Newsline for Dec. 2, 2014

1) Haiti Medical Project receives second grant from Royer Family Charitable Foundation
2) Congregational Life Ministries leader addresses Powerhouse at Camp Mack

3) Carl and Roxane Hill to co-direct Nigeria crisis response

4) Congregational Life blog adds dimension to Brethren Press Advent devotional

5) Reflections on returning to South Sudan
6) Borderlands reflection: ‘What did you go out to the desert to see?’ Luke 7:26

7) Brethren bits: Correction, Fellowship of Brethren Homes personnel announcements, Brethren Disaster Ministries seeks volunteers to work in Nigeria, registration is open for CCS 2015, LOVE EYN at Frederick, more

Quote of the week:

“We need to raise up their plight to anyone who will listen, especially those who represent us. As members of one Body, our [Nigerian] sisters’ and brothers’ pain is our pain and the only way to peace and healing is through consistent prayer and support.”

— Today’s Action Alert inviting congregations to join an effort of solidarity on behalf of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria). The alert from the Office of Public Witness urges congregations to collect signatures on petitions expressing collective support for EYN from the Church of the Brethren, and asking what (if anything) Congressional representatives are doing to help Nigerian sisters and brothers facing violence and displacement. The petition may be downloaded from an online document in Word format, and opens with a letter to Congressional representatives encouraging the US to engage in “significant economic, humanitarian, and peacebuilding investment in order to work towards a more just and equitable future” in Nigeria. “A militarized response to Boko Haram will not solve these complex issues, and thus US engagement in Nigeria must be robust and multifaceted,” the petition states. Also provided is a “leave behind” document for visits to a Congressional representative’s office. It explains the Brethren involvement with the crisis in Nigeria, and provides suggestions for US action including a demilitarized response and robust assistance for displaced people and refugees. It includes a statement from EYN president Samuel Dante Dali: “Mercy, compassion, and importance of every human life should guide the thinking, activities, and action of the UN and international community.” The Action Alert includes specific instructions for use of the petition and “leave behind” document. Find it at http://cob.convio.net/site/MessageViewer?dlv_id=37801&em_id=30801.0 .


1) Haiti Medical Project receives second grant from Royer Family Charitable Foundation

For the second year the Royer Family Charitable Foundation of Lancaster, Pa., is providing major support to the Church of the Brethren Haiti Medical Project. The current grant of $126,300 will support an expanded program of mobile clinics, a first Social Ministries Consultation in Haiti, a new thrust into community health and pure water projects, and an endowment fund.

Photo by Mark Myers
Haiti Medical Project in action

An earlier grant from the foundation is making it possible to double the number of mobile clinics to 48 in 16 Haitian communities in 2014, and increase the number of persons served to about 7,000 this year.

The new grant will continue the expanded effort to provide basic health care in partnership with congregations of l’Eglise des Freres Haitiens (the Church of the Brethren in Haiti).

“This grant really helps us change the lives of the poorest in the western hemisphere, the remote rural poor of Haiti,” said Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of Global Mission and Service for the Church of the Brethren.

The Royer Family Charitable Foundation was founded by Kenneth Royer and his late wife Jean. In its mission statement, the foundation “seeks to improve the quality of people’s lives internationally and domestically through sustainable programs that have a long term impact on individuals and communities. The foundation’s aim is to support basic needs for life and health while encouraging long-term self sufficiency. The foundation prefers to support efforts that have a tangible impact, defined measureable goals and permit a relationship between the grant recipients and the foundation.”

“We’re really impressed by the work being done in Haiti and we feel like our support is making a quantifiable difference,” said Becky Fuchs, a daughter of Kenneth and Jean Royer who is the foundation’s vice-president and treasurer. She is pastor of Mountville (Pa.) Church of the Brethren. The improvement to people’s health and quality of life resulting from the Haiti Medical Project “is encouraging us to continue to be involved,” she said.

The Haiti Medical Project is one of the largest recipients of grants from the Royer Family Charitable Foundation, Fuchs said. Other s include a clinic project in Liberia that has been working diligently on the Ebola crisis; an agriculture and community development program in Sierra Leone; Found in Translation based in Boston, which trains immigrant women to be medical interpreters; and Horizons National, started in Connecticut to provide summer enrichment programs for average and below-average students from low-income families. The foundation also gave a small grant to Alpha and Omega Community Center–related to a Church of the Brethren fellowship of the same name in Lancaster, Pa.–to switch from oil to gas heat in order to free up money for program.

As is the case with all aspects of the Haiti Medical Project supported by the foundation grants, the clinics also receive generous support from Brethren individuals and congregations. Paul Ullom-Minnich, a Kansas physician who convenes the clinics’ Coordinating Committee noted that “these clinics have really empowered the local churches to serve their neighbors. As the ministry grows, feedback from the local communities has been amazing.”

According to Dale Minnich, a project volunteer, “Perhaps the most significant impact of these grants will be to help the Brethren launch a second major arm of the Haiti Medical Project–the new work in community health and pure drinking water projects.” This work on community health and drinking water will be led by a three-person Community Development Team consisting of its director, Jean Bily Telfort, along with Adias Docteur, and Vildor Archange.

Telfort and Docteur are agronomists who continue to work with agricultural and nutrition projects funded by the Church of the Brethren’s Global Food Crisis Fund. Archange will give direction to the new work in community health, assisted by the other two members of the team.  The new work will include beginning community health committees in a number of villages, an effort to provide basic midwifery skills to untrained persons attending the majority of births in Haitian communities, and an educational pre- and post-natal program for pregnant mothers and mothers of children less than two years old.

The new Community Development Team will be fully functioning by Jan. 1, 2015.

The Haiti Medical Project is sponsored by the Church of the Brethren Global Mission and Service. It was begun in late 2011 as a grassroots initiative without specific budget support and depending almost completely on support by committed Brethren. For more information go to www.brethren.org/haiti-medical-project .

— Dale Minnich contributed to this report.

2) Congregational Life Ministries leader addresses Powerhouse at Camp Mack

By Walt Wiltschek

Photo courtesy of Walt Wiltschek / Manchester University
Many of the Powerhouse 2014 participants gather for a group photo at Camp Mack

More than 80 youth and advisors met at Camp Mack in Milford, Ind., on Nov. 15-16 for the Powerhouse regional youth conference sponsored by Manchester University. All six Midwest districts of the Church of the Brethren were represented, covering Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin.

Jonathan Shively, executive director of Congregational Life Ministries for the Church of the Brethren, served as keynote speaker for three worship services.

The weekend focused on the theme “Almost Christian: Seeking an Authentic Faith.” The title and focus drew on the book “Almost Christian” by Kenda Creasy Dean, which explores topics from the National Study of Youth and Religion. Shively’s messages centered on identifying and telling one’s story of faith, gaining a sense of gifts and vocation, and living in a sense of hope–and the importance of community in all of those. The band Mutual Kumquat brought additional energy, providing musical leadership through the weekend.

Participants also selected from among 10 workshops, with options such as a trip to the Manchester University campus, a service project, a study of Creasy Dean’s book, and working with clay or prayer journals. Recreation time, meals, an optional film, and games and fellowship filled the rest of the schedule. Representatives from Brethren Volunteer Service, the denomination’s Youth/Young Adult Ministry, and Bethany Theological Seminary were also on hand to share about their programs.

This was the fifth year since the Midwest regional youth conference was “rebooted” in this new format, planned by Manchester’s Campus Ministry and Church Relations office. The next Powerhouse gathering will tentatively be held in Nov. 2015. For more information, visit www.manchester.edu/powerhouse .

— Walt Wiltschek of the Manchester University Campus Ministry/Religious Life provided this report.


Roxane and Carl Hill

3) Carl and Roxane Hill to co-direct Nigeria crisis response

Carl and Roxane Hill have been named co-directors of the Nigerian Crisis Response for the Church of the Brethren, beginning Dec. 1. They will be working as part of the Global Mission and Service department and Brethren Disaster Ministries, and will be based at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill.

The Hills previously were program volunteers and mission workers in Nigeria, where they taught at Kulp Bible College (KBC) from Dec. 2012 to May 2014. KBC is a ministerial training college of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria). Up until the end of October, when the insurgent group Boko Haram attacked and overran the area, the college was located at the EYN headquarters compound in Kwarhi, near the city of Mubi in northeast Nigeria.

The director of the Nigerian Crisis Response is a new position, following up on the October decision of the Church of the Brethren Mission and Ministry Board to allocate significant new funding to an expanded crisis response in Nigeria, where EYN has been seriously affected by the violent insurgency.

Roles and responsibilities for the co-directors of the Nigerian Crisis Response include leading and managing communication with EYN in Nigeria, making regular visits to Nigeria to support EYN and American volunteers working there, providing ongoing and weekly reporting on EYN and the crisis response, assisting with raising funds for the response and other financial matters, facilitating the monitoring and evaluation of crisis response projects, recruiting and managing American volunteers working in Nigeria, and coordinating activities with EYN and other partner organizations, among others.

Later, as the crisis response develops, the work also may include hosting US work groups in Nigeria, working closely with EYN.

For more information about the Nigeria crisis response go to www.brethren.org/nigeriacrisis .


4) Congregational Life blog adds dimension to Brethren Press Advent devotional

Congregational Life Ministries staff are posting a daily blog on www.brethren.org to accompany the 2014 Advent devotional published by Brethren Press. The blogposts are provided each day from the first Sunday of Advent, Nov. 30, through Epiphany on Jan. 6, 2015.

Blogposts are written by different staff of the Church of the Brethren Congregational Life Ministries, and each includes the scripture reference, a question for reflection, and a prayer for the day. Go to https://www.brethren.org/blog/category/devotional .

The Brethren Press Advent devotional titled “Awake: Devotions for Advent Through Epiphany,” is written by Sandy Bosserman, a former district executive and an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren. The theme is inspired by 1 Thessalonians 5:5-6 (NIV): “You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.” The pocket-sized paperback format is suitable for individual use and for congregations to supply to their members. Purchase for $2.75 per copy, or $5.95 for large print, at www.brethrenpress.com or call Brethren Press at 800-441-3712.


5) Reflections on returning to South Sudan

By Roger Schrock

“Malέ?” the Nuer greeting of “peace” filled the air as I reconnected with Nuer people of the Mayom/Bentiu area of South Sudan after 34 years. What a joyous occasion to again see these friends and to be able to introduce them to Jay Wittmeyer on our recent trip to South Sudan. This meeting confirmed the importance of the presence of the Church of the Brethren personnel from the 1980s to the present as we worked on issues of development and peace.

Photo by Jay Wittmeyer
Roger Schrock visits the village of Lohilla in South Sudan

During the first half of the 1980s the Brethren were asked by the Sudan Council of Churches to initiate a Primary Health Care Program for the Western Nuer of Upper Nile Province. The scope of this development work for the five Brethren persons involved was to provide basic health care for persons and cattle as well as the digging of water wells and the promotion of food production. It also resulted in the planting of a church in Mayom. The work was to serve 200,000 persons.

We learned that development cannot move forward in the time of war. That was true in the 1980s and it is still evident in South Sudan today as the possibility of development has again stopped because of the current factional fighting. Even though the conflict has stifled development, within the hearts and minds of the South Sudanese, hope for the future and the belief that God will provide is very strong.

The second phase of the Brethren work which happened in the 1990s was focused on Nuer Bible translation and helping the New Sudan Council of Churches (NSCC) work to unite and support the churches during the raging civil war. The number of Brethren involved in this phase was 10 persons. A major emphasis was on the People to People peace movement which helped end 50 years of civil war, and this led to the creation of the newest nation in Africa–the Republic of the South Sudan. This trip allowed us to reconnect with persons of the NSCC and their cherished hope for peace that still eludes the new nation. These friends reflected that the peace did not hold because it did not go deep enough, and there is still a need for friends like the Brethren to accompany them in working to transform their society from the greed of war to a culture of peace.

Photo by Jay Wittmeyer
Athanasus Ungang (right) with one of the evangelists he is training in the village of Lohilla, who are excited about starting a church fellowship there.

We traveled to Torit, the state capital of Eastern Equatoria, to see the current Brethren staff person, Athanasus Ungang, and the ongoing work. It was encouraging to see a flourishing English-speaking church in Torit, which Athanasus leads. The building of the Brethren Peace and Service Center in Torit will provide a base from which to carry out the future ministry of the Church of the Brethren in South Sudan. We traveled with Athanasus to meet the two evangelists that he is training in the village of Lohilla who are excited about starting a church fellowship. We met with the leaders of Lohilla to finalize plans for their first village elementary school.

Visiting the Imatong Bible School of the Africa Inland Church, our partner in South Sudan, helped us see the hopes and potential for the church but also the need to strengthen and build up the capacity of the South Sudanese. In our visit with the Bishop of the Africa Inland Church, Bishop Archangelo, we heard a clear call to assist in the Trauma Healing ministries that are very needed because of the many years of civil unrest and war.

It is clear to me that God is not yet done with the Brethren and the work in South Sudan. As the Sudanese say, “Only God knows” what all the future holds. But it is clear there are things for us to learn and do with the Sudanese. There is hope as we continue the work of Jesus–peacefully, simply, and together! Thus we look forward to an Experiential Learning/Work Group traveling to South Sudan in April 2015 to take the next step with the people of South Sudan.

— Roger Schrock is pastor of Cabool (Mo.) Church of the Brethren and is a member of the Mission Advisory Committee. He and his wife Carolyn served in Sudan throughout the 1980s and 1990s, in addition to nine years of service in Nigeria. He traveled to South Sudan with Global Mission and Service executive Jay Wittmeyer in November.

6) Borderlands reflection: ‘What did you go out to the desert to see?’ Luke 7:26

By John Heid

This reflection is from a Christian Peacemaker Teams release published on CPTnet on Dec. 1:

“Our work is done for today,” Joel yelled across the wash as he waved his arms emphatically. I was puzzled. We were still a good four miles from our destination, Red Tail water tank. Joel shouted again. “We’re done! Come over here!” As I approached, no further words were needed. A few feet in front of him lay a sun-bleached human skull, eyeless sockets looking south, resting starkly among the coal black volcanic rocks strewn across this ancient plain.

Yes, our work was done for the day in that mid-afternoon moment of Thanksgiving eve. I took off my hat and sat in silent prayer. Joel called 911.

Joel, director of operations for Humane Borders, a Tucson-based humanitarian aid organization, and I were conducting the annual assessment of water tanks in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and replacing the weathered blue flags that prominently identify each tank. The person whose skull we came upon had missed the nearest tank by a few miles. S/he was the eleventh set of human remains recovered in the Tucson sector of the US-Mexico borderlands since Oct. 1, 2014.

I knew this day would probably come. I expected it as much as I dreaded it. Given the political and economic realities of our times, my finding human remains, sooner or later was inevitable. This man or woman was likely on his or her way to reunite with family. Or simply on the way to find work. All that ended weeks or months ago in the austere terrain of the Growler valley a few miles from El Camino del Diablo (Devil’s Highway).

The ancient Advent query in Luke 7:24-26 rises anew. What reason did this one have to come to the desert? Why do I? Why do any of us walk the Way we do?

— Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), originally begun by the Historic Peace Churches including the Church of the Brethren, has the mission of building partnerships to transform violence and oppression, and the vision of a world of communities that together embrace the diversity of the human family and live justly and peaceably with all creation. Find out more about CPT at www.cpt.org .

7) Brethren bits

Photo by Ralph Miner
On Nov. 8, while the delegates to the Illinois and Wisconsin District Conference were in business session, 24 people attending the district youth retreat took 16 bags of donated food to the Northern Illinois Food Bank and packed more than 6,500 pounds of potatoes. “They wanted to thank everyone who donated food at the conference,” said a report in the newsletter of Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren in Elgin, Ill., which hosted the district conference. The Illinois Wisconsin District Youth Cabinet planned the service project.

— Correction: The final tally of the funds raised by the Polo (Ill.) Growing Project for the Foods Resource Bank, with the addition of an anonymous gift by a Polo area grower, now totals $34,285. In recent years the proceeds have been designated for sustainable food development in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Find the Nov. 4 Newsline article about the Polo Growing Project at www.brethren.org/news/2014/polo-growing-project-harvest.html .

— The Fellowship of Brethren Homes has announced the retirement of Carol Davis as executive director, as of Dec. 31, and the appointment of Ralph McFadden as interim executive director beginning Dec. 1. “We are grateful for Carol’s service in this leadership role over the last year and a half and we wish her well as she enters into full retirement,” said the announcement from the executive committee of the Fellowship of Brethren Homes, an organization of Church of the Brethren-related retirement communities. McFadden will work with Davis to complete a month of transition in December, the announcement said. Several years ago he served a term as executive director of the fellowship, in his role with the former Association of Brethren Caregivers. He has served in a number of capacities in the Church of the Brethren over the years including as a pastor and district executive, and on the denominational staff. He has been a hospice chaplain, and in retirement has been actively engaged in consulting work. He has been a five-year member of the board of directors for Pinecrest Community in Mount Morris, Ill., where he has chaired the Strategic Planning Committee. In addition to working directly with the 22 retirement communities that hold membership in the Fellowship of Brethren Homes, the executive director has a significant role in the governance of the Peace Church Risk Retention Group, the Peace Church Health Insurance Program, and Resource Partners. Any inquiries about the Fellowship of Brethren Homes may be directed to ralphfbh@gmail.com .

— As part of the Nigeria Crisis Response, Brethren Disaster Ministries is seeking people interested in long-term volunteer placements in Nigeria, with the following expectations: three-month minimum stay; experience in stressful international settings; independent, able to care for yourself in this setting; experience or expertise in a needed program area including international disaster response or development, crisis counseling and trauma healing, program monitoring and evaluation, photography and reporting/writing, pastoral care. Contact Roy Winter at rwinter@brethren.org for more information.

— Online registration opened Dec. 1 for Christian Citizenship Seminar 2015, an event for senior high youth and their adult advisors sponsored by the Church of the Brethren Youth and Young Adult Ministry on April 18-23 in New York City and Washington, D.C. The seminar’s study of US immigration will be guided by the theme scripture from Hebrews 13:2: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Space is limited to 100 people so early registration is advised. Cost is $400. Go to www.brethren.org/ccs .

— Frederick (Md.) Church of the Brethren will be hosting a LOVE EYN Worship Night on Saturday, Dec. 13, at 7 p.m. in the FCOB Multipurpose Room. “This will be an acoustic worship to pray and lift up members of our sister church in Nigeria who are affected by the current crisis,” said an announcement. “A love offering will be taken to go to the Nigeria Crisis Fund. Donations can also be given as an alternative Christmas gift for your family, friends, and coworkers and you will receive a card to present as the gift.” Gifts may be given at the LOVE EYN Worship night or every Sunday until Christmas at a table in the Sanctuary Hallway at the Frederick Church. For more information visit www.fcob.net .

— More selections of Advent and Christmas events from Church of the Brethren congregations and organizations:
Jackson Park Church of the Brethren in Jonesborough, Tenn., will be part of the Jonesborough Christmas Stroll on Dec. 6, from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. “People are invited to come inside and experience  the Christmas decorations and to reflect upon the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of the Son of God!” said an invitation from Southeastern District.

The Christmas Tree of Stars at the Church of the Brethren Home, a retirement community in Windber, Pa., is in its 31st year. “Your donation will not only honor or memorialize a loved one or friend, it will help provide benevolent care for our residents,” said an announcement in the Western Pennsylvania District newsletter. “The names of those being remembered will be displayed on the Christmas tree located in the Home’s Circle Lounge.” Contact the Church of the Brethren Home, 277 Hoffman Ave., Windber, PA 15963, ATTN: Tree of Stars.

“At our Alternative Christmas Gift Market two Saturdays ago, we garnered approximately $3,100 for the Nigeria Crisis Fund,” reported Jeanne Smith in a Facebook post about the event hosted at the Cedars, a Church of the Brethren retirement community in McPherson, Kan.

Camp Bethel near Fincastle, Va., is holding a Winter Camp on Dec. 29-30. “Give yourself a Christmas gift and send the kids to Winter Camp,” said an announcement. The camp is described as “a fun and spiritual holiday program for campers in 1st through 12th grades (grouped by age) led by our reunited Summer Staff.” The cost is $70 and includes 4 meals, lodging, and program including games, hiking, crafts, Bible study, sledding (if there is snow), a summer 2014 slide show, a bonfire, singing, and an exclusive first look at summer 2015. For more information and registration go to www.campbethelvirginia.org/winter_camp.htm .

— Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren’s exhibit marking the William Stafford Centennial will receive wider exposure in January when it will be displayed at Elgin (Ill.) Community College’s Writing Center, and later on at the Church of the Brethren General Offices. Rachel (Tecza) Stuart, director of the college Writing Center, regularly incorporates Stafford’s poetry in her work with students, said the church newsletter. Stafford was a Church of the Brethren member and an award winning poet, and was Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1970.

— Community Church of the Brethren in Twin Falls, Idaho, held a 5th annual Thanksgiving Dinner for those who were without a meal or without family. The event on Thanksgiving afternoon, Nov. 27, was reported by KMVT television. Some 200 dinners were served over the course of 3 hours. Pastor Mark Bausman told KMVT that every year the dinner grows, and the church looks forward to the event all year long. Find a news article and video clip at www.kmvt.com/news/latest/The-Giving-In-Thanksgiving-284092491.html .

— “Diners eat up history at Va. homestead” is the title of an Associated Press article about a candlelight dinner at the John Kline Homestead in Broadway, Va. “While for some, a candlelight dinner is a ticket to romance, at the John Kline Homestead it’s a ticket to another time,” said the piece, which reviewed a Nov. 22 dinner at the historic homestead of Civil War-er Brethren elder and martyr for peace John Kline. The article appeared in the Richmond (Va.) “Times Dispatch” newspaper and the “Daily News-Record” of Harrisonburg, Va. “As guests supped on pork loin and sweet potatoes in the historic home of Elder John Kline, a national leader in the Brethren faith, actors portraying Kline’s family, friends and even his spirit played out scenes from the fall of that year.” The piece quoted Paul Roth, president of the John Kline Homestead Trust, explaining how the dinners bring history to life: “”History can be very dry and static…. I believe people need to be able to have an experience and everyone likes to eat.” Read the full article at www.timesdispatch.com/news/virginia/ap/diners-eat-up-history-at-va-homestead/article_b7ae50f2-dcef-5061-b1b1-1baea55bbb96.html .

— “Christians are called to be peacemakers and to build just peace,” said a release from the World Council of Churches (WCC) reporting on an Ecumenical Peace Consultation currently being held in Sweden. The WCC theme of pilgrimage towards peace and justice, formed the theme of remarks by WCC general secretary Olav Fykse Tveit that opened the consultation. “This consultation is one of the means by which we are seeking to give further form and content to the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, and to determine how we might practically travel together on this journey,” he said, in part. “Just peace in a comprehensive sense requires that just peace be established as an end of armed conflicts. Christians are called to be peacemakers and to build just peace. That means that we need to be peace builders, building the Shalom/Salaam in the wider and deeper sense.” Other speakers included Agnes Abuom, moderator of the WCC, who said: “It is only through peace we can bring development and prosperity…. Reconciliation will cost. It requires sacrifice on all sides of any conflict.” Leonardo Emberti Gialloreti from the Sant’Egidio community said in his presentation, “Peace has to be a passion, not a profession! Blessed are the peacemakers!” The WCC consultation and workshop on peace building and advocacy for Just Peace, Dec. 1-5, brings together more than 80 ecumenical advocacy experts, church leaders, civil society leaders, and United Nations partners, the release said. For more about the event go to www.oikoumene.org/en/press-centre/events/peacebuilding-and-advocacy-for-just-peace . For the full text of the speech by the WCC general secretary go to www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/general-secretary/speeches/speech-at-ecumenical-peacebuilding-consultation-in-sigtuna-december-2014 .

— In more news from the World Council of Churches, the WCC Executive Committee on Nov. 25 made a strong recommendation urging all countries to take special measures to protect and support refugees and displaced people from the Middle East, especially those from countries like Syria, Iraq, and Israel-Palestine. A release said the statement is based on the Christian premise of welcoming the stranger. The statement urges an end to the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Israel-Palestine, enabling return of the refugees and displaced people to their homes safely and with dignity, and urges all parties to the conflicts to “respect the dignity and rights of all human beings, to observe all the principles of international humanitarian law concerning the protection of civilians.” The statement recommends that all states sign, ratify, and implement the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1954 and 1961 Statelessness Conventions. It also recommends increased financial and material support for all countries hosting displaced people, urging countries to share the burden more equitably with the most affected host countries and communities. The statement particularly appreciates efforts by countries like Lebanon and Jordan to keep their borders open. The WCC has a number of churches and partner organizations working on the issue in the Middle East, the release said. Find the full statement on forced displacement, refugees, and internally displaced people in the Middle East at www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/executive-committee/cyprus-november-2014/forced-displacement-refugees-and-internally-displaced-persons-idps-in-the-middle-east .

— Dec. 14 marks the second anniversary of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. A release from the Newtown Foundation, a Newtown-based all-volunteer organization formed after the school shootings, said that by December “an estimated 60,000 more Americans will have died from gun violence. It’s a heartbreaking toll that affects ALL of our communities. But the victims are often forgotten in the discussions of gun violence in this country. Therefore, the Newtown Foundation plans to bring families of victims and survivors of gun violence from Newtown and from around the country–from urban, rural, and suburban communities–to a vigil at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.” On Dec. 11 the National Cathedral will host a service of mourning and loving remembrance for all who have fallen victim to gun violence. Similar vigils are also planned at other locations around the country. “Please help us shine a light on the human toll of gun violence and show the families we care,” said the release. For more about the Newtown Foundation, and the Dec. 11 National Vigil for Gun Violence Victims, go to http://newtownaction.org .

Contributors to this issue of Newsline include Jeff Boshart, Deborah Brehm, Jenn Dorsch, Kim Ebersole, Jan Fischer Bachman, Kendra Harbeck, John Heid, Nathan Hosler, Ralph Miner, Dale Minnich, Roger Schrock, Jeanne Smith, Roy Winter, Jay Wittmeyer, and editor Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren. The next issue of Newsline is scheduled for Dec. 9. Newsline is produced by the News Services of the Church of the Brethren. Contact the editor at cobnews@brethren.org . Newsline appears every week, with special issues as needed. Stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source.

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