Sunday, June 28, 2015

two weeks of increasing awareness

The first day of my "Counseling Grief and Loss" I heard personal stories from three women who had been regularly sexually molested by family members from as young as age 3. This is so far from my own life story, for which I am grateful. But it was an incredible privilege to be entrusted with their stories, to hear how this has affected them throughout their lives and how God is healing them. Is it any wonder that all of them are trained in counseling, one is a victim's advocate and another teaches trauma healing? I took away some important lessons from this time of learning about their stories, their lives, that I will need to apply in my role as Director of Member Care.

I came home Friday evening, and on Tuesday morning headed to Washington, DC with Stan. We took the metro from our hotel to the center of the city--it was great to use a train system again! We enjoyed two days of walking around the nation's capital, visiting historic monuments and museums. Our apps showed that we had walked over 9 miles one day and at least 3 the second. We were able to see the White House from both sides (and watch the changing of the guards up on the roof). It was meaningful to us to visit the World War II memorial (Stan's father served in grave registration in the Pacific), the Lincoln Memorial, and the Vietnam Memorial, and also get a selfie in front of the Washington memorial...

We spent the rest of the afternoon in a couple of Museums.  At the Museum of American History, we split up--I enjoyed the First Ladies exhibit, and snapped a photo to send to my daughter, the costumer, wishing she was there to enjoy the styles and fashions with me. Stan went to more "guy-type" war exhibits... We then wandered over to the Museum of Natural History, where we crowded around the Hope Diamond, and then wandered through other exhibits until we ended up in the cafe sharing an ice cream sundae.  The second day we walked around the Capital Building, through the Arboretum, and finished at the Air and Space Museum.

What brought us to DC wasn't sightseeing, but to attend the SIM USA co-sponsored Third Annual National African American Mission Conference. Stan had been at this conference the year before, and my schedule opened up to join him this year.

As we walked into the venue on Thursday afternoon, it was a delight to see and hear a Gospel Choir rehearsing.  If you've followed us over the years, you know how Black Gospel music is being used to share the Good News of Jesus to many Japanese. Both of us have sung in the "Hallelujah Gospel Choir" in the Tokyo area over the years.  I learned later that the director of this choir was a member of the group that went to Japan last year to do outreach in partnership with Asian Access.

Over the three days there were five plenary sessions taught by five speakers. The desire of the conveners of this conference is to mobilize the African American Church to be more intentional and involved in missions--not just short term or local, but long-term internationally.

Leroy Barber, the Global Executive Director of Word Made Flesh, told us that African Americans comprise only 1% of the total number of foreign missionaries sent from our country. Of the 1.4 million registered non-profits in the US, only 15% are led by people of color (10% Black, 4% Latino, 1% Native American and Asian American combined). Those 15% only receive 3% of all the funding that goes to non-profits. He went on to describe numerous challenges that are faced these organizations, many of which come out of our country's history of racism. He described the spill over effects of  financial boards being primarily white, male, upper-class, of fundraising being primarily relational (if they didn't go to a prestigious college--maybe didn't go to college at all--how will they going to tap into this network?).

Barber then brought it down to areas that I am more involved in. We are striving to be a mission that includes people of various ethnic backgrounds but is our training a "white program?"  Do the books we ask candidates to read, the examples we give, the materials we provide for them to facilitate fundraising reflect their own realities?

We also heard from William "Duce" Branch, also known as a rapper,"The Ambassador." He presented a great expository message on Jesus as our model and motivation for missions. At a later session he performed some of his music for us (I'm not the quickest at picking up rap lyrics, but I heard Biblical stories and theology in that music format.)

Over and over we were reminded that one sin our churches are not preaching about and addressing is the sin of racism. Having this a week after the shootings in Charleston made this lesson all the more poignant. The stories we heard increased our awareness of the challenges that are faced by the African American Christian community and those who are called by God to serve as long-term missionaries overseas.

Sometimes I think we've been "ruined" by learning about what life is like for other people! As Stan drove home yesterday, I continued reading out loud from a book that we started on the way up to DC that deals with "encore careers." Stan interjected several times that the advice was written from a white, economically secure perspective...

As we continue to serve with SIM USA, may we continue to grow in awareness and understanding to more effectively connect God's people to God's work in the world!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The bigger story

Shortly after writing my last post, I began reading Jerry Sittser's book, A Grace Revealed--How God Redeems the Story of Your Life.  Having God's work in us presented as a part of the bigger story isn't a new concept for me, so reading this was more affirmative that informative. However, in the context of having written such an intensely personal blog, I was able to again see how what happened 27 years ago was only a chapter in our life story and glimpse how God has redeemed those experiences and memories.

My favorite quote came toward the end of the book:

“Eventually we will live happily ever after, but only when the redemptive story ends, which seems a long way off. In the meantime, you and I are somewhere in the middle of the story, as if stuck in the chaos and messiness of a half-finished home improvement project” (emphasis mine) (Sittser 2012, 260).  

I have never lived through a home improvement project, but when friends talk about kitchen remodeling projects, it truly sounds dreadful!  I think of the days, weeks, months of improvising to do ordinary things in extraordinary ways.  And then one day, its done. Beautiful. Cleaned up. 

I think it helps, at least a bit, to realize that we'll never get our "home-improvement-project-life" finished until our life is done.  What can I offer to people in the midst of the story, struggling to know how to respond to the past and how to formulate their next moves for the future? “I can be certain only of this: though the story will not turn out as I expect and plan, it will be redemptive all the same. (emphasis mine) We might be in the middle of that story, uncertain of what looms ahead; but God rules over the whole thing, which is all that matters” (Sittser 2012, 270).