Simplify Recap – Guest Blogger, Jonathan Stauffer

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This week, we take a break from our four-part series, “The Bible As…” by Jon Prater, to welcome back frequent Brethren Life & Thought blog contributor, Jonathan Stauffer. Stauffer writes about his experience attending Brethren Woods Camp and Retreat Center’s recent Simplify Conference. Stauffer accompanied two current Bethany Theological Seminary students as part of a partnership between Bethany’s Peace Forum and conference organizers, (also) current Bethany students, Katie and Tim Heishman.

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Nestled in vibrantly-colored trees above the Shenandoah Valley, I attend a weekend retreat at Brethren Woods Camp and Retreat Center located a few miles northeast of Harrisonburg, VA. The retreat, aptly entitled “Simplify,” explored a Christian witness through simple living principles largely drawing from the Anabaptist traditions. Beginning on Friday night, attendees watched a video called “The Story of Stuff,” which described the harm a hyper-consumerist culture places on God’s earth and its inhabitants. Later that evening, several small groups discussed how simple lifestyles could alleviate such harm and steward toward the healing of all creation.

Displaying 20171111_094450.jpgAfter a good night’s sleep, Saturday provided a full day to explore simple living and creation care principles further. The first keynote speaker, Sam Funkhouser, grew up Church of the Brethren but as an adult joined the Old German Baptist Brethren New Conference.* Sam accepts the socio-economic concerns presented by climate change and global capitalism as a needing a Christian response. Yet he also appreciates the tradition of nonconformity, a form of simple living practiced by the Old German Baptist Brethren. Motivated by their sectarian faith, Sam and his wife, Stephanie, make their own clothes and have modified their car to become as fuel-efficient as possible. Both topics were expounded during smaller group sessions later that day.

Displaying 20171111_104638.jpgOther workshop sessions were offered later on Saturday. Yakubu and Diana Bakfwash, Nigerian-born Brethren members, are ministers at GraceWay Church located east of Baltimore, MD. Using the example of Jesus in washing the disciples’ feet, Yakubu and Diana talked about service leadership in a Displaying 20171111_115449.jpgcontext that acts beyond the church walls. Nancy Heisey, a professor of biblical studies at Eastern Mennonite University, facilitated a workshop on the role of technology in our lives. Spending some time to carefully reflect on the gadgets we use daily, Nancy says, helps one decide when technology is an effective tool or becomes a distraction in light of our faith values.

Displaying 20171111_134604.jpgThe afternoon keynote speaker, Jenn Hosler, presented a biblical call to creation care and simple living. Starting from Genesis, Jenn outlined the instances of God’s care towards creation in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. She went beyond the first chapters of Genesis and the Gospel of John. The Prophets, wisdom books, and New Testament letters also reveal a cosmic order to the Heavenly Kingdom, one that blesses and desires to renew creation. In terms of simple living, the Bible raises up God’s blessing in those living responsibly and compassionately rather than idolizing material possessions (Mark 10:17-25 and James 4:1-10 are a few examples).

Between thoughtful speakers and rich group discussions, there was a lot one could take away from this event on simple living practices. The question remains: what is the first step for one to live more simply?

Jonathan SJPS_Tweed_Ride14tauffer is a member of the Polo (IL) Church of the Brethren congregation. Currently a substitute teacher, Jonathan is a recent graduate of Bethany Theological Seminary, receiving an MA with a concentration in theological studies.

*The New Conference formed out of the Old German Baptist Brethren in 2009. Interestingly, the split was largely centered around the church’s authority over internet use. More details can be found in the following article: Mast, Gerald J. “The Old German Baptist Brethren Church Division of 2009: The Debate over the Internet and the Authority of Annual Meeting.” The Mennonite Quarterly Review 88, no. 1 (January 2014): 45–64.

Image Credits: Jonathan Stuaffer

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The Bible As… Pt. II – Guest Blogger, Jon Prater

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This blog post is part two of a four-part series adapted from transcripts preached during a revival at Forest Chapel Church of the Brethren.

The Word of God should not only be approached as rule. No, in fact, one of the most quoted Scriptures in regards to Biblical inspiration states that there must be multiple ways of engaging Scripture.Paul, in 2 Timothy 3:16, says “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” which speaks to the array of ways we can, and should, use the Word of God. If we search past the Word as rule we will next see the Word as confession.

The Bible as Confession

Consider books such as Lamentations or Psalms- the scope of these books is much broader than instruction. Yes, there are factual pieces of these books, but their greater use is in confession. After all, doctrine is of no value if there is no confession attached to it. A criminal can know the rules of the land, but until they confess to the value of the system the laws create, their knowledge does not transfer to a common value system. In other words, our society is much better off when people not only avoid drunk driving because they will face consequence if they are caught, but they also understand and confess to the more significant value of human life and the ways this law contributes to a more healthy society.

The Bible itself speaks to the Scriptures as confession. In Romans 10 Paul is expounding on thoughts regarding evangelism, the climax building to verse 9 when Paul states that those who “believe in their hearts and confess with their mouths will be saved”. However, this is not the end of the thought Paul is giving. If we track Paul’s train of thought we come to verse 17 “Faith,” says Paul, “comes by hearing and hearing comes from the Word of God” (emphasis mine). The word Paul uses here is pistis which is defined as “a conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervor born of faith and joined with it[1]

What this means is confession in the life of a Christ followers not only an admission of guilt but also an acknowledgment of truth. We can confess and not be guilty. Many theologians such as Knox, Luther, Augustine, and Lewis all have published some kids of confession- that being the core belief that forms who they are and the way that they interact with the world and God. This faith that Paul is speaking of, this burning passion is undoubtedly more than law. Faith, in this context, is not just what you believe, but what you do with your belief. To tap into James, this is related to the tension between faith and works; one drives the other; they are indicative of one another; not similes.

The Word of God as rule guides our behavior, but the Word as confession guides our identity. When we engage Scripture through the lens of rule it tells us how we are to live, but engaging through the lens of confession tells us why we are to live that way. Consider the framing of the Laws given in Scripture, most of them are framed in a structure of confession and rule. Take Exodus 20, the Ten Commandments, for example. God speaks to Moses a decree for confession before giving the Law. The terms of confession are found in 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…” God sets up the formula- declaration for confession, followed by action or consequence- if you believe I am God then this is your rule.

The problem that the church has seemed to battle for a majority of history is getting this formula out of order. Instead of allowing our identity to affirm our doctrine we invert the process so that our rule, or doctrinal infrastructure, informs our identity. Our convictions work contradictory to the grace God has given us; our church culture states that if your doctrine is right, you can identify with us; when in reality what the Scriptures seem to suggest is that if you identify with us, your doctrine should follow suit.
In recent years there has been debate on the traditional order of identifying with Christ. Traditionally practitioners have prescribed to a believe, behave, belong order for identifying with Christ. However, as the Emerging church movement gains momentum, this traditional rule has been called into question by many leaders. For the emerging church, a more efficient order for identification is belong, believe, behave. While some argue that this model leads to more ethical dilemmas, it certainly seems to fall more in line with Paul’s train of thought in Romans 10.

The lens of confession is rooted in the Christocentric and community hermeneutic. By offering a standard community confession, we are strengthening the fabric of the faith community. When asked why the Law was so central to the Israelites we are quick to identify that it kept them separate from other nations. I am not debating the truth in that statement, but I lift a consequential truth alongside it- it held the Israelites together. Sure, the sectarian truth is prevalent here, but the Israelites also shared their experience and tradition across their stories. The common confession that they shared in Yahweh led them to a common rule of practice and drew them around a collective identity- people of the Lord.

Perhaps this is one of the core pieces we can learn as faith communities- the Bible as confession invites following the rule of faith and practice to be a fruitful experience, not oppressive. Also, this pushes us past the individual adoption of doctrine and belief. When we move past these, we place the center of discerning rules of faith and practice back into the community setting, allowing for a more significant connection to our neighbor.

Jon Prater is the pastor of Mt. Zion Church of the Brethren in Linville, Virginia where he has served since 2020. He is a current MDiv student at Bethany Theological Seminary and has an undergraduate degree in Biblical Theology from Liberty University. A former church planter, Jon is a public speaker and workshop leader on subjects including church planting and church vitality. He is husband to Jessica and father to twin sons Aiden and Elijah.

  1. “Greek 4102.” Strong’s Greek: 4102. Πίστις (Pistis) — Faith, Faithfulness, Biblehub,Com, biblehub.com/greek/4102.htm.

Other referenced works

“Create a Sense of Belonging.” Psychology Today. Accessed February 22, 2017. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/pieces-mind/201403/create-sense-belonging.
“Genesis Chapter 1 (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Accessed January 13, 2017. https://www.blueletterbible.org/kjv/gen/1/1/s_1001.
“Spiritual but Not Religious.” Psychology Today. Accessed October 14, 2017. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hot-thought/201610/spiritual-not-religious.

Image Credits: Protestant, and Christian Unity Ministries

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Summer Camp and the Rule of Life – Guest Blogger, Katie Heishman

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Brethren Woods Camp & Retreat Center’s new logo updated 04/2017.

Working as a program director might be one of the only “office” jobs that connects me to the cyclical design of nature. As we move from season to season, our programming shifts in rhythm with the movement of nature. In the winter, we slow down, observing a slower pace, a slower schedule. Into the spring, the pace of life and work perk up with the greening of life all around camp. By the time summer erupts around us, we’re matching the pace of buzzing bees and the vibrancy of the natural world bursting around us. Then with a flicker summer blazes into fall, the erratic pace of summer giving way to the vibrancy found in restful sleep, dreaming of new seasons, and preparing for winter weather.

The summer months sneak up on me and leave with a sense of disbelief, “Is this really happening? Are the summer staff really arriving today?” Despite my disbelief at the fast-paced reality, it’s really happening. Our summer staff begins to arrive in the middle of May—we spend two weeks training and planning with our Assistant Program directors. They take charge of the day-to-day routines of camp making sure meals and activities are happening on time. They allow Tim and I space to step back from the day to day of summer camp and prepare for next week or the coming months of programming. The calendar still spins on—even if I’m living in the disbelief of summer all around me.

2017 Summer Staff after a commissioning ceremony

My disbelief stretches from the arrival of summer to the people who show up to summer camp. Each summer that the summer staff—full of male and female counselors, support staff, and leadership—is a gift from God! Finding faithful young adults who will be getting paid can be a struggle, but finding people to come for free—well, that floors me! Brethren Woods has a faithful base of adult volunteers for health managers and deans who take a week from their job or their summer to spend time at camp serving.

As an extrovert, the buzzing about of volunteers and summer staff is a real treat for me. Every volunteer brings a unique spin to their leadership. I am blessed seeing nuanced styles at play throughout the whole summer. The worship stays fresh week to week with the movement of deans, who provide daily Bible study lessons and lead the campers in evening worship, adding personal songs or stories to the mix. Adult counselors resurrect games from the late 80s and early 90s that the kids love! Health managers each have a different system for grading the “cleanest cabin” from yellow cards to the Mr. Clean Broom, and a dancing duck. I’m in awe of the time and commitment folks will put into their roles. My favorite question to ask volunteers is, “What are sacred memories or moments that you have around Brethren Woods?” Everyone’s answer is different and each one leaves me in awe at the many ways we can each experience a place where God speaks to us.

Everyone wishes that life could be more like summer camp…and I’m one of the lucky kids that gets to experience it every summer. Supervising the summer is obviously not the same as sleeping in a cabin with seven other souls, but summer camp’s rhythm lends itself to a “rule of life.” A rule of life is a pattern of spiritual disciplines that give our lives structure and strengthen our walk with God. Camp’s rule of life looks like rising with bunk mates; praising God by the lake with croaking bullfrogs; blessing breakfast, lunch, and dinner and eating family style; reading scripture and studying the Bible; evening worship hosts a painted sky that fades to twinkling stars; and reflections of the day and God’s movement are shared with bunkmates by flashlight.

During the summer months, I’m reminded of the enormous impact the camp rule of life has on camper’s and staff’s lives. A whole community is committing to immerse themselves in rhythms that encourage their awakening to God’s movement in their lives. Most of the time, we don’t create these spaces and these rhythms to encounter God in the same way that we can at camp or on spiritual retreats. Camp is a technology-free zone, but most of my life involves daily attentiveness to a laptop or a phone. Even as a seminary student and worker in outdoor ministries I need reminders to cultivate a consistent rule of life that allows me to abide with Jesus. How can I cultivate a life with sacred, joyful rhythms like summer camp? What does a faithful rule of life look like when I must create it myself? What would a rule of life for a family or household include? What sacred rhythms do you want to cultivate together?

While I work on drafting my rule of life for the coming, slower seasons—I wonder about what volunteers, staff, and campers will carry with them from this summer season. At the end of the season, summer staff usually share about the immense deepening of their faith because of their time at camp. Many learned spiritual disciplines like centering prayer and breath prayer for the first time and I’m hopeful for their continued walk with God. Sometimes we hear about campers initiating baptism and membership classes with their pastors when they come home from camp. Many heard calls to follow Jesus more intentionally, committing to an intentional step in their journey and I’m grateful for church communities there to support them. I finish thank you cards for volunteers—thanking them for the gift of their time and energy, which in this day and age are fleeting more and more. I am grateful for their spiritual maturity and their commitment to join in the sacred camp rule of life over and over again each summer.

 

Heishman is an MDiv student at Bethany Theological Seminary and co-Program Director at Brethren Woods Camp and Retreat Center with her husband, Tim. They live in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and attend Linville Creek Church of the Brethren.

Image Credits: Camp Brethren Woods, Faith and Worship, and Rule of Life

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What is a Prayer School? – Guest Blogger, Ryan Braught

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We drove on to the church campus which was surrounded by fields and fields of corn. A seemingly strange place for a megachurch. We entered the building, and since we were early, we found our way to the Bookstore/Coffeehouse called Solomon’s Porch. As we waited, we talked about what brought us to this place, our struggles, our questions, and our fears about what we were there for. And would it be just another workshop notebook thrown onto the pile of other workshop notebooks on my bookshelf or in my filing cabinet? When it was close to time for the workshop to start, we walked down the hall and were transported from the evangelical megachurch in the cornfield in the midwest, to what resembled a Catholic chapel in either a monastery or in a cathedral. And all we did was open a set of ornate wooden doors into what is called The Upper Room. We were instantly awash in the glow of candles, the sound of Chant music playing, and the beautiful art of the Stations of the Cross hanging on the walls.

Image result for brian zahnd prayer schoolWe took our seat waiting for the beginning of the workshop. I knew that I was in the right place, when the speaker, Brian Zahnd, said he had been praying this prayer liturgy for 10 years, but he had been a pastor for 30. You see we were in St. Joseph, Missouri at Word of Life Church for Brian’s Prayer School. We were there to learn how to pray, after being in ministry for 20 years, 8 of those years serving in a church plant that my wife and I founded.

You see, honestly, I have never felt very spiritual. I have never been really good at praying, being still and being quiet. I would hear other Pastors talk about waking up at 5 AM and praying for 3-4 hours and I thought I could never do that. Prayer for me “often becomes a giant cesspool of guilt.” I’ve often been told to pray, but not been given the resources to pray well. And that is why I was at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, MO that July weekend with my wife.

I knew that I needed help in learning how to pray, and in growing my prayer life. I knew that I need a resource to help me pray well. I knew that if I were to last another 20 years in ministry, especially in church planting, that I would need to learn how to develop a rhythm of prayer. I needed, what Brian, called a trellis, a liturgy to guide my prayer life. To get my prayer life off the ground, like the roses that grow up trellises. And so that I could be properly formed in the ways and life of Jesus. And being at Prayer School has given me a liturgy of prayer that I am seeking to follow each and every morning.

This prayer liturgy is like walking a labyrinth. The first half of the liturgy moves us into the presence of Christ culminating in the center with a time of contemplation or in other terms, sitting with Jesus. As you “walk” (pray) toward the center of the prayer liturgy your walking companions have been walking with Jesus for a very long time. You walk with the Psalms. You journey with the Jesus Prayer. You walk with the Lord’s Prayer. You pray through the gospels. You pray prayers of confession. You recite the Apostles Creed. And you also spend time praying for your family and other prayer requests that you want to bring and leave at the feet of Jesus.

The second half of the prayer liturgy moves us out in the world, helping us have proper position in the world because we have sat with and at the feet of Jesus. When we have been sitting with and at the feet of Jesus, spending time walking with him and having other walking companions, our prayers change, we change, and then we want to go out and be change agents in the world. As we “walk” out the prayer liturgy into our world, our prayers begin to shape us into the kind of people Jesus wants us to be in his world. Our outward journey from the center includes walking through the beatitudes, praying prayers of peace, and praying the Prayer of Saint Francis. We also walk with the Prayer of the Week from the Book of Common Prayer. Finally, as we round the corner of this prayer liturgy and begin to see the light of the world around us, we pray a prayer of mercy, a confession of mystery, and finish with the Jesus Prayer.

Image result for brian zahnd prayer schoolWith that, we walk out of the Prayer Liturgy and into the world that Jesus loves.
We have spent time in the presence of Jesus. And we have gained new eyes to see
the world the way that he does. Our prayers have changed. We have changed. If you, like me, don’t feel very spiritual. If you, like me, have trouble getting your prayer life off the ground. If you are looking for a way to connect honestly, authentically, and transparently with God. If you are looking for a way to be formed in the ways and life of Jesus. Then I would highly recommend checking out Prayer School with Brian Zahnd. Visit www.wolc.com to find out when they will be offering Prayer School. But if you can’t get to St. Joseph’s, MO, like my wife and I, then at least pick up his book Water to Wine in which he spells out this prayer liturgy. And I trust that when you begin using the prayer liturgy each and every morning your prayer life will get off the ground just like roses clinging to a trellis in a garden. And you will find yourself being formed in the ways and life of Jesus.

Image may contain: 1 personRyan Braught is the Pastor/Church Planter of Veritas. Along with his wife, Kim, and kids, Kaiden and Trinity, he founded Veritas in 2009. Ryan has a BS in Telecommunications from Kutztown University and a Master of Arts in Religion from Evangelical Theological Seminary. Besides his work with Veritas, Ryan loves to read, listen to music, snowboard, and spend time with his family.

Image Credits: Word of Life Church and Eventbrite

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A Place Where Jesus Weeps – Guest Blogger, Melanee Hamilton

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Graffiti on the Palestinian side of a partition wall

My first trip to the Holy Land was one year and five months ago. It was a trip that absolutely enthralled me. When I returned home, I knew I had to go back. From February through May of this year, I lived with a Palestinian Christian family in Bethlehem. I came away more captivated by the region than I had thought possible.

You see, Palestine has a distinctive way of enchanting those willing to expose themselves to the tragic and beautiful reality that is the Holy Land. She is warm and welcoming, but at times remarkably tense to one unaccustomed to perpetual hostility. The stunning sight of the rolling hills of Bethlehem and the sharp, stony mountains of Wadi Qelt near Jericho are enough to mesmerize even those oblivious to the convolution of the region. The true exceptionality of Palestine, however, is found in the beauty and complexity of those living in Bethlehem, Jericho and the rest of Palestine.

The too-short experience I had in Bethlehem was humbling. It required me to forego the place of comfort I had the privilege of enjoying in the United States. At once, this distant region I had been reading about in books and hearing about in podcasts became familiar as I grew to love the family who hosted and cared for me. Palestine was no longer made up simply of statistics and newscasts. The stories of Palestinians’ homes being raided in the early mornings had, overnight, become stories of my neighbors. When something like this happens, staying removed from the raw realities of people’s lives becomes impossible.

A young girl swings in Bethlehem

I could spend this short space listing the statistics of life under occupation in Palestine, but it seems better spent painting a picture of the people I lived among in Bethlehem (although I highly recommend that you take a look at Human Rights Watch: Israel/ Palestine and UNICEF- State of
Palestine for information regarding the occupation). As a seminarian, this picture is painted unashamedly in light of my theological perspective as a follower of Jesus.

Days before boarding the plane to Tel Aviv, I began to feel anxious about my quickly approaching adventure. I prepared to leave for a place whose native language I did not know, to live with a family I had never met, and to navigate a culture with strict guidelines for women. But I knew all of these anxieties had to be confronted. Not because I needed to prove to myself that I could do it (well, maybe that was part of it), but because the convictions I had as a Christian compelled me to take this step of faith. If I believe that the crucifixion and suffering of Christ is an invitation for us to stand opposed to suffering, then how could I not expose myself to the oppressive realities in which people live?

About a month into my stay in Bethlehem, I witnessed my first protest. The Wi’am Center where I was interning is located beside an Israeli watchtower and the separation wall. The Center had decided to close early because of the protest. I stayed back to observe part of it with my friend, a young Palestinian woman. Within a moment, the peaceful protest erupted with tear gas, sound bombs, rubber bullets, and rocks. My friend grabbed my arm and told me to run. I followed her down a side road into a shoe shop. After attempting to leave the shop only to rush back in the building when the armored truck came plummeting down the road greeting us with more tear gas, the shop owner graciously offered to give us a ride up the street where things were calmer. When we were outside the range of chaos, my friend and I hopped out of the car. Without a second thought, my beautiful Palestinian friend looked at me said, “I’m hungry. Let’s get shawarma!” Despite my entire body trembling from what I had just witnessed, I had to laugh at how utterly unmoved she was by the entire experience—by the tear gas and bullets being shot at us moments before.

Irish Palestinian Solidarity

Later that day my Palestinian brother and sister got a good laugh out of how severe I found the protest: “On a scale of one to ten, that protest was a two,” they said. It was—and is—jarring for me to consider how drastically different our lives are, despite being so close in age. The reality, however, is that this is their life. Palestinians are strong and resilient, though. They laugh, play, sing, and dance—despite most being trapped by a wall and checkpoints.

Since being home, I have struggled with feeling angry at how Western Christianity has largely overlooked the plight of those living in the land where our God was crucified. I watched as thousands of Christians from around the world joined the Palm Sunday procession from the Mount of Olives to the Old City of Jerusalem. I watched them turn their faces away from the Palestinians in the procession being harassed and arrested. With heads turned, they sang “Hosanna, Hosanna!”

As I processed this event, I pictured Jesus standing with those Palestinians being harassed—weeping with the child whose uncle was arrested, standing firmly with the priests trying to help their parishioners. Jesus weeps over these events. And he weeps every time his people turn their faces away.

Visiting the Holy Land is more than just seeing where Jesus walked 2000 years ago. To truly experience Jesus in the Holy Land is to be with the people in the region. It’s to sit and listen to their stories, to laugh with them and to cry with them.

This message I bring home: To those able to visit Palestine, go! Experience the beautiful and heartbreaking place that she is – and listen. Bring back your own stories to share with the world. And to those unable to go, listen the stories of people who have been there. Don’t just hear what they have to say. Truly listen because the memories of those who have been there will undoubtedly overflow with incredible passion.

Originally from Ohio, Melanee Hamilton currently lives in Massachusetts where she studies Religion and Conflict Transformation at Boston University School of Theology. While in school, Melanee, a Brethren PK (pastor’s kid) interned with On Earth Peace, a CoB affiliated nonprofit organization, where she revised the Matthew 18 Workshop on congregational conflict and reconciliation.

Image Credits: Melanee Hamilton

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Wading in the Water Pt. II – Guest Blogger, Sarah Ullom-Minnich

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This blog post is the second in a two-part series. For part one, visit http://www.brethrenlifeandthought.org/2017/08/08/wading-in-the-water-pt-i-guest-blogger-sarah-ullom-minnich/. What follows is a continuation of Sarah’s story about her experience studying abroad in Ecuador.

My washing complete, I slip back into the welcoming water. I swim out several meters and try to hold my own while swimming against the current. I manage it for a few minutes, but then begin to tire and make my way back into the shallower water. My feet find purchase on the sandy bottom of the river. I close my eyes and let myself feel the rush of the chill water against my arms and legs.

The Church of the Brethren, my community, has a particular historical connection with resistance against a hegemonic system and a river. The story of the original brethren entering the Eder River to be baptized, undertaking a resistance against what they felt was a moral injustice as a community, is one with which I have grown up. The church has a rich heritage of resistance to injustice, and living in Tzawata has helped me feel that heritage more present within me. But it has its ties to racist and colonial systems, ties that here are impossible for me to ignore. I feel a calling in Tzawata, a place very different from my community, to reconnect with the Brethren idea of radical justice – the life courageously lived in the example of the radical love of Jesus, simply, peacefully, together. It is easy back home to let my modern, United States, middle-class, materialistic lifestyle make me comfortable. But living on this side of the bridge, where there are only a few hours of generator electricity and no clean running water (the government has done its best to discourage human habitation here), provides the opportunity to see beyond it.

A couple of small girls swim out to me and hold on to my back. I swim around with them for a while, and we all laugh when one of them lets go briefly to slip under the water, then pops up again and grabs on tight. They, like all the children here, speak in Spanish to one another.

Even as the adults of Tzawata continue a long legal battle against the government and the mining company, their youth are coming of age in a globalized world. One in which speaking Kichwa is looked down upon, and in which the language of power is Spanish, or even English. These youth have their struggles, that of managing their identity in a changing world, without losing their connection to their culture and community. Many leave to study in big cities or find work on the other side of the country. Some become ashamed to speak Kichwa, even with their families. Others invest themselves in preserving their language and culture. All have to negotiate a complicated relationship with the community they have grown up in and the hegemonic culture that pervades their world. When I think about growing up as a Brethren youth, I feel a resonance between our experiences. We live in complicated worlds, affected by complicated systems. Like the toxic laundry soap seeping into the beautiful river we hope to protect, there are parts of our identity that conflict with other parts, parts of the culture we live in, breathe in, that are oppressive, and that seek to smother our less-mainstream values.

The gathering place where the Rehearsing Change cohort meets for classes. About 100m beyond it is the Anzu River.

I check my watch and realize that it is almost time for class. Today we will be working on some of the theater pieces we have been creating in small groups that deal with the struggles faced by Tzawata. Our final presentations are coming up, where our group of local and international students will have the opportunity to share all that we have been working on this semester. I take one last dip to say goodbye to the river, then gather my things and carefully climb back up the rocky bank. The heat of the Amazonian sun on my skin already makes me miss the cool, clear water behind me.

The community of Tzawata will continue their struggle and their negotiation of the many cultural pressures they face. While I have had the opportunity to learn alongside them for half a semester, I will be only a tiny part of the story of their struggle, and they of mine. But if there is anything that I have learned from this semester, it is the power of story to empower and transform our identity. And just as we as a class have been working with the story of Tzawata, the story of Tzawata has been calling to my own story. The story of how the church of the Brethren negotiates a changing world is one with significantly lower stakes. We are not at risk of losing lives, of losing thousands of years of culture, of losing a language, or of losing our homes. But our stories are interconnected, because “Peacefully, Simply, Together,” also calls for resistance against a system that seeks to assign everything a dollar value, including life itself. Our shared humanity interconnects them, and our desire to see a juster world. And for me, they are also now interconnected by human relationships, by friendships and shared experiences.

I finish hanging up my clothes and walk to the roofed area where we have class. One by one, international students and local counterparts trickle in. Around me float the sounds of jokes and laughter, of the giggles of children as they chase one another in and around our group of 13, and of the barks of excited dogs as they romp around the perimeter. As class starts, I feel a twinge of excitement as we split into our groups to rehearse and prepare to reimagine our stories, to reimagine our realities, together.

Image may contain: 1 person, outdoorOriginally from Kansas, Sarah Ullom-Minnich currently lives in Pennsylvania where she studies Peace and Conflict at Juniata College. Her involvement as a leader in the Church of the Brethren has included interning with On Earth Peace, volunteering with Brethren Voluntary Service, and being featured on the Dunker Punks podcast. She recently returned from a study abroad trip to Ecuador.

Image Credits: Rehearsing Change

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Wading in the Water Pt. I – Guest Blogger, Sarah Ullom-Minnich

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<Hola amigo, como está el agua?> <Mojado!>

 

Class exercises in movement and group cohesion.

The typical response still makes me smile even after five weeks of living in the community of Tzawata. I pick my way down the rocky bank towards the wide Rio Anzu. We’re lucky today, it didn’t rain yesterday, and the river is a clear green-blue. The friend I had greeted is out about twenty feet, swimming against the current. On the rock about 30 feet away, in the middle of the river, three children are perched, enjoying the sun. Another woman is washing her clothes down the bank from me, in a rocky area. The slap of the shirt she swings persistently against a rock punctuates the clear sound of a sunny day. Another group of children upstream has seen me coming to the river and is now letting the current bring them down to say hello. I slowly step into the water up to my knees. Despite the heat of the day, the cold still makes me shiver. With a deep breath, I throw myself into the water, taking the plunge all at once.

The Rio Anzu, and the large, old, metal bridge that connects us to the other side, are two of the most iconic parts of Tzawata’s identity for me. An indigenous community of Kichwa Quijos, Tzawata has a long and harrowing story since the time of colonization. Their ancestors had lived around this river for thousands of years, but upon the arrival of the Spanish they were forced to move up into the mountains and made to work as slaves on their ancestral land. The deed to their land eventually made its way into the hands of a Canadian mining company, where it legally remains to this day. Several years ago, when the company briefly had to leave the country for legal reasons, some of the women of made the decision to journey down the mountain and take back their land. They left Tzawata Alta, as the mountainous part of the community is called, and formed what is now Tzawata Baja, which we refer to simply as Tzawata. Since then, the community has engaged in an often ugly struggle against the company and the government branches whose cooperation it has been able to buy. At one point, the police entered and burned down all of the wooden houses. Many community members lost everything they owned, but they refused to move back up the mountain. In a particularly iconic encounter, the police attempted to cross the bridge to forcibly evict the population. The entire community of Tzawata met them on the narrow bridge, blocking the way. Women and children stood at the front and the men in the back with spears. After a long and tense standoff, the police turned back.

Class response to the instruction: create an image of “power” with your bodies.

After the initial plunge, the icy cold of the water is refreshing. I wade back to the bank for my sack of dirty, smelly clothes and laundry soap. I wet the first shirt in the river and begin to lather it with soap. It’s the same kind of non-biodegradable soap that everyone in the area uses to wash their clothes in the river, but still, I feel the familiar twinge of guilt as I watch the suds disappear downstream.

The community of Tzawata articulates their struggle in many different ways, but the most common ones include their desire to protect their identity and their land. They still cultivate in the traditional way, with many different crops sharing the land, rather than raising one specific crop to sell, which would objectively be more profitable. They also wish to protect the land, and the river which is home to the fish and so much other life, from the inevitable destruction and pollution brought on by mining. They live out this philosophy on top of a literal gold mine.

Presenting a movement piece on the banks of the Anzu River as part of a final project.

I make my way through the shirts and move on to socks. The children splash in the water around me, calling to one another and me. Some ask me to watch them playing in the river; others just want to talk to me, to have me ask them about themselves. A few run up the bank and throw themselves recklessly off the edge of the bridge, whooping during the 20-foot drop into the water, and surface triumphant, excited for another round.

The international students, often affectionately referred to as “las gringas,” though not all of us technically fit into that category, are always a huge source of entertainment and attention for the children. That is one of the reasons the community has continued to invite back the “fair trade study abroad” program Rehearsing Change, which brings in international students to take classes alongside community members, around subjects that are useful to the community. No matter how much we make an effort to put all of us on an even playing field, however, the hegemonic structures of globalization never really disappear. Those of us with a little blue book that has our picture in it have access to privileges and resources that the members of this community will most likely never have access to independent of outside assistance. Those of us with light skin, hair, or eyes have access to cultural resources and preferential treatment, in and outside of Ecuador, which our local counterparts never will. To the best of its ability, Rehearsing Change strives to put these advantages at the disposal of the community, giving them the decision-making power to decide how our presence can be used to further their goals – to use the system’s problems against it. But even on this side of the river, across the bridge, there is no fully escaping a white western hegemony. There can only be a consciousness of it, and an effort to resist.

This blog post is part one of a two-part series.

Image may contain: 1 person, outdoorOriginally from Kansas, Sarah Ullom-Minnich currently lives in Pennsylvania where she studies Peace and Conflict at Juniata College. Her involvement as a leader in the Church of the Brethren has included interning with On Earth Peace, volunteering with Brethren Voluntary Service, and being featured on the Dunker Punks podcast. She recently returned from a study abroad trip to Ecuador.

Image Credits: Rehearsing Change

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Road to Selma – Guest Blogger, Sarah Bond-Yancey

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The following poem was written as the author reflected on receiving her level 1 trainer certification in Kingian Nonviolence Conflict Reconciliation at the Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth & Reconciliation. A Pagan, she nonetheless weeps for those whom Jesus weeps and actively seeks a day when justice will roll like a river (Amos 5:24). How do her compassion and action challenge our often safe and lazy faith? – C

Road to Selma

First thing I notice is16999128_10102948986529423_7131485732795198647_n
Greyhound –
Those famous Freedom Rider lines? –
Don’t run here anymore

Only way to get here
Now?
Seventy-five bucks to Uber
After five hundred bucks to fly

An economic ebb and flow
Drains the rolling Alabama River
Robbing the nameless
To feed the faceless

Another rusting facet on the
Pipeline
of Economic Genocide

Priced out of
Existence
Mapped out of
Deliverance

A white moderate nation says
Not my fault
Not my problem

But

Blacks killing blacks
Is still lynching
If the city’s soul is strung up
In the freshly bleached cords of
White
Supremacy

Doc sits quietly to the side,
Eyes glimmering in the amber sun rays,
Tells us of a time:

These empty streets
Once were filled
These tender prayers
Once were willed

But

The searing summer of Whiteness ended,
Biracial autumn waxing,
White flight
To some other unsuspecting summer
Left these faithful streets
To wander themselves
In search of feet
To warm them

Left these faithful lights
To shine themselves out of oblivion
In search of another sun
To call their own

May I remind you –

It is still called segregation
When white and black
Are seasons
Are timelines
Are zip codes

It is still called segregation
If the buses stop running
When the whites stop riding
And the Freedom lines no longer stop in
Selma.

10547461_10101430233053563_8814039422811650982_nSarah Bond-Yancey is Volunteer Coordinator for Habitat for Humanity and Impact Planning & Analysis Coordinator for On Earth Peace.  She lives in Bellingham, Washington with her partner Brian. When not working toward justice, she has been known to make alpaca crafts.

Photo Credits: Sarah Bond-Yancey

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Four Reasons Why People Attend Church: Socialization & Transformation in Today’s Church Pt. III – Guest Blogger, Brody Rike

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Reason #3: To Commune

The third reason that many attend churches is the desire to be a part of a community of believers, or perhaps a more shallow way of putting it, “a desire to make new friends.” There is no question, whether we are talking about socialized or transformed individuals, this is clearly a more mature step in a journey through church life. Entering into new relationships always has a risk factor. It is risky to allow others to know you and to take steps toward new people, engaging yourself in their lives. New relationships always have the potential to create strong bonds as easily as they can create new conflicts. People who are willing to take these steps are willing to make some form of sacrifice. When this kind of sacrifice is happening, it can bring great vitality to the social culture of a congregation.

CommunityCommunity through Socialization
I once believed that longing for community is a void that everyone had, and that it was a high priority in the lives of most people. From my experience as a minister, I conclude this simply is not true in the American culture in which we live. I do believe people still long for community, but their scope of what community is has become much smaller while the overall burden for it as a whole has decreased. For many people, the immediate and extended family is enough scope for a community. One or two good friends are often enough community, a few closer acquaintances at a workplace or even regular interaction on Facebook and social media can fill the void of a community. Sure, most would love to be known by many and even have many close friends, but when it comes to making decisions to move toward new and closer relationships, it is just not something that most will do, or even know how to do. As such, people coming to church for others is a good thing. Socialized people that pursue community are pursuing relationships, but not necessarily pursuing relationships to foster their spiritual growth or contribute to another’s spiritual growth. They are willing to take the risk of making new friends and developing more engaged relationships, but the only spiritual prerequisite for these relationships is that they attend the same church.

Community after Transformation
When one who is being transformed begins consuming the things for God and makes a commitment to a church community, they recognize that there are other Christians in the congregation that they need to engage to grow spiritually, just as they notice that there are relationships that they should pursue to help others grow spiritually. A key point of validation to determine whether one is pursuing community for transformation or socialization is the content of their dialogue outside of worship or Christian education settings. People in socialized church relationships will never speak of the Holy Spirit, sin or victory when they are together in non-programmed moments, except maybe for a prayer request from time to time. But those who are being transformed will look upon a brother or sister in Christ as one of the only people that they can talk to about such things. Sure it will not be the only topic of their interactions, but when these matters of the heart conversations are happening, spiritual growth is happening.
My call into ministry began with a moment like this. When I was 19 years old, I had a transformative moment when I had an encounter with Jesus Christ. A month before this experience I had just moved into an apartment near my college campus with four other guys so I could have the full “college experience.” When I became a Christian not only did I not know anyone else my age that was living their life for Christ, I didn’t even know if these types of people existed. Within weeks of this transformative experience, the Lord led me to about 15 other young adults at a church right around the corner from my apartment; with whom I soon wanted to spend all of my time. This desire was so strong that I joined the program they were in and began training for ministry; when I actually just wanted to have Christian community. My relationships with these young men and women were based on the common bond that we all had, to love God with our lives and to sharpen and encourage each other to grow closer to Christ.

Reason #4: Calling

A final reason why just a few attend churches is a sense of calling, purpose, and responsibility. living-a-life-worthy-of-the-calling-650x487Transformed people who are giving their lives over to the will of God will begin to have a sense of mission and destiny. They will begin to recognize that there are few coincidences when we walk with the Lord and that there is something sacred about the opportunities that they have been given to build the church of Christ. When congregation members begin to see themselves as called to a body, they no longer speak of a church as “this church” but rather “my church.” Called members have a sense of ownership in the congregation, but ownership is really only the first indicator, and it is one that can be easily confused with a socialized commitment.

A better indicator is when someone who is called begins to talk about challenges in their congregation; you will not hear them pointing a finger in the other direction, but rather asking or finding a way to be a part of the solution. Transformed, called people see their church as a spiritual mission, that they are responsible for. A final indicator that we will mention is found in consideration of transition. Those who don’t see their church as part of their calling as a Christ-follower can easily find reasons to leave the church. These reasons usually come in response to a new void that is found in one of the previous reasons why they originally attended; they don’t like the new pastor’s sermons or the new kid’s programs (consuming), they no longer want to serve in the capacity that they have been serving in or have been asked to serve in a different way (commitment), or there is just too much conflict in their relationships at church (community). A transformed person who is called, will not transition from a congregation for any of the above reasons, because they recognize that they are not at their current congregation on their own terms, but rather the Lord’s. The primary reason why someone who is called would transition from a congregation would be that they get a genuine sense that the Lord is leading them in a different direction. This leading is far beyond their own personal preferences, but a moving of the Holy Spirit in their life.

This last reason of calling was not placed in two categories as all the others, because the final reason is a rare reason why one would attend church and one that is hard to socialize. For the lay member, it would take the work of cult-like manipulation to be socialized into attending a church because they are called. Paid clergy, on the other hand, can in fact slip into a mode where they can socialize their own calling from the Lord. I would guess that if you ask 99 out of 100 clergy if they felt called to their congregation, they would say yes, and express many of the feelings and language of calling. However, the socialization creeps in when they see themselves in the role as “sent from God,” but are no longer working hard to produce spiritual growth in their congregations and rather begin to go through the motions, keeping the peace and making others feel good about themselves while collecting a paycheck. It is in the hands of severely socialized clergy that the church begins to be in danger of removing the transformative power of the Gospel from their church.

A Way Forward
As a minister who has now journaled my assessments of my current congregation along with experiences in different congregations, I will conclude with my convictions and a commission that is a way forward for all churches in the middle of this tension between the socialized and the transformed. First, ministers who are being transformed or have at once been transformed must return or draw near again to Christ seeking his plan and his will for the church they pastor. They must be burdened with love for the spiritual growth of their people. Secondly, they must realize that transformed people are the hope of their congregation. They must begin to focus on some key relationships within their church and not be afraid to ask them the tough questions about their faith. This task is truly spiritual, which is why much of the burden must be placed on the work of the Holy Spirit through prayer. This description is of person to person discipleship, which must be passed on from clergy to lay members and lay members to other lay members and/or the unchurched in their communities. I do believe that the Church of Jesus Christ is the hope of the world and the Church will fulfill its mission when lives are being transformed by the Holy Spirit.

This blog post is the final installment of a three-part series based on a paper written for Russell Haitch’s Educating in the Spirit class during the fall of 2016.

brBrody Rike is Pastor of West Alexandria Church of the Brethren in West Alexandria, Ohio, where he has served the last four years. Brody is a current MA student at Bethany Theological Seminary and holds a BA in Biblical Studies. At 36 years-old his ministry experience includes ministerial roles as a senior pastor and youth pastor with the Assemblies of God. Brody also has experience working in Christian education as a Bible Teacher, Athletic Director and Principal. He is happily married and a father of three, who remains active in his community, coaching varsity basketball and coordinating ministry programs in local public schools.

Photo Credits: Doing Life Better and Center for the Advancement of Christian Education (CACE)

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Four Reasons Why People Attend Church: Socialization & Transformation in Today’s Church Pt. I – Guest Blogger, Brody Rike

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They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. – Acts 2:42-47  (NIV.)

        The description above of the first “church” in the Book of Acts is one that has often become a Biblical standard for what a church today should look like, what it should be doing, how the people of the church should be treating each other, and most importantly what the Lord should be doing in their midst. The good news is that what we read above is still happening in some churches in America. The bad news is that something else is also happening in many churches across our nation.

        The purpose of this study will be to explain how two very different things can be happening to different people in American churches. These two different things are socialization and transformation. To understand these two concepts and their relevance to the church today we will look to James Loder and Kenda Creasy Dean. We will explain the four primary reasons people attend American churches today and how there is a significant difference between initiatives that are produced from socialization and initiatives that are produced after transformation. Finally, we will conclude with a brief proposal of a way forward for the Church of Jesus Christ in America.

Socialization

        Socialization can simply be defined as, “the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society.” [1] Kenda Dean in her book Almost Christian: What the Faith of Teenagers is Telling the American Church, explains how this idea of socialization has significantly infested today’s church. She calls this form of “socialized faith,” Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. The tenets of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism are:

  1.      A god exists who created and orders the world and watches over life on earth.
  2.      God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3.      The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4.      God is not involved in my life except when I need God to resolve a problem.
  5.      Good people go to heaven when they die.[2]

This MTD that Dean speaks of is a socialized form of the Christian faith that fits nicely into our American culture. James Loder states that socialization systems (such as MTD) are often achievement based.[3] This concept of achievement also fits well into our culture, as many feel as if being a part of a church community is often a symbol of “having it all together,” or “having high values and priorities.” Many rural American cultures still view church life from these perspectives.

Transformation

Transformation will serve as the term used to describe the contrast to socialization. In his book, The Transforming Moment, James Loder defines transformation as:

whenever within a given frame of reference or experience, hidden orders of coherence and meaning emerge to replace or alter the axioms of the given frame and reorder its elements accordingly.[4]

Loder also describes transformation as occurring in five phases: conflict, interlude for scanning, insight, release and openness, and verification.[5] He explains how this process takes place within one’s understanding of the lived world, the self, the void and the holy.[6] To summarize Loder’s work on transformation concisely: those who have been transformed or are being transformed are those who have had some form of encounter in their life (a five- phase process listed above) where they have allowed their voids (areas where they are incomplete) to be filled by the holy (the Holy Spirit or the presence of God). Transformation means that there has been and is continuing to be spiritual growth in someone’s life, where they continue to live empowered by the Holy Spirit.

The Paradox of Today’s Christian Education

        Now that we have defined socialization and transformation from Dean and Loder’s perspectives, we can state the paradox of Christian education that is in most of our American churches. This paradox is that in most churches, there is nothing wrong with the message that is being preached or the substance that is being taught. There are many today that would disagree with this statement and state that the primary problem is that the Gospel is not being preached and taught today the way that it used to be, or that we have watered down the message of the Gospel to make it more palpable. This is certainly happening, and we will mention it at the conclusion of this study, but this is not the crux of the problem.

The Gospel is still being preached in old ways and new creative ways and the Holy Spirit is still available for everyone to respond. The paradox is that while the most powerful, transforming, life-changing message is being preached and taught, most “Christians,” in our culture are choosing not to respond to it, while continuing to be an active part of church life. The paradox is that most of what we see in churches today is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism or patterns of socialization. This is the negative side of this paradox, but the positive side is that a few are still transforming. In many churches, the transformed are coexisting with the socialized. This is where the point of conflict in this study lies – this coexistence between the transformed and the socialized does not remain in moderation in church life. One of the two dynamics will be in progression, either a church will be moving in the direction of a more socialized culture, or transformed people will begin to empower and disciple other transformed people to bring about authentic spiritual growth in the life of a church. Kenda Dean describes this tension with parasitology stating that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is a symbiote (the weaker of two organisms) that is drawing life from the transformed in the church, eventually weakening the culture to something that is mostly socialized.[7]

To understand how this coexistence can take place, we will now identify the four primary reasons why people attend church. All but one of these reasons will include how one can be socialized and attend for this reason, and how one can be transformed and attend for the same reason, yet have a completely different perspective on their purpose in the congregation.

 

This blog post is part one of a three-part series based on a paper written for Russell Haitch’s Educating in the Spirit class during the fall of 2016. Part two will be published on Thursday, February 2.

 

brBrody Rike is Pastor of West Alexandria Church of the Brethren in West Alexandria, Ohio, where he has served the last four years. Brody is a current MA student at Bethany Theological Seminary and holds a BA in Biblical Studies. At 36 years-old his ministry experience includes ministerial roles as a senior pastor and youth pastor with the Assemblies of God. Brody also has experience working in Christian education as a Bible Teacher, Athletic Director and Principal. He is happily married and a father of three, who remains active in his community, coaching varsity basketball and coordinating ministry programs in local public schools.

 

[1] “Socialization – Definition of Socialization in English | Oxford Dictionaries,” Oxford Dictionaries | English, accessed November 26, 2016, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/socialization.

[2] Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian : What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 14.

[3] James E. Loder, The Transforming Moment, Second (Colorado Springs: Helmers & Howard, 1989), 166.

[4] Ibid., 229.

[5] Ibid., 36–40.

[6] Ibid., 67–91.

[7] Dean, Almost Christian : What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church, 13.

Photo Credits: Lisa Notes

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