Fear and Faith

By Virginia Holmstrom

The 2017-2019 ministry focus of American Baptist Women’s Ministries is “Feel/Siente.” Information about the theme, based on Luke 8:43-49, Acts 17:27-28 (NLT), and 1 Samuel 2:1-11 (The Voice), may be found at www.abwministries.org/theme. This post is part of a series of “Herstories” from American Baptist women around this theme.

Photo by Kaustav Das Modak. Used by permission, creativecommons.org.

Scripture:  “The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them.”    Exodus 14:19 (NRSV)

Sometimes fear overrides faith. We feel abandoned at the moment of peril. Where is God when we most need a protector and savior?

The Hebrew families fleeing Pharoah’s army felt the terror of impending disaster when they stopped short at banks of the Red Sea. The escape route abruptly ended.  There was no way forward! The Egyptian army bore toward them from behind. The deep waters in front of them prevented their desperate escape to freedom. Even God had disappeared. The assurance of God’s presence that had remained a step ahead of them in the form of a cloud pillar was no longer in front of them. Pressed between the sea’s edge and the approaching Egyptian army, trembling mothers clutched their children in their arms, the shelter of their embrace no longer a safe zone.

When we feel the dread that God has abandoned us during our most vulnerable moments of peril, we can identify with the Hebrew families, exhausted from their running, hearts pounding, hemmed in between death by weapons and death by drowning. Where is God?

The question haunts me today as I read the news of the persecuted Rohingya minority in Myanmar; a half million persons fleeing toward the border to the west, hemmed in between a brutal army pushing them out and a country unwilling to receive them.  Where is God in this?

Our faith is tested when the “pillar of cloud” symbolizing God’s presence shifts from our forward view.  God’s presence is not always in front of us, God’s escape route not always visible.  Let us choose faith that God’s salvation is bigger than the fears  of chaos and tyranny.  After feeling the panic of the Hebrew families stopped in their tracks by the Red Sea, I feel utter relief when I read the words of their victory song in the next chapter of their story.  “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously . . . . In the greatness of your majesty you overthrew your adversaries; In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed; you guided them by your strength to your holy abode.”

Choose faith over fear.  For the final line of the song goes like this:  “The Lord will reign forever and ever.”  (Exodus 15:18)

Virginia Holmstrom is executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

 

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Praying out of Our Deepest Feelings

By Sandra Hasenauer

The 2017-2019 ministry focus of American Baptist Women’s Ministries is “Feel/Siente.” Information about the theme, based on Luke 8:43-49, Acts 17:27-28 (NLT), and 1 Samuel 2:1-11 (The Voice), may be found at www.abwministries.org/theme. This post is part of a series of “Herstories” from American Baptist women around this theme.

“Hannah prayed and said, ‘My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God.'” (1 Samuel 2:1, NRSV)

“Then Hannah prayed out of her deepest feelings.

Hannah: My heart rejoices in the Eternal One;
        my strength grows strong in the Eternal.” (1 Samuel 2:1, The Voice)

When the story of Hannah was selected for the two year theme “Feel/Siente,” I wondered about The Voice paraphrase Bible, which reads, “Then Hannah prayed out of her deepest feelings.” I had not seen that particular interpretation of that sentence before, so I dug into my Strong’s Concordance. Strong’s is an excellent tool for doing word studies–a way of seeing the many ways the word in question is translated in its appearances throughout scripture, as well as seeing original roots and such. This can often help us gain a deeper understanding of what’s happening in any particular Bible verse. What I found was that The Voice, in its paraphrase, was most likely looking ahead a few words from Hannah praying, to Hannah saying that her heart “rejoices in the Eternal one.”

So, then I went to The Message, another paraphrase. “Hannah prayed: I’m bursting with God-news! I’m walking on air. I’m laughing at my rivals. I’m dancing my salvation,” (1 Samuel 2:1, MSG).

“Huh,” I thought. I realized that our common image of prayer is a fairly calm one. When one searches for images of the term “prayer,” the vast majority of what shows up from the Christian context are people sitting calmly, peaceful expressions on their faces, with their hands folded neatly in front of them. When we read of Hannah praying in most translations or paraphrases, we may get an image in our mind’s eye of Hannah standing or sitting still, perhaps with her head bowed and hands clasped, but undoubtedly with a small, circumspect smile on her face. Instead, as The Voice and The Message try to impress on us, Hannah is beside herself! The idea of someone praying out of her deepest feelings, “bursting,” “walking on air,” “laughing,” and “dancing,” is a very different image of prayer than we may usually have. Now I picture her twirling around, arms in the air, shouting and laughing–and that’s prayer.

On the flip side, “praying out of my deepest feelings” also reminds me of those times in my life in which I was praying while “ugly crying,” over personal hurts, deep losses, times when I just couldn’t see a way through. Even the phrase “praying out of my deepest feelings” seems tame compared to what that felt like. There have certainly times when I was cry-praying with no words–just an unspoken plea to God for healing, peace, understanding.

This two-year theme “Feel/Siente” will encourage all of us, I think, to explore more thoroughly what prayer is in our lives. Does it really come out of our hearts? Does it truly reach our deepest pains and release our greatest joys? Do we feel like dancing and shouting? Are we “bursting with God-news” or really praying out of our deepest feelings?

Sandra Hasenauer is associate executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

Feelings….

By Rhonda Compise

My family upbringing was rather stoic. I was raised in the day of “stop crying or I will give you something to cry about!” When I read the Bible as a young person, I was very impressed by all the heroes of the faith who overcame their feelings and chose to have faith in God. Paul was beaten, imprisoned, and once left for dead. He was a man who had to deal with a lot of negative feelings, but he did not allow them to hinder him from pursuing Christ. In my young spiritual mind, I somehow got the notion that feelings were merely something that I should overcome.

When the new AB Women’s Ministries 2017-2019 theme of “Feel/Siente” was announced, I was surprised! My first inclination was that feelings had nothing to do with spirituality. I could really relate to the song “Feelings” by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil: “Feelings, nothing more than feelings….” I thought, “Why do we even have feelings?”

I began to search scripture for “feeling” words. The scripture that constantly resonated in my thoughts was Nehemiah 8:10, “the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Joy is a feeling worth having! And yes, I have experienced that joy and strength. And no, it was not just positive affirmation. I experienced joy as a spiritual event. This verse helped me to understand that feelings are spiritual.

My research of scripture revealed that God has feelings. Two examples from the Old Testament are Genesis 6:6, which says that God was sorry, and grieved. Psalm 145:8 says that, “The LORD is… full of compassion, slow to anger…” And there is the familiar New Testament verse in John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” Throughout the Bible, I saw that feelings are a part of the nature of God. In the New Testament we see feelings expressed by Jesus. These expressions of feelings help us understand why God acts in the way that God does. God’s compassion results in God being slow to anger. The tears of compassion from Jesus help us understand why he raised Lazarus from the dead.

Today we can see actions resulting from feelings on the news every day in response to the recent Hurricane Harvey. Individuals from all over the country are taking action in response to their feelings of compassion for those who have been displaced. Now I am excited about exploring the connections between feeling and acting as a part of our spiritual life and service. I am praying for growth as we study our new theme “Feel/Siente.”

Rhonda Compise is president of American Baptist Women’s Ministries of the Indiana/Kentucky region.

 

The Woman at the Well: To Be Known

By Yana Pagan

Based on John 4:5-30

The 2017-2019 ministry focus of American Baptist Women’s Ministries is “Feel/Siente.” Information about the theme, based on Luke 8:43-49, Acts 17:27-28 (NLT), and 1 Samuel 2:1-11 (The Voice), may be found at www.abwministries.org/theme. This post is part of a series of “Herstories” from American Baptist women around this theme.

He, Qi. Jesus and the Samaritan Woman, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=46094 [retrieved June 5, 2017]. Original source: heqigallery.com.

It was almost time to leave. She gathered her things and made the journey in the heat of the day. Yes, usually people avoided traveling then, but she did it to avoid the whispers and stares; dealing with the heat was easier than dealing with that. Frankly, anything was better than the gossip at the well. The well was an important resource for all of life’s daily chores and could not be avoided. Yet, as she got closer, she saw that there was someone there. During the hottest part of the day was an unusual time to be at the well: She wondered if he was injured.

There was a part of her that was in no mood for this today. She’d had another fight with her significant other and was wondering if men were worth the trouble after all. She was tired of being treated like nothing; she knew there had to be someone out there who knew her worth. She wasn’t crazy for still expecting someone to treat her with the respect that her father had. She was engrossed in her thoughts as she walked, so she was startled by this man at the well asking her for a drink of water.

The woman was caught off-guard. This man was a Jew. A Jew—speaking to her, a Samaritan! His eyes pierced into hers and she felt noticed as he asked her again for a drink of water.

Let us remember she was trying to go unnoticed. But Jesus did not see her the way others saw her.

Isn’t it weird how there are people who can see you in a way that no one else sees you? Some people look past us, or through us, but never see the real people we are. That real seeing is what we need to feel noticed, loved, wanted; it helps us to care for ourselves and others. This is where our body images come into play. Some people think if they see your physical form, they know you. But there is so much more to a person, especially to a woman.

As the conversation between Jesus (who, as we know now, is the man sitting at the well) and the Samaritan woman ensues, the Samaritan woman tells Jesus she has no husband. Jesus responds, “That is right, and the one you have now is not your husband,” (John 4:17). Jesus is reminding the woman that the five men she has been with will never fill the void but, he goes on to say, “I know you.”

I have always enjoyed the passage, both what we know and what we can only imagine of this text. This unnamed woman at the well is bold questioning Jesus. She, a Samaritan, is courageous, while he is tired but still sharp. She knew he was not supposed to talk to her and yet he provides her with a dialogue that truly sees her. She feels known in such a way that her life is changed forever; she leaves everything behind. She becomes the good news incarnate and says to all she meets, “Come, meet a man who told me everything I have ever done and loves me!” And people believed because of her. What a testimony!

Questions for reflection:

  • What dialogue do the Lord and you honestly need to have?
  • Is there something you need the Lord to notice in your life or ministry?
  • How do you most need to feel loved by Jesus Christ?

Rev. Yana J.C. Pagan is ordained American Baptist clergy serving as pastor at Gulph United Church of Christ and faculty at Esperanza College of Eastern University.

Rubber Time

By Renée Langley

The 2017-2019 ministry focus of American Baptist Women’s Ministries is “Feel/Siente.” Information about the theme, based on Luke 8:43-49, Acts 17:27-28 (NLT), and 1 Samuel 2:1-11 (The Voice), may be found at www.abwministries.org/theme. This post is part of a series of “Herstories” from American Baptist women around this theme.

Not many years after my husband and I married, he spent six months doing graduate research in Indonesia. When he returned, he told me about a curious phrase in Bahasa Indonesia, the national language of the country. The phase was “Jam karet.” “Jam” means “time” and “karet” is the sap from the rubber tree. In other words, “Jam karet” means “rubber time”. When the train was delayed, or the event started two hours late, or the short walk turned into a multiple-kilometer hike, Indonesians would smile and say “Jam karet!” My husband is a bit more laid-back than I am, so the phrase seemed to strike a positive chord within him.

Now, this notion of “stretchable time” fits well with my husband’s personality, but not mine. I am a Type A, get-the-task-done-on-time woman. Most of the time, I am thankful for my drive and focus. But every now and then I wonder about my need to have everything run according to my schedule. So I stop to smell the roses, only to mentally note which ones need pruning and other gardening care. I relax with a cup of herbal tea, only to mentally go over which teas we will need to replenish on our next shopping trip. And arrive late for an event? Perish the thought (and the person responsible for making me late!).

The Psalmist understood our all-too-human desire to have everything fit our calendar and chronometer. The writer of Psalm 46 also knew that our preoccupations are not necessarily things upon which God focuses. In Psalm 46:10, we read, “He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Sometimes we have to pause in order to better know the Creator.

When life’s circumstances or my husband throw my well-ordered timeframe out of synch, I have two choices. I can rail against the lack of drive and focus of others, or I can pause for “Jam karet.” Sometimes in the midst of a busy life, it can be a blessing to stretch time, if even for just a few moments.

Don’t get me wrong. I am still a Type A personality and always will be. But it is nice to know that in the midst of a purposeful and productive life the occasional slowdown is not always a bad thing. The next time your schedule gets thoroughly off-kilter, remember, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Then laugh and say “Jam karet!”

Renée Langley serves as president of American Baptist Women’s Ministries of Michigan.

 

 

Never Alone

By Deneen Ray

The 2017-2019 ministry focus of American Baptist Women’s Ministries is “Feel/Siente.” Information about the theme, based on Luke 8:43-49, Acts 17:27-28 (NLT), and 1 Samuel 2:1-11 (The Voice), may be found at www.abwministries.org/theme. This post is part of a series of “Herstories” from American Baptist women around this theme.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

With graduation season just behind us, I would like a share a story of heartbreak and loss that has resulted in a triumph and growth.

A young lady full of dreams and great at strategically planning her life was side-swiped the day she found out her best friend, someone she called her “twin” or her “older brother,” had passed away. Life, in that moment, had ended for her as well.

Ja Niecy (known as Niecy to those close to her) started an amazing week on a, American Baptist Churches of Los Angeles Regional Ministry trip to Arizona with other youth, a close church friend, her sister and, of course, me, her godmother. The trip included camping in the Grand Canyon, hiking, s’mores, and hosting an afternoon carnival for the children on an Indian reservation. Through this week, she met many new people who became not only friends but family.

So. you can imagine, coming home with all that excitement to share with her parents and grandparents, only to walk in the door to tragic news: Terrance had died.

Ja Niecy and Terrance had plans to take over the world. They were so alike, in every way you could imagine. It was like they could’ve been twins, had they been born at the same time. I would hear story after story of what they were going to do after she graduated from high school, and how life was about to be “lit” (as the teenagers say).

Niecy was hurt, angry, and confused. She had many questions such as, “Why God? Why now? Why him?” I know her feelings because her questions were all directed at me. Talk about needing an instant God-intervention moment. Honestly, in that moment, I said nothing. As parents, godparents, and youth leaders, we love our children and want to protect them, never wanting to see them in pain or heartbreak and, yet, also never wanting to lie to them. I truly had no answer.

I do know Niecy is a “processor” (like me), so there are times when she is vocalizing a question or concern but she’s really not asking for answers. It’s not because she doesn’t want to know, or that wants you to solve the problem. She has a strong foundation in her faith and what she believes to be true. So, when asking questions such as those, I truly believe she wanted to see if I was going to sugar-coat things and stay in protection mode, or if I would truly help her process her grief, keeping all things “real.”

After a short period of silence, I asked her the following questions:

  1. Do you believe in the God you talk about?
  2. Do you trust the God you talk about?
  3. Is God not the same yesterday, today, and in those days to come? Do you believe this?
  4. Does God tell you the “why? in everything?
  5. Do you believe God loves you and sees your pain, loss, and tears?

I is my belief that God does not ask, need, or wait for our approval. God does, however, allow or sets things in motion. But, God will love us unconditionally and carry us through.

Didn’t God do it for Ruth (God sent her Boaz, after her loss), Esther Queen (she didn’t have the luxury of being raised by her parents), Sarah and Elizabeth (bearing children as senior citizens) and allowing Mary Magdalene her walk and service in his presence, with her not-so-upstanding past?

The absence of the joy that Terrance brought to Niecy’s life comes and goes, but the understanding and acceptance of the situation, and Niecy’s understanding of who God is, has been reassessed and strengthened through her experience of grief.

Niecy will have graduated from Northern Arizona State. She has also served as BSU Fundraising Chair, BSU Treasurer and BSU President her senior year, facilitated a campus Women’s Leadership panel, and has been accepted into the Walt Disney College program in Orlando. Niecy may not have had her big brother here to see her dreams manifest, but God held her tightly in his arms throughout.

So, when you think you are alone and can’t see the road ahead, remember that you are never walking alone. Trust, activate, and watch God show up and show out.

 

Deneen Ray serves as the national coordinator of AB GIRLS, American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

A Faith Walk, Not a Cake Walk

By Jessica Jenkins

The 2017-2019 ministry focus of American Baptist Women’s Ministries is “Feel/Siente.” Information about the theme, based on Luke 8:43-49, Acts 17:27-28 (NLT), and 1 Samuel 2:1-11 (The Voice), may be found at www.abwministries.org/theme. This post is part of a series of “Herstories” from American Baptist women around this theme.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 ESV

         I remember the last visit I had home to Philadelphia to see my family. I ran into an old friend and she said something that totally took me off guard. “Jess, I don’t know if I would have had the faith like you did to move away, by yourself, and go to school.” I was confused with her words. It never really dawned on me until that moment the transformation that had taken place in my life.

It has been three years now since I moved hours from my family to Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue a Masters of Divinity degree at the age of 23. Moving here was never in my five-year or ten-year plans. If you would have asked me a few years ago where I saw myself, I would not say Nashville. I was planning to get my Masters in Public Health, and I had already acquired a job with an amazing non-profit after graduation; I was well on my way to an amazing career in healthcare. That is, I was until my ambitions were pleasantly introduced to God and God’s plans. Once introduced, my life’s plans were transformed into something that I could have never imagined.

I don’t think that there has ever been a time in my life where faith was a major factor. Faith, by definition, is complete trust or confidence in someone or something. I have never really had much confidence in anyone or anything other than myself. But I knew that I was out of my league when it came to this new life direction. So I guess you can say that I developed a slight lack of faith in what I personally was able to do. And if you couple the ignorance that I had with a total faith and reliance on God, I guess you can also say that there developed the perfect match. Someone saying that I had a lot of faith was right. All I did was put my faith in God. I felt that God was leading me to seminary and, if God was leading me, God would make provisions for me as well. Having that trust in God and God’s ability made it so much easier to follow. My desire in life transformed from pleasing myself to pleasing and doing the will that God ordained for me.

Don’t get me wrong: this faith walk has not been the easiest. Trusting in a God that you cannot physically see or touch is tough. But a God that you can feel every step of the way is comforting. Any moment that I feel stressed, financially unstable, doubting my calling, or saddened because I am away from my family, God has made me, instead, feel engulfed in complete love and care. Somtimes it is by a message from someone I have come to know here, or reading the scriptures and being comforted. I have been taught a new type of faith: one that does not depend on what I am able to do, but one that is lived out by having faith in God and trusting that I will consistently feel God’s presence. There is not a step that I have taken in which I did not feel like God was there. In the midst of total mayhem, as well as the silence of the most peaceful moments, God has been with me.

Jessica Jenkins is a member of the young adult women’s ministries advisory team of American Baptist Women’s Ministries.