Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week, we are thrilled to introduce Alyssa Aldape.
Alyssa, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
My ministry journey began on a Wednesday night during Girls in Action. (If that’s not the most Baptist girl origin story, I don’t know what is.) We were learning about missionaries in China and that is when I learned about Lottie Moon for the first time.
Lottie Moon’s story stirred something in my heart that made my throat clench and stomach do flips. I think the Holy Spirit was hinting at something bigger. Lottie did not accept the rules or gender expectations put on her and she was a bit sassy. I could relate to this woman on a deeper level. So, I blurted out that I wanted to do what Lottie did. The response I got was that girls did missions with a husband. Womp womp.
Eventually, I learned that was not true. But, I feel as if there was an underlying expectation for wild-eyed little girls with big ambitions to get married in order to become a good minister. Jesus and Lottie never married and they did just fine.
I grew up in India as the child of missionaries. Despite multiple years of GA training, I thought mission work was sitting around a campfire reading from the King James Bible and saving people on the spot. I am so so glad I was wrong. When we moved to Pune, we received hospitality from neighbors and new friends. We were welcomed as the strangers in the new land. Hospitality, both giving and receiving it, was my biggest takeaway to what living like Jesus ought to be.
From an early age, I knew I wanted to help people, but I did not think ministry was an option for me because I did not talk like a minister or dress like one (I own a lot of tie dye t-shirts). This is probably why I changed my major five times in college.
What I did love, was making real chai for folks and listening to their story, hearing sparks of wonder and hints at hurts and wrongs they’ve experienced.
I am thankful for mentors and friends along the journey who remind me that authenticity is more important than fancy church shoes or big words we learned in seminary, like eschatological, liminal, and transubstantiation. It’s good to know what they mean, but how often does a minister use words like “neo-liberal capitalism” or “trajectory hermeneutics” in a real life conversation when they’re not trying to impress another minister? (This is why I have a love/hate relationship with Paul.)
It was in seminary that I felt a spark in my heart for church ministry and Baptist history. I self-identify as a Baptist fangirl. Learning about John Smyth, Roger Williams, Nannie Helen Burroughs, and discovering the rich history of advocacy in Baptist life helped me reclaim my identity as a Baptist after years of thinking the definition of Baptist was just a long list of things Baptists “didn’t do.” In my final year of seminary, I was a Baptist Joint Committee Fellow and had the opportunity to learn more about the policy side of religious liberty. My time as a fellow taught me the importance of understanding the faith component of religious liberty and the knowledge people of faith need when speaking in the public square.
The churches I have worked in taught me much about how we minister to the people we meet in the church and outside the church walls. At Northside Drive Baptist Church, in Atlanta, Georgia, while my youth group was small, all four teens came from very different backgrounds. Every Sunday was a reminder that not every person experiences the holy in the same way and that a person’s story matters. It was at Northside Drive that I learned to appreciate and love the liturgical tradition. Wednesday night conversations with Mike and Sunday morning coffee hours with Rhonda and JB and Ruth showed me glimmers of God’s presence.
Northside Drive was also the place I learned that passing the peace looks an awful lot like high fiving…oops! They are the people who ordained me and taught me how to crochet. For those lessons during my Atlanta years, thanks be to God.
When I served as the interim minister of missions at First Baptist Church, Dalton, Georgia, I admired the work of local teachers and social workers who advocated daily for immigrants and people living in the margins. There, I learned advocacy is more than rallies and op-eds. The work of justice and love takes a sea of people who work together in the church and in the community. Advocacy looks like teachers who tutor minors who’ve just come to the US. Advocacy is social workers who take time out of their summer days to hand out lunches in rural neighborhoods. Thrice-a-month, FBC Dalton opens its doors to serve a meal to whoever needs one.
I have been at First Baptist Church, Washington, D.C. for seven months and I bring with me the wisdom and knowledge bestowed upon me from the folks who taught me directly and indirectly. D.C. is an interesting place to do ministry and has allowed me to be creative with the ways I engage with youth and young adults. During the week, our young adults gather at a local restaurant after work and connect with each other. There are nights we talk about theology for an hour and times when the talk of God happens in listening to each other’s stories.
Of course living in D.C., there have also been opportunities to advocate through words of concern. I have the privilege to do so on behalf of sisters and brothers who do not have a platform on which to call out injustice. I was always known as being too loud or outspoken as a child. I think me and my loud mouth were created for a time such as this.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
I am thankful to work with a ministry team that allows for creativity in how we worship and engage our neighborhood. My heart sings when given the opportunity to step out and try something new. Even if it means feeling uncomfortable, I live for moments when we find God in unexpected places.
Nothing makes me happier than seeing church folks participate in church work. From reading scripture to taking ownership of our church flowers. If we’re going to believe in the priesthood of believers, then we ought to take seriously God’s invitation to all people to be in this holy work. I love that my church invites people young and old to participate in worship. Seeing the littlest ones skip up the chancel with the offering plates is by far one of my favorite moments in Sunday morning worship.
What have been your greatest sources of challenge in ministry?
I feel like Bill Murray’s character in What About Bob–dude is scared of everything and convinced he has every type of disease. For me, my fear is feeling under-qualified. When I get a touch of the impostor syndrome, I shut down and doubt every ministry decision I have ever made. *Footnote: Hyperbole is my spiritual gift.
This is why it is important that ministry be a community effort–ministry partners remind us we are not alone in the “kindom” work.
Especially now. I’ll be honest, I moved to DC three days before the election thinking I’d be high-fiving/passing the peace to the president as they (she) walked to their Methodist church up the street from my church. Obviously, that did not happen. It is easy to feel discouraged about humanity in an age of Trump. In a dark moment, I wonder if the Church has gone off the deep-end and if we can redeem our call to spread the good news of the Gospel in a time when Christianity has put its faith in the state and not in an all loving inclusive God. But, I see hope in ministers and lay people stepping out and marching, defending immigrants, advocating for our LGBTQ sisters and brothers, speaking, and writing about the call to be like Jesus.
Where have you found support and encouragement as you have lived into your calling?
It is amazing how a sweet note in the mail or a text with a funny gif can change my mood. I encourage people to do this often. Because fun mail is better than student loan bills and pre-approved credit card applications.
Having friends both in and out of ministry is important self-care. My sisters and brothers in ministry understand the fears, joys, and hurdles in ministry. Friends who aren’t in church work remind me that the world is bigger–God is bigger–than the church walls and the politics of denominations.
My parents have been an important source of love and strength. Seeing how they do ministry and love people is life-giving. I want to be the kind of ministers they are.
My brother is my closest friend and confidant. He reminds me often to be present and get out of my head. His name is Emmanuel and he is one of the greatest reminders of God’s presence.
I am thankful for mentors like Amy Whipple Derrick and John Derrick who have taught me so much about asking for what I need, being myself, and reminding me to laugh. Everyone needs a John and Amy to theological word vomit to and watch Parks and Rec with.
Last but not least, I find encouragement in the words of Latinx writers who so beautifully name the experience of Latinas in America. I need to remind myself that I deserve to hold space as a brown woman in the world and in ministry. Writers like Daisy Hernandez, Sandra Cisneros, and Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez are a source of light. Prisca wrote an essay two years ago, “Dear Woke Brown Girl,” and her words, may they be a source of life for other brown women in ministry:
“You are eternal.
You are neither here nor there,
You carry the hood in your veins
and academia in your heart.
You have not forgotten where you come from,
but have learned and earned your way into spaces not meant for you.
Spaces that are uninviting to your kind. You are poderosa like that.
Your vocabulary is vast and your wit is sharp.
You are unstoppable.”