VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 6/26/18)—From an update on the Rebuilding, Restoring Renewing, Puerto Rico initiative to an observance of World Refugee Day, the June 19-20 meeting of the board of directors of American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) focused on home mission, including implementation of the new strategy developed to meet the ever-changing ministry needs of these times.
“Where is the spirit leading us?” asked Executive Director Dr. Jeffrey Haggray, as he reported on launching the Aligned Action Network mission strategy. “The network strategy is about going back to the mission field and saying, ‘What’s happening? Where are the opportunities to do more?’ Our intention is to demonstrate to ABHMS partners and stakeholders that ABHMS cares about mission at the local level; wants to learn and engage more with partner initiatives; and wishes to utilize our vast national network to increase connections, collaboration and resources among our diverse partners.”
In his report, Dr. Clifford Johnson, board president, lauded the new strategy, experienced through his participation in an Aligned Action Network gathering in Philadelphia.
“It was such a thrill to see so many people in the same room excited to be there, prepared to collaborate around ministry and mission,” Johnson said.
While Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Maria may have dropped from mainstream media’s news coverage, Victoria Goff, director of Disaster Recovery for the initiative, and the Rev. Salvador Orellana, the initiative’s deputy director, Logistics and Relationships, reported that island recovery effort will take many years, and reminded board members that the story needs to be kept front and center.
Goff reported that the unemployment rate has reached 12 percent, and more than 30,000 people have lost jobs because of the storm. Ten percent of residents remain without electricity; in Yabucoa, only 40 percent of residents have had power restored. More than 70,000 homes were destroyed, and more than 250,000 sustained partial damage. Only 50 percent of homes were insured, and those homeowners are finding that insurance companies are not paying claims. The suicide rate has increased 29 percent.
As this initiative moves into its second phase, ABHMS is in dialogue with Church World Service to create sustainable development projects, Orellana said, adding that there is dialogue with the American Friends Service Committee and other partners related to advocacy issues: raising awareness of the effects of the Republican tax bill on the island; mitigating the negative effects of the Jones Act; and asking for relief of Puerto Rico’s debt burden.
Goff reported on volunteer response to date: 70 volunteers responded to the call from January to April; 51 volunteers worked on the island in May; 111 volunteers traveled to Puerto Rico to donate their time to rebuilding in June; and 189 have pledged service from July to November. The needs in Puerto Rico remain critical, however, and more volunteers are needed.
In other business, the board received updates on the status of ABHMS’ new mission center in King of Prussia, slated for completion and occupancy in August 2018, and Vice President Wendy Hagn introduced two new board members: the Rev. Jamie Washam, pastor, First Baptist Church in America, Providence, R.I.; and the Rev. Dr. Gary Simpson, senior pastor, The Concord Baptist Church of Christ, Brooklyn, N.Y.
The board was reminded of the immigration crisis along the U.S. border with Mexico throughout the two-day meeting. In opening devotions, the Rev. Kevin (“Scotty”) Robertson said, “Children are being caged up like dogs at our southern border,” and promised, “We will not be quiet.”
Washam said in her meditation, “I keep wondering what would have happened if Mary and Joseph had been separated from Jesus when they fled to Egypt.”
Publisher Laura Alden lifted up the Judson Press book “Listen to the Children: Conversations with Immigrant Families” by Elizabeth Conde-Frasier” as a “handbook for churches” to help navigate the issues around today’s news.
“For anyone with a desire to embrace the biblical mandates to care for the strangers in our midst, to let the children come, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves,” she shared from the foreword by the Rev. Luis Cortes Jr., “Listen to the Children” is “a warmly inviting, powerfully compassionate, and essentially practical resource for taking action.”
To commemorate World Refugee Day 2018 on June 20—which calls us to remember the 60 million displaced people around the world—the Rev. Rothangliani Chhangte, ABHMS senior associate, Strategic Relationships and Initiatives, led the board in “Prayers of the People: Praying for Refugees and Displaced People Worldwide” by Alyssa Stebbing, outreach director of Trinity Episcopal Church, The Woodlands, Texas:
“As we continue to witness the most widespread refugee crisis since World War II, we remember that the stories of our tradition are stories of wandering, of flight, of forced migration. Our Holy Scriptures tell us of the sojourns of the people of God—of slavery and persecution, of wandering in the wilderness, of exile and loss. …God, whose son was a refugee in Egypt, bless all who have nowhere to lay their head today, who find themselves strangers on earth, pilgrims to they know not where, facing rejection, closed doors, suspicion and fear. Give them companions in their distress, hope in their wandering, and safe lodging at their journey’s end.
American Baptist Home Mission Societies partners with American Baptists to promote Christian faith, cultivate Christ-centered leaders and disciples, and bring healing and transformation to communities across the United States and Puerto Rico.
American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with approximately 5,000 congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.