A Time To….

By Rev. Tamara R. Jackson

Ecclesiastes 3:1,3,7

Current movements like #MeToo and #ChurchToo have once again brought issues often quieted by a “holy hush” in faith communities to light. Now on the world platform again, what we the C(c)hurch do in this moment will speak volumes.

     A time to kill, and a time to heal; A time to break down, and a time to build up;

It is time for the C(c)hurch to kill and break down the complicity that comes with silence. Time to do more than step over victims or cross to the other side when those hemorrhaging from such events invoke discomfort. Doing so makes us no better than the priest and Levite leaving those landing in our places of worship broken, beaten, near death. We cannot do ministry without getting involved in the lives of people! As Disciples of Christ called “to do greater works than He,” we are commissioned to operate as Good Samaritans, bandaging wounds and helping relieve afflictions. It is time for the C(c)hurch to foster pathways toward healing for those victimized, which starts by truly acknowledging the pain.

     A time to keep silent and a time to speak;

Silence does not make it go away. Likewise giving quick answers, answering the pain with explanations the divine use of suffering, re-victimizes the victim. Here Job teaches a valuable lesson. One’s presence speaks louder than words could ever do, especially in the acute stages of trauma! Our words matter as well. They are most valuable when spoken from the pulpit or within communities we navigate. Make it known that sexual violence, domestic violence, sexual and behavioral impropriety will not be tolerated! This includes the “friends” who think their sexist jokes are funny,  coworkers who by default of your gender have a tendency of calling names that were not assigned at birth. It includes the family friend who loves to tickle children, the neighbor who betrays communal trust, and clergy who abuse their flocks!

      There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:

In the throes of violation the question of God’s presence resonates voluminously. Cries from those victimized echo the psalmist, “O God do not keep silent, do not hold your peace.” It is a time in which the victim and the victim’s experience of God both die, as an eclipse of the soul is experienced. It is our response that can slowly reveal light again, foster hope, provide courage, and give assistance to morph victim into survivor.  When we, the C(c)hurch, walk alongside one another, the warmth of a God called El Roi, “the God who sees,” and a God known as Jehovah Shalom, “God our peace,” comes through, providing beauty for ashes. It is through proper response that both victims and survivors can be resurrected and a time of restorative healing as spoken of in the Gospel can be experienced. #TimesUp. Amen.

Rev. Tamara R. Jackson is an ordained minister of the Gospel, licensed Clinical Social Worker, and trauma specialist. The passion of her calling involves walking alongside individuals who have faced life-altering trauma as they traverse the hard road to wellness. Tamara developed the “Sacred Safe Spaces” Special Project for the American Baptist Churches of New Jersey and served as its inaugural coordinator. As coordinator, she spearheaded the region’s Congregational Covenant of Nonviolence campaign, and remains committed to aiding churches in helping victims of abuse journey toward healing.

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What’s Love Got to Do with It?

By Frances Bryant-Lowery

During the United Nation’s 62nd Commission on the Status of Women in New York City (or the Big Apple) this past March, each day’s activities began with an inspiring ecumenical worship service. Early each morning, delegates were invited to gather in the United Methodist Church’s Center for the United Nations to begin our long days with worship. It was a wonderful way to begin the day. During one of our morning gatherings, I was so moved by the following version of the Lord’s Prayer, I not only obtained a copy for my personal use but also included it when I facilitated my adult Sunday School class upon returning to Atlanta. Taken from the New Zealand Prayer Book, I now share it with you.

LORD’S PRAYER

New Zealand Prayer Book

 

Eternal Spirit,

Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,

Source of all that is and that shall be,

Father and Mother of us all,

Loving God, in whom is heaven:

The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!

The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!

Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!

Your commonwealth of peace and freedom

sustain our hope and come on earth.

With the bread we need for today, feed us.

In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.

In times of temptation and testing, strengthen us.

From trials too great to endure, spare us.

From the grip of all that is evil, free us.

For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,

now and for ever. Amen.

 

Because God reigns “in the glory of the power that is love,” we find that this prayer speaks directly to the impact of attitudes and behaviors of so many around the world. Therefore, love has everything to do with how we live and interact with others. In Brenda Salter MacNeil’s book Road Map to Reconciliation: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness, and Justice, Dr. Cornel West is quoted as saying, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been quoted as saying, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” As we look at the United Nations Committee on the Status of Women, the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Goals, as well as our own interactions and/or behaviors, would you agree that love is the universal answer?

Rev. Dr. Frances Bryant-Lowery serves as Coordinator for Mission with Women and Girls in American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

Talitha Koum: Little Girl, Get Up (Reflections from Puerto Rico)

By Deborah Malavé Diaz

Photo from US Dept of Agriculture, March 2018. Continued clean-up. Used by permission http://www.creativecommons.org

After Hurricane Maria, my mother and I relocated to live with my sister in New Jersey as my mother’s assisted living facility was destroyed in the storm. I had to take care of mother, and my husband joined us several weeks later after he had secured our damaged home from further damage. In a matter of days, I lost my world as I knew it. First, I lost my daily routine as electricity and power were gone. I lost my freedom as I had to become the primary caregiver of my mother, a beautiful gentle soul I am losing to vascular dementia. My days and decisions became oriented around her needs. I lost my job, the means to earn money. As the decision came to relocate to New Jersey for my mother’s wellbeing, I lost my sense of self that had existed in my house, my homeland, the tangible support of friends, and the ability to speak in my first language.

We spent almost six months in my sister’s house and under her care, but now I am back in Puerto Rico. My mother is in a new care facility, and within six weeks I got a new job. My husband got a job, too, but in Tampa, Florida. We are separated but at least we’re now able to work earnestly towards a future together again. I am back in my home church and reconnecting with friends and family. Life seems normal…almost. Or does it?

My hometown is 20 minutes south of the capital city and when you drive back and forth between the two places it seems almost normal. The highway is free of debris, but many of the light posts are bent or have fallen over cars and people. At night they are not lit and, if you are not watchful, the many potholes will damage your car. The trees are getting green but there are many patches where they are branchless and naked, looking like matches. As you drive into towns and your eyes wander, you see buildings looking like skeletons, or those that are still roofless. You go to your favorite store or restaurant and discover that they have not yet re-opened or have gone out of business altogether. If you venture to the towns outside of the main metro area, you will find that there continues to be no main road access. Driving in these towns is a faith experience as the stop lights are still not working. You may ask about friends and find out they left for Florida or Texas. You ask after a friend’s elderly or sick relatives and hear that they passed away because there was no power for the oxygen tank, or their specialty prescription did not get to them in time, or they could not get to the hospital because of the roads. Everyone felt like they died a little after Hurricane Maria, but for many, death was real. There is a Harvard Report[1] claiming an approximate 4,645 lives were lost because of Hurricane Maria.

This is every day; this is now the new normal.

Hurricane Maria changed our lives; for awhile for some, and for others, forever. My pastor recently preached about the story of Jairus seeking Jesus for his dying daughter. As I came back to the Island and learned first-hand of the dire situation and dealt with my own losses, I felt not like Jairus. but like his friends who told him, “Don’t bother Jesus, your daughter is dead.” Certainly, dead she was, and I feel like death in its many shapes is around us, but so is Jesus. Jesus is telling us we are not dead, we are only sleeping. Jesus is working miracles but, if we persist in seeing only with our human eyes, we will miss them, just like Jairus’ friends.

I felt like I didn’t want to bother Jesus, but Jesus is telling me, “Talitha koum—Little girl, I tell you, get up.” I hear news of Puerto Ricans getting up and reinventing themselves. I hear news of  ABC-USA and other denominations getting up and coming to help us. American Baptist Women’s Ministries is getting up and collecting funds to support Ministerios de Mujeres Bautistas de Puerto Rico (Baptist Women’s Ministries of Puerto Rico) to help women rebuild here. ABC-USA brothers and sisters are getting up and volunteering to rebuild, restore, and renew Puerto Rico. I hear news from my friends and family of divine providences they experience. I am seeing life defeating death, and I want to live that victory too. I want to feel it in my heart. I must listen to Jesus’ voice telling me, “Little girl, I tell you, get up,” and getting up I am, every day. (Mark 5:35-43)

For more information and to contribute towards AB Women’s Ministries special funding campaign for Baptist Women’s Ministries in Puerto Rico, click here.

Deborah Malavé Diaz is American Baptist Women’s Ministries national coordinator of events.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/harvard-study-estimates-thousands-died-in-puerto-rico-due-to-hurricane-maria/2018/05/29/1a82503a-6070-11e8-a4a4-c070ef53f315_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.d615a0f572fa

Two Million Youth Face Homelessness in America This Year

By Bonnie Sestito

Day after day, especially at certain times of the day, homelessness stares me in the face. When sitting in my car at an intersection near my home waiting for the light to turn green, men, women, and even teens hold up signs asking for money: “Homeless…Need $$$ for Food…God Bless You;” “Lost Home…Two Small Children…Anything Will Help;” “Homeless…Spare Any Change?”

How often do you encounter homeless people? Have you noticed that they seem to be getting younger? What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you see a homeless person? I used to ask myself “why,” because there are so many services available. But now I ask myself to wonder about their story, especially why there are more and more young people out on the streets. Because of my involvement with the youth initiative team of All Hands In, a non-profit 501c3 organization dedicated to raising awareness about human trafficking, it has helped me to have some understanding.

Every year two million kids in America will face a period of homelessness. Some are in a family unit and some are unaccompanied (no parent or guardian). So, what leads kids to this unaccompanied homeless way of life? A pregnant girl is rejected by her guardian, a kid is abused by an alcoholic parent, or is rejected because of her sexual orientation, or is trying to escape gang membership or a life of forced prostitution…. The main cause of homelessness among children and youth is physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse from a parent or guardian.

Here are a few statistics* for you to ponder.

  • 57% of homeless kids spend at least one day every month without food.
  • In the United States, as many as 20,000 kids are forced into prostitution by human trafficking networks every year.
  • 50% of adolescents aging out of foster care and juvenile justice systems will be homeless within six months because they are unprepared to live independently and have limited education and no social support.
  • Almost 40% of homeless persons in the United States are under 18 years old.

These statistics are mind-boggling, but there is something we can all do to make a difference.

  • According to DoSomething.org, surveyed runaway youth felt that one of the biggest barriers to getting help was a lack of knowledge about what services exist. Check out the DoSomething.org website. You can sign up and get facts on youth homelessness and hang ready-to-printer flyers with a hotline number in key places to help them find vital resources like counseling, shelter, and first aid. (https://www.dosomething.org/us/campaigns/flyer-away?source=node/775)
  • Join the movement with Sleep Out America where, for one night, you can make a difference for homeless youth in your own backyard. Sleep Out is not about pretending to be homeless. It’s a demonstration to homeless young people that you care—deciding that you can’t stay indoors while so many kids remain outdoors. (https://sleepout.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=cms.home)
  • Become an advocate. Some legislative focuses are trafficking of minors, foster care reform, employment and education programs, transitional housing programs. (https://www.covenanthouse.org/childrens-charity/child-advocates)

Educate yourself. Advocate for others. And pray that God will open our collective eyes to the need to care for all of God’s children

*Covenant House website, https://www.covenanthouse.org/homeless-teen-issues/statistics

This post is related to American Baptist Women’s Ministries 2017-2018 mission focus on homelessness. For more information and resources, visit www.abwomensministries.org/missionfocus

Bonnie Sestito is president of American Baptist Women’s Ministries of Massachusetts.

Maintain the Right of the Afflicted

By Rev. Angel L. Sullivan

Photo credit: Danielle Scott, used by permission Creativecommons.org.

“Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.” Psalm 82:3

Did you know that, according to NAMI (National Association of Mental Illness), approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year? Or that approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life? Going even younger, for children aged 8–15 the estimate is 13%.

We’re talking about this now because AB Women’s Ministries’ 2017-2018 mission focus is on homelessness in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. There is a direct connection between homelessness and mental illness: An estimated 26% of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness and an estimated 46% live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders.

I work as a hospital chaplain primarily with men, women, and children living with mental illness. I am often asked, “How do you approach persons with mental illness?” My response is simply, “Be kind.” Mental illness is an illness. It is not a punishment from God, karma, or demonic possession, as some people think. It is an illness that presents in various forms. It can present as mood disorders. A person can experience trauma, have a family history, or it can be brought on by substance abuse. In any case, it is an illness and persons should receive the same amount of love and dignity as someone who is facing a chronic or life-threatening physical illness.

As leaders in our churches, homes, communities, and workplaces, we have an opportunity to create comforting spaces that will allow individuals living with mental illness, and family members affected by mental illness, the opportunity to educate and share stories, to help to break down stereotypes, and create support systems.

How can we do this?

  • Hold a church forum where there can be supportive and honest dialogue.
  • Create a mental health ministry where people can feel free to build supportive relationships.
  • If you have a leadership position in your church or community I encourage you to reach out to other mental health professionals in the area and build a professional network. Therefore, if you or a person in your church is in need of support beyond what you can provide, you will know who to call.
  • Contact your government officials and advocate for policy changes to access better funding and resources. I have listed three e-mail helpful e-mail links below.

Finally always remember to just be kind. Kindness goes a long way. These are small changes you can make with a great impact.

Here are some links with more information.

https://www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-by-the-numbers

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/issues/state-mental-health-america

https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/

Rev. Angel L. Sullivan is president of American Baptist Women’s Ministries. 

Easter Sunday: The Ultimate Forgiveness (John 20:1-18)

By Jackie Arnold

“Mary Magdalene at the Tomb.” See below for photo credit.

My son Rick asked me recently what I was up to. My answer was, “Well, I was asked to write a blog. I said yes, of course, because I don’t know how to say no. So, first I need to find out what a blog is.” He is used to that answer, so he laughed. It is wonderful at my age to learn new things. He gave a program on human trafficking recently and was surprised to learn I knew something about that too. It is amazing what you learn in women’s ministries, isn’t it?

My scripture for this blog post is John 20:1-18. It’s the story of Christ’s resurrection. Put yourself in Mary Magdalene’s shoes for a moment. She goes to the tomb to pray and finds the tomb empty. Thinking the body of Jesus had been stolen, she runs to tell someone and finds Peter and the other disciples. They don’t believe her.

How many times have you, especially when you were a child, had people not believe you? It’s very disheartening. It took Jesus several times to convince the disciples himself that he had risen again. It took Jesus three times to convince Thomas it really was Jesus. (That’s where the phrase “Doubting Thomas” come from).

Jesus said “Peace be with you. As the father has sent me, even so I send you: Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.” Those are pretty powerful words.

I volunteered at the hospital for about 20 years. One day I met a new volunteer and the first thing she said to me was, “I understand you are a Christian. I just want you to know that I have done some really bad things in my life and I know God won’t forgive me.” I looked at her and was stunned. First, I didn’t know I had that reputation and, second, I was stunned that she was so adamant that God wouldn’t forgive her. Was she testing me? What was going on?

I looked at her and said, “Jesus forgave you when he died on the cross.” “Oh, not me,” she said. “I have done some really bad things.” I wanted to assure her that it doesn’t matter how bad you have been, God forgives you. All you need to do is ask him.

After that we had customers coming in and didn’t have any more time to talk. Unfortunately, I never saw her again. I have prayed for her often and wondered how she was. Sometimes we can’t convince others that God forgives. We just need to pray for them.

My pastor spoke of how important it is to remember those “quiet” ones: the ones who stay at home a lot, don’t get involved in anything, and don’t talk to many people. I thought of my sister, Judy. Some of you may know that she went to be with Jesus in December. Someone told me once if someone sneezed around Judy she would send them a “Get Well” card. How cool is that? If you know someone who is a “quiet one,” send them a “thinking of you” card or give them a phone call. Judy will look down on you and smile.

Jackie Arnold serves as coordinator of the Western Section of American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

 

Photo Credit: Keller, Albert von, 1844-1920. Mary Magdalene at the Tomb, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=46231 [retrieved February 28, 2018]. Original source: http://www.yorckproject.de.

Sixth Sunday of Lent (Palm Sunday): Mark 11:1-11

By Rev. Gina Jacobs-Strain

Imagine you just purchased a new car, perhaps your dream car; the keys were just handed to you. As the salesperson walks away, two people approach you, reach for the keys, and say, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.” The request is a little vague and, in the back of my mind as I write this, I hear 2 Peter 3:8, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” What would be your response to the request?

Similarly, the disciples, following Jesus’ instructions, take a new colt, never ridden, from a doorway. When asked about their actions, they say these very words to the bystanders. It is not clear in the text that the owner is present, but others in the community see the disciples approach and they release the colt, without resistance, for Jesus’ celebrated entrance into Jerusalem.

These few words raised so many questions for me. Did the “bystanders” recognize the two disciples and therefore knew they were connected to Jesus’ ministry? Did they recognize the term “Lord” as one that distinguished Jesus’ holiness and divinity? Did they know the Lord, Jesus Christ, having witnessed his miracles and having been blessed by his words? Had they surrendered their hearts unto “my beloved son with whom I am well pleased?” The disciples have my undivided attention with these words, “The Lord needs it.” My soul and heart are pierced with these words, no matter how many times I read or hear it.

Jesus, the consummate teacher, is showing us how to live in community. The statement conveys humility and invites the community of bystanders, the colt owner, and the disciples to participate in Christ’s ministry. Jesus also models inclusion and respect as Jesus promises through the disciples to return the colt shortly. Maybe the bystanders understood that all that we have belongs to God. Yet today, we often allocate our time, resources, and spiritual gifts that we have received from God back to serving God in a measured manner. It is funny that the things that God requires are often simple yet our willingness to be obedient make things complicated and not easily achieved.

As we approach Palm Sunday thinking about Jesus’ triumphant ride into Jerusalem, we should prepare our minds and hearts for Holy Week. Is God saying to you, “The Lord needs it?” Prayerfully, our sacrifices during the Lenten season, as well as our deepened spiritual practices, will renew and sustain us well beyond Lent because we have become more firmly planted in the holiness of our Savior. Let us persist and ask ourselves, “What does the Lord need from me so that I may participate more fully in sharing and doing the Gospel?” And so, I wonder with you, would I release the keys to my car (which has over 100, 000 miles and persistent issues) to someone who I knew was a devout Christian? Would I release it without resistance and a plan for its return? Where are the opportunities in my life for me to ask for help? Are we too busy, too smart, too “I-know-how-to-do-it” that we forget to invite others into the blessings of Jesus ministry? Let us ponder these words, asking God to show us new ways to witness God’s call to us and new ways to be in community. The Lord needs it.

We introduce Rev. Gina Jacobs-Strain as the new executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries. Welcome, Gina!