Christian Citizenship Seminar

By Jenna Walmer

On April 18th, Brethren Youth from around the United States gathered in New York City. That Saturday was the start to Christian Citizenship Seminar (CCS), a conference that allows Brethren youth to explore the connections between a specific topic (this year was immigration) and our faith and culminates with congressional visits in Washington D.C.  Throughout the seminar, we discussed the importance of our faith’s connection with citizenship and how immigration impacts our lives. It is a busy week filled with learning, fun, and spiritual growth. Following is an abridged version of what goes down at CCS.

Walking through Time Square with luggage in tow is definitely an adventure in itself.  We admire the sites of the city, but we walked many blocks to find our hotel and collapse in the lobby. After we have recuperated from the long walk and everyone has arrived, we go to dinner the same place as last time, eat some delicious food, and reconnect with old friends.  Later that night, we had our first session led by Nate Hosler and Bryan Hanger. Nate discussed the connections of immigration to the Bible. Then, Bryan introduced our talking points for our congressional visits.

The next day, we split up and went to new churches around the city.  I went to Judson Memorial, a church that is affiliated with the Baptist and United Church of Christ denominations. This church was very different and not what I expected, but I could definitely see myself attending that church if I ever end up in New York. The preacher was pretty socialist, and the whole congregation was accepting of everyone: people with AIDS, homosexuals, immigrants. They also promoted being politically and socially active.  What interested me was that the preacher was arrested with Dorothy Day and Cesar Chavez.  Later in the evening, we had our next session. The speaker was actually the preacher we listened to that morning at Judson! She told story after story about immigrants that she has helped. This developed an emotional connection to the facts we already started to learn. Putting a story to the facts is important to connect with congressional visits.

On Monday, it rained and rained, and we walked through that rain! We started off the day with the pastor from Riverside Church who discussed the systematic problems of Immigration and the general process.  After this session, many headed to the United Nations for a tour and another educational experience.  At the UN, the groups learned about human rights. I would recommend that everyone visits the United Nations at least once because it opens your eyes to what the world as a whole is working towards.  Instead of going to the United Nations (since I was through that tour multiple times), we were free to explore the city!  We decided to check out Hot Breads, a bakery that was recommended from the coordinators of the trip. The Hot Bread bakery makes homemade bread according to traditional recipes from immigrants. The bread was really good! Later that evening,  my group  decided to venture out and just walk until we found something to eat. We walked 15 blocks until we decided to go to our fourth diner for the trip, and it was only day three!

Finally, the day of travel! This day was probably most exciting of all… after the buses arrived. We waited… and waited… and waited. The buses got stuck in New York City traffic, and we stood outside, all 80 plus of us, waiting for the bus. The bus is always the best because it is one of the first times you get to interact with a larger group of people. Then, we arrived in Washington D.C.! We had a meeting with Julie Chavez Rodriguez, the Deputy Director of the White House’s Office of Public Engagement.  Therefore, we had the opportunity to be ON THE WHITE HOUSE CAMPUS! So, you know those black fences that are around the White House? We were INSIDE of those! We were sniffed by a drug dog! I even saw the fountain that you always see on T.V., and I have pictures of the outside of the West Wing and all the Secret Service Cars! Julie Chavez Rodriguez gave us insight on President Obama’s agenda on immigration. She also told us about the internship program at the White House! After that, we split up for dinner throughout the city.  I went to Chicks’, which was really delicious and super environmentally friendly! After dinner, we had our second session for the day. Jerry O’Donnell gave us our first full lesson on how to talk to our representatives.  He told us to use personal experiences, and acknowledge the conditions of the government currently.  Also, he reminded us that we are speaking for those who do not have a voice, the immigrants.  He also told us DO NOT read of your advocacy ask sheet verbatim.  It was a helpful reminder for Do’s and Don’ts from last year’s training.   After this, we headed out to find an ice cream shop!  Today, the group learned that D.C. IS a city that sleeps and stores actually close before ten! Who would have known?  Coming from New York and stores being open all the time, it was a change to adjust too!

Wednesday was the day.  We had another legislative training session in the morning.  This session gave us examples in form of a pretend meeting of what to do and what not to do while in the office.  We also discussed our main points once again, so they were fresh in our memory. The speaker told us to lead with a story of how immigration has impacted our life. She also told us that congressmen act out of fear. They don’t demilitarize the border because they are afraid. They don’t act on Immigration Reform and give them rights because they are afraid. These points stuck with me as we moved toward our own groups and preparation for our Hill visits.

After this, we broke up into our groups and discussed who was going to talk about what in the meeting. Now, we were off to the Hill.  We went to Senator Bob Casey’s office.  He is our easy visit because they always agree with what we are saying.  Our aide agreed with a lot that we said, but he was very eager to get out of the meeting. However, we kept plugging away at our information and asked him about a point that Casey and the Church of the Brethren do not agree, which is the demilitarization of the border. Even though Casey is a Democrat, he votes to keep military at the border because it is one thing that the Republicans want to keep in the Immigration Reform. The aide explained that with this it is “give and take” and that is what Casey “gives” to the Republicans, so he can receive something else in return.   In the evening, we reflected with the larger group on our visits.  After that, we had another ice cream trip!  The next day would be our last and we would have to say our goodbyes.

Our final session is always the best because we discuss the whole trip.  We reflected on the week, and how we’ve grown mentally and spiritually.  We were ready to take back the information of immigration to our home towns and now we were going to spread the word about immigration.  After the session, we took many pictures, exchanged hugs, and said our goodbyes. Our pastor arrived with our van and we were off, ready to be disciples of Christ, now able to spread the word of immigration to our communities to make a difference in the world.

As we become active in politics and discern what issues are near and dear to our hears, remember to keep our connection to faith in mind. Remember to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. Finally, remember to act without fear.

Jenna Walmer - Palmyra COB, Altantic Northeast DistrictJenna Walmer is from Lancaster County and is currently in 12th grade. In school, she loves to research historical events. If she were to live in a specific time period, she would want to be a hippie and live in the 60s or 70s. Her favorite past times are swimming and playing her trombone. If you want to know more about her random life, follow her on twitter:@jaymarie2100

Ebola Fighters Provide an Important Alternate Definition of Heroism

Like many in the Church of the Brethren, I was pulling for the kidnapped Nigerian girls to be named Time’s Person of the Year. If you don’t know, many of those girls are members of the EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria. The EYN has been particularly devastated by the terrorist organization Boko Haram, which operates in Northern Nigeria. To learn more about what Dunker Punks are doing for those girls and the EYN, and how you can get involved, you can click here. Even though they didn’t win, just the fact that they were in the running means people are still hearing about them and learning about what’s going on in Nigeria, so I’m thankful that they were at least considered.

However, one of my next top choices was the Ebola Fighters, and I am beyond thrilled that they were named Time’s 2014 Person of the Year. My reason is simple: I think there are few people who are more heroic than the Ebola Fighters. My other top choice, by the way, was Malala Yousafzai, another example of true heroism.

Christians in the United States live in fear. We’re afraid of a lot things. We’re afraid of terrorism. We’re afraid of people who don’t look like us, speak like us, or practice the same religion as us. We’re afraid of the boogey man. We’re afraid of our shadow. We’re afraid of being struck by lightening, while being attacked by a clown, who is riding a great white shark, who is wishing us “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” We’re a timid bunch.

But more than anything, in 2014 we were afraid of Ebola. Ebola was everywhere. In our streets, in our schools, in our water, in our churches, in our homes. Hide your kids, hide your wives, hide your husbands, because everybody was getting Ebola in 2014.

If you can’t tell, I’m being sarcastic. To be clear, I am glad that we took the threat of Ebola seriously in the United States. The worst thing that we could have done would have been to not take proper precautions against the spread of Ebola. And even though we only had four cases of Ebola in the United States and one death, even one death is a tragedy and should be viewed as such. However, there is a huge difference between taking something seriously and being absolutely terrified of something. To the point that living in fear takes Ebola less seriously than dealing with it calmly and courageously.

The problem with living in fear of Ebola in the United States is that Ebola is a gravely serious and deeply tragic issue in other parts of the world. It is a genuine threat, not a manicured threat like it was here. There are countries in Africa that have been crippled by Ebola, and continue to face grave projections for the coming months. These countries do not have the resources, technology, personnel, or medical infrastructure needed to effectively deal with Ebola like the United States did. In the three most affected countries, there have been nearly 12,000 deaths and over 18,000 cases of Ebola, and some projections have indicated that hundreds of thousands or even millions may eventually be affected.

Living in fear of Ebola in the United States draws crucial attention away from countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea that badly need the help of the international community, especially the United States. If we choose to worry irrationally, unnecessarily, and excessively about our own safety, we will be less willing to do what it takes to provide for their safety.

How do I know? Because a legitimately considered response to Ebola, supported by many influential people in the United States, was to restrict all travel between the affected countries and the United States. Many people who feared Ebola thought the proper response was to shut out those who so badly needed our help. Additionally, now that Ebola is no longer a threat to the United States, we hear less and less about it each day, though it continues to ravage parts of Africa.

When we make things about ourselves, people suffer. When we live in fear, we turn a blind eye to those who are in great need. And Christians in the United States are at least as guilty of this as the rest of the country, thought I suspect we are far more guilty.

That’s why the Ebola Fighters are heroes. They saw a terrible disease, and instead of fearing it, they chose to do something about it. Instead of making it about themselves, they made it about the people who actually needed help. They left their homes, families, and livelihoods to do what was right. They risked their lives to heal people. And I shouldn’t put this in the past tense. They continue to do these things.

Not all of the Ebola Fighters are Christians, I’m sure. But they all model Christ better than we Christians in the United States do. Jesus showed us how we are to lead. He was unafraid yet gentle. He didn’t compromise his values, yet he treated others with love, dignity, and respect. He didn’t consider his safety or social conventions when he brought others healing. He didn’t give people what they deserved, but what they needed. He had the courage to speak out against power and speak up for the powerless. He brought a message of hope, not fear. He was willing to die to bring life to everyone, but he was not willing to kill anyone.

Christians need to observe a new definition of heroism modeled after Christ, not empire. If it is “heroic” to pick up a gun and risk your life to fight for your country, how much more heroic is it to put down that gun and risk your life to heal others? If it is “courageous” to stand your ground as a police officer against an unarmed black teenager, how much more courageous is it to stand your ground as a young Pakistani girl against the Taliban for your right to an education? If it takes “leadership” to make the tough decision to use torture, how much more leadership does it take to make the right decision not to use torture?

Paul wrote to Timothy, “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” In Christ, we have tremendous power. It is the power to heal, not to kill. It is the power to create, not to destroy. It is the power to love, not to hate. It is the power to build God’s kingdom, not Earth’s empires.

The Ebola Fighters fill me with tremendous hope for the world. It is the same hope found in Christ. When I see headlines that read “Ebola in America” I see a society that has lost the imagination it takes to live outside of fear. But when I see a group of doctors willing to risk everything to save the lives of people they’ve never met in a country they never thought they’d visit, I catch a glimpse of the Kingdom.

Everyday, as I learn more about the EYN and their tremendous courage and leadership in Nigeria, I have an example of who I must strive to be as a Christian. Sadly, Christians in the United States have lost sight of what the word Christian means. We worship a version of Jesus who would be unrecognizable to the twelve disciples.

I hope we take a lesson from the Ebola Fighters. I hope we stop living in fear. I hope we stop succumbing to fear by choosing hatred and violence, but choose instead to overcome fear with hope and compassion.

Dunker Punks, let’s be leaders. Let’s be courageous. Let’s fight diseases, and poverty, and hunger, and racism, not wars. Let’s learn from the Ebola Fighters. Let’s show the world what Jesus really looks like.

Emmett Eldred - Hollidaysburg COB, Middle PA DistrictEmmett Eldred is a sophomore Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and on Facebook. Want to contribute? Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and/or email