VALLEY FORGE, PA (9/3/15)—American Baptist Women’s Ministries (ABWM) and American Baptist Women in Ministry (ABWIM) will co-sponsor with religious leaders in the Republic of Georgia a spiritual pilgrimage for women to the country of Georgia on August 3-13, 2016, announced Virginia Holmstrom, ABWM executive director. Women interested in participating are encouraged to communicate their interest through an online Interest Survey.
American participants will include up to 30 women, representing lay and clergy women from American Baptist congregations and American Muslim women. The purpose of the 10-day women’s pilgrimage is to break barriers and build bridges between lay and ordained women, multiple generations, Baptists and Muslims, and Georgians and Americans.
The upcoming trip is titled “Debi’s Journey to Georgia,” coining an adaptation of the Georgian word debis, which means “sisters.” In the Republic of Georgia, the American women will be hosted by the Georgian Muslims Union. Participants will experience homestays with Muslim families, visits to Christian churches built in the 11th and 14th centuries, worship and fellowship with the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia community, seminars on Christianity and Islam, respectful dialogue between Baptists and Muslims, advocacy for gender justice, and Georgia’s unique hospitality, culture, and cuisine. The trip will be rigorous. An early cost estimate is $3,000 per person. Logistical details for the time in Georgia will be coordinated by the Georgian Muslims Union in consultation with ABWM/ABWIM and Georgian Baptist leaders.
The 2016 pilgrimage is the fourth in a series of annual encounters sponsored by American Baptist Women’s Ministries, and since 2014, co-sponsored with American Baptist Women in Ministry. ABWM and ABWIM together received a Palmer Grant in 2014 to fund the planning phase for the 2016 exchange.
Breaking barriers and building bridges has been a consistent theme for the pilgrimages. Patricia Hernandez, national director for ABWIM, said, “Building bridges with Georgian women in ministry as well as Muslim women of faith has allowed me to see the challenges we share and has shed light on the ways in which together we can break barriers. Doing so as part of a team of American Baptist women in lay and professional ministries has been an enriching experience as we too break barriers and build bridges becoming one in the body of Christ in a way which allows each of us to fully utilize our God-given gifts and live out our God-given calls.”
Virginia Holmstrom, ABWM’s executive director, first traveled to the Republic of Georgia in 2013 with eleven American Baptist women. “Each of the three times I have been in the Republic of Georgia as a guest of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia, the group’s itinerary has taken me to the lovely city of Batumi, on the shores of the Black Sea. In that region resides a large community of Georgian Muslims. Islam is a minority religion in this predominantly Eastern Orthodox country, and Baptists are an even smaller minority. Interestingly, the Baptists and Muslims in Georgia have formed friendships, resulting in mutual respect and joint advocacy for religious freedom. Becoming personally acquainted with Georgian Muslims has been transformational to me. Their yearning to be faithful people and their love for God is not unlike my own. Their warm hospitality to receive me in their homes has blessed me with kindness and well-being and conversations that disarm my own prejudices. As a result, I am motivated to know Christ more deeply so that as a Christian believer I might reflect Christ in all I do and say.”
Holmstrom and Hernandez led a 6-member team of American Baptist women to Georgia in April 2015, to begin planning a 2016 exchange with Georgian Baptists and Muslims. While there, they participated in an International Forum on Religion and Peace, hosted by the Georgian Muslims Union in Batumi, and they visited Georgian government offices and the American Embassy to discuss human and civil rights in Georgia and to advocate for gender equality and religious freedom.
American Baptist lay and clergy women are invited to indicate their interest in participating in the August 2016 “Debi’s Journey to Georgia” by completing the online Interest Survey at this link or by communicating their interest and contact information by email to firstname.lastname@example.org before the end of September 2015.
American Baptist Women’s Ministries is a Christ-centered ministry with a commitment to encourage and empower women and girls to serve God.
American Baptist Women in Ministry, a ministry of ABCUSA, has a vision to seek the full participation and full partnership of all men and women in ministry in which both women and men are able to fully utilize their God-given gifts and fully live out their God-given call.
American Baptist Churches is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with more than 5,200 local congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.