Black History Month

Black History Month is a celebration! It is not a time to say that one group is greater than another, but it exists to recognize and respect the resilience of a people amid obstacles they were never meant to overcome. Whether they are engineers, scientists, artists, athletes, inventors, or entrepreneurs, Black people have contributed to the society we all are a part of in the USA and around the world.

American history has not been written in favor of Black people. Movies, television shows, news and history books themselves have distorted views on who Black people are, where they come from, and how they came to be. Black History Month is meant to change the narrative that has been accepted for so long. It is a chance for us to reflect on “…our 400-year-old sin,” as Rev. Scott Dudley speaks of it, as well as the achievements in spite of that.

Black people invented all sorts of things that we use today. Notable innovations such as the first successful open heart surgery, the common day street light, and the first automated oiler for steam-engine trains were brought to our country by brilliant Black people, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, Garret Morgan, and Elijah McCoy. Jazz, rhythm & blues, gospel, rock & roll, and funk music all trace back to Black culture.

It is worth noting how many Black women have contributed and continue to enrich our society. Katherine Johnson,  mathematician and scientist (portrayed in the film Hidden Figures), helped NASA launch the first human-crewed mission to the moon. The first self-made millionaire, Madam CJ Walker, was Black. Modern-day trailblazers continue to fight for equality as well as equity in different realms of American society that were never considered “for Black people.” Oprah Winfrey is the first Black woman to become a billionaire. Misty Copeland is the first Black Principal Dancer of the American Ballet Theatre. Gabrielle Douglas is the first woman of color (of any nationality) and the first Black gymnast in Olympic history to become the Individual All-Around Champion. She is also the first American gymnast to win gold in both the gymnastic individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympic games.

There are so many things to thank Black people for throughout our history, but it does not end there. Today, Black people continue to be the face of popular culture. Hip-hop is now the most popular music around the world. Black people make up roughly 75% of the professional athletes in the NBA and NFL. And with access that was never given before in the corporate world, there are more and more Black business people, lawyers and engineers creating our future.

If we are all made in God’s image, we should celebrate this new narrative. We, as Christians, have the opportunity to help shift the storyline from degradation to celebration.

While the world may demean Black people, let’s honor the accomplishments of our brothers and sisters. We can show the world a new way, the third way, to reconciliation.

“A candle never loses its light by lighting another.” – Rumi (Persian poet)

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.

 

REVIEW OF JOSEPH CASTLEBERRY’S “THE NEW PILGRIMS”

Immigration is at the center of our national debate.  While almost all would agree that the current system isn’t working, people of faith have varying opinions on what our country’s immigration laws should be.  Debates on immigration often focus on economics, national security, or our responsibility to the vulnerable.  Castleberry has a very different perspective – evangelism.  He quotes a friend’s saying of immigrants, “They either came here to evangelize or to be evangelized.”  This book challenged me to consider how God is at work in the movement of people around the world, especially to the United States.

In the first half of the book, Castleberry lays out the decline of faith and moral values in the US and argues the decline has been held at bay and is reversing due to immigrants.  Unlike the US, Christianity is expanding rapidly around the world, especially in Africa, South America, and China.  Our missionary efforts in the past are bearing fruit. Those who have found Jesus around the world are looking at the US as a fertile mission field.  Christian immigrants are coming to the US, revitalizing existing congregations and planting new churches.  On the flipside, Castleberry argues that non-Christian immigrants (whose family and close friends are far away) feel a great need for a relationship that “leaves them [seeking] renewal or conversion.”  This is an opportunity for Christians to “good-news” those God has brought to our communities.

In the second half of the book, Castleberry addresses our legal and political system.  He sets out an evangelical case for comprehensive immigration reform that includes compromise from both political parties.  He urges the reader to seek “the Lamb’s Agenda” rather than the Elephant’s or the Donkey’s.  I found much to agree with in this book, but also much to challenge me.  I think readers from all parts of the political spectrum will agree.  Mostly, Castleberry made me think and inspired me with new ideas.

The Justice & Reconciliation Team invites you to read this book and join us for a lively discussion at our next Justice & Reconciliation Book club on Monday, 2/5, at 7pm in S-223.

My Eyes Were Opened

I attended the “Frames & Filters Workshop” – an excellent presentation and time well spent!  In the past few months, I’ve also read several of the Justice resources we ordered for the BelPres Library, such as “Tears We Cannot Stop” by M. Dyson and “Between the World and Me” by T. Coates. Even though I spent many of my teenage years being a minority white among black American students and having some black friends, as well as my father participating in the Selma, Alabama march with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the late ‘60s, I only recently became more fully aware of the privileges my “whiteness” affords in our society, and also a deeper understanding of the realities faced by people of color.

This particularly became more personal as I reflected on a recent phone call from our “son”, George.  My husband and I “sponsored” George 20 years ago through an organization called Metro Ministries in Brooklyn, NY.  George was a darling little 6 year old black kid with a big smile who stole my heart when I saw his photo at a Children’s pastor conference.  George’s father, a drug dealer, was murdered when George was 2 and he grew up in the dangerous inner city of NY.  He says without Metro Ministries and the power of Jesus, he would either be in jail or dead.

George is now married with two children and lives in Little Rock, Arkansas, and is a man filled with the love of Jesus.    We usually call or text about once a month, but this time the call came on a weekday evening – a rather unusual time.  He told me he was returning home from work and was on the side of the highway with a flat tire. He was getting it fixed but his wife was worried and there was concern in his voice.  We talked for a few minutes, he said he was about ready to be on his way, and we said our goodbyes and I didn’t think much more about it.  Only later as I was reading Coates book, did this conversation with George come to mind.  My “eyes were opened”, so to speak.   It was what George DIDN’T say that I finally understood – that he was a black man, along the side of the road, and vulnerable to potential harassment by a passing motorist, or a policeman just because of his color.  It saddens my heart to know that George, and now his bi-racial son, and people of color face such concerns each and every day they step outside their homes.

I’m so grateful for the work of the Justice Team to bring the “Frames & Filters” workshop to BelPres, as well as keeping us informed of other opportunities in our community to increase our understanding of each other’s realities and how to live together the 3rd WAY – the JESUS WAY, loving our neighbor as ourselves, and looking for opportunities to bring justice and healing in our own walk in life.

May God richly bless and guide you and your team,

Kandis Losh

BelPres Libraries Ministry Coordinator

 

What Breaks God’s Heart? Racial Injustice

God wants to heal His human family, and as long I can remember, I have yearned for that, too.  He places a very high priority on the relationships among those He has created. Jesus said, “If you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First, make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24 CEB

Since grade school, I have wondered what I could do about the painful issue of racial injustice. My parents set an excellent example. They actively protested the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War and during the Depression, my mother often cooked food for people who knocked on our door.

My father, a family doctor, served many people of color.  Some of his patients did not have the means to pay, so he specified that they not be billed. As a little girl, I remember attending some of his patients’ baby baptisms with him.  Our neighborhood and my school had little diversity. My first African American friend was Peggy Brooks, who came to help my mother once a week. As a young girl, I shadowed Peggy in her work, and she taught me to iron. This is still my best domestic skill, although not in high demand these days!

As college students, Steve and I married. We learned about a program for underprivileged minority children. If they lived with families within that district during the week, they could qualify to be considered eligible residents of a superior school district. We did not know if they would accept us – a young couple – as fill-in parents.  But they did, and we had two middle-school “daughters” for the next couple of years.

When Pastor Dick Leon established a sister church relationship with Mt. Calvary Christian Center in the Central District several years ago, it meant a lot to me to be part of the formation team. As we traveled in the evenings between churches, we all had to work through our fears of going into unfamiliar neighborhoods. We had challenging conversations as we compared notes about being black or white in our country.  As we began worshipping together and meeting in one another’s homes, we celebrated our oneness as Christians. Our shared love of Jesus dissolved the barriers of race, age, economics, gender and culture as nothing else can!

Our country seemed to be moving beyond racism, and as the news reminds us daily, racial tension and hate crimes are still very apparent.

I am thankful that BelPres has created a Justice and Reconciliation Team. Its efforts to engage our congregation in educational programs, service opportunities, and person-to-person ministries can help turn the tide. I am excited for this way God is inviting our church into His work of redemption!

 

BelPres offers several different options to learn more about diversity and racial injustice:

May 13, Saturday, 9:30am – 2pm:   Racial Reconciliation Workshop/Frames & Filters with Tali Hairston

May 24 or June 4: Racial Reconciliation Post Workshop Discussion

May 25-June 29, Thursdays, 7pm: Justice+Reconciliation Workshop/Facing Racism