On loving our neighbors

Benjamin and Rianna Isaak-Krauss at a demonstration of the Poor People’s Campaign at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis in May. (Credit: Thomas Frank)

A conversation with students Benjamin and Rianna Isaak-Krauss

By Annette Brill Bergstresser

ELKHART, Indiana (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) — What good would seminary studies be if they didn’t help students carry out the two commandments cited by Jesus: to love God and love your neighbor? We’ve asked Benjamin and Rianna Isaak-Krauss to share about how their studies at AMBS have supported them in loving their neighbors.

Benjamin, a Master of Divinity student from Bammental, Germany, is majoring in Theological Studies: Peace Studies. Rianna is a Master of Arts in Christian Formation student from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. As part of their AMBS studies, they’re currently participating in the Sustainability Leadership Semester at Goshen (Indiana) College’s Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center in Wolf Lake, Indiana.

Rianna: Recently I learned about a new dimension of loving our neighbor: “neighbors in time.” At the Sustainability Leadership Semester, we are asking how we can love our neighbors in time — future generations, both born and yet unborn. This notion helps us think about global concerns like climate change and how our fuel-addicted lifestyle affects future generations.

While thinking globally is important, we can only love specific places. That’s why we’re focusing on the scale of the Elkhart River watershed (a region where water that falls drains to a particular body of water). For example, if you take the Golden Rule and apply it to watersheds, you might say, “Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.” Taking into account that anything I put into the ground — trash, pollution or even fertilizer — goes downstream and can harm others in my watershed in a different location is a very real way of considering the Golden Rule. We are also learning about both our human and non-human neighbors — who aren’t necessarily neighbors we frequently talk about — and about how actions like drainage or damming impact their livelihood, which often has negative consequences for us as well.

Benjamin: So my degree program is MDiv: Theological Studies: Peace Studies, and you could say that peace studies is about how to love our neighbors. For me, moving between learning about and engaging in peacebuilding in different contexts and studying theology and reading the Bible has been really useful and has informed how I try to show up in different places.

For example, last year I took Witness Colloquium [with Janna Hunter-Bowman, Ph.D., assistant professor of peace studies and Christian social ethics], which combines conversations about peace and mission. Semester One consisted mostly of listening to guest speakers from the community talk about what witness meant to them and how it affected their lives. In Semester Two, it turned into a class for local engagement, and that’s how I got involved in initiatives in this area that I probably would not have gotten involved in otherwise, such as the Elkhart County Sanctuary Coalition and the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.

As part of the Poor People’s Campaign, I led a Bible study where we looked at the last week of Jesus’ life and the last year of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life [who organized the original campaign in 1968] and how those relate. This inspired me to write my own Bible studies on the themes of the campaign, reading the biblical stories and King’s words next to each other, letting them interpret one another.

Rianna: A class that comes to mind for me is Leadership Education in Anabaptist Perspective [AMBS’s orientation course], which helped us reflect on who our neighbors are through readings on intercultural awareness and undoing racism.

One form of loving people I focus on is through listening, pastoral care and healing work. Through courses in the MACF program, I’ve broadened my perspective of what pastoral care looks like.

The Spiritual Practices: Play and Rest class [with Allan Rudy-Froese, Ph.D., associate professor of Christian proclamation] really helped me expand the concept of what Christian loving looks like — how playing and resting are both an intrinsic part of our faith and of our interactions as humans. Creating spaces where we can play and rest together is a core part of loving, healing and worshiping. Since that class, I have been playing regularly with a group of people through InterPlay, a form of improvisational body wisdom, storytelling and movement (interplay.org).

Another helpful thing at AMBS is that we had a number of weeks off in Semester Two, which enabled us to go to the 2018 Bartimaeus Kinsler Institute in Oak View, California, where we learned about watershed discipleship and other forms of loving our neighbors in time.

Benjamin: As Anabaptists, one thing we highlight is reading the Bible in community. I took a number of classes with Mary Schertz, Ph.D. [professor emerita of New Testament], who always says [quoting Dr. Ellen Davis] that we need to learn to read the Bible as if our lives depended on it, because they do. She also models reading the Bible with concrete situations in mind. I got to write a paper about debt and how Jesus deals with debt in the New Testament. Doing that work, which I followed up on in Economic Justice and Christian Conscience [with Malinda Berry, Ph.D., assistant professor of theology and ethics] and Spiritual Practices: Money [with Rudy-Froese], helped me get more of a grip on how the economic system impacts people’s lives, and it was grounded in this movement back and forth between the Bible and our real-life situations.

Last semester in Political Theologies [with Hunter-Bowman], we read about different approaches to how church and state relate to each other and how having religious convictions and being in a public space where not everyone shares those convictions relate to each other. As Anabaptists, through reading the Bible and worshiping together, we form an imagination of how the world is and could be, and that becomes part of our contribution to social movements that work for justice.

Over the summer, Rianna and I provided jail support for the Poor People’s Campaign in Indianapolis — keeping track of those who were getting arrested as part of the civil disobedience, keeping a witness outside the jail as they were being held, and accompanying them afterward through their legal trials. A lot of it involves listening to people, helping them process the emotions and the stress. That’s something we were equipped for through our formation in church and our studies at AMBS, where we always emphasize that peace depends on strong relationships of trust across difference.

Rianna: During the first week of the campaign, I got arrested [for nonviolent civil disobedience] and was in jail for 14 hours. That was something I’d been praying about beforehand with an intercessory prayer group at AMBS; they supported me as I was discerning whether this was something I’d participate in.

I joined Benni on jail support after that for about 30 hours per week, to be present with people and offer support and prayer. I realized the pastoral care skills I had practiced in my studies and ministry were useful gifts in this high-stress secular activist setting. We didn’t necessarily share all our convictions, and we used different language, but it was still pastoral care.


More about the Poor People’s Campaign