10 Perspectives

What it means to be Brethren in Christ

By Kelly Chripczuk, Denise Conway, Ling Dinse, Kara K., Ezra Martin, Malcolm McDermond, Deiana Renee Mitchell, Aner Morejon, José F. Rodríguez, Jeff Wright
By Kelly Chripczuk, Denise Conway, Ling Dinse, Kara K., Ezra Martin, Malcolm McDermond, Deiana Renee Mitchell, Aner Morejon, José F. Rodríguez, Jeff Wright

As In Part has considered our theological streams and now looks to the future, we’ve been enriched by perspectives of members from across the Brethren in Christ Church in the U.S. In order to deepen this exploration, we recently asked 10 members of our church family to share what being Brethren in Christ (BIC) and our Core Values mean in their own lives as they strive to follow the living Christ.

“Living simply” was not a virtue I embraced early in life; it was a difficult reality for our family. I grew up in government-subsidized housing projects in Hong Kong. Our family of nine lived in a 200-square-foot apartment where we transformed a squat toilet into an instant shower by covering the toilet hole with a piece of moldy plywood.

Twenty years later, our family has left the projects and most of us have migrated to the United States. We have been blessed with plenty and a comfortable lifestyle. One of my siblings is even a millionaire who only flies first or business class whenever he travels. People from our past congratulate my parents on their children’s successes.

Despite outward success, my siblings and I did not find peace for many years. The hardship of project living haunted each one of us. We retained the scars of witnessing gang violence and various kinds of abuse. We all thought having material comfort would help us leave these torments behind. But, as wonderful as it was to have a full stomach and a warm house, fears and anxiety did not dissipate from my spirit. At a particularly low point during my high school years, I was introduced to the Prince of Peace. Inviting Jesus to enter into my life filled a gaping hole in my heart and calmed my spirit.

In my journey with Christ, I’ve drawn inspiration from Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” The BIC Core Value of “Living simply” encouraged me to live out this new life by letting go of my old understanding of what gives me security and comfort. The freedom to give generously and serve joyfully has unchained my bondage to material possessions. The examples provided by those in the BIC family who embrace this value have given me the courage to let go and give. “Living simply” is a practical act of worship for me: I am giving up the old self and letting Jesus make it new again.

Ling Dinse and her husband have two daughters. An adjunct professor at Lancaster (Pa.) Bible College, Ling offers free counseling services at her home church, Elizabethtown (Pa.) BIC. She loves to cook and counsel (and sometimes does both at the same time).

Something I heard many years ago at a national Christian Education conference has stayed with me. “You are going to be confronted with change,” the speaker said, “and that is okay. The method can change but the message must always remain the same. You dare not change the Gospel.”

In the 1940s, I gravitated toward the Brethren in Christ because of my desire to share the Gospel through community outreach. My previous church had no evangelistic efforts, and at Hollowell BIC (Waynesboro, Pa.) I became deeply involved in the ministries of Sunday School and Vacation Bible School.

More than 65 years later, I’m still Brethren in Christ because we are Bible-centered and committed to outreach.

Ezra Martin, who became known as “Mr. Sunday School” at Hollowell BIC, admits that courting Esther, who would become his wife, was another reason he first came to the BIC.

In my country of birth, I belonged to the Church of the Nazarene. When I came to the U.S., a pastor friend introduced me to her bishop, Eduardo Llanes, and I heard about the Brethren in Christ.

I became interested in Brethren in Christ doctrine and saw that the BIC shared my Wesleyan roots. But the thing that really caught my attention was the expression that Bishop Llanes used to refer to the denomination: “the BIC family.”

Over time, I realized that these were not just words; our Church really is a big family. So much so that today, when I visit churches, I like to emphasize that more than a name or a denomination, we are a family of brothers and sisters who love and care for each other.

Other pastors who’ve joined the BIC have told me they’re impressed with how our community models simplicity, humility, and love of those in leadership. A while ago, a pastor who had been independent of any denomination for many years, simply said, “I regret not having heard about this family sooner.”

Truly, I thank God for being a part of His kingdom here on earth, but especially for being a part of this great BIC family.

Aner Morejon grew up in Havana, Cuba, and moved with his wife, Vivian, and their two children to the U.S. in 1990. After 21 years as church planter and pastor of Maranatha BIC (Hialeah, Fla.), Aner was named associate bishop of the Southeast Regional Conference.

The first time I remember encountering Anabaptists was in a lecture hall at Messiah College, where we were watching a historical film about the group. Unaware of the College’s heritage, it wasn’t until the early Anabaptists rode across a large video screen in Frey Hall that I sat up and took notice. What I saw was a group of martyrs whose belief was strong enough to lead them through hell on earth and beyond to the very gates of heaven.

After college, my husband and I attended a small Mennonite church before heading off to seminary, where I wore the label “Mennonite” in a world of Presbyterians and Methodists. Returning to Pennsylvania after drinking the heady intellectual waters of seminary, I longed to be rooted in a denomination that was spacious enough to embrace a Christianity that’s both thoughtful and heartfelt. Sensing a call to ministry, I also wanted to be part of a community that unabashedly embraced the gifts of women in ministry and leadership.

In 2004, my husband and I put down roots in the BIC by joining the New Life Community Church in Carlisle, Pa. Now, almost 10 years later, I’m more familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of the denomination as the ideals of its faith and practice are worked out in everyday life and ministry. Yet I continue to grow deep roots in the BIC because of the clarity and spaciousness of its convictions and practices.

Kelly Chripczuk is a mother of four and licensed pastor in the BIC. She and her family reside in Carlisle, Pa., where they attend Engage Community Church and she offers the ministry of spiritual direction.

“You go to church, but you aren’t Catholic?” This is a typical question for us in Madrid, Spain, where my husband, son, and I live and serve. It’s also a great opportunity to talk about our Anabaptist heritage and what our church family is all about.

For many in Spain, religion is little more than a cultural norm. So, I love telling my Spanish friends about how my faith is all about Jesus and relationship. I also share about the life of my church—how we value community; how we pursue peace and live simply so that we can give and share generously; how we don’t try to change things through the political structures of this world, but instead give up our lives for another Kingdom.

I am thankful for the unique personality of the Brethren in Christ in the post-Christian context in which we serve. Our church family lives out an authentic pursuit of Jesus in practical ways—by gathering in house groups, for example—something that really appeals to those I meet. It appeals to me, too!

The kind of community we are experiencing in Madrid is only one part of the beautiful picture of what God is doing among BIC throughout the world. May our God be glorified!

Kara K. and her family are BIC global workers in Madrid, where they serve at Los Hermanos en Cristo Círculo de Esperanza (Circle of Hope BIC). Her time is spent being a mom and wife, hosting a house group, directing a Spanish choir, and experimenting in urban gardening.

For me, coming to the BIC is about finding family. During my childhood, I always wondered why my biological parents gave me away, and I dealt with related self-esteem issues and unforgiveness.

A loving family, the Fields, took me in at a very young age and showed me unconditional love and attention. After the Fields passed away, I searched for the type of love they’d shown me, but I couldn’t find it. In my early 20s, I decided to confront my biological parents, and I started down a road of confusion and bitterness.

Gradually, God began pulling on my heart strings to bring me closer to Him. As I relied on Jesus for love and my identity, He revealed that I needed to work on the bitterness I had towards my biological parents and to move forward in forgiveness.

I began to want to learn more about God, so I decided to visit Western Hills BIC Church and immediately felt at home. After learning about the Core Values of the BIC, I decided to become a part of this church family.

Today, I live with my biological father, and my home church continues to support and encourage me on the path of making peace. Instead of questioning why, I now praise God for my childhood.

Deiana Renee Mitchell works at Western Hills BIC (Cincinnati, Ohio), where she does a little bit of everything—she updates the church website, serves on the praise and worship team, participates in the praise dance team, and assists the pastor.

One Friday night, in August of 1969, my family and I attended a revival meeting at the only Brethren in Christ church existing then in Cuba, my country of origin. I was 6 years old, and when the altar call was made, all the members of my family took a step forward and accepted Jesus. We had previously been involved in the occult, but that night, we were delivered from those bondages. That night also placed us within the BIC family, and, since then, we have learned to value the meaning of being BIC.

Learning from the example of others in the BIC family, we began a journey of transformation that changed our lives forever. Living holy lives in a simple way, honoring the Bible as God’s word, and serving others with love and commitment became our goals in life.

Years later, I understood more about peacemaking through my father-in-law, a member of one of the founding BIC families in Cuba. My wife’s father was a “conscientious objector,” even though just using a term like that in a communist system could have meant losing his “freedom.”

In 1989, my wife, my 2-year-old daughter, and I traveled to the United States looking for a new life. We have now served the Lord in Miami for about 25 years. Being part of a family with a shared mission and vision, more than simply a denomination, keeps us excited in being a BIC church.

José F. Rodríguez serves as pastor of Esmirna BIC (Miami, Fla.). The church began as a Bible study led by him and his wife, Lourdes, in the living room of his parents’ house. Today, it’s grown to a family of about 100 people.

In my senior year of college, I received news that I was one of a select number of students in the U.S. to be offered a Fulbright English teaching assistantship. Through this program, I’d be able to learn and teach in an international setting for a year. After serious deliberation, though, I opted in favor of a year of service in Nepal with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a global ministry of Anabaptist Churches, including the Brethren in Christ.

To most, my decision seemed counterintuitive. Many likely asked themselves, “Why wouldn’t you further your career by accepting a Fulbright?” I asked myself that very same question. My answer is rooted in my faith and commitment to Christ Jesus.

Struggling to decide between a Fulbright or a year of service with MCC made me think deeply about my passions and convictions. Growing up in the Brethren in Christ, I always had a clear sense that if we claim to be followers of Christ, we should model our lives after His. What I see in Christ is a life devoted to service, love, and humility. In my church and in my family, I witnessed a true commitment to these virtues of Christ, lived out through simple living, serving the poor and marginalized, and radical love.

To have tenured my Fulbright would have been a wonderful opportunity. To work, serve, and learn with MCC, however, invites me to live out my passion to serve the people of Nepal as well as to embody Christ’s Gospel of humility and love.

Malcolm McDermond, a 2012 graduate of Messiah College (Mechanicsburg, Pa.), attended Engage Community Church (Carlisle, Pa.), until his departure in August. Since arriving in Nepal, he’s been researching food security and nutritional health among children, mothers, and pregnant women.

Ten years ago, I wasn’t interested in church. Following a troubling childhood, I was the victim of a rape in early adulthood that resulted in pregnancy and the birth of my daughter. In response to these traumas, I fell into a life of alcohol and drug abuse, petty crime, and sexual promiscuity. I was so broken that I even attempted to end my life at one point.

One hot August day, I found myself in a jail cell, at my absolute bottom. I knew that I had to change, or I could not go on. I cried out to God.

In that moment, I remembered a radio show hosted on Sunday mornings by Ron Bowell, pastor of CrossRoads Church (Salina, Kans.) that I’d listened to with other addicts. We called it our “church,” and I said that if I ever went back to church, I would try that one. The first Sunday I was released from jail, my daughter and I attended CrossRoads Church.

The church welcomed me just as I was . . . but I wasn’t left that way. BIC Core Values teach that those who follow Christ will not remain the same person that they were. I can attest to experiencing a total transformation—from a ravaged and lost soul to a new creation.

Denise Conway and her daughter “attend” Revolution, another BIC church centered in Salina, Kans., online as part of a satellite ministry in Farmington, N.M.

I’ve spent much of my life traveling in Anabaptist circles, so my theological and biblical foundations remain solidly molded by Anabaptism. But in my relatively short tenure within the BIC, I find that I’m beginning to think of myself as more than Anabaptist.

At Madison Street Church, we’ve seen an influx of young adults, often spiritual “exiles, nomads, and prodigals,” in David Kinnaman’s words. Our ability to “speak Evangelical,” while grounding our missional efforts within an Anabaptist framework and embracing the warmth of Pietist and Holiness spirituality, has built bridges with a generation that is increasingly disenchanted with Church.

Many movements across the history of Christianity die out because the genuine concerns that gave rise to their formation are no longer the issues their grandchildren face. The genius of the BIC Church, whether intentional or not, seems to be a willingness to experiment constantly in order to seek the fresh experience of a living Christ. Without discarding the best of the past, we openly embrace that which is good about what God is up to today.

Jeff Wright joined the Brethren in Christ community in 2007 and is pastor of Madison Street Church (Riverside, Calif.). He also serves as missional strategist for church planting with Urban Expression North America. He and his wife, Debbie, live in Riverside.

This article originally appeared in the winter 2013 issue of In Part magazine.


Anonymous Posted on January 21, 2014

Ling, what a testimony! God Bless you!

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