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.

Becoming Beloved Community–Attending to Diversity from the Inside Out

By Virginia Holmstrom

I met Edna 32 years ago at a national ABW committee meeting and conference. She was the one who invited me to see her African-American sisters as my sisters, too. Edna wisely and quite accurately assessed my limited exposure to African-American persons when she prescribed a step-by-step journey for me to personally know and nurture friendship with black women.

Ten years later, I transferred my church membership to a Black congregation of American Baptists, largely comprised of Caribbean-born individuals and extended families once rooted in Georgia and Virginia and the Carolinas. I reveled in the spirited music that invited me to clap along on the up-beats. I learned to sing at half tempo the gospel hymns of the black church. One Sunday I brought my violin to church and began to play with the instrumental group, knowing all the while that I had no clue how to improvise for the rhythms I heard and felt.

Church services, worship styles, church-led activities, church dinners, and even women’s ministries take on the distinct traditions within a congregation; these contribute to the blessings of being an American Baptist. However, from the vantage point of our familiar church pew, we may rarely see or experience the beautiful cultures and traditions happening in American Baptist churches across the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

When your church’s AB Women’s Ministries group or circle meets, you might be surprised to learn that ABWM groups in other cities or states aren’t just like yours. The ABWM group in the next city may be praying in their first language brought with them as immigrants or refugees to this country. There’s an ABWM over in the next state that may accommodate as many toddlers as women because their congregation has plenty of young adults but is sparse on the grandparent ages. The Euro-American church across town may have monthly ABWM meetings in the church parlor, and the African-American church women in the next region are organizing their next supper fundraiser to support the church’s wider ministry.

Our American Baptist denomination is among the most diverse Protestant denominations in the U.S. in terms of race, ethnicity, culture, class, and theology. That’s a gift from God, and the stewardship of that good gift is entrusted to each of us and all of us. American Baptist Women’s Ministries, just like our wider denominational family, is greater when we can learn to appreciate and respect every individual for her spiritual gifts, her perspectives, and her service to God. Offering one another the space and encouragement to serve God according to her spiritual gifts and in her own way is a beautiful thing.

Diversity indeed resides in your church’s women’s ministry group, whether or not it’s visible at first glance. In order to lead amidst our diversity, we can learn how to navigate through our differences. Developing cultural competency is a skill that can be taught and learned and practiced. Every group can learn how to make good decisions together amid differences, similarities, and related tensions. It begins from the inside out.

Becoming Beloved Community is God’s intentional desire. God created the differences within us as a faith community. American Baptist Women’s Ministries invites you to lead and share and learn how to be Beloved Community. Practical information, how-to’s, and resources for learning will be ready for you to access in July 2017 at www.abwministries.org.

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

Becoming Beloved Community–Walking Together toward Relevant Goals

By Deborah Malavé Díaz

American Baptist Women’s Ministries as a national organization has been engaged in an initiative named “Becoming Beloved Community.” This initiative was developed to help us explore God’s vision for our ministries in the midst of today’s realities. This is the third of a series of four blog posts on “Becoming Beloved Community” that will address those four themes. For all the posts, click on “beloved community” in the tag cloud on the right.

C2R4: AB Women’s Ministries retreat for young adult women, 2012

Before becoming the national coordinator of Events (2015-18) for American Baptist Women’s Ministries, I was the coordinator for Young Women for the Puerto Rico Region, when the position was included for the first time as part of the region American Baptist Women’s Ministries (Mujeres Bautistas Americanas) board. It was exciting, as there was no previous path to follow, and, at the same time, challenging. I had to both reach out and make space for young women at our beloved (but also very “established”) community. To make it more challenging, when it came to demographics, part of the board said the young women must be between 25 and 35 years of age, and other half said between 30 and 45. That difference of opinion went on for my three-year term. I was approaching my 46th birthday during the first year of my term year and found myself outside the demographic “box” I was elected to represent. Fast-forward to 2015 when I became coordinator of Events. I told myself, “Deb, you got this! This first year, follow The Guide, follow the way AB Women’s Ministries has done things in the past, add your perspective, and you be fine.” I quickly discovered, however, that AB Women’s Ministries was breaking new ground, and the events planning process was the platform to do it. I was, again, in a very exciting and challenging time in which new paradigms were leading the way.

I invite you consider the common thread between these two leadership experiences with the beloved community. In the first one, there was a need to bridge a gap; on the second, an emphasis on meaningfulness. In both, the common thread is the urgency to be relevant. Is the AB Women’s Ministries beloved community relevant to you? Are you relevant to the AB Women’s Ministries beloved community?

How can we walk together toward relevant goals? This is what I have learned: First, I cannot do it alone. I know what is important to me, but I must learn from you what is important to you. We must build relationships among ourselves. In my role as coordinator of Events, I frequently lead one-hour long conference calls. There can be between five to eight women on these calls, and half of them I have never met in person! But from the start I think of them as my sisters. We have a purpose: we make sure everyone expresses themselves in our conversations, and we are respectful of time set aside for AB Women’s Ministries. You, too, can build relationships for relevant goals using this model in your formal or informal AB Women’s Ministries meetings: Define your purpose; listen and talk to one another; and respect everyone’s time. The second thing I learned is that leadership is a shared responsibility, and inclusiveness is the glue holding it all together. To achieve relevance in a group is like holding a kaleidoscope where each woman is one of the facets. Like a kaleidoscope, relevance is ever-changing; therefore, you must be inclusive in your endeavor.

One last thought: What has God taught me about leadership with the AB Women’s Ministries?  “You know better than to put new wine into old wineskins. They would burst. The wine would be spilled out and the wineskins ruined. New wine needs fresh wineskins,” Mark 2:22 (TLB).

Deborah Malavé Díaz serves as coordinator of Events for American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

Becoming Beloved Community–Inclusive Leadership

By Rev. Angel L. Sullivan

American Baptist Women’s Ministries as a national organization has been engaged in an initiative named “Becoming Beloved Community.” This initiative was developed to help us explore God’s vision for our ministries in the midst of today’s realities. This is the second of a series of four blog posts on “Becoming Beloved Community” that will address those four themes. For all the posts, click on “beloved community” in the tag cloud on the right.

Gardens at Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire, UK. Photo by ukgardenphotos on Flickr. Used by permission, Creativecommons.org.

Take a moment and imagine yourself standing in a flower garden. Take a deep breath. Breathe in the smells; notice the honeysuckle and roses. In your mind’s eye, look around and ponder the bright colors. Imagine yourself bending down, running your hands across the blades of grass, noticing how it feels under your fingertips. Finally, picture yourself sitting against the trunk of a giant oak tree, allowing the leaves from the branches overhead to provide you with cooling shade from the warm sun. How do you feel? Good, right? Now, imagine standing in the same place, but this time there are no trees, flowers, grass, or sweet smells. It is just you in the midst of dirt. Now, how do you feel? Perhaps you feel a little lonely, empty.

You see, God designs everything to have a purpose and place in the world. At our best, we all work together. Nothing competes but, rather, everything complements and builds on everything else. This is a model for inclusive leadership.

Growing up, I viewed leadership as a hierarchical model, where one person was in charge of, or over, others. The person in charge had to have all the answers and could not, and should not, ask for help. To do so would be a sign of weakness and ignorance. Over the years, however, I have come to learn that leadership, especially inclusive leadership, is not about managing. Rather, it is about engaging people of diverse ethnicities, age, and life experience in such a way that you bring out their gifts and skills for the purpose of sharing within the greater community. I personally seek out the stories and wisdom of people who have different lived experiences from mine in order to gain a broader perspective.

When I served as the coordinator for Mission and Events on the national leadership team of AB GIRLS, I was engaged in a model of inclusive leadership. I was an adult leader amongst teenage girls. While, in theory, I could have been the main leader, in reality I was just as much a learner. I would often listen to the girls’ stories about school, relationships, technology, and life in general. They provided me with wisdom and insight, and empowered me to work with youth in my community. I don’t think I would have felt comfortable doing so had I not had their experience to teach me.

I could not imagine a world where everyone thought the same, and where I would be the only one in the midst of dirt. We are all meant to be unique pieces in God’s garden of human diversity. We are much stronger, wiser, and powerful in our togetherness and diversity than we are apart.

Rev. Angel L. Sullivan serves as national president of American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

Becoming Beloved Community–Building Relationships

by Sandra Hasenauer

American Baptist Women’s Ministries as a national organization has been engaged in an initiative named “Becoming Beloved Community.” This initiative, an outcome of previous work done through the Transformed by the Spirit work of American Baptist Churches USA, was developed to help us explore God’s vision for our ministries in the midst of today’s realities. In the early stages of the initiative, there was a comprehensive series of interviews, surveys, and follow-up surveys with hundreds of American Baptist women (and a few men too!) led by the Rev. Dr. Trinette McCray of McCray Consulting, to discern key themes, concerns, and celebrations about the organization. The result was four strategic themes that undergird the ongoing work of the national board of AB Women’s Ministries. This is the first of a series of four blog posts on “Becoming Beloved Community” that will address those four themes.

Relationships are critical.

As my dad used to joke, “Who’d-a thunk it?”

As we’ve explored God’s calling to American Baptist Women’s Ministries over these last several years, prayerfully seeking guidance for where we should focus our efforts to be most effective in God’s ministry, we kept hearing the words “building relationships” over and over again. At first, to be candid, I thought, “aren’t we already doing that?” And I suppose, at some level, we can certainly say we are. I feel privileged to be working in an organization in which I actually really look forward to board and team meetings because we have so much fun in the midst of all the work we’re doing!

And yet, I am also reminded of conversations I had with Rev. Valerie Andrews, when she was serving as our national events coordinator. She made the point during one discussion that we American Baptist women are very good at coming together around tasks, but maybe not so much about coming together just for relationship. Yes, I felt convicted. How often did I call someone only because I had a work-related issue or question for them, rather than just calling to check in on how they were doing, or simply to say hello? (And, as I often joke, I know I’m a unique child of God, but I’m not that unique. If I’m experiencing something, it’s quite likely a lot of you reading this could be nodding your heads in agreement!) Valerie went on to emphasize that our ministries need to be about “People, not Programs,” and I wrote that in caps because it became a rallying cry. During event planning team meetings, eventually someone on the team would remind the rest of us, “People, not Programs!” and we’d re-focus on the need to emphasize opportunities for relationship-building throughout our event.

At one level, building relationships in our ministry is critical to helping our ministries stay relevant to the women and girls God wants us to reach. If we don’t actually know the woman or the girl, we don’t know what needs they have or how God wants us to walk alongside them. Having effective ministry means ministering with who that person really is, not what we assume about that person based on their age, educational level, family relationships, job, and so forth. We’ve been trained to think of successful ministry in terms of volume–the more people you have showing up at your events, the more successful your ministry is. And yet Jesus’ own ministry showed that the one-on-one is just as important, if not more so, in terms of transforming someone’s life for Christ. Therefore, we’re being called to stop and ask ourselves: Are we focusing on reaching out and getting to know individual women and girls as the primary way we’re in ministry, or are we focusing on programs and meetings and hoping women and girls show up so we can be in ministry with them once they walk through the door?

At another level, many of the difficulties we’re seeing in our society right now could be alleviated if there were more relationship-building going on in our neighborhoods. As human beings, it’s easier and faster to build metaphorical walls than bridges. This has been true of humans since humanity began, really. Our natural tendency is to “stick to our own kind,” people we think we know already and, more importantly, people whose behavior we think we can predict because they think and act pretty much like we do. However, that tendency is also what gives rise to fear. When you don’t know someone, it’s easy to imagine the worst about them. We paint the stranger with the same brush as the person we saw on TV that looked an awful lot like them. We dismiss someone as “ignorant,” “clueless,” “stupid,” or worse, because we disagree with their politics rather than trying to understand why they may believe what they believe–what hurts and fears have they experienced that led them to the decisions they make? As American Baptist women, we’re part of one of the most diverse Protestant denominations in the United States. How can we take what we experience in our faith communities and allow it to teach us how to help others learn to build relationships?

And so, becoming beloved community all begins with building relationships. Relationships are critical. It’s that simple.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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