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~ Written by Viki Rife

I couldn’t believe they weren’t twins. I had seen them many times playing together when I drove by. Then they showed up at our after-school SMM. They had lived next door to each other and had played together their whole lives. Now in first grade, they were inseparable.

Then one day one of them told me sorrowfully, “I can’t play with Mary* any more.” She went on to explain that they’d had a fight and her mom told her, “Just stay away from her if that’s how she’s going to be.”

As leaders, we tried to help the girls work things out. But they were too afraid of their mothers’ wrath if they spoke to each other. I hoped it would blow over, but it never did. They wouldn’t interact in SMM, although sometimes I saw wistfulness as one looked furtively at the other. Eventually one of them stopped coming.

That was over 20 years ago. I remember thinking at the time, “I hope the rest of their generation isn’t being raised with that philosophy.”

Sadly, I think they have. All it takes is one non-PC statement and people are writing each other off. It seems like the cultural norm has become, “If your opinion is different from mine, you must be a bad person.” In our society, I am the only one who has a right to free speech. And you will be condemned if you don’t agree.

As God’s people, we are called to be ministers of reconciliation. Our world desperately needs examples of gracious people who know how to bring warring factors together in the presence of our Lord. If there’s one way we can demonstrate Jesus, it’s by knowing how to be agents of change through reconciliation.

*Name changed  

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~ Written by Viki Rife

I really hated to do it, but I had no choice. I picked up the scissors. I could hardly bring myself to start cutting.

This was my favorite plant, the one I hang outside my window every summer to enjoy while I’m having my devotions each morning. Whenever I look up from my reading and writing, there it is, swinging gently in the wind, with the willow tree in the background and hummingbirds stopping by to visit. It’s my little piece of heaven.

We’d had a hailstorm, and ever since then it had looked more and more pathetic. I had tried to nurse it along, but it was obvious that drastic measures were needed. I had one more thing to try before throwing it in the trash heap.

I started cutting back the long, hanging stems. With them came the few blossoms that were left. It no longer hung over the edges of the planter. The short, stubby growth that was left was a pathetic shadow of what had once brought me so much enjoyment.

Fast forward a month, however, and the plant once again showed energetic growth. It was fuller than it had been before, and covered with flowers and new buds. Something about cutting it back had brought new life.

Sometimes it’s hard to understand why God prunes us. Why would He make us give up a ministry that is blossoming? Why would He allow us to lose someone who is precious to us? Why would He leave us feeling as if we had been cut down on all sides?

If only we can remember He only does it for our good! He wants to give us a fullness that is greater than anything we have experienced. And the way He does it is by removing the dead growth. I wonder if He feels sadness in making us suffer, but forges ahead because He knows it’s the only way to save us from ourselves.

I’m so glad He doesn’t give up. 

~ Written by Viki Rife

How are we to respond to the situation last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia? A look at our history can give us some important clues.

When the Civil War started, the Brethren, who were pacifists, remained committed to their refusal to wound another human. They did not enlist. This brought them under suspicion from both sides.

However, they also had strong abolitionist beliefs. Many were already involved in the Underground Railroad and in purchasing slaves in order to set them free. When the war started, they ramped up their efforts within the guidelines of their conscience.

Their part in the Battle of Antietam is an example of the spirit of followers of Christ. Soldiers from both sides were wreaking havoc on the farms and burning the homes of these peaceful people. Remember, they hadn’t taken sides, so neither side protected them as “theirs.”

However, these brave souls went out into the fields and even Antietam Creek. They rescued as many wounded Union and Confederate soldiers as they could, taking them into their homes.

When they ran out of room there, they took them to their church, turning it into a hospital where enemies were placed side by side for treatment. When you visit the Antietam Battlefield Memorial, you can see the church and hear the story.

These people lived within the boundaries they believed God called them to. However, that did not keep them from being ministers of reconciliation in the world. They went out of their way to care for the very people who were destroying their property. They showed grace to everyone, even though they stood against what the Confederates were fighting for.

The early Brethren were very aware that their citizenship belonged first to the kingdom of heaven. They put into practice the instructions of Jesus through the Apostle Paul, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9).

(To find out more about beliefs of the early Brethren on racism, read “The Better View” in the current issue of Women’s Spectrum magazine. Find out more here.

~ Written by Viki Rife

The summer I was 15, a friend we were visiting took my family to the top of the incline overlooking Johnstown, Pennsylvania. As he was describing the disastrous flood that had once hit the city, I stood looking down at the homes below. “How many people in this town know Jesus?” I asked myself. “What would happen to them if another flood came?”

My mind immediately went into problem-solving mode. “I could come back with a bunch of friends, and we could knock on every door in the city and ask whether anyone knows Jesus in that home. If no one does, we could offer to tell them.” I even picked out a big white house with a round porch that would serve as a starting point.

My brain continued by trying to calculate how many friends it would take and how long we would need to stay. I ended up concluding that it would take ten of us all summer to get to every door. Then I remembered that back home in California I didn’t even have three friends who cared enough about the lost to dedicate their whole summer to such an endeavor.

Something in me at that moment pleaded, “Lord, could you somehow make it happen anyway?”

The whole thing might have been dismissed as childish dreaming. That’s what I thought as I grew older, feeling a bit embarrassed for such foolish thoughts. But almost 30 years later I found myself standing in front of the big white house, talking to a man recovering from drug addiction. I had been recruited to help as a leader with The Blitz, an outreach day during Brethren National Youth Conference (now Momentum).

Almost 2,000 people were participating that day. Our goal? To knock on every door in Johnstown and offer to share the gospel. There were 200 times as many people as I had asked for, and it took one day instead of a whole summer. What a great reminder that to God, our prayers are never embarrassing!

If you see prayer as an important part of walking with God, please consider joining us at the Soul Cry retreat at Camp Conquest in Pennsylvania in September. Click here for more details. 

~ Written by Viki Rife

“Blame my dad.” That was my answer when a friend, somewhat annoyed, said, “Do you have to spiritualize everything?”

To my dad, everything was an illustration of a spiritual reality. He took his cue from Jesus, turning anything in life into a teachable moment. Even when I was too young to fully understand it, he would point out a butterfly and tell me about how its time in a cocoon transformed it. Packing our barrels for the mission field became a reminder that we must prepare well for our spiritual journey (any other MKs remember taking jars of peanut butter or else we wouldn’t taste it for the next five years?).

Dad was a master at object lessons. Our evening family devotions included healthy doses of them. I still remember when he put different powders in water until it turned black, then poured in some red liquid and the water became clear again. My young heart embraced the illustration that Jesus could remove all sin.

I couldn’t yet have been five when he used an illustration that has deeply affected my life. He borrowed a spool of black thread from Mom and had me hold out my wrists. He wrapped the thread around them once and asked me to break out. It was a bit hard, but I did it. Then he wrapped the thread around my wrists five or six times and asked me to break out again. It was impossible.

He went on to tell me that sin was like that. You try it once and you might be able to escape. But it might make you overconfident, and as you continue to allow it in your life it will trap you. He used the object lesson to help me understand the meaning of the word “addiction.” It left me with a healthy fear of dabbling in something that could entangle me.

As a parent, Dad took seriously the command in Deuteronomy 6 to teach God’s laws to his children. It sounds as if maybe God meant for us to spiritualize everything!

~ Written by Viki Rife

This week is one I’ve been looking forward to for a long time, but as it turns out it feels like I threw a rock into the air and it came down on my head.

Yesterday we released the newest issue of our magazine, Women’s Spectrum. The theme of this issue is “Boundaries.” Does that give you a clue to what hit me on the head?

After all we did as an editorial team to see that the subject was covered, you would think I’d have boundaries pretty well figured out. I guess God has to really work at keeping me humble. So in the last few weeks leading up to our fellowship’s Access conference in Ohio, as we prepared for the various responsibilities that fall to national organizations, it felt that my boundaries were being tested to the limit.

First, I got shingles. The itching was nothing compared to the pain and the fatigue that came with it. The doctors said to rest, but we were getting ready for conference! And we had a week-long module to train facilitators for the Women’s Leadership Studies classes.

Then my mom fell and broke her hip. In the days of waiting until they could do surgery, my focus shifted from the many details of getting ready for conference to trying to keep her from climbing out of bed in her confused state. Frustration mounted as I tried to work by her bedside with my laptop on my knees, getting kicked off the internet for some reason every ten minutes or so

In the midst of my chaos, God stood quietly by, waiting for me to let go of my agenda enough to hear His voice. Then He hit me, more intensely than I’ve ever experienced, with the reminder that the limits to my time and energy are actually boundaries He has placed on me. Those boundaries force me to weigh my priorities. The “aha” moment of returning to His priorities refreshed my soul and burned the significance of boundaries on my heart. I’m so glad the rock came back. 

~ Written by Viki Rife

The feds are watching our barnyard. There’s actually a sign to let people know.

The sign says, “Do not climb tower! Federally protected migratory bird nest.” It’s by the cell phone relay tower that sits in our barnyard.

The endangered osprey first appeared about six summers ago. We saw them circling the tower with precious building materials, fighting to gain altitude because of their load. Soon, we heard the unmistakable cry of the fledglings in their nest, always hungry.

By the next summer, there was no doubt the nest had attracted the attention of officials. We would arrive home to find conservation officers parked in our driveway, intently peering at the top of the tower through their binoculars.

I find myself wishing that human babies were protected the way these eggs are. While I love sharing our barnyard with these interesting birds, something inside me cries about the injustice of the mixed-up priorities of our society.

This issue is only the tip of the iceberg. My prayer is that, as a country, we will learn to value what God values. Will you join me in that prayer? God is able to turn our countrymen’s hearts to His desires as we band together in prayer.

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