Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister, and today we are pleased to introduce you to our friend, Isabel Docampo.
Isabel, tell us about where and how you are currently serving.
Since 1997, I have been on faculty at Perkins School of Theology-Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas in the Intern Program. I am now the professor of supervised ministry.
In my role as a faculty member at Perkins, I work with students of diverse backgrounds who are discerning their call to bring the gospel to our broken communities. I draw on my life and ministry experiences to help me listen more attentively as to how God is at work in THEIR lives. My role is to help the students discover God’s grace and presence for themselves and guide them to articulate it so I can then affirm and encourage their journey.
What experiences have shaped and prepared you for your present role?
Coming to faith in an immigrant Latino church in the 1960s and 1970s had a profound impact on my understanding of God, my relationship to the church and to society/culture, and my discernment of a call to Christian ministry. I grew up as a Cuban-American in a diverse Central-American and Carribbean church subculture that was part of a Caucasian Southern Baptist church in southern Louisiana. As a New Orleans native, I also grew up within the context of a mixed-race and multi-lingual (Cajun) and dominant Roman Catholic society. I learned early to move in and out of different groups and languages very easily and to embrace the diversity as gift, even when perplexing and jarring.
My work as a youth leader in my Latino home congregation led to an opportunity for me, along with a Ph.D. student, to help start a church among Puerto Rican mililary personnel and their families during my years at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Later I was charged to start a ministry with Puerto Ricans in Chester, Pennsylvania, with the anchor church being the Ukrainian Baptist Church of that city. I was quite comfortable moving throughout of Ukrainian and Puerto Rican culture, in spite of my Cuban and New Orleanian southern heritage. My growing up experience served me well in this new setting.
Post seminary graduation, I served as the co-chaplain to seafarers and was minister of Christian social ministries for the Judson Baptist Association in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where I worked with Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees and U.S.-born functional illiterate population. I worked ecumenically with many churches and agencies to begin the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank and also led the weekly English as a second language ministry of First Baptist. I taught a class made up of Iranian and Egyptian wives of Louisiana State University students–all of whom were Muslims, which began my work in the field of interfaith dialogue. I also served as a volunteer at the domestic violence shelter in Baton Rouge.
During my years of living in Washington, D.C., I was fortunate to work with a ministry to the aging as a community resource specialist to congregations that were developing ministries to enable people over sixty-five to reach their fullest potential. As a member of Calvary Baptist Church, I was soon involved in many urban ministries and led their Sunday School programming for children for a brief stint as a volunteer.
While in Washington, I had the greatest gift of close friends, clergy and lay, with whom to critically reflect on the theological foundation for Christian ministry as we worked together to face the challenges of public policies that affected the marginalized disproportionately while also dealing with religious and social institutions of racism, sexism, and classism. This group remains a vibrant community of sisters and brothers even as our ministry paths have taken us to different parts of the country. While I cannot name all of these dear sisters and brothers, I must mention a few as this multi-racial and intergenerational group influenced greatly my theological framework for ministry: Eizabeth and David Jackson-Jordan, Elaine and Bob Tiller, Carol and Matthew Ripley-Moffit, Cheryl Jones, Christine Wiley, Sandi John, , Jeffrey Haggray, Stan Hastey, Carol and Rick Blythe-Goodman, John and Nancy Thayer, and James Lamkin.
Washington also offered me the opportunity to worship with Church of the Savior Potter’s House and Seekers’ Community. I had the privilege to meet and have one-on-one conversations with the founder, Gordon Cosby, and also to take two courses and participate in a spiritual formation two-year group in their Servant Leadership School. The faith formation I received from this congregation remains a strong influence in how I teach and live into a Christian vocation. I feel very grateful for this church’s hospitality and ministry.
Along the way, I have also served on several boards. During my first year at Southern Seminary, I met Ken Sehested and Andy Loving during their visit to the school. They came to encourage students to “do something about hunger in the U.S.” That word of encouragement led a group of us forming Seminarians United Against Hunger, which led to my long-time involvement with Bread for the World. I was also a member of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America for many years and was honored to serve on their board in the 1990s. Because of that association, I traveled and represented the BPFNA at the ordination of the first woman in Nicaragua.
My life in Dallas has brought me into new ministries–more focused on immigrants that are not refugees but who are coming to the United States for economic reasons. Also, I have worked post 9-11 with interfaith dialogue groups and causes for peace in our community. Most recently, my work with immigrants and those who live with food insecurity has brought me to learn more about workers rights and to advocate for a living wage, better working conditions, health care, and women’s equity pay. I am also involved with community organizing in this area and introduce students to these strategies.
Who has inspired you along the way as you have lived out your calling?
The women in my home church, beginning with my mother, were strong immigrant women who faced many challenges of a new culture, poverty, sexism, and isolation from their families. They faced these grounded in their Christian faith. They developed a strong Spanish language Woman’s Missionary Union (Union Femenil Misionera) and a Girls in Action (Niñas en Acción), which I participated in. I had college professors, men and women, (Dr. Sarah Frances Anders) at Louisiana College who affirmed my call and led me to consider seminary as my next step. The Cuban pastors who served as the New Orleans Language Missions Consultants consecutively, Rev. Rafael Melian and Rev. Olmedo, encouraged me within the “machismo” culture to pursue ordination and education to serve the church. I have had many laywomen on this journey be very supportive–two would I call out are Relma Hargus in Baton Rouge and Rev. Koy Lee Haywood, the director of missions for Judson Baptist Association.
Women such as Anne Thomas Neil who led a retreat for the Baptist Women in Ministry when I served on its steering committee in 1985-88 was a person I returned to for many conversations. In Washington, D.C., a lay woman from Ecuador, Ester Gonzalez, was the person who began the Spanish speaking missions that today are full-fledged congregations. Peers on that BWIM steering committee, including Nancy Sehested, encouraged me as one of their youngest members. Ken Sehested from the Baptist Peace Fellowship Board always encouraged me along the way, especially in those early years of seminary and shortly after graduation.
Theologians who have shaped me are Ada Maria Isasi Diaz, author of Mujerista Theology, Rosemary Ruether, Sally McFague, Rita Nakashima Brock, Gustavo Gutierrez, bell hooks, James Cone, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jon Sobrino. More recently, the work of theologians and biblical scholars, Fernando Segovia, Danna Nolan Fewell (a Louisiana Baptist College classmate and now Professor of Old Testament at Drew University Seminary), Susanne Scholz, Joerg Rieger, Kwok Pui Lan, and Mayra Rivera.
What advice would you give to a teenage girl who is sensing a call to ministry?
My advice is to find someone to trust to begin spiritual direction conversation about this call to ministry. I would say “Trust yourself, trust your heart, you know what you know. Don’t let others put out the fire that God has started within you.”
I would also encourage her to embrace the journey that is laid out before her as one to be discovered. Every step and every turn is a new opportunity to discover God. Some steps and turns are steep, and the path seems to disappear. In those moments, I’d encourage her to search for divine guidance in the resources that are at her disposal–these are God’s gifts. I would encourage her to stop to rejoice and to reflect; that will help her know which direction to take. The path is one that we make with God at our side. It is not pre-scripted. It requires faith in things that are unseen.