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.  

I’m Not the Same

By Annette Pacheco

This is the last 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.

(c) 2016 Annette Pacheco

Placing water in the desert. (c) 2016 Annette Pacheco

First of all I would like to thank God and AB Women’s Ministries for giving me the opportunity to be part of this unforgettable experience.

In the past, I’ve had some friends from Central America who told me remarkable stories about how they made it to the States. One thing I learned from listening from them that there would be a lot of walking, and I heard about the San Diego Border Patrol, Border Angels, Casa Del Migrante (Migrant House), Casa de Debora (Deborah’s House), and Dreamer’s Moms. I was glad that on the Immigration Immersion Experience, we had the opportunity to visit all of them.

At the Casa del Migrante in Tijuana, Mexico, we had the opportunity to interview three men. I just listened their shocking stories of being deported. A 23-year-old man touched my heart greatly by telling me how and why he got deported. He was so positive about going back for a second try, but he refused to go alone. This time he plans to bring his wife. His goal is to be able to get a Visa for his twin babies. With tears falling down, I said to him, “May God be with both of you in every step you make,” and I prayed for them, wishing them the best.

What impacted me the most was the 20-foot high fence that is referred to as “The Wall.” We joined a “water drop,” a practice where volunteers journey into the desert to leave water bottles for migrants crossing the border. I hid bottles of water in the desert along the border. I also had to stop for awhile to pray for everyone who would now be able to drink some water on the very difficult road. Water could save lives. The lack of water is the primary cause of death for people who have died while crossing these desert regions. Every year, would-be immigrants steal across the U.S.-Mexican border and over the years, thousands have died from exposure to either extreme heat or cold, or wounds received in the snake-infected desert. It is hard to learn that most of the people who have left their countries and have been separated from their parents, many a;sp separated from their spouses and children, suffer from hunger, injury, and the risk of death to attain their goal of a better life for their families (economically and/or for safety). They left behind fear, anxiety, depression, hunger, domestic violence, poverty, the reigns of drug lords,  and more; they have not given up their hopes and dreams.

Everyone who participated in this experience, I’m positive, are not the same…including myself. When you see God’s hand in each of many volunteers working together, from different entities, just to help the people in need, wow! This is a good reason to pray every day for these people, including missionaries from all over the world.

Annette Pacheco Treasurer 14-17 cropAnnette Pacheco is national treasurer for American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

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

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.

On the Fence

By Bonnie Sestito

This is the second 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.

(c) 2016 Joshua Kagi

Friendship Park; DREAMers note. (c) 2016 Joshua Kagi

U.S. immigration has been a hot topic in the news for some time now; hence, AB Women’s Ministries hosted the Immigration Immersion Experience early in 2016. I had been asking myself over and over again that well-known question, “What would Jesus do,” since AB Women’s Ministries started looking at immigration in 2014 with “Crisis at the Border: What Would You Do?” To be honest, I was on the fence about this subject. But how could I be as the Coordinator of Mission with Women and Girls? I needed to learn and understand it. I shed many tears and prayed many prayers asking for insight. I googled, read Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible, and searched the Bible for answers, but unfortunately, I wasn’t getting any…or at least I was getting it. I even shared my concerns with others and received such responses as: immigrants are “the least of these,” we are all immigrants, I was biased, I was prejudiced. “Biased” and “prejudiced”: in my opinion, these are harsh, overused words for being uninformed. Because I had been struggling for almost two years regarding this subject, I was sadly concerned that I would probably come home from the Immigration Immersion Experience (IIE) feeling the same way.

We stayed at Deborah’s House, a haven for abused women and children; learned how complicated the U.S. immigration system is; visited with Homeland Security Border Agents; toured the U.S. side of the fence as well as the in-between zone; visited Friendship Park where we helped weed a garden and viewed the fence on the Mexico side; met with several women from DREAMers’ MOMS and a couple of deported U.S. veterans; met Enrique Morones who founded Border Angels, a non-profit organization supporting humanity; went into the dessert on the U.S. side of the fence to place bottles of water for immigrants who might have managed to get over or through the fence; met recently-deported men at a facility;visited the Monte Horeb Baptist Grade School where Patti Long, American Baptist international missionary, ministers as a special education teacher; learned a bit about the history of Mexico at a museum and from our trip facilitator, American Baptist international missionary Ray Schellinger, who is a history buff; and visited a couple of vineyards where we sampled juices, olives, jams, and tapenade, among other tasty treats.

The thing that touched me most was our visit to DREAMers’ MOMS. DREAMers’ MOMS USA/Tijuana A.C. are deported parents aiding deported persons. Children of these deported parents are U.S. citizens or were taken to the U.S. at an early age. One of the women we heard from was Emma. She is married to a U.S. citizen and has three children. She failed to inform immigration when she and her family moved. She was deported (thereby separated from her husband and children) and cannot apply to return to the United States for ten years. The punishment does not fit the crime. Because our immigration laws are unjust families have been torn apart, leaving their children with the trauma of growing up without their parents.

I did not return home the same way I felt before leaving for the IIE. My eyes were finally opened by the truth. The answer finally came to my question, “What would Jesus do?” Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” My neighbor isn’t only the hungry in the U.S., or the Native Americans living on reservations, or the U.S. veterans who are ignored. My neighbor is also the person who hopped a fence and crossed a desert or mountain for a better life because our laws make it nearly impossible for them to enter the proper way.

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


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




Total Immersion

By Rev. Sarah Hicks

This is the first 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.

Participants in IIE

Participants in IIE. (c) 2016 Joshua Kagi

American Baptist Women’s Ministries’ Immigration Immersion Experience, February 28-March 5th, was fast moving, fully loaded, and full of surprises. The word “immersion” calls to my mind our Baptist belief regarding water baptism and being totally immersed. I was totally immersed in the issue of immigration during this experience. The word “immigration” became a living being created in the image of God.

The experience was fast moving in that, each day, we were introduced to several facets relating to this complex issue. We weren’t always given an agenda for the day ahead of time: many mornings we were informed on the spot what we would be doing, and sometimes we didn’t even know where we were going until we arrived. At first, this was uncomfortable. But we learned to adjust.

One day we departed very early in the morning, 6:00 a.m., from Deborah’s House, crossed the border after more than an hour in traffic, and met with U.S. Border Patrol agents, San Diego Sector. We heard the border agents’ side of the issue. They not only shared the objective of their mission statement and incidents of apprehensions but also took us on a tour of approximately twenty miles of the border sector, where we were able to examine this gigantic metal wall up close. The wall includes a row of razor-thin barbed wire at the top and another row a few feet down. These silver “weapons” glistened in the sunlight like beautiful sterling silver jewelry. That attractive analogy quickly vanished from my mind as the agents related stories of capturing people injured while attempting to cross over using a mattress or padding. In some spots we could see where repairs had been made as a result of an illegal attempt to cross.

Later we met with Enrique Morones, founder of Border Angels, an organization that advocates for human rights, humane immigration reforms, and social justice, with a special focus on issues related to the U.S.-Mexican border. We participated in a guided trip to the desert to place gallon bottles of water along migrant crossing routes. Then there was a day when we were instructed to wear comfortable shoes and carry no cameras, notebooks, or bags. I could not imagine an American Baptist woman being without those items!

However, I survived quite well. I also discovered that not having a daily written agenda was full of surprises that we were then able to discuss during our evening debriefing sessions. My emotions throughout the experience ran the gauntlet from compassion, anger, sadness, empathy, disbelief. I also had lots of questions in my mind and heart. How did we get to this situation and what can I do about it? I’m still in the processing mode. However, I will begin by sharing this experience during the State Mission Conference of New Era Missionary Baptist Convention of Georgia, Inc. in September, as well as with my church, Shiloh Baptist Church.

Sarah Hicks (2007)Rev. Sarah Hicks serves as Associate Minister, Foreign Mission at Shiloh Baptist Church, McDonough, Georgia, and as State Mission Coordinator, New Era Missionary Baptist Convention of Georgia, Inc.

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

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.