By Rev. LaThelma Yenn-Batah
The national office of American Baptist Women’s Ministries is leveraging its expertise and resources — including a Covenant of Action grant from New Baptist Covenant — to facilitate partnerships between diverse groups of Baptist women in three different regions of the country.
Through the grant we are living out the love we profess and embracing difference as a gift of our faith rather than something to be suspicious of and feared, said leaders. We believe that the core of the Covenant of Action program is gracious love, which defines the core of God’s character and the life and work of Jesus Christ.
As part of the training, ABWM leaders asked participants to watch two Ted Talks titled, “Color Blind or Color Brave” and “The Danger of A Single Story.” These talks challenged leaders to reflect upon their current relationships and ask, “Who is missing?” Many of the leaders never thought about how their life stories and gifts could be used purposefully and intentionally in a cross-cultural experience.
On the second day, leaders were asked to reflect on how the training had begun to change the way they connect with the people around them. One leader described how a small act of sharing milk with another person the next day at the hotel was an opportunity to find connection with someone different from her. Another leader shared how she reflected all night on which parts of her personal narrative could be used to connect her with her ministry partners. These small moments spoke to our group’s effort to take diversity and connection seriously, according to ABWM leadership.
With the help of facilitator Doris Young Boyer, participants were then split into two teams. Unknowingly each team received instructions that were the opposite of each other, creating a conflict to be negotiated. During the exercise each side was tentative, unsure if they should be honest about their specific perspective and feelings, but Boyer helped the teams understand that conflict may arise when doing intercultural work. Through this exercise the group learned that conflict can be mitigated when ideas are shared respectfully, honestly and with a genuine intent to reach compromise. They further identified the ability to compromise as an important skill set; and that compromise is only effective when each group feels heard. One participant stated, “What we gain when we choose to be in community with one another is far greater than what we may have to let go of.”
Our Philadelphia leadership team from Grace Baptist Church is partnering with the Philadelphia Burmese Baptist Church (PBBC). Grace Baptist Church is a historically African-American church. PBBC is a seven-year-old church that is comprised of Burmese refugees. This team has a shared desire to help the women and girls in their community acquire tools and resources (spiritual, educational, economic) that will help them flourish in a rapidly changing society.
Our Rhode Island team is partnering with Iglesia Bautista Hispana El Cavalrio. This team is committed to providing opportunities for their communities to learn each other’s languages. And our Buffalo, N.Y., team, which is African American, is partnering with Pakistani immigrants from First Baptist Church of Niagara.
While each group has found different ways to meet their communal needs, all groups are committed to building beloved community through a cultural exchange event.
–Rev. LaThelma Yenn-Batah is Associate Executive Director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries.