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Nigerian school children during recess

Denominational Body Gift

Apostle Paul spoke of the human body having many members, and each member contributing a different function in order to explain the various spiritual gifts of the different members of a local church fellowship. If denominations also reflect their own individuality within the Kingdom according to their respective gift, then the energy of God has manifested itself through the 'body gift' of service in the Church of the Brethren. When other denominations have found inspiration in symbols of the cross, dove, or liturgy, the Church of the Brethren has been motivated by the towel (John 13). To understand their inter-action with the world, one must comprehend their quiet humility and love for people as demonstrated through service. For it is through action (Luke 10:37) that they express their love for others, and share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

They have been influenced by passages such as Matthew 5:14-16, ”“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Brethren interpret this passage to mean that Christ wanted our 'good works' to be so conspicuous, that people would instantly associate our service as an obedient response to a divine mandate, and glorify God. And in John 15:16 we also read, ”“Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.”

Photo Credit: Nigerian school children under trees during recess taken by Jeff Mummua.


A History of Brethren Service

Service work has been a relevant issue of the Brethren from the very point of their origin in the womb of an economically fractured, war weary European landscape. In the years between 1616 and 1748, the Rhine Valley was a continuous scene of bloodshed and enormous property damage from the Thirty Years War, the French Wars, and the Wars of Frederick the Great. With hunger and despair so common, the Brethren had no shortage of opportunity to minister to the needs of hurting people. Each of the following items describe programs of the Church of the Brethren wherein they have demonstrated their body gift of service. It is not an exhaustive accounting of the numerous instancies where the COB has touched the human condition, but rather an offering of the more successful experiences; and most have originated through the vision of local congregations or the energy of one individual.

Prior to World War II, the Church of the Brethren presence against war and social violence was chiefly one of a protest witness. There existed no positive opportunity for Brethren to become actively involved in a civilian oriented activity which fostered peaceful coexistence. In 1932, the Young People's Congress of the Brethren Youth Department appealed to Annual Conference to establish a Service Committee; and later in 1940, Annual Conference presented the Brethren Service Committee with the responsibility of organizing a program for men who elected to "conscientiously object" (CO) to actively participate in war. President Roosevelt authorized the Civilian Public Service program in 1941 to offer CO's of all denominations the opportunity to perform national work in lieu of military service. Men from more than two hundred denominations served in these camps, but early involvement in C.P.S. camps proved to be frustrating because the system was administered by the Selective Service System, and managed by a Major General of the U.S. Army. Historic peace churches then formed the National Service board For Religious Objectors to provide a means of working with the federal government in the area of conscientious objection and alternative service. Gradually, religious groups achieved greater latitude in administrating the CPS camps. To obtain financial support from local congregations for Brethren men in the camps, the Brethren Service Cup was created. It became a denominational emblem, resting on dining tables as a constant reminder of, not only of those serving in the camps, but also of the many hungering families throughout the world.
The nation's only truck mounted, portable meat-canning unit arrives in York, Pennsylvania for six days of operation in March and April each year. Three operators work together with volunteers from both Mid-Atlantic and PA Southern Districts to can nearly 60,000 pounds of beef for local and world-side distribution to serve the needs of families in poverty. According to officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the canner is the only operational portable unit in the United States. During World War II, the Mennonites developed the concept to quickly feed European war-ravaged, hungry people. The canner and crew will travel to about 30 locations in 11 states during the spring and summer months. If you are interested in financially supporting this operation, or volunteering to work in the actual canning process, ask your district office about details.
Manchester College sophomore, Ted Chambers, delegate from Michigan to the 1948 Annual Conference, introduced a new business item not on the regular agenda. Brethren youth had developed this plan which Chambers proposed, from concern for young adults in the event of conscription for military service. It called for immediate action by the Church of the Brethren General Board to launch a volunteer service program with financial support from the entire denomination. Conference unanimously accepted the statement, which then instituted Brethren Volunteer Service. It has been one of the most successful denominational programs, and many Brethren still quietly regard BVS as the model that President John F. Kennedy used when designing the Peace Corp. Along with Brethren Volunteer Service, the Church of the Brethren has annually offered various, temporary work camps to allow Brethren of all ages, the opportunity to serve the needs of others through their personal contribution to the greater work of God's kingdom on earth.
From 1913, the PA Southern District of the Church of the Brethren has endeavored to alleviate the plight of homeless, troubled, and neglected children through a district program called, The Children's Aid Society. Its early years were plagued with set backs, due to changing philosophies of state and local governments in the area of child care, and perhaps, CAS' initial lack of focus. Gradually, The Children's Aid Society found its niche for service in supporting the needs of children through food & clothing distribution, medical supplies, the delivery of specialized educational resources, family counseling, and especially case management services. CAS now operates from three different locations; the New Oxford Center, the Lehman Center in York, and the Frances Leiter Center in Chambersburg. The 24-hour Crisis Nursery at Lehman provides emergency needs for children from birth through age six, and is the only crisis nursery in the State of Pennsylvania.
Natural disasters claim lives, property, hopes, and the dreams of people from all social-economic and occupational levels. To assist where government or private monies are either unavailable or difficult to secure, the Church of the Brethren operates a global disaster fund, to which several districts contribute by holding auctions each year to raise money from the sale of donated items, such as quilts, cars, hand-crafts, baked goods, cattle, and real estate. ATLANTIC-NORTH EAST / PA SOUTHERN District auction is held at the Lebanon County Fairgrounds each September. With an estimated attendance over 9,000, it is recognized as the largest gather of Brethren, with the exception of the Annual Conference. MID-ATLANTIC District auction is held at the Agricultural Center in Westminster, Maryland. SHENANDOAH District auction is held at the Rockingham County Fair Ground in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
Solving the problem of world hunger challenges the hearts of individuals with vision and perplexes global consortiums bereft of compassion. Heifer Project International is the outgrowth of one man with just such a vision, Dan West, a life-long Brethren. Born a native of Ohio in 1893, he graduated from Manchester College in 1917 and spent the next two years as a conscientious objector during World War I. After working for the Emergency Peace Campaign in 1936 he traveled to Spain in order to serve as a relief worker following the Spanish Civil War.

Sitting under an almond tree one day, he also felt the challenge of feeding hungry people as ubiquitous images of poverty surrounded him daily. Thinking of his own daughters being healthy and well-fed back in the United States, he believed that he must start a process that could bring that same well-being to the children of Spain. But how? As fast as you give these children milk, they drink it and it is gone. The cost of importing more milk was economically prohibitive for a war torn nation in recovery. Then an idea came to him. Why not bring cows to Spain and produce the milk here? Why not give each cow under the condition that its offspring must be given to another family who would, in turn, give a calf to yet another family? And so on and so on! Analogous to: Little steps climb big mountains.

Heifers For Relief was approved as a national project in 1942, with the first shipment of heifers leaving for Puerto Rico on June 14, 1944. On that day, one man's vision became a reality. Later known as The Heifer Project, its continuing process would geometrically multiply animals worldwide as hundreds of cattle produced thousands of calves, and those thousands would likewise produce millions. Following the death of Dan West in 1971, the project was incorporated as Heifer Project International.
In 1953, members of the Baltimore First COB organized themselves into an inner city, social action group called Brotherhood Service Inc. They purchased and renovated a house in a very poor neighborhood to launch a program for inner city renewal. To generate enthusiasm for the project, they appealed for surrounding districts to send volunteers in order to repair adjacent houses, which further served to foster inter-racial communication. It was a successful venture that was cited by the Mayor of Baltimore, and later expanded under the name of Inter-Cultural Exchange Program.
““I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him,
the same bringeth forth much fruit.””
John 15:5

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