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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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.

Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges–Post #2

By Rev. Mary Beth Mankin

This is the second of two posts on Debi’s Journey, “Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges.” The Georigan word debi means “sisters.”

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Rev. Nikita McAlister with a new Muslim friend who is wearing the stole of American Baptist Women in Ministry

While on Debi’s Journey, a spiritual sisters’ adventure in the Republic of Georgia in August, we became acquainted with several women from Georgia and we caught glimpses into their lives—their hopes, dreams, and their struggles. Our group of eight women from the U.S. included four who had been to Georgia before, so we new ones had some experienced guides for this continuing series of friendship building.

As part of our cross-cultural, interfaith experience of “Breaking Barriers and Building Bridges,” our primary hosts were Georgian Baptists from the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia. We were also hosted by Muslim families who have become friends of the Baptists in Georgia, through the compassionate support of Baptists when the Muslims were victims of unlawful discrimination.

In Georgia, religious freedom is provided in the constitution, but where 89% of the population affiliate with the some form of Orthodox Christianity, the Georgian Orthodox Church (at 83.9%) enjoys a privileged status in terms of legal and tax matters and property disputes. There have been numerous incidents of harassment and persecution of minority religious groups and interference with their worship activities. Muslims and Baptists, as well as other Protestant groups, have faced opposition to building houses of worship as they wish.

During our time in Batumi where we were hosted by the Georgia Muslim Union, we met Gvantsa, a young lawyer who does research on human rights, including women’s and religious rights. Describing the situation of many women in Georgia, she noted that women are victims of discrimination in their everyday lives because of religious and cultural traditions: a man is the head of a family or business and is seen to have authority over women. Although the Georgian constitution grants equality to women, the cultural norms seem to have a greater effect on what actually happens.

Gvantsa told us that domestic violence and sexual harassment are significant problems, but women tend to believe that they deserve what they get or that a man has the right to control them. One of 11 women report such problems, but since women are shamed by their family or community if they take an abuse or rape case to court, most will not bring charges. Other challenges were noted: early marriages with insufficient income generate frustration and anger; an unemployed husband may be resentful if his wife is employed and try to show his power over her; and, typically, religious leaders tell women to stay with their husbands, even when there is abuse. Divorce has a bad reputation, and women are unlikely to divorce.

Unemployment is a challenge for young adults in Georgia. One educated, unmarried woman we met finds it difficult to get a job that will support her. In our air travel to Georgia, I met three young adults who had left Georgia to find work elsewhere.

The government is working to improve the conditions for women. There are five shelters for victims of domestic violence in the country. To protect minors, there is a law preventing marriage before the age of 18, even with parental permission, if the court does not grant permission. Sexual harassment in the workplace is now a criminal offense, and the government can help a woman sue a boss who is found guilty. Family law cases are private.

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Rev. Dr. Patricia Hernandez, Director of American Baptist Women in Ministry

As I reflect, I realize that many challenges women face seem to be universal. As followers of Jesus, who treated women with respect and dignity, we are called to help women throughout the world gain equal rights for religion, education, health care, employment, and protection from harm. May we, too, find ways to break the barriers of fear and misunderstanding between religions and ethnic groups, and build bridges of friendship and understanding—of education and action for justice and peace. Our hurting world is crying out for us to make the grace and love of God’s kingdom present and alive wherever we go!

American Baptist Women’s Ministries (ABWM) and American Baptist Women in Ministry (ABWIM) have been invited by the Georgian Muslims Union and the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia to bring another group of American women to Georgia in November 2017. Watch www.abwministries.org for more information!

Interested in learning more about Baptist Muslim Dialogue? Save the dates for AB Women’s Ministries virtual mission encounter “See Me As I Am,” May 8-12, 2017. Visit www.abwministries.org/vme for more information as it becomes available.

mary-beth-mankinRev. Mary Beth Mankin is a retired pastor, living in Boulder, Colorado. She recently completed her term as president of American Baptist Women’s Ministries of Colorado.

 

Domestic Violence in Our Churches

By Moreen Sharp

domestic_violence-3When you picture an abuser, what image pops into your head?

Faith Trust Institute tells us, “Batterers come from all class backgrounds and races. They may be highly-paid professionals, an upstanding member of the community, and a respected member of his congregation.”

When you think of a battered woman, what do you think of?

Battered women also “come from all walks of life. She might be the vice-president of your local bank, your child’s Sunday school teacher, or your dentist.”

The majority of us would be surprised at how widespread domestic violence is among people who attend our churches.

Let me tell you Sara’s story:

I grew up being very involved in the church, attended a Baptist private school, Bible college, and went into missions work. I met a man who shared my passion for the world and ministry. He was going to Bible College to be a pastor. Within six months after we married, he was dragging me around by my hair, pinning me down, and spitting all over my face while yelling, “RESPECT ME…SUBMIT.” I always made excuses for the bruises on my face, busted lip, or finger-print bruises on my arms. I knew it was getting bad, but I felt like it was my fault.

One day, the abuse got so bad he strangled me until I passed out. After that, I found a way to leave the relationship and came out about the abuse. My (now) ex played the role of the victim well. He was currently employed as a youth pastor at a church, and that church shunned me completely.

Believing I am lying is easier for most than accepting abuse is in their community.  I can reconcile the abuse of one man, but not the rejection of an entire community. I can honestly say that the reaction by the church hurt far more, and has been more traumatic, than the three-to-four physical beatings a week over a two-year period by my husband.

Her story is eerily similar to the story a friend shared with me.

This is not “somebody else’s problem.” We need to recognize this. Victims, survivors, perpetrators, family members are sitting in our churches every week.

What CAN we do?

  • Is there a woman who attends your church because it is a place of safety, of refuge, from an abusive spouse?  Keep your eyes and ears open. Listen. Be a friend.
  • If you are a woman who is being abused, please seek help. This is NOT your fault. No one deserves to be treated in such a way. Please know that.
  • Encourage your pastor to preach on this topic
  • Find out what community resources are available in your area and give the list to your pastor so s/he knows there is help if someone comes forward.
  • If someone talks to you about it, tell them you believe them and that it is not their fault. Direct them to talk to a domestic violence expert who is trained to help someone in their situation.

Faith communities matter in addressing domestic violence! We need to bring light on the subject. Let’s talk about it!

Moreen SharpMoreen Sharp is president of the North American Baptist Women’s Union and Vice-President of the Baptist World Alliance Women’s Department. 

Using the Amazon links in this post helps support American Baptist Women’s Ministries. Thank you.

Sharing Stories

By Judith DeRolf

This is the third of four blog posts from participants in the recent Immigration Immersion Experience hosted by American Baptist Women’s Ministries. See bottom of post for information about another upcoming opportunity.

Sewing room at Deborah's House where residents learn job skills to promote self-sufficiency.

Sewing room at Deborah’s House where residents learn job skills to promote self-sufficiency.

As we crossed the border from San Diego to Tijuana, I pondered what I would experience in the days ahead in my week of “Immigration Immersion.”* Winding through the streets of a city that had grown from a population of 200,000 to one million in less than ten years helped begin my journey to understand the depth of the difficulties that people living here encounter.

Driving nearly an hour from the border through windy and bumpy streets, making nearly a U-turn onto a narrow path and up a sharp hill to a locked gate, our group had finally arrived at “Deborah’s House.” Beyond the gate were several buildings and a play area for children but no signage to inform the public what “Deborah’s House” was: a home for women and children who had experienced domestic abuse. For the safety of the residents, there was no sign with the name of this small community doing miraculous work assisting women and children towards a better life.

Most of our group spoke very little Spanish and the women we met didn’t speak much English, but we did our best to become acquainted. Even though our language was limited, we were able to communicate with our hearts and share God’s love with hugs and smiles. The children were lively and friendly, always ready to assist us in communicating as best as they could and often indicating their own need for attention and love.

Meeting with the women one day, we were able to hear their stories one by one with American Baptist missionary Ray Schellinger translating for us. There were many tears shed, both by those who spoke and those who listened. Some of the women had recently arrived for help but others had been at Deborah’s House for some time, and we could see and feel a big difference in their ability to share their life stories. The newly arrived had much more difficulty sharing their experiences. After one newly arrived woman left the group crying, not able to share, another woman who had been a resident for a longer period of time followed her to console and give support. What a beautiful expression of love in the midst of their own pain.

Later that same day, we were privileged to meet several women who had been residents of Deborah’s House in years past. Hearing how these women came to Deborah’s House with no hope in their lives, and to then hear about their lives now, was to hear God working in each of them. What a blessing to hear these women share their stories with the women in residence now, and to understand the difference being at Deborah’s House made in to them. Each woman talked about having a job that they trained for while living at Deborah’s House, and/or about being in a good relationship with a new husband. One woman told how she is now employed at Deborah’s House helping minister to new residents.

As I listened to these brave women talk about their survival and healing, I tried to imagine walking in their shoes but it was next to impossible. Then I began to look back on my life. I realized I, too, have had suffering and pain that led to healing. Thanks to the grace of God, I have been blessed with God’s love and mercy that these women will also find at Deborah’s House.

*Even though this experience wasn’t directly connected to immigration, it was indirectly related because at least one of the residents had tried to cross the border without papers, been caught and imprisoned for four years prior to her time at Deborah’s House. 

JudyDeRolfJudith DeRolf is a retired American Baptist missionary to Japan and an active American Baptist woman in the Great Rivers Region.

American Baptist Women’s Ministries is hosting a second Immigration Immersion Experience in August/September, 2016. Click here for more information.

Healing Arts

By Mylinda Baits

IMG_7548_0193We were informed 15 minutes before our training session was to begin that one of the participants had attempted suicide the week before. She was struggling with multiple family issues and deeply depressed by her current life situation. Thankfully supportive staff was surrounding her, but we needed to know what was happening so that we could be prepared to address whatever reactions that might come up to the material we were presenting on trauma and its affects. There were indeed some rough moments for her during the three-day Healing Arts Toolkit training that I co-facilitated for rural and urban health promoters at AMOS, A Ministry of Sharing, in Managua, Nicaragua. Understanding the effects of trauma on the body, mind, spirit, and relationships helped us to create a safe and secure space for grace and growth in spite of the difficulties she and the other participants were experiencing. When trauma or extreme stress happens, normal coping strategies fall apart, but there are ways we can learn to help us regroup and heal from life’s inevitable losses. The creative process of healing demands risk-taking, resilience, and messiness.

Recently I received training and have been using the Healing Arts Toolkit in my work with various national partners and colleagues throughout Mexico, Central, and South America. The Healing Arts Toolkit was created by First Aid Arts: an artist-founded organization to equip and train aftercare providers working with survivors of trauma like human trafficking, violence, and forced displacement, to use the expressive arts in recovery and healing… helping wounded hearts heal beautifully. Their vision is to use what they love, ART, to undo what they hate. The devastating effects of evil expressed in violence, greed, and exploitation are worthy of hate. The proven healing effects of creativity and beauty as expressed through visual art, music, movement, drama, symbol, and storytelling shared in community can be used to hold and heal the wounds that break our hearts.

I have heard the stories of women who have been told most of their lives that they didn’t matter. I have seen the scars and downcast stature of women who have suffered physical, emotional, sexual, and spiritual abuse. On occasion I have held some who have been berated, manipulated, and isolated. I have also witnessed glimpses of transformation, grace, and empowerment in those same women as they learn to breath deeply, move intentionally, draw, write, or sing their stories to make some kind of sense out of their experiences while reconnecting with themselves, others, and the very Source and Hope for their lives.

Using the Healing Arts Toolkit has allowed me to provide safety and structure to the creative experiences I have been leading as an International Ministries global servant in Latin America. Repetition and ritual create a trust-filled space where participants can take creative risks to explore and express their feelings, practice self-reflection and awareness, and form relationships while building community with others. One of my favorite songs is “I Will Change Your Name” because it describes what God has promised all of us and what I have witnessed with my own eyes. It says,

“I will change your name

You shall no longer be called

Wounded, outcast, lonely or afraid

I will change your name

Your new name shall be

Confidence, joyfulness

Overcoming one

Faithfulness, friend of God

One who seeks My face

On the last day of our Nicaragua training, as the small groups were sharing how they experienced the symbolic imagery activity that we use to facilitate personal story sharing, the same woman who entered the workshop quite depressed pointed to an image of a burnt-out tree and shared the following insight:

“This tree represents my life.

From the outside, all looks dead,

but I am still standing.

There is still life within me.”

All of us witnessed a glimpse of grace, a hint of healing, an affirmation of hope, a reason to rejoice. Thanks be to God.

Mylinda-Baits-2015-webMylinda Baits is a pastoral artist, activist, advocate, and co-laborer in ministry who is passionate about the prevention of all forms of exploitation, particularly human trafficking, the healing and transformation of trauma victims, and the resilient witness of the people of God in the Iberoamerica-Caribbean region. Traveling extensively throughout Latin America, Mylinda partners with International Ministries colleagues, national church leadership, and social change organizations to address and eliminate the exploitation and trafficking of women and children in and from Latin America. Compelled by Jesus’ invitation to come, grow, and change, she strives to embody grace and seek justice through accompaniment, mentoring, and modeling the use of the expressive arts in community worship, trainings, and trauma care for victims. Mylinda uses her gifts of hospitality and pastoral care to create sustainable and safe spaces where the souls of servant leaders and direct service providers who do the hard work of rescue, relief and restoration can be nurtured and renewed.  

Sunday after Christmas: Needing You This Christmas Season

By Jenn Leneus

Madonna and Child, Budapest, (c) 2012 Sandra Hasenauer

Madonna and Child, Budapest, (c) 2012 Sandra Hasenauer

10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.11 For as [surely as] the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring forth, so [surely] the Lord God will cause rightness and justice and praise to spring forth before all the nations [through the self-fulfilling power of His word]. For Zion’s sake will I [Isaiah] not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest until her imputed righteousness and vindication go forth as brightness, and her salvation radiates as does a burning torch.And the nations shall see your righteousness and vindication [your rightness and justice—not your own, but His ascribed to you], and all kings shall behold your salvation and glory; and you shall be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord shall name.You shall also be [so beautiful and prosperous as to be thought of as] a crown of glory and honor in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem [exceedingly beautiful] in the hand of your God. (Isaiah 61:10–62:3, AMP)

Christmas time is a season of celebration and of praise. It is a season of remembrance and appreciation; for even before we were of existence, before we had breath in our bodies, God saw fit to save us from a world of destruction. He provided a way before we even knew we needed direction. Christ left his throne of glory, and became human for our sake. He came for men and women alike; not differentiating between sexes, color, age, or religion, making one of more importance. He came to provide life to the lifeless.

We are called to walk in the image of Christ and to see as he sees. As women, we are beautiful. Not just on the outside, but on the inside. We ought to teach other women their worth and self-value. In this day and time where human trafficking is at an all-time high, but is being kept low-key as if it is not an issue, women all around the world are being degraded and treated as less than human. Are we any better than them? Do they deserve the life that they are given? Of course not! I believe we have certain issues in our environment so that we are able to grow as one in the body. For the body has many members, but each member has a specific task to complete (1st Corinthians 12:12). If there is an open wound in the body, the heart picks up its pace and pumps more blood to accommodate for the loss. In the same manner, we ought to go out and reach out to our sisters that are suffering, whether it is through missions, outreach, or simply prayer. We are commissioned to go out to the four corners of the earth to introduce Christ to others (Matthew 28:19).

In the spirit of Christmas, let us remember our sisters in prayer. Lift them up before God so that God may hear our cries and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14). Let’s give them the assurance of being fearfully and wonderfully made. Together we can make a difference. Let us take this time to make a resolution to empower and uplift a woman, a young lady, or a little girl at least once a week. Who are we without each other? We are just one part of a body that needs our other parts in order to be fully functional!

Jenn LeneusJennifer Leneus serves as coordinator of Young Adult Women’s Ministries (2014-2017) on the national board of American Baptist Women’s Ministries. A member of Haitian Baptist Church at the Crossroads in Newark, New Jersey, Jenn served as secretary of the Youth Federation Committee for the Haitian Alliance of ABCUSA for three years. Jenn has helped plan several national events for young adult women sponsored by American Baptist Women’s Ministries. She is a graduated practical nursing student and is working towards her Bachelors in Nursing.