Remember Me

Submitted by Rev. Angel L. Sullivan

And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:42-45, NAS)

New Orleans 2014 072

Members of the national leadership team of AB GIRLS at work in New Orleans, July 2014

This past July I had the privilege of being one of many American Baptists to take part in  the American Baptist Home Mission’s Society work week in New Orleans, participating in the Hurricane Katrina clean-up as our AB GIRLS* summer mission event.  Yes, that’s right, the Hurricane Katrina clean-up.  Prior to leaving for my trip I shared with friends and family that I was going to help in the Hurricane Katrina clean-up, and many responded with, “Really? Are you sure?  That happened ten years ago!”  I have to admit I had forgotten that it happened so long ago.  I do remember when it first happened: watching the television, being filled with emotions of anger and sadness, wishing I could do more than watch and pray.  Years went by and I truly forgot about Hurricane Katrina and the people affected by it until now.

Interestingly, “remembering” was a  constant sentiment that was shared by the people of the Ninth Ward: Remember us. Remember us when you go home; remember us and share our story.  As I heard over and over again residents sharing their stories about the rushing waters ripping through their neighborhoods, ripping apart years of family heritage, friendships, and plans, I was reminded of the thief on the cross next to Jesus.  I would imagine that, as the thief hung from the cross, he may have felt that what little bit of life he had left was planned and there was no hope for him. But looking at Jesus, the thief asked, “Remember me,”  and Jesus responded with, “ This day you shall be with me in Paradise.”

Side by side with the stories of sadness I also heard stories of hope about those who did not forget them.  Many strangers, some being members of the American Baptist community, found hope in persons literally becoming the hands and feet of Jesus and restoring what may have seemed dead and hopeless into a new paradise.  They were remembered.  In being part of the remembering, not only did the residents receive but so did the people who were there to help.  I witnessed many AB GIRLS share their stories about how they felt changed from their experience. They felt empowered–even in very practical ways as they learned to be able to paint or spackle, something they could never envisioned themselves doing before. Learning that they could indeed do these tasks empowered them in other ways as well–helped them feel valued and needed as contributors. Those AB GIRLS were rewarded with a new life, of sorts, through this experience too.

So, leaving New Orleans and going back home into my own community, I have vowed to remember.  I make this vow with the understanding that remembering a person’s story brings for the new life and new hope for all.

AngelSullivan2013smRev. Angel L. Sullivan is a member of the national leadership team for AB GIRLS, and serves as staff chaplain at Bay Care Health Systems-St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa, Florida.

*AB GIRLS, American Baptist Girls in Relationship, Leadership, and Service, is a ministry for girls sponsored by American Baptist Women’s Ministries. For more information on girls’ ministry, visit www.abwministries.org. Funding for AB GIRLS is part of the Women and Girls Mission Fund of American Baptist Women’s Ministries. For more information and to support the Women and Girls Mission Fund, click here.

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Crisis at the Border: What Could We Do?

Submitted by Bonnie Sestito

"White House Civil Disobedience" August 28 2014. Used by permission, Church World Service

“White House Civil Disobedience” August 28 2014. Used by permission, Church World Service

Beginning in October 2011, the U.S. Government recorded a dramatic rise—commonly referred to in the United States as “the surge”–in the number of unaccompanied and separated children arriving to the United States from these same three countries—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The total number of apprehensions of unaccompanied and separated children from these countries by U.S. Customs and Border Protection jumped from 4,059 in Fiscal year (FY) 2011 to 10,443 in FY 2012 and then more than doubled again, to 21,537, in FY 2013. At the same time, a tremendous number of children from Mexico have been arriving to the U.S. over a longer period of time, and although the gap is narrowing as of FY 2013, the number of children from Mexico has far outpaced the number of children from any one of the three Central American countries.

“Crisis at the Border: What Could We Do?” is AB Women’s Ministries mission focus for 2014-2015. Why is there a “crisis at the border?” Let us step into the shoes of those that have come to the United States from the Northern Triangle.

“I lived with my mother and two younger siblings. My biological father abandoned my mother when she was pregnant with me. I have a warm relationship with my stepfather, who has lived in the U.S. for eight years. My main reason for coming to the U.S. is to join my stepfather. Threats were made that led me to flee when I did. The head of the gang that controlled my neighborhood wanted me to be his girlfriend and threatened to kidnap me or to kill one of my family members if I didn’t comply. I knew another girl from my community who had become the girlfriend of a gang member and had been forced to have sex with all the gang members. I didn’t want this for myself. Once the gang started harassing me, I didn’t feel safe, so I stopped going to school and stayed at home until my family was able to make arrangements for my travel to the U.S.” (Josefina, El Salvador, Age 16)

“If they really do want to know how hard life is down there, they should go see it. There are kids who don’t make it past five years old because they die of hunger. Their parents can’t work because there are no jobs. Just give us a chance. Let us better ourselves so we can be something better than what we are today.” (Mauricio, Honduras, Age 17)

“I had problems with my grandmother. She always beat me from the time I was little. That’s why I went to live with my boyfriend—and because I was lonely and sad. But after we had been living together for about a month, my boyfriend also beat me. He beat me almost every day. I stayed with him for four months. I left because he tried to kill me by strangling me. I left the same day.” (Lucia, Guatemala, Age 16)

“I like playing soccer outside, but I can’t really play anymore. My friends from my neighborhood all moved because their brothers were killed. The cartel killed them, and the entire family left. So now I don’t have anyone to play soccer with. (Jaun, Mexico, Age 13)*

“What can we do?” This is the question that AB Women’s Ministries is asking of American Baptist women across the United States and in Puerto Rico. Below are some suggestions.

Celebrate: The International Day of the Girl Child promotes girls’ rights and highlights gender inequalities that remain between girls and boys. It is a UN observance that is annually held on October 11. Celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child giving your AB women’s or girls’ group the opportunity to raise public awareness of the different types of discrimination and abuse that many girls around the world suffer from.

Join thousands of churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other faith communities across the country in the 2014 National Observance of Children’s Sabbath, designated for October 17-19. The theme is “Precious in God’s Sight: Answering the Call to Cherish and Protect Every Child.”   Celebrate by holding special worship services, education programs, and advocacy activities to engage people of faith in improving the lives of children and their families. A copy of this year’s resource manual may be downloaded from www.childrensdefense.org.

You can plan ahead for an observance of International Migrants Day on December 18. The Interfaith Immigration Coalition, of which ABCUSA is a part, has resources you could use in worship. International Migrants Day recognizes the large and increasing number of migrants in the world, and provides opportunity for advocacy on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of migrants.

Research: Find out if there is something that you can do for “unaccompanied and separated children,” who may be living in your community.

Advocate: Call your Members of Congress and ask that they reject rollbacks to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. If you don’t know who your Members of Congress are, go to https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members.

Make a Donation: Give to Church World Service (www.cwsglobal.org) to support their response to the crisis with unaccompanied children and families:

  • Legal Services and Assistance
  • Religious Services and Pastoral Care
  • Hospitality at Drop-off Points (food, clothing, diapers, medical care, housing and bus tickets for those being left without any support)
  • Humanitarian Assistance in Honduras (assistance to returning migrant children and adolescents unable to be admitted to the U.S. specifically, providing food, psycho-social care, healthcare, and sanitation and hygiene services for some 1,000 children and teenagers in a designated shelter in the city of San Pedro Sula, Honduras)

AB Women’s Ministries has a page on our website devoted to the 14-15 mission focus, “Crisis at the Border: What Could I Do?” You’ll find information and resources listed there, and you’ll have the opportunity to subscribe to our monthly emails on the topic that give more updated information, links, and ideas for action around particular facets of the theme.

Bonnie SestitoBonnie Sestito is coordinator of Mission with Women and Girls with AB Women’s Ministries.

*Information was obtained from www.unhcrwashington.org, “Children on the Run—Unaccompanied Children Leaving Central America and Mexico and the Need for International Protection: A Study Conducted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Regional Office for the United States and the Caribbean Washington, D.C.” (published March 2014).

Aging–A Season of Life

Contributed by Rev. Sharon Farral

SS16061“How are you today?”

“Old!” is the response I get from a dear friend each time I ask this question, then we both laugh. September 7th was her 89th birthday. There are ‘seasons in life’: each season has its joys and sorrows. Sometimes it is difficult for us to accept moving from one season to the next.

Do we sometimes wish we were young again? O, the joy of turning eighteen: we could vote, marry, seek a career, travel, leave the routine of school, be our own boss –freedom. Compare to turning 67. We can draw Social Security, ride the city bus and visit many parks and historical sites free, no more daily work routine, no more setting an alarm clock – freedom. Now, we are mentors, experienced, listened to and looked to for guidance! Does this sound like new responsibilities?

“Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation,” Psalm 71:18. Babies, young people, adults, all like to hear stories, especially when the stories being told are about the life journeys of our families. I have sat by the bed of those who are dying and heard courageous stories. A woman from Russia, as a very small child, escaped uprisings during the years of the Czars. She and her family finally immigrated to the United States. A family in a covered wagon waiting for Oklahoma to become a state kept from starving by friendship with Native Americans. One shared the struggles of immigrants working in the steel mills of Pennsylvania. Tell your story! With technology these stories can be recorded on video and treasured by generations to come. As Christian seniors we must tell our children and grandchildren the power of Christ in our lives. May our witness share with loved ones God’s unconditional love and the joy of living this life to His glory.

“And pray in the Spirit, on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints,” Ephesians 6:18. I remember, as a child, prayer meetings when the elderly in our congregation prayed long, long prayers. With most women today juggling full time jobs, families, time for fun, and yes, even church activities few of us spend much time in prayer. Women who have now passed on spent hours on their knees and wept over the pain of the world. As senior adults we can now spend more time in disciplined spiritual life: praying for our nation, our world, the many crisis and evils displayed on our TV screens, missionaries, our families and friends. Seniors, we must be women of faith and prayer. We must persevere in sharing the kingdom of God. We must set the spiritual standard for the next generation.

As we count our blessings we remember our days are in God’s hands. God has work for each of us to do. We are, indeed, here to be God’s hands and feet. Many, many times I have been blessed beyond measure as I sat with those who are homebound or confined to care facilities. Whatever our age or situation will we begin each day asking God how we can be used to God’s glory.

Sharon FarralRev. Sharon Farral completed studies and was ordained as an ABC minister after retiring from almost 40 years of school teaching. Pastor Sharon visits many who are homebound or in care facilities. She writes devotionals, leads Bible studies and worship services in senior housing, and provides leadership in women’s ministries. Rev. Farral recently served as a guest speaker on the virtual mission encounter “A Time of Grace: Aging and Faith,” hosted by AB Women’s Ministries.