First Sunday of Advent: God’s Children

By Haley Sanders

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Image by Daniel Oines, used by permission, creativecommons.org.

Unfortunately, in today’s society women and girls are still seen as inferior to men and boys. From the corporate offices in the U.S. to the schools in Iraq, women and girls have an unfair disadvantage: They are females.

While in some cultures and countries women are seen as inferior objects, in the eyes of our Lord and Savior we are equal. 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 says that, “For in him you have been enriched in every way…. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” As children of the Lord, women and men are seen as one people united in our faith.

When Christ was born he was the savior for all people, not just men and not just for women. We have all been given the gift of enrichment. So every time you feel less than someone else, remember we are all God’s children.

 

Haley Sanders 2013-2016Haley Sanders is Promotions Coordinator on the national leadership team of AB GIRLS. In her senior year of high school, Haley’s time on the NLT has offered her the inspiration of being in the company of other young Christians and the opportunity to help others see how Jesus Christ can be experienced in everyday life.

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Thanksgiving

Submitted by Jonna Turek

thanksgiving01Thanksgiving, that unique American holiday established to thank our Creator for God’s provision, evokes an image of a plump, golden-brown turkey surrounded by favorite side dishes and a smiling family safe and snug in a warm house, while outdoors the leaves fall through crisp autumn air.

At least that’s what I picture at this special time of year. I have memories of family feasts which, in my family, gave the women of the family an opportunity to shine as they filled the house with fall decorations and the aromas of those special Thanksgiving treats. While the menfolk talked about sports, watched football on TV or planned the family’s after-dinner touch football game, the women provided the food and atmosphere.

In my own family background, women are the stars of this all-American holiday, and rightly so, because women and girls in the U.S. have so many reasons to give thanks. While there are still residual inequalities between the sexes in this country, we need only look at the circumstances of our sisters around the world to see how generously blessed we are.

A genuinely thankful heart yearns to give back to the giver.

We can show our thanks to God for our many blessings by reaching out to our less fortunate sisters. As Christ said in Matthew 25:40 (CEV),  “…Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.”

American Baptist Women’s Ministries provides a number of practical ways we can express our thanks by reaching out to less fortunate women and girls, both around the world and much closer to home. Along with our own women struggling with poverty and/or abuse, we now have a multitude of women and unaccompanied girls who have crossed our southern border in search of a better life. Setting aside our feelings about the causes of this situation and any opinions we may have about immigration policies, we can still reach out to provide comfort to those who are here. We do this in recognition of our own abundance, as an expression of heartfelt thanks to God.

Not everyone experiences the sort of Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving romanticized in the media and our own cherished memories, but anyone can know the joy and the warm glow that comes from practical, hands-on thanks-giving which relieves a sister’s suffering.

Jonna TurekJonna Turek is active in her congregation and in women’s ministries. Jonna writes the blog “Power Walking with Jonna,” and under the pen-name J.B. Hawker, Jonna has published several mystery novels.

 

Being at Home

Contributed by Sundhari Rangiah

I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him: And in his word is my hope. (Psalm 130:5)

Mafa100-mediumOne of the greatest stories ever told never actually happened. It was fiction. But we know that fiction may speak truths in the clearest and most convincing­—and convicting—manner possible. The story is the parable that Jesus told of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). There are many important truths in this parable, but let us meditate on one—that of being at home.

The prodigal son leaves home to go to the big wide world beyond. He does not appreciate that all he is looking for he already has. “We may be Home with the Father, and yet not appreciate that we are really at Home,” observes Henri Nouwen[1], so we choose to leave the presence of the Father, to seek fulfillment and meaning in life elsewhere. As we know, when the prodigal son has spent all his inheritance he thinks of home and says, “I will arise and go home to my Father.” The father, in fact, is waiting longingly and expectantly for the son’s return, and sees his son when he is still a long way off. Soon the prodigal son is restored to the embrace of the father. He is back home: Home—the place of unconditional love, of unconditional forgiveness.

The story of the prodigal son is an amazing image of how God patiently waits to be in deep communion with us. But God allows us our waywardness, our searching in all the places that take us away from being at home in God’s very presence. Our home is where God is, and all our searching and striving is to return to God. “Thou hast made us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee,” (St Augustine). Archbishop Tutu reminds us simply, “We are created by God, like God, for God.”[2]

This is what the Transfiguration means in your life and mine today. The love of God gives us a vision of hope. It transforms and transfigures us as individuals, as the Church, as churches, as nations, and as the world (Tutu). The Story of the prodigal son is not only for wayward sons and daughters, or cynical and self-righteous elder brothers and sisters. It is for us who are leaders in the church, people who are called to serve. Even as well-meaning people of action, how can we turn from all our striving, our activity, our restlessness, and become still? “Be still and know that I am God,” (Ps 46:10); still—in the presence of God; still—in the shelter and shadow of the Almighty (Psalm 91).

Being at home is to return to a new childhood (Nouwen)[3], where God’s love is boundless and compassionate and all-protecting. Being at home is to understand again and again what it means to remain in the bosom of God. It is to know that we are home already, and that all our longing and striving for more takes us away from our real home, which is in the security and intimacy of God’s presence. Henri Nouwen says:

Jesus’s whole mission in coming to live among us was to call us home to the truth of our lives. He lives and teaches belonging in the womb of Unchanging Love, in the intimacy of Companioning Presence, in the house of the giver of Life and Breath, in the name of the Compassionate Creator. God’s name is our home, our dwelling place… from this home with the Guiding Spirit we walk out into the world without ever leaving this source of belonging.

(Nouwen, 2009)

“I have calmed and quieted my soul;

Like a weaned child upon its mother’s breast;

Like a child on its other’s breast

is my Soul within me.”

[1] Nouven, Henri J M. 2009. Home Tonight – Further Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

[2] Tutu, Desmond M. 2004. God Has a Dream – A Vision of Hope for our Time. Random House: London.

[3] Nouwen, Henri. 1992. The Return of the Prodigal Son – A Story of Homecoming. Darton, Longman and Todd: London.

 

Sundhari RangiahSundhari Rangia serves as president of the Women’s Department, Baptist Association of South Africa. She and several women traveled from South Africa to attend the 2012 National Women’s Conference sponsored by American Baptist Women’s Ministries. For more information about the Baptist World Alliance Women’s Department, of which AB Women’s Ministries and the Women’s Department of the Baptist Association of South Africa are both a part, visit www.bwawd.org.

Hope in Prayer

By Emilie Rodriguez

Prayer Vigil Border credit CWS Aug 29 2014

Prayer vigil at the border, 8-29-14. Photo used by permission, Church World Service.

The breeze comes in through the open car window as we drive across the U.S. border into Tijuana. I look out on streets filled with people going to and from work, school, maybe even wandering around trying to find a place to call home. As I inhaled, memories of my childhood fill my mind, trying to burst free: hitting the piñata at countless birthday parties, cheering as my cousins played soccer with our older aunts and uncles, falling asleep on our way home as we cross the border back to the U.S. We arrive at the Primera Iglesia Bautista de Tijuana, the First Baptist Church of Tijuana. When we enter the building, my eyes widen in surprise. People from all over the United States have come to the vigil: Los Angeles, Pennsylvania, Boston, San Diego—and that’s just the people on this side of the border. Still more were gathering on the other side of the border to join us in prayer.

It gives me hope that so many have come to aid the crisis, come to do something about it and support the efforts. The discussion begins and we conference with our brothers and sisters in San Diego, those who are going to meet up with us later at the park. We go around the room, discussing what has been happening in each of our regions, each person speaking about the children and families that are haunted by the atrocities going on their countries. They’ve seen the faces of these refugees and want to help them overcome their traumatic experiences. The preliminary discussion ends and we head to the Border Field State Park. There, the people in San Ysidro come to join us, facing us across the fence from the U.S. side of the park. There we stand united, linked across two countries, and we all feel hope coursing through each of us. We begin the prayer and as we pray to God, pleading that he helps us fight this humanitarian crisis, my mind finds peace. A sense of calm courses through me, and I know that no matter what happens, God will help.

Emilie Rodriguez 2013-2015Emilie Rodriguez is convenor of the national leadership team of AB GIRLS, AB Women’s Ministries. A senior in high school, Emilie served as AB Women’s Ministries’ representative at a prayer vigil hosted by American Baptist Churches USA held at the border on August 29, 2014. To watch a video of the prayer vigil, click here.

AB Women’s Ministries 2014-2015 mission focus is “Crisis at the Border: What Could I Do?” For information, resources, and a link to subscribe to monthly emails on the topic, visit www.abwministries.org.