Brethren bits for April 9, 2021

Remembrance: Lois Ruth Neher, 92, who served in Nigeria as a Church of the Brethren mission worker–including a term as a teacher in Chibok, passed away March 28 in Wichita, Kan., surrounded by family. She was born in McPherson, Kan., on Dec. 20, 1928. She graduated from McPherson College in 1951 and married Gerald Neher in 1952. In 1954, the couple left for Nigeria, where they worked in education in a variety of communities in the northeast and raised four children. She worked in Nigeria as teacher of adult education in the communities of Chibok and Mubi, and at Kulp Bible School, now Kulp Theological Seminary of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria a (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria). While in Chibok, the Nehers worked at the Church of the Brethren mission school that was the predecessor of the school from which the Chibok schoolgirls were abducted by Boko Haram in 2014. The Nehers helped expand the size of the school building, making it possible for the first girls to attend. They also made a thorough study of those among whom they lived, including numerous interviews, and documented their learnings in the book Life Among the Chibok of Nigeria, published in 2011. A follow-up book in 2014, Glimpses of Life in Northeast Nigeria 1954-1968, featured photographs of the people of northeast Nigeria. The family returned to the US in 1968, settling in Anna, Ill., where she taught elementary school, retiring in 1989. The Nehers raised Simmental cattle, Appaloosa horses, and Greater Swiss Mountain dogs on their farm in Anna. They also hosted many foreign exchange students. In 2008, they moved to the Cedars Retirement Community in McPherson. Lois was a member of McPherson Church of the Brethren. She was preceded in death by her husband. She is survived by children Rodney Neher (Mary) of Janesville, Wis., Karen Neher (Mahamoud) of McPherson, Bryce Neher (Melissa) of Udell, Iowa, and Connie Weesner (Bill) of Hutchinson, Kan., and grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at a later date. Memorial gifts are received to EYN, the Cedars, and the McPherson Animal Shelter Medical Fund, care of Stockham Family Funeral Home, 205 North Chestnut, McPherson, KS 67460.

Registration closes April 15 for this summer’s FaithX experiences (formerly the Workcamp Ministry). Find the summer schedule and register at www.brethren.org/faithx. Fourteen experiences are offered this year, in a tiered system depending on location, nature of the participant groups, and COVID protocols. This year, FaithX experiences are open to anyone who has completed 6th grade, with no age cap. Said the announcement: “We hope this allows people who have been supporters of the ministry in the past an opportunity to experience it themselves!”

In prayer for the Brethren in Venezuela, the Global Mission office of the Church of the Brethren has shared the news of deaths among church members’ families. One leading family in the church has lost at least six family members to COVID-19 including two cousins and a brother-in-law. “Things are getting tough here,” said their email. “Many pastors have died. We continue to pray and trust in our God and that his will, whatever is good, is pleasant and is perfect. We are feeling sadness for all the people who are dying in our circle of acquaintances. Every day we receive information about infected and deceased.”

Another concern for prayer is the pandemic situation in Brazil and how people there are suffering from COVID-19 including those who may be affected among members of Igreja da Irmandade (the Church of the Brethren in Brazil). Brazil has become an epicenter of the pandemic, suffering its deadliest month in March, with news media describing the country as devastated by its worst-ever health crisis.

Three “Best of the Church Press” awards were received by Messenger, the Church of the Brethren magazine, at this week’s annual meeting of the Associated Church Press. An award of excellence (first place) was received for “The Exchange” page in the department category, written by Walt Wiltschek (read it online at www.brethren.org/messenger/uncategorized/the-exchange). Another award of excellence went to Bobbi Dykema for her article “Compassion” in the biblical reflection category (read it online at www.brethren.org/messenger/bible-study/compassion). An award of merit (second place) was received by publisher Wendy McFadden for her article “The Wounds of War and a Place for Peace” in the category of theological reflection (read it online at www.brethren.org/messenger/reflections/the-wounds-of-war). Find more Messenger articles and subscribe to the magazine at www.brethren.org/messenger.

The Shine Vacation Bible School has been named fifth in the “Vacation Bible School Top Picks 2021” by the Building Faith ministry and Lifelong Learning department at Virginia Theological Seminary. Shine is a Christian education curriculum jointly published by Brethren Press and MennoMedia. “Lifelong Learning at Virginia Theological Seminary has offered Vacation Bible School reviews for more than 15 years,” said the announcement. “Our department has spent countless hours assessing intensive, formative curricula so that hundreds of folks can rely on an authoritative assessment. This year our “top picks” are based on our intimate knowledge of the publishing companies and information from their websites.” Find the announcement at https://buildfaith.org/vbs-top-picks-2021. Find out more about Shine at www.shinecurriculum.com.

The Church of the Brethren Office of Peacebuilding and Policy is among 75 faith-based, humanitarian, and peace and justice organizations that have signed a letter to President Biden about the dire situation in Yemen. The letter thanked the administration for “taking critical first steps toward peace and food security in Yemen,” such as an end to offensive military participation in Saudi- and Emirati-led actions and reviewing weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The letter urged that the administration take the next step of using its “leverage with the Saudi regime to demand an immediate and unconditional end to its blockade on Yemen, which threatens the lives of 16 million malnourished Yemenis living on the edge of famine.” The letter cited a CNN report about evidence of the life-threatening effects of the six-year-old, Saudi-imposed blockade of Yemen. “According to the UN, 400,000 children under the age of 5 could perish from hunger this year without urgent action. For years, the Saudi blockade has been a leading driver of Yemen’s humanitarian catastrophe,” the letter said, in part. “The recent fuel shortages triggered by the blockade are quickly accelerating major reductions in access to affordable food, clean water, electricity, and basic movement across Yemen. The blockade also threatens to shut down, within weeks, the hospitals reliant on power generators to tend to victims of famine, while making even emergency travel to hospitals prohibitively expensive for Yemeni families, condemning untold numbers of children to certain death at home…. This moral imperative requires the United States to pressure Saudi Arabia to lift this blockade immediately, unilaterally, and comprehensively.”

An action alert on violence, racism, and hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) from the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy lists a number of resources and actions that may be taken by church members. “Since mid-March 2020, 3,795 reported incidents of hate, such as vandalism, verbal attacks, and physical assaults, against AAPI have been recorded by Stop AAPI Hate,” said the alert. “According to PBS, ‘Even as overall hate crimes fell in 2020, hate crimes against Asian Americans in major US cities grew nearly 150 percent.’” The alert cited the Church of the Brethren’s 2007 statement, “Separate No More,” which affirms that “merely acknowledging or tolerating another’s existence is not enough. Healing and reconciliation must occur because Christ calls us to love our neighbor, with all its ramifications! So, where do we begin?” Find the full alert at https://mailchi.mp/brethren.org/fight-violence-and-hate-against-aapi.

A FAQ document has been shared by the Annual Conference officers following a series of “Moderator’s District Q&A” online sessions. Twenty-four sessions were held in 14 districts. See www.brethren.org/ac2021/wp-content/uploads/sites/20/2021/03/State-of-the-Church-FAQs.pdf.

“Join us for another Healing Racism Congregations and Communities #ConversationsTogether meetup,” invites LaDonna Sanders Nkosi, director of Intercultural Ministries for the Church of the Brethren. This online event takes place April 29 at 7 p.m. (Eastern time). Co-hosts are Nkosi and Dana Cassell, who works with the Church of the Brethren Office of Ministry in the Thriving in Ministry program. Register at https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJYlcemprD4iGNO0mSexySOEt_6cfyMZhkWB.

The “Calling the Called” online event on May 1 is a collaboration of several Church of the Brethren districts in the denomination’s Area 1, with a follow-up, in-person event tentatively set for Sept. 25 at Chambersburg (Pa.) Church of the Brethren. The two events are an effort to identify individuals who are gifted for potential set-apart ministry, said an announcement. “These two days are intended to be an exploratory time and designed to encourage and assist those individuals who may be experiencing the call of God on their lives for ministry.” Congregations in these districts are encouraged to identify individuals who would benefit from such an experience and to share those names with their district executive. The districts involved are Atlantic Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southern Pennsylvania, Middle Pennsylvania, and Western Pennsylvania.

Illinois and Wisconsin District is partnering with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to offer a workshop on the evening of May 13 on white supremacy and hate groups, and a discussion of racial identity. The event follows on the district’s intentional work on healing racism. “Last August, the Leadership Team drafted and shared a statement addressing racial injustice,” said the announcement. “Since then, the district held a book study on White Fragility, and concerns regarding the safety of people of color when they attend in-person events has led to another learning opportunity.” Presenters are Lecia Brooks, chief of staff for the SPLC, who has a long history with the center where her previous roles included chief workplace transformation officer, outreach director, and director of the Civil Rights Memorial Center; and Diane Flinn, senior consultant for Diversity Matters, with more than 25 years of experience developing programs and facilitating dialogue on race and racial identity, gender and sexual identity, interfaith alliance, and building institutional capacity for equity. Clergy can receive .2 continuing education units by registering for the event with the district. Contact the district office at andreag.iwdcob@gmail.com.

The Shenandoah District Disaster Auction Coordinating Committee has decided to hold in-person auctions in the Barn Complex at the Rockingham County (Va.) Fairgrounds on May 21-22. “The recent change in outdoor gathering restrictions has now made it possible for the Friday evening livestock and Saturday morning auctions to take place, although with social distancing and mask-wearing required,” said the district newsletter. “Unfortunately, the oyster and ham dinner and the Saturday morning breakfast and lunch offerings will not be available. However, the committee is evaluating ideas for making meals available outdoors using a drive-by method for pick up.”

Camp Bethel’s 20th Annual Sounds of the Mountains Story Festival will be online on Saturday, April 17. Donald Davis returns to this “all-headliners” festival that also will include Dolores Hydock, Kevin Kling, Bil Lepp, Barbara McBride-Smith, and Donna Washington. “Enjoy this fun, FREE, and truly unique online storytelling event to encourage donations to Camp Bethel,” said an announcement. Go to www.SoundsoftheMountains.org.

Brethren Life and Thought, a joint publication of Bethany Theological Seminary and the Brethren Journal Association, invites submissions related to the COVID-19 pandemic for a special issue. “We seek creative pieces, poems, sermons, liturgical pieces, sermons, or essays on the intersection of church, faith, and the pandemic,” said the announcement from editor Denise D. Kettering-Lane, associate professor of Brethren Studies and director of the MA Program at Bethany Seminary. Submissions should be emailed to kettede@bethanyseminary.edu by July 1. For questions or more information, please contact the editor by email.

“What does it mean for us as Brethren to be engaged in racial healing in this time?” asks an announcement of the current Dunker Punks Podcast. “What impacts can we have? Consider these questions as you listen to Rev. LaDonna Sanders Nkosi talk about the Healing Racism Grant and new racial healing initiatives in the Church of the Brethren on this week’s episode.” Go to bit.ly/DPP_Episode112 or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Follow Dunker Punks and join in the conversation on social media @DunkerPunksPod.

Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) is holding a day of prayer and action in solidarity with Indigenous land defenders and water protectors on April 25. Liturgies and resources for putting faith into action have been published to help churches take part. “Worship materials, liturgies, and spiritual practices are now available on our website,” said an announcement. “We invite church communities to use these resources during their worship on the fourth Sunday of Easter. Registrants will receive an invitation to attend a Meet & Greet on Zoom on April 25 at 2 PM Central Time. The Meet and Greet is a space for the congregations, pastors, and participants to gather and reflect on the morning’s learnings and insights with other church leaders and members across Turtle Island.” Go to https://cptaction.org/love-truth-action.

The 2021 Ecumenical Advocacy Days will be held virtually on April 18-21. Among the organizers are staff of the Church of the Brethren Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. This year’s theme is “Imagine! God’s Earth and People Restored.” This online event is an opportunity to support the global movement centered on and led by the people and communities most vulnerable to climate impacts due to historic racial and colonial inequities. Participants will be invited to advocate for and reimagine a world that lives out the values of justice, equity, and the beloved community. Register and find out more at https://advocacydays.org.

Samuel K. Sarpiya, ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren and former Annual Conference moderator, has a new book out called The Highest of All Mountains: A Guide for Christians Seeking Peace and Becoming Peacemakers (Wipf and Stock, 2021). The book is “for people who believe that the gospel is a message of peace and this gospel of peace is relevant for our time,” said the publisher’s description. Find it for sale by Brethren Press at www.brethrenpress.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=9781725270275.

LaDonna Sanders Nkosi, director of Intercultural Ministries for the Church of the Brethren, has had a book of poetry published titled Fearfully and Wonderfully Made: A Poem Book: Messages on the Journey from the U.S. to South Africa and Back Again. Said a description: “From the intensely self-aware and moving homage to South Africa in ‘Remembering South Africa’ to the impassioned ‘The White Gaze,’ each poem takes us on a self-reflective, introspective journey of connection, identity, godly value, and worth, provoking the reader to perceive the simple truth. It is only in remembering who we are in God, will we see each other clearly without filters or skin-color-tinted glasses.” Find it for sale by Brethren Press at www.brethrenpress.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=1736737104.

Bobbi Dykema, pastor of Springfield (Ill.) Church of the Brethren, has written an article on “Visual Arts: Protestant” for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion. A summary is online at https://oxfordre.com/religion/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.001.0001/acrefore-9780199340378-e-804. Access to the full article is available for a fee.

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