By Jay Wittmeyer
Meeting in Kwarhi, Nigeria, Brethren gathered from across the globe to discuss the vision of becoming a global church body. Hosted by the Nigerian Brethren, representatives came from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the United States, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Spain, and Nigeria for the meeting.
The four-day conference on Dec. 2-5 began with introductions and a detailed report of each sister church, its leadership, church structure, membership, and most importantly how and why each came to join the global Brethren movement. The conference then tested the US proposal that autonomous Brethren groups should move more closely together and develop a global structure for the Church of the Brethren.
Unanimously, representatives affirmed their hopes for the establishment of a global body and shared how they hoped such a structure might positively impact their communities and the broader witness of the Brethren. Many expressed the need to magnify the Brethren voice for peace and expressed hope that such a structure might re-affirm Brethren beliefs and practices and give a deep sense of Brethren identity, as well as be a vehicle to develop shared mission programming.
Participants also discussed their concerns regarding moving forward with such a global structure and the challenges and obstacles that might be encountered as Brethren seek to form such a body. A lack of resources and the difficulty in procuring visas to travel was highlighted as a major obstacle in moving forward, while fears of discrimination and prejudice were mentioned as concerns. Would all be treated equally? The group also expressed concerns that the body could identify and agree to adhere to shared biblical principles.
On the third day of the conference, the conversation shifted to recommendations to be reported out from the conference and the next steps to move forward. The group recommended that a temporary board be established to work toward a constitution, develop guiding principles, and define points for sharing resources and programming. The Nigerian Brethren suggested Global Brethren Communion (GBC) to be used as a temporary name until a permanent name can be agree upon through a global structure.
Participants also toured the headquarters buildings and programs of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN) including Kulp Theological Seminary, met with EYN leadership and directors, and visited the EYN health clinic, Comprehensive Secondary School, and agriculture programs. The group traveled to Mubi for an introduction to the Theological Education by Extension program and spent an afternoon in Michika, where EYN church members including president Joel Billi shared about the day Boko Haram attacked the city and burned the EYN church. The group attended worship services in the Utako congregation in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city.
Many expressed deep appreciation for the gathering, the singing, the Bible study, and the privilege to be with EYN and its members, for whom there has been years of intense prayer and support. While most participants have interacted through the American church, participants expressed gratitude to see the Brethren through the eyes of the Nigerian members. While visa procurement proved to be a huge encumbrance, for those who were able to make the conference, it was truly a milestone in their lives.
The group of 23 people–18 men and 5 women–included the EYN president, vice-president, and general secretary. Jay Wittmeyer, Global Mission and Service executive director, and Jeff Boshart, director of the Global Food Initiative, joined from the US. Regrettably, several representatives were unable to join the gathering due to difficulties in procuring visas, including all representatives from Brazil and India and Carol Waggy from the US. Venezuela was also invited to join the discussion, although it is still a new Brethren mission, but because of the complexity of the country’s political situation the Venezuelan representatives decided it was too difficult and expensive to make the journey.
— Jay Wittmeyer is executive director of Global Mission and Service for the Church of the Brethren.