Monday, December 7, 2015

United Methodist Women - stories of service

Stories of Service: Overcoming Injustice and Finding Hope

Stories of Service: Overcoming Injustice and Finding Hope
Cindy Johnson 
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” -Luke 4:18
As deaconesses and home missioners we serve in ministries of love, justice and service. With Jesus’ ministry as our guide, we seek to address injustices as a covenant community. These are two of our stories. 

Cindy Johnson: A Refugee Gives Birth in Texas

Last year I was blessed to spend 35 days in Israel and Palestine. Celebrating Christmas in Bethlehem, I became aware of the many injustices at the time of Jesus’ birth, as well as the injustices going on now behind the literal walls that divide people. I had traveled halfway around the world and the issues facing my sisters and brothers hit very close to home.
I am a deaconess serving in Brownsville, Texas, a city where a fence has been erected to separate the United States from our neighbors in Mexico. I volunteer at a center helping immigrants and refugees who are fleeing injustice. The border patrol brought a young, pregnant woman to the center. She was from Eritrea, a country bordering Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti. No one at the center could speak her language, but it was clear she was about to give birth and needed to be at a hospital. The two male border patrol agents were ordered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to leave her at the center. Because she was in labor, the center could not admit her but would call an ambulance for her. The border patrol agents would not release her without orders from ICE so they put her in the back of their truck.
As her labor advanced, her strength drained. She had not had food all day — and it was already 5:00 p.m. I could tell she was scared. I am not a nurse or doctor; my first-aid training had not equipped me to deliver a baby. But the Spirit called, so I climbed into the truck. I held her hand, prayed for her, her baby and family and continued to advocate that she be taken the hospital. After about a half hour the two border patrol agents agreed to head to the hospital while waiting for the go-ahead from ICE.
I felt good that the young woman got proper help at the hospital. After giving birth, she and her new baby were taken to a home that helps refugee families in Austin, Texas. Reflecting on the day’s events, I saw how much more work we have to do to overcome these types of injustices.

Rachel Harvey: Growing Hope in Those Who Struggle

Rachel Harvey
Rachel Harvey
For the past year and a half I have served as a Deaconess in Cape Town, South Africa. I began my service volunteering at the Oranjezict City Farm. I arrived with little experience, but the farm was a beautiful place of learning, healing and friendship.
After about a year at the farm, I learned about Streetscapes, a new work-readiness program where street people are employed 40 hours a week with time built in for skills development, counseling and motivational sessions.
Streetscapes received donations of soap-making equipment, a wood fired oven and two vacant city lots to farm. But they had no experience  making soap, baking bread or growing vegetables. They were looking for help.
I felt the Spirit calling me to risk leaving the established farm to test my semi-green thumb and try something new.
I have been serving with Streetscapes now for three months. My gardening crew consists of 30 street-based people, many of whom struggle with substance abuse, criminal backgrounds and stressful living environments.
The neglected city lots were in rough shape, full of trash and crowded with rats. Last month we cleared enough space to plant a test patch of beans. One of the participants, who drinks four bottles of of wine a day, told me he was really enjoying the gardening. “My sister,” he said, “I want you to know I’m really excited about seeing those seeds go in the ground and am waiting for them to come up. Cause when they come up and start growing it’s like watching me. I’ve started drinking a little less so I’m ready for work; I have a lot of hope for those little plants.”

Born on the Margins

With so many paths before God, a poor, young, refugee woman of color was chosen to give birth to Jesus on the margins. 125 years of the deaconess and home missioner movement teaches us that today we too must place ourselves with the marginalized to continue to see God’s story unfold.
In this season of Advent may we tune our ears to the continual call of the Spirit who invites us to find hope in unexpected places, whether in parking lots, garden plots or mangers.

Rachel Harvey is a deaconess in Cape Town, South Africa. Cindy Johnson is a deaconess serving in Brownsville, Texas.

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