Newsline for May 13, 2015

Photo by Regina Holmes

1) The Armenian genocide is commemorated at the Washington National Cathedral

2) Armenian Genocide sparked 100 years of Brethren response to disaster and conflict

3) ‘I have decided to stay with my orphans’: Remembering Brethren work during the genocide

4) NCC annual gathering marks new ecumenical focus on interfaith peacemaking, mass incarceration

5) Brethren Disaster Ministries directs $70,000 to joint response in Nepal, among other grants

6) Intercultural Retreat brings a rainbow of humanity together to say ‘Amen!’

7) Christian Citizenship Seminar 2015 takes on the topic of immigration

8) Second Haitian Peace Seminar is held in Miami

9) Church of the Brethren general secretary to receive honorary degree from Manchester

10) Alaska project receives Going to Garden grant to support ‘far north’ gardening

11) Mount Morris Church celebrates immigrant member Isabelle Krol

12) Brethren bits: Contribute to memory book for general secretary, Tim McElwee named to new VP post at Manchester, Day of Action on US Drones Strikes and more from the Office of Public Witness, Mother’s Day 5K for Peace in Nigeria, Nigerian TV reports on Brethren visit to Chibok, more

QUOTE of the WEEK:

“As long as we grant the state the right to conscript, it is futile to hope for peace.”

— George, a young American conscientious objector who was jailed for his beliefs and his refusal to comply with the government’s rules for conscientious objectors during World War II. His story is told by William E. Stafford in his book “Down in My Heart.” Stafford was a writer, poet, and Church of the Brethren conscientious objector during World War II. “Down in My Heart” was published in 1947 by Brethren Press, telling stories from Stafford’s CO experiences. Newsline offers this quote to honor conscientious objectors around the world on International Conscientious Objectors’ Day, which is commemorated annually on May 15.


1) The Armenian genocide is commemorated at the Washington National Cathedral

Steven D. Martin/NCCCUSA

A major event for the Christian Unity Gathering of the National Council of Churches on May 6-9 near Washington, D.C., was a commemoration of the Armenian genocide at the Washington National Cathedral. This year 2015 marks a century since the start of the genocide in 1915, perpetrated by Ottoman Turkey, in which 1.5 million people died in mass killing that continued to 1923.

The May 7 service titled “The Holy Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide: A Prayer for Justice and Peace,” was co-sponsored by the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The main seating section of the cathedral was packed with Armenian families from across the country, representing the generations descended from survivors of the genocide and refugees who were welcomed into the United States.

Vice President Biden was among the thousands who attended along with President of the Republic of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan, Orthodox leaders His Holiness Karekin II Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians and His Holiness Aram I Catholiciso of the Great House of Cilicia, Episcopal presiding bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori who welcomed the gathering to the Episcopal cathedral, World Council of Churches general secretary Olav Fykse Tveit who gave the homily, and numerous ecumenical and interfaith representatives.

Church of the Brethren representatives at the service were Wendy McFadden, publisher of Brethren Press, and Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services.

Steven D. Martin/NCCCUSA
Vice President Biden attended the commemoration service

Armenian president Sargsyan noted the role of the United States in his address, although the US government has yet to acknowledge the slaughter as a genocide in political deference to Turkey. “In our century-long struggle for justice and truth, we have constantly felt the support of the USA, among other nations,” Sargsyan said. “Many more would have died and the fate of many survivors would have been more cruel, had friendly countries, including the USA, not stood by the side of our people in that difficult period.”

The religious leaders who gave messages called for continued efforts at truth telling and recognition of the genocide, and for work toward reconciliation and the prevention of any future genocides. Speakers recalled other genocides that the world has suffered in the intervening 100 years–the Jewish Holocaust, the genocides in Bosnia, Cambodia, Darfur, Rwanda–as well as the continuing persecution of Orthodox and other Christians in the Middle East, Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere.

“Reconciliation…means accepting the truth, as the Bible says, the truth frees us,” said Armenian Orthodox leader Aram I in a message that was greeted with a surge of applause and a standing ovation. “The truth liberates us from self-centeredness… from all forms of arrogance and ignorance. Indeed this is the Christian way and I believe this is the human way. Let’s build a world in which injustice is replaced by justice…intolerance by reconciliation. That is the way.”

Steven D. Martin/NCCCUSA
His Holiness Karekin II Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians

Episcopal presiding bishop Schori read a statement from the NCC Governing Board that affirmed the survival of the Armenian people and their “resurrection” from the ashes of genocide. “We find inspiration in the call of the Armenian people to stand against the evil of genocide wherever and whenever it is committed,” the statement said, in part.

“We celebrate the resurrection of the Armenian people. The Christian faith is all about hope, and all about the victory of life over death. Like Jesus Christ, who rose from the tomb to give life to the world (John 8:12), the Armenian people rose from the ashes of genocide to become again a vibrant people among all the peoples of the world. They are a powerful witness to faith in the resurrection, and a profound testimony to God’s promise to remember those who take refuge in him (Psalm 18:30). And to this, we say, ‘Amen.’”

The full text of the National Council of Churches statement:

Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

This evening’s commemoration is a solemn occasion. We are gathered with our sisters and brothers in the Armenian Orthodox Church and the wider Armenian community to give witness to the Armenian Genocide. We are also gathered with them to acknowledge their faith and resilience in the face of such adversity. And so, we gather together to remember, to mourn, to find inspiration, and yes, even to celebrate.

We remember that the Armenian Genocide was the first genocide of the 20th century, and that it marked the beginning of what is commonly referred to as the bloodiest, most violent century in all of human history. During the horrific period beginning in 1915 and continuing until 1923, more than 1 million Armenians (and others) were killed, and hundreds of thousands more were displaced. The dead were buried in the land where they had lived for generations. The refugees were dispersed throughout the world, and some to the United States, where their future generations have now become the friends and neighbors with whom we stand today.

Steven D. Martin/NCCCUSA
The choir waits for the service to begin at the National Cathedral. The May 7 service commemorated the Armenian genocide.

We mourn the dead. We stand tonight among the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of those who were killed. We listen to the language of the Armenian people, and of their great and proud heritage. We pray the prayers of their ancient Church, asking for God’s mercy upon the people and the nation that was first in history to become Christian. Tonight, in solidarity, their forebears become our forebears, their language becomes our language, and their prayers become our prayers.

We find inspiration in the call of the Armenian people to stand against the evil of genocide wherever and whenever it is committed. And in the last century, genocide has been committed all too often, and in too many places: in Europe (the Holocaust) in the 1930s and 1940s; in Cambodia in the late 1970s; in Rwanda in 1994; in Bosnia in the mid-1990s; and in Darfur in the early 2000s. In addition, mass atrocities and crimes against humanity continue to be perpetrated today in many parts of the world, especially in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. In the face of such evil, standing among our Armenian brothers and sisters we affirm that our work to end genocide is not finished.

Finally, we celebrate the resurrection of the Armenian people. The Christian faith is all about hope, and all about the victory of life over death. Like Jesus Christ, who rose from the tomb to give life to the world (John 8:12), the Armenian people rose from the ashes of genocide to become again a vibrant people among all the peoples of the world. They are a powerful witness to faith in the resurrection, and a profound testimony to God’s promise to remember those who take refuge in him (Psalm 18:30). And to this, we say, “Amen.”

— Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for shared ecumenical witness among Christians in the United States. The NCC’s 37 member communions from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American, and Living Peace churches, include 45 million people in more than 100,000 congregations across the nation. For more information about the NCC go to .

2) Armenian Genocide sparked 100 years of Brethren response to disaster and conflict

photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
The Forget-Me-Not flower is the official emblem of the Armenian Genocide centennial commemoration. These pins were handed out to participants at the commemoration service at the Washington National Cathedral on May 7, 2015.

The commemoration of 100 years since the beginning of the Armenian genocide in 1915 also marks nearly a century of Church of the Brethren compassionate response to those affected by disasters and conflicts. An estimated 1.5 million Armenians perished at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in the genocide that occurred from 1915 to 1923. Brethren began responding to the needs of Armenian survivors and refugees beginning in 1917.

“In 1917, the very heart of the church was shaken by the news of the Armenian genocide,” explained Church of the Brethren general secretary Stanley J. Noffsinger in a letter sent to the congregations of the denomination. “Knowledge of such atrocities was a greater burden than the Brethren could tolerate. The 1917 Annual Conference voted to set aside existing guidelines for missions in foreign lands in order to provide funding and support for the Armenian people affected so horrifically by the violence and displacement.

“A temporary committee was named to lead the relief effort. In addition, delegates also approved secondment of staff to the American Committee for Relief in the Near East, to ensure that funding and support for the Armenian people would be carried out without interference.”

Noffsinger noted that from 1917-1921, “our church of approximately 115,000 members contributed $267,000 to the effort–an equivalent of $4.98 million in 2015 dollars, using the Consumer Price Index computation.

“The fact of Brethren responding to human tragedy has not been changed by the passing of years,” Noffsinger added, comparing the current Nigeria Crisis Response to the response of the church 100 years ago. “In October 2014, the board committed $1.5 million dollars ($1 million from denominational assets and $500,000 from the Emergency Disaster Fund) to start the relief effort in Nigeria. In the months since, individuals and congregations have given over $1 million to the Nigeria Crisis Fund, with gifts continuing to come in.

“In a time when many question the relevance and vitality of the church in the United States,” Noffsinger wrote, “I want to shout from the highest hill: ‘Thanks be to God for the generosity, compassion, and love the Brethren have shown for the people of good faith in Nigeria–just as they did 100 years ago for and with the Armenian people!’”

The following text is from a brochure provided by the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern):

Courtesy of Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern)

One hundred years ago, on the night of April 24, 1915, the genocide of more than 1,500,000 Armenians began. The first to be singled out and massacred were the leaders and intellectuals of the Armenian communities in Ottoman Turkey; when it was over, two out of three Armenians living in that country had perished–the victims of a systematic extermination of Turkey’s Armenian population.

The entire Armenian population was uprooted from its indigenous homeland, which it had inhabited for over 3,000 years.

Hundreds of Armenian churches, monasteries, schools, and cultural centers in Ottoman Turkey were destroyed.

Raphael Lemkin–who first coined the term “genocide” and is considered the father of the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention–cited the fate of Ottoman Turkey’s Armenian population as an example of what constituted a genocide.

In their brutality, the Ottoman Turks set the tone for the 20th century: a dreadful tone which would be heard again in the Nazi death camps, in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in Rwanda and Darfur. And it echoes ominously in our own time, in desperate places where “ethnic cleansing” has become a policy of state, instead of a crime before man and God.

The dark episode that came to be known as the Armenian Genocide continued until 1923, and it shocked world opinion of the time. The Turkish atrocities committed against men, women, and children of Armenian descent were extensively documented, in eyewitness accounts, in the official archives of the governments of the United States, Great Britain, France, Austria, and Germany, and in the world press. The “New York Times” published over 194 news articles–including the first-hand accounts of American and European diplomats, survivors of the massacres, and other witnesses–on the plight of the Armenian people.

And yet–incredibly–100 years later, the Turkish government is still denying that the Armenian Genocide ever took place. The arguments and tactics they employ in their campaign of denial are disingenuous and intellectually bankrupt; but they are sadly familiar to the serious scholars and historians who, in recent years, have had to wage a battle against deniers of the Holocaust, the Soviet Terror, and other episodes of institutionalized inhumanity.

For those Armenian-Americans who survived the Genocide and found haven in this country, April 24 remains a day of remembrance–of lost loved ones, uprooted lives, and a vicious crime against an entire people. But it is also a day of reflection on the sanctity of life, the blessing of survival, and the obligation we owe to our fellow human beings not to forsake them in their hour of desperation.

The Armenian children who lost their childhood in 1915 are mostly gone now. In life they bore their bitter memories with courage and dignity; but 100 years later, their descendants still await justice, the restless souls of the martyrs still await peace. Their descendants pledge always to remember the Armenian Genocide.

What all people of conscience should remember:

In this milestone year, take a moment to remember the victims of the first genocide of the 20th century, along with all the other people around the world who have suffered in crimes against humanity.

“I have given orders to my death units to exterminate, without mercy or pity, men, women, and children belonging to the Polish-speaking race. Only in this manner can we acquire the vital territory which we need. After all, who remembers today the extermination of the Armenians?” Adolf Hitler, Aug. 22, 1939, on the eve of the Nazi invasion of Poland.

— Text and images for the brochure on the Armenian Genocide are by Christopher Zakian, Artur Petrosyan, and Karine Abalyan. For more information about the Armenian Genocide visit , , and .

3) ‘I have decided to stay with my orphans’: Remembering Brethren work during the genocide

By Frank Ramirez

The Lions of Marash, courtesy of Frank Ramirez
A group of American mission workers serving in relief efforts in Armenia during the genocide. These American Board of Missions and Near East Relief personnel remained in Marash after the battle of Jan. 1920: (from left) Rev. James K. Lyman, Ellen Blakely, Kate Ainslie, Evelyn Trostle, Paul Snyder, Bessie Hardy, Stanley E. Kerr, Mrs. Marion Wilson, and Dr. Marion Wilson. Photograph by Dr. Stanley E. Kerr.

“Ten thousand Armenians are reportedly massacred and now the French troops are evacuating the city. I have decided to stay with my orphans and take what comes. This may be my last letter. Whatever happens, rest assured God’s in heaven and all’s well. I am working in the day time and often in the night at the emergency hospital. Believe me, war is hell.”

So wrote Evelyn Trostle (1889-1979), a Brethren relief worker from McPherson, Kan., on Feb. 10, 1920, from Marash, in Asia Minor, where the genocide inflicted by the Turkish government and people upon the Armenian population continued unabated.

As Brethren recognize and remember the untold suffering of the Armenian people, which began in April 1915 and led to the death of one to five million people, it is also important to recognize that the response from Brethren was out of all proportion to the size of our church.

People of good will around the world, including Americans, even in the midst of the First World War, were shocked by the reports that came out of the region. Brethren missionary magazines told the story of the intense and unprecedented slaughter of innocent children, women, and men.

Brethren first of all responded with unprecedented generosity. The $250,000 raised by folks in the pews by 1920 would be worth $3 million to $4 million today.

In addition, in an era where ecumenism was largely unheard of, Brethren worked alongside Christians from many different backgrounds through the American Committee for the Relief in the Near East.

The Annual Meeting report for 1920 commended A.J. Culler for his work in organizing Brethren cooperative efforts in Armenia, noting that the “money was given more with a desire to save starving humanity than it was for any personal benefit or credit which might come individually to the Church of the Brethren.”

When the political situation deteriorated, aid workers including most Brethren were evacuated, but as the report notes: “Sister Evelyn Trostle, who has been stationed at Marash by the Near East Committee, witnessed some of the terrible massacres of which you have read during the winter months. She preferred to remain by her post of duty, trusting God for protection, rather than to desert her orphans to the mercies of the cruel Turk. She is a noble example of the self-sacrificing labors of the relief workers.”

Trostle saved the lives of hundreds of children by her presence during the massacres in early 1920. She was encouraged by the Armenians she served to return to the United States to tell their story, which she did at great peril, riding horseback across hundreds of miles of dangerous territory.

Trostle, formerly an instructor at McPherson College, went on to spend much of her life on the West Coast, raising money for Armenian relief and telling the story of what she had observed. The Brethren relationship with the Armenian people continued with an active partnership through the University of La Verne in southern California.

–Frank Ramirez is a Church of the Brethren pastor, writer, historian, and frequent contributor to Newsline and “Messenger.” His sources for this story include Minutes of Annual Meeting 1920, pp. 38-39; The New York Times, March 10, 1920; and personal interviews by the author. See also “Who Will Protect the Children?” in Ramirez’ book “The Meanest Man in Patrick County and Other Unlikely Brethren Heroes” (Brethren Press, 2004). Order the book at


4) NCC annual gathering marks new ecumenical focus on interfaith peacemaking, mass incarceration

The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) held its second annual Christian Unity Gathering on May 7-9 near Washington, D.C. The gathering focused on interfaith peacemaking and mass incarceration, and related topics including Christian responses to police brutality. Some 200 people attended, including leaders from a wide spectrum of Christian traditions.

Church of the Brethren staff at the gathering were Nathan Hosler, director of the Office of Public Witness, and Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services. Wendy McFadden, Brethren Press publisher, also attended a highlight event of the gathering–a commemoration of the Armenian Genocide at the Washington National Cathedral. The service commemorated 100 years since the Armenian Genocide began in 1915, and was attended by thousands of descendants of survivors of the genocide. Vice President Biden was among religious and political dignitaries who were there. See the Newsline report at .

Areas of ecumenical focus

Currently, the NCC is pursuing two main areas of ecumenical work: building interfaith relations with an emphasis on peacemaking, and ending mass incarceration. Both were addressed by keynote speakers and panelists at this 2015 gathering.

In advance of the gathering, the NCC sponsored a letter to the US Attorney General calling for full investigation into the situation in Baltimore, in support of Mayor Rawlings-Blaker’s request for a pattern and practice investigation into the Baltimore Police Department.

Following up on the gathering, the NCC Governing Board issued “A Call to Police Reform and Healing of Communities,” a statement calling on federal, state, and local governments to take positive action in response to incidents of police brutality and the killing of African Americans by police.

“The incidents of police brutality resulting in major injuries and death are taking place so often we can barely keep up with the reports,” the statement said, in part. “This is a national problem that calls for a federal, state, and local response.” See the full text of the NCC Governing Board statement below.

Interfaith and international speakers

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee of Liberia receives a standing ovation from the NCC Christian Unity Gathering

American Baptist leader Roy Medley, who chairs the NCC Governing Board, noted scriptural implications of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue when, on the first morning, he invited prayer for the gathering: “The work that we have come here to do is important work, for the ministry of reconciliation has been entrusted to us. And therefore we need to pray.”

Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee of Liberia keynoted the first morning session, but was just one of the outstanding speakers invited to present or be part of panel discussions. Also speaking at an evening banquet sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC) was Olav Fykse Tveit, WCC general secretary, who presented a wide-ranging discussion of the worldwide implications of Christian churches’ common work toward a just peace.

Interfaith panelists included Naeem Baig, president of the Islamic Circle of North America and moderator of Religions for Peace; Rabbi Gerald Serotta, executive director of the Interfaith Council of Metropolitan Washington; Jared Feldman, vice president and Washington director of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs; and Sayyid M. Syeed, national director of the Islamic Society of North America’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances.

One panel on the intersections between interfaith peacemaking and the problem of mass incarceration in the US included Gbowee, Feldman, and Syeed, with Walter Fortson, who holds a master’s in criminology and is an academic counselor at Mountainview Youth Correctional Facility in New Jersey, and Angelique Walker-Smith, national associate director for African-American and African church engagement at Bread for the World.

Photo by Wendy McFadden
The commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, held at the Washington National Cathedral, was co-sponsored by the National Council of Churches and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The panel noted the high percentage of Americans who are affected by or vulnerable to incarceration, in particular the African-American community, and the number of “motivations” for US society to continue to put large numbers of people into prison. Contributing factors are racism, poverty, failings in the nation’s education system, privatization of prisons, the militarization of police, and the fracturing of the criminal justice system into many different state and local systems, among others.

In the face of this many-faceted problem, speakers urged churches to work harder at engaging people who are affected personally by incarceration and those most vulnerable to incarceration. Walker-Smith called Christians from different traditions to “come together to create spaces before, during, and after incarceration.” She advised churches not to compartmentalize but to integrate ministries such as food pantries and student mentoring with prison ministries, in order to meet the needs of the most vulnerable and help prevent their incarceration.

Others called for an interfaith movement to address mass incarceration. “Now is the right time for the interfaith community to come together to put a framework on the issue of mass incarceration,” said Feldman. The faith community is the only one in the nation who can “inject the moral context” at a time when the political discourse about mass incarceration has been dominated by the issue of cost, he said.

“Dealing with the mass incarceration issue is necessary to build the kind of just society we’re working for,” Feldman told the gathering.

Convening tables

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
The NCC’s new “convening tables” are opportunities for church staff from across a variety of Christian traditions, along with other church volunteers and activists, to discuss possibilities and priorities for common work and joint advocacy efforts.

Four “convening tables” also held meetings during the gathering. Since the NCC has been restructured over the past few years, and is no longer a representative decision-making body, the convening table structure has been put in place alongside a Governing Board made up of heads of communion of member churches. The NCC’s restructuring and re-envisioning began in the fall of 2012 (see the Newsline report “Major US ecumenical organizations restructure” at ).

Convening tables are an opportunity for meetings and discussion among staff of denominations or communions, and church volunteers and activists doing work in the four areas. The convening tables talk together about possibilities and priorities for common work and common advocacy efforts. They also share information and resources.

The four convening tables are:
— Christian Education, Ecumenical Faith Formation, and Leadership Development
— Theological Dialogue and Matters of Faith and Order
— Interreligious Relations
— Joint Action and Advocacy for Justice and Peace.

Church of the Brethren staff Nate Hosler is part of the Joint Action and Advocacy for Justice and Peace convening table. General secretary Stanley J. Noffsinger has been part of the Governing Board, although he was unable to attend this year’s gathering.

James E. Winkler is NCC general secretary and president. He is a former general secretary of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society. In 2013 the NCC left its historic headquarters in New York, moving to offices in Washington, D.C.

New resources

Following up on a main topic of the Christian Unity Gathering, the NCC is offering two new resources on mass incarceration: a List of Resources on Mass Incarceration, and a Starter Kit put together by its Christian Education, Ecumenical Faith Formation, and Leadership Development Convening Table. Both are available on the Mass Incarceration priority page of the NCC website at .

The NCC also is extending an invitation to a WCC webinar on “Evangelism and Migrant Churches,” part of a series on Evangelism in the 21st Century organized by the WCC in cooperation with the NCC, and in consultation with the Canadian Council of Churches. The webinar also is supported by the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship. Register for the webinar at .

The full text of the NCC Governing Board statement on police reform follows:

A Call to Police Reform and Healing of Communities: A statement of the National Council of Churches Governing Board

In their cry, “No justice, no peace,” protesters in Ferguson, Baltimore, New York, and in other cities across the country are expressing the same sentiments of disappointment and frustration as the prophet Habakkuk when he proclaimed,

“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
   and you will not listen?
Or cry to you ‘Violence!’
   and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
   and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
   strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack
   and justice never prevails” (Habakkuk 1:2-4a).

The root of justice and peace is a moral belief in the intrinsic worth of all human life. The advancement of technology and use of social media have brought to light evidence of a disturbing truth–the lives of African Americans, particularly those in impoverished communities, are not valued as much as those of the wealthy and affluent. The misdirected “War on Drugs” and “get tough on crime” policies of the past decades have given birth to militarized police forces that do not best serve the people and communities they are mandated to keep safe.

The high-profile deaths of unarmed African Americans at the hand of police in Ferguson, Staten Island, North Charleston, and most recently Baltimore are not isolated incidents. The incidents of police brutality resulting in major injuries and death are taking place so often we can barely keep up with the reports. This is a national problem that calls for a federal, state, and local response.

According to the website Mapping Police Violence (, approximately 304 African Americans were killed by police in 2014. This documentation is a collaborative project of private researchers and activists because no public or federal database is kept of this information.

In times like these people can be heard asking, “Where is the faith community,” or, “Is the church relevant?” The answers can be found where the faith community is in the middle of the pain and the healing. Persons affiliated with the NCC through our member communions serve as prison and police chaplains; they are police and persons serving time, returning citizens and family members, victims and perpetrators, pastors and community leaders. In the midst of civil unrest breaking out in cities across the country, our faith leaders have been at the forefront of peaceful protest actions and providing pastoral care for the community.

We commend and support law enforcement agencies that model good community policing, and in the tradition of advocating for justice and peace and inspired by the prophet Isaiah to serve as “repairers of the breach” we call for an overhaul of the justice system that brings about reconciliation and restoration. To this end we recommend the following steps towards police reform:

— Incorporate conflict transformation training as part of police training and a standard alternative or additional option for addressing offenses and criminal infractions.

— Reward police departments and officers for effective community policing strategies rather than arrest and ticketing quotas.

— Make training mandatory and continue to update for all law enforcement on issues of cultural sensitivity, interaction with the mentally ill, and responding to sexual assaults.

— Implement nationwide mandatory use of body cameras and provide federal funding for communities that cannot afford them. We reject attempts by municipalities to hide behind FOIA laws and other restrictions.

— Discipline police officers who do not wear their badges or provide business card with name and badge number when requested.

— Address the militarization of the police department and the abusive manner in which military surplus equipment has been used.

— Address the underlying problem of over-criminalization and the indiscriminate application of laws implemented by local police departments and the impact it has on communities and families.

Issued by the National Council of Churches’ Governing Board upon the occasion of the Christian Unity Gathering, May 7-9, 2015.

— Since its founding in 1950, the NCC has been the leading force for shared ecumenical witness among Christians in the United States. The NCC’s 37 member communions from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African-American, and Living Peace churches, include 45 million people in more than 100,000 congregations across the nation. For more about the NCC go to .

5) Brethren Disaster Ministries directs $70,000 to joint response in Nepal, among other grants

Brethren Disaster Ministries staff have directed a grant of $70,000 from the Church of the Brethren Emergency Disaster Fund (EDF) to help fund a joint response in Nepal with Church World Service (CWS) and Lutheran World Relief, Heifer International, and local partners.

Other recent EDF allocations continue funding for the Brethren Disaster Ministries rebuilding project at Spotswood, N.J.; supports a CWS response to the displacement of millions of Iraqis after years of armed conflict in their country; and supports a CWS response to destruction caused by spring storms throughout the US.


The EDF allocation of $70,000 for a joint response to the Nepal earthquake follows on the April 25 magnitude 7.8 earthquake that caused widespread destruction and death that expanded into surrounding countries of India, China, and Bangladesh. “As one of the least developed countries in the world, Nepal’s capacity to respond to the massive humanitarian needs is limited, and the government of Nepal has appealed to the international community to assist,” said the grant request.

Brethren Disaster Ministries will work with long-time partners CWS, Lutheran World Relief, and Heifer International, and will develop new relationships with Nepalese organizations. This grant focuses on emergency aid to some of the most vulnerable families by providing $30,000 to CWS/Lutheran World Relief, $30,000 to Heifer International, and up to $10,000 to support emerging partnerships in Nepal.

The $30,000 for the CWS/Lutheran World Relief response will support temporary shelter materials; emergency food; water, sanitation, and hygiene needs; and psychosocial care and education.

The $30,000 to Heifer International will support emergency aid in the form of temporary shelter materials, food, blankets, and household supplies to more than 10,000 Heifer farmers impacted by the earthquake.

Additional grants supporting these responses will be made based on giving toward this response, according to Brethren Disaster Ministries.

Spotswood, N.J.

Brethren Disaster Ministries has directed an EDF allocation of $30,000 to continue support for a rebuilding project in Spotswood, N.J. The project was previously funded by a grant from the American Red Cross to repair and rebuild homes damaged or destroyed by Super Storm Sandy.

Since Jan. 2014, Brethren volunteers have been working on home repair and rebuilding in various areas of Monmouth County, N.J., through a partnership with Monmouth County Long Term Recovery Group, Habitat for Humanity, and two other partners. The county group now assigns Brethren Disaster Ministries to over half of their approved recovery cases and have confirmed that there will be more help needed at least through the completion of 2015.

“During this time 489 BDM volunteers completed 31,800 work hours of repairs and new construction on over 85 homes in five counties, with the majority being in Monmouth County from our Spotswood site,” reported the Brethren Disaster Ministries staff.


An EDF grant of $7,500 supports CWS response to the displacement of millions of Iraqi men after years of armed conflict in their country. “The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimates more than 3 million people–including many ethnic minorities–remain displaced in Iraq as of Nov. 2014,” said the grant request. “In addition, as of Jan. 2015, it is estimated that approximately 32,000 Iraqi refugees are living in Iran after fleeing the violence.”

This grant will help CWS provide assistance for up to 37 Iraqi refugee families in and around the Iranian city of Qom in purchasing their own sheltering materials and food.

United States

An EDF grant of $2,000 is supporting CWS response to damage and destruction caused by spring storms throughout the US. This grant will provide on-site CWS training activities focused on long-term recovery needs in specific areas that have been hit by these storms. Funds also will be used to ship material resources including CWS kits to local partners and churches addressing survivor needs.

For more information about the Emergency Disaster Fund go to .

6) Intercultural Retreat brings a rainbow of humanity together to say ‘Amen!’

Photo by Regina Holmes
The 2015 Intercultural Retreat was held at First Church of the Brethren in Harrisburg, Pa., and hosted by Atlantic Northeast District.

Two of the organizers of the 2015 Intercultural Retreat held in early May in Harrisburg, Pa., write their impressions of the gathering:


Intercultural Gathering considers what it means to be an intercultural church in 21st century

By Mary Etta Reinhart

“All God’s People Say Amen” was the rousing theme for an inspiring weekend intercultural retreat at Harrisburg (Pa.) First Church of the Brethren where Belita Mitchell serves as lead pastor. Almost 150 people from 9 districts of the Church of the Brethren gathered to participate in this three-day event. The retreat was co-sponsored by Atlantic Northeast District and Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren from Friday to Sunday May 1-3. Numerous leaders and speakers offered attendees a wide variety of experiences and perspectives on what it means to be a part of an intercultural church in the 21st century.

Guest speakers included Drew Hart, an “Ana-Blacktivist” who is known for his teaching and preaching about a Christian response to issues of race and ethnicity. He encouraged an awareness of the different ways that our American culture responds to people of color by describing his personal life experience in the educational world and community living.

Joel Peña who is pastor of Alpha and Omega Church of the Brethren, a growing and vibrant Hispanic congregation in Lancaster, Pa., led a thought-provoking plenary session describing the growing population of first-, second-, and third-generation people of Hispanic background in the United States. Attendees were challenged to consider how our country and our church communities will look in 50 years as this growth trend continues.

Other leadership included Leah Hileman, who is active in the independent Christian rock scene and a pastor. She led a creative break-out session where she shared examples of the way that cultural backgrounds can influence our styles of music, so that the same hymn music can sound very different depending on the cultural background of the musicians.

Photo by Regina Holmes
A conversation during the Intercultural Retreat included keynote speaker Drew Hart (at right), an Anabaptist doctoral student at Lutheran Theological Seminary and a blogger for “Christian Century,” who spoke about racial reconciliation in the nation.

On Sunday morning LaDonna Nkosi, pastor of First Church of the Brethren in Chicago, Ill., shared a meaningful session describing her view of what is commonly known as liberation theology. Atlantic Northeast District executive minister Craig Smith shared the morning message on “Climbing Out of Your Rut,” at the Sunday morning worship that followed.

In addition to all these leaders, brief devotional sessions were interspersed throughout the weekend led by Jonathan Bream, pastor of Brooklyn (N.Y.) First Church of the Brethren; Doris Abdullah, a licensed minister at Brooklyn First; and Ron Tilley, executive director of Brethren Community Ministries of Harrisburg First. Staff of Congregational Life Ministries including Jonathan Shively, Stan Dueck, and Gimbiya Kettering also provided leadership and input to the weekend sessions and events.

The Saturday evening Praise Explosion Worship Concert was one of the high points of the event. Worship music was led by an energetic worship team under the direction of Leah Hileman and Josiah Ludwick, associate pastor at Harrisburg First and program Assistant of bcmPEACE. A variety of other participants contributed their talents to make this an enthusiastic evening of praise and worship.

A fellowship brunch on Sunday was an excellent time for participants and worshipers from Harrisburg First to mingle and unwind from a full and meaningful retreat experience that blessed many with a renewed vision of how we can live out our faith in a changing intercultural world. Many thanks to pastor Belita Mitchell and the devoted members of Harrisburg First for all their dedicated work in hosting this notable event!

— Mary Etta Reinhart is director of Witness and Outreach for the Church of the Brethren’s Atlantic Northeast District.

Photo by Regina Holmes
Drew Hart, speaking at the Intercultural Retreat

Rainbow of humanity is seen at ‘All God’s People Say Amen’

By Gimbiya Kettering

From the pews and aisles, people lifted their voices to say “Amen”–at the close of prayers, in support of the speakers, to symbolize their empathy with a story, and in praise and worship. For the 2015 Intercultural Gathering, Harrisburg (Pa.) First Church of the Brethren was filled with people from around the country, from the community around the church–even a brother representing EYN who came from Abuja, Nigeria. A seeming rainbow of humanity from infants to senior citizens, pastors to new believers; it was truly a gathering of all God’s people.

The theme, “All God’s People Say Amen,” was particularly poignant as “amen” is a word that is transliterated–the same in all languages, without needing any translation in a gathering that was multilingual.

Photo by Regina Holmes

The opening night, Jonathan Shively, executive director of Congregational Life Ministries, spoke about the influence of “urban culture” on all our communities. On Saturday, Drew Hart, an Anabaptist doctoral student at Lutheran Theological Seminary and a blogger for “Christian Century,” spoke about racial reconciliation in our country. Joel Peña, head pastor at Alpha and Omega in Lancaster, Pa., used the demographic trends among Latino Americans to discuss how we do mission and outreach. Workshop leadership also included Stan Dueck discussing discipleship and Leah Hileman leading a session on music ministry.

Rooted in scripture and faith, much of the conversation also touched on current events and issues. Concerns that can seem so distant on the news were revealed to be relevant to all of us as sisters and brothers in Christ. People shared from their personal stories and were blessed by hearing from one another.

Of course, no Intercultural Gathering is complete without music. From traditional hymns to praise choruses, the songs were familiar. And songs were new, shared by the songwriters who performed them. Lyrics were in English and Spanish. Sometimes, it was one voice lifted and other times it was more than a hundred. All praising the glory of God. Amen!

The Intercultural Gathering was a joint project supported by Congregational Life Ministries of the Church of the Brethren, the Atlantic Northeast District, and Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren.

— Gimbiya Kettering is director of Intercultural Ministries for the Church of the Brethren.

7) Christian Citizenship Seminar 2015 takes on the topic of immigration

Photo by Kristen Hoffman
Some notes taken during the 2015 Christian Citizenship Seminar on the topic of immigration

Two of the senior high youth who participated in this year’s Christian Citizenship Seminar report on the event and its impact:

Youth discuss connections between immigration and faith

By Jenna Walmer

On April 18, Church of the Brethren youth gathered in New York City at the start of Christian Citizenship Seminar (CCS), a conference that allows youth to explore the connections between a specific topic and our faith. This year the topic was immigration.

The seminar culminates with congressional visits in Washington, D.C. Throughout the seminar, we discussed the importance of our faith’s connection with citizenship and how immigration impacts our lives. It is a busy week filled with learning, fun, and spiritual growth. Following is an abridged version of what goes down at CCS.

Walking through New York’s Times Square with luggage in tow is definitely an adventure. We admired the sites of the city, but we walked many blocks to find our hotel. After we recuperated from the long walk and went to dinner, we had our first session led by Nate Hosler and Bryan Hanger of the Office of Public Witness. Nate discussed the connections of immigration to the Bible. Then, Bryan introduced talking points for our congressional visits.

The next day, we split up and went to churches around the city. I went to Judson Memorial, a church that is affiliated with the Baptists and United Church of Christ. This church was very different and not what I expected, but I could definitely see myself attending. The preacher was pretty socialist, and the whole congregation was accepting of everyone: people with AIDS, homosexuals, immigrants. They also promoted being politically and socially active.

What interested me was that the preacher was arrested with Dorothy Day and Cesar Chavez. Later in the evening, the speaker was actually the preacher we listened to that morning at Judson. She told story after story about immigrants she has helped. This developed an emotional connection to the facts we already started to learn. Putting a story to the facts is important to connect with congressional visits.

Photo by Kristen Hoffman
Rev. Michael Livingston of Riverside Church in New York speaks with the CCS group

On Monday, we started off the day with the pastor from Riverside Church, who discussed the systematic problems of immigration and the general process. After this session, many headed to the United Nations for a tour and another educational experience. At the UN, the group learned about human rights. I would recommend that everyone visits the United Nations at least once because it opens your eyes to what the world as a whole is working towards.

Finally, the day of travel! The bus trip is one of the first times you get to interact with a larger group of people. Then, we arrived in Washington, D.C. We had a meeting with Julie Chavez Rodriguez, deputy director of the White House’s Office of Public Engagement. We had the opportunity to be on the White House campus! We were sniffed by a drug dog. I even saw the fountain that you always see on TV, and I have pictures of the outside of the West Wing and all the Secret Service Cars. Julie Chavez Rodriguez gave us insight on President Obama’s agenda on immigration. She also told us about the internship program at the White House.

After dinner, Jerry O’Donnell gave us our first full lesson on how to talk to our representatives. He told us to use personal experiences, and acknowledge the conditions of the government currently. Also, he reminded us that we are speaking for those who do not have a voice, the immigrants.

Wednesday we had another legislative training session in the morning. This session gave us examples in the form of a pretend meeting of what to do and what not to do while in an office. We also discussed our main points once again, so they were fresh in our memory. The speaker told us to lead with a story of how immigration has impacted our lives. She also told us that congressmen don’t demilitarize the border because they are afraid. They don’t act on immigration reform and give immigrants rights because they are afraid. These points stuck with me as we moved into our own groups and preparation for our Hill visits.

My group went to Senator Bob Casey’s office. We asked him about demilitarization of the border. Casey is a Democrat. He votes to keep military at the border because it is one thing that the Republicans want to keep in immigration reform. The aide explained that this is “give and take,” what Casey “gives” to the Republicans so he can receive something else in return. In the evening, we reflected with the larger group on our visits.

Our final session reflected on the week, and how we’ve grown mentally and spiritually. After the session, we took many pictures, exchanged hugs, and said our goodbyes. Our pastor arrived with our van and we were off, ready to be disciples of Christ, now able to spread the word about immigration to our communities to make a difference in the world.

As we become active in politics and discern what issues are near and dear to our hearts, remember to keep a connection to faith in mind. Remember to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. Finally, remember to act without fear.

— Jenna Walmer is a high school senior from Palmyra (Pa.) Church of the Brethren who also blogs for the Dunker Punks blogsite.

Photo by Kristen Hoffman
A small group discussion during the 2015 CCS

Christian Citizenship Seminar reflections

By Corrie Osborne

Youth group trips are a special thing in themselves, but Christian Citizenship Seminar (CCS) is even more unique in the fact that its attendees get to learn and take political action about a certain topic. At this year’s Christian Citizenship Seminar, a few main points have continued to be ingrained in our minds. We learned that as Christians it is important to care for people whether they are documented or not, that immigrants are helping our economy rather than hurting it, and that there is no justified reason to keep immigrants out.

A sermon was about caring for the flock without being particular about who you are  helping–this includes immigrants. One of our speakers, a pastor from Judson Memorial Church and long time political activist, told us the story of around 30 female police officers throughout New York City who have volunteered to answer calls of help from undocumented immigrants who are being abused. In order to keep them from being deported, the officers have to keep the visits off the books. In other words, the officers choose what they believe is morally right to take precedence over the steps that the broken immigration system calls them to take.

Photo by Kristen Hoffman
Staff take a break during the 2015 CCS: (from left) Office of Public Witness director Nate Hosler and advocacy associate Bryan Hanger, and Youth and Young Adult Ministry director Becky Ullom Naugle.

We learned that it is important to be educated about a subject, but also to take action in ways that apply to you. Sometimes it is better to lean toward mercy and hospitality as opposed to the letter of the law.

While it may seem inconsequential to deport undocumented immigrants, an estimated 11 million are already living in the United States. Their jobs mainly involve manual labor, agriculture, the restaurant business, and domestic help. One frequent argument used against immigrants living in the US is that they are taking available jobs away from “born and bred” Americans. To the contrary, approximately $6 billion to $7 billion worth of Social Security tax is paid by undocumented workers each year. This statistic does not include the millions of dollars of wages that are paid under the table.

The truth is that documented and undocumented workers alike do the jobs that not many American citizens would care to do themselves. In addition, Social Security taxes from undocumented workers will never come to fruition for themselves; the money goes into a large pool doled out among legal citizens. In essence, those undocumented immigrants are paying for the rest of us to retire.

To better understand the issue, we met with someone who has first-hand experience working with the personal and political aspects of the immigration issue–Julia Chavez Rodriguez, the daughter of Cesar Chavez. We witnessed how she connects with groups across the country and gathers stories in order to put a human face on President Obama’s policies. A main point of hers was that there aren’t any quality arguments to justify keeping immigrants out.

The two issues that bring the most contention are not having a personal connection to an immigrant family and being uneducated about the matter. As in many other cases, misinformation leads to fear. Some say that the immigration system is “broken,” but several prominent figures suspect that the complicated governmental pyramid is forming immigration policies to be purposefully vague in order to create a stalemate. That fragile political environment makes it easy to score political points as a politician. A politician’s stance on immigration can affect their whole platform and change the outcome of a race.

Photo by Kristen Hoffman
The group of senior high youth and adult advisors at Christian Citizenship Seminar 2015

In summation, we learned that the key component to the immigration issue is lack of compassion and the dehumanization of immigrants. It is important for us as a church to be open and welcoming because that is what we are called to do. However, we observed that the politicians we spoke with didn’t directly answer the questions we asked–in part because they might not have been completely familiar with the topic at hand, but also because the nature of their job requires that they don’t give away too much. Sadly, it’s too dangerous to become a partisan even within one’s political group.

Most importantly, we understood that the best thing we can do for this issue is to take what we have learned with us, in order to use it later in life when the opportunity arises.

— Corrie Osborne is a senior high youth at Manchester Church of the Brethren in North Manchester, Ind.

8) Second Haitian Peace Seminar is held in Miami

By Jerry Eller

From Friday evening April 24, until noon Sunday, April 26, the Second Haitian Peace Seminar was held at l’Eglise des Freres Church of the Brethren in Miami, Fla. During the three-day conference 100 attendees registered. Of these registrants 22 were youth. Registrants represented five Haitian churches in Florida and a Church of the Brethren in Haiti.

A generous grant of $1,500 from the Church of the Brethren’s Global Mission and Service made this event possible. Sponsoring the event was the Atlantic Southeast District Action for Peace Team.

The sessions and presenters at this year’s seminar were:
— Update on Haiti presented by Jeff Boshart and Pastor Yves
— Biblical Basis for Peacemaking and Peace Witnessing presented by Alexandre Gonçalves
— The Nature of Conflicts and Resolutions presented by Jerry Eller
— The On Earth Peace Conflict Resolution Program presented by Alexandre Gonçalves
— Issues Facing Haitian Families (Language and Assimilation, a panel discussion
— Youth Roundup presented by Alexandre Gonçalves
— Haitian Youth Dance Group, performed as a preview to their participation at Annual Conference
— Importance of Peacemaking and Service in the Life of the Congregation, a panel discussion
— Devotions Saturday Morning presented by Wayne Sutton, and Devotions Sunday Morning presented by Founa Augustin

The conference organizers were Rose Cadette and Jerry Eller. Translation leaders were Founa Augustin, Jonathan Cadette, Rose Cadette, and Jeff Boshart. The On Earth Peace representative was Alexandre Gonçalves, a master of divinity student from Brazil currently attending Bethany Theological Seminary. Mrs. St. Fleur organized the procurement of food, supervised the many Haitian women who prepared the meals, and was in charge of serving the meals.

Panel participants were Founa Augustin, Jonathan Cadette, C. Gasen (a youth leader), Brittany Cadette and other youth. Jeff Boshart, a member of the Global Mission and Service staff, provided invaluable overall leadership during the seminar as a workshop leader, panel facilitator, and translator. Pastor Ludovic St. Fleur lent all of his talents to make the seminar happen and be the meaningful event it was.

An unplanned reunion occurred with Jonathan Cadette, Jerry Eller, and Jeff Boshart. These three persons went to Haiti after the earthquake in 2010, as part of a medical disaster relief team.

The Creole translation of the Church of the Brethren 1970 statement on war was found by Wayne Sutton and copies were distributed at the seminar.

The Church of the Brethren Haitian community in the United States is growing and changing. It is struggling to keep its culture and language intact even as it changes to become more Americanized. Haitian youth are at the forefront of these changes. They are a dynamic population and appear eager to embrace the Church of the Brethren values and principles. The Church of the Brethren has a unique opportunity to minister to these youth as they begin to emerge as the leaders of tomorrow. They could become strong leaders in the church if they are nurtured and given opportunities.

This seminar highlighted peace as a Christian way of life and peacemaking as a way to handle and resolve conflicts, from an individual to a global perspective. Several seminar participants summed up what they experienced: “We need this message. Please come back.”

— Jerry Eller prepared this report on behalf of the Atlantic Southeast District Action for Peace Team.


9) Church of the Brethren general secretary to receive honorary degree from Manchester

Stanley J. Noffsinger

From a Manchester University release

Church of the Brethren general secretary Stanley J. Noffsinger will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters on Sunday, May 17, from Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind. The event is part of the university’s Commencement activities that also include a Baccalaureate service at 11 a.m. at Cordier Auditorium, where Noffsinger is guest speaker. The Commencement ceremony begins at 2:30 p.m. at the Physical Education and Recreation Center.

Noffsinger, a 1976 Manchester graduate, is the Church of the Brethren’s face to the world. As general secretary since 2003, Noffsinger is top administrator for the denomination that founded Manchester University, setting the spiritual tone and navigating the church through ongoing struggles of contemporary faith.

On the world stage, he is a consistent and courageous voice for oppressed people, advocating social justice and advancing the cause of peace in a world rife with war and violence. Noffsinger’s extraordinary experiences range from observing World Day of Peace with Pope Benedict XVI in Italy to discussing ways to build peace and understanding with 300 international and political leaders in New York. He has witnessed the denomination’s outreach in impoverished and earthquake-shattered Haiti, and he has joined other Christian leaders as President Obama’s guest at the White House.

The son of a Church of the Brethren pastor, Noffsinger was a successful businessman before answering the call to church work. Prior to becoming general secretary, Noffsinger was executive director of the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md., where he directed the church’s emergency response and service ministries program. As the ecumenical officer of the church he has served on the board of the US Conference of the World Council of Churches and as vice president at-large for the National Council of Churches.

Noffsinger will leave his post as general secretary on July 1, 2016. The younger of his two sons, Caleb, is a student at Manchester.

Read the Manchester University release at


10) Alaska project receives Going to Garden grant to support ‘far north’ gardening

Photo by Penny Gay
Bill Gay gardens in Alaska

A unique gardening project in Alaska is one of the sites receiving grants through the Going to the Garden initiative of the Church of the Brethren Global Food Crisis Fund (GFCF) and Office of Public Witness. “I was just floored by what they are doing,” commented GFCF manager Jeff Boshart.

The Alaska effort is a personal mission of Bill and Penny Gay and an outreach project of their congregation at Pleasant Dale Church of the Brethren in Decatur, Ind.

The Gays’ work in “far north” gardening started in 2003 when Bill went on a Learning Tour to Arctic Village, Alaska, with New Community Project. “I’ve been back to Alaska each year since,” he said, and his wife Penny has become equally involved.

“We were led there to plant many more seeds than the planting of the seeds for the gardens,” Bill explained.

The work to help native Alaskan communities develop gardening has produced fresh vegetables and better nutrition in places where food supplies are limited–a crucially important aspect of the work. But the Gays’ work on gardening has extended from the physical into the educational, and the spiritual, and has included a sharing of the Christian gospel. Among the side benefits: the Gays have taught young people the basics of gardening. And they welcomed a new member into the community of faith, when one of the men who lives in Arctic Village was baptized.

This year the couple are excited about a new and even more challenging prospect: helping far north native Alaskan communities transition from gardening into farm production. “Now it’s time to really get to work,” Bill said in a recent telephone interview. “Now I know why we’re here. Now I know why God’s got us going back each year.”

Photo by Bill Gay
A cabbage grown in an Alaskan garden

More than planting seeds

The gardening work in Alaska was sparked by a conversation with a family in Arctic Village, who were experiencing intestinal complaints. Bill suggested that growing their own fresh vegetables could help, but he was told that gardening that far north is difficult if not impossible. “Let me try,” he told them.

“At first they laughed at us,” Bill remembered. “But by the second year, they weren’t.” The warnings and cautions about far north gardening did not pan out, as the Gays’s work began to have success.

“It wasn’t easy, it was not glamorous,” Bill said. “We would beat ourselves to the bone, living in a tent, but it worked.”

At first they went door to door offering to help families prepare a garden. They helped families plant their gardens, then turned over ownership of the gardens to the families to maintain. Many families found the work of gardening to be therapeutic, Bill said. It became a way to get rid of daily stress as well as a way to get fresh vegetables into their diet.

“We found it resonated more with kids,” Bill said. The children helped promote the gardens, the Gays found. “My parents have a garden, why don’t yours?” Bill heard the children saying to each other.

Although successful, the work is physically demanding. Bill goes to Alaska first, and Penny meets him there after the school year ends. By the time she arrives, he may have lost as many as 25 pounds, because of the sheer physical exertion he puts in. The labor to garden that far north requires more than the bending, stooping, and digging of gardening in southern climes–it also includes carrying water. And gardens in Alaska require different techniques such as the use of mounds and elevated beds, because perma frost is an issue.

By 2011, there were 25 to 30 gardens in Arctic Village, after five years of work. That year was the last the Gays worked in Arctic Village, having moved the effort to Circle at the invitation of a native Alaskan leader in that community.

From gardening to farm production

In Circle, the work to help people develop gardens is beginning to shift into the concept of farm production. Bill explained that the people in Circle started realizing that there were prospects for jobs and grant money in farm production, that are not there in community gardening.

A shift to farm production from developing gardens will take some time, perhaps several years, and will require more investment of money and resources from the native Alaskan community. But it is a very exciting prospect for the Gays.

However, Bill pointed out that the accessibility and affordability of gardening keeps it foremost. “You do not have to spend money, just a little hard work.”

At this point, the Gays are planning two more years of work in Circle, and then hoping for five more years of work in other Alaskan communities, “and see where we can run with this,” Bill said. “Now we have established ourselves, and this is our ninth year. They know we’re going to come back.”

‘I can’t believe I am part of it’

Bill’s excitement and commitment to gardening in Alaska came through loud and clear: “The benefits go on and on and on,” he said. “It’s just humbling to be in a position to be able to help so many people. This mission work has come to define us. I just can’t believe how my wife and I have come to be part of it.”

A project that started small “has progressed, and has inspired many people. It was worth it.”

Over the years they have been joined by church groups for service projects, and also have spent time working for Habitat for Humanity. They have attracted much media attention in Alaska, and even were approached by the Discovery Channel for a television show which they turned down because that kind of attention does not fit with the mission. “That is not the grand pay off we’re looking for,” he explained.

“I couldn’t be happier,” Bill simply said. “That’s what I know for sure.”

Photo by Bill Gay
Penny Gay works in one of the greenhouses in Circle, Alaska, built with help from Going to the Garden grants. The grants are an initiative of the Church of the Brethren’s Global Food Crisis Fund and Office of Public Witness.

Going to the Garden grants

The Church of the Brethren’s Global Food Crisis Fund (GFCF) has provided two grants of $1,000 each, in consecutive years, to the Pleasant Dale Church for the gardening work in Circle, Alaska. There is conversation between the Gays and GFCF manager Jeff Boshart about a larger grant from the GFCF to support next steps.

The Going to the Garden grants have helped pay for the building of a greenhouse in Circle. Most of the sites receiving Going to the Garden grants are located at Church of the Brethren congregations or in their neighborhoods. However, the project in Alaska is thousands of miles from the nearest congregation. Despite the distance and geographical separation, the Gays consider the Alaska gardens an outreach project of their Indiana congregation.

For more about Going to the Garden see .

For more about the Global Food Crisis Fund go to .

To apply for a Going to the Garden grant contact GFCF manager Jeff Boshart, , or Office of Public Witness director Nate Hosler, .

Find a Fairbanks “News Miner” article about Bill and Penny Gaye’s work titled “Newsflash: Gardens Can Grow in the Arctic” at .

11) Mount Morris Church celebrates immigrant member Isabelle Krol

Photo courtesy of Joanne Miller
Isabelle Krol

By Dianne Swingel

Mount Morris (Ill.) Church of the Brethren on a recent Sunday held a service and celebration for member Isabelle Krol, on the 50th anniversary of her becoming an official citizen of the United States. She came to the United States from Belgium, following World War II. Following is part of her life story, taken from an interview by Dianne Swingel:

Isabelle was born on June 4, 1930 in Dour, Belgium. Although neutral at the start of Hitler’s regime, Germany invaded Belgium (about 9 million people) in May of 1940. There was fighting for 18 days, and troops were pushed into a small pocket in the north-east part of the country. King Leopold III was so fearful of the small Belgium army being wiped out, that he surrendered to the Germans. This was very unpopular with countrymen, and some Belgians escaped to the United Kingdom, and set up a government and army in exile.

Isabelle (10) was living in the large home in Dour which had belonged to the Muir sisters, with her mother Rose, sister Henrietta (7), and brother Louis (5). They were renting from the Harmegnie family, who had inherited the home, and her mother was able to live in that same home for 70 years of her life. The building may have been used for military during WWI, as there were bars on the windows upstairs, and tales were told about a well in which important possessions had been hidden from the Germans. Rose’s own family home had been occupied by German troops during WWI. Dour was very close to the French border, and thus was important to the Germans. It was on the route to get to England, by way of the North Sea.

During the war years, her mother worked doing laundry and cleaning houses; her father was in a mental institution during the time of the war, due to severe depression, and died in 1946. He had always worked in the coal mines before. Times were very difficult for them, and often her mother had to take the brother to work with her, as the girls were in school. Food and money was scarce and they were often hungry, but they had enough to get by, thanks to the kindness of relatives and friends. There was one older cousin from France who was able to cross the border and sneak them butter and coffee, which she had hidden in her belt. When Isabelle went to school each day, the teacher gave her a nice sandwich to eat; this same teacher had done the same kindness for her own mother, when she was in school.

Isabelle was able to spend one month of each summer during the war years in Switzerland, which was a neutral country. This was part of a program set up for poor children of war-torn countries, in which children would stay in private homes. Her brother was able to stay in Sweden, in a similar program there. There they were fed well, and gained weight. The sister stayed with the mother. The family also received some food parcels as well as clothing from Sweden, Switzerland, and the US.

Isabelle remembers the visibility of the German troops at all times, and everyone was expected to cooperate with them. She can remember the sounds of the soldiers marching on the stone streets, and singing. Education was monitored by the Germans, especially not allowing anything negative to be taught about them. However, Isabelle had a teacher who was able to sneak in this contraband information to share with students. There was some degree of kindness, though, as the Germans had an after-school program for the younger children, and provided small amounts of food.

Her uncle worked for the Germans, as he wanted to be a policeman in the town, which meant more food for his family. There was a cousin who worked in the underground, was eventually discovered, and was taken to a concentration camp. In their town, three little Jewish girls from Holland were brought in to a home and were passed off as “nieces,” so they could attend school and not be taken by the Germans.

In 1944 the Americans were moving into their area, and she remembers the sounds of planes flying over, and some bombing of roads. All in the town had to go to basements for safety. In the big home they were living in, she unhappily remembers the spiders which were always around, and especially in the basement during the raids.

As the Americans were gaining ground on the Germans, Isabelle remembers seeing the Americans landing in their parachutes. Local girls made dresses from the parachute material. There was some fighting in the streets. After the country was liberated in the fall of 1944, the majority of the American soldiers were based in nearby Mons, which still has an American base there.

Once the war was over, the people who survived the concentration camps, like her cousin, returned. Her uncle was considered a collaborator with the Germans, and had been in hiding for a year. When found, he and other collaborators were paraded through the town, people threw eggs at them, and they were imprisoned.

Belgium lost around 1 percent of its population during the war, but its economy wasn’t as damaged as many countries. There was a rapid economic recovery, partly as a result of the Marshal Plan.

Isabelle and Zenon

Isabelle and Zenon [from Poland] met at a dancing club, and he taught her various dances like the waltz, tango, and cha-cha, that he‘d learned in the displaced persons camp. They were engaged one year, married by the pastor, and lived with Isabelle’s mother. Isabelle did cleaning and nanny work, while he worked in a paint manufacturing company, which was owned by Isabelle’s employers.

After two years of marriage, they decided to leave Belgium, as there was not much of a future for a displaced worker there. They first considered Germany, but then decided to go to America, as there would be more opportunities for them. There were few visas for the Polish, but more available for those from Belgium. Isabelle took a class in basic conversational English.

They were sponsored by Church World Service and set out for Idlewild in New York on April 7, 1954, with just $365, and no personal contacts in the US. They were met at the airport by Mr. Coolich from Church World Service and taken to the home of Mrs. Jean Beaver, an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church. She was the widow of Gilbert Beaver, a leader in the Y movement and a leader for world peace. Their large home was a religious conference farm, and she was looking for a young couple to help her. Mrs. Beaver’s home was very large, with 17 bedrooms, on a 100 acre plot. Zenon worked as a groundskeeper, and Isabelle helped with cleaning. Their communication with Mrs. Beaver was a limited form of English. They lived with Mrs. Beaver for eight years.

Mrs. Beaver offered to sell them 10 acres on the grounds. Zenon built a beautiful white home on the property. They eventually sold their home and moved to Mt. Kisko, N.Y., where they rented while fixing up an old farm house. They then moved to Croton Falls, where Zenon did sub-contractor work, finished the home, and moved in. The children flourished in the very good Brewster school system. Later on Zenon purchased another old home in the country, to fix up and use as a summer place.

They both took an “English for the Foreign Born” class, and then became US citizens on April 30, 1965.

Isabelle became a deacon in the Presbyterian church, and Zenon said he would retire when her term was up. So when this happened, they sold the home in New York for a wonderful profit, took a long trip around the southeast of the US, and ended up purchasing a house on auction in Fulton, Ky. They lived there for around eight years. Eventually Zenon began to have some memory problems, and they decided they should move closer to daughters Catherine and Rose.

They worked with a realtor who suggested that price-wise, it might be more reasonable to look at Mt. Morris. Around the year 2000 they purchased their home and after church shopping in town, they were invited to visit the Church of the Brethren and continued attending there. Isabelle was impressed by the church’s emphasis on peace. The warm and welcoming phone calls of Bill Powers impressed her and she joined during the time the Ritchey-Martins were pastors. Isabelle served on the church leadership team, helped in the nursery, and served as a deacon.

Zenon had continuing difficulties and growing dementia, and went to stay at the Dixon Health Center. He died in 2008. Isabelle continues to live in the house on Lincoln Street, with her dog, Shadow.

— Dianne Swingel is a member of Mount Morris Church of the Brethren in Mount Morris, Ill.

12) Brethren bits 

Church of the Brethren members from across the denomination are invited to participate in a special celebration of the faithful service of Church of the Brethren general secretary Stanley J. Noffsinger, which is being planned for Annual Conference in Tampa, Fla. Along with the Celebration Planning Team, the Craft and Crop group of Elizabethtown (Pa.) Church of the Brethren is creating a memory book that will be available for all attendees at Annual Conference to sign, and then will be presented to the general secretary. For those who are unable to attend the Annual Conference, greetings may be sent in advance by e-mail. “If you will not be in Tampa and would like to extend your thanks and well wishes to Stan, please send your greeting electronically, by June 1,” said an invitation from Pam Reist, a member of the Celebration Planning Team and of the Mission and Ministry Board. “Thanks for helping to make this a very special occasion, in recognition of devoted and excellent service to the church!” E-mails should include a one or two sentence greeting, the sender’s first and last name, congregation, and district. Send to .

— Tim McElwee has been named to Manchester University’s new post of vice president for academic resources, effective June 1. Melanie Harmon, executive director of development, will step into his role of vice president for advancement, according to a release from the university. McElwee is a 1978 Manchester graduate. He holds advanced degrees from Purdue University and Bethany Theological Seminary. For five years he served as director of the Church of the Brethren office in Washington, D.C. He has worked at Manchester University in a variety of capacities including as the campus pastor, director of development, vice president for advancement, and associate professor of peace studies and political science. In 2013, he returned to Manchester to become vice president for advancement, a position he had held for several years at Albright College in Pennsylvania. In this new post of vice president for academic resources, McElwee will oversee three of the University’s four colleges: Arts and Humanities, Business, and Education and Social Sciences. He also will oversee the new Student Experience Center and Center for Effective Teaching and Learning. For more about Manchester University go to .

— Cherise Glunz begins June 8 as program assistant in the Church of the Brethren Donor Relations department, to work at the denomination’s General Offices in Elgin, Ill. She is a resident of Elgin, and a graduate of Judson University with a degree in worship arts and a concentration in media. She also holds a certificate of worship leadership from the Quad Cities School of Worship in Davenport, Iowa. Since Aug. 2013 she has worked in campus care at Willow Creek Community Church in S. Barrington, Ill.

— A “Day of Action on US Drone Strikes” has been announced for Friday, May 15. The Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness invites Brethren to take part, in support of the 2013 Annual Conference Statement on Drone Warfare. Participants are urged to call their representatives and senators in the US Congress (find information at and in order to tell elected officials about the concerns of people of faith, on the moral implications of drone warfare, and the need to halt drone strikes. “Ask them to publicly call on the Administration to disclose all strikes to date,” said the alert from the Office of Public Witness. The alert noted several points for Brethren to be aware of, including the US administration’s conducting of “a covert war through the CIA by operating a ‘kill list’ without meaningful oversight and accountability from Congress or the American people. This is an enormous power and it is too dangerous to leave unchecked,” the alert said. Other concerns include the policy of relying on military drones to expand warfare around the world, the way military drones have been used to target individuals for their affiliations regardless of their locations and so the effect of military drones traumatizing or displacing communities, and the lack of real security or peace as a result of drone warfare. “Global terrorism is on the rise, and extremist groups use the trauma inflicted by drone strikes as a recruitment tool,” the alert noted. The full alert will soon be sent out by e-mail to the Office of Public Witness interest list. Sign up to receive alerts at .

— The Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness has signed on to a letter calling for an end to family detention in Immigration Detention Centers. In all, 188 denominations and other faith-based and humanitarian groups and organizations signed the national letter. The letter urged the President to end the detention of children and mothers fleeing violence in Central America. The following principles served as main points and headings in the letter: “Families must not be subject to detention except in exceptional circumstances…. Families must receive full due process at the border…. Families should not be detained for purposes of deterrence…. Families should not be separated…. DHS should use other tools besides detention to mitigate flight risk where there is a demonstrated concern.” The letter closed with a personal statement to the president: “DHS should not detain children and their parents in jail-like facilities. We urge you to undo the harsh family detention policies set in place in summer 2014 and implement a more just and humane approach. Family detention should not be your legacy. Now is the time to end it once and for all.” Find the full text of the letter online at .

— The Office of Public Witness also has signed on to a National Council of Churches-sponsored letter to the US Attorney General calling for full investigation into the situation in Baltimore, in support of Mayor Rawlings-Blaker’s request for a pattern and practice investigation into the Baltimore Police Department. More than 20 members of the faith community related to the NCC signed on to the letter, which was sent under the auspices of the Civil Rights Coalition on Police Reform. The coalition has “come together as a unified collective to urgently request that you open a pattern or practice investigation against the Baltimore Police Department. In the aftermath of the killing of Freddie Gray, the country has once again become more aware of the challenges and concerns of another urban police agency. Yet, the residents of Baltimore, particularly communities of color, have been complaining about these problems for years,” the letter said, in part. “While the Department of Justice has initiated an investigation into the death of Freddie Gray and is gathering information to determine whether any prosecutable civil rights violation occurred, we believe that it is necessary to expand the investigation into the entire police department in light of the long history of complaints and concerns from Baltimore residents.”

— A Mother’s Day 5K for Peace in Nigeria held in Bridgewater, Va., on Sunday has raised $5,295, with $4,460 donated to the work of Brethren Disaster Ministries, after expenses. The event was organized by Peter Hamilton Barlow.

— NBC News has published a report from the Michika area of northeast Nigeria close to where the headquarters of EYN was overrun by Boko Haram last October, and near the city of Mubi. “Along the main roads heading north from Adamawa’s state capital Yola, some trade has resumed in the towns but ghostly pockets and haunting reminders of the insurgent takeover are evident,” the report said. “Some three months after the fighting ended, the smell of rotting corpses still clings to the air by the headquarters of the Church of the Brethren near Mararaba.” The report focuses on the situation of survivors and displaced people returning to their homes, who face a severe food shortage and hunger. Find the report at .

— A Nigerian television station has posted a video report on a visit to Chibok, Nigeria, by Rebecca Dali of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) and Jon Andrews, who has been in Nigeria with a Church of the Brethren group. The report shows distribution of relief goods to people in Chibok, including family of the kidnapped schoolgirls and people displaced by violence perpetrated by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram. Dali has founded and leads CCEPI, the Center for Compassion, Empowerment, and Peace Initiatives, one of the Nigerian NGOs that are partnering with EYN and the Church of the Brethren in the Nigeria Crisis Response program. View the video at . Find out more about the Nigeria Crisis Response at .

— A webinar in the “Family Matters” series will explore the complexities of family life led by presenter Mary Hawes. The webinar on May 19 at 2:30 p.m. (Eastern time) is titled “Cradle to the Grave” and will offer ideas and ways that the wider church community can support and strengthen families as they deal with various challenges. Hawes serves as the Church of England’s National Advisor for Children and Young People’s Ministry for the Diocese of London, and is the parish priest of an Anglican congregation in South London. The free webinar offers 0.1 continuing education unit for ministers who participate in the live event. The webinar is one of those co-sponsored by the Church of the Brethren’s Congregational Life Ministries with partners in the United Kingdom. More information and registration are at . For questions contact Stan Dueck, director of Transforming Practices, at .

— “Here’s a way we can support Brethren Disaster Ministries! Several of our BDMers are going to the Shenandoah Auction May 15-16. They are taking two items to be included in the auction,” according to an announcement from Burton and Helen Wolf. One of the items is a wooden tray that has been “going back and forth between our two districts,” the announcement said, referring to a tray made by Dick and Pat Via. The second item is an afghan knit by Nancy Jackson from the Brethren Retirement Community. “What is so amazing is that she is blind,” the announcement said. “She hopes the afghan brings at least $200 for BDM…. We look forward to helping our brothers and sisters in Shenandoah District.”

— Donald Kraybill will received an honorary degree from Elizabethtown (Pa.) College at commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 16, according to a release. The college will celebrate two graduations that day: at 11 a.m. the 112th Commencement where the 514 graduates will include 77 earning master of science degrees, 126 bachelor of arts degrees, 282 bachelor of science degrees, 15 bachelor of music degrees, and 14 bachelor degrees in social work; and at 4 p.m. the School of Continuing and Professional Studies (SCPS) graduation ceremony for 178 students including 40 earning a master of business administration, 111 a bachelor’s degree, and 27 associate degrees. E. Roe Stamps IV, founder of the Stamps Leadership Scholars, is speaker for the traditional ceremony, and the first three Elizabethtown College Stamps Scholars will graduate with the class of 2015. Speaker for the SCPS graduates is Dana Chryst, CEO of the Jay Group. Along with Kraybill, who is retiring as Senior Scholar at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, honorary degrees will be given to Stamps and Chryst and Hatfield Foods’ Phil Clemens, an active member of the college’s High Center.

— To mark International Conscientious Objectors’ Day 2015, which is held annually on May 15, the First World War Peace Forum will hold a ceremony of remembrance in Tavistock Square, London, in the United Kingdom. “The speakers will include Sheila Triggs of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom which this year celebrates its centenary, and Mia Tamarin, a young woman who served four prison terms as an Israeli conscientious objector,” said an announcement from Ekklesia, a news service and think tank with partners in the Anabaptist Network of Organizations include the Mennonite Centre in Britain and Christian Peacemaker Teams UK. “Names of other conscientious objectors from around the world will be read out during the ceremony and flowers laid at the Conscientious Objectors’ stone in the square.” The ceremony honoring conscientious objectors is organized by the First World War Peace Forum, which the release described as a coalition made up of Conscience, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Movement for the Abolition of War, Network for Peace, Pax Christi, Peace News, Peace Pledge Union, Quaker Peace and Social Witness, the Right to Refuse to Kill group, and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Find more news and views from Ekklesia at .

Contributors to this issue of Newsline include Karine Abalyan, Peter Hamilton Barlow, Jeff Boshart, Bryan Hanger, Elizabeth Harvey, Heejin Hwang, Gimbiya Kettering, Steven D. Martin, Nancy Miner, Stan Noffsinger, Corrie Osborne, Artur Petrosyan, Frank Ramirez, Mary Etta Reinhart, Dianne Swingel, Jenna Walmer, Roy Winter, Christopher Zakian, and editor Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren. The next regularly scheduled issue of Newsline is set for May 19. Newsline is produced by the News Services of the Church of the Brethren. Contact the editor at . Newsline appears every week, with special issues as needed. Stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source.

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