White Supremacy and Me

By Rev. LeDayne McLeese Polaski

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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.

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.