My Brother’s Beads: Spiritual Pilgrimage to Republic of Georgia

By Patricia Hernandez

I’ve recently returned from a trip to the Republic of Georgia with sisters in ministry as part of a project “Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges.” Our project is intended to build bridges between Georgians and Americans, Christians and Muslims, clergy and laywomen. While there we had the opportunity to pray and worship with Muslims from several communities.

Meeting with the Spiritual Leader (Kemal Tsetskhladze) of one community, we visited a number of mosques in his home town.

In one mosque, we were struck by the beads that hung from beams in the great hall of prayer.

May 2015 Interfaith, beads 010Black and red, blue and green, even purple.

Beads of silver,

Beads of gold,

Beads of shiny metal and shimmering glass.

Long laced beads.

Short strands.

Beads.

Bountiful beads.

 

As we looked at the various beaded beams,

Kemal reached for one, extended it to us, and invited us to choose a strand for ourselves.

We roamed and reflected, prayed and pondered,

each eventually choosing a beaded band that beckoned to us.

 

20150421_130717Later on, we visited Kemal’s village, a treacherous terrain in which the only connection to one end of the village was by way of a cable car. We were intrigued and wanted to give it a try. However, the village had been experiencing days of continuous rain and thunder, making such travel unsafe and shutting down the cable car.

But that day—by the grace of God— the morning rain subsided, the clouds parted, and the sun even momentarily broke through. So Kemal motioned, “Come on, come on. Let’s go!” And “go” we did, piling into the cable car—all of us, Georgian and American Christians and Muslims, clergy and laywomen.

One car.

Under one sun.

 

As we wound and wended our way across the steep cavern on a wire,

teetering and tottering over the valley below,

I held tight onto that bangle of beads

till we got to the other side.

 

With great trepidation,

I tentatively stuck out a foot, not sure whether the ground below was really within reach.

Thankfully, my foot hit solid rock.

Pay dirt.

I breathed, relieved. We were grounded.

More importantly, bonded.

 

As my foot steadied on stable ground, my fingers released the hold on the beads,

and words wafted through the wind of the conversation from dinner the night before:

 

“What prayer do you use with it?” I had asked.

Kemal had paused, then responded, “No prayer in particular. Just a reminder to pray.”

Just remember.

Remember to pray. Remember each other. Remember God

 

May 2015 Interfaith, beads 010Now back in the States, thousands of miles from that blessed bonding,

as I hold these beads, I am reminded to pray.

I remember the friends we made.

I remember my brother.

And I am drawn deep into our God.

 

My brother’s beads bless and bind me,

connecting me to the community of faith,

one God in and around and over us all.

Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone—or we might even say, bead by bead—with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home. (Ephesians 2: 19-22, The Message)

Breaking barriers, building bridges—bead by prayed-over-bead—becoming the body of Christ;

that’s what we are doing.

Join us on the journey….

Patricia-HernandezRev. Dr. Patricia Hernandez serves as national director of American Baptist Women in Ministry and Transition Ministries. Her passion for the life of the Spirit is evidenced by having studied at Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation (www.shalem.org) as well as having spent time at the community of Taize with Brother Roger in France and L’Abri with Frances Schaefer in Switzerland. 

 

Advertisements

Seeing as God Sees: Spiritual Pilgrimage to Republic of Georgia

By Angel Sullivan

But God told Samuel, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 MSG)

This past April, I, along with five American Baptist women colleagues, had the opportunity to spend ten days in the Republic of  Georgia visiting with Muslim women and girls. Prior to leaving for my trip I shared with a few people that I would be visiting sacred Muslim sites and visiting and learning about the Islamic faith. The immediate response received was, “Why? Don’t you know how dangerous it will be? Muslims want to hurt Christians! Don’t you watch the news and know about ISIS?”

20150420_231139While I knew that I was visiting with Muslims, a people of a peaceful faith tradition, and that they did not have any intentions of hurting Christians, I still was unclear as to what to expect and how to be. During my time there, I visited a Muslim school for girls, where the ages ranged from 18-27.  I have to admit, prior to meeting the girls I did have my own stereotypes. I thought many wore long dress, skirts, and traditional head wraps, did not engage in any type of pop culture, and focused primarily on their faith.  I was proven wrong. There were, indeed, girls who wore long dress and head pieces, but many wore jeans and t-shirts just like American girls. I had the opportunity to hear girls talk passionately about their faith during a celebration for the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday. I engaged in  conversations about their families, hopes, and dreams, that were similar to the girls I know back at home, and I danced. Yes, danced! We had one big slumber party where we ate popcorn, laughed, 20150420_212104and engaged in traditional, free-style, and competitive dance until the girls tired us out. The next morning, the girls surprised each of us with handmade envelopes and letters, expressing gratitude, prayers, and well-wishes for our taking the time to get to know them as people, as Children of God.

It was during the dance that I thought about a Scripture passage found in the  book of Samuel, that reads, “Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.” As I danced, I did not feel as if I was an African-American Christian women dancing with Georgian Muslim women; rather, I felt as if I was a soul dancing with another soul, enjoying the beauty of life and creation as God has intended.  The dance taught me that if we take the time to find common ground and break down barriers and stereotypes, that we can get along, have fun, laugh, work through difficult times, and dance to the rhythm of life until our heart is content.

AngelSullivan2013smRev. Angel L. Sullivan is an American Baptist-endorsed chaplain, serving as Staff Chaplain at St. Joseph’s Hospital-Bay Care Health Systems in Tampa, Florida. She currently serves as an adult member on the AB GIRLS national leadership team (AB Women’s Ministries), and is nominee for the position of national president of American Baptist Women’s Ministries, 2015-2018. Elections are held at the annual meeting of American Baptist Women’s Ministries on June 26, 2015, at Women’s Day in Overland Park, Kansas.

Vessels: A Spiritual Pilgrimage to the Republic of Georgia

By Deborah Malavé Díaz

20150422_200335

American Baptist women and women from Republic of Georgia

In April of this year, I had the opportunity to go for the second time to the Republic of Georgia; a team of six American Baptist women traveled there on what we have called a “spiritual pilgrimage.” My experience the first time we went in 2014 was marked by a blessed uncertainty as personal circumstances almost prevented me from going. It was an intense pilgrimage marked by the everyday discovery of the Georgian people, history and culture, breathtaking Caucasus Mountains, rivers and the Black Sea. None of these compare to the amazing hospitality we enjoyed throughout our stay. The people of the Republic of Georgia, as an intrinsically religious people, treat their guests as God instructed in the Old Testament: as messengers of God, as angels. So there we were, far from our homes but, unbeknownst to us, received as “angels.” I asked myself, if we are treated as messengers of God, what message are we to deliver? Our journey lead us to discover how over the last 20 years the Georgian Baptist Church, a religious minority under pressure to survive, has been able to build bridges of friendship among other religious groups and the nation—not by preaching and the Gospel, as we Westerners are used to, but by transforming themselves into vessels of service to reach out and help others in need just as Christ did.

20150419_195735On our way to Georgia, I was looking forward to reconnecting with the Baptist and Muslim friends we had met the first time and with whom we had kept in touch by social media. I was excited to meet more Georgian women. I wanted to listen to them, share, laugh, learn, and pray with them. I wanted to see and walk in their shoes. In a society dominated by men, this mission proves at times to be challenging: In a sense, I couldn’t find their shoes, their real shoes.

As I trusted our blessed pilgrimage, we spent time talking to young adult Muslim women, all of them theologian college students; and we stayed overnight with a group of Muslim teenagers where we shared quality time with them. We stayed with Georgian families, spoke to Baptist women from different churches, accompanied the deaconesses of the Baptist St. Nino’s Order as they visited the sick and needy under their care, went to the U.S. Embassy and to the Public Defender Office in Tbilisi, the capital city of the Republic of Georgia.

20150425_142034I found the women’s shoes… but they were too heavy to wear and hard to walk in as I had naively wished at the beginning of this journey. I saw their struggles and experienced just a tiny fraction of it. Each day, Georgian women wake up to raise their children to become better than they are, have beautiful homes and at the same time make ends meet because their economy is in dire circumstances. They live surviving alcoholism, domestic violence, and sexual abuse, navigating a society where women are expected to be hard workers, devoted wives, mothers, and daughters, and to do it all in silence. They all carry the same burden and yet the Baptist and Muslim women we met did all they could to make us feel at home and welcome. Their hearts are a big as the Caucasus Mountains. The way these women love and help others is the unseen key to the ongoing transformation through service and love led by the Baptist Church and the Muslim groups.

20150419_142716On our way back to America, I found myself thankful for each day, the good and bad ones too, for friendships, the hospitality, and the lessons learned. I went back to my initial question: what message did God have us deliver to Georgians? As I reflected on what I had heard, shared, laughed, learned and prayed about with our fellow Georgian brothers and sisters, I discovered that we were not delivering messages from God. We were the ones receiving a message from God: to build bridges of friendship, breaking barriers in new ways, not only by preaching but by transforming ourselves into vessels of service to reach out and help others in need as Christ did.

Deborah Malave DiazDeborah Malavé Díaz is a member of the Primera Iglesia Bautista de Caguas in Peurto Rico. A life-long Baptist, Deborah grew in leadership through Baptist youth boards, camps, and rallies, in Christian theater and singing ministries. She is actively involved in Mujeres Bautistas de Puerto Rico (AB Women’s Ministries of Puerto Rico), having served as MBPR coordinator of Young Adult Women’s Ministries and coordinator of her region’s 2013 and 2014 Annual Assemblies. Deborah is the nominee for AB Women’s Ministries national coordinator of events, 2015-2018; elections are held at the AB Women’s Ministries annual meeting at Women’s Day, June 26, 2015.

Ecumenical Advocacy Days: A Personal Perspective

By Bonnie Sestito

The 13th annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) gathering has come and gone, but the work is not over. Approximately 1000 men and women of faith came together to explore “Breaking the Chains: Mass Incarceration and Systems of Exploitation.”

Placards at EAD

Placards at EAD

The U.S. makes up only five percent of the world’s population yet holds nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners. Still, “imprisonment” is a worldwide problem and takes various forms, as everywhere people around the world remain trapped in detention centers, prisons, factories and drug wars that bind and dehumanize individuals for political or economic profit. At EAD we confessed our personal and corporate failure to break the chains of poverty, racism, and greed institutionalized in our laws, economy and social behaviors that collude to perpetuate such human exploitation and strip civil and human rights.*

Human exploitation is the unethical, selfish use of human beings for the satisfaction of personal desires and/or profitable advantage. Plenaries, workshops, and films covered human trafficking including sex and labor, family detention for the undocumented, justice systems regarding the war on drugs, lack of education for girls, and more. My focus was on issues pertaining to women and girls.

EAD was intense and overwhelming. But at the end of the day, I found it very informative, educational and empowering. Statistics change. New information is shared and learned. Do you know that:

  • one in seven teenagers run away from home;
  • parents who are addicted to drugs sometimes “rent out” their children even as young as two months old for money to buy more drugs and pay bills;
  • boyfriends can be pimps;
  • one in ten men sitting in the church pews are buyers of commercial sex, but we are not talking about it; and
  • girls are married off as young as nine years old?

I took in as much information as my mind and emotions would allow. The injustices towards women and girls are far greater than the short list mentioned. Generally speaking, men create the demand; women and girls are the supply. Human exploitation will not change until we all take action. Get the facts. Promote awareness. Connect to a local task force, coalition, or service. Volunteer your professional skills. Buy fair trade products. Know who your representatives are. Write, email, or call them. They want to hear from their constituents.

After I returned home from EAD to digest what I heard and learned, I finally felt like I could do something. I could make a difference or at least I could try. I was given the tools to do a lobby visit. I understood that gathering toiletries for women in prison is thoughtful and generous, and purchasing jewelry or bath products made by survivors of trafficking is supportive and worthwhile.

EAD 2015 is over but the work is just beginning. As an individual, my goal is to move from charity to justice. As American Baptist women and girls, I can only image what could be accomplished if we banded together just as the women of 1931 raised over-and-above monetary gifts to enable the denomination to continue its crucial ministries during the Great Depression. What could we accomplish today if we once again raise our voices together? “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy,” (Proverbs 31:8-9).

*From program booklet for Ecumenical Advocacy Days, 2015.

For more information about Ecumenical Advocacy Days, visit www.advocacydays.org. You may see photos of the 2015 event and watch videos of 2015 plenary speakers. 2016 Ecumenical Advocacy Days are April 15-18, 2016, at the DoubleTree Hotel by Hilton Washington, D.C., Crystal City.

Bonnie SestitoBonnie Sestito serves as Coordinator of Mission with Women and Girls for American Baptist Women’s Ministries.