Brethren Respond to Syria Crisis, Participate in Fasting and Prayer, Prepare $100,000 Grant for Refugee Needs

Church of the Brethren leaders, congregations, schools, participants at National Older Adult Conference, and other individual members of the church have been responding to the crisis in Syria in a variety of ways, including participating in fasting and prayer for peace in Syria (see the call to a day of fasting and prayer at ) .

In the latest response from the denominational staff, Brethren Disaster Ministries is preparing a grant of $100,000 from the church’s Emergency Disaster Fund (EDF) in support of the needs of Syrian refugees, with the numbers of refugees anticipated to increase with the increasing severity of the conflict. The grant will go to ecumenical partner agency ACT Alliance, which has been helping to coordinate humanitarian aid since the civil conflict in Syria began (see the full report below).

Also, general secretary Stanley J. Noffsinger has written a letter to President Obama from the office of the general secretary of the Church of the Brethren (see below).


General secretary writes to President Obama

Church of the Brethren general secretary Stanley J. Noffsinger has sent the following letter to President Obama on the Syrian crisis, dated Sept. 9:

Mr. President,

In 2011, I was a guest of the Vatican to the Day of Reflection, Dialogue, and Prayer for Peace and Justice for the World, held in Assisi, Italy.  There I received a copy of your October 13, 2011, letter commending all faith leaders to “interfaith dialogue, [to unite] in common cause to lift up the afflicted, make peace where there is strife, and find the way forward to a better world for ourselves and our children.”

On that world stage I committed to urge leaders of Nations to make every effort to create and consolidate, on the national and international levels, a world of solidarity and peace based on justice. I committed to work for a world in which peace and justice, restorative justice to be specific, are recognized as basic human rights.

It is therefore within the context of the Church of the Brethren’s historic peace tradition, the public declaration I committed to in Assisi, and your own words commending us to a better way forward, that I prayerfully ask you to more fully count the cost of action that destroys human life, life that has been created in God’s own image, and pursue with all due diligence, interventions that are non-violent and which include the wisdom and leadership of the global community.

Mr. President, you are in my daily thoughts and prayers, as you seek peace, and pursue it.

May God’s shalom and Christ’s peace be evident in your every word and deed.


Stanley J. Noffsinger
General Secretary
Church of the Brethren

Grant of $100,000 will aid Syrian refugees

A grant of $100,000 from the Emergency Disaster Fund is being prepared by Brethren Disaster Ministries, to go to the ACT Alliance for the humanitarian crisis in and around Syria.

Brethren Disaster Ministries is challenging the Church of the Brethren and its members to provide additional resources to expand the Brethren support of this response. To give to this response online, go to ; or send to Emergency Disaster Fund, Church of the Brethren, 1451 Dundee Ave., Elgin, IL 60120.

“As the civil war in Syria extends into its third year, the resulting humanitarian crisis has resulted in more than 4,000,000 internally displaced people in Syria and nearly 2,000,000 refugees that have fled to Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and northern Africa countries,” writes Roy Winter, associate executive director of Brethren Disaster Ministries and Global Mission and Service.

“Those trying to live inside Syria have been displaced multiple times as they flee the violence. Those traveling to other countries are experiencing a growing intolerance and resentment from their host countries. Recent developments including use of chemical weapons are one of several indicators of an increasing severity of the conflict. The result is a humanitarian crisis that ACT Alliance defines as both a mega and protracted emergency.”

The ACT Alliance has been helping coordinate humanitarian aid since the Syrian civil conflict began. Implementing partners include the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), Lutheran World Federation, Finn Church Aid, the Middle East Council of Churches, and Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe (the Evangelical Church in Germany). Brethren Disaster Ministries intends half of this initial grant of $100,000 to support the IOCC work in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, with half designated to be applied where it may be needed most.

The ACT Alliance response prioritizes food, water, safe sanitation, shelter, household supplies, education, and psychosocial interventions. The Brethren grant will help provide aid to 55,700 people displaced in Syria, 326,205 Syrian refugees in Jordan, 9,200 refugees in Turkey, and 40,966 refugees in Lebanon. Goals include providing direct aid to more than 432,000 Syrian people throughout the next year.

More than half of NOAC participants sign letter to President Obama

A letter urging President Obama to “seek life-giving means to assist Syrians as they would seek peace and pursue it” was signed by close to 500 of those participating at the 2013 National Older Adult Conference in Lake Junaluska, N.C., last week. The registration at NOAC 2013 was about 800 people.

After the Thursday evening concert at NOAC, and Friday morning before and after closing worship, many NOAC attendees took advantage of an opportunity to sign the letter. The letter, along with many pages of signatures, has been submitted to the White House by the church’s Office of Public Witness. Find the text of the letter at .

Bethany Seminary, McPherson College invite students and faculty to fast and pray

At least two of the institutions of higher education related to the denomination–Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Ind., and McPherson (Kan.) College–called their student body, faculty, and staff into prayer and fasting for peace in Syria over the weekend.

At Bethany, the call to a Day of Fasting and Prayer for Peace in Syria was shared with the entire seminary community as well as the neighboring seminary at Earlham School of Religion. Nicarry Chapel was made available as a place to come and pray for peace during the day on Saturday, Sept. 7.

The e-mail invitation sent from the Bethany Community Life Team (Eric Landram, Karen Duhai, Nick Patler, Amy Gall Ritchie) also offered a prayer, and the opportunity for those in the seminary’s distance learning program to send in prayers, stories, or poems to be shared in the chapel space that day:

“Our hearts are heavy with concern for Syria and for our world leaders this week. We have been seeking the will of God and yearning for peace in our world. In efforts for continued prayer and discernment, we have made Nicarry Chapel available for you tomorrow, Saturday, September 7th from 8am to 4pm as a place to offer up your prayers. Come and set your mind and heart towards peace. Seek God’s shalom. Pray that all my know the peace of Christ.

“Come, light a candle for peace. Come, write a letter to our leaders voicing your desire for peaceful resolution and place it in the basket on the worship center. Come, sit in the dark with the Holy as you seek discernment in your own way of living and being.

“Below is an email from the Church of the Brethren’s General Secretary, Stan Noffsinger. You are invited to be a part of this conversation, the act of fasting, and the voice of our church’s call for peace.

“If you are at a distance but wish to offer your prayer in this space, please email the Community Life Team your prayer, or story, or poem and we will read it in your place or simply place it in the basket for you. Peace be with us all–and with our world. –The Community Life Team”

The McPherson College faculty of Philosophy and Religion also shared the call to a Day of Fasting and Prayer for Peace in Syria with the whole campus. An e-mail sent by Tom Hurst on behalf of the group of faculty said, in part, “As individuals, at times like this, we often feel impotent to impact the decisions of our national political leaders. This does not need to be the case. Those who believe in prayer should pray. Those who believe in fasting as a way to help focus one’s beliefs should use Saturday to fast. Those who believe in writing to the President and to Congress should write emails. Other ideas follow in the letter below.

“In the spirit of this letter which has come from the General Secretary of this college’s founding denomination, the Church of the Brethren we, the faculty of the McPherson College Philosophy and Religion Department, recognizing that diverse views do exist on our campus related to this issue, ask that we each respect one another’s opinions and also ask you to consider finding a way to express your desire for a peaceful solution to this crisis.”

The communication was signed jointly by Dr. Steve Crain, Dr. Kent Eaton, Dr. Paul Hoffman, Dr. Tom Hurst, and Dr. Herb Smith, and included the full text of the Newsline announcing the day for fasting and prayer.

Elizabethtown Church places ad for peace in Sunday paper

Elizabethtown (Pa.) Church of the Brethren’s Peace Group on Sunday placed a paid advertisement in the area newspaper, the Lancaster “Sunday News.” Reported pastor Greg Davidson Laszakovits, “our Elizabethtown Church of the Brethren Peace Group decided it was time to make a bold and public proclamation of peace, even as the US considers military action on yet another country. We hope others might do the same in their communities.”

The full text of the advertisement follows:


As followers of Jesus who seek to practice his nonviolent teachings we grieve over the chaos in Syria. We abhor the senseless deaths of 100,000 people, the displacement of 2 million refugees, and the heinous gassing of 1400 people by chemical weapons. We have prayed for and will continue to pray for peace and stability in Syria and the surrounding region.

We confess that we do not live in Syria or in its region. Nor are we threatened by these atrocities. Nevertheless, we are compelled by our Christian conscience to speak out in the interest of all people as children of God.

We believe that nonviolent means are the only way to secure a stable and lasting peace. We are convinced that violence only begets more violence–that an eye for an eye soon spirals into endless blindness. Responding to violence with violence will only inflame more evil actions.

Specifically, we ardently plead for President Obama and the US Congress to immediately stop planning any military action against Syria for ten compelling reasons:

1. The unintended consequences of such strikes are dangerous and simply unknown.

2. There is no certainty that US attacks will prevent the future use of chemical weapons.

3. US strikes will give license for other nations to respond to American attacks and set off a regional inferno. Though the US hopes not to put “boots on the ground,” make no mistake, this will lead to greater loss of life.

4. US strikes are not an act of self-defense. The US is not under any imminent danger or threat. Any military action will only further entangle the US in yet another conflict.

5. US attacks against a sovereign nation without provocation or the endorsement of the United Nations is a violation of international law. In doing so we lose all moral clout to persuade other nations not to strike sovereign nations without provocation.

6. The U.S. cannot and should not try to impose its will on other countries. Have the hard and ugly lessons of Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq been so quickly purged from our memories?

7. U.S. military strikes will play into the view of America as the Great Satan.

8. Military action may incite contagious anger—producing a new generation of suicide bombers threatening U.S. interests.

9. Neither violence nor the threat of violence will win the hearts and minds of friends or enemies.

10. The proposed attacks violate the very essence of the life and message of Jesus, who overcame evil with good and who always responded to violence with non-violent action.

We urge all people of peace and goodwill who share our concerns to immediately express their views to President Obama and to their U.S. representatives and senators. Act now! Congressional discussions are already underway. They will begin in full tomorrow, September 9.

“I object to violence because, when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.” –Gandhi

This statement is sponsored by the Peace Group of the Elizabethtown Church of the Brethren


Individual Brethren respond with expressions of concern

Communications staff and the office of the general secretary have received a number of statements of concern about the situation in Syria from individual members and friends of the church. Following is a sampling of the concerns and prayers that have been received:

“Shalom. The situation Syria is on our mind and [we] pray for them.”

“Again, we desperately hope….”

“Thank you for mentioning the Orthodox priests who were violently abducted this spring. They have been on my heart for some time. Many in the Orthodox community fear they have already been or will soon be beheaded. May our prayers for peace be heard and answered swiftly!”

“Fasting and prayer can clear our mind and help us discern the spirit, but the next step is research and investigation, and then speaking truth to power. The problem is that there currently is no public media outlet that will speak the truth. Could it be that the COB has come to be what it is ‘for such at time as this?’ Esther risked her life and confronted the king.”

“Please we shall pray together. Syria is a country just north of my country a few kilometres and maybe we shall be impacted over this war. We shall stand to pray for peace and cry for God to help.” (Sent in by a Newsline reader in Kenya.)

“The question of what to do about chemical weapons is urgently serious, and cries out for a response. The world is rightly being reminded of the 1925 Geneva convention against the use of such weapons. But [I am] afraid America is not in a great position to take the moral high ground on this issue–remembering our heavy use of napalm and other chemical products in various “little wars,” like Vietnam. We’ll never know how many lives were wasted by the heavy use of agent orange and other “sprays” in that long, destructive war which still searches for a real reason to have been waged over a 10-year period against a peasant people. And while deploring the “new” chemical warfare in Syria, wiping out more than 1,000 lives, other questions come to mind–such as the simultaneous use of so-called conventional weapons that already has taken the lives of more than 100,000 persons in Syria. And thus even the horror of chemical weapons should in no way excuse or allow the use of a whole range of other killing materials and machines–which also serve as instruments of horror. War is not the answer. War is the problem. Too simplistic, yes. But I think there are times to say NO, even as we search for the best YES possible.”

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