A Summer to Connect

By Merletta Roberts
0726161404_resized croppedIn early summer my husband and I were on our way to an evening event when we stopped at a fast food restaurant to get a bite to eat. As we were starting to leave, a young man in a long robe and with what seemed to be a concerned look on his face hesitantly approached us and asked, “Do you believe all Muslims are like those who recently bombed Paris and London?” We shared with him our belief that not all people are alike, no matter what their faith; that we do not believe all Muslims are terrorists. I watched as a big tear rolled down his cheek and his face seemed to relax. Together we smiled and went our separate ways. In that brief exchange something powerful happened. We went through all the layers of assumptions and we connected; connected as human beings each caring for the other

In mid-July in the Washington D.C. area, I attended the national American Baptist Women’s Ministries board meeting followed by the national conference for women and girls, “3D” (“Dwelling, Discovering, Discipling”), and after- events. The after-event I chose was Connecting Faithful Women: Experiencing Baptist-Muslim Dialogue. This event was co-facilitated by Virginia Holmstrom, executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries, and Rafia Sayeed, the founding chairperson of Bridging the Gap, Connecting the Faithful.

Twelve American Baptist women and five Muslim women met for two and a half days to explore what it means to be Muslim and Baptist, sharing our faith stories and getting to know each other. Rafia shared her story of developing “Bridging the Gap, Connecting the Faithful” out of her desire to do something constructive after 9-11. Her belief is that when people really get to know each other, they begin to see each other and relate differently.

As women of faith we shared our stories, our struggles, our joys, our concerns, and our celebrations. Interfaith understanding was certainly at work. The more we shared the more the group seemed to move closer together, talk more softly, and connect in a deeper way. As we respected each one’s uniqueness we found it easier to hear each other and to share more.

When we visited a Muslim Community Center we were warmly welcomed. It was clear that the Center’s focus is on the whole person at all ages. We were privileged to witness their afternoon prayers and to experience the strong connection they have with the surrounding communities.

As we said our goodbyes and shared email addresses and so forth, I realized a strong connection had occurred; that in a relatively short time together we had moved from “us” and “them” to “we.” We had plowed through the layers of assumptions and were real with each other. Wow! Again I realized that in our connecting, we cared for each other as human beings.

Merletta Roberts headshotMerletta Roberts is president of the American Baptist Women’s Ministries of the Pacific Northwest.


See…the Suffering: Drug Addiction–a Virtual Mission Encounter

Signpost concept

Signpost concept

Based on 2013 statistics, illicit drug use in the United States has been increasing. In that year, an estimated 24.6 million Americans aged 12 or older had used an illicit drug in the past month, an increase from 2012 statistics. Although most people use drugs for the first time as teenagers, and is highest among people in their late teens or twenties, illicit drug use is increasing among people in their fifties and sixties. Although most who use illicit drugs begin with marijuana, the percentage of those who begin with prescription pain killers has increased. Despite this, there is a “treatment gap” in the U.S.: only about 2.5 million people received treatment at a specialty facility.*

There is a very high possibility that there are people in your congregation suffering with addiction or in relationship with someone suffering from addiction. As women of faith, we are called to become aware of this critical issue and understand how our congregations or women’s and girls’ ministries can more effectively minister with those in addiction.

American Baptist Women’s Ministries is sponsoring a virtual mission encounter, “See…the Suffering: Drug Addiction,” October 3-7, 2017. Registration is open now (register by September 28, 2016). Through daily activities and evening conference calls with special guests, you will explore the complex issue of drug addictions and see how our faith calls us to respond. Visit www.abwministries.org/vme for information about guest speakers and how to register.

*2013 Statistics from www.drugabuse.gove/publications/drugfacts/nationwide-trends, revised June 2015. Accessed December 9, 2015.

Join us for our virtual mission encounter “See…the Beloved Community”

Beloved Community Logo

By American Baptist Women’s Ministries

“See…the Beloved Community,” based on the 2015-2016 national mission focus of American Baptist Women’s Ministries of the same title, is a virtual mission encounter for women from March 7-11, 2016, sponsored by American Baptist Women’s Ministries. By participating in this virtual mission encounter you will have the opportunity to explore the vision of Beloved Community and understand your Christian calling to transform your community through your relationships with one another.

Special guest presenters include Rev. Betty Wright-Riggins, Philadelphia Baptist Association Consultant for Area Ministry and Communication and founder and Principal of TrustOne, a ministry of spiritual direction and leadership coaching; Rev. Dr. Cheryl F. Dudley, Regional Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metropolitan New York; Rev. Marie Onwubuariri, Regional Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin; and Rev. Dr. Karyn Carlo, adjunct faculty at New York Theological Seminary and founder and director of the Clergy, Community, Cops Project. Each speaker brings experience in building Beloved Community and will offer critical perspectives to virtual mission encounter participants.

“Becoming the Beloved Community begins with cultivating relationships. My hope is that many women from many American Baptist congregations will join the conversation about being the Beloved Community through this 5-day virtual mission encounter,” said Virginia Holmstrom, executive director.

AB Women’s Ministries’ virtual mission encounters offer the opportunity for women to engage with mission themes in a deep and meaningful way while still being able to care for work, family, and church responsibilities at home. Each virtual mission encounter includes interesting and thought-provoking activities that can be done within the normal schedule of one’s day. Every evening, participants interact with a special guest on a conference call as well as offering participants to share their learnings and observations with one another.

Register now for “See…the Beloved Community.” (Registration deadline is March 2.) Visit www.abwministries.org/vme for more information about how virtual mission encounters work, as well as speaker biographies and registration. For information about the 2015-2016 mission focus “See…the Beloved Community,” visit www.abwministries.org.

Are you already planning to attend? Leave a comment below letting other readers know!




By Nola Crooks

Complete. Irrepressible. Joy.

2015-07-24 19.27.46The other day I was asked to describe my South Africa experience in one word. A huge request but I decided that the word joy fits the bill.

From the moment we entered the country and were greeted by the women of Kagiso Baptist Church to the closing moments of the Baptist World Alliance Congress a current of joy existed across every spectrum.

I learned a lot about South Africa this summer when I became part of an American Baptist Women’s Ministries Mission Encounter to South Africa and the Baptist World Alliance Congress. Twelve women traveled together, first to Johannesburg to attend the BWA Women’s Department Leadership Conference and then to Durban to attend the 21st BWA World Congress.

We arrived in Johannesburg a few days early and our first activity was to be the guests of the women of Kagiso Baptist Church in Kagiso township. The word ‘kagiso’ means peace in Tswana. Arriving at the church we could hear the music before we opened the van door. The women were worshipping as we arrived and we were led into the church in a line by Momma Dorothy Selabano who danced us up the aisle of this simple brick church and into our places on the front row. At this point we couldn’t understand a single word the women were singing, but they were singing with enthusiasm, joy, and an earnestness that belies the inauspicious neighborhood we had passed through to get there.

The women shared worship with us and cared for us, giving us tea to refresh us after our journey, and then spent the afternoon sharing with us the status of women and issues they face in South Africa. During the program there were the usual pauses between speakers. If the pause extended for more than three to five minutes, a woman would lift her voice in song and quickly the band would begin accompanying her, then other women would join in, and before we knew it we were up on our feet again for a ten minute interval of praise. It was an absolutely incredible way to begin our journey in South Africa.

That first encounter set the tone for the entire trip.

Throughout the BWA Women’s Department Leadership Conference the African women initiated worship in the same manner as the women at Kagiso Baptist Church, and it was spontaneous and heartfelt. Worship had women from all seven continents on their feet singing songs in African languages, languages we didn’t speak, but with words whose spirit we knew. It was joyful. I wondered if this was what heaven would be like: people from all the tribes joined together for one purpose.

Not only was worship filled with joy but I believe I was hugged and loved on by every woman in Africa. I also received the same treatment from women from South Korea, Brazil, Chile, India, the Netherlands, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, Croatia, and Canada.This list is incomplete because I haven’t had time to go through all the address cards I received and count up the women I met and conversed with.

I learned that my faith is global.

I often don’t think of my faith in terms of my residence. I am an American Baptist. I worship in an American Baptist church. Although I was raised in many different regions of the United States, in many cultures, I still have this quintessential American faith. I believe that we as Americans forget that our faith, our structures, our norms are American-based and until we are exposed to women from around the world our understanding of the “globalness” and breadth of believers all over the world will be limited. When we limit our faith experience to our own church, neighborhood, and culture we limit our ability to respond and understand the context of Jesus command to be a light to the world

How can I be a light if I don’t know my neighbor?

After a week in Johannesburg, we traveled to Durban. In Durban we were attending the 21st Baptist World Alliance World Congress, meetings that began in 1905 and have met regularly every five years since that time. However, this was the first time a congress had been held on the continent of Africa. In addition, the next president of the BWA is Paul Msiza, a pastor from South Africa.

The people of Africa celebrated. I had never thought that a whistle and a vuvuzela could be used as an accompaniment in worship. I know now that they can.

For five days approximately 5,000 Baptists spent time in worship, study, prayer, meetings, and friendship. It was another opportunity to learn about the Baptist faith from the perspective of other Baptists from every corner of the world. This was an opportunity to hear from them their concerns and their celebrations of their church and in their countries and to share the same with them about America.


From my first encounter with my traveling partners at JFK airport in New York, to Johannesburg and learning about the history of a country that recently overcame apartheid, on to Durban and the assembly of thousands of Baptists, and finally the farewell hugs of the women who are now my lifetime sisters, I experienced joy.

I am thankful for this time and, to be honest, I am still processing much of the experience, wondering how God’s purpose for me will be revealed in the upcoming years. I do know that saying “yes” to this opportunity made all the difference to me.

Nola CrooksNola Crooks serves as Coordinator of the Midwest Section on the national board of American Baptist Women’s Ministries, and teaches fourth grade in Parsons, Kansas.


The Importance of Relationships in Girls’ Ministry

By Emilie Rodriguez


GLA participants learning leadership and teamwork in a very fun but frustrating activity involving PVC pipes and bouncy balls.

The national leadership team of AB GIRLS (NLT), a ministry of American Baptist Women’s Ministries, had decided that for the national gathering of AB GIRLS for the year of 2015, we would focus on developing and strengthening leadership skills. While we were hoping to reach that goal, what came out of the GIRLS Leadership Academy (GLA) in June was much more than any of us could have dreamed.

I had been in Kansas City already for four days before the GLA started, participating in the national board meetings of AB Women’s Ministries. In those four days, the theme of relationships and their power and worth emerged without being planned. And it carried on to the girls’ gathering without intention. We wanted these girl to realize their potential and become the leaders that God wanted them to be. But God wanted us to take it a step further. Throughout our time together, the other members of the NLT and I realized that these girls needed to be affirmed, assured that what they think makes them weird and odd is what God wants them to embrace, what God wants them to use in their own journey as leaders. So we tried to show them that.

Through our worship, “funshops” (“fun workshops”), and participation in both the American Baptist Mission Summit and AB Women’s Ministries Women’s Day, the relationships that we built with these girls proved to have a more powerful effect than we thought. We hoped to send these girls in their own leadership paths, trying to illuminate God’s plan for each and everyone of them. And while I feel we accomplished that, I think we accomplished something even greater: we showed them that they are worthy of being used as God’s servants, as conduits for God’s Word.

I believe that this is the foundation of AB GIRLS ministry. That age range from twelve to eighteen isn’t easy, but hearing the love and support of those around you, telling you to be strong in who you are, help develop the building blocks that these girls need to become leaders in the first place. So in your own girls group, make sure that each girl knows that they are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that although they are young, God has something planned for each and every one of them.

(For more information about ministry with girls, visit www.abwministries.org/girls. For information about the national leadership team of AB GIRLS, visit www.abwministries.org/nlt. To help support AB Women’s Ministries ministry with girls, visit www.abwministries.org/wgmf.)

Emilie Rodriguez 2013-2015Emilie Rodriguez served on the national leadership team of AB GIRLS from 2013-2015, including serving as convenor for the NLT in 2014-2015. This summer Emilie starts her freshman year of college. 

Ecumenical Advocacy Days: A Personal Perspective

By Bonnie Sestito

The 13th annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) gathering has come and gone, but the work is not over. Approximately 1000 men and women of faith came together to explore “Breaking the Chains: Mass Incarceration and Systems of Exploitation.”

Placards at EAD

Placards at EAD

The U.S. makes up only five percent of the world’s population yet holds nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners. Still, “imprisonment” is a worldwide problem and takes various forms, as everywhere people around the world remain trapped in detention centers, prisons, factories and drug wars that bind and dehumanize individuals for political or economic profit. At EAD we confessed our personal and corporate failure to break the chains of poverty, racism, and greed institutionalized in our laws, economy and social behaviors that collude to perpetuate such human exploitation and strip civil and human rights.*

Human exploitation is the unethical, selfish use of human beings for the satisfaction of personal desires and/or profitable advantage. Plenaries, workshops, and films covered human trafficking including sex and labor, family detention for the undocumented, justice systems regarding the war on drugs, lack of education for girls, and more. My focus was on issues pertaining to women and girls.

EAD was intense and overwhelming. But at the end of the day, I found it very informative, educational and empowering. Statistics change. New information is shared and learned. Do you know that:

  • one in seven teenagers run away from home;
  • parents who are addicted to drugs sometimes “rent out” their children even as young as two months old for money to buy more drugs and pay bills;
  • boyfriends can be pimps;
  • one in ten men sitting in the church pews are buyers of commercial sex, but we are not talking about it; and
  • girls are married off as young as nine years old?

I took in as much information as my mind and emotions would allow. The injustices towards women and girls are far greater than the short list mentioned. Generally speaking, men create the demand; women and girls are the supply. Human exploitation will not change until we all take action. Get the facts. Promote awareness. Connect to a local task force, coalition, or service. Volunteer your professional skills. Buy fair trade products. Know who your representatives are. Write, email, or call them. They want to hear from their constituents.

After I returned home from EAD to digest what I heard and learned, I finally felt like I could do something. I could make a difference or at least I could try. I was given the tools to do a lobby visit. I understood that gathering toiletries for women in prison is thoughtful and generous, and purchasing jewelry or bath products made by survivors of trafficking is supportive and worthwhile.

EAD 2015 is over but the work is just beginning. As an individual, my goal is to move from charity to justice. As American Baptist women and girls, I can only image what could be accomplished if we banded together just as the women of 1931 raised over-and-above monetary gifts to enable the denomination to continue its crucial ministries during the Great Depression. What could we accomplish today if we once again raise our voices together? “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy,” (Proverbs 31:8-9).

*From program booklet for Ecumenical Advocacy Days, 2015.

For more information about Ecumenical Advocacy Days, visit www.advocacydays.org. You may see photos of the 2015 event and watch videos of 2015 plenary speakers. 2016 Ecumenical Advocacy Days are April 15-18, 2016, at the DoubleTree Hotel by Hilton Washington, D.C., Crystal City.

Bonnie SestitoBonnie Sestito serves as Coordinator of Mission with Women and Girls for American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

“A Time of Grace: Aging and Faith”–Upcoming Event

shutterstock_142939927“A Time of Grace,” September 29-October 3, 2014, is a virtual mission encounter for women offering the opportunity for participants to explore issues of aging from the perspective of faith. Themes and activities will offer the opportunity for those who are of mature age themselves to experience this season of their lives with grace and purpose; those who are experiencing the aging of their loved ones will find encouragement and increased awareness of how to be in relationship as needs change over time. Daily activities will address the spiritual side of aging, physical issues and changing needs, legal concerns, family relationships, how seniors may engage in needed ministries, and how congregations can reach out to seniors in special ways.

Special guests for “A Time of Grace” include Rev. Jennifer C. Streeter, chaplain at the Fairport Baptist Homes in Rochester, New York; Rev. Randy Frederikson, chaplain at Trail Ridge Retirement Community, an American Baptist Homes of the Midwest facility in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Mr. Stacey Lucich, an estate planning attorney in Twin Falls, Idaho; and the Rev. Dr. Bobby Joe Saucer from Decatur, Georgia, author of The Judson Press title Our Help in Ages Past: The Black Church’s Ministry among the Elderly.

Virtual mission encounters are a way for women to explore mission topics more deeply while still being able to attend to their responsibilities at work, home, church, or in their communities. Suggested activities to explore each day’s focus are emailed to participants: each participant determines how many activities she may have time to do within her daily schedule. Activities may include such things as reading the newspaper, exploring websites, reading and responding to blog posts, taking prayer walks, researching a topic of interest further, listening to audio files or watching videos, and other activities. Every evening includes a conference call featuring a special guest with particular expertise or stories to share on the daily theme; participants may attend as many or as few conference calls as their schedule and interest allow.

For more information, speaker bios, and online registration, visit www.abwministries.org/vme.