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.  

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Prayers for Myanmar (Part 1)

by Sandra Hasenauer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

Thanksgiving

Submitted by Jonna Turek

thanksgiving01Thanksgiving, that unique American holiday established to thank our Creator for God’s provision, evokes an image of a plump, golden-brown turkey surrounded by favorite side dishes and a smiling family safe and snug in a warm house, while outdoors the leaves fall through crisp autumn air.

At least that’s what I picture at this special time of year. I have memories of family feasts which, in my family, gave the women of the family an opportunity to shine as they filled the house with fall decorations and the aromas of those special Thanksgiving treats. While the menfolk talked about sports, watched football on TV or planned the family’s after-dinner touch football game, the women provided the food and atmosphere.

In my own family background, women are the stars of this all-American holiday, and rightly so, because women and girls in the U.S. have so many reasons to give thanks. While there are still residual inequalities between the sexes in this country, we need only look at the circumstances of our sisters around the world to see how generously blessed we are.

A genuinely thankful heart yearns to give back to the giver.

We can show our thanks to God for our many blessings by reaching out to our less fortunate sisters. As Christ said in Matthew 25:40 (CEV),  “…Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.”

American Baptist Women’s Ministries provides a number of practical ways we can express our thanks by reaching out to less fortunate women and girls, both around the world and much closer to home. Along with our own women struggling with poverty and/or abuse, we now have a multitude of women and unaccompanied girls who have crossed our southern border in search of a better life. Setting aside our feelings about the causes of this situation and any opinions we may have about immigration policies, we can still reach out to provide comfort to those who are here. We do this in recognition of our own abundance, as an expression of heartfelt thanks to God.

Not everyone experiences the sort of Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving romanticized in the media and our own cherished memories, but anyone can know the joy and the warm glow that comes from practical, hands-on thanks-giving which relieves a sister’s suffering.

Jonna TurekJonna Turek is active in her congregation and in women’s ministries. Jonna writes the blog “Power Walking with Jonna,” and under the pen-name J.B. Hawker, Jonna has published several mystery novels.

 

Hope in Prayer

By Emilie Rodriguez

Prayer Vigil Border credit CWS Aug 29 2014

Prayer vigil at the border, 8-29-14. Photo used by permission, Church World Service.

The breeze comes in through the open car window as we drive across the U.S. border into Tijuana. I look out on streets filled with people going to and from work, school, maybe even wandering around trying to find a place to call home. As I inhaled, memories of my childhood fill my mind, trying to burst free: hitting the piñata at countless birthday parties, cheering as my cousins played soccer with our older aunts and uncles, falling asleep on our way home as we cross the border back to the U.S. We arrive at the Primera Iglesia Bautista de Tijuana, the First Baptist Church of Tijuana. When we enter the building, my eyes widen in surprise. People from all over the United States have come to the vigil: Los Angeles, Pennsylvania, Boston, San Diego—and that’s just the people on this side of the border. Still more were gathering on the other side of the border to join us in prayer.

It gives me hope that so many have come to aid the crisis, come to do something about it and support the efforts. The discussion begins and we conference with our brothers and sisters in San Diego, those who are going to meet up with us later at the park. We go around the room, discussing what has been happening in each of our regions, each person speaking about the children and families that are haunted by the atrocities going on their countries. They’ve seen the faces of these refugees and want to help them overcome their traumatic experiences. The preliminary discussion ends and we head to the Border Field State Park. There, the people in San Ysidro come to join us, facing us across the fence from the U.S. side of the park. There we stand united, linked across two countries, and we all feel hope coursing through each of us. We begin the prayer and as we pray to God, pleading that he helps us fight this humanitarian crisis, my mind finds peace. A sense of calm courses through me, and I know that no matter what happens, God will help.

Emilie Rodriguez 2013-2015Emilie Rodriguez is convenor of the national leadership team of AB GIRLS, AB Women’s Ministries. A senior in high school, Emilie served as AB Women’s Ministries’ representative at a prayer vigil hosted by American Baptist Churches USA held at the border on August 29, 2014. To watch a video of the prayer vigil, click here.

AB Women’s Ministries 2014-2015 mission focus is “Crisis at the Border: What Could I Do?” For information, resources, and a link to subscribe to monthly emails on the topic, visit www.abwministries.org.

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).

Journeying with God

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

In January 2013 I had traveled with other American Baptist women to the Republic of Georgia, my first visit to this small former Soviet-block country nestled just east of the Black Sea, with Russia to its north and Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Turkey sharing its southern border. While there, the leader of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia, Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili, had invited me to consider returning in 2014 with some American Baptist clergy and lay women for an experimental spiritual pilgrimage with Georgian Baptist women . . . Yes, I’m quite sure he said “women.”  We agreed to plan a pilgrimage and see what would happen. I returned to the U.S. and began to arrange for six American Baptist women—three of them clergy, three of them laity—to travel to Georgia for a two-week spiritual pilgrimage with six Georgian Baptist women—three clergywomen, three laywomen.  Or so I thought.

On June 20, 2014, we six American pilgrims—three clergy and three lay—collected our suitcases from the baggage carousel at the Tbilisi, Georgia, international airport at 3:30 in the morning and began looking for our Georgian counterparts who had come to meet our plane. One, two, three, four women and a few men, too.  Hmmm. Obviously we would meet the rest of the Georgian pilgrims later that day, I assumed. We were whisked away in a couple of cars to check in at the Baptist-owned accommodations where we would live while in Tbilisi.

That afternoon, Bishop Rusudan (the first female Baptist bishop in Georgia and, in fact, the only female bishop of any religious body in the entire country) came to fetch us for a short tour of Tbilisi. A young Baptist man accompanied her. Again I wondered, when will we meet our Georgian Baptist counterparts for our pilgrimage? We spent the afternoon with Rusudan and Davit, walking the cobblestone streets of the old part of the city, marveling at the views from the high observation points, and near the end of the warm afternoon of lovely fellowship with our two new Georgian friends, we  stopped for ice-cream and conversation filled with laughter before we hurried off to the Peace Cathedral Baptist Church for Friday night Bible study group.

Early the next morning, three Georgian Baptist men in their 20s arrived at Beteli Centre to travel with us six American women by train to the resort city of Batumi, far on the western edge of Georgia along the Black Sea’s coast, for two days and nights to meet women in the Muslim community there. (The Baptists and the Muslims in Georgia have forged friendships; both are minority groups that face intolerance by the predominant Orthodox society and culture in Georgia.) Going to meet with Muslim women was a perfect venture for us American Baptist women, because we want to encourage and empower Christian women in the U.S. to initiate friendships with Muslim neighbors in their communities. When we arrived in Batumi, we were whisked from the train station to a restaurant to dine at a long table with our Muslim hosts . . . all men.  The Georgians—Baptist and Muslim menfolk—sat at one end of the table and chatted in Georgian, and we six American Baptist women sat at the other end of the table feeling more than a tiny bit excluded and wondering how and why our visions of journeying with six Georgian Baptist women were seemingly evaporating before our eyes. We wouldn’t even meet any Georgian Muslim women until 10:30 that night when we were delivered to our host families’ homes for dinner.

Each of us Americans wrestled with the assumptions we had come with, and very slowly began to open our eyes to what God was doing in spite of our one-track expectations.

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By the end of our 12 days in Georgia, we had met dozens of Georgians and we knew one another by first name. We were dinner guests in the homes of Baptists and enjoyed new friendships around outside picnic tables. We spent quality time with various groups of women talking about issues that matter to women and girls and we also had wonderful conversations with the menfolk, too.  We were guests of the most warm and generous hospitality I have ever experienced anywhere. Our Facebook friends lists grew longer each day. Language differences didn’t matter so much; we could communicate in ways beyond words.

The American pilgrims returned to the States on July 2, 2014. We’re still noticing things that God had done among us in Georgia. Some insights will be a long time coming. As we ponder our experiences and share stories about our Georgian friendships, we are noticing that God was present all the while, even when we could not see past our own needs.

Journeying with God is like that. Tomorrow when you awake, declare your day to be a spiritual pilgrimage with God. Then see what happens! But don’t expect to see it all that same day.

Sunday015Virginia Holmstrom is executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries.