Tonight I will meet with Furman University students who are living this summer in intentional Christian community at Vista House. I always enjoy my time with these students, even though the group changes yearly. Tonight I’ve been asked to talk about my own context, journey and ministry as well as to facilitate a conversation about the first seven chapters in Loving Our Neighbor: A Thoughtful Approach to Helping People in Poverty.
So, I’ll tell them about how I believe I was called to ministry at the age of nine but at that time, women in my denomination were not ordained to ministry. I thought I might become a missionary but after having a couple of international exchange students live with us during high school, I realized that living on a foreign mission field was not my call. So I decided to become a teacher and marry a minister.
In that plan, I became a secondary math teacher and married a seminary student. My way of following God’ call did not end as I expected but I learned valuable lessons for life. I taught in public school for only two years. While married to a minister, I learned firsthand the joys and challenges of being in parish mnistry. I also learned many other life lessons which helped in my work later at United Ministries. And I experienced the privilege and responsibility of motherhood. When my husband decided to pursue hospital chaplaincy, I was no longer the wife of the minister of the Presbyterian Church in the community. My master plan was shaken to the core.
After my husband’s year-long chaplaincy training, I was offered the chance to do a basic unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. With NO seminary education, I took the opportunity and one year later entered seminary, thinking the whole time I was preparing for small church ministry.
Then I’ll tell the students about how God pushed me to United Ministries after graduation, even though I couldn’t imagine how I could talk all the time about taking care of the least of these. God proved to have a sense of humor in that I began part-time in October, became full-time in January, and was named Executive Director in May, a role I held for twenty-four years. My time at United Ministries lasted almost thirty years with the last five years spent in developing Our Eyes Were Opened. I still do some contract work for the organization. God also was very evident in the painful process of divorce and the joyous celebration of a second marriage.
As the story progresses, I’ll talk about how Our Eyes Were Opened grew to became an independent corporation and how I began writing books.
Then we’ll move into discussion about issues raised in Loving Our Neighbor. I’ll explain how the book grew out of all those questions I was asked while at United Ministries such as how to begin a direct aid ministry, or what to do when a person approaches you on the street asking for money, or how to work effectively with a family living in poverty. I’ll explain that the first chapters were originally sermons preached on very familiar passages such as the Beatitudes or Micah’s words of what the Lord requires. All the passages have themes of social justice even though some people may not have seen that as obvious, at first. We’ll talk about some of the issues raised in the “Servant or Sucker” chapter.
By now the really fun part where everyone joins the discussion should be happening. I love hearing students’ questions and challenging myself to try to answer them with integrity and thoughtfulness. Being able to engage with eager, searching, committed young people is a real privilege. I’m looking forward to this evening.
Loving Our Neighbor is available at iuniverse.com, at online retailers, and at Ten Thousand Villages in Greenville, SC.