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.”

img_2074

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.

img_2075

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.

 

United Nations “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”

 

2016-03-15 13.33.28 HDRThe United Nations Commission on the Status of Women is “the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women,” (www.unwomen.org). Each year in the early spring is a two-week colloquium that brings world leaders together to assess progress on targets and goals addressing these issues. During UNCSW, there are parallel events organized by NGOs (non-governmental organizations), free and open to the public, on a wide variety of topics. By attending the parallel events, you gain a deeper understanding of issues with impact on women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, as well as hearing about exciting initiatives and meeting inspiring leaders. Additionally, there are creative, moving ecumenical worship services each morning to bring women of faith together and bathe the experience in prayer.

American Baptist women frequently attend at least part of UNCSW. In 2016, AB Women’s Ministries national coordinator of Mission with Women and Girls, Bonnie Sestito, executive director Virginia Holmstrom, associate executive director Rev. Sandra Hasenauer, and national director of American Baptist Women in Ministry/Transformation Ministries, Rev. Dr. Patricia Hernandez, attended several days of the event. These participants learned about pornography and its connection to sex trafficking and violence against women; the vulnerability of refugee and stateless women to violence and trafficking; how women in disadvantaged communities are working together towards peace and justice; opening doors through interfaith dialogue, and more. Through conversations at the end of the day, they came to the conclusion it was imperative they share what they were learning with the wider audience of American Baptist women.

SDGs_poster_new1In 2015, the United Nations assess the progress that had been made on it’s 15-year Millennium Development Goals initiative begun in 2000. Although significant progress had been made in many areas, there is obviously still more work to be done. Therefore, the UN launched “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” The 2030 agenda has 17 Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, to “end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all,” (www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/).

Although many of these issues may seem overwhelming and, in some cases, “far away,” there are many ways that congregations or women’s and girls’ ministry groups can become engaged in the betterment of our global neighborhood. To that end, American Baptist Women’s Ministries has posted information on our website about the SDGs and has ideas or other resources available to help you think through how you or your faith community could work on these issues locally as well as globally. (Lose this link? Just go to http://www.abwministries.org and hover your cursor over “Mission Focus.” It’s one of the options in the drop-down list that appears.)

May God bless our efforts to care for our world and all who inhabit it. Amen.

Prayers for Myanmar (Part 1)

by Sandra Hasenauer

2015-01-05 19.57.39I spent the better part of the month of December 2014 in Myanmar (Burma), visiting with our Kachin Baptist sisters and brothers and witnessing both their incredible ministry and their incredible needs. Although Myanmar has improved over the last five years, with a government making moves towards greater democracy and an improving economy as they have opened their doors to business from other countries, there is still an ongoing struggle for justice and security. Education is still expensive, resulting in many families being unable to send their children to school at all, or children being unable to continue their education past eighth grade (each successive year costs more in tuition and tutoring expenses). Medical care is often bought at a price–the wealthier able to afford better care than the poor. There are still battles being fought between the military and some of the ethnic groups, including the Kachin. The Rohingya have been frequently in the news as victims of violence and trafficking. The path to the next elections in Myanmar is still unclear, filled with potential pitfalls. Our prayers are still needed greatly.

In the midst of all this, I was deeply struck by the vibrancy of the ministries we were able to visit. I spent several days in the northern Kachin State, which is predominantly Christian and, of the Christians, predominantly Baptist. My traveling companions and I were shown tremendous hospitality as we met and visited with the leadership of the Kachin Baptist Women’s Ministry. It was an incredible week.

We visited the Good Samaritan Clinic, a ministry launched in 1995 by the Kachin Baptist women, providing health care to those in the Kachin State regardless of their income. Currently, the clinic is in a small building and has about 10 beds (only about 6 of those private), space for meetings with the doctor, a dental office, and a small pharmacy that largely carries local herbal remedies. The KBC Women’s Ministry leaders, however, described for us their plans for the future: They are engaged in a fundraising campaign to build a six-story, 100 bed, fully modernized hospital for women and children. Please hold this fundraising campaign in your prayers, that the medical needs of women and girls may be more effectively addressed.

The Kachin Baptist Women’s Ministry also runs a Women’s Empowerment Clinic. Students between the ages of 12 and 45 are enrolled for a three-month course, during which they may concentrate on sewing or weaving classes, or a variety of other marketable skills such as cosmetology, embroidery, flower arranging, and so forth. There are between 25-30 students at any time; most live on site at the center, a few day students are from the local area. They also have Bible study and life skills training classes (such as money management). The prayer is that students would return home with their new skills and be able to find jobs to better support their families. As jobs are often few and far between, however, KBW plans on opening a factory to employ students, providing them with a steady income at the same time as the factory could help support the ministry. Please hold the Women’s Empowerment Clinic and plans for the factory in your prayers, that women will continue to be equipped and empowered both economically and spiritually.

A third sign of tremendous hope that we witnessed was the Kachin Baptist Theological College. This theological school, located on the outskirts of the Kachin State capital city of Myityina (pronounced “meeht-chee-na”), is also the midst of a new building project. The principal of the seminary was enthusiastic in his plans for the future as the new classrooms and worship space are completed. We were able to tour both the current building as well as the new construction–we found ourselves wanting to be able to attend classes in the new building too: they’re beautiful! As a later note: KBTC was the site of the Kachin Baptist youth conference in April–it is estimated that there were over 20,000 youth in attendance! Please hold the students, faculty, and staff of the Kachin Baptist Theological College in your prayers, that the new buildings may continue to serve God in the Kachin state for generations to come.

I found myself renewed in my own call to ministry through the deep commitment and faithful hope I witnessed in the Kachin Baptist Church and especially, for me, in the Kachin Baptist Women’s Ministries. This is the first of two posts I’ll be sharing about my experience in Myanmar: I write these blog posts in the prayer that you will also give God thanks for the presence and ministry of the KBC and KBW among their people, their role in bringing peace to a struggling country, and their faithful commitment to God.

(This photo gallery will advance on a timer; otherwise you may use the forward and back buttons to proceed at your own pace.)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


headshot higherresRev. Sandra DeMott Hasenauer serves as associate executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries and is on the ABCUSA Burma Refugees Commission. This is her second trip to Myanmar (Burma), the first being in 1998. She has also visited the refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border, and enjoys the new life of her home church of Lake Avenue Baptist Church in Rochester, New York, as in the last several years it has welcomed over 150 new friends and members originally from Burma.

LISAC-CAMEROON Dares to Speak on Female Genital Mutilations

By Joan Mbuh, LISAC-Cameroon

Friday, February 6th is the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. This post is in recognition of the harm that FGM does to girls and women around the world. Please use this opportunity to pray about FGM and educate yourself further on the issue.

heading for Joan blog LISAC-Cameroon, an inter-faith based organization in Cameroon, launched a community campaign against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), an act of violence against the girl child. LISAC’s most recently published report stressed with evidence the reality of its practice in many regions in Cameroon. LISAC’s report condemned the practice in strong terms as a gross human rights violation for young girls who suffer mental trauma and lose of stability in their adulthood due to the practice. LISAC calls on civil society organizations and the government to take urgent action to provide education to the people of Cameroon about this cultural and religious practice and the harm it inflicts on our girls and children—the girls and children who are the leaders of tomorrow. Through genital mutilation, some girls have also been inflicted with HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening diseases.

It should be noted that thousands of girls in Cameroon are in danger of genital mutilation while the government has nothing to say about this practice. These girls are being failed by the health and justice systems, and LISAC recommends aggressive steps to eradicate the practice in Cameroon while at the same time giving both social support and economic support, such as micro-economic business ventures, to HIV/AIDS victims. LISAC-Cameroon takes the stand that Female Genital Mutilation should be treated the same as any other kind of child abuse and evidence of it should be reported to the police.

joanblog2Without appropriate document on FGM in the country, and the fact that it is neglected by governmental ministries is shocking. Many Cameroonians are not aware of its continued practice. So many of our young girls, victims of FGM, are living in agony every day of their lives, unable to find those with whom to share about their experiences and receive support to put their lives back in order. It is clear that laws about sexual harassment, rape, and other violent crimes affecting females should include FGM as a law of equal importance.

The LISAC report highlights several points based on the WHO (World Health Organization) report that every year, millions of women and girls in Africa and around the world are subjected to the brutal practice of FGM, and many more are at risk. February 6th marks the International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation, “a day when we raise global awareness about this issue and reaffirm our strong commitment to eradicating this extremely harmful practice that violates the rights of girls and women to physical and mental integrity. Female genital mutilation violates human rights and the rights of women and girls. Our top priority should be prevention – helping to ensure that no girl will ever again have to experience this traumatic breach of their rights,” (from “Joint EU Statement on International Day against Female Genital Mutilation, http://eu-un.europa.eu/articles/fr/article_13123_fr.htm, accessed February 4, 2015).

We as human rights activists need to complement existing national legislation prohibiting the practice by raising awareness about the detrimental effects of female genital mutilation on the psychological and physical health of women and girls, and by providing support services for victims.

The LISAC-Cameroon report’s nine recommendations include:

  1. Treat it as child abuse: FGM is a severe form of violence against women and girls. It is child abuse and must be integrated into all national child safeguarding procedures in a systematic way.
  2. Document and collect information: The ministry of women affairs and the family should document and collect information on FGM and its associated complications in a consistent and rigorous way.
  3. Share that information systematically: The ministries should develop protocols for sharing information about girls at risk of – or girls who have already undergone – FGM with other health and social care agencies, the Department for Education, and the police.
  4. Empower frontline professionals: Develop the competence, knowledge and awareness of frontline health professionals to ensure prevention and protection of girls at risk of FGM.
  5. Identify girls at risk and refer them as part of child safeguarding obligation: Within such communities volunteers and human rights organizations and Health professionals should identify girls at risk of FGM as early as possible. All suspected cases should be referred the appropriate headquarters as part of existing child safeguarding obligations. Sustained information and support should be given to families to protect girls at risk.
  6. Report cases of FGM: All girls and women presenting with FGM within the documentation of the government ministries must be considered as potential victims of crime, and should be referred to the police and support services.
  7. Hold frontline professionals accountable: The government ministries and local authorities should systematically measure the performance of frontline health professionals against agreed standards for addressing FGM and publish outcomes to monitor the progress of implementing these recommendations.
  8. Empower and support affected girls and young women (both those at risk and survivors): This should be a priority public health consideration. Health and education professionals should work together to integrate FGM into prevention messages, especially those focused on avoiding harm.
  9. Implement awareness campaign: The government should implement a national public health and legal awareness publicity campaign on FGM, similar to previous campaigns on domestic abuse and HIV/AIDS.

“Through working together closely with the police, health and social care professionals and the third sector, we can do much better to have a successful prosecution against those who perpetrate this practice. . . . It is only a matter of time before this happens and this will send a very powerful message that FGM is a crime that will not be tolerated in a modern multicultural society,” states the LISAC-Cameroon report. Violence toward women and girls is not cultural. It is criminal.

BreakingTheChains--STP RGB(Photos provided by contributor.) LISAC-Cameroon received a grant from American Baptist Women’s Ministries for their project, “Rescue Our Girls and Stop Genital Mutilation.” LISAC-Cameroon, Leadership Improvement and Social Advocacy Centre Cameroon, is a community-based project to educate and advocate among traditional councils to ban traditional practices of violence against girls, including genital mutilations, rape, and school gender abuse. The grant was through Break the Chains and Stop the Pain, a former national mission focus of AB Women’s Ministries. Break the Chains was transformed in 2011 to the Women and Girls Mission Fund, a permanent fund that supports missions and ministries in the U.S. and around the world that focus on bringing healing and hope to women and girls. Your generous support of the Women and Girls Mission Fund will help grow AB Women’s Ministries ability to partner with critical mission and ministries.

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.

 

Crisis at the Border: What Could We Do?

Submitted by Bonnie Sestito

"White House Civil Disobedience" August 28 2014. Used by permission, Church World Service

“White House Civil Disobedience” August 28 2014. Used by permission, Church World Service

Beginning in October 2011, the U.S. Government recorded a dramatic rise—commonly referred to in the United States as “the surge”–in the number of unaccompanied and separated children arriving to the United States from these same three countries—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The total number of apprehensions of unaccompanied and separated children from these countries by U.S. Customs and Border Protection jumped from 4,059 in Fiscal year (FY) 2011 to 10,443 in FY 2012 and then more than doubled again, to 21,537, in FY 2013. At the same time, a tremendous number of children from Mexico have been arriving to the U.S. over a longer period of time, and although the gap is narrowing as of FY 2013, the number of children from Mexico has far outpaced the number of children from any one of the three Central American countries.

“Crisis at the Border: What Could We Do?” is AB Women’s Ministries mission focus for 2014-2015. Why is there a “crisis at the border?” Let us step into the shoes of those that have come to the United States from the Northern Triangle.

“I lived with my mother and two younger siblings. My biological father abandoned my mother when she was pregnant with me. I have a warm relationship with my stepfather, who has lived in the U.S. for eight years. My main reason for coming to the U.S. is to join my stepfather. Threats were made that led me to flee when I did. The head of the gang that controlled my neighborhood wanted me to be his girlfriend and threatened to kidnap me or to kill one of my family members if I didn’t comply. I knew another girl from my community who had become the girlfriend of a gang member and had been forced to have sex with all the gang members. I didn’t want this for myself. Once the gang started harassing me, I didn’t feel safe, so I stopped going to school and stayed at home until my family was able to make arrangements for my travel to the U.S.” (Josefina, El Salvador, Age 16)

“If they really do want to know how hard life is down there, they should go see it. There are kids who don’t make it past five years old because they die of hunger. Their parents can’t work because there are no jobs. Just give us a chance. Let us better ourselves so we can be something better than what we are today.” (Mauricio, Honduras, Age 17)

“I had problems with my grandmother. She always beat me from the time I was little. That’s why I went to live with my boyfriend—and because I was lonely and sad. But after we had been living together for about a month, my boyfriend also beat me. He beat me almost every day. I stayed with him for four months. I left because he tried to kill me by strangling me. I left the same day.” (Lucia, Guatemala, Age 16)

“I like playing soccer outside, but I can’t really play anymore. My friends from my neighborhood all moved because their brothers were killed. The cartel killed them, and the entire family left. So now I don’t have anyone to play soccer with. (Jaun, Mexico, Age 13)*

“What can we do?” This is the question that AB Women’s Ministries is asking of American Baptist women across the United States and in Puerto Rico. Below are some suggestions.

Celebrate: The International Day of the Girl Child promotes girls’ rights and highlights gender inequalities that remain between girls and boys. It is a UN observance that is annually held on October 11. Celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child giving your AB women’s or girls’ group the opportunity to raise public awareness of the different types of discrimination and abuse that many girls around the world suffer from.

Join thousands of churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other faith communities across the country in the 2014 National Observance of Children’s Sabbath, designated for October 17-19. The theme is “Precious in God’s Sight: Answering the Call to Cherish and Protect Every Child.”   Celebrate by holding special worship services, education programs, and advocacy activities to engage people of faith in improving the lives of children and their families. A copy of this year’s resource manual may be downloaded from www.childrensdefense.org.

You can plan ahead for an observance of International Migrants Day on December 18. The Interfaith Immigration Coalition, of which ABCUSA is a part, has resources you could use in worship. International Migrants Day recognizes the large and increasing number of migrants in the world, and provides opportunity for advocacy on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of migrants.

Research: Find out if there is something that you can do for “unaccompanied and separated children,” who may be living in your community.

Advocate: Call your Members of Congress and ask that they reject rollbacks to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. If you don’t know who your Members of Congress are, go to https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members.

Make a Donation: Give to Church World Service (www.cwsglobal.org) to support their response to the crisis with unaccompanied children and families:

  • Legal Services and Assistance
  • Religious Services and Pastoral Care
  • Hospitality at Drop-off Points (food, clothing, diapers, medical care, housing and bus tickets for those being left without any support)
  • Humanitarian Assistance in Honduras (assistance to returning migrant children and adolescents unable to be admitted to the U.S. specifically, providing food, psycho-social care, healthcare, and sanitation and hygiene services for some 1,000 children and teenagers in a designated shelter in the city of San Pedro Sula, Honduras)

AB Women’s Ministries has a page on our website devoted to the 14-15 mission focus, “Crisis at the Border: What Could I Do?” You’ll find information and resources listed there, and you’ll have the opportunity to subscribe to our monthly emails on the topic that give more updated information, links, and ideas for action around particular facets of the theme.

Bonnie SestitoBonnie Sestito is coordinator of Mission with Women and Girls with AB Women’s Ministries.

*Information was obtained from www.unhcrwashington.org, “Children on the Run—Unaccompanied Children Leaving Central America and Mexico and the Need for International Protection: A Study Conducted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Regional Office for the United States and the Caribbean Washington, D.C.” (published March 2014).

The Story of Anna in Gori

By Virginia Holmstrom. This is the first in a series of posts about the Republic of Georgia.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In January 2013, ABC General Secretary Roy Medley and I led 10 American Baptist women to the Republic of Georgia (and to Lebanon) to interact with and learn from the Baptists there. In Gori, Georgia, a small city ravaged by Russian invasion in 2008, a city that is challenged today by an 80% unemployment rate, Georgian Baptist church leaders took us to meet a family they had recently became aware of. The family lived in a tiny armored vehicle, with a small box of food, no heat but the warmth of a kitten and a puppy to hold close through the night. The teenage daughter had been traumatized when she was raped in her neighborhood, and she rarely ventured from the yard. I’ve looked long and hard at these pictures many times during the last year, and my heart breaks each time.

Gori3

In the absence of social ministries of their Orthodox Church, it was the Baptist congregation that was reaching out as the hands and feet of Christ to this family.

June 2014

I brought five American Baptist women with me to the Republic of Georgia on a two-week spiritual pilgrimage, in partnership with the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia. We traveled to Gori and worshiped at the larger of two Baptists churches. As guests, we were seated in front, facing the congregation.

Imagine my surprise when my eyes lit upon a face I knew from my photos of the family that lived in the tiny armored vehicle. The teenage girl was smiling and whispering to the young people seated next to her. Could it be the same girl? I searched the congregation for her mother and brother. Two rows back, I spotted her mother. After the service, I approached the girl. Her name is Anna. She remembered me and so did her mother. I was wearing some Haitian beads, with the intention of leaving them in Georgia. This was the God-appointed time and place. I placed them over her head and she beamed.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Later I learned that this Baptist congregation in Gori—this small church that runs a soup kitchen at mid-day six days a week to provide persons in the community with perhaps their only hot meal of the day—this congregation had found a house for this family to move into. Today Anna and her mother and brother worship God at the Baptist church in Gori.

Gori2014c

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