Brethren Bits: A Focus on the Refugee and Migrant Crisis

Brethren Disaster Ministries is preparing to direct grants to support refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia who are moving through transit nations including Serbia, Hungary, Greece, and Egypt. The grants will be from the Emergency Disaster Fund (EDF). “The situation is becoming more challenging as some countries close borders. Most refugees are hoping to make it to northern Europe for resettlement,” said Roy Winter, associate executive director of Global Mission and Service and Brethren Disaster Ministries.
In a brief interview by phone, he emphasized that the refugee and migrant crisis involves not only people displaced from Syria and Iraq, but also the displaced in Nigeria, and those forced from their homes in many other nations worldwide. More than 59.5 million people are considered displaced as of the end of 2014–the most ever in recorded history, according to a recently published report from the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.
“Heartbreaking” is the word Winter used as he added that half of the displaced are children.
Brethren should remember that the current EDF grants build upon some years of work on the Syria crisis by Church of the Brethren staff, including the attendance of general secretary Stan Noffsinger at several international ecumenical meetings held under the auspices of the World Council of Churches–at which he was one of just a few representatives from American churches.
“We can’t divert our attention from the root causes,” Winter said, noting the groundwork that Brethren and others have helped lay for an ecumenical Christian aid effort now ongoing in Europe.
His suggestions for concerned Brethren include: praying, giving to the Emergency Disaster Fund at to support the international ecumenical response aiding refugees and migrants, contacting a Church World Service office to sponsor a refugee (see ), and supporting displaced Nigerians by giving to the Nigeria Crisis Fund at .

An Action Alert from the Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness calls Brethren to join other Christians in urging the US government to accept more refugees who are fleeing the conflict in Syria as well as from other nations.
Citing a statement of the 1982 Church of the Brethren Annual Conference, the alert says, in part: “The Church of the Brethren has long supported refugees displaced from their homeland. In the past, we called for the Federal government ‘to support and harbor refugees from war, oppression, famine, and natural disasters… We also favor generous temporary care for refugees who, upon fleeing their homeland, find their first asylum in the United States. As we grapple with increasingly heartbreaking and tragic reports of Syrian refugees dying as they seek safety in the region and in Europe, it is clear that the Church of the Brethren must pressure the United States to respond with leadership. The fact that the US has only resettled 1,517 Syrian refugees since the beginning of the conflict is inexcusable. While resettlement is not the only solution, it is a critical way the US can support countries like Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan that are hosting millions of Syrian refugees. The United States can and should resettle at least 100,000 Syrian refugees this coming fiscal year, in addition to increasing our total resettlement commitment from 70,000 to 100,000 refugees from all parts of the world.”
The alert offers a number of actions that Brethren may choose to take, such as signing an online petition, calling the White House, and sharing the concern via social media. Find the full Action Alert at .

Among other organizations calling for action on the refugee and migrant crisis is the National Council of Churches (NCC) which has joined in calls for the US to open its borders to 100,000 Syrian refugees this coming fiscal year, in addition to increasing the total US resettlement commitment to 100,000 refugees from other parts of the world.
“Along with our ecumenical colleagues in the World Council of Churches, the Conference of European Churches, and the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe, we also call upon the European Union to put in place policies which enable safe and legal pathways into Europe including issuing of humanitarian visas, lifting of visa requirements for persons fleeing from conflict zones, easier and more generous family reunification for persons in need of or granted international protection, and humanitarian admission,” said a statement from the NCC. The statement calls the United Nations and member states to commit their diplomatic and humanitarian agencies to bring about an end to the crisis.
“From the very beginning, the Church has identified itself with refugees,” the NCC statement said, in part. “Our ancestors in faith  were themselves refugees when they fled the chariots of Pharaoh after escaping from slavery. Jesus himself was a refugee when his family fled to Egypt to escape the sword of Herod. Whenever early Christians were persecuted, they were made refugees…. Today, fellow Christians and their Muslim neighbors are fleeing violence in Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria in numbers not seen since 16 million people were forced from their lands during the Second World War. And worse, this current refugee crisis is growing…. We call upon all people of conscience to join with churches and other organizations in compassionate responses to this crisis.”
Find the full statement at .

European churches and ecumenical organizations have marshaled resources to support and welcome those seeking safety from war and conflict, according to a World Council of Churches (WCC) release.
“According to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), more than 300,000 refugees and migrants have traversed the dangerous sea route across the Mediterranean this year, with more than 200,000 landing in Greece and a further 110,000 in Italy,” the release said. “The year-to-date statistics from the UNHCR represent a large increase from last year, when around 219,000 people crossed the Mediterranean.”
ACT Alliance, which is a partner organization of the WCC, is providing life-saving humanitarian aid in the countries of origin of refugees, including Syria and Iraq; in neighboring countries including Turkey and Lebanon; and increasingly in transit countries including Greece, Serbia, and Hungary, according to the release. “Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe with its members across Europe is engaged in monitoring the situation, advocacy among churches and European institutions, awareness raising and legal counselling with a focus on family reunification, especially with its project Safe Passage.” Others actively involved with the refugee crisis in Europe include the World Communion of Reformed Churches, Lutheran World Federation, Conference of European Churches, Evangelical Church in Germany, the Reformed Church and the Lutheran Church in Hungary and Hungarian Interchurch Aid, WCC member churches in Greece as well as the Ecumenical Refugee Program of the Church of Greece.
Find an ACT Alliance statement on the refugee crisis at .
The WCC statement on refugees is at .

The world’s refugee and migrant crisis, by the numbers:

59.5 million: The number of people forcibly displaced from their homes as of the end of 2014, the highest number on record in human history. This figure includes internally displaced people within their own country (IDPs) and refugees who have fled their own country and are living in another country. More than half of those displaced are children. This total has increased from 51.2 million a year earlier, and 37.5 million a decade ago (source: UNHCR).

16 million: the number of people who were forced from their lands during World War II, to put the current crisis in historical perspective (source: NCC).

11,597,748: People from Syria who are displaced, including 7.6 million internally displaced people and 3.88 million refugees as of the end of 2014 (source: BDM and UNHCR).

6,409,186: People from Colombia who are displaced (source: BDM and UNHCR).

4,104,175: People from Iraq who are displaced (source: BDM and UNHCR).

3,703,376: People from Afghanistan who are displaced (source: BDM and UNHCR).

2,465,442: People from South Sudan who are displaced (source: BDM and UNHCR).

2,304,167: People from Somalia who are displaced (source: BDM and UNHCR).

1,379,051: Nigerians who are displaced. Nearly 700,000 of these are connected to Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) (source: BDM and UNHCR).

1,075,736: People from Ukraine who are displaced (source: BDM and UNHCR).

300,000-plus: The number of refugees and migrants who have traversed the Mediterranean this year, with more than 200,000 landing in Greece and a further 110,000 in Italy. This represents a large increase from last year, when around 219,000 people crossed the Mediterranean (source: WCC and UNHCR).

100,000: The number of Syrian refugees that the National Council of Churches and other ecumenical Christian groups are urging the US to open its borders to this coming fiscal year, in addition to increasing the total US resettlement commitment to 100,000 refugees from other parts of the world (source: NCC).

1,517: The number of Syrian refugees the US has resettled since the beginning of the conflict (source: Office of Public Witness).

The source for many of these figures is the UNHCR’s annual Global Trends Report, this year subtitled “World at War.” The current Global Trends Report offers statistics as of the end of 2014, and was published in June. Find a release about the report at . Find the full report at .

— Children’s Disaster Services is deploying 17 volunteers to a shelter at the Napa County Fairgrounds in Calistoga, in northern California’s wine country. The area has been affected by several wildfires this summer, with the Valley Fire currently the largest threat. This is a national Red Cross response, said associate director Kathy Fry-Miller in a brief telephone interview this morning. CDS works cooperatively with the American Red Cross and FEMA to provide care for children and families affected by disasters, deploying trained and certified volunteers to set up child care centers in shelters and disaster assistance centers to provide a safe and reassuring presence for traumatized children. The CDS volunteers will be helping to serve many of the 190 children who are among the families living at the shelter, where the population is 50 percent Spanish speaking, Fry-Miller said. The work of CDS is supported through the Church of the Brethren’s Emergency Disaster Fund, give at . Learn more about CDS at .

— This Sunday, Sept. 20, is the suggested date for the Mission Offering supporting Church of the Brethren mission efforts around the world. The theme scripture is from Philippians 1: “These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel.” The following worship resources, written by Ken Gibble unless otherwise indicated, are available online in pdf format: call to worship, opening prayer, hymn suggestions, children’s story, invitation to give, sermon preparation, invitation to commune, benediction, theme interpretation, and a biblical exegesis by Debbie Eisenbise. Standing orders were mailed to congregations the first week of August. Find worship resources at .

— The 39th annual Brethren Disaster Relief Auction will be held at the Lebanon (Pa.) Expo and Fairgrounds on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 25-26, beginning at 8 a.m. The event is held in cooperation with two districts of the Church of the Brethren: Atlantic Northeast and S. Pennsylvania. It is the largest disaster relief auction in the world, run entirely by volunteers and attracting 10,000 people, said a release from David L. Farmer, one of those volunteers organizing the event. This year the auction is dedicated to Nigerian relief, following the kidnapping of school girls and destruction caused by Boko Haram, the Islamic terrorist group. New this year: the first annual 5k race, “Run for Relief,” starting from the fairgrounds on Saturday at 8 a.m. The race is open to runners and walkers and cash prizes will be awarded, register at Another special opportunity is for participants to volunteer to assemble “Gift of the Heart” school kits for disaster victims on Friday afternoon, beginning at 1 p.m. Last year more than 12,000 were assembled by 200 volunteers, the release said. Hand-made quilts are a big draw, and this year more than 75 will be available for purchase. However, the two-day event may have as many as five auctions taking place at once, with auctions including: the general auction which will include a large collection of valuable vintage and antique furniture, the Children’s Auction, the Heifer Auction, the Coin Auction, the Quilt Auction, the Theme Basket Auction, the Silent Auction, and the Pole Barn Auction. Also for children: a Children’s Store, a balloon artist, face painting, free barrel train rides, $1 donation pony rides weather permitting, and on Saturday at 12:45 p.m. the Puppet and Story Works. Other attractions: a fresh produce market, home-baked goods for sale, made-on-site Amish donuts and soft pretzels, more than 30 vendors in the arts and crafts area, food and drink including sausage sandwiches and a chicken dinner, a chainsaw carver, and wood turners creating items to be sold. Since 1977 the auction has provided more than $14,000,000 in disaster relief to victims of natural and man-made disasters both in the US and internationally. Funds raised not only pay for emergency supplies for disaster victims, but also support volunteer disaster relief trips throughout the year and support the work of Brethren Disaster Ministries. See or call 717-577-1675 on the day of the event.

— Mark Eller, maintenance director at Brethren Woods, has resigned effective Dec. 31. He has completed 10 summers as maintenance director at the camp near Keezletown, Va., and has made an impact during each of those summers and year-round, said an announcement from the camp staff. He and his family will be moving back to Ohio to continue following God’s leading. Eller “has been an amazing employee at the camp. He has been a blessing because of his hard work, his ability to see the best in everyone, and his passion to follow Christ. He will truly be missed. The camp will be hosting an event to thank Mark for his service. Keep on the look-out for information about that party!” To hire a successor, Brethren Woods has developed an announcement of the job opening and a description, go to .

— The National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund (NCPTF) and the Peace Tax Foundation (PTF) are seeking a part-time (approximately 24 hours/week) executive director to serve both organizations. NCPTF advocates for the enactment of a legal alternative for conscientious objectors to the payment of military taxes. PTF is its informational and educational partner organization. The executive director, based in the Washington, D.C., office, represents both organizations and is responsible for administration, lobbying, and fundraising. For more information, see the job posting at .  E-mail inquiries to prior to Oct. 15.

— The Global Mission and Service office is requesting prayer for the third Asamblea, or annual conference, of Iglesia de los Hermanos Una Luz en Las Naciones (Church of the Brethren a Light to the Nations) in Spain. The conference is being held this week near the city of Gijon. The conference theme is “Llamados Con Proposito” (“Called with a Purpose”) based on text from Isaiah 43:7. “Pray that participants be filled with the Holy Spirit’s passion and guidance as they worship together and continue to develop the ministries of the church in Spain,” said the prayer request.

— A “March for Peace” in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Sept. 20 has been organized by the peace committee of Eglise des Freres Haitiens (the Church of the Brethren in Haiti) and is the subject of another prayer request from Global Mission and Service. The march will involve representatives from multiple congregations and is the first large-scale public witness effort of the denomination in Haiti, the request said. The motto of the march is “Seek Peace for a Better Haiti,” with Hebrews 12:14 as the theme scripture.

— Fraternity Church of the Brethren’s 240th anniversary is the subject of an article in the “Winston-Salem Journal.” The article interviews pastor Paul Stutzman, who told the reporter: “Our celebration is called ‘Faith and Footwork: Looking Back and Going Forward…. Hopefully it won’t just be a time to look back and say we have 240 years and look at all the things we did in the past, but also a way to look forward and go forward.” As part the celebration, “church members will participate in service projects on Saturday morning as an outreach to the community. They will volunteer at Samaritan Ministries, work on a beautification project at Ward Elementary School and share home-baked goods with residents in neighborhoods surrounding the church.” Find the full news piece at .

— Grottoes (Va.) Church of the Brethren celebrates its 100th anniversary with a special worship service at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 18. Randy Simmons, pastor of Mt. Vernon Church of the Brethren, will bring the message, said an announcement from Shenandoah District. Special music will be provided by Southern Grace. A fellowship meal will follow.

— Iglesia Jesucristo El Camino/His Way Church of the Brethren in Mills River, N.C., is co-hosting Gathering of the Church of the Mountains: A Time of Refreshing and Impartation on Sept. 25-26. The event on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. will include preaching, worship, and ministry with pastor and church planter Alejandro Colindres, and Binyam Teklu, an international evangelist, with worship led by local worship teams. The Saturday morning starting at 9 a.m. will offer a Leadership Training Breakfast with guest speakers Colindres and Ronald Gates, regional church overseer and pastor at Greater Works Church of God in Christ in Asheville, N.C. Hosted by five churches from different denominations and representing the Hispanic, Anglo, and African-American communities of western North Carolina, this gathering is an opportunity to bridge language, culture, and race to show the world one church in Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit, said an announcement. All speakers and worship will be bilingual in Spanish and English. All services will be held at Rapha House, 127 School House Road, Mills River, N.C. For more information all 828-890-4747 (English) or 828-713-5978 (Spanish).

— Getting media attention from are First Church of the Brethren in Harrisburg, Pa., and Modesto (Calif.) Church of the Brethren, which are both host sites for the Agape-Satyagraha program to teach nonviolence to youth. Agape-Satyagraha got its start in Harrisburg, and now has become a program supported by On Earth Peace. “In Christian scripture, Agape means unselfish love, a term Martin Luther King Jr. used to describe his vision for a ‘beloved community.’ Satyagraha means ‘truth force,’ coined by Mahatma Gandhi in referring to the practice of non-violent social change,” the piece reports. “At Agape-Satyagraha meetings, students in grades 6-12 break into small groups with adult and youth mentors.” Read the full article at
. A series of additional articles is planned, to help tell the personal stories of youth and others involved in the Agape-Satyagraha effort. The latest is “Sister of Harrisburg homicide victim drives home anti-violence message to youth” at

Image courtesy of Eddie Edmonds

— In advance of the annual worship service at the historic Dunker Church on the Antietam National Battlefield, a Civil War battle site, “A. Mack” will be visiting the nearby Moler Avenue Church of the Brethren in Martinsburg, W.Va. Larry Glick, an ordained minister and former associate district executive in the Church of the Brethren, “has portrayed Brethren personalities over the years in an effort to instruct the church on our history and heritage,” said an announcement from Moler Avenue pastor Eddie Edmonds. “He will be in the character of Alexander Mack, our denominational founder, at the 10 a.m. service and then John Kline, Civil War martyr, at the Dunker Church service at 3 p.m. on the Antietam National Battlefield location. I do pray that you will not miss this opportunity to see and experience this rewarding time of worship.” For more information contact Edmonds in the church office at or 304-671-4775.

— South Central Indiana District is offering a continuing education event for ministers on Sept. 18 from 12 noon-5:30 p.m. at Manchester Church of the Brethren in North Manchester, Ind. Steven Schweitzer, academic dean at Bethany Theological Seminary, will present a Bible study on the topic of “covenant” in advance of the district conference that starts at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19, at the same location. Non-delegate registration is $20. Forms are at .

— Bethany dean Steven Schweitzer also will lead a special event in advance of the Illinois and Wisconsin District Conference on “The Book of Chronicles and the Church: Theology, Continuity, Innovation, and the Kingdom of God.” The workshop will be held Nov. 5 from 7-9 p.m. and Nov. 6 from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. at Peoria (Ill.) Church of the Brethren. Ministers may receive .8 continuing education units. Cost is $40, with an additional fee of $10 for continuing education units. A continental breakfast and lunch will be provided on Nov. 6.

— Annual Conference moderator Andy Murray is leading a Friday afternoon workshop in advance of the Missouri and Arkansas District Conference at the Windermere Conference Center, Roach, Mo. The workshop starts at 1 p.m., held in the main room of the Deer Ridge Lodge. Murray will lead the session on “Rooms in the House of Mack” exploring the history of controversy and division among the followers of Alexander Mack and working together at discerning those things that pull us apart and those things that hold us together, according to an e-mail from district executive minister Carolyn Schrock. “We will also ask whether there are practical, biblical tools that might strengthen the latter and weaken the former.  Everyone is welcome, and CEUs will be awarded all ministers who attend.”

— “Faith-Informed Justice: Re-constructing Private and Public Life,” is the theme of a Nov. 21 “fall learning circle” sponsored by the Shenandoah District Pastors for Peace and announced in the district newsletter. The event takes place from 8:45 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 21, at Pleasant Valley Church of the Brethren in Weyers Cave, Va. The presenter will be Carl Stauffer, assistant professor at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacemaking. The program will focus on restorative justice and is open to pastors and others who are interested. The cost of $25 includes a soup-and-sandwich lunch. Ministers may earn .5 continuing education units at no extra charge. The registration deadline is Nov. 16. A registration form is online at .

— In more news from Shenandoah District, volunteers are sought for a Brethren Disaster Ministries-supported project to replace the roof of a home in Luray, Va., on Saturday, Sept. 26. “The dwelling, which is home to a woman raising several grandchildren, is a double-wide, single story home, so roof work will not require climbing to great heights. Some additional work inside the home also may be scheduled. Workers of all skill levels can be put to work,” said the request in the district newsletter. Contact Jerry Ruff at 540-447-0306 or Warren Rodeffer at 540-471-7738.

— The 19th annual COBYS Bike and Hike held Sept. 13 at Lititz (Pa.) Church of the Brethren, raised a record amount of money to support the ministries of COBYS Family Services. “A total of 469 participants raised more than $115,200, a jump of more than $5,000 from last year’s previous record amount,” said a release. “Event planners expect the income figure to continue to rise by the time all money is in. Event income increased for the 16th consecutive year.” A total of 469 people participated in the walk or rides, including 196 walkers, 143 bicyclists, and 130 motorcyclists on 84 cycles. Additional people participated in a silent auction. Mari Cunningham of Lancaster, Pa., set a new record for individual fundraising, with her figure of $10,665, more than $4,000 higher than the previous best. Four Church of the Brethren youth groups earned a gym and pizza night by raising at least $1,500, including Little Swatara Church of the Brethren which raised a record amount of $7,740, and the West Green Tree Church, Elizabethtown Church, Midway Church, and Chiques Church. Some 90 businesses supported the event by donating more than $23,000 in cash, along with in kind gifts of grand prizes, auction items, food and supplies, and door prizes. The Hess Agency was the event sponsor. Major sponsors included Cocalico Automotive, Fillmore Container, Speedwell Construction, and Carl and Margaret Wenger through the Wenger Foundation. A photo gallery from the Bike and Hike is at .

— Camp Brethren Woods near Keezletown, Va., is starting its first “Fall Food Series” on Saturday, Oct. 10. The first event in the series focuses on “Dutch Oven Cooking,” said an announcement from the camp. “We’ll start building a fire about 3 p.m. Then will enjoy learning how to use dutch ovens and various recipes that can be made in them, which will culminate in having dinner together around the campfire.” Cost is $10 per person. Registrations are due by Oct. 2. Contact the camp office at 540-269-2741 or .

— In more news from Camp Brethren Woods, volunteers are needed to help out with weekday Outdoor School field trips in September and October. Volunteers serve as exploration station leaders for K- 5th grade students. Most trips take place in the mornings from approximately 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. The lesson plans and materials are provided, and teachers and parent chaperones are on hand to assist. Contact Sharon Flaten, Adventure Coordinator, at .

— Whitestone Mennonite Church in Hesston, Kan., recently hosted a reunion of seagoing cowboys who helped ship donations of livestock to wartorn Europe following World War II. The volunteer effort involved thousands of young men and women in the 1940s and continuing in later decades, and was part of the Church of the Brethren’s Heifer Project (now Heifer International). Richard Whitacre now living in McPherson, Kan., is one of the seagoing cowboys interviewed for the piece published by the “Mennonite World Review.” He had signed up as an 18-year-old Elizabethtown (Pa.) College student to help care for 600-some cows and horses on the SS Virginia. Read the full article at .

— Church of the Brethren member Janine Katonah has been interviewed by (powered by the “Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest”) about her work to improve aid safety in the years since the airplane crash of Sept. 8, 1994, in which she lost her husband Joel Thompson. At the time of his death, Thompson was working for Brethren Benefit Trust, and had previously served on the denominational staff of the Church of the Brethren. The article reviews the tragedy, with a focus on the way Katonah and other loved ones of the 132 people killed in the airplane crash used lawsuits, other legal recourses, and a support group of family survivors to improve air safety measures in the United States. Find the article by Ken Trainor, “Empowered by Tragedy: How the Crash of USAir Flight 427, and the Family Survivors, Changed Airline Safety,” at .

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