What Happened at Shine Bright?

–Ben White– Pastor, Circle of Hope, Pennsauken, NJ — Member of the Peace and Justice Project Leadership Team

It is Martin Luther King’s Birthday today, January, 15th. So last night was Martin Luther King’s Birthday Eve! We got together to celebrate by sharing stories about our dreams of the Beloved Community King described. Some pastors from the BIC had stories to get us started. The BIC Peace and Justice Project leadership team invites everyone to our every-other-month gathering of people of peace and justice from all over the country (maybe the world!) Our goal is to uplift the stories of generosity, compassion, peacemaking and racial reconciliation that we know is at the heart of the Brethren in Christ. here is video of the presenters and a summary below.

Krista Dutt, The Dwelling Place, Chicago, IL

Church in a van? She and her friends had an idea to start a church that addressed one of the largest injustices facing their neighborhood, mass incarceration. Eventually she said, what if the church met in the van as we travelled from our neighborhood to the prison an hour and a half away? Krist a said it was “so crazy that it could only come from God … Like from Old Testament times if Old Testament had cars.” 

And then community started happening around this trip, this van, this common project. Shiny! Their dream is a bit on hold during the pandemic but we wait with her in hope as they stay connected the best they can.

Hank Johnson, Harrisburg BIC, Harrisburg, PA

Hank started off with repping the historic nature of the Harrisburg BIC congregation, It was founded in 1897. “Most people don’t name us as one of the historic BIC churches but we is.” History moves fast though, and at some point a couple of decades or so ago, the church looked at their neighborhood and realized they were not as connected as they wanted to be with their now rather brown and black neighborhood.

So they started dreaming about ways to connect and somehow they said, “Let’s just build a hospital!” But they weren’t at all sure how to do that. Eventually, two doctors came to them and confirmed that the area really DOES need a clinic, so they said again, “Let’s do it. And they started raising money, looking for millions.

But the church’s visionary, Dr. Gwen, lost her husband and got sick herself. The dream went back on the back burner.

Then they got recruited for hosting a mobile medical clinic in partnership with a Catholic organization who had a similar ethos — Be the kingdom by giving this care in the name of Jesus. Now they have hosted the clinic for three years and the church has spent a grand total of $80 to get a special plu so the mobile bus clinic can easily plug into their building.

Hank said “We thought it was our idea, but it was God’s idea.”

John Grimshaw, Lakeview Community Church, Goodrich, MI

2018 was the worst financial year on record at Lakeview Community Church. So they felt like they didn’t have much to offer, but it was that year rhat a local foodbank recruited them to be one of their distribution centers.

They created a Client choice food pantry, where neighbors get to select their own items almost like a store. It is very dignifying and gives more opportunity for relationships to happen while neighbors shop.

When Covid 19 shut everything down they switched to Curbside Pickup. Folks would drive up and fill out a checklist, which an attendant would then photograph and text inside where other volunteers would quickly pack up their order. meanwhile Jon asked everyone if he could pray for them. of hundreds, only two ever said no.

The numbers: 2019: 149 families, 452 individuals, 294 family visits to the food pantry. 2020: 250 families, 630 individuals, 714 family visits . That’s some exponential growth, which has energized the church and even included a couple new families in their worship service. They just had their 1000th family visit and, in only two years, they have given away the equivalent of $150-250K in food and household items items.

Jon said, “On my own I couldn’t do it, but with God I can.”

Joshua Nolt, Lancaster BIC, Lancaster, PA

Joshua Nolt said, “I fall into stuff… so this is a micro story”

After the death of George Floyd and the swell of response across the nation, Joshua wrote “a word of encouragement and challenge” to his white friends:

“…If you have feelings of sorrow over George Floyd, Ahmad Aubrey, Brianna Taylor, or the host of other fallen people of color, I encourage you to allow them to be an invitation to do more than just feel – but to do the work and then contribute an informed voice to help bring about justice. This is a way to honor and love our brothers and sisters of color for whom this is daily, lived experience.”

Then he recommended some resources. People were quite interested so Joshua said to himself, “Facebook is not really a community. So who is going to take this somewhere… I guess it’s me.” So he organized a reading group of Jemar Tisby’s book, The Color of Compromise(and here is his new book How to Fight Racism)

For some in the group, the things that they were reading were shocking — eye opening. Others had done some work already and were not so surprised. The various levels of exposure was part of the triumph, because the resulting dialogue was real and rich.

Leaning into difficult, potential shame-leden conversations such as the book helped to create is often avoided. But Joshua concluded, “Leaning in with brothers and sisters is a lot easier than doing it ourselves.

What’s your story?

Then we broke out into breakout groups. Here is a picture of mine, with Curtis, Chris, Nancy and Drew. These were our instructions.

  • Introduce yourself to each other
  • Did you or someone in your community have a dream that came to some fruit? 
  • Do you have a dream forming now? 
  • Do you need encouragement? Advice? Resources?

Want to add to the conversation in the comments on his blog, or on our facebook group (which is like a 24/7 Shine Bright Event — share your story any time). We need each other to be shiny because each of us feels bright dull by ourselves.

See You Next Time?

Next Shine Bright is March 11th at 8:30 EST, 7:30 CST, 5:30 PST on Zoom

Shine Bright January 14th, MLK’s Birthday Eve

Zoom link https://us02web.zoom.us/j/8919923065

Our next Shine Bright Storytelling Zoom Call will be on Martin Luther King’s Birthday Eve! Let’s share stories about our dreams of the Beloved Community. Some pastors from across the BIC US have some stories to get us started.

What was your dream?
Why was it important to you?
What happened when your community tried it?


The BIC Peace and Justice Project leadership team invites you to our every-other-month gathering of people of peace and justice from all over the country (maybe the world!) We want to uplift the stories of generosity, compassion, peacemaking and racial reconciliation that we know is at the heart of the Brethren in Christ. Please be with us at 8:30 pm EST, 7:30 CST, 5:30 PST on Thursday, January 14th.

(East Coasters stay up late for West Coasters, West Coasters dash away from their work and meet at the dinner hour for the love of East Coasters, Midwesterners just love it)

Zoom link https://us02web.zoom.us/j/8919923065

Transformation over Punishment: Story Share with Elizabeth Malone Alteet

On August 20th, members of the Brethren in Christ Church from across the country gathered on Zoom to tell stories of the peace and justice work to which we are being called to do and what we have seen done.

I (Ben White) shared this quote from Henri Nouwen to begin our time. I really do believe that is stories that we need — even more than more information.

“One of the remarkable qualities of the story is that it creates space. We can dwell in a story, walk around, find our own place. The story confronts but does not oppress; the story inspires but does not manipulate.The story invites us to an encounter, a dialog, a mutual sharing. A story that guides is a story that opens a door and offers us space in which to search and boundaries to help us find what we seek, but it does not tell us what to do or how to do it. The story brings us into touch with the vision and so guides us. Wiesel writes, God made man because he loves stories.

As long as we have stories to tell to each other there is hope. As long as we can remind each other of the lives of men and women in whom the love of God becomes manifest, there is reason to move forward to new land in which new stories are hidden.”

Henri Nouwen – The Living Reminder

Then Ryan Skove got us to sing with the promise of our New Jerusalem and the hope that transcends whatever darkness looms, and Sibonukukle Ncube prayed for us.

Then we got to hear from Elizabeth Malone Alteet, a member of Madison Street Church and MCC board member. who got to make two productions with incarcerated folks in California as a drama professor in their Bachelor’s degree program. She showed clips of their productions which were written and performed by the students with Elizabeth’s help, and she told us some of the stories of the men who inspired the plays. It got our hearts moving for our own storytelling. We split into breakout groups and told our own stories of involvement with the criminal justice system and advocacy for its reform.

Here’s what we shared in the larger group

  • There is transformational power in making a personal relationship with incarcerated people. It challenges our notions of retribution that are still strongly seated in our hearts. Jesus wants to overthrow that seat of power and one way he could do that is through personal relationship with a person who is incarcerated.
  • We can continue to help educate our church folks about injustice in our systems
  • Create more events for personal storytelling from people who have themselves been in prison. Let’s destigmatize formerly incarcerated people. 
  • Adopt inclusive, redemptive language — ex fellon, ex-con? No!
  • Advocate for alternatives Example: Greg Boyle and Homeboy Industries. Their motto is “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.” Boyle’s books: Tattoos on the Heart, Barking at the Choir, Netflix Documentary – GDog

Here are some opportunities that Elizabeth Malone Alteet shared:

More stories to share? More resources? Our next Shine Bright Story Share is October 15th at 8:30 PM EST. What should we talk about? Put them in the comments or share them on our facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/PeaceandJusticeProject

Letter Writing in Support of Tracie Hunter

At our last Peace and Justice Project Shine Bright Storytelling Event, we heard Tracie Hunter’s story of racism and corruption in the court system in Hamilton County, Ohio (where she was the first black Juvenile Court Judge and still is a pastor at Western Hills Brethren in Christ Church, Cincinnati)

Much more about her case at traciehunterlegaldefensefunds.com/

We have drafted some letters for you to use as templates to write your own letters in support of Tracie.

Letters to the Ohio Attorney General and Supreme Court of Ohio on behalf of Tracie Hunter

Date

Dave Yost
Ohio Attorney General
30 East Broad St
14th Floor
Columbus, OH 43215

Mr. Yost:

I am requesting an investigation into the appointment of Merlyn Shiverdecker and Scott Croswell as special prosecutors by Joe Deters when both lawyers were Joe Deters’ personal attorneys. It was a clear conflict of interest when Joe Deters secured a public contract for them to indict Judge Tracie Hunter. He hired them in violation of ORC 2921.43.  This allowed for an unfair process for Judge Hunter’s case and allowed for now proven false charges to be drawn.  Please start this investigation.

Thank you,

Name
Address
Phone Number

Date

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor
Supreme Court of Ohio
65 South Front Street
Columbus, Ohio 43215-3431

Chief Justice O’Connor:

I am asking that you reinstate Judge Tracie Hunter’s law license. Due to lack of process and discrimination in treatment, her law license should be reinstated.  Please restore Judge Hunter’s law license.

Thank you,

Name
Address
Phone Number 

Tell us your stories of confronting racism

How have you, or your community, or anyone you’ve seen responded to racism and worked to embrace your anti-racist identity as God ordained ministers of reconciliation?

Pastor Tracie Hunter touched on so many systems where racism is so clearly entrenched. We are so grateful for her courage and we praise our God who strengthens her in this fight for her good name and for the calling that God has given her to reform the corruption in the juvenile court system in Hamilton County, Ohio. We started telling our own stories tonight at the Shine Bright Peace and Justice Project bimonthly Zoom call, but we need more!

What have you seen the Brethren in Christ Church in your neighborhood doing to respond to racism with our prophetic voice, action and prayer? Please tell us more stories in the comments!

On the zoom call we thought one thing we could do together as the Peace and Justice Project would be to contribute to Pastor Tracie’s legal defense fund:

Go to traciehunterlegaldefensefunds.com and make a donation to pay off court costs or for Tracie’s ongoing legal defense.

You can also support her in these ways:

Send a letter to Dave Yost Ohio Attorney General, Ohio Attorney General,
30 East Broad Street, 14th floor,
Columbus, Ohio 43215
requesting an investigation into the appointment of Merlyn Shiverdecker and Scott Croswell as special prosecutors by Joe Deters when both lawyers were Joe Deters’ personal attorneys. Joe Deters had a personal vendetta against Judge Hunter that was publicly known. It was a clear conflict of interest when Joe Deters secured a public contract for them to indict Judge Tracie Hunter. He hired them in violation of ORC 2921.43, Having An Unlawful Interest in a Public Contract. 

Deters also hired Ohio Supreme Court Justice Pat DeWine’s son to work in the prosecutor’s office at DeWine’s request, in violation of ORC 2921.42. Deters and DeWine both secured public contracts for their family and friends, but were involved in prosecuting Judge Tracie Hunter under that statute, although evidence proved she did not secure any public contracts for family or friends.

Also send a letter to the Attorney General of the United States of America, William Barr Department of Justice requesting an Equal Protection Violation and Discrimination investigation into the unlawful prosecution of Judge Tracie Hunter, pursuant to the 14th Amendment.

Also send a letter of grievance to: Joseph M. CaligiuriOffice of Disciplinary Counsel The Supreme Court of the State of Ohio,
250 Civic Center Drive, Ste. 325
Columbus, Ohio 43215-7411
and request an investigation into the appointment of Merlyn Shiverdecker and Scott Croswell as special prosecutors by Joe Deters when both lawyers were Joe Deters personal attorneys. It was a clear conflict of interest for Joe Deters to secure a public contract for his business associates to indict Judge Tracie Hunter. He hired them in violation of ORC 2921.43, Having An Unlawful Interest in a Public Contract. 

Prosecutor Joe Deters also hired Justice Pat DeWine’s son in violation of ORC at DeWine’s request, in violation of ORC 2921.42. Deters and DeWine both secured public contracts for family and friends, but were involved in prosecuting Judge Tracie Hunter under that statute, although she did not secure any public contracts for family or friends.

The prosecutors dismissed nine felony charges they filed against Judge Hunter after computer forensic experts determined they tampered with computers to unjustly prosecute Judge Hunter, but were never charged with filing false charges against her that they knew to be false when filed.

Also write a letter to Justice O’Connor demanding Judge Hunter’s law license be reinstated for lack of due process and discrimination in treatment when they failed to suspend Justice Pat DeWine for securing a public contract for his son with the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor
Supreme Court of Ohio
65 South Front Street
Columbus, Ohio 43215-3431
Tel: 614.387.9000

And keep shining bright, in Jesus name!

Shine Bright Story Share Peace and Justice Zoom Call 8:30 pm (EST) Thursday, June 25th

We need to talk. We believe that dialogue will give us the courage and motivation to keep at the hard work we are given to do. We must shine bright — for each other and for the watching world.

This conversation will get kicked off with a story from Tracie Hunter, pastor at Western Hills Brethren in Christ Church in Cincinnati (our first African American senior pastor in the denomination) and the first African American elected Juvenile Court Judge in Hamilton County.

Her barrier breaking election (which she had to fight voter suppression in court to actually win) precipitated the full force of the white establishment in opposition to her and she is still fighting trumped up charges against her brought in 2014 by the corrupt powers that be. Her story illustrates the deeply entrenched racism present in several intersecting systems. We are grateful to her for sharing with us and grateful to BIC Great Lakes Bishop, Lynn Thrush, for coming along to introduce her.

Our previous meeting in May 2020

After her story there will be some time for questions then opportunities to share your own story of how you are participating in the nationwide anti-racist movement in smaller groups.

Tell us you’re coming on Facebook LINK HERE

We will be on ZOOM LINK HERE

“You Got Booked” and Conversations with People Who Really Got Booked

On Saturday, February 15, 2020, a couple dozen people gathered at Mechanicsburg Brethren in Christ Church to learn about the injustice of the criminal justice system in the United States and listen to stories of formerly incarcerated individuals. The event was sponsored by the BIC Peace and Justice Project and Mennonite Central Committee. This is an illustrated recap of what happened from me, Ben White, pastor at Circle of Hope BIC Church in the Philadelphia Region.

Layne Lebo, Pastor of Mechanicsburg BIC Church, welcomes the group.

I came to the event because I care deeply about this issue as a matter of my Christian discipleship. When Jesus said in Matthew 25 that we would see him when we visit people in prison I think it’s pretty straightforward. “The least of these” clearly include everyone in prison. The hopeless situation so many people find themselves in when they, for whatever reason, find themselves involved with the US criminal justice system, is a place that Christians are called to go. I have only been face-to-face with people while they were incarcerated once, but I know many people who have come out of the system and faced innumerable challenges as a result of their incarceration. This event was a golden opportunity to be face-to-face with people who were willing to tell their story and help us to understand the gravity of the problem we face in this country. For an excellent primer on Mass Incarceration and the Christian mandate, watch the video at mcc.org/stories/mass-incarceration-christian-mandate

ChiChi Oguekwe, MCC East Coast Philadelphia Program Coordinator facilitating “You Got Booked”

The event helped the participants learn about and even feel about this injustice by playing a game that MCC developed called “You Got Booked.” It’s an interactive board game, kind of like monopoly, where each player assumes a character who starts the game with various resources. It is true to reality in that the people of color have a disadvantage, both in the rules that apply to them and the resources with which they begin the game.

I played the game as Professor Patrick, a 43 year old black male with a college degree, who started the game with money, a job, no criminal record and a house. By the end of the game I had gone to jail three times which means I lost. The two white characters, as almost always happens in the game according to ChiChi Oguekwe who has facilitated the game many times, made it all the way around the board, one of them getting paid regularly because of his investments in the private prison industry.

When I went to jail after a traffic stop I lost my job and my house. How often does a life fall apart because of incarceration? Pretty often — you can imagine, right? When I got out the first time I had a criminal record, no job and no housing, which made it almost impossible in the game for me to not go back to jail. Restrictive parole regulations, disadvantages in employment opportunity and the color of my character’s skin all made it very difficult to not go back to jail.

Marsha Banks’ insight was powerful. During the game she added to the facts and figures with her own story and the stories of others. We almost couldn’t wait to start talking about it.

It was incredibly frustrating to say the least. The game functions as a parable of the criminal justice system. It does not focus on the crimes that any of the individuals committed, just on how the system works once you’re in it, and the disproportionate likelihood that you will get in it if you are not white. The dominant narrative in our country about this issue mostly focuses on individual responsibility and the rule of law. Mercy is not at play in policy making or many of the perspectives that even Christians hold in evaluating the decisions of those policy makers. As a people called to reconciliation, we who follow Christ must change our perspective and see people as the beloved ones of God they are, no matter what they have done. Wisdom and an enduring desire for public safety lead me to conclude that hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people are incarcerated who should not be. Why is punishment paramount in our perspective if we are Christians?

ChiChi Oguekwe, MCC East Coast Philadelphia Program Coordinator, and John-Michael Cotignola-Pickens, MCC Criminal Justice Education & Advocacy Coordinator

The game is peppered with revealing facts and figures read by the facilitators. ChiChi Oguekwe, MCC East Coast Philadelphia Program Coordinator, and John-Michael Cotignola-Pickens, MCC Criminal Justice Education & Advocacy Coordinator, were our facilitators. The game can be so frustrating that they are trained in not just helping participants play but also process the intense emotions that often come with it.

“What are the odds?” was kind of like “Chance” in Monopoly, but the deck was pretty stacked against people of color.

Playing the game with Marsha Banks of amiracle4sure.com and Eddie McCreary of friendsoverfences.org made it an even more enriching experience. At one point during the game, Marsha suggested that a person who had lost the game by being sent to jail three times remain standing in jail instead of sitting down. She said that it would be a symbol of how many people feel stuck and without hope. The game offered that kind of visceral connection to the difficulties people face. It was an opportunity to feel it, even in our bodies.

Curtis Book of BIC Peace and Justice Project and Lancaster BIC, Stephen Sands of Friends Over Fences, Eddie McCreary, and Marsha Banks of amiracle4sure.com

Then we got to learn some first-hand stories from people who lived through it. Marsha Banks and Eddie McCreary told their stories of incarceration and reentry into the community. Holding on to hope was a major struggle. Stephen Sands, the Executive Director of Friends Over Fences, joined them in a panel discussion facilitated by Curtis Book of the BIC Peace and Justice Project, and, until very recently, also of MCC.

Eddie McCreary is an incredible storyteller with an important story to tell.

For both Marsha and Eddie their faith played an important role in their hope conservation as they struggled in prison and when they were released. Marsha gave birth in prison and had to fight to get custody of all of her children, which she did, and she got a masters degree! Eddie was incarcerated for 36 years and experienced several incredible miracles to fuel his faith in Jesus and his hope for his future. One of my favorite things he said had to do with something that happened recently. After losing a job he said “It was God’s math. I put out two resumes and I got four jobs!” The network he was connected to via Friends Over Fences before he was released played an important role in the multiplicative math of the Kingdom community,

amiracle4sure’s motto and logo

Obviously, Marsha’s and Eddie’s experience with God and God’s people helped them, which I think ought to encourage us who follow Jesus to find ways to participate in community with people like Marsha and Eddie. Looking for hope in a hopeless situation is a community project that should not be left to just those afflicted by the injustice of our criminal justice system. This is our issue, too, and these are our people.

If you wish to bring some of your hope to this situation, check out Friends Over Fences. They write letters to people who are incarcerated and have resources for them when they are released; like job leads, furniture and temporary housing (housing is a major impediment to many potential parolees). A Miracle 4 Sure, the organization that Marsha Banks started, provides housing and other resources to people in Dauphin, Lancaster, York, Mifflin, Juniata, Franklin and Lebanon counties in Pennsylvania.

Ben White, Hariet Sider Bicksler and Curtis Book of the BIC Peace and Justice Project outside Mechanicsburg BIC Church

Thanks to Mechanicsburg BIC Church for hosting the event, MCC for sending John-Michael and ChiChi and all of the participants. Curtis Book, Harriet Sider Bicksler and I (Ben White) count it a joy to help instigate this dialogue. Let us know if you would like to bring the “You Got Booked” game to your congregation, youth group, small group or other organization. Email info@peaceandjusticeproject.org or just leave us a comment. You can also join the BIC Peace and Justice Project group on Facebook.

A Life of Proclamation, Pioneering, and Peacemaking

by Rod White, Circle of Hope, Philadelphia, PA

John R. Mott died on January 31, 1955 after a long life of proclamation, pioneering, and peacemaking.

He is one of the members of the church we don’t want to forget. Influential ancestors are inspiring if one remembers “comparisons are odious.” We have a great congregation of faithful people to whom we feel connected who have gone before us at our site: Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.

John R. Mott, in particular, would be a hard ancestor to keep up with. From the 1880s until his death, Mott was involved in nearly every interdenominational organization, promoting Christian unity during times of severe religious division.

Mott did not see himself as a theologian, yet American Protestantism tried to involve him in the fundamentalist vs. liberal debates of the early twentieth century. In response, he spoke of two tracks within the gospel on which the locomotive of the church runs: social problems and individual concerns, with only one Christ who lived, died, and rose who is both the Savior of the individual and has the power to change the social environment. This conviction provided the guide rails of his spirituality, which fueled his devotion to making “Jesus Christ known, trusted, loved, and obeyed, in the whole range of one’s individual life and in all relationships.”

In 1886, as a member of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) at Cornell U. in New York, Mott was led to make a “life-investment decision” by C. T. Studd and his brother, the renowned cricket-players-turned-evangelists. He was struck by Studd’s admonition, “Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not. Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” He never lost his focus. When he became the head of the YMCA, he brought together American Jews, Catholics, and Protestants for religious work among American soldiers during WW1. He also organized relief work for prisoners of war during both world wars. Through his efforts, the broadest international and inclusive religious organization was formed, the World Council of Churches.

Although he was neither a clergyman nor theologian, J.R. Mott became one of the most influential Protestant figures in the world. When he was still a student, he believed that young people could change society. He helped promote foreign missions among them by founding the Student Volunteer Movementand World Student Christian Federation. By his death, over 20,000 twentysomethings counted him as the one who called them into service.

Mott was also a counselor of international affairs during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. He once spoke to three United States presidents in one day (Taft, Coolidge, and Wilson). He served on President Wilson’s peace commissions to Mexico (1916) and Russia (1917), and for his diplomacy received the American Distinguished Service medal. He worked tirelessly for prisoners of war and orphanage mission work. He declined an offer by Wilson to become the ambassador to China. But he is best remembered for his efforts toward Christian unity across denominational divides. He was the principal organizer of the International Missionary Council and, as previously mentioned, the World Council of Churches. Due to his ecumenical efforts and peacemaking, he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946.

In his eighties, Mott reflected, “God desires that we rise above ourselves and our petty ecclesiastical concern until we are united even as Christ prayed. This unity must not be affirmed only at the end of the world but immediately, so that all will recognize the power of the gospel.”

Amazing guy, right? What more shall we do together to change the world with Jesus?

Being Present with People

by Krista Dutt

I have often heard the life of Job upheld as an example. However, my experience as an immigration court watcher has allowed me to enter into the perspective of Job’s friends. These friends heard that Job’s life was in a hard place and so they went to sit with him (Job 2:11-13). Scripture says they didn’t speak, waiting until Job broke seven days of silence, but the power of their presence during that time is clear. Sometimes the most we can do is show up.

As a court watcher on behalf of the Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants, I sit in a courtroom in Chicago, Illinois, while immigrants from detention centers around the country are teleconferenced in to have a hearing before the judge.

One detained immigrant was asked a routine question about entering “without inspection” (without legal papers) with the judge expecting him to say “yes.” Instead, he said “no.” He had entered with inspection through Douglas, Arizona, and the government had charged him wrongly. The judge called for an extension on the case due to this mistake, but the detained immigrant said, “No, I can’t handle this place anymore—deport me!”

In another case, a detained immigrant’s family had traveled from three hours away to catch a glimpse of their loved one through a television screen. The awkward and touching monitored conversation they were granted after the hearing was both heart-warming and heart-breaking.

Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zopher showed up to be witnesses to the suffering of their friend, Job. I believe the church should do the same.  The church is following Jesus’ interactions and the biblical story when rooted amid the marginalized in our society and communities. 

In our country, brown and black people have experienced trauma, racism, and economic disinvestment based on their skin color.  Poverty, which often is caused by systemic issues, is blamed on individuals who are asked to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  These are some examples of how people can be marginalized today. These are the people the church needs to be with—people who are at the very heart of God and the biblical narrative. 

In my work at Mennonite Central Committee, I have the privilege of walking alongside organizations and churches that are working in the margins such as the Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants.  In my work as a pastor at The Dwelling Place, a church plant supported by Brethren in Christ Great Lakes, we are reaching out to the families of those in prison. Dr. Howard Trulear, Howard University Divinity School professor, points out that when a death occurs the church shows up.  The church leads families in a funeral ritual in the church, and  the church brings food and more food to the home. Deacons, elders, or a pastor continue to walk with the family as they grieve. By contrast, when a loved one is lost to the prison system, churches may push these family members away due to the shame around prison, and thus many families suffer alone.  We hope to develop a church model that supports the grief of family members in prison within the very fabric of church.  

One of the more interesting ways that a group of privileged people started to understand the key issues and context of marginalized people in Chicago was through the Chicago Pilgrim Walk.  This walk covered 35 miles through the five police districts in Chicago that had seen the most gun deaths in the previous year.  We walked to visit people who lost sons, daughters, nieces, and nephews to violence. We walked to the places where these murders happened and heard stories of the real people that were killed. We walked to see the communities in which violence is ever-present even in the midst of the daily lives of faithful families. We walked to churches and organizations that work to transform conflict and violence and provide safety to neighborhoods. 

When we arrived at Dawes Park, one of the leaders of the pilgrimage started telling us the story of a nine-year-old who was shot and killed there. I stood with tears rolling down my face. The pain of the little boy was fresh in my mind, but so was the pain of his family that now doesn’t get to see his dreams realized or a life well lived. The trauma of a neighborhood that loses children weekly was real to me as is the pain that guns are the normal way to solve conflicts in too many places.

As I walked and saw the inequality between some of these neighborhoods and other more white, more wealthy neighborhoods, I remembered that Jesus valued those that society did not. Jesus lifted the marginalized to be exalted. I also saw people working to change the inequalities that exist— families who care, blocks that take seriously a commitment to safety for their children and organizations that have become a neighborhood’s safety net.

Walking through these neighborhoods was not a solution to neighborhood violence. Walking, instead, was an important step of remembering that Jesus walked for and with people. Walking was a remembrance of the call to walk with Jesus to create peace through relationships, just laws, and a clear witness of being in community together.

I am grateful that I have seen the power of the church working to create space for marginalized. It may seem difficult to solve the gun violence epidemic, but could you, your small group or church commit to tutoring in an area of your town that is more prone to gun violence? It may seem scary to visit a jail or prison, but could you, your small group or church reach out to a mourning wife of a recently imprisoned man helping with groceries and babysitting as she learns to be a single mother? It might be mind boggling to understand the reasons people are migrating here, but could you, your small group, or your congregation support a family as they adjust to life in your state after a likely trauma-filled journey and welcome them into the safety of your congregation?

As we seek the heart of God, may we find it in the very people that Jesus cared for— people who are marginalized.  May we love with our actions just like Jesus.

Krista Dutt is a church relations associate and Chicago program coordinator for MCC Great Lakes. She is also planting a Brethren in Christ congregation near Chicago. Parts of this article were previously published. This article is reprinted from the Spring 2019 edition of Shalom!

A Threefold Reality

by Ken Abell 

My brother could use a little mercy now He’s a stranger to freedom, he’s shackled to his fear and his doubt

The pain that he lives in is almost more than living will allow

I love my brother, he could use some mercy now . . .”(Mary Gauthier)

As someone who went through long cycles of unemployment in the early to mid-80s, I have firsthand experience standing on the outside looking in, which is as good a way as any to define being marginalized. It was in no way enjoyable—I felt useless and frustrated, and had more than one knock-down drag-out with God. 

However, 30-some years removed from that difficult season, I understand that everything truly happens for a reason; with 20-20 hindsight I often marvel at the changes in perspective God wrought in me while I was immersed in economic woes. It heightened a desire and ability to make connections with those on the fringes. 

Have you ever stood in a grocery store beside a friend who happened to have different skin color or came from a distinctive ethnic group? Have you seen the sideways or down- the-nose glances of barely concealed prejudice from clerks or other customers? Have you taken note of the resigned acceptance of it by your friend?

We live on the edge of Navajo Nation, and work with men who experience being marginalized on a regular basis because of a threefold reality: 1) their identity as Native Americans; 2) a past that includes jail and/or prison time; 3) lack of education.    

What follows are eyewitness vignettes illustrating these truths. 

Allen, a natural born storyteller and a lover of fun, was Pawnee and Navajo. He had a hole in his pocket, which meant that if there were a few dollars in it, he wanted to go to town. He graduated from the BIC Overcomers in November 2012. Then later, true to the charitable and gregarious nature of his character, he came to serve as an assistant to my wife Anita, the kitchen manager.  

In that capacity, he helped make shopping lists and go along for the excursion to stock up on groceries. As they made their rounds each week, Anita became increasingly aware of the sideward looks or outright gawks received from white folks. He routinely ignored it, but once reacted to a clerk at the cash register who kept eyeballing them.

“What?” Allen quipped, grinning. “She’s my mother.”

“Allen, I’m not old enough to be your mother.”

He smiled at the cashier. “She’s my sister.”

On the ride home Anita and Allen had a laugh about it, but afterwards, she told me that the clerk’s staring made her uncomfortable and indeed, disgusted her. In a private moment, I engaged Allen in a conversation about bigotry and such. It was his turn to gawk—he ogled me as though I had a green complexion and pointy ears.     

“It’s just the way it is,” he said, shrugging dismissively. It’s just the way it is. That stoic acknowledgment is how the majority of Native American men I have walked alongside deal with inherent racism. Our friend Allen developed pneumonia, was hospitalized, and entered eternity in October 2014.

Before addiction sank its hooks into him, a Navajo man named Russell graduated from college and had a job in the accounting department of a large company. Casual drinking in his teen years eventually became weekend benders, which in due course led to nightly binges. A DWI here, a drunken disorderly there, and soon the jail had a revolving door for Russell. 

He attended the same program as Allen, and on the surface did well. However, in one-on-one chats, it became clear that he could not or would not peel back the layers to get to the root causes of his abuse of alcohol. After graduation he stayed connected to us and remained sober for eight months or so. During this period, he faithfully submitted his resume and applied for jobs; he was desperate and willing to do anything.  

With a felony on his record, no prospective employer would even talk to him. He disengaged from our network of accountability and returned to his old ways. The last time I saw him was August 2018. He was in a drunken stupor staggering past the post office. I picked him up. His shame and self-loathing were palpable. 

I don’t know if there are local or national statistics, but among the felons I know, the unemployment rate is in the 70 to 80 percent range. I’ve seen more than one man jump through hoops to get the most menial of jobs only to be denied. The accumulation of rejection can frequently be the trigger that puts a bottle in an alcoholic’s hand.

Anthony, a Zuni and proud of it, was introduced to marijuana when he was eight years old by a 12-year-old cousin-brother. That initiation established a pattern that became entirely normal to him. He floated through his grammar school years with little to no adult supervision, dropping out before high school. Recruited into crime by relatives, he got sentenced to prison because he followed orders given by an uncle. 

He was paroled to the program in August 2011. In his mid-20s, we made an immediate connection on the common ground of humor and laughter. We have journeyed together since then. His emotional makeup is stunted at a pre-teen level, so it’s often a challenge for him to comprehend the whys and wherefores of his circumstances.

Anthony wants a steady job, and definitely has a work ethic, but his lack of education is a barrier that keeps him on the outside looking in. He is not alone in that arena; there are plenty other graduates who bounce from one pickup job to another with long lapses between viable employment.

How does BIC Overcomers tackle these realities? The men arrive as strangers, become friends, and depart as family. We begin by extending unconditional love and grace while affirming each client’s identity and heritage. The truths of Scripture—Psalm 139 for example—are frequently expounded in various courses of the curriculum.  

As for the challenge of education: We partner with Denise Conway, who shepherds willing men through the process of attaining a GED certificate, which for some, has been a stepping stone leading to community college.

One more point to take into consideration as we reflect on the marginalization of Native Americans: Flicking a switch for lights or turning a faucet to get water is taken for granted by those reading this, but large pockets of Navajo Nation, a.k.a the rez, has no electricity and no water—a fact that ought to cause us to appreciate the conveniences we have while reevaluating any and all reasons for grumbling and complaints. 

Ken R. Abell is a counselor and home living coordinator with BIC Overcomers, Bloomfield, NM. This article is reprinted from the Winter 2019 edition of Shalom!