June Brown (left) and Eleanore Datema at a US National Conference meeting.

Eleanore Datema
Former UB missionary June Brown passed away on June 4, 2020.

I didn’t meet June Brown until 1957, the year Jerry and I began our work in Sierra Leone. She lived in Mattru and we lived in Bumpe, and in those days missionaries didn’t travel much. Later, she moved to Bumpe to teach in Bumpe High School, where I got to know her better.

When I think of June, I’m reminded of Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica, where he said in verse 1:3, “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Faith. She had faith in God, which resulted in obedience to his call to serve in Sierra Leone. She had faith he would empower her to do that work and that he would be with her in every situation.

Love. Her labor was prompted by love—for Jesus, for her fellow missionaries, and for her African students and friends. It was a love that mentored, taught, and gave of her time and gifts to fill needs. It was a love that caused her to patiently pull stingers out of the students’ heads when the bee honey melted and made them mad.

Hope. Her endurance and faithfulness was inspired by hope in the Lord. Hope that her students would find Jesus as Savior. Hope that they would follow their dreams and reach their goals—and pass their exams! Hope that her life and words would show Christ’s love, care, and joy to others.

1 Corinthians 13:13 tells us that these three great virtues remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love…and June Brown certainly loved the Sierra Leoneans!

Charlie Snider

Charles Edward Snider passed away June 12, 2020, in Toronto, Ontario. He was 100 years old. He is somewhat of a legendary figure among United Brethren in Canada, particularly in the area of missions.

Charlie, as he was known to everyone, served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War 2, working as groundcrew in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. In 1972, he started “Maintenance for Missions,” and traveled around the world to build and fix things for various mission organizations. He initiated and supervised numerous work teams through the United Brethren Church to build churches, schools, and small water projects. He fixed lawn mowers, generators, and hospital equipment. He installed water systems in Sierra Leone, installed and fixed hospital equipment in Angola and Kenya, drilled wells to provide clean water in Ethiopia, rebuilt/installed hydro-electric generators in Ecuador and Kenya…and much more.

Charlie’s wife, Rev. Ruth Snider, an ordained United Brethren minister, spent many years pastoring UB churches in Ontario. She also served as president of the Women’s Missionary Association and as a member of the denominational Board of Missions. She also worked as director of Food for the Hungry Canada. Their son Stan and his wife, Vicki, were missionaries at Mattru Hospital in Sierra Leone until the civil war started.

Because of Covid-19 restrictions, only immediate family will gather for a graveside service. You can read Charlie’s full obituary here.

Donna Hollopeter (right) retired in 2016 after 22 years as associate director of UB Global.

In 1992, right after June Brown returned from Sierra Leone when the war broke out, I was asked to accompany her on a speaking tour in the Midwest. I had been in the UB Missions department for about a year and I thought it would be a great opportunity. It was not only a great opportunity, but one of my most memorable experiences.

We had a number of churches booked, so we were on the road for quite a while—ten days, as I remember. While we were traveling, the Oklahoma bombing of the Federal Building took place. Timothy McVeigh was captured in a small town close to where we were staying one evening. We returned to our hotel room to find TV trucks and FBI personnel everywhere. We found out that McVeigh
was being held in the town jail until he could be moved the next day, and the FBI had commandeered all of the available rooms at our motel that evening while waiting to escort him to another location. I remember June saying to me that night, as we turned out the lights to go to sleep, “Well, we should sleep really well tonight with all this protection!”

On this same trip, we were visiting another church, and both June and I were engaged in meeting and greeting the people. I noticed that one particular gentleman kept returning to talk to June. After the service, he escorted us to our car and said to June, “You know, I always thought it would be a wonderful thing to be married to a missionary. Do you think you would like to live in the Midwest?”

June didn’t skip a beat and replied, “No, I’d rather live in Africa.”

She told me later she was hoping he didn’t tell her he would like to live there too. We laughed many times about her “marriage proposal.”

I will always remember the time Global Ministries Director Gary Dilley, his wife Rhonda, my husband Jason, and I traveled to Sierra Leone with June and Ruth Benner. We had the opportunity to listen to June and Ruth talk about all of their experiences, and we laughed so hard at some of their stories. On this trip, wherever we went, people in the villages would become so excited because Miss Brown and Miss Benner were there. It was evident June and Ruth were beloved.

I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to know June and travel with her. What a woman of God and a dear friend!

Shoreline UB church is looking for a fulltime Director of Student Ministries (grade 6 through college).

Responsibilities include:

  1. Be responsible for the development and leadership of a commit, grow, go, youth ministry.
  2. Recruit, train, pray for, and involve youth coaches.
  3. Create and effectively manage the ministry’s budget.
  4. Maintain the ministry’s section on the website.
  5. Communicate consistently with parents and provide the tools they need for spiritual leadership.
  6. Make monthly reports to the lead pastor, who will in turn submit the report to the Administrative Board.

You can download two PDF documents about the position:

If you have questions or would like to apply for this position, email Pastor Bill at bill@theshorelinechurch.net.

June L. Brown (right), age 89, of Chambersburg, Pa., passed away on Thursday, June 4, 2020. She served 35 years as a United Brethren missionary in Sierra Leone. Private graveside services will be held at Norland Cemetery in Chambersburg. No other arrangements have been announced at this time.

You can read June Brown’s obituary on the Geisel Funeral home website. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made in her name to UB Global, 302 Lake St., Huntington, IN 46750. Designed “Sierra Leone Hospital” on the memo lane. Or, contributions can be made to King Street Church Joy Class, 56 North Second St., Chambersburg, PA 17201.

On June 9, UB Central posted a tribute from Dr. Billy Simbo. Here are tributes from people who knew June Brown well.


Respected by Everyone (by C. Ray Miller)

C. Ray Miller chaired the Board of Missions 1965-1993, and was bishop 1973-1993. He and his wife, Lanie, live in Fort Wayne, Ind.

When I think of June Brown, one word comes to mind: respect. I’ve seen this in many ways.

Lanie and I have crossed paths with June Brown many times, and in many ways, over the years. We knew June when she was a student at Huntington College. We saw the respect shown by her professors and fellow students. That respect was shown many years later, in 1993, when she received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Huntington College.

When I was an assistant pastor at King Street Church in Chambersburg, June’s home church, I learned to know her family and I hunted deer with June and her family. They had such great respect for her. King Street Church showed their respect by honoring June when she came home on furlough and by supporting her.

The Board of Missions had the utmost respect for June’s expertise and her many years of faithful service. Lanie and I, on a visit to Sierra Leone, stayed with June in Bumpe. We were amazed at how many people knew her. We could clearly see the respect they had for her.

Likewise, June was deeply respected by her fellow United Brethren missionaries, whether they served in Sierra Leone or elsewhere. When she visited other missionaries–at board meetings, annual conferences, and in other settings–you could see their respect for her.

Lanie and I consider it a great privilege to have known June Brown.


A Great Teacher (by Dr. Ron Baker)

Dr. Baker grew up largely in Sierra Leone and attended Centennial Secondary School in Mattru.

One thing that will always remain in my mind is that Miss June Brown trained a team of Bumpeh High School students who proved to be intellectually superior to students of Centennial in the Christian Endeavour quiz competition. This was the 1968/69 academic year when Centennial was at its zenith in academic terms.

We had students like Habib Mohammed, Sahr John, Mohammed Conteh, Abu Mansaray, George Yakawa, Mahmoud Kamara, Francis Gandhi, Lucinda Quinn, and many others. Academically, Centennial was riding high. So that year we made the trip to Bumpeh High School, where the annual Christian Endeavour rally was being held.

Centennial fielded two teams for the rally. We had the junior team of which I was a member, and the senior team comprised mostly of 4th and 5th formers of Centennial. It was strictly a Bible quiz, and all the questions were taken from 1 Corinthians.

On the first day of quiz competition, the Bumpeh High School team knocked out the junior team in the morning, and in the afternoon they also knocked out our senior team.

This sparked a high level of animosity between the two schools. Bitter arguments were flaring up everywhere. But the bottom line was that we the students from Centennial were bad losers. We had come to the quiz competition with an air of superiority thinking that the quiz competition was going to be an easy walk-over for our teams.

But we had not reckoned with Miss June Brown’s coaching techniques. She burst our bubble and brought us back down to earth with a double knockout punch.

On the final day of the quiz, the Bumpeh High School team had to contend with the team from the Freetown UBC Church in Campbell Street. For obvious reasons, we were supporting the team from Freetown. But we were bitterly disappointed as the Bumpeh High School team coached by June Brown won the final quiz competition.

I do recall that the Bumpeh High School students, including Rev. Joe Abu (who was attending Bumpeh High School at the time), went on a victory parade all over Bumpeh town.

However the quiz competition was scrapped in the succeeding years because it engendered a lot of animosity between the two schools.

The victory of the Bumpeh High School team was testament to the fact that Miss June Brown was such a great teacher, that even one of the best schools at the time could not compete against her team.

As they say, “In living you make your life sublime, so that in death you leave your footprints in the sands of time.”

Consequently, Miss June Brown has left an indelible print not only in the lives of the students she taught, but also that of the UBC Mission in general. May her blessed soul rest in perfect peace.


Larger than Life (by Rev. Tom Datema)

Tom Datema grew up partly in Sierra Leone as a missionary kid, and later went back as a UB missionary. He is now pastor of the UB church in Zanesville, Ind.

June was one of a kind. I remember first meeting her as a five-year-old on the Bumpe High School campus where she lived. She was larger than life as the lady who played tennis every evening before heading down to the river for a bath, hunting monkeys in the surrounding villages, and drinking Coca-Cola for breakfast.

She patrolled the campus from her veranda and had a constant flow of students walking past to say good morning. Those conversations shaped the lives of hundreds of students. She was also instrumental in keeping missionaries focused on their work, and was a great example of how to work with patience and creativity.


A Saint and a Wonderful Friend (by Miriam Prabhakar)

Miriam and June are among the longest-tenured United Brethren missionaries.

June was a saint and also a wonderful friend. She always welcomed anyone with open arms, a hug, and a great big smile. I admired her simplicity so very very much. She had stories which could keep you engaged well into the morning.

She was a very courageous women, taking a stand for the Lord in difficult situations and being there for people to lean on. There were not many things she was afraid of, which really helped her as she served on the mission field.

My regret is that I did not have an opportunity to work alongside her. What a blessing and privilege for me to know her and learn what trusting and having faith in the Lord is, in any situation. She touched, served, and loved so many in the country which God called her to. Au revoir June, till we meet again in His presence.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will reward to me on that day” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Admirers and former students gather at June Brown’s house in 2017.

Dr. Billy Simbo
Dr. Billy Simbo (right) is a native of Sierra Leone, an ordained United Brethren minister, and was the first Sierra Leonean to carry the title of “bishop.” This is written in memory of June Brown, a UB missionary who died on June 4, 2020.

I cannot remember the first time I met Miss June Brown in Sierra Leone. But we have had a relationship in ministry and friendship for over half a century. You will notice that my tribute is to Mama Brown. For those of us born and raised in Sierra Leone, that is a title of great respect. It is a tribute to June Brown that her students in Sierra Leone referred to her officially as “Miss Brown,” then she affectionately became “Mama Brown.”

Mama Brown was unique as a missionary. She went to great lengths to learn the Mende culture and went out of her way to help the people in the communities in which she served. I appreciated the times we would sit and talk, or she would consult me about cultural things so she would increase her understanding and effectiveness. She was well known for her hunting skills, and students and town people could count on her bringing home meat from her trips. Kids got to know goodies were coming when her faithful VW Bug came roaring down the road after each hunting trip.

Mama Brown was kind and respectful. When she first came to Sierra Leone, I was in my first year of Secondary School. As she watched me grow and become a minister of the Gospel, she encouraged me and made me feel like my opinions mattered. I remembered a conversation I had with her when I was asked to go back to Sierra Leone to become head of the Sierra Leone Conference of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. She knew of the turmoil the denomination was going through, but she said to me, “Oh, Billy, they need someone like you right now!”

In my 50-plus years of ministry, I have met many missionaries, but few have left their mark on our nation like June Brown did. Even after she came home and retired from missionary work in Sierra Leone, her heart was still in Sierra Leone, and the people of Sierra Leone were never far from her heart and feelings.

My last memory of our getting together was when a whole group of us surprised her at her home just outside Chambersburg, Pa. We drove in a convoy of cars from Lancaster, where we had been attending conference. She greeted us all in Mende. There were pots of cooked Sierra Leonean dishes, joyous laughter and fellowship, and she kept saying, “Oh, my!” It was a pleasant surprise, and we all had a great time. It was as if we had all gone to see a friend, mentor, and relative we had not seen for some time.

Sierra Leone will miss Mama June Brown, but what she did for us will never be forgotten. We say thank you to her home church, King Street UB Church, and her family for sharing her with us. She leaves behind many spiritual children and grandchildren who would not be where they are today without Mama June Brown’s influence and investment. Now there is one more person to look forward to meeting on the other side!

Mama June Brown, Ma lɔ hue! (Mama Brown, Goodbye!)

June L. Brown, age 89, of Chambersburg, Pa., passed away on Thursday, June 4, 2020. She served 35 years as a United Brethren missionary in Sierra Leone. Private graveside services will be held at Norland Cemetery in Chambersburg. No other arrangements have been announced at this time.

You can read June Brown’s obituary on the Geisel Funeral home website. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made in her name to UB Global, 302 Lake St., Huntington, IN 46750. Designed “Sierra Leone Hospital” on the memo lane. Or, contributions can be made to King Street Church Joy Class, 56 North Second St., Chambersburg, PA 17201.

Below is June’s story as told in All for Christ, Volume 2, by Steve Dennie.

—————–

“It Took Love”

Beginning around 1973, Edward Morlai, the Sierra Leone Conference director of Church Services, worked with June Brown in the Bumpe office. He was a big fan, but by no means the only fan. “She is not a stranger; she is one of us, and we like her. She is readily accepted, not only in our church, but in our culture. We bring many problems to her, and she helps us a lot. She knows what to do at what particular time. Anywhere you go, people know Miss Brown.”

When Mr. Morlai visited the United States in 1985, he told June Brown, “Now I know what you’re giving up to come to Sierra Leone.”

June didn’t view it that way. “When I come home on furlough, I almost feel guilty being here. Everything I touch and feel and eat, everything reminds me of what I don’t have over there, and what they don’t have — and probably won’t get for years to come, no matter how hard they strive for it….I’m not giving up anything. It’s a call, a desire to do the Lord’s work.”

Mr. Morlai smiled. “I don’t think she has convinced me. It took love to leave a church like King Street and go to Sierra Leone, and stay all those years. It is a big sacrifice for her. It takes a lot of love.”

June Brown grew up in Pennsylvania. She accepted Christ at age eight, and at age 15 sensed God calling her to the mission field. She enrolled at Huntington College in 1948, but left to spend four years in the Women’s Air Force. While stationed in San Antonio, Texas, she taught math and science classes, and played on the base softball and basketball teams, both of which won the Women’s Air Force World Championship. She returned to Huntington College in 1954, graduated in 1956, and became a public schoolteacher in Rockford, Ill. But the call to missions remained. In 1957, she began 35 years as a United Brethren missionary in Sierra Leone.

June’s missionary service included six years as a teacher at Centennial Secondary School, followed by 29 years at Bumpe High School, where she taught math and Bible. She also served stints as boarding home manager, bookstore clerk and acting principal, and could ably step in when the school needed an electrician, plumber, or diesel mechanic.

During her furlough in 1966, June returned to Huntington College to teach physical education and coach basketball, volleyball, and tennis. In 1985, June took on the role of Director of Missionary Affairs. She remained in Sierra Leone until 1992, when all missionaries were evacuated from the country because of a military coup. She took the opportunity to retire from missionary service. June returned to her hometown of Chambersburg, Pa., and to her home church, King Street.

During Commencement services on May 18, 1993, Huntington College recognized her with the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. The citation began:

“June L. Brown has built a life of excellence everywhere she has invested her talent and energy. In education, in service to country, and in missions, she has always held to the highest standards in her personal life and professional endeavors.”

June Brown in 2015 with Jeff Bleijerveld, then the director of UB Global, and associate director Frank Y, who is now the acting director of UB Global.

June Brown, a United Brethren missionary for 35 years in Sierra Leone, passed away this morning, June 4, 2020.

June grew up in the King Street UB church in Chambersburg, Pa. At age 15 she sensed God calling her to the mission field. She enrolled at Huntington College in 1948, but left early to spend four years in the Women’s Air Force. She returned HC in 1954, graduated two years later, and in 1957 headed off to Sierra Leone as a teacher. She taught the first six years at Centennial Secondary School in Mattru, and the next 29 years at Bumpe High School.

June concluded her missionary career abruptly in 1992, when all missionaries were evacuated from the country after a military coup. She took the opportunity to retire from missionary service, and returned to her hometown of Chambersburg.

Funeral arrangements will be posted when available.

In the photo: June in 2015 with Jeff Bleijerveld, then the director of UB Global, and associate director Frank Y, who is now the acting director of UB Global.

United Brethren pastors were invited to share their church’s plans regarding reopening their church building. They were asked about changes they’ve made in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and what restrictions they are putting in place upon reopening the building. There were no questions on specific topics—masks, social distancing, nursery, offering, etc.

About 90 pastors responded. The responses were compiled and categorized by Communications director Steve Dennie. This should give you snapshots of what other UB churches are doing, and perhaps give you some ideas as your church shapes its own course.

Bishop Todd Fetters has instructed churches, “Given the fluidity of the information and conditions regarding Covid-19, our local church leadership teams are encouraged to develop flexible plans that also give people the freedom to choose attending or not attending without stigma or shame.”


Seating

Seating, obviously, requires adjustments in the interests of social distancing. How to do that depends on whether you have pews, or moveable chairs.

Ten churches said they will space chairs apart, possibly with various sizes of groupings to accommodate family units (4 chairs, 2 chairs, etc.). One church is moving its service to the gymnasium, where they have room to space chairs six feet apart.

Twelve pastors said they will block off every other pew. One church is designating every other row for the 9:00 service, and the other rows for the 10:30 service.

Five churches are asking families to sit together.

Three churches are dismissing people by row, so that folks don’t bunch up as they leave the sanctuary.

One church took out its pews—which they’d been wanting to do anyway—and replaced them with round tables spaced six feet apart.

Two say they will use ushers to help seat people.


Capacity

Many churches are limiting attendance in some way, either on their own or to meet a state mandate on capacity (50%, 25%, etc.).

Because of the reduced capacity in a service to meet social distancing guidelines, a couple churches are adding more services and/or venues. One church, with only 10 people allowed in the building per service, is doing four consecutive services.

One church is limiting attendance to 40 people, plus 10 volunteers.

One church is asking people to come only once during June.

A couple churches are asking people to register to attend.

One church is offering two services, but the first one will be restricted to vulnerable people, with no kids allowed.

A half-dozen or more churches are doing drive-in services.

Four churches are making services shorter, to allow more time between services or between Sunday school and the service.

An idea from one church: “Started a new service that is the safest we can make it (limited attendance through sign-ups, first service of the weekend, required masks, social distancing, asking people not to sing along with worship). An on-ramp for people to start attending gatherings.”

One church is doing what they call a phased restarting: begin with a shortened service, and add elements as they go.


Sunday School

At least 15 churches said they will eliminate Sunday school for now. One church is moving Sunday school to the sanctuary so they have room for social distancing, as opposed to meeting in smaller classrooms.


Children’s Programming

At least 25 churches have suspended all children’s programming for now. That would include nursery, children’s church, and Sunday school.

One church said they will make the nursery available, but without staff.

One is continuing children’s ministry, but without self-checkin.

Two churches have closed access to the playground.


Distancing/Contact

Over 20 churches said they will encourage social distancing.

Fifteen will forbid shaking hands or hugging.

Only one church said they will check people’s temperature.


Socializing

No surprise: many churches are suspending the greeting or fellowship time as part of the service. One said they are replacing “meet and greet” with “stand and wave.”

One said they will have a “Walmart style” greeter.

One church said the pastor will not greet people after the service.

One will close the lobby and other gathering places, another will forbid gathering after the service, and a third church will forbid socializing in the sanctuary, foyer, and outside steps.


Refreshments

At least a dozen churches are eliminating any food and drinks (coffee, cookies, etc.).

Two churches are making the water fountains off-limits, but one of them will provide bottled water as an alternative.


Printed Materials

A larger number will not distribute the bulletin, but will make it available on a “self-serve” table for those who want a bulletin. Likewise for sermon inserts. Some churches are eliminating the bulletin altogether.

Several mentioned the goal of a “touchless experience” on Sunday morning: nothing to distribute, no Bibles or hymnals to hold, nothing to pass down the rows, no doors to open.

Two churches will forgo passing attendance pads.

Three are removing Bibles and hymnals from the pew racks.


Entrances/Exits

Entrances and exits are chokepoints where social distancing and touch can be easily compromised. Churches are implementing various measures.

Seven churches mentioned propping doors open, so nobody touches door handles or surfaces. Two churches will have a person posted at entry doors to open and close them for people.

Several are designating one entrance and one exit, so traffic flow goes in the same direction. Others are restricting the number of entrance and exit points in some way.

One church is assigning elders to observe people entering for signs of contagion.


Music

Not much was mentioned about music. Two churches said they will limit singing, one will have no singing, and another will use humming instead of singing.

One church is keeping the worship team small and 16 feet from the first row. Another church is using videos instead of a worship team.


Offering

A total of 41 churches said they won’t be passing offering places. Most will use a dropbox or basket somewhere, usually in the back of the church, where people can place their offering.

One church is using offering places, but not passing them. Only ushers will touch the plates.


Communion

As with the offering, many churches will not be passing communion trays—or, in one case, not doing communion at all.

Six churches plan to use prepackaged communion elements.

One church will keep people six feet apart as they come forward to get the elements.


Masks

Six churches are requiring masks. One church will require masks only for age 2 and above.

Thirteen said they will encourage masks, and 11 said they will make masks option.

Nine will provide masks. One will provide several masks in baggies for people who forget to bring one or don’t have one.

One church is encouraging masks “especially for singing.”

Some rules about masks apply to moving around. One church expects people to wear masks to and from their seats. Another encourages masks in hallways and entryways. Two encourage or require masks when moving around the facility.

One church suggests that people remove masks at intervals if they have difficulty breathing.

One church may designate the balcony and narthex as “mask only” locations.

Another church says the pastor and worship leader won’t be required to wear masks while serving in the service.


Building

Some churches are closing off access to parts of the building, to prevent possible contamination and eliminate the need for sanitizing those areas.

Two churches will use only the sanctuary, lobby, and restrooms. Another will close off its upper and lower floors.

One church is closing off the stairways.

One church will turn off the fan and air circulation, while another will open the windows at the door for cross-ventilation.


Bathrooms

Bathrooms can get crowded. One church will limit one person at a time in restrooms (unless it’s a parent and child). Persons using the restroom will need to use disinfectant on whatever they touched while in the restroom.

One church will assign persons to sanitize bathrooms and water fountains after being used. Another has bathroom attendants to guard against crowding and to ensure sanitizing.


Sanitizing

At least a dozen churches mentioned that they will provide sanitizer stations. In reality, most churches will no doubt do this.

One church will require attendees to use hand sanitizer before entering the building.

Two churches will require everyone to use hand sanitizer—in one case, before people even enter the building.

Four churches indicated that they will wipe down surfaces, pews, seats, etc., between services.

Churches are also organizing to do deep cleaning during the week.


Vulnerable People

In many different ways, churches have encouraged various people to stay home for now—if you’re over 65, if you have physical vulnerabilities, if you’re not feeling well, or if you just don’t feel comfortable returning yet.

Said one church: “Anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable returning to corporate worship has the blessing of the board to stay home without any fear of being judged or looked down upon.”


Reopening Date

Churches also indicated when they reopened or plan to reopen. Here are the number of churches which have opened or plan to open on various dates.

1 — March 22
1 — April 5
2 — May 3
8 — May 10
13 — May 17
7 — May 24
12 — May 31
1 — June 1
1 — June 3
13 — June 7
1 — June 13
8 — June 14
1 — June 20
4 — June 21
1 — July 5
1 — July 11
2 — July 12
1 — August 2

Todd Fetters (right), Bishop
Church of the United Brethren in Christ, USA

The fires of racial tension in our country have been stoked once again. After an initial sigh, which could be translated, “Oh no. Lord help us,” the scriptural words that rose within my soul were, “Mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).

My heart truly breaks for our African American brothers and sisters in the United Brethren in Christ. I mourn with you that race relations in the United States is not where any of us had hoped and would have thought it would be 50 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his powerful “I Have A Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial.

Earlier this week, I spoke with a personal friend and several United Brethren ministers who are African American. They graciously afforded me the privilege of listening to their thoughts and feelings. Despite a spike in frustration and a resurgence of fear and anxiety due to historic and systemic racism, each of them expressed an enduring and persevering love for the Lord and their fellow man. These men and women know that the real power to heal our pronounced relational divides lies in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Yes, we grieved together, but not as men and women without hope. Our hope is placed in God who created us without favoritism or preference, and who loves us unconditionally. Our shared hope for America and the nations firmly resides in the Holy Spirit who can free our minds from the chains of ignorance, bigotry, and hatred, compelling us to act with understanding, grace, and brotherly love. Certainly, I must say that it seems to me that God has our attention. I know He has mine.

With 250 years of history under our belt, I’m grateful that the United Brethren church has typically landed on the correct side of issues of race and the vulnerable. When most American denominations were compromising to allow room for slavery, we remained abolitionist. As the Civil War ended and other denominations were trying to figure out how to make room for former slaves, we pushed ahead to advocate for full citizenship. As we saw Native Americans and Chinese immigrants suffering abuse, we spoke out against it.

We emphasized this in 2001 when the United Brethren in Christ adopted eight Core Values. One of them, “We Demonstrate Social Concern,” says:

”We must not only seek the salvation of our fellow human beings, but show genuine concern for their total well-being. We recognize our responsibility to victims of poverty, prejudice, injustice, and other forms of human suffering.

“The poor will always be among us, and we cannot ignore their plight; the Bible clearly states our obligation to those living in poverty. But there are many others, whether they are poor or not, whose situation requires our aid. They include persons in prison, immigrants, widows, orphans, the unborn, the handicapped, the homeless, the elderly, and victims of abuse. We also respond corporately to large-scale tragedies, giving sacrificially to help victims of natural disasters or social strife.

“Demonstrating social concern also involves raising our voice against injustice and prejudice. We stand against discrimination, slavery, and injustice, insisting that equal rights be granted to everyone. We advocate fairness in the workplace, in the courts, and in all other settings, and seek the end of any discrimination based upon racial, national, economic, or social differences.”

This Core Value states some actions to take: raise our voice, stand against, advocate, recognize our responsibility, seek the end, insist, don’t ignore, help, respond corporately. As United Brethren, inviting anyone to “come with us…we will treat you well” (Numbers 10:29), we can apply these in various ways to society’s ongoing struggle with racial injustice.

Some of us thought 20/20 would be a nice metaphor for vision in 2020. Perhaps there is more for us to see. Perhaps 20/20 is a Divine prescription to see racism more clearly and do something to eradicate it.

While United Brethren can be thankful for our history, we do not take this moment to pat each other or ourselves on the back. Instead, we mark this moment by taking up the same mantle of our spiritual fore-brothers and fore-sisters, which is to follow the example of Christ and love our neighbor, regardless of color, as ourselves.

Amidst this tragic chaos, I have wondered and I’ve prayed, “What does the Lord ask of me? What does the Lord ask of the United Brethren church?” Micah 6:8 provides an answer from God himself:

“He [the Lord] has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Let’s act justly. As individuals and as churches, we need to find our voice to stand and speak against discrimination and injustice. Our history shows that UBs know how to do this.

Let’s love mercy. Our Lord is patient with all of us, not always giving us what we rightly deserve. Just as we love receiving mercy, we need to love showing mercy.

Let’s walk humbly with our God. He created every man and woman of every nation, tribe, and tongue. None better than the other. All very precious to Him who sent His Son to die so that anyone might have eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

I realize that when it comes to issues of race, UB people are at different points. Some have spent decades working on racial awareness and understanding. Others have just recently been jolted awake to the problems. Wherever you are on that road, continue down it. And as you journey, remember to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

My prayer is, “Lord, you have our attention. Show us where to go from here.”