Newsline for Dec. 19, 2019

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

“For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).


1) Disaster Recovery Support Initiative to be taken up by Church World Service

2) Jay Wittmeyer resigns as executive director of Global Mission and Service

3) Brethren bits: Agape students make cards for death row inmates, new stories on the Nigeria blog, GFI review panel changes, register for National Young Adult Conference starting Jan. 20, “They Showed Us Unusual Kindness” is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity theme, more

Quote of the week:

“The theme of the third week of Advent is hope. Hope for the coming Christ Child, but also the restoration of all of Creation. While hope for the future requires patience, we cannot wallow in apathy, despair, or inaction. We must live in hope and vigorously work towards a world where we live justly with all of Creation.”

— Office of Peacebuilding and Policy director Nathan Hosler writing for Creation Justice Ministries, an ecumenical organization where he serves as a board member on behalf of the Church of the Brethren. His email among other things extended Christmas greetings and gave a brief preview of the ministry’s Earth Day resource for 2020 titled “The Fierce Urgency of Now.” Find out more about Creation Justice Ministries at .

A NOTE TO READERS: This is the last regularly scheduled issue of Newsline for 2019. Please expect the first regularly scheduled issue of 2020 around Jan. 17. In the meantime, submissions of stories and news tidbits are welcome; send by email to .

1) Disaster Recovery Support Initiative to be taken up by Church World Service

A pilot program to help communities launch long-term recovery following disasters is growing ecumenically. Over the past two years the disaster ministries of the Church of the Brethren, the United Church of Christ (UCC), and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have joined forces to pioneer the Disaster Recovery Support Initiative (DRSI) in nine states and US territories. Now DRSI is folding into the disaster programs of Church World Service (CWS), a faith-based organization with 37 member communions including the Church of the Brethren. CWS responds to hunger, poverty, displacement, and disaster around the globe.

“The creation of DRSI was in response to seeing so many communities planning the response to their first larger disaster and feeling lost and looking for more than a manual to explain the process,” said Jenn Dorsch-Messler, director of Brethren Disaster Ministries. “We are excited to see that this relational model will continue under the CWS umbrella so that more of those communities can be supported with these teams walking with them in the future.”

DRSI addresses the growing gap between when a disaster hits and when volunteers are deployed to support community-based long-term recovery. The initiative uses a Disaster Recovery Support Team on the ground to encourage, mentor, and otherwise support community-based recovery groups. The team may include up to three members with expertise in three main areas: basic formation/training, disaster case management, and construction.

Long-term recovery groups are a critical part of responding to and mitigating the affects of emergencies. In order to be successful, these groups need technical and operational knowledge and experience in their communities.

So far, the DSRI has deployed Disaster Recovery Support Teams to Texas, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska, Georgia, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands to support long-term recovery groups. In 2018, an external evaluation of DRSI in the US Virgin Islands concluded that the model was effective and worth replicating elsewhere.

DRSI now moves into Church World Service’s Domestic Disaster Program.

“The Disaster Recovery Support Initiative is an important component of disaster response,” said the Karen Georgia Thompson, UCC associate general minister for Global Engagement and co-executive of Global Ministries. “Expanding this network with CWS further enables timely long-term recovery. This ecumenical engagement is a further sign that the churches involved in disaster recover are committed to new ways of working together.”

“For CWS this is an opportunity to further our role in coordinating disaster recovery activities and pooling resources from different communion members,” said Silvana Faillace, CWS senior director of Development and Humanitarian Assistance. “We are interested in folding DRSI into our Domestic Disaster Program, since this provides an opportunity for closer collaboration with our member denominations, including both DRSI founding members and any others who are interested in joining.”

DRSI’s stated projected outcome is “to develop capacity within the local community to lead a holistic recovery after a disaster, which will reduce the time between the event and the organization of a functioning, local Long-Term Recovery Group.”

At the invitation of community leaders, local non-governmental organizations and other concerned stakeholders, the Disaster Recovery Support Team will deploy to a disaster-affected community. A deployment is custom-tailored for the needs of the community and can range from single week-long visits to a team being embedded within the community for 2-6 months. Depending on local needs and available funding, the team is formed and managed by CWS.

This “aligns well with the CWS Domestic Disaster Program, corresponding to the program’s ‘Support to Communities’ component, and thus motivates CWS to see how we can fold DRSI into CWS programming,” said Mark Munoz, associate director of the Domestic Disaster Program.

“It’s great that CWS now gets to take the lead on DRSI, and at the same time we look forward to continue coordinating with the Church of the Brethren, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ,” Munoz said. “These denominations have become our DRSI Advisory/Steering Team to assist, in the first instance, by providing advice during the handover process, assistance with fundraising, and support for maintaining robust monitoring and evaluation practices.”

In general, long-term recovery groups work with residents who need assistance to restore their homes to safe, sanitary, and secure conditions, prioritizing the needs of the most vulnerable. In the context of recent disasters, closer observation of these groups has identified structural and operational weaknesses in disaster response and recovery. 

Some examples of areas in which long-term recovery groups have requested support or strengthening include development of by-laws and codes of conduct, basic disaster case management skills, navigating the FEMA appeals process, and proposal writing.

Findings from the evaluation of DRSI in the US Virgin Islands indicated that long-term recovery groups improved their ability to address and manage construction, mobilize disaster case managers, raise funds, establish internal systems, and more. Through the DRSI capacity-building approach of sustained on-site presence of the DRSI Team, who encourage, mentor, model, and support the long-term recovery group, local group members are enabled to better solve their problems and respond to needs of survivors.

DRSI has and will continue to prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable, including elderly people, immigrants and refugees, and those with disabilities. It also will target disaster survivors who are not eligible for government-sponsored low-interest loans in disaster areas, traditional loans, or other financial assistance due to lack of income, immigration/refugee status, or inability to repay the loans.

2) Jay Wittmeyer resigns as executive director of Global Mission and Service

Jay Wittmeyer greets children during a visit in South Sudan

Jay Wittmeyer has resigned as executive director of Global Mission and Service, effective Jan. 13, 2020. He is taking a position as executive director of Lombard (Ill.) Mennonite Peace Center, where he was assistant director before working for the Church of the Brethren.

As Global Mission and Service executive for 11 years, since Jan. 2009, Wittmeyer has held primary responsibility for the mission work of the Church of the Brethren and has supervised the staff in Brethren Disaster Ministries and Material Resources, Brethren Volunteer Service, the Global Food Initiative, and the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy.

During his tenure, new and emerging Brethren groups have been nurtured in Haiti, Spain, the Great Lakes region of central Africa (Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwanda), and Venezuela. Mission and peacebuilding in South Sudan also has been a priority. His work has strengthened relationships with established Church of the Brethren denominations in Brazil, Dominican Republic, India, and Nigeria. He worked with leaders of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) as northeast Nigeria suffered extreme violence during the height of the Boko Haram insurgency. With Global Mission and Service associate executive Roy Winter, he has overseen the Nigeria Crisis Response.

Highlights of his work include a visit with the Christian community in Cuba and travel to North Korea, where he succeeded in placing Church of the Brethren members as university faculty teaching agriculture and English for a number of years.

A culminating accomplishment was “Vision for a Global Church,” a paper adopted by Annual Conference in 2018 that opened the possibility for this month’s international conference on a global structure for the Church of the Brethren, hosted by EYN. Wittmeyer facilitated the meeting of representatives from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nigeria, Rwanda, Spain, and the US, who affirmed establishment of a global body under the temporary name “Global Brethren Communion.”

Wittmeyer’s career includes two years with Brethren Benefit Trust as director of the Brethren Pension Plan and employee financial services. He also worked with Mennonite Central Committee in Nepal and Bangladesh.

3) Brethren bits

Brethren Community Ministries, the community development and social service arm of Harrisburg (Pa.) First Church of the Brethren, recently reported that “our Agape Students continued to celebrate the holidays by spreading some peace, love, and cheer to those serving death row sentences in Pennsylvania! Over 15 youth, staff, and volunteers helped to make over 130 holiday cards for the inmates! Pennsylvania has recently banned 24/7 solitary confinement for death row inmates, a step in the right direction for human treatment of prisoners.” See . Image courtesy of BCM

— The latest post in the Church of the Brethren’s Nigeria blog shares “Stories from Maiduguri” by Roxane Hill. The stories and pictures come from a recent visit to the city of Maiduguri in northeast Nigeria by Roxane and Carl Hill, and feature an interview with a young peace activist and the stories of three young women who escaped after having been captured by Boko Haram. Find the blogpost at .

— The Global Food Initiative (GFI) has announced a change in the membership of its review panel. “We wish to thank Tara Mathur of Wichita (Kan.) First Church of the Brethren for her service,” said an announcement in the GFI fall newsletter. “Taking Tara’s place on the panel will be Pat Krabacher of New Carlisle (Ohio) Church of the Brethren.” Mathur works for Worker Rights Consortium, an organization that monitors compliance with labor standards in the production of garments made around the world for consumers in the US. Krabacher has been a Brethren Volunteer Service worker involved with the Nigeria Crisis Response and with Brethren programs in Haiti. Find out more at .

— Jan. 20 is the opening date to register for the 2020 National Young Adult Conference, to be held May 22-25 at Montreat (N.C.) Conference Center. The theme is “Love in Action” (Romans 12:9-18). Speakers will include Drew Hart, Paul Shaffer, and Richard Zapata, among others. Worship coordinators are Jessie Houff and Tim Heishman. Music coordinator is Jacob Crouse. The planning team is the Young Adult Steering Committee: Emmett Witkovsky-Eldred, Briel Slocum, Jenna Walmer, Karly Eichenauer, Krystal Bellis, and Mario Cabrera. Registration cost varies depending on the participant’s travel distance. Some scholarship assistance may be available. “Early bird” registration discount is available during January only. The conference is for participants ages 18 to 35. Infants up to 12 months old are welcome with a parent participant; childcare is not provided, contact the Youth and Young Adult Ministries office at . Registration and more information will be posted at .

— The fall issue of “Bridges,” the Church of the Brethren youth and young adult online newsletter, is now available at .

— On Dec. 22, Luray (Va.) Church of the Brethren will dedicate a peace pole to the memory of pastor Rebecca Harding who served the congregation from 2012 until her death in 2015.

— “The Prairie Farmer” publication has featured a story on two Church of the Brethren men in Polo, Ill., and the 15-year-old Growing Project that is supported by several northern Illinois congregations. The article titled “How One Illinois Farm Community Feeds Another in Nicaragua” highlights the work of Jim Schmidt and Bill Hare. Find it at .

— On Jan. 20, 2020, a Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration on the theme “Celebrating the Dream, Continuing the Journey,” will be held in the Bridgewater, Va., area and on the campus of Bridgewater College, according to the Shenandoah District e-newsletter: “The event begins at Oakdale Park, where guest speakers will give their remarks, and will be followed by a march of event attendees from the park to the college campus.”

— At its December meeting, the Brethren World Mission group reviewed Church of the Brethren mission projects that it supports. The organization, which is independent of the Church of the Brethren denominational mission program, works to offer funding to mission efforts. Actions taken at the meeting include approval of $2,200 to assist with a mission trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in early 2020; $1,650 to help with the Gesenyi building project in Rwanda; $3,000 for church planting in Venezuela and $5,000 to reimburse Global Mission and Service for funds spent on a vehicle purchase for the emerging church in Venezuela. The group also elected officers for 2020: Bob Kettering, chair; Eric Reamer, vice chair; Phil Hollinger, treasurer; Carolyn Fitzkee, financial secretary; Dennis Garrison, recording secretary.

— Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) has issued a statement rejecting the revised US position on Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The statement follows on a news conference Nov. 18 in which the US Secretary of State said, “The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law.” CPT has placed teams of peacemakers in Israel and Palestine since 1995 and has worked for peace within the West Bank. It noted that the comment from the Secretary of State reversed a 40-year US foreign policy position and “has been condemned by Palestinians, the United Nations, and the European Union among others.” The CPT statement added that “this policy reversal is unsupported by any process of international consultation or ratification and has no weight in defining international law…. International law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention to which both the United States and Israel are signatories, clearly outlines the legal status of occupied territories and their populations. People under occupation by any power anywhere must be able to appeal to these basic principles. Otherwise, millions of people would disappear into special extra-legal zones where their rights are determined at the point of a gun–the situation already faced by occupied Palestine.” CPT reported that over the last month it has observed an influx of Israeli settlers in the West Bank and an increase in violence toward Palestinians. CPT is supporting legislation in the US House of Representatives titled “Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act” (HR 2407).

— In a pastoral letter to the world’s Christians, World Council of Churches general secretary Olav Fykse Tveit has expressed urgent concern over the climate emergency and urges churches and individuals to take action, said a WCC release. “In fact, our futures, the well-being of our common home, and the very existence of our species are at risk,” he wrote. “The call to our churches and ourselves could not be clearer; and our unity, solidarity, and determination have never been more needed by the world.” The dangers and damage of climate change are even worse than feared, Tveit noted, and the time remaining to halt climate damage is less than hoped for. “In this context, I write to urge your creative action, your advocacy, and your prayer before prayer becomes our only recourse. It is almost too late, but we can still make a difference if we act now! …The world is accountable to young people and the vulnerable people in the world, and it is morally inadmissible to look the other way.” He urged people across the world to press relentlessly for action by public officials, governments, and businesses. Read the letter at .

— “They Showed Us Unusual Kindness” (Acts. 28:2) is the theme for the 2020 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Worship and other resources for this annual occasion celebrating the unity of the worldwide church are available online and in print. Suggested dates are Jan. 18-25, a week that incorporates both Ecumenical Sunday and the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. A sample kit is available including a copy of the daily scripture prayer guide for the week, an ecumenical celebration service, prayer card, poster, and worship bulletin. Go to .

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