UN Sustainable Development Goals: Goal #4 Quality Education

By Sandra Hasenauer

SDGs_poster_new1School isn’t just about grades. It’s about economic empowerment, delaying marriage and childbirth for girls (which also has an effect on economic empowerment as well as maternal and infant health), and building entire communities. Is it any wonder education is so important?

And yet, significant percentages of girls are still absent from schools the world over. Frankly, significant percentages of children–female and male–are absent from schools, but girls are far more likely to be kept out of school than boys in many parts of the world. Girls are often kept home to help mothers with meals, childcare of younger siblings, and other household duties. Girls stay home due to their menstrual cycles and lack of adequate supplies, missing days out of every month and putting them far behind their male counterparts. Girls are often married very young, and kept out of school to attend to their husbands’ households. Girls are not seen as worth the expense of education. There’s myriad reasons, all with the same end result: Girls are not in school and are therefore most likely trapped in a generational cycle of poverty.

Those of us living in the U.S. or any Western country may feel self-congratulatory. “Well, we don’t have that problem–our girls are in school!” we may say. And, of course, we’d mostly be right. In fact, recent statistics have shown that in many ways, girls are doing marginally better than boys in U.S. schools. That is, they’re doing better until you look at the statistics of teen pregnancies. When a girl gets pregnant, she’s far more likely to drop out of school, subsequently having fewer future employment prospects, higher risk for health and nutrition issues for both her and her child, and we begin to see the cycle of poverty kick into gear again. Happily, statistics for teen pregnancy have been dropping in recent years, although they’re still too high. Additionally, girls are often subject to sexual harrassment and bullying that can keep them underperforming; boys experience the same thing. Addressing sexual harrassment and bullying helps all students.

How can we help? Globally, we can be involved in advocacy efforts and support organizations working on equitable access to education and improving education standards the world over. Spread the word, pay attention, pray for all children’s access to education–especially girls where they experience inequality.

2014-07-26-19-35-45In the U.S., we can continue to encourage girls in their leadership development and navigating life’s challenges. Mentoring, developing girls’ ministries in your faith community, encouraging girls to have leadership in your women’s and congregational ministries–all of these things support girls’ education and girls’ development.

We can also launch or volunteer with organizations supporting teen moms–help them stay in school or get their GEDs, learn good parenting skills and important nutrition and health practices for themselves and their children, feel like they have a future.

And we can pray. Add girls’ education to your prayer list on a regular basis, because we know prayer transforms the world.

headshot higherresRev. Sandra Hasenauer is associate executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries. 

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.


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.

Ethiopian Jewish Girls and Women: Finding Hope and a Way Out…

by Rev. Christine Smith

pic 1Isaiah 58:7 New Living Translation (NLT)

Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

Earlier this year, my husband and I, along with 20 other delegates of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, were privileged to go on a missions/tour trip to the Holy Land, Israel. We were invited by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.

In addition to the wonder of seeing all of the breath taking sights and “walking where Jesus walked,” our hearts were torn as we learned of the abject poverty, pain, and abandonment many face in Israel. Unlike America, where we have a number of government-sponsored programs and charitable organizations to assist those in poverty (yes, I realize that we still have a long way to go in this area!), there are no “official” safety net programs in Israel.

Many poor Israelis are left to beg and suffer on the streets. Among the most vulnerable are women and children in general, and Ethiopian Jewish girls and women in particular. Having traveled from their native land of Ethiopia in hopes of reconnecting with their Jewish heritage and a better life in Israel, many have been deeply disappointed. According to the Fellowship, “72 percent of Ethiopian children in Israel live below the poverty line, and the high school dropout rate is double that of the Israeli average.” As a result, many cannot find work, and thus exist in very poor conditions.

In a major effort to address these problems and to fulfill the mandate of God’s Word to “share food with the hungry and give shelter to the homeless…” the Fellowship has launched several programs. Two such programs are the Home for Ethiopian Jewish Girls and the Nishmat Ethiopian Women Job/Education Training Program (NEW).

pic 2In Israel, all youth ages 18 and up are required to serve 2-3 years in the military. As an alternative, girls may choose other forms of service such as working in hospitals, elder care facilities, and community centers. The Ethiopian Jewish Girls Home prepares orphan girls for these opportunities. It provides shelter, education, warmth, compassion, and support for girls who may otherwise be left on the streets. Many of the girls in the home were abandoned by families that could no longer afford to care for them, abused and neglected. In addition to providing the basic necessities, the Home also offers them an opportunity to gain skills and form relationships that will prepare them to stand on their own, find some form of employment, and become self-sufficient in the future. You can read more about this project by clicking here.

pic 3The other project is the Nishmat Ethiopian Women Program (NEW). In 2000 the Nishmat Ethiopian Women (NEW) program was launched to give Ethiopian young women a better chance at success. The program is designed for Ethiopian girls who have finished their national or army service and find themselves at a crossroads in their lives…

The one-year NEW program enables these young women to continue studying by providing food, housing, and a monthly stipend so they can devote themselves fully to their college preparatory studies and receive an education that will allow them to break out of the cycle of poverty. The program also includes counseling, private tutoring, and weekly workshops on computer applications, family budget management, and coping with violence against women.

To read more about this program, click here.

For more information about the programs offered by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and/or to offer support, visit www.ifcj.org

Rev. Christine A. SmithRev. Christine Smith is senior pastor of the Covenant Baptist Church of Euclid, Ohio. You may find her website at www.shepastorchris.org, and subscribe to her blog.  

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. 

Seeing as God Sees: Spiritual Pilgrimage to Republic of Georgia

By Angel Sullivan

But God told Samuel, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 MSG)

This past April, I, along with five American Baptist women colleagues, had the opportunity to spend ten days in the Republic of  Georgia visiting with Muslim women and girls. Prior to leaving for my trip I shared with a few people that I would be visiting sacred Muslim sites and visiting and learning about the Islamic faith. The immediate response received was, “Why? Don’t you know how dangerous it will be? Muslims want to hurt Christians! Don’t you watch the news and know about ISIS?”

20150420_231139While I knew that I was visiting with Muslims, a people of a peaceful faith tradition, and that they did not have any intentions of hurting Christians, I still was unclear as to what to expect and how to be. During my time there, I visited a Muslim school for girls, where the ages ranged from 18-27.  I have to admit, prior to meeting the girls I did have my own stereotypes. I thought many wore long dress, skirts, and traditional head wraps, did not engage in any type of pop culture, and focused primarily on their faith.  I was proven wrong. There were, indeed, girls who wore long dress and head pieces, but many wore jeans and t-shirts just like American girls. I had the opportunity to hear girls talk passionately about their faith during a celebration for the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday. I engaged in  conversations about their families, hopes, and dreams, that were similar to the girls I know back at home, and I danced. Yes, danced! We had one big slumber party where we ate popcorn, laughed, 20150420_212104and engaged in traditional, free-style, and competitive dance until the girls tired us out. The next morning, the girls surprised each of us with handmade envelopes and letters, expressing gratitude, prayers, and well-wishes for our taking the time to get to know them as people, as Children of God.

It was during the dance that I thought about a Scripture passage found in the  book of Samuel, that reads, “Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.” As I danced, I did not feel as if I was an African-American Christian women dancing with Georgian Muslim women; rather, I felt as if I was a soul dancing with another soul, enjoying the beauty of life and creation as God has intended.  The dance taught me that if we take the time to find common ground and break down barriers and stereotypes, that we can get along, have fun, laugh, work through difficult times, and dance to the rhythm of life until our heart is content.

AngelSullivan2013smRev. Angel L. Sullivan is an American Baptist-endorsed chaplain, serving as Staff Chaplain at St. Joseph’s Hospital-Bay Care Health Systems in Tampa, Florida. She currently serves as an adult member on the AB GIRLS national leadership team (AB Women’s Ministries), and is nominee for the position of national president of American Baptist Women’s Ministries, 2015-2018. Elections are held at the annual meeting of American Baptist Women’s Ministries on June 26, 2015, at Women’s Day in Overland Park, Kansas.

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).