Baptist women work together in social justice initiatives

After a five-year retirement, Thomasina needed to return to work. Yet, she lacked computer skills for today’s jobs. She soon got a fresh start at Women Mentoring Women, a six-week course designed to help equip unemployed and underemployed women.

Building relationships with 15 women, aged 30 to 65, over the six weeks, Dollie Hamlin, a director of the program, explained that the focus of the program was on helping participants “reinvent” themselves and learn “new ways of going after what the world has to offer.”

Held at St. John’s Baptist Church in Scotch Plains, N.J., the course gave Thomasina just what she needed. She mastered the art of applying for work online and landed a customer service job.

Cassandra grew up in a dysfunctional family where addictions were a way of life. In 2008 she entered a six-month residential transitional living program, The Next Door, in Nashville, Tenn., for women addicted to drugs or alcohol. A proud graduate and now an employee at the program, Cassandra said she is “giving back something that was freely given to me.”

“Once you get clean, your life will be overwhelmed with wonderful, beautiful things,” said the 29-year-old.

She has earned her high school GED and her drivers license. She is now married and hopes to adopt a child soon.

The Next Door program, led by Linda Leathers, has been so successful that additional programs have been opened in Knoxville and Chattanooga.

Tennessee WMU executive director–treasurer, Candy Phillips, said, “The Next Door is a wonderful example of missional women taking action in their local community to make positive change.”The Women Mentoring Women initiative and The Next Door program are two of six projects in North America receiving life-changing grant money from North American Baptist Women’s Union, one of seven Continental Unions that make up the women’s department of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA). Together, the seven Continental Unions represent women in 132 countries and 229 national Baptist women’s organizations.

The North American Union is comprised of 16 member bodies within the United States and Canada, with more than three million member women.

Saying three million women is “a lot of woman power,” newly elected NABWU president Moreen Sharp, extolled the “strength in numbers” in her acceptance speech at the NABWU assembly in Nashville in October 2012, a meeting that convenes once every five years. The 2012 meeting attracted 220 women, with one-third of attendees coming from Canada, including Sharp, who is NABWU’s first president from Western Canada.

Elected to a five-year term, Sharp encouraged attendees, “We are women with compassion, and we are a powerful force as we unite together.”

Much of NABWU’s focus is on resourcing and networking Baptist women who are touching the lives of women and children suffering injustices and disadvantage in our society. Individuals being reached include refugees to North America, youth at risk, people trapped in human trafficking and prostitution and others.

In her acceptance speech, Sharp noted that there are many Baptist women “out there” to whom God has given a passion to “do something.” Yet, many, while seeing a need, have no idea how to follow through and make a difference, she said.

“These women need resources and encouragement,” she said, emphasizing that networking among Christians is imperative in today’s disconnected society.

“Networking would allow [those who are working in particular ministries] to have others who can give input when they are stumped, encouragement when they are discouraged, or share prayer concerns that they may not feel free to share with others who don’t understand or are outside their particular area of ministry.

“Networking is a key initiative that needs to continue and grow ever stronger. As a North American organization, we have a unique place in networking women who are working towards bringing God’s heart and values to this world.”

Modern technology, including the possibility of online training and video-conferencing, allows for quicker and more far-reaching connections today than in the past.

“Technology is our friend. The potential is massive,” she said, as she discussed how women could sit in front of their computers and “be taught by those who have gone before them.”

Such connections have a strengthening effect, Sharp believes.

“The more connections we make between our member bodies, the stronger they all become. The stronger we all become,” she said.

The North American Baptist women also look beyond their own continent as they join with other Baptist women throughout the world in prayer during the Baptist Women’s World Day of Prayer every November. The five-year (2010-15) theme for the day of prayer is “In Step with the Spirit,” with the 2012 focus on joy.

“We are intricately linked with Baptist women from around the world,” explained Sharp.

Linked in prayer, some Baptist women have participated in the World Day of Prayer through a Facebook page. Others, on the other side of the world, walk for days for the opportunity to “pray with their sisters.” In some places, hundreds of women come together to pray; in other places, only two or three women gather in prayer.

The World Day of Prayer promotes an offering, with monies collected evenly divided between NABWU’s grant projects and BWA’s women’s department and international projects. One of the seven Continental Unions prepares the World Day of Prayer materials, with the 2012 resources being prepared by the Asian Union.

Additionally, because the Baptist World Alliance is a registered non-government agency at the United Nations (UN), the BWA women’s department sends representatives to the annual meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York. NABWU was represented at the 56th session in late February/early March 2012 by Linda Weber, NABWU’s president from 2007-2012, along with several others. The primary theme was the empowerment of rural women and their role in eradicating poverty and hunger.

George Bullard, General Secretary of the North American Baptist Fellowship said, “NABWU is a vital missional movement among Baptists. We are all more effective in ministry because of the prophetic actions of women related to NABWU.”

In addition to Sharp, NABWU elected the following five officers at its October 2012 assembly in Nashville: Lisa Lohnes, vice-president, Baptist women’s day of prayer promotion, project grants, and prayer partners; Ruby Fulbright, vice-president, leadership and mentoring; Angelita Clifton, vice-president, communication and promotion; Stacey Benn, secretary; and Darlene McGilberry, treasurer (beginning in January 2013).

For more information about the North American Baptist Women’s Union, visit the website www.nabwu.org.

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