God of the Unexpected

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Umpiem Camp, Thailand, 2008

Back in February, 2008, I had the opportunity to be part of an American Baptist delegation visiting the refugee camps along the Thailand-Burma border. My trip to Thailand was in both a professional sense, to learn how AB Women’s Ministries could more effectively partner with Baptist women from Burma now living in the United States, and in a personal sense, to learn as much as I could about life in refugee camps and the resettlement process to aid in my volunteer work with the refugees coming to my home church and community.

After a few days in Bangkok and Chiang Mai visiting some of our American Baptist missionaries, the International Rescue Committee, and the Thai-Burma Border Consortium, we visited Mae La camp and then Umpiem camp. At Umpiem, I and two other delegates broke off briefly from the main group so that we could visit the Karen Women’s Organization office (an amazing organization). Afterwards, as we were trying to catch up with the rest of our group, we stopped in one of the camps’ many schools. The school had just let out for the day and a lot of little school boys were still about, goofing around like boys anywhere do. As soon as they saw our cameras, they started asking us to take their pictures and posed in both serious and silly ways; we had a great time with them despite the language barrier. I noticed this group of girls hanging shyly off to the side, watching us, but carefully staying out of the action. I waved to them once or twice to get them to let me take their picture: Finally, they turned towards me and I snapped fast, and then they scooted off in giggles. This picture became one of my favorite of my whole trip. Every time I looked at it in the years following I’d just smile. These girls took my heart that day.

Fast forward five years. We had our national Women’s Day worship celebration immediately preceding the ABCUSA Mission Summit this past June in Overland Park, Kansas. I had used this photo in our program book for Women’s Day. About halfway through the morning’s program, AB Women’s Ministries executive director Virginia Holmstrom caught me as I was going about my responsibilities, and pointed to the picture in the program book.

“You took this picture when you were in Thailand, right?” She asked. I nodded, brows knit quizzically.

Virginia grinned. She pointed to one of the girls in the picture. “She’s here!”

My jaw dropped. “What? She’s here? You’re kidding me! Where? I have to meet her!” I dropped what I was doing and Virginia led me to the young woman.

Sandy Hasenauer, May, Virginia Holmstrom

Sandy Hasenauer, May, Virginia Holmstrom

May* was singing with a Karen choir participating in our Women’s Day worship. Sometime in the intervening five years, May’s family had relocated to the United States. May and I have since had some email exchanges as I learn more about her life now that she’s here. I hope we’ll be able to stay in touch.

I hadn’t expected to be able to visit the Karen Women’s Organization that day–but our path took us right by their office and women were there working. We made a quick change of plans to take advantage of the opportunity. I hadn’t expected to stop by the school and take pictures of bunches of children afterwards. But when the kids were there, we made a quick change of plans to take advantage of the opportunity.

I certainly hadn’t expected anything other than the opportunity to use a great photo that makes me smile when I chose that picture to include in our program book.

But our God is the God of the unexpected. God has a way of criss-crossing our paths throughout our lives with people from whom we can learn, people who touch our hearts in unexpected ways, people with whom we will maintain a lifetime connection even if we never speak to or see one another again. And those unexpected moments when God does give us the opportunity to see each other again? Priceless.

Thank you, May, for letting me take your picture that day those many years ago. Thank you for letting me take your picture again this summer. Thank you, God, for being the God of the Unexpected. I can’t wait to see what you do next.

*Name changed for safety reasons.

(Updated October 2, 2013)

May emailed me after I posted this to give me a little update on her life, and gave me permission to share this with our readers:

I really like living in America. I think my life in America is better than in Umphium* camp. Here we get free education and free food at school. First of all, there’s lots of food and clothing that we can get for free. I also like to meet with American people; they are so nice and patient. They help us a lot. We thank God that he gives us friends that love their neighbor. Now I’m in high school and I’m a senior this year. My family were doing good, but now only my mom works. My dad can’t work anymore. Both of my dad’s hands and legs were paralyzed but he can still walk. He just doesn’t feel like a normal person. But anyway, thanks to God that God is with my dad and now my dad is doing good. My dad babysits two kids and he gets paid; thank God for that.

I’m so glad that I have a chance to meet you. Before I met you, one of my sister’s friends told me that she saw my picture when I was in Umphium camp. She was at a meeting and she saw the picture that you took of me when I was in Umphium. I still remember the day you took the picture and I always wished that I could meet you. Suddenly, God has blessed us and we meet again! And I also hope that one day I’ll have a chance to see my friends from Umphium again, just like I met you again. I really miss my friends that are still in Umphium. I hope that God will bring them to America just like God brought me, and we could meet again.. 🙂

In Jesus name,  Amen.

*There are multiple spellings for names of camps along the Thai-Burma border.

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New podcast episode posted on domestic violence

Maureen LockeThere’s a new podcast episode available in our “In Their Shoes” podcast series! In this episode, we hear from Maureen Locke, a registered nurse with an obstetrics and gynecology practice, on the issue of domestic violence. Maureen, with 30 years of experience in OB/GYN, also serves as a trainer of other medical practitioners on the issue of domestic violence. In this episode, we discuss how Maureen identifies victims or possible victims and what she is able, and is not able, to do. We also discuss the effect of domestic violence on children, teen dating relationships, and suggestions for what we all could do if we become aware of possible situations of domestic violence among family or friends.

You can listen to the episode directly from the website at www.intheirshoespodcast.org. Underneath the show notes to the episode, you’ll see “Listen Now.” Just click on the arrow to start the audio. Be sure your computer speakers are turned up! You can also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. (You need to have iTunes installed.) Do you use a different podcast service? The RSS feed is on the podcast page.

 

Domestic Violence Comes in Many Disguises

Domestic violence comes in many disguises. Sometimes domestic violence is overt, blatant, obvious. More often, though, domestic violence is insidious. It comes in quietly, all in the name of love, wisdom, security, protection, religion.

It comes in the name of love, claiming to have your best interests at heart. It comes in the name of wisdom, claiming to know what’s best for you in every area of your life. It comes in the name of security, claiming to keep you safe. It comes in the name of protection, claiming to shield you from those who just want to use you. It comes in the name of God, claiming Scripture gives your partner certain inalienable rights over you.

It creeps in and you’re hardly aware of it, until all of a sudden, you begin to notice small things: He raised his voice. He grabbed my wrist. He ignored me. He called me stupid. Told my family and friends I was mentally under a lot of stress and emotionally unstable. Misquoted Ephesians 5:22-24 and ignored the verses that follow.

Even then you may doubt your senses: I’m imagining things. Exaggerating. Mr. Right loves me, he said so. And you begin to make excuses. You take the blame. It’s all my fault. If I hadn’t broken that dish, burned the biscuits, been late, disagreed with him. Then I wouldn’t have made him angry. But he apologized for raising his voice. For threatening to take my debit card away from me. For giving me the silent treatment. Everything’s ok now.

Until the next time.

You may have noticed, it never ends. Tension begins to build again. You can’t keep him happy and satisfied all the time. You cannot keep from doing or saying something that sets him off. And even if you could figure out what to say or do, it wouldn’t be good enough. It never is. So there’s the inevitable breaking point. Another episode of violence, followed by more tears and more apologies. Then reconciliation. And then it begins again.

Domestic violence is never about the issue-of-the-moment. It’s not even about you. It’s about the compulsion of one person to have and to exert power and control over another. Is there a way out? Of course there is. But it may not be easy. It might even be dangerous. But as dangerous as escape might be, remaining with an abusive partner is even more so.

“Oh well,” I can almost hear you thinking as you read this blog post, “We don’t have to worry about domestic violence, do we? We are Christians after all. In a Christian family. In a Christian home. We faithfully attend church. It doesn’t happen to us and it doesn’t happen in our churches.”

Oh, yes it does! Studies have shown that the statistical rates of domestic violence are virtually the same for churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike. That means that yes, among the people sitting in the sanctuary of your faith community, the likelihood is that there are families experiencing domestic violence. 30% of women globally have experienced domestic violence. 75% of Americans say that they know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence. This plague on our society cannot be ignored. We must begin to make a difference.

I’ve heard people say, “That’s all well and good, but I’m only one person. What difference can I make?” You can make all the difference in the world. First, pray. Pray and ask the Lord to reveal God’s plan and purpose for you. Pray and ask the Lord to show you how to prepare, how to take action, how to be an advocate for those trapped in the cycle of abuse. Then study, read, learn about the visual signs of abuse. Know about local organizations that can help. Study Scripture so that you are ready to deflect the outrageous notion that women deserve what they get, that it’s their fault, and (the most heinous of all) that it’s God’s will.

Who knows but that the Lord has brought you to this place “for such a time as this,” (Esther 4:14). If God calls you to action, God will provide what you need. “And my God will supply all your need, according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:19).

Rev. Betty-Rae HopkinsRev. Betty-Rae Hopkins serves as pastor of the First Baptist Church of North Kingstown in Rhode Island.  A former national officer on the board of American Baptist Women’s Ministries, Betty-Rae currently serves as president of American Baptist Women’s Ministries of Rhode Island.

This blog post is also serving as a resource during “Garlands into Ashes,” a virtual mission encounter on domestic violence hosted this week by American Baptist Women’s Ministries. Virtual mission encounters allow you the opportunity to engage in critical issues in more depth through emailed daily activities, online conversation with other participants, and evening conference calls with special guests. Although registration for this event is now closed, please visit www.abwministries.org/events for information on our next virtual mission encounter, “For I Was in Prison and You Visited Me: Prison and Aftercare Ministries,” November 4-8, 2013, and other events hosted by AB Women’s Ministries.

Walking with Karen Baptist Sisters

IMG00074-20130816-1456Nearly 100 women of the Karen Baptist Church in the U.S.A. (KBCUSA) met in Portland, Oregon, on August 15-17, 2013, for the 3rd Karen Women’s Leadership Training event, and they had invited me to be a guest speaker.

Tell me, what shall a Euro-American woman teach to an audience of Karen women? Most all of them had grown up in Burma or a refugee camp in Thailand. I looked into their faces and saw courageous women who have survived discrimination, destruction of home and village, rape, hunger, separation from family; these are women who were uprooted from their homeland and plopped down to resume life in the likes of Huron, South Dakota; Dallas, Texas; Rochester, New York; and about 150 other communities and cities across the United States. Oh, and did I mention? They speak the Karen language. In fact, many speak three or four languages and out of necessity they’re mastering English, too.

What can an American Baptist woman who is fluent in one language and has lived the American dream all her life say to this audience? They watched me with polite attention, adorned in their traditional colorful dress, waiting for me to speak in words many of them would not understand.  (Thank the Lord for interpreters!)

On the flight to Portland, I had reread Eric Law’s book The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb: Spirituality for Leadership in a Multicultural Community to give me a handle on how I might approach the culture gap between me and them. I decided that I would be as honest as possible and forewarn them in advance that I would undoubtedly stumble into some cultural blunders. I launched into my presentation, earnestly channeling my thoughts and words to connect with commonalities we share as women in the church. I spoke a sentence in English, the interpreter repeated my sentence in Karen. The audience chuckled at the right times, and so I relaxed and continued to “wade into the deep.” We talked about being encouragers, like Barnabas had been for Saul. We practiced skills to strengthen our communication when negotiating with male leaders and supervisors. We considered how each of us can invite and honor communication styles that differ from our own.

We shared a common meal of rice and fish and chicken, and I too dipped into the hot chili condiment bowl. Women sought me out to introduce themselves, and I so often mispronounced their names in my attempt to learn them.

Sitting in the congregation with them later, I carefully watched and listened and learned. I had been in meetings with a few of these same Karen women before – settings at which they were the outside guests in a mass of American women chattering in English, settings that defined them as “different,” settings that evoked timidity in them. But here on their own turf, their confidence and competence as church leaders was in glorious display. Happy voices rang out, organizers led, leaders delegated, enthusiasm was met with excited grins, easy laughter rippled across the room, strong voices sang in harmony, the Word was preached, and I was encouraged!

Glad to be walking with women’s ministry leaders of the Karen Baptist Church USA,

Virginia Holmstrom

Virginia Holmstrom -color Virginia Holmstrom serves as executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

For more information about refugees from Burma, including the Karen (pronounced kah-REN), visit www.abwministries.org. You will also find updated news and information at the website of Duane and Marcia Binkley, jointly-appointed missionaries of ABCUSA and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, serving the Karen in Thailand and in the U.S.

Happy New Year!

I can see you glancing at your calendars now. “I know time flies but is it January already?”

I’m just messin’ with ya.

Actually, for me, September has always been the new year. January is incidental. I can’t quite remove myself from my years of training from the world of academia to think of September as the new year: In my area, elementary and high schools start the Wednesday after Labor Day. Even in college and seminary, although we’d start the new year at the end of August, things didn’t seriously kick into gear until after Labor Day. Then I raised kids, and the last couple of weeks of August were so filled with pre-September going-back-to-school prep that, again, August almost didn’t count. (Except my August birthday. That counted!)

Photo by peppysis; Used by permission, creativecommons.org.

Photo by peppysis; Used by permission, creativecommons.org.

I love the new year that starts in September. Now that my kids are in college and buying their own school supplies, I miss the thrill of seeking out the perfect notebooks, folders, and pens–clean, bright, shiny, and just filled with the possibility of learning ahead. Once in awhile I still find myself–as computer-oriented as I now am–with a yen to buy a new notebook. Just because of the possibilities of all those wonderful blank pages.

So with this post, we are officially kicking off a new year for the In Their Shoes blog. This blog is, essentially, one big exciting blank page of possibilities! We’ve been hard at work these last few weeks lining up a really exciting list of topics and writers for the 2013-2014 program year. We’ll be addressing some of those same topics you’ve come to rely upon us for, but with new perspectives: economic empowerment, immigration, refugees and displaced persons, domestic violence, multicultural ministries, and advocacy. We’re also introducing some new topics this year–seasonal biblical reflections and self-care in ministry, among others. This year, the blog will contain several “series” of posts that will be interspersed through the year to allow us to explore topics from a variety of angles.

Can’t you just smell the new notebooks, so ready to be written upon with everything you’re learning and inspired to do?

If you’re not already subscribed to this blog by email, let me encourage you to do so right now. It’s easy–there’s a link in the sidebar. That way you’ll get every post in your email inbox as soon as it’s posted. If you use a blog reader (such as Feedly or BlogLovin’), use the RSS feed in the sidebar to make sure you’re subscribed that way. You can also subscribe through NetworkedBlogs on Facebook.

Did you also know you can share posts with others? At the bottom of every post you’ll see share buttons so you can pass along your favorite blog posts to your friends. Maybe they’ll subscribe too!

As I read what everyone is writing for upcoming blog posts, I can’t help but wiggle a little bit in my seat, just like I did when I was in kindergarten. Everything is just so exciting–I can’t wait to share it all with you in the months ahead. So, Happy New Year, readers!

Peace, Sandy

“Garlands instead of Ashes”–Upcoming Event on Domestic Violence

Addressing Domestic Violence: A Mission Experience for Women

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Thirty percent of women globally experience intimate partner violence.1 Nearly 75 percent of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence.2 It crosses all socio-economic and racial barriers. Intimate partner violence, or domestic violence, is a crucial topic affecting women and families in our communities and in our congregations.

American Baptist Women’s Ministries is addressing the topic of domestic violence through its third virtual mission encounter for women in 2013, “Garlands instead of Ashes: Domestic Violence,” on September 23-27, 2013. The virtual mission encounter will include emailed daily activities to help you delve more deeply into the topic and educate yourself, find inspiration, and generate new ideas for involvement for yourself or your faith communities. It will also include an opportunity to engage with other participants through a private blog set up specifically for this event.

A highlight of each virtual mission encounter is the evening conference call. Every evening of the virtual mission encounter, you will be able to hear from and have conversation with someone with experience and direct engagement in the topic of the day. Scheduled guests for “Garlands instead of Ashes” include Debra Fields, Community Education and Prevention Supervisor at the Sojourner Family Peace Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Dr. Nancy Murphy, DMin, LMHC, founder and director of the Northwest Family Life Learning and Counseling Center in Seattle, Washington; Rev. Susan Chorley, director of Renewal House, a domestic violence shelter in the Boston area, and Rev. Dr. Adalia Gutierrez Lee, commissioned American Baptist missionary in Baja, Tijuana, serving victims of domestic violence.

“Persons that have participated in our previous virtual mission encounters have raved about these unique opportunities for participatory learning around issues that matter,” said Virginia Holmstrom, executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries. She said the positive feedback prompted AB Women’s Ministries to offer “Garlands instead of Ashes: Domestic Violence” on September 23-27, 2013. On November 4-8, 2013, AB Women’s Ministries will host “For I Was in Prison and You Visited Me: Prison and Aftercare Ministries’. Two more topics will be addressed in virtual mission encounters planned for 2014.

Registration for the “Garlands instead of Ashes: Domestic Violence” five-day virtual mission encounter is $30 per person; deadline for registration is September 19, 2013. More information and online registration is available at www.abwministries.org, click on “Events.”

1Statistic from World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2013/violence_against_women_20130620/en/

2According to Domestic Violence Resource Center, http://dvrc-or.org/domestic/violence/resources/C61/