The Journey Begins Again

By Gail Aita

January-March, 2017

One of the reasons Paul and I wanted so much to return to Myanmar this year was to have some sense of closure. We have been going to Myanmar as voluntary missionaries and serving as Special Assistants to Southeast Asia and Japan since 2000. This was our ninth time going to serve and for eight of those trips we have taught at Myanmar Institute of Theology (M.I.T.) as well as the Pwo Karen Seminary in Yangon. We have both turned 70 this past year and have begun to slow down a little. In 2015-2016 Paul had five hospital visits dealing with kidney stones and complications from the surgeries. Needless to say, we spent a lot of time praying that we would be able to once again return to Myanmar, but knew from the outset that it may be our last long-term stay. (However, after having been there, we found ourselves often being asked to come back to teach and saying “If God wants us to return, He will give us the strength to do so!”)

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At M.I.T., the classes included not only English Literature and Poetry, as well as grammar, but also classes at the seminary concerning Ministry with Youth, Partnering Young Adults and the Elderly, Christian Education, and a class on Teaching Those with Special Needs and American Sign Language.  At the Pwo Karen Seminary, the students were most interested in learning English so we did a lot of role playing and singing.

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Unlike previous years, this year Paul and I had the opportunity to visit schools in the Kachin State and in the Chin Hills. We spent a little more than two weeks visiting and teaching at the Kachin Theological College and Seminary (KTCS) in Myitkyina and at the Chin Christian University (CCU) in Hakha.

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At each school, Paul and I both became reacquainted with those who were our former students. What a blessing it is to meet those former students who have gone on to become servants using their God given gifts to teach others.

And as a last note for now, I would like to share about a young teacher at KTCS by the name of Naw Din. Naw Din and his wife have three children of their own including a newborn baby just three weeks old. He and his wife have taken in twenty (yes, 20!) orphan children from the IDP camps. He does not run an orphanage. He and his wife have actually taken them into their home. They feed them, clothe them, send them to school, pray with them and, most of all, love them. They depend solely on the gifts from generous friends.  They are amazing.  I had the joy of spending a day with them, teaching them some English, some sign language, and some songs. We had such fun. I was truly blessed.

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Please pray for all the seminaries and colleges in Myanmar, that they will continue to teach God’s word and produce Christian leaders. Also pray for Naw Din and his loving wife and family as they share God’s love in the Kachin State.

**I would also like to mention that the opportunity to volunteer to teach at seminaries and colleges in Myanmar is a real possibility for anyone who is interested. You can contact International Ministries for more information.

Gail Aita serves as coordinator of the Western Section for American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

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Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges–Post #2

By Rev. Mary Beth Mankin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Women’s Leadership Exchange

by Sandra Hasenauer

women's confIt was pretty amazing, although “amazing” doesn’t even begin to cut it as a descriptive term for what I experienced: Over 6,000 Baptist women singing, praying, laughing, and crying with one another, gathered in the name of Jesus Christ in a very small village in the countryside of the Kachin State in Myanmar (Burma). I had the privilege of being a guest speaker at the 2016 Kachin Baptist Women’s Conference, hosted by the Kachin Baptist Women Department of the Kachin Baptist Convention in Myanmar. I traveled to Myanmar with my friend and fellow American Baptist woman, Hkadin Lee, also ethnically Kachin and now a U.S. citizen after having relocated to the U.S. in 1990. She and I were invited guests of the Kachin Baptist Women Department for this incredible event the week after Easter this year.

Early on the day the conference began, our guides took us on some pre-conference sight-seeing. As our car bumped and jostled our way over an unpaved road through farmlands, we passed caravan after caravan of vehicles (mini-vans, cars, pick-up trucks, motorcycles, and a few ox-carts) heading in the opposite direction toward the church campus where the conference was being held. It was pretty easy to tell they were heading for the Kachin Baptist Women’s Conference, as the vehicles were loaded with women of all ages and many of the cars had flags with the Kachin Baptist Convention’s logo fluttering on their hoods. We found our anticipation of the event rising as we passed so many about-to-be-conferees, especially seeing their smiles and laughter as they journeyed on their road trip. Many women had walked for several days from their villages just to get to a point where they could be picked up and driven the rest of the way. Attending this gathering of their Baptist sisters was worth the sacrifice for each of them.

When we attended the opening session of the conference, I was hit with a wall of sound as the 6,000 attendees all stood and sang praise songs with exuberance (accompanied by an excellent praise and worship team). I may not have been able to understand the language they were singing, but some things need no translation: They sang of their love for, and trust in, their Creator God and his given son, Jesus Christ. They sought God’s wisdom and guidance. They sought the comfort of Jesus and the challenge of the cross. They shared their burdens and fears and they multiplied their joys by singing their praise and worship.

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Zahkung Ja Ing

Hkadin and my participation in the Kachin Baptist Women’s Conference was part of a Women’s Leadership Exchange, a grant-funded project between American Baptist Women’s Ministries and the Kachin Baptist Women Department of the Kachin Baptist Convention, Myanmar. Zahkung Ja Ing, the director of the Kachin Baptist Women Department, and Lahtaw Ja Nu, an advisor to the Kachin Baptist Women Department, will be attending 3D: Dwelling, Discovering, Discipling / Dedicando, Descubriendo, Discipulando, the national event for women and girls sponsored by American Baptist Women’s Ministries in Washington, D.C., July 21-24, 2016. They will be speaking during an evening session and facilitating a time of table conversation one afternoon. Additionally, Ja Ing and Ja Nu will be participating in one of the

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Lahtaw Ja Nu

optional after-events of the conference, a two-and-a-half day seminar, “How, Then, Shall We Lead? Leadership Capacity Development.” We are looking forward with great anticipation to welcoming them to the U.S. and this great opportunity to build deep, meaningful relationships with our Baptist sisters from overseas. If you’ve already planned to join us at 3D, I hope you’ll be sure to greet Ja Ing and Ja Nu, hear their stories, and share yours. If you’re not yet registered for 3D, there’s still room! Click here for more information.

By leaders in women’s ministries learning from one another across national boundaries, ethnic/racial boundaries, yes–even language boundaries, we all expand our capacity for leadership in ministry tenfold. God blesses us through one another, and may God bless us through this exchange.

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

The Kachin are an ethnic group of Myanmar. The Kachin State is in the far northern reaches of Myanmar, and is bordered by China and India. It is estimated that 99% of Kachin are Christian, and of the Christians, the vast majority are Baptist. Baptist Kachin in the United States have formed their own churches and associations. Like the Chin Baptist Churches USA and the Karen Baptist Churches USA, the Kachin Baptist Churches USA were recently welcomed as an Associated Ministry Organization of American Baptist Churches USA.

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.  

A Multihued Table

By Rev. Dr. Atula Jamir

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(c) 2014 Susanne Nilsson, used by permission creativecommons.org

Imagine the magnificent colors of the rainbow! Growing up, everytime I saw a rainbow in the sky, I would try to count the colors but was never successful. I concluded that there must be more than the eyes can see. It is just a glimpse of God’s creative work of love and relationship. I think of our church like a beautiful rainbow but with the anticipation to experience new appearances everyday. God continues to set before us brilliant colors of life in the deepest sense – not just to see but to feel, smell, share, admire, touch, engage, embrace, and to flourish. These colors of life pave its way and build vibrant communities and transform otherwise homochromous communities. This spirit moves into the simplest as well as the most sophisticated life of the people regardless of who they are and where they come from. As a pastor in a multi-cultural church in-the-making, I appreciate the array of colors of the people and their cultures, and the colors they create and bring to the common table.

Calvary Baptist Church in Lowell, MA , originally a Euro-American faith community, is home to friends from the Republic of the Congo, The Ivory Coast, Panama, Cameroon, Kenya, Cambodia, Myanmar, and India. We also host three churches: Voice of Peace (Khmer), New Life Christian Cambodian Church (Khmer), and Lowell International (Karen, Kachin, Burmese, Chin). On the last Sunday of every five-Sunday month, all four churches worship together in different languages, culminating in a global meal that transcends all cultural barriers. The generosity and camaraderie of the people are seen at their best as we mingle and share the food that has come from their kitchens to our common table.

Being immersed in the diversity of people and culture is deeper and more surprising than we imagine. We are introduced to a vast spectrum of potentials for communication that conveys love, appreciation, respect, trust, humor and solidarity. During one of our meals, a friend was drawn to a particular dish that was set among the delectable dishes. She ate a spoonful, her face turned red, eyes blurred with tears, she blurted out, “My head is going to burst.” It was too spicy. Our sympathetic laughter only increased her desire to learn from and respect other cultures. Every little thing that is different becomes the bridge to all generations and cultures. The aroma, piquancy, texture, and shade are essential elements of a diverse community. We emerge from the immersion in diversity transformed from “there is no way we can adjust to their culture” to “we are born to adjust, adapt, accept, and enjoy each other….” The once pungent smell becomes a comforting fragrance.

In our togetherness, we begin to understand the commonalities we have as human beings, acknowledge our cultural differences, and respect our individuality. In our friendship, we are actually experiencing God’s perspective on inclusivity, creativity and redemptive living. In our sharing of stories, and visits into each other’s lives, we enter into transformational moments. Barriers become pointless in our willingness and openness to partnership and begin to have a strong presence in each other’s lives, leading to faith that moves us to return to the heart of the Gospel again and again. Our sense of awareness has sharpened with deepened humility, and we have become more ALIVE!

2887444Rev. Dr. Atula Jamir serves as pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church in Lowell, Massachusetts; she is also the coordinator of Personal Development Ministries for American Baptist Women’s Ministries of Massachusetts.