Behind the Scenes with Heather Hedlund

Where is God calling you? What is your passion and purpose? Many of us are searching for answers to these questions. But even as a child, Heather Hedlund knew the Lord was calling her.

As a young teen, God put issues of justice on her heart and she daydreamed about how she would one day solve some of the world’s problems – perhaps the answer to homelessness or the path out of poverty.

When Heather feels a nudge from the Holy Spirit, she acts on it.  She prays for direction, educates herself, and takes initiative.

For example, after listening to former pastor Dick Leon’s call to the congregation for an assault on poverty, she joined a group to pray about it and study how poverty affected elementary-aged children in our local area. Soon after, KidREACH was established in Bellevue; a program Heather helped lead for 13 years.

“I will never forget the way Heather advocated for children and families as the director of KidREACH,” says Lisa Phelps, director of early childhood. “Heather truly loved each child and family, and advocated for them at school, in immigration matters, and for basic needs. God gave Heather a humble heart and the strength to serve in difficult situations, as Jesus did,”says Phelps.

Heather describes her service with KidREACH as a time of great learning. “My years in KidREACH opened my eyes to the issue of poverty and the pathways out of poverty. My views were challenged and I had to rethink the issue once I was exposed to real people who were suffering. It caused me to open my mind to new ideas,” she says.

After 13 years, and with much prayer and thoughtful decision-making, she stepped away to await God’s next call. “I wanted to be intentional about my next project. I knew God had called me both into and out of KidREACH, and I wanted to take my time to listen for my next calling,” says Heather.

A year later, while listening to guest speaker Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil speak on racial justice, Heather felt another nudge from the Lord – one she had apparently been preparing for and knew she couldn’t ignore.

“I had read several articles on racial justice and reconciliation, heard many news reports, and was aware of the unrest, hurt, and struggle of the country – but I hadn’t found a way to act on my passion,” Heather says. “I didn’t know what my next steps would look like, but I felt the Holy Spirit within me and I knew I had to learn more. I began to feel the same passion for racial justice and reconciliation and the Justice Team as I had for KidREACH.”

“Heather has an enormous caring heart,” says Elizabeth Hayford, director of missions administration. “Through her work leading our KidREACH program and now guiding our Justice and Reconciliation Team, she shows Jesus’ love by building bridges to connect and care for many who are marginalized,” she says. “Supporting Heather in her roles at church is a pleasure and gives me a glimpse into a person after God’s heart who is seeking to build God’s kingdom every day.”

As leader of the Justice and Reconciliation Team, Heather has broadened awareness of social justice issues by helping to bring opportunities to the congregation, like Frames and Filters and Under Our Skin workshops, Anti-Racism Bible studies, book groups, and more.

Tom Brewer, director of community outreach, describes Heather as dedicated to serving others, especially those more vulnerable. “Heather is a supremely capable and conscientious leader who demonstrates empathy, compassion, an indomitable spirit, and a get-it-done attitude,” Tom says. “When something important and challenging needs to be achieved, Heather is a leader you can rely on.”

“Opening myself up to new things and putting myself outside my comfort zone have taught me how to be teachable,” says Heather. “I discover not only what I know, but also what I don’t know. It has taught me humility,” she says, “so that I’m not so set in my notions and more willing to learn.”

Lisa Phelps, who has worked alongside Heather in KidREACH and attended several justice learning opportunities, sees Heather’s gifts firsthand. “The Lord has called Heather to serve the poor, seek justice, and share her God-given gifts. She has a remarkable intellect, curiosity, patience, and love,” says Lisa.

“Heather thinks and prays about what she has learned, and quietly works with others to create opportunities for all of us to learn, act and consider Jesus’ example.”

“I have gained so much,” Heather says. “My faith has been stretched by these opportunities. First, I have learned to depend on God. When the problems look too big to solve on my own, I trust that God will provide.

“We often hear Pastor Dudley pray ‘Break my heart for what breaks yours, Jesus.’ That is my prayer too, and my work in the areas of poverty and justice are places I feel clearly called by the Lord and led by the Holy Spirit.

“My advice to others is to find areas you are passionate about and listen for spiritual direction. There is so much we can do together to make a difference.”

Heather is married to husband Magnus and is the mother of Elise and Erik.

 

Step By Step Justice: El Camino del Inmigrante

I am a mother and a grandmother. I was raised at BelPres church as my parents were founding (charter) members.  My husband and I were married by Dick Leon in 1989, and are longtime members. I have lived most of my adult life raising our three children and working on and off. Through this time, I have held a heart for those without a voice in the dominant culture but have found it challenging to pursue active advocacy work. I feel as though I have been wandering in a desert for thirty-five years, and the time has come for me to be more present and active in the pursuit of justice.

I was adopted at two-and-a-half years old. I was raised in a Christian home by parents who had a heart for mission. As was common then, my parents opened their home to many of the missionaries they supported who were traveling from around the globe.

In the early 1980s, after I completed college, I was heart-struck and overwhelmed by the struggles of unrest in Central America. I wanted to join the Sojourners internship group but was anxious that I needed to focus on my work life first. I also wanted to go to the Nicaragua-Honduras border as a part of the Witness for Peace group at the time, but was too afraid.

During a short time living in San Francisco, I encountered young El Salvadorian men at the deli where I worked who were looking for someone to marry in order to stay in the US. It was then that I realized how desperate they were to stay in this country and was awakened to the hardships they faced in finding safety and refuge here in the US.

When I returned to the Seattle area, I volunteered with a Friends Church providing sanctuary to refugees from Central America. I sat with them as part of the vigilant companionship required to keep them safe and at ease. During that time, I became overwhelmed with the immensity of the political situation in Latin America and felt ill-equipped to do anything of substance, so I retreated into a safe suburban life.

I believe that my adoption story often has led me to seek personal and emotional safety, sometimes at the expense of stepping out into areas of the heart. But I have always had a yearning to reconnect with the passion I feel toward those who are in the shadows and without any power or voice in their communities. I am getting older and have been a sloimg_2326-k-chesmorew learner, but, gradually, I am becoming less afraid and more willing to step actively into areas of witness, empathy, and heart.

The problems in our world can be paralyzing, but I have decided I will do what I can.

Over the past several months, I have been volunteering with World Relief in Seattle (Kent), visiting detainees at the NW Detention Center. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like I am doing much, but I have enjoyed getting to know the women, and I believe it has been an encouragement to them as well as to me. I have signed up to be a host family for refugees and look forward to when we will be able to have our first family come stay with us.

Additionally, this past August, I joined a group of over 170 walkers for the El Camino del Inmigrante, a 150 mile pilgrimage from Tijuana to LA. We walked to stand in solidarity with the immigrants in our country and to raise awareness about our broken immigration system.

I believe God is moving His people to action, and I want to follow God’s leading in my life. Step by step, I have gained respect for people in our community regardless of their status and a stronger desire to advocate for those who struggle for a better life. Slowly, I am stepping out of the comfort of fear and into the renewal of hearts.

For more information about the walk and the issues it raised, you can visit http://www.ccda.org/events/el-camino

Racism and the Gospel, a visit with Dr. John Perkins

Racism: the belief that some races are inherently superior (physically, intellectually, or culturally) to others and therefore have a right to dominate them. Racism breeds fear and distrust, robbing everyone involved of their identity in Christ, created in God’s image, to know God, to love and bJohn-Perkinse loved. Racism is hateful and evil, pitting one human against another human, destroying relationships and ultimately bringing death. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! I bring you news of great joy which will be for all people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).  All people. Racism steals away the good news of the gospel.

John Perkins began his life in 1930 in Mississippi as the son of a poor sharecropper. When he was seven months old his mother died and his father abandoned the family, leaving the children to be raised in poverty by their grandmother and extended family. John was seventeen when his older brother was murdered by a town marshal, and John’s family became afraid for his life. Vowing never to return to the place of his birth, John fled to California.

Fast forward to 1957 when John, through his son’s encouragement, attended a church service and encountered the Lord, giving his life to Christ. Though he had vowed never to return to his boyhood home, God had a bigger plan for John. In 1960, John moved their family to Mississippi to share the gospel of Christ with those still living in that area. John became a vocal supporter and leader in the civil rights movement, was beaten, arrested and tortured in jail, but never lost sight of the call on his life or the love of God in his heart. He came through this experience with a vision of a holistic ministry designed to remove the bondage of racism from all people, the oppressor and the oppressed.

Through the next four decades John wrote, spoke, taught, earned degrees and became an international leader in the church. He authored nine books, created non-profit ministries, joined boards at World Vision and Prison Fellowship, and became a leader in community development for impoverished people in urban and rural settings.  In 2004, Seattle Pacific joined with now Dr. John Perkins to launch the campus-based John Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training, and Community Development.

Dr. Perkins was in town last week. On Monday, I had the privilege of joining a small gathering of urban leaders for lunch and teaching with by Dr. John. We met at Urban Impact and for two hours we sat at the feet of the master of reconciliation. At 85 years of age, he is an energetic man with a gentle demeanor and an incredible heart for God’s people. Moving around the room as he spoke, he made eye contact with each person. Words of scripture flowed effortlessly from him as spoke about the utter devastation racism had on our country, our communities and our churches.

He asked, “What is the time in which each of us is living? It is not the time to profile and hate, it is the time to start reading the word of God and believe what it says!” God has not designed us to be defined by race; we are all members of one race, the human race. We come from different ethnicities, cultures, lands, and we are all one race under God.

Dr. John spoke on God’s call on our lives to love. He said, “Love is the best chance…people get trapped in their own cultures…we have to love their eyes open…to look for ways to serve both sides.” The Gospel is the power to reconcile people together, and as the church we are called to reconcilers, to let the God of Reconciliation live in our hearts and walk out reconciliation in our lives. As Dr. John stated, “Let’s enjoy loving each other across all lines that divide us.” How do we do this? By coming together, working and learning together, and by staying together no matter what.

Have you experienced racism in your own life? If so, how did it impact your faith and your understanding of reconciliation?

Are you interested in further conversations on race and reconciliation? If so, BelPres has a Justice and Reconciliation team that meets twice a month. For more information contact me,  Mary McCracken, Director of Community Outreach at mmccracken@belpres.org.