Third Sunday of Lent: Sacrifice and Turmoil

By Emilie Rodriguez

This is the third in a series of posts for Lent. Click on “Lent” in the tag cloud on the right to see other posts in the same series. Be sure to subscribe to the blog to get updated posts delivered straight to your inbox or feed reader.

Chagall, Marc, 1887-1985. Moses Striking the Rock and Bringing Forth the Water, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54659 [retrieved March 3, 2017]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/abeppu/3815912913/.

Chagall, Marc, 1887-1985. Moses Striking the Rock and Bringing Forth the Water, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54659 [retrieved March 3, 2017]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/abeppu/3815912913/.

Exodus 17: 1-7

Lent is meant to be a time of reflection and sacrifice, to reaffirm your faith while you put your life into perspective. It can be a difficult time because, more often than not, sacrifice creates inner turmoil, even if it’s as simple as giving up chocolate for the time being.

The Israelites were in a state of exile, giving up their not-exactly-comfortable yet familiar lives for a promise of a new land. Much like during Lent–although, I’ll admit, to another extreme–they had to sacrifice what they knew and trusted in, and trust in God that something better would come. But, like the rest of us, they were only human and eventually grew tired of making sacrifices. Moses saw this, as he also grew tired, yelling at God. But God did not get mad in return; instead, God answered their cries.

What we take from this story is that sacrifice never comes easily. And Lent is not to be something taken lightly, not a whim to see if you can be vegan for a month but rather, a time to make a commitment to yourself and to God. It’s not a time to test God like the Israelites did, but it’s a time to test yourself.

Our country is in a state of chaos. No matter what you believe in, no one can call this peaceful times. Much like the Israelites, it’s easy to lose hope, especially when the leader of our country says such hateful and misogynistic things about women and girls. With Lent comes a chance to strengthen ourselves both spiritually and mentally, sharpening our faith and putting on our spiritual armor to fight the prejudice that will come in the following years. It will be hard and, like the Israelites experienced, there will be dark times where we want to give up and yell our frustrations, and hope that God does something about it. But it’s in those moments that we must never forget that we are God’s greatest tool, and that God will provide for us the water that will save us just as God provided it to the lost souls crossing the desert all those years ago.

We are women, we are girls. We are God’s warriors. It’s time to raise our voices and be heard.

Emilie Rodriguez 2013-2015Emilie Rodriguez, a former member of the national leadership team of AB GIRLS, is now a student at University of California, Davis, California.

Why I Marched

By Virginia Holmstrom

Virginia Holmstrom at Women’s March

I first heard about the proposed Women’s March on Washington soon after the U.S. presidential election in November 2016. I admit . . . my first reaction was to forego getting involved. The people had voted. Let’s get on with life in an America that had, in my opinion, taken some giant steps backward. Everything will self-correct in the next election cycle, I assured myself.

My phone rang that very evening; one of my daughters shared her excitement about the planned Women’s March on Washington. “You’re going, aren’t you? Do you want to come with me and my friends?” I declined. A thunderstorm-sized cloud of guilt gathered over my head and pursued me into the night and the following days. “How can I lead a ministry organization that affirms God’s purposes for women and men alike and not march?” I sulked in weakness. Two weeks later, a friend invited me come along with a busload of women and men to D.C. for the March. I said yes. The relief was instantaneous, completely releasing me from my miserable self-doubt.

The “busload” filled two buses. The two busloads became a link in a long chain of buses heading down Interstate 95 toward Washington D.C. on the morning of January 21. I’ve never seen so many buses headed in the same direction. I multiplied the numbers of buses coming from exponential directions.

It’s a miracle we arrived on the Washington D.C. Mall before the day’s end, the roads were so flooded with traffic and people. I stuck like glue to five women from my busload and we slowly and methodically wormed our way about 25 feet into the edge of the crowd. We were still blocks away from the stage from which speakers’ voices were amplified and their images made visible on large screens that ran the length of the mall. I stood on tip-toes to catch an infrequent glimpse of the nearest screen, hidden by the crowds in front of me.

With one ear catching the wind-driven voices coming from the amplified speeches, I turned my attention to the people—primarily women—that were now my nearest neighbors for the next three hours. Surrounding me were women (and men) of all generations, some wearing pink knitted hats, some wearing hijab head scarves, most wearing something over their heads to stay warm. I read the hand-held homemade signs and posters that bounced above the heads in the crowd. The signs reflected no single issue, but a wide range of concerns held by women: affordable health care, gender equality, reproductive health and choices, religious freedom, equal pay, gay rights, representation in Government . . . . The issues were as plentiful as the faces in the crowd.

So, what were my issues? Why did I choose to march? I stood in support of the hard-earned advances that women have made in recent years, thanks to a growing coalition of women’s voices worldwide. I marched to quell my uneasiness that those slowly-won advances could disappear in the wake of election promises that had mocked and denigrated segments of our nation’s citizens, including women. I marched to protest the over-night removal of information from the White House website: information that had been helpful resources for persons with disabilities, for immigrants pursuing the American Dream just as my great-grandparents had done, and for gay and transgender persons. I marched toward a vision of the inclusion of all voices– respected and valued for their perspectives and giftedness and wisdom — that truly make America great. I marched on January 21.


Virginia Holmstrom is executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

This post is appearing on March 8, International Women’s Day. For more information about International Women’s Day, visit http://un.org/en/events/womensday. For more information about continued advocacy through the Women’s March, visit http://www.womensmarch.com.

 

A Healing Balm–Domestic Violence

By Rev. Dr. Suzanne Walls Kershaw

20121213091340_FileNamePondering, pondering, pondering—what thought would I share that would empower and equip women to live their lives and reach out to others in need? This reflection guided me towards the words within my Doctor of Ministry dissertation that resonate as deeply today as when they were first written. Although domestic violence affects both women and men, given both the social and political climate within our country today the lives of women have been further marginalized and thus the humanity of each one of us—regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, age, life experiences, or gifting—provides us with a place which we can embrace as “common ground.”

“The emerging church, as defined by Kimball, is the Spirit of God; kingdom-minded disciples of Jesus being radical and exhibiting love and faith because it’s all about Jesus. These issues of which we are speaking are not new, but their presence is impacting our lives and communities in a most devastating and disturbing way. More often than not, within our congregations and communities people are suffering both directly and indirectly from these social issues, yet the church remains silent! How can we strengthen and revive anything, anyone, or any situation if we are disengaged?

“The Missio Dei is more than the Body of Christ (believers) walking in their place of comfort and familiarity; it is that place of humility that Jesus travelled and walked daily during his earthly ministry. It is that place of touching lives when others have prescribed that they are unclean, or the lowest of the low, or hopeless beyond hope.

“The Philadelphia Baptist Association (PBA); which is one (1) of the thirty-three (33) regions within the ABCUSA, adopted a domestic violence adaptive challenge, which developed into a catalyst for creating learning communities for the purpose of educating churches and communities concerning the issue of domestic violence; it is creating space for empowerment. Discernment through prayer was the genesis of this ministry, which is serving as a conduit for information and training for our PBA congregations through partnerships with congregations that have domestic violence programs and counselors.

“The shame and fear associated with domestic violence has made it challenging to reach and minister to those in need of care, support, and love. This ministry of the PBA provides its congregations and community with basic information that is available both online and as written resource information.”[1]

Our challenge is to educate ourselves, develop or partner with other domestic violence ministries and reach out to others in our church and community to be a healing balm to those who have been victimized through domestic violence. Here are some suggestions for starting your ministry:

  • Pray for God’s guidance (refer to church protocol regarding new ministries)
  • Identify domestic violence agencies, organizations and creditable on-line resources
  • Invite a representative to speak with your ministry about domestic violence
  • Continue in prayer
  • Share your vision with the pastor and leadership of your congregation

[1] Suzanne H. Walls Kershaw, 2016. Evangelism and Mission to Women Through the Strengthening and Revitalization of the Existing American Baptist Women’s Ministries (ABWM) of the Philadelphia Baptist Association (PBA). D.Min. dissertation, The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.

suzanne-kershawRev. Dr. Suzanne H. Walls Kershaw is president of AB Women’s Ministries of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, and received her Doctor of Ministry degree from Lutheran Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA, in May, 2016.

Being Upstanders

By Barbara Anderson

img_0021“Human Trafficking is a form of modern slavery—a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to 20.9 million people around the world. And no matter where you live, chances are it’s happening nearby. From the girl forced into prostitution at a truck stop, to the man discovered in a restaurant kitchen, stripped of his passport and held against his will. All trafficking victims share one essential experience: the loss of freedom.” (Polaris Project)

Ten years ago, I had never heard the term “human trafficking,” nor understood what it was and the magnitude to which it effected women, children, and men around the world and right here in my own community. In 2015, an estimated 1 out of 5 endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were likely child sex-trafficking victims. According to the Polaris Project, it is estimated that human trafficking is a $150 billion industry worldwide. The darkness and violence continues to grow and, at times, seems hopeless.

As women of faith, we have not been bystanders to this situation. We have raised our voices in advocacy to our lawmakers, raised funds for programs supporting women survivors, and brought awareness to our communities. As faithful women, we have come together and God has heard our prayers. Although we may not be able to see it, we are making a difference in the lives of exploited women and girls. We are shining a light on the darkness. We, as a friend of mine would say, are “Upstanders.” We are women sharing God’s love and making a difference in our communities. We may not see the progress but change is happening. The media is now shining their light on this issue, lawmakers are shining their light through prosecuting traffickers, and organizations are shining their light in offering assistance through homes and services to women survivors. I have led an organization, “All Hands In,” for the past six years as we have worked to establish a presence in the Greater Boston area to support women survivors. Although we are not quite ready to begin our residence program, we are now serving women survivors, one-on-one. We are sponsoring survivor retreats and, in 2017, launching our social enterprise, employing women in our natural soap business and rolling store program.

Women of faith do not sit in the pews: we are “action in the pews” on Sundays and every day. We are not bystanders but upstanders. Let us continue to stand up for exploited and trafficked women in our communities and around the world. Upstanders, unite!

IMG_7110Barbara Anderson is president of “All Hands In,” a ministry organization sponsored by Trinity Baptist Church of East Arlington, MA, addressing the issue of human trafficking. Barbara is a former national president of American Baptist Women’s Ministries. For more information about All Hands In, click here.

Are you feeling called by God to learn more about the critical issue of sex trafficking?  The International Christian Alliance on Prostitution is holding a conference at the Green Lake Conference Center, Green Lake, Wisconsin, May 21-26, 2017. Click here for information.

The Gender Fishbowl

By Lee McKenna

Editor’s note: Lee McKenna is minister and a Conflict Transformation specialist. Lee, who lives on a farm in Ontario, travels around the world—South Sudan, Uganda, Northern India and the Philippines, to name a few—training people to be peacemakers in areas where there is great conflict. Lee leads people, who have little hope, into re-imagining themselves and their lives, largely by means of what she calls “peace games.” She refers to one of these activities as “The Gender Fishbowl.” The following is a description of what happens during one of these games.

gender-fishbowl1

Above: Lee McKenna (inner circle, just left of center) leads a Gender Fishbowl activity during a Conflict Transformation training in Nagaland, in Northeast India. Photo courtesy of Lee McKenna. Used by permission.

Typically, one of the ways by which we raise issues of gender is a “fishbowl.” This consists of two concentric circles of chairs with women in conversation in the middle and men on the outside listening.

We ask two questions. The first is, “What is the ideal woman in your culture?” A sigh moves across the tight knees-to-knees circle of women. The men lean in. It doesn’t matter whether the question is being posed in Toronto or Timbuktu, San Francisco or Santo Domingo, Manhattan or Manila. Women say some variation of the same thing.  The rule of men is the common narrative, with local distinctives.

In South Sudan, they say,

Girls are not for educating—what for? Our role is to bring cows into the marriage, to have babies, to fetch water, grind millet, tend the livestock, till the gardens. You don’t need an education for that! We are to stay home, keep quiet. Men beat us and we’re supposed to be grateful; when the next wife arrives, we are polite. Our work begins even before we are big enough to tie our baby brother or sister on our backs—and carry water on our heads and hoe the sorghum.

Bought and sold for cows, lots of cows, into polygamous arrangements, their genitals mutilated at puberty (to “keep them from wandering”), women are little more than slaves. The illiteracy rate of women in South Sudan is second only to Afghanistan.

We ask the second question. “Is this okay with you?” This time the sigh is more like a groan. The men are getting restless; they’re not sure what to do with what they are hearing. They’re figuring out that they are eavesdropping on a conversation that would otherwise not be held within their hearing.

We have no say. Decisions about our village, about our lives, are made without us having anything to say. My work never ends. He is in the village common, drinking tea and talking. The boys are playing football amongst the eucalyptus trees; the girls are washing clothes, stoking fires, stirring pots.

We play other games throughout the course of a training, designed to help participants to understand the dynamics of their culture. They will unpack emotions that surround the horrors they have experienced. They will come to understand the “other” through these exercises.

The Gender Fishbowl is one of the most profound of the games. By the end of a training like this, through their conversations with one another, both men and women understand this fact: Any society that marginalises half its population sentences itself to permanent underdevelopment and a permanent warrior culture.

With the sound turned off, it might look like silly games. But what it turns out to be is the rending and mending of the heart and soul in the service of peace.  “Aren’t we all tired of war?” they want to know. “Can we trust peace negotiation processes that are played out against all-male displays of militarised prowess? Where are the points of intervention in the cycle of violence?” But also they want to know what can be modelled in a place of exile, right here and now—in new ways of being with one another. They want to know how to intervene in conflict before it turns into violence.

At the end of the training in Uganda, the joy—the jumping, laughing joy—is startling in its exuberance. Sudanese in exile from their homes in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile state celebrate alongside their Ugandan hosts, who are now friends. It is only the beginning. They will take their certificates to hang on the walls of their modest shelters to remind them of their commitment to peace, and to help them share these concepts with others.

In Sudan, we began a two-week training, this time with all Christian participants living in Internally Displaced Persons camps, with a worship service gathered around the carved wooden image of a kneeling, pregnant, praying, weeping woman as the symbol of gestating wisdom awaiting the labouring of birth.

This is, indeed, symbolic of what occurs during these trainings. We wrestle repeatedly with the Bible and its mixed messages of redemptive violence and radical peaceseeking. Trained as trainers, they will return to their temporary homes to train others, multiplying the experience, building peace from the family level to the government level.

—The article above is reprinted with permission from the Seeds of Hope publication Hunger News & Hope, Volume 16 Number 3, Summer 2016. For more information about Seeds of Hope, go to www.seedspublishers.org. For more about Lee McKenna’s work, go to www.partera.ca.

A Promise for Peace

By Virginia Holmstrom

Peaceable Kingdom, a woodcut by Rick Beerhorst

Peaceable Kingdom, a woodcut by Rick Beerhorst

The imagery of “the peaceful kingdom” in Isaiah 11:1-9 has not been lost on me in the divisive discourse that drowned civility during our nation’s presidential election. The Old Testament scripture passage from Isaiah 11 is often preached during the Advent season in anticipation of the arrival of a ruler favored and blessed by God:  Jesus, who is of the human lineage of Jesse and the divine Son of God whose spirit will reside in him:  a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and might, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord. He will govern with righteousness, justice, fairness, and faithfulness. In short, Isaiah’s message long ago offered a troubled world Hope for a transformed and healed world.

The words that begin the 11th chapter of Isaiah are almost like an inaugural address that speaks of hope and redemption for all creation. It foretells the inauguration of a peaceful reign governed by the prince of peace. In this “peaceful kingdom” the wolf lives side by side with the lamb and does not devour it. The leopard and the kid, the calf and the lion, the cow and the bear, the toddler-child and the snake do not intimidate or fear one another. The vulnerable and the powerful live in harmony. The “created” protects God’s creation. Creation reveals the Creator; the knowledge of God fills the earth.

These images from the Isaiah 11:1-9 inaugural address will be on my heart when on January 20 the world tunes in to listen to our nation’s newly-elected president’s inaugural address.

The inaugural address in Isaiah compels me to get serious about working toward the transformation of the world. It calls for my commitment: I will seek to be transformed in my devotion to Christ through the renewing of my spirit. I will seek to be God’s transformation agent within the communities where I live and worship and work and play. I will pray for the grace to see and love and care for others with the grace that God has shown to me. I will pursue peace. I will help to heal our wounded earth.

In American Baptist Women’s Ministries, we’ve been reflecting on what it means to be in relationship as “Beloved Community” and how we shall help facilitate being such a community with God’s help. Beloved Community is lived out through relationships of mutual respect, active listening, standing up with and for each other, loving and encouraging and empowering one another. God’s “peaceful kingdom” and “Beloved Community” are meant to be experienced by all of God’s people. Won’t you join me in this transformation work? God, open in us the gates of your kingdom.

Virginia Holmstrom 2012 smVirginia Holmstrom serves as the executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

UN Sustainable Development Goals: Goal #5 Gender Equality

By Sandra Hasenauer

e_sdg-goals_icons-individual-rgb-05We’ve addressed United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in previous blog posts; this week we’re highlighting SDG #5: “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.”

The empowerment of women and girls is key to a multitude of issues such as peace-making, economic development, and health and nutrition. Although there have been improvements in the state of women and girls in many areas—girls’ access to education, rates of child marriage, fewer maternal deaths—there is still a long way to go. This is why the targets of SDG #5 begin with ending “all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere,” and continue on to address eliminating all forms of violence, ending harmful practices such as child marriages and female genital mutilation, recognizing the value of unpaid care and domestic work, ensuring full political participation and participation in decision-making at all levels, ensuring access to health care, addressing rights to land ownership and property as well as other economic resources, enabling use of technology, and developing legislation to ensure gender equality.

Although practices such as child marriages and women’s right to vote can feel “over there” to us living in the United States, we cannot get complacent about our own situations. The 2015 reports of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research indicate that “the status of women in the area of poverty and opportunity has worsened in the majority of states (29) in the last decade.” 43% of single mothers live in poverty compared to less than 24% of single fathers. In another section of the report, it points out that Millennial women (aged 25-34) are more likely than men of the same age range to have bachelor’s degrees or higher, but at the same time are much more likely than their male counterparts to live in poverty. Violence against women still includes alarmingly high statistics and to complicate matters, only 15 states and D.C. have employment rights laws for victims of domestic violence (the right to leave work to seek services and legal aid, for example, or protect victims from employment discrimination), and in most states, victims of domestic violence are not “eligible to receive unemployment benefits if they leave their jobs without ‘good cause,’” such as needing to escape a violent partner. The good news here is that as of July 2014, 32 states and D.C. have now defined ‘good cause’ in such a way that it can include family violence.

abwm_logo_eng_72           American Baptist Women’s Ministries has a history of empowering women and girls from the very moment of our inception as an organization. We continue that engagement today as we read news headlines and attend to our communities and see where women and girls are…and are not…being encouraged and empowered. How can we help every women have the opportunity to support her family? How can we help women and children to feel safe in abwm_logo_esp_72their own homes? How can we help girls feel safe in their schools and secure in their futures?

God calls us to this day, to this hour: “to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and mantel of praise instead of a faint spirit,” (Isaiah 61:3, NRSV).

(For other posts in this series, click on “Sustainable Development Goals” in the category list to the right.)

headshot higherresRev. Sandra Hasenauer is associate executive director of AB Women’s Ministries.