THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Zoricelis Davila

Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. Today we are thrilled to introduce Zoricelis Davila.

Zoricelis, tell us about where and how you currently serve in ministry?
God has been so gracious to call me into a multifaceted ministry. I am a licensed professional counselor with a private practice in Forth Worth, Texas, serving the Latino community in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. In collaboration with the Tarrant Baptist Association and Baptist Conventions I serve churches and pastors who refer members of their congregations who are in crisis and in need of professional counseling and psychotherapy. I also serve pastoral families to strengthen their marriages and families, their relationship with their churches, and their own pastoral care.

Being in the counseling ministry has opened multiple doors for me to serve in diverse areas, such as serving as a volunteer counselor in a domestic violence agency in Arlington, and facilitating support groups for Hispanic women victims and survivors of domestic violence. Also, in the Fort Worth community I volunteer as a counselor by equipping parents in the area of parenting and counseling at an elementary school under the collaboration and sponsorship of the BGCT program, Raising Highly Capable kids. There, I teach parents how to have crucial conversations with their children aiming at preventing crisis and training them with effective parenting skills.

In my local church, Southwayside Baptist Church, I serve as a Sunday School teacher for the Women’s Class, and I am a member of the Women’s Ministry Team serving women in various areas.

God has gracefully allowed me to write three books in Spanish helping the Latino Community in the areas of family, counseling, and emotional health; which has opened the door for me to serve actively as a Women’s and Family Ministry Speaker internationally and nationwide.

I also serve as a faculty member and board member of the board of directors of Latina Leadership Institute in San Antonio, training and empowering Latino women leaders to be better equipped to serve in their churches.

Part of equipping the community with evidence-based information and helping them achieve a healthy emotional, mental, and spiritual life is provided through a weekly radio program in collaboration with Radio Manantial Yuma. Each Thursday morning, I work with general manager, Emi Ibarra, educating the community about family and counseling issues.

What have been some of the challenges you have faced in your ministry journey?
I have faced two challenges in my ministry. One has been leaving my family, church, and friends in Puerto Rico to follow God’s calling in Texas. However, it has been worth it to serve God. God has been faithful to provide a family through my local church to serve as a strong support and encouragement.

The second challenge has been to face some discrimination and stigma for being a single Hispanic woman serving in the counseling ministry. It has required my total dependence and focus on God. Through it all, I have experienced God’s faithfulness every step of the way. God has been the one giving testimony of His calling in my life and of who I am as a minister.

Who and what have been some of the best sources of encouragement for you along the way?
My best source of encouragement has been God Himself through His Word. In my relationship with Him, His personal guidance has been visible and concrete to guide me and encourage me.

My church has been my family, loving me, supporting me, and encouraging me in every phase of my ministry journey.

These specific sisters in Christ have been my constant encouragers and mentors: Alicia Zorzoli, my editor, Nora Lozano, the executive director of Latina Leadership Institute, and Raquel Contreras, the director of the Spanish Baptist Publishing House.

What advice would you give to a teenage girl who is discerning a call to ministry?
Focus on developing and nurturing your personal relationship with God first. Don’t compromise the reading of the Word for anything, and make sure that you take time to search God’s will and wait for God’s response as you identify God’s calling in your life. Once you know, follow God’s calling and His leading, trusting Him every step of the way. It does not matter how hard, difficult, challenging, or scary the call may be. God is faithful to complete the work He has called you to do. He will provide. He will guide. He will protect. He will lead you. You just have to trust Him and obey Him. It is worth serving God. Even if like Abraham, like in my own life, you have to leave your country and your family, God will sustain you and provide His people to support you in every way. Trust Him, and follow Him. It is a joy to serve God and His people. There is no greater joy than to serve Christ.

The Grace in Being a Fifty-Year-Old Toddler

I just celebrated that certain birthday that brings your first invitation to join AARP, and I’ve never felt more like a toddler. My experiences of the last year strike me as a second toddlerhood. Undeniable growing pains. More than one tantrum. Tears. Lessons coming so fast they’re hard to absorb. Wonder at new experiences. Pure grace. Joy. Love.

Yet, this story doesn’t begin with joy. Its turning point lies in heartbreak. In hindsight, the call to ministry had been tapping me on the shoulder since childhood when I asked for National Geographic’s guide to world religions for Christmas one year. But it took me decades to recognize and acknowledge the call and respond. I didn’t find my way to seminary until I was 40, but, once I did, I knew the path was right. I would be exhausted from working a full day and then making a two-hour drive to night classes. But the minute the class discussion began, my exhaustion vanished, replaced by an energy I had never experienced.

At the same time I was in seminary, I was blessed to be in a church that allowed me to experience ministry under the leadership of a strong mentor-pastor. The real-life applications gave life to the lessons I was learning in class.

Over time, the church would call me to serve as its associate pastor and then ordain me. Blessings all.

Then, on my vacation last summer, I walked many prayer miles on the beach. I looked at the waves crashing as I wondered if, after such a short time, I should leave the ministry.

Multiple factors contributed to my inner debate, not the least of which was the constant struggle to maintain some balance while leading a bi-vocational life. But other circumstances had changed as well. The proverbial final straw was working with a pastor who said he believed in women in ministry, but whose actions told a different story. Healthy anger told me to live the truth I knew, and keep moving forward. Over and over, I told myself that experiencing so much theology that I disagreed with was deepening my understanding of my own beliefs. My theology was growing stronger, but still, month upon month of challenges threatened my new strength and old reserves.

As pelicans dove into the waves for fish, I shared my hunger for a new direction with God. In my despair at being brought so far only to encounter such a stumbling block, doubt festered.

I didn’t trust.

I imagine God shook his head and perhaps smirked at the thought of the journey he had in store for me.
The day I returned from vacation, news was in my inbox. The stumbling block was gone, no reason given, effective immediately.

The call that had been growing within me for months to serve the church as its interim pastor intensified to the hurting point until I gave it voice. Then, the church gave me the nod.

Along the way, the bi-vocational struggle, at times, transformed into exhaustion. Lessons about the critical importance of self-care and boundaries were brought home hard and fast. Fortunately, the same energy I encountered in seminary would reveal itself again in the wee hours of Sunday morning. It may not have been exactly like toddlerhood, since I didn’t fight sleep. I would welcome sleep any time I could put my head down.

Still, the terrible twos and threes did show themselves—sometimes in other people, sometimes in me. Yet, the more I got to know my brokenness, the healthier and better pastor I became.

I wish I knew the date. I wish I could mark it in my calendar, but I’m not certain when the “aha!” moment came. Throughout my journey as a pastor, I had doubted my call to preach. How could God want a writer as a preacher? Give me pen and paper and sure, I would write and write for God. But stand up before a congregation and deliver a message? That was a different story. A wonderful preaching professor bolstered my confidence, encouraging me not to worry about wanting a manuscript by saying, “That’s who you are.” He told me to just be myself, and trust that I had valuable words to say, and the rest would work itself out. In that “aha” moment, as I stood before the congregation one Sunday morning, the truth struck me hard. I was being myself, more truly than ever. I was becoming the person God created me to be: a writer and a preacher.

Wonder. Grace. Joy. Love.

“For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord.. .O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might. . .” (Psalm 71:5, 17-18, NRSV)
 
Stephanie Porter-Nichols is the associate pastor of Marion Baptist Church in Marion, Virginia.

Advent in July: Love by Nikki Finkelstein-Blair

When I was growing up in church and learning about missions in Girls in Action, my favorite time of year was Christmas (it still is!)—but my second favorite was “Christmas in July,” when our G.A. leaders would set up a Charlie-Brownish little Christmas tree, decorated in red and green baubles, in our church-basement classroom. In the heat of summer, with the a/c cranked up, we would sing Christmas songs, and eat Christmas snacks, and tell the Christmas story, and we’d wrap up donations of toothbrushes and mini shampoo bottles in festive paper. Everybody gives a lot during Christmastime, we learned; but in the middle of summer, when that generous holiday is furthest away, there were still needs we could help to meet. The Christmas story and the Christmas songs and our Christmas spirit did not have to be confined to December!

This July, maybe we too “need a little Christmas,” as the old song says. We “need a little Advent,” a little hope, peace, joy, and love. We need to sing the Spirit’s songs. We need to look for the needs we can meet even today. And we need to tell the stories of the One who was born to give us new life.

Proper 13, Sunday, July 31, 2016

Hosea 11:1-11
Psalm 107:1-9, 43
Colossians 3:1-11
Luke 12:13-21

“This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20)

This is a love story.

This is a story about a family torn in half, two brothers arguing over an inheritance, debating the laws of possession. There is no love here; only greed.

This is a story of arbitration, of mediation, of a rabbi put on the spot and asked to be impartial, to interpret and judge objectively. Detachment is imperative. The brothers aren’t looking for love, only neutrality.

But this Judge, this Jesus (who cannot not love, cannot not speak of love), answers their dispute with yet another story. An old story, though he made it up on the spot. A true story, though it was a fiction. A love story, in its way; the story of a man with so much to love that he needed to build warehouses to contain all the things that were dearest to his heart.

All the things he needed to protect.

All his things.

Because who knows when thieves may come in the night? Who knows what natural disaster lurks in tomorrow’s weather forecast? Who knows what turns the market may take? When you love something, you take care of it. You keep it safe, untouched; you do whatever it takes to protect it, because its very existence is your legacy, and its security is your life’s work. You label it in boxes, stack it high away from the damp, take out insurance policies and hinge your future on its well-being. This is love for a lifetime—this is love that will take your whole life.

We give our lives to the things we love.

So. . .what do we love?

Inheritances alone—in cash, in land or gold or jewels—are enough to shred the fabric of families, tearing sibling from sibling, parent from child. Possessions alone—stored up in pristine boxes along with all our hopes for an uncertain future—may occupy our thoughts and our time, but cannot save us from unhappy endings. However hard we try to gain them, however hard we work to keep them, our inheritances and possessions will not join us in eternity. They are not life. They are not love.

But there is, after all, an Advent love; there is, after all, an Advent love story.

Dear Sister, Brother: share in the inheritance of love, proclaiming “Be not afraid.” Dear Parent, Child: receive the legacy of love, of peace for the future and goodwill for all. Dear Mother, give your heart not to worrying, but to pondering. Dear Father, do not lock up your storehouses, but open yourself to the wonders of this day.

Dear Family: God has made us rich in heart, shaped us together, and gifted us with eternity swaddled in human form. This is our love story. And this is our story, for life.
 

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is an ordained Baptist minister, at-home mom, and military spouse living in South Carolina. She blogs at One Faithful Step.

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS: Nora Silva

Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. Today we are thrilled to introduce Nora Silva.

Nora, tell us about where and how you currently serve in ministry?
I serve as the unofficial executive pastor for Mosaic Church in San Antonio Texas. I say ‘unofficial’ only because this is a volunteer position. Mosaic is a new church plant that is just a few months old. Our pastor previously served in another church and felt called to start a new church. When he shared his vision for Mosaic, I knew I wanted to be a part of the journey. My focus is leadership training and development, program planning, budgeting, and overall support.

What have been some of the challenges you have faced in your ministry journey?
Wow! That it is an interesting question since I am still getting settled with the fact that I am in ministry. I have always felt that ministry is anything we do that glorifies God. That means our jobs, our volunteer work, our interactions with people, and so on. But in the most common definition of ministry work, well that is a bit different. I have taught bible study classes in the past and even hosted home cell groups a few years ago, but my ministry journey as it stands now is a whole new experience. Some of the challenges are more about us being a new church plant. Creating culture and developing process is something I enjoy doing, but it is not easy. I sense a tinge of resistance from some individuals about my role, at times, but just a few months ago, God really showed me that we will never be prepared or qualified in our own right. But when He calls us, we have all we need to go! My ability to overcome challenges comes from my dependence on God—from what He has already done, to what He is doing, to what He is going to do.

What brings you great joy in life and ministry?
I love to see people grow into their calling! I love to be a part of people’s journey there. God is so good in that we don’t just experience joy when great things happen to us. If we allow it, we can encounter joy when great things happen to others as well. That joy is endless! I get excited at the thought of me experiencing someone getting saved or someone having a baby or someone getting a promotion. It’s funny to realize that it’s so much fun to celebrate someone else’s accomplishments, even more since I don’t have the responsibilities that come with the accomplishments. God allows us, no, He gifts us the opportunity for endless joy.

What is the best ministry advice you have ever received?
The best ministry advice I have received was not advice at all. It was a declaration. When I was a junior in high school, my paternal grandmother was very ill. We were called to visit her in her last days. During this time, she said something that stuck with me and inspired me to seek the kind of faith that she had. In Spanish, she told us she was done in this earth, that she was physically tired and was ready to go be with her Lord. The words alone don’t capture the peace in which she shared that sentiment. She really did mean it! I believed she loved the Lord with all her heart, and with all her mind, and with all her soul. I believed she was going to a better place, and she was excited about it. Her words weren’t sad, desperate, or practiced. She knew where she was going, and she was ready to go, as if she had a long day at work and now was going home. Home. I tear up just thinking about it. I decided then, that I wanted to have the kind of faith that my grandmother had. That kind of love and reliance on Jesus our Lord. I reflect on that experience still.

Just recently, God nudged me into realizing that my grandmother prayed not only for me, but also for my children and my children’s children when I was still a child. How blessed am I?! As my ministry journey
continues, I know that I will continue to receive advice from great mentors but seeing this real-life experience of loving God and resting in Him.

Instant Parenthood by Stacy Sergent

I was getting ready to leave my boyfriend, Will’s, house and head home for the night, when he said, “we were good parents today.” We had spent all afternoon playing with his two little boys, catching them as they jumped into the pool, coaxing them into eating dinner, making them take a bath, reading bedtime stories, and tucking them into bed in the particular way each one likes. When Will and I went downstairs to watch some TV, we marveled that the boys were both still asleep. Usually one of them will come downstairs a few minutes after bedtime, needing just one more hug from both of us. We celebrated this small victory, that we had worn them out with fun.

He said “we.” That was the first time I’d been called a parent. I was surprised by it that night, but he’s right. I’ve been helping parent these two precious boys for a year now. They are blessed with four loving parents. On the days they aren’t with us, they are with their mommy and stepdad. All of us bring different gifts to the table, and all of us are trying our best to raise two healthy, happy kids. I arrived a little late to the party – the boys were three and five years old when I met them – but now that I’m here, I cherish being part of their lives. I love hearing their bedtime prayers, finding out what they most want to thank God for that day. Sometimes they’re thankful for splashing in the pool, other times they thank God for friends, or their dog, or stretchy pants.

I love their honest questions and observations about the world. And I love that they listen when I challenge those observations. It’s astonishing how early kids start learning and observing gender stereotypes. Even though their mommy is a doctor and their daddy is vocal in his admiration for strong women, every now and then I still catch the boys saying, “but girls can’t do that.” I remind them that girls can and girls do. Girls can be doctors, like their mommy. Girls can be pastors or write books, like me. Girls can be lawyers, like their Aunt Ashby. Girls can be teachers and principals, like their Aunt Ginny. And I sometimes have to reinforce the other side of the equation. Yes, pink can be a boy’s favorite color; one of the boys they played with at church last Sunday loves pink and glittery things. Yes, boys can like cartoons about girls like Doc McStuffins, and girls can like cartoons about boys like The Batman.

I’m thankful that the boys have a wonderful father who models nurturing and kindness for them, who doesn’t shame them when they cry, who teaches them by example how to treat women as the equal partners we are. Learning happens in the little moments. When we watched the new Star Wars movie together, Will and I commented to the boys how brave Rey is, how she is more powerful with the Force than anyone. And when the youngest tells me, “You’re really strong, Miss Stacy!” just for getting the milk out of the fridge by myself, I don’t dismiss it. I say, “I am strong. Thank you for being an encourager!” They like giving encouragement. And as a new parent, I’ll take all of it I can get.
 
Stacy N. Sergent is a graduate of the School of Divinity at Gardner-Webb University. She is a CBF-endorsed chaplain at MUSC Medical Center in Charleston, South Carolina. Her first book is Being Called Chaplain: How I Lost My Name and (Eventually) Found My Faith.

Advent in July: Joy by Nikki Finkelstein-Blair

When I was growing up in church and learning about missions in Girls in Action, my favorite time of year was Christmas (it still is!)—but my second favorite was “Christmas in July,” when our G.A. leaders would set up a Charlie-Brownish little Christmas tree, decorated in red and green baubles, in our church-basement classroom. In the heat of summer, with the a/c cranked up, we would sing Christmas songs, and eat Christmas snacks, and tell the Christmas story, and we’d wrap up donations of toothbrushes and mini shampoo bottles in festive paper. Everybody gives a lot during Christmastime, we learned; but in the middle of summer, when that generous holiday is furthest away, there were still needs we could help to meet. The Christmas story and the Christmas songs and our Christmas spirit did not have to be confined to December!

This July, maybe we too “need a little Christmas,” as the old song says. We “need a little Advent,” a little hope, peace, joy, and love. We need to sing the Spirit’s songs. We need to look for the needs we can meet even today. And we need to tell the stories of the One who was born to give us new life.

Proper 12, Sunday, July 24, 2016

Hosea 1:2-10
Psalm 85
Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
Luke 11:1-13

“For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:10)

Jesus’ disciples knew their Teacher was “different” (feel free to imagine the air quotes!). They had watched him praying, had listened to the way he spoke to—and about—God. They’d seen him fast and they’d heard him bless those who were hungry, but they’d also seen him feast and they’d seen him provide feasts beyond imagining.

They knew that John had taught his followers, in the traditional way, that fasting and prayer went hand-in-hand (Luke 5:33). As they watched Jesus pray, as they waited for him to conclude his conversation with Yahweh, were they taking mental notes, formulating a compare-and-contrast between Jesus and John? What questions were bubbling up in their minds? And just what kind of lesson did they expect Jesus to teach them?

They were eager students; it seems they could barely wait for Jesus to speak the “Amen” before they asked: “Lord, teach us to pray.”

So he taught them some words to pray: “Our Father, in heaven…” Resonant words. Words of eternity and everydayness, of heaven and of bread. Words of relationship, of giving and receiving forgiveness. Words of hope, of trust in a secure future.

Maybe they thought that was the end of the lesson, that they could simply replicate this new liturgy, go out speaking the prayer Jesus taught, echoing it around Galilee and letting it trickle down through generations. Just thirty-eight words (in the NRSV of Luke, at least), it was short enough to memorize, and it’d be easy to pass it along. So maybe when Jesus paused for breath, they started slapping their notebooks closed, gathering up their backpacks.

Then he launched into the rest of the syllabus. The words of prayer were only the introduction. He still had to teach them the Way to pray.

Knock at the door, he said. Knock in the middle of the night, wake the children if you must. You are responsible for taking care of the unexpected guests who show up at your table. On their behalf, go to the One neighbor who can help. Knock until your fingers are bruised, until the porchlight finally comes on.

Seek, like a child in the park calling out “Ready or not, here I come!” Search for your name on the presents under the tree, search for reindeer hoofprints in the snow. Search for stars in the skies, for roads not taken, for buried treasures. Search as if your life depended on it; if you’re not looking, you cannot possibly find.

Ask to be fed. Ask for fish, for eggs, for daily bread. You have a loving parent who wants to feed you, not to frighten you. Ask, trusting that you will be nourished, not poisoned.

So we can pray in the words Jesus taught his disciples—taught all of us—and we can pray in the way he taught us: as a generous host and a persistent neighbor, leaving no stone unturned, asking our hallowed Parent for the simple needs of this day.

“Teach us to pray,” the disciples requested. He taught, and we are still learning. In every word we utter, in every way we walk, we learn.

This is an Advent joy, the joy of lessons and of carols, the joy of Jesus’ prayer-full words and ways! The joy of doors swinging open wide with warm welcome. The joy of discovery as we go searching, calling friends out of hiding, spying miracles in the snow; finding gifts, guidance, paths, treasures where we never before thought to look. The joy of surprise when receive even more our wish-lists can contain, when we find our heart-hungers filled by the very Spirit of God.
 

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is an ordained Baptist minister, at-home mom, and military spouse living in South Carolina. She blogs at One Faithful Step.

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Julie Gaines Walton

Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces a woman in ministry, and today we are thrilled for you to meet Julie Gaines Walton.

Julie, tell us about your current ministry role.
I serve part-time in two capacities. I am a chaplain at Lakewood Retirement Community in Richmond, Virginia, as well as an associate for development and grant writer at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, where I graduated with my Master of Divinity degree. I have been in these two positions for just over a year now. As chaplain, I minister alongside another wonderful Baptist woman in ministry, Louise Mason, to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of our residents, staff, and their families. We lead worship services and Bible studies, offer care through visitation, provide bereavement support, officiate memorial services, and do our best to encourage each person in our community to find wholeness and resiliency through their relationship with God. In my work at the seminary, I mainly do behind-the-scenes support work with database management for our advancement office. Recently, I’ve gone through training as a grant writer and look forward to using that in support of BTSR’s ministry and students.

What challenges have you encountered along the way in your ministry journey?
Answering God’s call to ministry was not a smooth path for me. I had received two degrees from Longwood University in liberal studies and music education and had trained for most of my life to become a teacher in a public school. I was licensed and ready to teach when I graduated, but I was unable to find a job. Hearing “no” so often felt like major rejection, and when, during that season, I felt a call to seminary, there were many in my life who wondered if I was simply running away from failure.

Finding ways to make ends meet during seminary and after was a challenge. I’ve worked as a lifeguard, swim coach and instructor, and marching band instructor in addition to serving ministry internships at Farmville Baptist Church in Farmville, Virginia, and Tabernacle Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia. I’m thankful for the diverse training and experiences I’ve had along the way, though, because through them, I’ve gained confidence; learned how to be flexible and enjoy the surprises; and I have seen that God can use each part of our lives in beautiful ways.

Serving bi-vocationally in two very different settings has both incredible advantages (I’m always doing something new!) and some challenges as well. Finding balance between my two areas of service, my marriage to Jeff (who also serves as a chaplain in a local hospital), our family and friends, and my hobbies can be difficult. It’s been like learning how to ride a bike–starting off, wobbling a while, falling down, dusting myself off and getting back up to try again, a little wiser for the wear and with a few bumps as gentle reminders. Remembering that ministry isn’t just what I am paid for–it’s all of my life and offering all that I am back to God each day—and living out of that offering, rather than living out of a mindset of scarcity, allows me to hear God’s encouragement and to find the joy each day has to offer.

Who has inspired you along the way as you have lived out your calling?
I’ve found encouragement in so many people and places throughout my journey. My internships at churches introduced me to amazing people who have cheered me on and challenged me to follow God’s leading, particularly in the earliest times as I sensed God’s nudging toward vocational ministry. Wanda Kidd and Tommy Justus affirmed my call and offered advice. Judith Myers, Jaime Fitzgerald, Lauren McDuffie, and dozens of other interns shared the ups and downs of ministry with me and helped me remember what really mattered along the way. Michael Cheuk, my youth minister who then turned into my senior pastor at my college church, offered me my first internship as a pastor and became a great equipper in my journey to seminary. Judy Fiske at Tabernacle Baptist Church called out my gift with senior adults and encouraged me to look at ministering with them full-time as a chaplain. My family patiently took the journey with me and has always reminded me that women can be anything they want to be, especially ministers, and the congregations in which I grew up in did the same. More recently, my husband has been an incredible source of encouragement and support. I love that I can talk with him chaplain to chaplain one minute, and then go on a date with him the next! I also find encouragement in following my passions outside of my ministry work setting as well, particularly in playing flute in the Richmond Pops Band, continuing to serve as a flute instructor at a local high school during band camp each year, and training for my first half-marathon in November with Jeff.

What advice would you give to a teenage girl who is sensing a call to ministry?
If you’re a teenage girl who senses God calling you to ministry, take the next step. Don’t try to look at the whole picture and predict how it will all turn out. Don’t try to get it all figured out at once. Take the next step, and then the next, and then the next as God leads. Listen to the people around you who tell you truth–about yourself, about your life, about your gifts and skill sets. Be discerning about those voices that just need to keep floating on past your ears. You may experience some changes that feel difficult at the time, like dynamics in friendships and relationships changing as you tell others about your call, but in the long run, those moments won’t be what you remember or spend your days thinking about. Find good mentors. Seek them out, whether they are in your community or whether you connect via the Internet across the country or world. And seek out opportunities to use your skills and grow in ministry. Don’t be afraid to take pieces of your life that seem like they don’t go together and find ways to make them work when you have peace about where you are. Don’t be afraid to do something a little different. Surround yourself as much as you can with people, activities, and opportunities that give you life and allow you to give back in return. And lastly, pray. Pray often, pray for God’s guidance, and pray for courage. You have skills and gifts and words and vision that we all need to hear. Share them with us.

Difficult Kindness by Sarah Miller

It was a rainy Wednesday in Waco, Texas, and I was just starting my shift at Hillcrest Hospital. I had visited a few of the new patients and was headed to the ICU to see more when I walked into a room where an older gentleman was reclining on his bed with a dialysis machine humming. He had tubes coming out of all places and looked physically uncomfortable. I greeted him, introduced myself as the chaplain for the night shift, and asked if I might offer a prayer for him for healing. He made small talk with me but looked at me skeptically for a while before he replied. He said that he didn’t feel right about a woman praying for him, because “women don’t belong in the pulpit.” But he offered to pray for me. I agreed. I’m not one who turns down being prayed for. He started praying for his health and his kidneys, and he then prayed that God would reveal himself to me and show me that I’m wrong for being a “pastor lady.” He prayed that I would read the scriptures and understand the book of Titus, in which God “clearly states women should mentor women only.” The patient prayed on for a minute or two. It was almost like he was preaching to me with his eyes closed. After his prayer, he thanked me for coming by. I smiled and said I was the only chaplain on call for the next fourteen hours so if he needed a male chaplain, he would have to wait until the morning. I wished him a good night.

I left his room with a mixture of feelings. I was thankful for his honesty, but unlike how I usually feel with most patients, I felt a bit sorry for him. I wondered what he might have missed out on in life as a result of his opposition women in ministry. His words were not hurtful to me, but they were a little bit shocking. I know there are people who prefer a male over a female chaplain, but I have never had anyone pray against me. In my pre-seminary days, I would have been discouraged and upset, but in this season of life, I simply journaled about the experience, prayed for him, and moved on. I am thankful that I didn’t show any signs of frustration when he was talking, because I would hate to give him any more reasons to dislike clergywomen.

My very next visit was with a lovely lady in her nineties and her two closest girlfriends. I felt like I was intruding on a party when I walked in the room. There was so much laughter and energy. Balloons and flowers were everywhere. The two friends were telling funny stories. I introduced myself and all three women had huge smiles on their faces when I said I was the chaplain. One asked my denomination, and when I said Baptist, she exclaimed “OH MY we have a Baptist FEMALE chaplain. Oh praise the Lord!” The three women were delighted to be visited by a young, female chaplain. They told me what they wanted me to pray for, and then they each took turns praying over me. I can count on one hand how many times a patient has offered to pray for me. These women were delightful and poured love back into me. When I left this room, I smiled and thought God had just reminded me of all of the reasons I had become a minister.

As I was reflecting later in the week, I was reminded that kindness was required in both situations. The man was very ill and needed significant medical care. He did not need me to judge his theology or argue with him about Bible passages. He needed a kind, comforting presence, someone who was willing to listen. The precious women also needed kindness. And in the midst of my day of unusual visits, I learned that I can maintain my pastoral identity and honor the views and beliefs of all of my patients. This tension can be tricky, but I’m thankful to have the privilege of serving and also thankful that we call this ministry our pastoral “practice” since it often requires us to keep practicing.

Sarah Miller is a hospice chaplain in Waco, Texas.

Advent in July: Peace

When I was growing up in church and learning about missions in Girls in Action, my favorite time of year was Christmas (it still is!)—but my second favorite was “Christmas in July,” when our G.A. leaders would set up a Charlie-Brownish little Christmas tree, decorated in red and green baubles, in our church-basement classroom. In the heat of summer, with the a/c cranked up, we would sing Christmas songs, and eat Christmas snacks, and tell the Christmas story, and we’d wrap up donations of toothbrushes and mini shampoo bottles in festive paper. Everybody gives a lot during Christmastime, we learned; but in the middle of summer, when that generous holiday is furthest away, there were still needs we could help to meet. The Christmas story and the Christmas songs and our Christmas spirit did not have to be confined to December!

This July, maybe we too “need a little Christmas,” as the old song says. We “need a little Advent,” a little hope, peace, joy, and love. We need to sing the Spirit’s songs. We need to look for the needs we can meet even today. And we need to tell the stories of the One who was born to give us new life.

Proper 10, Sunday, July 10, 2016

Amos 8:1-12
Psalm 52
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10: 38-42

“‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.’” (Luke 10:41-42a)

Sometimes the Bible packs a lot of power into a few short verses. Other times we read a lot of meaning into just a little bit of text. This small passage in Luke’s gospel, just four verses tucked between a parable and a prayer, is powerful. But it also leaves a lot of room for presumption.
In fact, the story of Jesus’ visit to the home of the two sisters often seems to be employed as a biblical personality test: Are you a Martha or a Mary? It’s tempting to see them as two-dimensional figures, as caricatures.

Martha, the do-gooder, the uptight, the Type-A, the control freak, ironing the linen tablecloths and handmaking Pinterest-worthy napkin rings, with a perfectly risen soufflé in the oven, and an apple pie cooling on the windowsill (first prize at the county fair, thank you very much). Clearing her throat, more and more loudly, in her sister’s direction.

Mary, the hippie. (Okay, my bias is showing! Let me try again.) Mary, the laid-back, the listener to songs and stories, the rapt student, the contented. Mary, who doesn’t notice the crumbs on the carpet where she sits, and wouldn’t have a clue where to find the vacuum cleaner anyway. Who is so tuned in to the teacher’s voice that she misses her sister’s frustrated non-verbal cues.

Of course, we don’t glean all this from these four quick verses. We don’t have the Birth Order Book to help us make educated guesses about their roles in the family, and we don’t have the sisters’ Enneagram types or Myers-Briggs results. What we have is one single scenario, one snapshot in time, one day-in-the-life. One important visitor, one dinner that needs preparing, and one gentle lesson about one important choice.

If we set aside the usual presumptions and our own biases, we can see that choice clearly. It’s not a choice between busyness and laziness, or between hospitality and spirituality, or even between being a Martha or a Mary.

It’s a choice, for this moment, between distraction and focus. It’s a choice, for right now, between worry and peace.

Taking care of one another is an imperative. Providing for each others’ needs is one way we behave as good neighbors—whether we’re traveling Samaritans or stay-at-home sisters. Just as this text bridges the story of the Good Samaritan and the lesson of the Lord’s Prayer, the days of our own lives are a balance of acting and receiving, of all-hands-on-deck effort and hearts-all-in listening.

Peace isn’t the opposite of action and effort; we can find peace in action, and we can even help to create peace by our efforts. But if our need to act drives us to distraction, and if our intensive efforts stir up worry, then we need to hear the voice of the Teacher calling us back to this one moment, this one choice, this one thing.

This is an Advent peace: the spark of one candle in the worrisome dark (never mind the polished candlesticks, and let the wax drip where it will). Peace is the blessing spoken over the dancing flame; prayer and provision in one breath as we welcome the Light, as we prepare him room.
 

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is an ordained Baptist minister, at-home mom, and military spouse living in South Carolina. She blogs at One Faithful Step.


THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Mang Tiak

Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister, and today we are pleased to introduce Mang Tiak.

Mang, tell us about your ministry journey.


I believe that my ministry journey started when I was very young as a pastor’s child. My father worked with Baptist missionaries, Dr. Robert Johnson and his wonderful wife, Elizabeth Johnson. My life was transformed by their mission efforts, even though we were expelled by the government when I was very young. In our church, there were two male ministers and one female minister, Rev. Angela Hlawn Tial. She was trained by Elizabeth Johnson. I used to say that I wanted to be a Sunday School teacher like Reverend Angela, who worked so well with my father. She was the first ordained woman clergy in Chin State, Myanmar. During my high school years, under Reverend Angela’s mentorship and leadership, I began to serve as a Sunday School teacher and youth leader in my church.

I could say that both Reverend Angela Hlawn Tial, and I are truly the products of Missionary Elizabeth Johnson, who is still alive in California. She will turn 100 years old in October of this year.

During my years at the University of Rangoon, I continued to serve as Sunday teacher and in the women’s ministry at the Judson Church in Rangoon. Upon completion of my education, Clinical Pastoral Education at Baptist Medical Center, San Antonio, Texas; Master of Theology in Pastoral Care and Counseling at Princeton Theological Seminary; and Doctor of Ministry degree at the Chicago Theological Seminary in conjunction with the Clinical Pastoral Education at the University of Chicago Hospital, my husband and I moved to Houston, Texas. In 2000, I was ordained at the First Baptist Church of Chicago.

From 1999-2014, I served as a senior staff chaplain at the Methodist Hospital Medical Center. I currently serve as a senior staff chaplain at the CHI Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center in Houston, Texas.

My husband and I started the Greater Houston Burmese Christian Fellowship Church. In 2005, we organized the church with a small group of people in our home and with a strong vision to reach out to our upper-middle class friends from Burma. However, shortly after we started, many political refugees from Burma arrived in Houston through resettlement agencies. They experienced challenges such as cultural shock, language barriers, health issues, and being unable to worship God in their own language. We both understood the calling of this ministry to be: “Unless we do, who will do?”

We now have more than 300 members in our church. By the grace of God and his faithfulness, my husband and I serve respectively as pastor and associate pastor.

What has brought you the greatest joys in your ministry?
My true passion and joy is ministry with patient and family at the bedside. I love what I do every day as a hospital chaplain, and I believe my ministry is not just a job, but a divine calling of sacred vocation.
My greatest joy in my ministry is when people in crisis experience the unfailing presence of God, love, and compassion through my ministry. I can still recall a wonderful physician who identified herself as a non-Christian. She declined my visit many times, but as I journeyed with her in time of crisis, she began to experience the love of God. She said to me, “Sunshine, today is the last day we shall see each other, but I shall see you in heaven.” She entered into the joy of her Master and Savior. The sound of her voice “I shall see you in heaven,” is still stuck in my heart and clear in my ears. She gave me the greatest joy in my ministry. I am looking forward to seeing her in heaven.

The joy of the Lord overflows in my heart when children run to me with a big smile to hug me, to shake my hand, and to kiss me every time I walk into the Burmese church.

What challenges have you encountered along the way?
One of my greatest challenges is balancing my professional life and personal life. It is still difficult for me to say, “no,” especially to our congregation as I see many needs. I feel accepted by both my congregation and hospital as a female clergy. However, there have been times that I have felt that I was ignored and recognized only as a pastor’s wife, not as a minister myself.

What is the best ministry advice you have received?
The best advice I have received is, “Be yourself!”
Listen to God’s Spirit within, not voices outside.
Take care of yourself first and as completely as you can.