on April 4.Newsline is produced by the News Services of the Church of the Brethren. Contact the editor at Newsline appears every other week, with special issues as needed. Stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. To unsubscribe or change your e-mail preferences go to

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