Denise Conway says “street friends”

Denise Conway lives in Farmington, New Mexico. It’s in the Four Corners area. Some call it a “border town” because it borders the Navajo Nation’s reservation. Thirty percent of the American Indians who live there live below the federal poverty line. Denise knows a lot of them, especially those who she calls her “street friends,” or simply “the community.” Denise works with others in Farmington to share Christ’s love and compassion with many of those experiencing homelessness. ““They’re people too,” she said at the Shine Bright Peace and Justice Storytelling event on May 13th.

She was shining bright, encouraging us with some long term stories of transformation. She said that sometimes it seems like “no one ever gets off the street…but sometimes people do.” She told the story of Clyde whom she had known for years. His ups and downs had been heartbreaking. His “ornery” personality made her want to give up on him sometimes. His addiction got him into a lot of trouble. Most recently it landed him in jail where it seems the system actually worked for someone. He was released on probation and has maintained his sobriety for 14 months. Denise said, “Everyone had given up on him … but it’s still difficult. The cops are on me all the time. They want me to mess up.”

Denise also said, “jail solves nothing.” Many of her “street friends” have been in and out of jail many times with nothing but trauma. The experience does not transform their lives. But she offers an alternative hope. She shared several beautiful stories of patiently loving, building trust, and including these people in her church even if they never decide to change their lives. She told their story of two brothers who ave their lives to Christ but decided to keep living on the streets.

“The first five years I didn’t see too many victories,” Denise shared. Five years?! That’s a lot of love and patience! God bless her in this and the other work she is passionate about.

God bless Julie Weatherford’s work with 350.org in Riverside, CA and Ben White’s work with the South Jersey Mutual Aid Compassion Team in Pennsauken and Camden, NJ. There stories are on the youtube video linked below along with Denise’s. the next Shine Bright Storytelling Event in September 9th (we’re taking off for July), but you can always shine bright by posting on our public Facebook group.

Shine Bright Storytelling May 13th 5:30 pm Pacific, 6:30 pm Central, 8:30 pm Eastern on Zoom

Share this link with your friends! We want to spread the encouragement all across the country and back. Look back here for updates on which of our network’s amazing people will be starting off our time together with their stories.

Zoom link https://us02web.zoom.us/j/8919923065

8:30 pm EST, 7:30 CST, 5:30 PST on Thursday, May 13, 2021.

We’re getting our grassroots together to share our stories and encourage each other. Stories from across the country about Peace and Justice projects in our local communities and congregations, then a time in breakout rooms to share ideas, tell our own stories and conspire for more goodness.The BIC Peace and Justice Project leadership team invites you to our every-other-month gathering of people of peace and justice from all over the country (maybe the world!) We want to uplift the stories of generosity, compassion, peacemaking and racial reconciliation that we know is at the heart of the Brethren in Christ.

Storytellers

Denise Conway is one of our storytellers.

In the role of BIC World Missions global worker, Denise works in the Navajo Nation/New Mexico, helping adults attain their GED diplomas and leading and facilitating church planting and outreach ministries.

More storytellers are TBD, check back for updates. Would you like to tell a five minute story about the work you and your community have done? We encourage one another by shining bright!

What Happened at Shine Bright on March 11th?

Let Your Little Light Shine

Some worship leaders from Circle of Hope in and around Philadelphia recently put together a beautiful rendition of the spiritual, “Let Your Little Light Shine.” Take a listen [https://youtu.be/_aINVxuWrvo] — this is what we are doing at the Shine Bright Peace and Justice Storytelling Zoom calls that we host every couple months.

Krista Dutt of the Peace and Justice Project Leadership Team said after the event “I really appreciate the different levels and completely different stories that were showcased. Mim’s was over a life time, Beth had an idea dropped on her from God, Meadow was still in the middle of hers in some ways, and John’s was a passion that he shared with the church. I really liked the idea that creative ways to follow Jesus are all over the place. I think we should continue to do that.”

I agree, the simple act of sharing unlocks a spirit of creativity and possibility in us that can easily spread. We are helping each other see how shiny we are. The lights we have lit are not consumed by darkness — BY NO MEANS! So go on with your shining, in Jesus name.

Here’s an inadequate recap to inspire you if you couldn’t be there. We forgot to recordit this time, so don’t miss the next one on May 13th (because we might forget again 😉)

Bethany Stewart from Circle of Hope in Philadelphia, PA

Bethany describes herself as “a Black Liberation Creative.” She’s a writer, a podcaster, a core organizer for Community Bail Fund, she works as an education and employment specialists with youth, and she helps lead a Compassion Team in Circle of Hope called Circle Mobilizing Because Black Lives Matter (CMBBLM).

CMBBLM connects the churches theology with “the radical and more importantly righteous Black Lives Matter movement.” She says she is “not super charismatic like this” but this idea for a black arts festival to raise money to bail people out of prison was “a vision given to her by God.” It was called Turn Up 2 Bail Out. It featured black musicians, artists, crafters and business people showcasing their talents and wares all for a good cause. Long story short, it was a huge success and they have raised tens of thousands of dollars over the last four years, including over $10,000 through TU2BO pandemic livestream edition.

Bethany gives the glory to God. She closed with one more evocative self description: “Righteously audacious black girl ready to be moved by the Holy Spirit.”

Meadow Piepho from Revolution Church in Salina, KS

Meadow shared her journey of care and reconciliation through years of heartache, loving a family through caring for children in the foster care system. They cared for two siblings for over a year but the children were removed from their house when her husband Jeff was falsely accused of harming them. In the mandatory investigation, Meadow and Jeff lost custody of the children to whom they had given their hearts for over two years.

Fortunately they were able to maintain a relationship with the children and the mother who chronically suffered from drug addiction. They held out hope that one day the mother would recognize her need for the Piepho’s in her children’s lives and they would be reunited.

In the thick of it Meadow realized she was at a fork in the road: “Give in to the bitterness and quit or keep pressing on and love and forgive?” She chose to love and forgive and God granted her desire to mother these children again.

Mim Stern from BICWM and Souderton BIC in Souderton, PA

Mim Stern lived 34 years in Africa and has now lived 34 years in Philadelphia with a mission to the international students at “International House” in the Overbrook section of Philadelphia. They host students in the house and look for organic opportunities to share the gospel with them.

Mim was a nurse in Africa, so recently she suggested teaching anatomy to her most recent group of students as a way to help them with their English and the nursing degrees they came to the United States from Saudi Arabia to work on.

The love that grew in those sessions was evidenced when they came back for a visit after returning to Saudi Arabia for several month. Pandemic not withstanding, when they showed up they gave her a big hug (which is not common for Muslim men). Mim said she was sure that the seed of the gospel was planted in them and she is just waiting to see how it will grow in their lives.

John Alfred from Madison Street Church in Riverside CA

John Alfred started a community focused team called Mad Street Bikes. It’s been going for 4-6 years. It’s bike clinics, arts collaboratives, advocacy, and lots, and lots of time to be together.

John said, “Riding bicycles with people and within our earthly home is one way of participating in the communion of the saints, present and past.  My wife and I always remember our dear friend Kathy Pickering when we ride. The conversations and openness that arise while rolling along with so many friends over the years are uncountable, and the anticipation of when we will next enjoy each other’s company is sustaining.  This way of being together is also a doorway into what Richard Rohr is saying in this quote:

“To be a person of faith means to see things – people, animals, plants, the earth – as inherently connected to God, connected to ourselves, and therefore absolutely worthy of love and dignity.  That is what Jesus is praying for: that we could see things in their unity, in their connectedness.”  

“There’s no roof or walls on a bicycle… I think of several winter rides we took before COVID hit with our friend Amanda at Lake Perris… we were “in it” with eagles, hawks, high mountains in the distance and the subtle beauties of our arid territory at our feet, or wheels to be more precise.

“Riding bikes together, helping people fix their bikes, and advocating for better ways to use bikes in our society is certainly not the only way to lean into the communion of the saints or care for God’s creation (or let it care for you), but it is one doorway, one liminal space where our inhibitions and pretenses drop a little, one gate into the sheepfold.” 

But that was just the beginning…

Then we broke out into breakout rooms and shared even more. It was great. Put the next one on your calendar. May 13th, 2021 8:30 Eastern, 7:30 Central, 6:30 Mountain, 5:30 Pacific

March 11th, Peace and Justice Project’s Shine bright Storytelling Zoom Call

Share this link with your friends! We want to spread the encouragement all across the country and back. Look back here for updates on which of our network’s amazing people will be starting off our time together with their stories.

Zoom link https://us02web.zoom.us/j/8919923065

8:30 pm EST, 7:30 CST, 5:30 PST on Thursday, March 11th.

We’re getting our grassroots together to share our stories and encourage each other. Stories from across the country about Peace and Justice projects in our local communities and congregations, then a time in breakout rooms to share ideas, tell our own stories and conspire for more goodness.The BIC Peace and Justice Project leadership team invites you to our every-other-month gathering of people of peace and justice from all over the country (maybe the world!) We want to uplift the stories of generosity, compassion, peacemaking and racial reconciliation that we know is at the heart of the Brethren in Christ.

Storytellers

Bethany Stewart of Circle of Hope Church in Philadelphia will be sharing about her team’s creation of a festival to raise money to bail people out of jail — Turn Up 2 Bail Out.

Mim Stern is a long time missionary with Brethren in Christ World Missions, and her main work for decades has been in Philadelphia with international students. Here barrier crossing has yielded plenty of stories.

Meadow Piepho of Revolution Church in Salina, Kansas will tell a story about her experience as a foster parent and advocate for foster parenting.

John Alfred of Madison Street Church in Riverside, CA will share a story of “Bike to Church Day” in sunny Southern California. Can it work elsewhere?

What Happened at Shine Bright?

–Ben White– Pastor, Circle of Hope, Pennsauken, NJ — Member of the Peace and Justice Project Leadership Team

It is Martin Luther King’s Birthday today, January, 15th. So last night was Martin Luther King’s Birthday Eve! We got together to celebrate by sharing stories about our dreams of the Beloved Community King described. Some pastors from the BIC had stories to get us started. The BIC Peace and Justice Project leadership team invites everyone to our every-other-month gathering of people of peace and justice from all over the country (maybe the world!) Our goal is to uplift the stories of generosity, compassion, peacemaking and racial reconciliation that we know is at the heart of the Brethren in Christ. here is video of the presenters and a summary below.

Krista Dutt, The Dwelling Place, Chicago, IL

Church in a van? She and her friends had an idea to start a church that addressed one of the largest injustices facing their neighborhood, mass incarceration. Eventually she said, what if the church met in the van as we travelled from our neighborhood to the prison an hour and a half away? Krist a said it was “so crazy that it could only come from God … Like from Old Testament times if Old Testament had cars.” 

And then community started happening around this trip, this van, this common project. Shiny! Their dream is a bit on hold during the pandemic but we wait with her in hope as they stay connected the best they can.

Hank Johnson, Harrisburg BIC, Harrisburg, PA

Hank started off with repping the historic nature of the Harrisburg BIC congregation, It was founded in 1897. “Most people don’t name us as one of the historic BIC churches but we is.” History moves fast though, and at some point a couple of decades or so ago, the church looked at their neighborhood and realized they were not as connected as they wanted to be with their now rather brown and black neighborhood.

So they started dreaming about ways to connect and somehow they said, “Let’s just build a hospital!” But they weren’t at all sure how to do that. Eventually, two doctors came to them and confirmed that the area really DOES need a clinic, so they said again, “Let’s do it. And they started raising money, looking for millions.

But the church’s visionary, Dr. Gwen, lost her husband and got sick herself. The dream went back on the back burner.

Then they got recruited for hosting a mobile medical clinic in partnership with a Catholic organization who had a similar ethos — Be the kingdom by giving this care in the name of Jesus. Now they have hosted the clinic for three years and the church has spent a grand total of $80 to get a special plu so the mobile bus clinic can easily plug into their building.

Hank said “We thought it was our idea, but it was God’s idea.”

John Grimshaw, Lakeview Community Church, Goodrich, MI

2018 was the worst financial year on record at Lakeview Community Church. So they felt like they didn’t have much to offer, but it was that year rhat a local foodbank recruited them to be one of their distribution centers.

They created a Client choice food pantry, where neighbors get to select their own items almost like a store. It is very dignifying and gives more opportunity for relationships to happen while neighbors shop.

When Covid 19 shut everything down they switched to Curbside Pickup. Folks would drive up and fill out a checklist, which an attendant would then photograph and text inside where other volunteers would quickly pack up their order. meanwhile Jon asked everyone if he could pray for them. of hundreds, only two ever said no.

The numbers: 2019: 149 families, 452 individuals, 294 family visits to the food pantry. 2020: 250 families, 630 individuals, 714 family visits . That’s some exponential growth, which has energized the church and even included a couple new families in their worship service. They just had their 1000th family visit and, in only two years, they have given away the equivalent of $150-250K in food and household items items.

Jon said, “On my own I couldn’t do it, but with God I can.”

Joshua Nolt, Lancaster BIC, Lancaster, PA

Joshua Nolt said, “I fall into stuff… so this is a micro story”

After the death of George Floyd and the swell of response across the nation, Joshua wrote “a word of encouragement and challenge” to his white friends:

“…If you have feelings of sorrow over George Floyd, Ahmad Aubrey, Brianna Taylor, or the host of other fallen people of color, I encourage you to allow them to be an invitation to do more than just feel – but to do the work and then contribute an informed voice to help bring about justice. This is a way to honor and love our brothers and sisters of color for whom this is daily, lived experience.”

Then he recommended some resources. People were quite interested so Joshua said to himself, “Facebook is not really a community. So who is going to take this somewhere… I guess it’s me.” So he organized a reading group of Jemar Tisby’s book, The Color of Compromise(and here is his new book How to Fight Racism)

For some in the group, the things that they were reading were shocking — eye opening. Others had done some work already and were not so surprised. The various levels of exposure was part of the triumph, because the resulting dialogue was real and rich.

Leaning into difficult, potential shame-leden conversations such as the book helped to create is often avoided. But Joshua concluded, “Leaning in with brothers and sisters is a lot easier than doing it ourselves.

What’s your story?

Then we broke out into breakout groups. Here is a picture of mine, with Curtis, Chris, Nancy and Drew. These were our instructions.

  • Introduce yourself to each other
  • Did you or someone in your community have a dream that came to some fruit? 
  • Do you have a dream forming now? 
  • Do you need encouragement? Advice? Resources?

Want to add to the conversation in the comments on his blog, or on our facebook group (which is like a 24/7 Shine Bright Event — share your story any time). We need each other to be shiny because each of us feels bright dull by ourselves.

See You Next Time?

Next Shine Bright is March 11th at 8:30 EST, 7:30 CST, 5:30 PST on Zoom

Shine Bright January 14th, MLK’s Birthday Eve

Zoom link https://us02web.zoom.us/j/8919923065

Our next Shine Bright Storytelling Zoom Call will be on Martin Luther King’s Birthday Eve! Let’s share stories about our dreams of the Beloved Community. Some pastors from across the BIC US have some stories to get us started.

What was your dream?
Why was it important to you?
What happened when your community tried it?


The BIC Peace and Justice Project leadership team invites you to our every-other-month gathering of people of peace and justice from all over the country (maybe the world!) We want to uplift the stories of generosity, compassion, peacemaking and racial reconciliation that we know is at the heart of the Brethren in Christ. Please be with us at 8:30 pm EST, 7:30 CST, 5:30 PST on Thursday, January 14th.

(East Coasters stay up late for West Coasters, West Coasters dash away from their work and meet at the dinner hour for the love of East Coasters, Midwesterners just love it)

Zoom link https://us02web.zoom.us/j/8919923065

Transformation over Punishment: Story Share with Elizabeth Malone Alteet

On August 20th, members of the Brethren in Christ Church from across the country gathered on Zoom to tell stories of the peace and justice work to which we are being called to do and what we have seen done.

I (Ben White) shared this quote from Henri Nouwen to begin our time. I really do believe that is stories that we need — even more than more information.

“One of the remarkable qualities of the story is that it creates space. We can dwell in a story, walk around, find our own place. The story confronts but does not oppress; the story inspires but does not manipulate.The story invites us to an encounter, a dialog, a mutual sharing. A story that guides is a story that opens a door and offers us space in which to search and boundaries to help us find what we seek, but it does not tell us what to do or how to do it. The story brings us into touch with the vision and so guides us. Wiesel writes, God made man because he loves stories.

As long as we have stories to tell to each other there is hope. As long as we can remind each other of the lives of men and women in whom the love of God becomes manifest, there is reason to move forward to new land in which new stories are hidden.”

Henri Nouwen – The Living Reminder

Then Ryan Skove got us to sing with the promise of our New Jerusalem and the hope that transcends whatever darkness looms, and Sibonukukle Ncube prayed for us.

Then we got to hear from Elizabeth Malone Alteet, a member of Madison Street Church and MCC board member. who got to make two productions with incarcerated folks in California as a drama professor in their Bachelor’s degree program. She showed clips of their productions which were written and performed by the students with Elizabeth’s help, and she told us some of the stories of the men who inspired the plays. It got our hearts moving for our own storytelling. We split into breakout groups and told our own stories of involvement with the criminal justice system and advocacy for its reform.

Here’s what we shared in the larger group

  • There is transformational power in making a personal relationship with incarcerated people. It challenges our notions of retribution that are still strongly seated in our hearts. Jesus wants to overthrow that seat of power and one way he could do that is through personal relationship with a person who is incarcerated.
  • We can continue to help educate our church folks about injustice in our systems
  • Create more events for personal storytelling from people who have themselves been in prison. Let’s destigmatize formerly incarcerated people. 
  • Adopt inclusive, redemptive language — ex fellon, ex-con? No!
  • Advocate for alternatives Example: Greg Boyle and Homeboy Industries. Their motto is “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.” Boyle’s books: Tattoos on the Heart, Barking at the Choir, Netflix Documentary – GDog

Here are some opportunities that Elizabeth Malone Alteet shared:

More stories to share? More resources? Our next Shine Bright Story Share is October 15th at 8:30 PM EST. What should we talk about? Put them in the comments or share them on our facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/PeaceandJusticeProject

Letter Writing in Support of Tracie Hunter

At our last Peace and Justice Project Shine Bright Storytelling Event, we heard Tracie Hunter’s story of racism and corruption in the court system in Hamilton County, Ohio (where she was the first black Juvenile Court Judge and still is a pastor at Western Hills Brethren in Christ Church, Cincinnati)

Much more about her case at traciehunterlegaldefensefunds.com/

We have drafted some letters for you to use as templates to write your own letters in support of Tracie.

Letters to the Ohio Attorney General and Supreme Court of Ohio on behalf of Tracie Hunter

Date

Dave Yost
Ohio Attorney General
30 East Broad St
14th Floor
Columbus, OH 43215

Mr. Yost:

I am requesting an investigation into the appointment of Merlyn Shiverdecker and Scott Croswell as special prosecutors by Joe Deters when both lawyers were Joe Deters’ personal attorneys. It was a clear conflict of interest when Joe Deters secured a public contract for them to indict Judge Tracie Hunter. He hired them in violation of ORC 2921.43.  This allowed for an unfair process for Judge Hunter’s case and allowed for now proven false charges to be drawn.  Please start this investigation.

Thank you,

Name
Address
Phone Number

Date

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor
Supreme Court of Ohio
65 South Front Street
Columbus, Ohio 43215-3431

Chief Justice O’Connor:

I am asking that you reinstate Judge Tracie Hunter’s law license. Due to lack of process and discrimination in treatment, her law license should be reinstated.  Please restore Judge Hunter’s law license.

Thank you,

Name
Address
Phone Number 

Tell us your stories of confronting racism

How have you, or your community, or anyone you’ve seen responded to racism and worked to embrace your anti-racist identity as God ordained ministers of reconciliation?

Pastor Tracie Hunter touched on so many systems where racism is so clearly entrenched. We are so grateful for her courage and we praise our God who strengthens her in this fight for her good name and for the calling that God has given her to reform the corruption in the juvenile court system in Hamilton County, Ohio. We started telling our own stories tonight at the Shine Bright Peace and Justice Project bimonthly Zoom call, but we need more!

What have you seen the Brethren in Christ Church in your neighborhood doing to respond to racism with our prophetic voice, action and prayer? Please tell us more stories in the comments!

On the zoom call we thought one thing we could do together as the Peace and Justice Project would be to contribute to Pastor Tracie’s legal defense fund:

Go to traciehunterlegaldefensefunds.com and make a donation to pay off court costs or for Tracie’s ongoing legal defense.

You can also support her in these ways:

Send a letter to Dave Yost Ohio Attorney General, Ohio Attorney General,
30 East Broad Street, 14th floor,
Columbus, Ohio 43215
requesting an investigation into the appointment of Merlyn Shiverdecker and Scott Croswell as special prosecutors by Joe Deters when both lawyers were Joe Deters’ personal attorneys. Joe Deters had a personal vendetta against Judge Hunter that was publicly known. It was a clear conflict of interest when Joe Deters secured a public contract for them to indict Judge Tracie Hunter. He hired them in violation of ORC 2921.43, Having An Unlawful Interest in a Public Contract. 

Deters also hired Ohio Supreme Court Justice Pat DeWine’s son to work in the prosecutor’s office at DeWine’s request, in violation of ORC 2921.42. Deters and DeWine both secured public contracts for their family and friends, but were involved in prosecuting Judge Tracie Hunter under that statute, although evidence proved she did not secure any public contracts for family or friends.

Also send a letter to the Attorney General of the United States of America, William Barr Department of Justice requesting an Equal Protection Violation and Discrimination investigation into the unlawful prosecution of Judge Tracie Hunter, pursuant to the 14th Amendment.

Also send a letter of grievance to: Joseph M. CaligiuriOffice of Disciplinary Counsel The Supreme Court of the State of Ohio,
250 Civic Center Drive, Ste. 325
Columbus, Ohio 43215-7411
and request an investigation into the appointment of Merlyn Shiverdecker and Scott Croswell as special prosecutors by Joe Deters when both lawyers were Joe Deters personal attorneys. It was a clear conflict of interest for Joe Deters to secure a public contract for his business associates to indict Judge Tracie Hunter. He hired them in violation of ORC 2921.43, Having An Unlawful Interest in a Public Contract. 

Prosecutor Joe Deters also hired Justice Pat DeWine’s son in violation of ORC at DeWine’s request, in violation of ORC 2921.42. Deters and DeWine both secured public contracts for family and friends, but were involved in prosecuting Judge Tracie Hunter under that statute, although she did not secure any public contracts for family or friends.

The prosecutors dismissed nine felony charges they filed against Judge Hunter after computer forensic experts determined they tampered with computers to unjustly prosecute Judge Hunter, but were never charged with filing false charges against her that they knew to be false when filed.

Also write a letter to Justice O’Connor demanding Judge Hunter’s law license be reinstated for lack of due process and discrimination in treatment when they failed to suspend Justice Pat DeWine for securing a public contract for his son with the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor
Supreme Court of Ohio
65 South Front Street
Columbus, Ohio 43215-3431
Tel: 614.387.9000

And keep shining bright, in Jesus name!

Shine Bright Story Share Peace and Justice Zoom Call 8:30 pm (EST) Thursday, June 25th

We need to talk. We believe that dialogue will give us the courage and motivation to keep at the hard work we are given to do. We must shine bright — for each other and for the watching world.

This conversation will get kicked off with a story from Tracie Hunter, pastor at Western Hills Brethren in Christ Church in Cincinnati (our first African American senior pastor in the denomination) and the first African American elected Juvenile Court Judge in Hamilton County.

Her barrier breaking election (which she had to fight voter suppression in court to actually win) precipitated the full force of the white establishment in opposition to her and she is still fighting trumped up charges against her brought in 2014 by the corrupt powers that be. Her story illustrates the deeply entrenched racism present in several intersecting systems. We are grateful to her for sharing with us and grateful to BIC Great Lakes Bishop, Lynn Thrush, for coming along to introduce her.

Our previous meeting in May 2020

After her story there will be some time for questions then opportunities to share your own story of how you are participating in the nationwide anti-racist movement in smaller groups.

Tell us you’re coming on Facebook LINK HERE

We will be on ZOOM LINK HERE