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

White Supremacy and Me

By Rev. LeDayne McLeese Polaski

iStockphoto

As a child, I witnessed a rally of the Ku Klux Klan. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but I was young enough to have been very confused by my mother’s fierce anger when the hand-made KKK signs started appearing in our neighborhood.

I don’t remember how she explained the group to me, but I vividly recall seeing the event itself as it was held early one evening in an empty corner lot alongside the state road which was the regular route into our neighborhood. Riding home in the family station wagon as the sun was setting, I saw hooded figures in bright white robes standing listening as someone with a ragged voice shouted over a loudspeaker.  I had a glimpse of flames rising high as we sped past. The fire was likely contained in a barrel, but in my mind it was a conflagration.  My vision could have lasted only the few seconds it took to drive by – but the scene has been seared in my memory ever since.

I recently asked my parents if they could confirm this happening. I hadn’t imagined it, had I? They indeed remembered the rally, and my dad was prompted (as he often is) to tell a story of how he recalled the event. A black friend of one of my older brothers had shown up at our house.  He’d been on our side of town, and the only route he knew home went along the same state road we’d just traveled past the rally. He wanted to be home, but he was too afraid to go the way he knew. My dad, who as a city police officer seemed to know every back road ever paved (or not), took the young man into his truck and together they returned to his home by a different route.

For years, whenever I have heard the phrase “white supremacy,” I have returned in my mind to that scene of flames, hoods, robes, and angry voices. Yet, in the past few years, I have begun to see white supremacy located not in an abandoned lot a few blocks from my childhood home but in a place far closer and more frightening – in my own heart and mind.

For most of my life, fighting racism was something I imagined I could do by focusing outside of myself. Only recently have I begun to grapple with the fact that my struggle is at least as much an internal one. As my eyes have been opened, I have begun to see how deeply white supremacy is a part of me.  I do not consciously think of myself or people who look like me as superior, but the vast majority of my friends are white – as are most of my co-workers and my closest ministerial colleagues,  most of the people at my church and in my neighborhood, and every member of my family. Even my Facebook page was a mostly white enclave until a friend posted the challenge “Do all of your Facebook friends look like you?” and I took steps to widen my circle of social media connections. There are exceptions, of course, but my life tilts in a particular direction, and I know I am not the only one.

This reality is not a coincidence. This is the result of my conscious and unconscious decisions within a society in which separation is often the path of least resistance. And this reality is not without consequences – it affects the way I understand the world — the stories I hear and do not hear, the things I know and do not know, and what I think of as normal, natural, and best.

I have unknowingly but regularly lived out of a supremacist framework in the groups I have joined (or not) and in how I have conducted myself within them, in the priorities I’ve set for my work and how I’ve gone about it, in how I have planned agendas and run meetings and taken minutes, in the decisions I have made and the ways in which I’ve made them, in the silences I have chosen to ignore or did not notice, in the way I have written job descriptions and conducted interviews, in the areas of my personal life in which I have focused, in the relationships that have received most of my energy – I could go on.

The same reality impacts the institutions that matter most to me. In the past few years, courageous people within BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz have raised their voices to name specific ways in which people of color have regularly experienced harm within our organization, an organization committed to peace rooted in justice, an organization with explicit commitments to welcome and inclusion. We didn’t see it. We didn’t mean it. Our intentions were beyond good. And yet, it happened and is happening.

Guilt and shame serve no one and cripple rather than motivate efforts for change. So how shall we move forward? The least that we can do is to recognize the depth of the work that is to be done and the flames of fear we’ll have to face to do it. No matter what path we choose, the road to Beloved Community runs through dangerous and difficult places, some of them closer than we’ve ever imagined.

Perhaps a different route will take us home for the first time.

LeDayne McLeese Polaski is the Executive Director of BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz (Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America). www.bpfna.org

One Day in Myanmar (Kachin IDP Camps)

By Gail Aita

This is the second of two posts by Gail about her sojourn in Myanmar (Burma) in early 2017. Click here for the first post.

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After spending four weeks at Myanmar Institute of Theology teaching, my husband Paul and I traveled to Kachin State and then to the Chin Hills. Both were adventures in and of themselves. We were greeted at the airport in Myitkyina by both Ja Ing and Ja Nu, two wonderful Kachin women who came to the American Baptist Women’s Ministries’ Conference in Washington, D.C. in 2016. We were then treated to a very fine dinner out with the women representing the Women’s Development Department of Kachin Baptist Convention.

The day started out with a visit to an IDP camp in Myitkyina, Kachin State. It was heart-breaking and uplifting at the same time: Heart-breaking to see the faces of the men, women, and children who have lost all worldly belongings: yet, uplifting because their spirits are filled with God’s love and His grace. Just look at those faces……and remember to pray for their safety, their health and their welfare.

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We listened to their stories, sang with them and prayed with them.

We visited three IDP (IDP = internally displaced persons) camps that Saturday.

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This was the smallest camp we visited. Their electric bill was 70,000 kyats/month (roughly $50 US at the current exchange rate) and they had to collect 2,000 kyats ($1.50) from each family which was, more often than not, difficult to do.

At the last camp, Waing Maw, which is the largest in the greater Myitkyina area, we were told to sit in the back of the van because we had to cross a bridge with a border check and westerners were not supposed to be going to that camp. While we were there, workers were putting up tents donated by the UN because they had just received 350 new refugees, many of whom were “double displaced persons” because the camps they had been in were also destroyed by the Burmese military in the fighting. There were well over 3,000 people at this camp.

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One of the ministries that I have been involved with at home has been teaching some of the Kachin women in the greater Seattle area how to sew, in particular “pillowcase dresses” and “self-binding baby blankets”. I have had help from a number of other American Baptist women in the area.  For two months prior to our leaving for Myanmar, the Kachin women have come to my home and have made 40+ dresses and 15 baby blankets. I also had some dresses made by women from other churches in the area. I had the privilege of being able to deliver those dresses and blankets to the folks in the camps. It was a gift of love from the Kachin women in Kent to those in the camps, and I was blessed to be the delivery person!

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Saturday was a long day filled with mixed feelings: despair and hope, tears of pain and tears of joy, but always an awareness of God’s love and God’s grace. Please continue to pray for the plight Kachin people and for peace in Myanmar.

Gail Aita serves as coordinator of the Western Section for American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

For earlier posts about the Kachin IDP camps, click here and here.

The Journey Begins Again

By Gail Aita

January-March, 2017

One of the reasons Paul and I wanted so much to return to Myanmar this year was to have some sense of closure. We have been going to Myanmar as voluntary missionaries and serving as Special Assistants to Southeast Asia and Japan since 2000. This was our ninth time going to serve and for eight of those trips we have taught at Myanmar Institute of Theology (M.I.T.) as well as the Pwo Karen Seminary in Yangon. We have both turned 70 this past year and have begun to slow down a little. In 2015-2016 Paul had five hospital visits dealing with kidney stones and complications from the surgeries. Needless to say, we spent a lot of time praying that we would be able to once again return to Myanmar, but knew from the outset that it may be our last long-term stay. (However, after having been there, we found ourselves often being asked to come back to teach and saying “If God wants us to return, He will give us the strength to do so!”)

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At M.I.T., the classes included not only English Literature and Poetry, as well as grammar, but also classes at the seminary concerning Ministry with Youth, Partnering Young Adults and the Elderly, Christian Education, and a class on Teaching Those with Special Needs and American Sign Language.  At the Pwo Karen Seminary, the students were most interested in learning English so we did a lot of role playing and singing.

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Unlike previous years, this year Paul and I had the opportunity to visit schools in the Kachin State and in the Chin Hills. We spent a little more than two weeks visiting and teaching at the Kachin Theological College and Seminary (KTCS) in Myitkyina and at the Chin Christian University (CCU) in Hakha.

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At each school, Paul and I both became reacquainted with those who were our former students. What a blessing it is to meet those former students who have gone on to become servants using their God given gifts to teach others.

And as a last note for now, I would like to share about a young teacher at KTCS by the name of Naw Din. Naw Din and his wife have three children of their own including a newborn baby just three weeks old. He and his wife have taken in twenty (yes, 20!) orphan children from the IDP camps. He does not run an orphanage. He and his wife have actually taken them into their home. They feed them, clothe them, send them to school, pray with them and, most of all, love them. They depend solely on the gifts from generous friends.  They are amazing.  I had the joy of spending a day with them, teaching them some English, some sign language, and some songs. We had such fun. I was truly blessed.

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Please pray for all the seminaries and colleges in Myanmar, that they will continue to teach God’s word and produce Christian leaders. Also pray for Naw Din and his loving wife and family as they share God’s love in the Kachin State.

**I would also like to mention that the opportunity to volunteer to teach at seminaries and colleges in Myanmar is a real possibility for anyone who is interested. You can contact International Ministries for more information.

Gail Aita serves as coordinator of the Western Section for American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

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.