Sunday, September 20, 2015

Turning Over a New Leaf

Hello,'s been quite some time since I've written, yet much has happened in these past two months. As many of you already know, at the end of July I finished my term as a missionary with the United Methodist Church. It really is incredible how fast three years can go, and how much my perspective on faith and life has changed (for the better, I would say!). Thank you so much to everyone who has supported me throughout this amazing journey.

God definitely sent me to places I never would have imagined going on my own, and my eyes have been opened to both the stark contrasts in society and culture and the identical struggles all human beings face. Everyone has a desire to love and thrive, even though their definition of "the good life" might look completely different. Over the past three years, I have had the immense privilege of doing life with people from unique backgrounds, whose experiences I can never claim to fully understand. Yet in living in community with Ecuadorian farmers, in developing friendships with African American business owners, and in working with Alabamians dedicated to community development, I have gained awareness of myself, the injustices in the world today, and how God intends to use each one of us to create a more beautiful, peaceful society to live in.

My increased awareness and passion to address issues in the world like racism, poverty, and human trafficking has led me to seek further education. So, I'm getting my Master's in Social Work in Community Organizing at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. This year-long program will hopefully better prepare me for working in the non-profit world as a professional social worker and seeker of change. So far the MSW program has proved to be excellent in its focus on social justice and community engagement. I'm looking forward to what the next year will bring!

Not to brag, or anything, but it's pretty great here!

Needless to say, over the next 12 months, I won't be blogging regularly, although I might occasionally write about some of my experiences here (I already have several topics in mind, but grad school doesn't give you a lot of free time...). My hope is to create a new, better-looking blog at the completion of this year to continue writing about the intersection of faith, life, and social justice wherever I end up next! Be on the look out. Until then, I will leave you a quote to reflect on from the Magician's Nephew, which I just finished rereading. :)

“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.” - C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


I remember that moment, about 20 years ago, when I first hiked myself up onto the brand new shiny two-wheeler, eyes sheer with excitement, feet anxiously grasping the pedals, hands a bit unsteady. Feeling my dad's hands over mine, I pushed off. And probably would have fallen, if it hadn't been for the confidence that I had in him. Over time the trust I had in my father to protect me became self-confidence, knowing that I could ride without falling off. As I became more practiced, I trusted myself to keep my balance while pedaling.  

Confidence is something that is built over time. It comes with discovering and embracing your true self, just as you were perfectly created in God, with an intentionality like none other. Confidence is a river consisting of vulnerability, genuineness, and a stubborn devotion to stand up for oneself. Three years ago, at the beginning of my missionary service, I can honestly say I felt God calling me, but wasn't entirely sure what, where, or with whom that calling meant for my life. Now, looking back on some of the wild, frustrating, hilarious, nerve-wracking, and sacred moments, I find myself confident in who I am and the woman God has called me to be.

These past few years comprised of some very "character-building" (read: tough) circumstances along with huge lifestyle changes. If not moving to the South where it's War Eagle (or Roll Tide), sweltering heat, and way too many fried everything's, y'all...then the cow's stomach soup, sleeping with 7 blankets, buying all my weekly groceries at the local market, and the daily mile walk to the highway to catch my bus in Ecuador. But in adapting to these new environments, I developed confidence in who I am. Thanks to many supportive friends and guiding mentors along the way, this confidence led the way to resilience and a deep sense of community.

God was at work the whole time, along this journey in missions, molding and shaping me to gain confidence....
  1. Confidence in public speaking, especially in churches
  2. Confidence in traveling alone, anywhere, anytime. As Ellie Roscher so elegantly puts it: "The fact that no travel situation henceforth will ever be daunting to me is a gift."
  3. Confidence in maintaining control of a room of energetic third graders
  4. Confidence in teaching in a second language
  5. Confidence in articulating my faith and passion for ending injustice
  6. Confidence in leading workshops and continuing conversations around important issues
  7. Confidence in planning and coordinating events
  8. Confidence in living in a town where I am the stranger, the newbie
  9. Confidence in advocating for others
  10. Confidence in being myself, and no one else
Building confidence in oneself and in one's faith is a lifelong process. I encourage you, reader, to take some time to recognize and rejoice in new confidences in your life, and anticipate those to come.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Making Our Voices Heard

Last week in Montgomery, over 60 Alabamians gathered at the state house to rally around issues like payday lending, the housing shortage, raising the minimum wage, and lowering utility rates. We gathered to fight the injustice of our current system. We gathered to call for opportunities for everyone in Alabama to have access to the basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, and transportation. We gathered to make our voices heard. 

It was a gorgeous day in the capitol, as we listened to Kimble Forrister, Alabama Arise's director, share at a press conference about the need for new revenue to expand Medicaid. Later we had the opportunity to speak with several congressmen at a legislative luncheon.  I had my first experience with lobbying, which is really a fancy word for getting to know your legislator and telling her/him what it important to you. I decided to make my voice heard.

During my year at ARM, I have become more and more intrigued by the relationship between poverty and government, and the role we as citizens play in changing this dynamic. Participating in events like legislative day with Alabama Arise has reiterated in my mind the necessity of advocacy. We can (and still should) try to relieve the effects of poverty with direct services, but we must also rally for systemic change. Alabama Arise is a community of Alabamians that is committed to this organizing of the public in order to address poverty issues in our state. Arise is committed to making our voices heard.

Recently I have researched the affect predatory lending has on low-income individuals' situations. Racking up debts with multiple companies not only puts families in financial peril, but it can get them in trouble with the law, cause foreclosure on their home, or demand forfeiting of their only form of transportation (in the case of title loans). In the words of Representative Danny Garrett in a recent article, "A business model, built on an insurmountable interest rate so as to ensure repeat business - trapping a borrower on a debt treadmill, paying only interest for months and months, never touching the principal - is incomprehensible to me...and offends even the average sensibility." President Obama even visited Birmingham in March to make his voice heard on the seriousness of payday lending in Alabama.

Many of the low-income families we work with in rural areas of Alabama are especially affected by these issues because their towns have limited resources available and experience little or no economic growth. I have met individuals who are struggling to pay back debts from companies like Check-into-Cash and Always Money. These businesses promise quick and easy money, but more often than not exploit customers by charging exorbitant interest rates of up to 456% on a $500 loan. The high interest fees eat up a family's monthly income and leave no money left for food, mortgage payments, and doctor's visits. Are these voices being heard?

A month ago, I was invited by my mentor, who is a local pastor, to share about predatory lending at his church's local food pantry. As I shared about the dangers of this type of lending, I saw many nods and heard a few amens in the pews. Hearing those stories, it is clear that payday lending is not just an issue, but a social problem that affects real people. After my brief presentation, a woman came up to me and shared that she owed hundreds of dollars to companies like these. We talked for a bit...I didn't know a lot of options for her except to try to pay back the loans as fast as she could. And to make her voice heard.
So what is the next step? Borrowers don't have to face this alone. We can stand in solidarity with those who are suffering under this horribly oppressive system. Talk to your congressman. Send a personal letter about how you are affected by payday lending. Get people organized around an issue you care about.

Let's make our voices heard.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sharing Life With Our Neighbors and Friends

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of speaking at Enterprise United Methodist Church for their Missions Conference. Here is an excerpt from the sermon I preached on John 15:9-17. The message shares about being friends with those we serve with, a topic that can be challenging when we are so used to going on mission trips thinking we come to save or "do for" others. Over the past few years, I have learned that engaging in missions isn't about what we accomplish, but the relationships that we form. It's realizing that those we come to "serve" have as much to give as we do, and learning to receive humbly and lovingly. 
     I moved to Alabama almost one year ago today. Having grown up in Indiana and attended college in Michigan, I had never experienced living in the rural South. For us outsiders, the South is known for being the land where country music, endearing accents, and sweet tea abound. But over the past year, I have found that Alabama is much more than this: it is a place of hospitality, community, and deep friendships. Today I’m going to tell you a story about a lady I met last summer, and how we became friends.

     When I began working with Alabama Rural Ministry, I went one day with our construction coordinator to visit Ms. Wood at her home outside of Auburn. That day we would be looking at some urgent repair needs in her home. We pulled up to her house, a small, one-story building with a decent sized yard. Ms. Wood and her son were waiting for us. They showed us into the small, cramped living room, kept warm with gas heaters. From the moment she opened the door, I knew Ms. Wood was one of those kind ladies that can bring a smile to anyone’s face when they’re having a bad day. We sat done and began to chat. With Ms. Wood, the connection was immediate and I felt that we had known each other for months.

     Later we walked into Ms. Wood’s bedroom to take some measurements, and I remember being shocked to see the damage in her floor. Termites had eaten away the wood and much of the walls. Ms. Wood could not even stay in her own bedroom at night – she was sleeping on the sofa. I was told that soon a group would be coming to put in new boards and laminate floor. There was certainly a lot of progress to be made. That day my heart went out to this kind woman. But I was struck by her positive attitude in her situation. 

     After a few minutes of conversation, it was time to go. Before we left, I remember that Ms. Wood stood up to pray with us. She shared with us a concern that her son was looking for work, and asked that we would pray for the family. I was touched by her genuine care and her openness in sharing her personal life with us. I asked her to pray for me as well. Ms. Wood said to me, “Oh Becky, I will. God is so faithful.” In talking with Ms. Wood, we had both allowed ourselves to be vulnerable in sharing life with each other. A friendship formed between us that was rooted in God's love.

 During my message, I spoke about 4 main principles of service:
1. Humility
2. Love
3. Vulnerability 
4. Community

Here are some key points:
      The example of servant-hood is crucial to the Christian lifestyle. Yet sometimes we view service as one-sided. When we go on mission trips, do we go thinking about the relationships we will build or the tasks we will accomplish? Do we only consider what we will give to others or realize that we may also receive? I remember distinctly the first mission trip I ever went on. A group from my college campus ministry went to Tijuana, Mexico, where we worked with a family and his church doing tasks ranging from feeding the homeless, to building a foundation to a house, to performing a Bible skit on the street. After the trip I remember feeling proud at the small tasks my team had completed. We had mixed cement. We had fed hungry people. We had made a difference! But it left me wondering, what did the church and Mexican family think when we left? Were they as excited as I was at the results? Did they expect us to keep in touch for years to come? I'm not so sure. 

      At times when we serve with good intentions, we can abuse the power it gives us to control others. Service then becomes exploitation and commercialization – for every thing we do, there is a second motive. This can take many forms: wanderlust, curiosity, pity, or even a genuine desire to help people. These motives are not necessarily bad, but can have negative effects on those we come to serve. Bob Lupton puts it this way: “I wonder if the reality of humanness will always make servant hood into lordship. It may be that there is no way to define service in order to keep from making it a system of control.” Thinking about this quote, I wonder…does service always have to perpetuate the sense that those coming into a community are superior to those who are already there? I would argue that it doesn’t. 

 To read the entire sermon, please go to  Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Community United

At the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Worship Service this past Sunday, we were asked during the time of prayer to write down three dreams, prayers, or visions we had for the Tuskegee community. A few days later, I was touched to read the responses of individuals living in Tuskegee. What did people have to say about their community, its strengths, problems, and hope for growth? The word cloud below is a compilation of what people wrote:

What struck me most about these visions for Tuskegee was the desire for unity and community. Notice the large size of the words "people", "community", "together", and "unity" in the image. More people wrote about the need for unity among neighbors, peace in spite of our differences, and praying together across different church denominations than anything else.

Another large concern displayed was stopping the violence and neighborhood crime in Tuskegee. Many individuals spoke of the need for respect of all people and the importance of love and acceptance above all else. Reading these comments, I couldn't help but draw similarities to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s focus on justice and equality for all. Dr. King's message is as imperative today as it was 50 years ago: "The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it."

 Among the various other concerns mentioned were better education, more activities for children, improved economic resources, the need for prayer, community involvement in social services, and job opportunities. Having living in Tuskegee myself for eight months, these dreams resonate with me. I cannot pretend to know firsthand the suffering many families living in poverty experience day-to-day. I have not been here long enough to fully understand the complexities of racial profiling and inequality. However, what I do know is the need for restoration in this community.

As ARM continues our commitment to love and serve in the Tuskegee community, we ask that you pray with us for the families living in this city and for the work that is ahead of us. Our dreams are big, and our vision is even bigger. One of our summer volunteers remembers, "...looking out the window at night and seeing all the potential that Tuskegee has to grow and be a wonderful place to live." Tuskegee, like many rural areas in Alabama, has plenty of potential for growth. We at ARM are hopeful for the future that God will bring for our neighbors and friends. And we are privileged to be a part of it.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Working Toward A More Just Society

Growing up, I had always learned about the importance of Martin Luther King, Jr. in history class, but because it wasn't something I had experienced personally, it stopped there. With the facts. And statistics. Sure, I completely supported the movement and what it ultimately (though at a high price) accomplished for the equality of all races in this country. However, I had not truly seen firsthand the effects of racial inequality on a community.

Now working and living in Alabama (especially Tuskegee) has given me a new perspective on the civil rights movement and richness of African American history. I have met people who were kids when Tuskegee High School was integrated. I have spoken to pastors, educators, and local entrepreneurs about the changes that have taken place in this historic town since the 1960's, some successes, and others repercussions. 

In those days, Tuskegee was a thriving little city. The university, founded by Booker T. Washington in 1881, attracted top students from all over the country and provided invaluable resources, both academic and financial, to the community. Farmers and business owners, both black and white, prospered and life in the small rural city went on. Tuskegee became well known over the years for distinct personalities such as agricultural scientist George Washington Carver and the famed World War II Tuskegee Airmen. 

After having spent 8 months in Tuskegee, I have heard countless stories about how the city has evolved and the issues it currently faces. Years after integration in 1963 came a period of white flight. When families left, so did local businesses, jobs, and much potential for economic development. The standard of living decreased significantly for those who stayed behind. Whereas in 1960, the population of Tuskegee was quite diverse, it is now 95% African American. The population overall has decreased 20% since 2000. 

Now, 50 years after the Civil Rights Movement, we still have not achieved the goal of equal rights. Inequality, racism, and suffering still exist in our society. While all people have the right to vote, sadly we do not all have the right to a neighborhood safe from crime, a high quality education for our children, or a well-paying job. Poverty is the reality in the darkest corners of our country – whether Tuskegee or our own hometowns.

How is God calling us to address this? MLK Jr.’s answer is service and love. He claims, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: what are you doing for others?” Seeing the movie Selma, I was utterly moved by the way an entire nation came together to protest peacefully, despite the violence they faced from police - for a basic human right. The leaders of the movement didn’t just toss around ideas to achieve voting rights; they did something about it. How far will talking about social problems get us on the road to a more peaceful and just society? At what point will we choose to act?

I have been moved by the tireless dedication of some of the community’s leaders, specifically local pastors, to make Tuskegee a better place to live. Efforts like Stop the Violence Campaign, the Youth Safe Haven program, and ARM’s Sonshine Kids Day Camp have already played a huge part in providing enriching activities for kids. Last May, as part of the Summer Mission Camp experience, we interviewed some community members on the positive aspects of living in Tuskegee. One man said, “I personally am excited for the growth here in this community. I’m pro-Tuskegee.” 

How are you called to address crime, poverty, or racism in your community? Would you consider yourself “pro-(insert town here)”, or even pro-humanity, someone who would advocate for the rights of your people? In Psalm 82:3-4, the Lord calls us to “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” The battle Martin Luther King, Jr. begun is not yet over. There is much work to be done, both here in the South and nation-wide. Let us prayerfully consider how to move toward a more just society.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Covenant Prayer for the New Year

As I walked into church the first Sunday of the new year, I was handed a card with the following words, labeled A Covenant Prayer by John Wesley, 1780. After reading it through together as a congregation, my pastor challenged us to reflect on how God is calling each of us to live out this prayer in 2015. I now share this reflection with you in hopes that you will consider what these words mean for your life.

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Lord, in this year, help me to focus less on myself and more on you. Remind me that I am a child of God, loved by you, and that you gave your life for my freedom from sin. Show me how to serve you in a way that honors you and values others.

Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Redeemer, I pray that you would give me opportunities to act out against injustices, and to refuse to stand by and watch as your people hurt. Put me in challenging situations so that I may be humbled and grow in may faith in you. Let me experience the suffering that Christ underwent on the cross, so that I may know and understand more fully your love.

Let me be put to work for you or set aside for you, praised for you or criticized for you.
Use my talents and privilege, Lord, as you see fit. Mold me into the woman you created me to be. If I lose focus of you, set me on the right path, keep my eyes on Christ. Give me strength to stand up for you when others see trust in you as a weakness.  

Let me be full, let me be empty.
Creator, fill me with a deeper awareness of your love for all of humanity and creation, and a passion to bring your kingdom here on Earth. Empty me of resentment and anger toward those who have hurt me, and of apathy toward systemic oppression.  

Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
Sustainer, bless me with a strong body to serve, a heart that breaks for others, and a mind that conceives new ways of sharing your love. Yet let me be content with loving relationships instead of recognition, essentials instead of material luxury, and food on the table but not excess. 

I freely and fully surrender all things to your glory and service.
Do what you will with my life, God. Guide me in all my decisions, support me in those difficult hours, and rejoice with me in the beautiful moments.

And now God, my Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, you are mine, and I am yours.

So be it. 


Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Fair Price to Pay

I can remember when I was in high school, going to see the new Spider-man 3 movie (the 2007 version with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst). We were ecstatic, not only to see the movie, which we knew would rock our world, but more importantly because we would get to go to Taco Bell.

Why was this such an occasion? Because in our household, my mother had enacted a ban on Taco Bell, which had been in place for at least the past year. A ban, you say? What for? Taco Bell was not paying its tomato pickers a living wage. A boycott had been organized by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, an advocacy group made up of Florida farm workers (mostly tomato farmers), and had received national attention.

At the time my brother and sister and I could not understand why anyone would want to boycott our favorite fast food place. But now, years wiser, I regret not having respected my mom's ideals. She truly understood the importance of valuing another person's life, and participating in non-violent protest as a way of fighting for what she knew was right. My mother was, and still is, a social activist, and I am proud to say that I am following in her footsteps. 

Many of you have probably heard of the concept of fair trade. Fair trade items are products that are produced through a sustainable line of companies that have passed certain regulations in regards to safe labor practices, providing workers with a living wage, and not using slave labor in the creation of their products. The goal of Fair Trade is to help producers achieve more humane conditions for workers, as well as environmental and economic sustainability. An overwhelming majority of big name brands and industries in the United States do not practice fair trade principles (and sadly, many individuals who are educated about corporate injustices remain indifferent).

For the past few years, as my consumer conscience has grown, and I am continually horrified by the inhumane practices of large corporations in this country, I admit that I have not spoken out enough. Even this meager post about fair trade is such a tiny step to demanding justice, to protesting for the fair treatment of hard-working people, whether American or of other nationalities, who every day are subjected to harsh conditions and wages too low to survive on. It is time to speak out for change. It is time to act.

A few weeks ago, during our quarterly meeting with the other Global Mission Fellows in the Generation Transformation Program, we discussed our responsibility to creation care and how we are called to act out against over-consumption and exploitation. This conversation left me pondering how I could use my small influence to improve the chances for a better, just life for others.

Because of this commitment, and my firm belief that God created each one of us to stand up for human rights, I have decided to take a very small step as my New Year's Resolution for 2015. My declaration is this (and I hope that you will hold me accountable to it):

This year, I resolve to not buy ANY chocolate or coffee that is not certified as Fair Trade.

We all vote with our dollars. My dollar, in this small way at least, will not support companies that exploit the vulnerable and the poor. I realize that in other ways, I will still inadvertently sustain the evil of slavery with my credit card, as I buy that shirt or cellphone. I hope that in the future I can say that I have actively sought out alternatives in these areas as well, but for now, this is my small step. I share my decision with you today, not to brag or boast, but because I wish to encourage you in doing the same, in your own small way. Because, as Mother Teresa famously said, "Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love."

Why decide to buy fair trade, when it's more expensive? I think it is a fair price to pay, for those who pick the coffee beans, for those who process the cocoa, for those who package it all into bags and bars to sell. Will you choose to pay a price that is fair?