fellowship! Magazine - Summer 2021

Page 1

A publication of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship • www.cbf.net



Impact of

Stories from Around the World

Finding Renewal from the Inside Out, Together By Paul Baxley

As spring turns

toward summer, more and more of our congregations are resuming in-person worship and other ministry activities after more than a year of virtual gatherings and very different ministry rhythms. Some congregations in our Fellowship have been offering limited in-person opportunities longer than others, as the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are not identical in all parts of the country. As vaccination levels continue to increase, we are spending more time wondering what the months and years ahead will bring. How will our experiences during the pandemic reshape our lives and our congregations for years to come? There are many predictions but much less certainty. As we face this new season ahead of us, I hope we will be open to new directions in our life and ministry, rooted in deep convictions about the resilience of the Church and the resurrection of Jesus. We are not being called to go back to the reality we left in March 2020. As we gather, we are deeply grateful for the chance to share actual community with one another, but doing so safely and responsibly still requires adjustments. These months of virtual worship and ministry have opened new opportunities that we cannot leave behind. The Christian faith is remarkably resilient. Church history is filled with examples of the resilience of the Church in the face of powers, principalities, plagues and pandemics. This resiliency is a sign of the Holy Spirit’s continued work among us. So, as we disciples have been told ever since Easter morning, we need not be afraid. But to affirm the resilience of the Church requires us to also remember all the ways resurrection and resilience are bound together. While the core of the Gospel, the essence of faith and the substance of mission have persevered through the centuries, we also see that time and time again the Church is called to new ways of living life and carrying out its mission. At the intersection of resilience and resurrection, serving a God who is always “making all things new,” we are called to ask ourselves: How can the core of our faith and the practices Christians have needed and cherished for 2,000 years find new and faithful expression in this season? The first days of the pandemic required agility and energy in tremendous supply. Carrying out ministry these many different months has been often exhausting while sometimes exhilarating.

A Publication Of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Volume 31, Number 2 Summer 2021

2 |


PAUL BAXLEY is Executive Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Many of us who lead congregations as ministers, deacons and Sunday school teachers come to this moment deeply fatigued. Before we can turn to the new work of resurrecting resilience, we feel a deep need for renewal—spiritual, vocational and communal. When colleagues and I meet with congregational leaders these days, even by Zoom, we sense a deep and profound exhaustion and, as we move about in our communities, we see it in many other places as well. Still, in the midst of a deeply difficult time, where can we find renewal in our faith? For our leaders? In our communities? That is the question before our Fellowship this summer at General Assembly and in a series of clergy renewal retreats. We have experienced much more than a slight momentary affliction. How is the Holy Spirit calling us to renewal of our faith? Renewal in our callings? Renewal in our life together in and beyond congregations? Renewal of mission in our communities and all around the world? This question is so urgent that it is the focus of this year’s General Assembly: Being Renewed from the Inside Out. I hope you will register for General Assembly and join us online, or perhaps even in person at a gathering sponsored by your state/regional organization or congregation. We want our General Assembly, in and of itself, to be an experience of renewal in the midst of resurrecting resilience. Finally, as we renew our response to the global mission of Jesus, how are we being called to respond to the reality that Christians in other parts of the world do not have the access to vaccination that we have here in the United States? We have field personnel serving in places where there is ready access to vaccination; but we also have others serving in places where there is no end to the pandemic in sight. As one part of a Global Church, how are we called to join with Christians all over the world to ensure healing and health for all of our sisters and brothers in Christ? The call to a truly Global Mission is incredibly urgent right now. I hope we will respond with fervent prayer, concrete action and generous support of our field personnel and those among whom they serve. We have this sense that we are entering a new season in the lives of our congregations, our ministries in our communities, and the shared witness of our Fellowship. May we be held and challenged by the resurrecting resilience of the Holy Spirit among us. May we be renewed from the inside out by the power of the Risen Jesus.

Fellowship! is published 4 times a year in September (Fall), December (Winter), March (Spring), June (Summer) by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Inc., 160 Clairemont Avenue, Suite 500, Decatur, GA 30030. Periodicals postage paid at Decatur, GA, and additional offices. USPS #015-625.

Executive Coordinator Paul Baxley Associate Coordinator for Identity & Communications Jeff Huett Editor Aaron Weaver Associate Editor Carrie Harris Graphic Designer Jeff Langford

E-Mail fellowship@cbf.net Phone (770) 220-1600 Postmaster: Send address changes to: Fellowship! Cooperative Baptist Fellowship 160 Clairemont Avenue, Suite 500 Decatur, GA 30030.



CBF’s Angel Pittman shifts focus to education advocacy By Jennifer Colosimo


By Grayson Hester


CBF field personnel Eddie and Macarena Aldape minster to immigrants and refugees in Spain By Caleb Mynatt


Young pastor in Michigan focuses on mental health By Andrew Nash


Author of best-selling book White Too Long By Stephen Reeves



Sanela’s Story By Andrew Nash



Mirsada’s Story By Andrew Nash



26 FREEDOM FOR ALL How CBF field personnel in Slovakia empower students from the

FROM THE EDITORS Summer is here and, along with sun and school breaks, we anticipate the potential end of a pandemic season and look forward to the time that we can spend together in the fall—including at the 2021 CBF General Assembly on-site regional events. Yet, as we look forward, we continue to celebrate the innovative and excellent missions and ministries that have happened throughout the pandemic. In these pages, you’ll find stories of impact across the Fellowship and around the world. From new staff and forward-thinking initiatives at the CBF Global headquarters (p. 4) to educational advocacy in Miami (p. 6); from Together for Hope partnership in Tennessee (p. 8) to community-building around cosmetology in Spain (p. 12); from focusing on mental health in Flint, Michigan (p. 14), to extending hope and hospitality in St. Louis, Mo. (p. 20); from providing funds for pastors in Venezuela (p. 24) to fighting for worldwide religious freedom in Slovakia (p. 26), Cooperative Baptists are engaged in incredible transformational mission and ministry. We are grateful for you and your partnership in supporting these and many other ministries, and we are excited for all that is to come as we begin to resume gathering together. Let us be renewed.

In light of the 2021 General Assembly August 25-28, the next issue of fellowship! magazine will be delivered in October. We will provide a September Affect online for those who use this resource each month.

U.S. to advocate for human rights issues By Jennifer Colosimo

29 AFFECT: JUNE 2021 Education Advocacy

30 AFFECT: JULY 2021 Religious Freedom Opportunities to

31 AFFECT: AUGUST 2021 Offering Hope & Hospitality

AARON WEAVER is the Editor of fellowship! Connect with him at aweaver@cbf.net CARRIE HARRIS is the Associate Editor of fellowship! Connect with her at charris@cbf.net



Snead Perez

The Rev. Dr. Daynette Snead Perez, an innovative pastor, intercultural ministry entrepreneur and experienced disaster recovery specialist from North Carolina, was named May 3 to provide leadership to the long-term domestic disaster relief and recovery work of CBF. She succeeds Rick Burnette who serves as CBF field personnel in Fort Myers, Fla. In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in September 2018, Snead Perez joined the CBF Disaster Response team as a local response coordinator, mobilizing congregations

and resources across the country to help the people of Trenton, N.C., rebuild their community. She has held multiple ministry roles including associate pastor of First Chin Baptist Church in New Bern, N.C., a Burmese refugee congregation, and leads an intercultural-focused ministry she founded called DIASPRA, which equips pastors and congregations for community discipleship outreach and missional success through diversity and inclusion awareness and skills.




Seeking to better serve congregations, CBF announced April 20 the addition of two strategic staff roles in the Fellowship. Rickey Letson, a pastor active in CBF life with more than 20 years serving congregations in a variety of settings, was named as CBF’s Congregational Stewardship Officer. Letson joins the CBF staff to serve as a resource to congregations to help strengthen their financial health and to develop and cultivate partnerships as congregations seek to live out their passion for mission and ministry alongside the Fellowship. He will also work with CBF state and regional organizations, CBF staff and governance bodies

to further develop and implement CBF’s annual giving program for churches. Nell Green, who has ministered in cross-cultural missions since 1986—for the past 27 years as CBF field personnel—has shifted her focus as field personnel to serve as CBF’s Offering for Global Missions Advocate. In this role, Green is engaging with field personnel, CBF fund development and identity and communications teams, ministry partners and churches to strengthen the Offering for Global Missions. Funding for both positions was part of the budget approved by the CBF Governing Board in October 2020.



4 |


To continue its commitment to preventing abuse in congregations and advocating for abuse survivors, CBF has named CBF South Carolina Coordinator Jay Kieve to serve in the newly created position. In this part-time role, Kieve will be the Fellowship’s point person for connecting churches to resources for the prevention of clergy sexual abuse and clergy sexual misconduct, and will work alongside the Clergy Sexual Misconduct Task Force and CBF-partner GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment).

He will also support congregations seeking prevention training, developing abuse prevention policies and establishing a culture that protects children and vulnerable adults from abuse. Additionally, Kieve will be available to support survivors of clergy sexual abuse, including receiving allegations and recommending church response. He will continue to serve as coordinator of CBFSC. Kieve is one of the founding members of the Clergy Sexual Misconduct Task Force launched five years ago jointly by CBF and Baptist Women in Ministry.



At the March 2021 meeting of the CBF Church Benefits Board (CBB), the board voted to welcome Beth Roberts as the new Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer and to affirm the launch of the Financial Wellness Initiative. The board’s actions come as CBB’s assets under management now exceed $102 million. CBB remains focused on lower fees, improving service and leveraging economies of scale for participants and congregations. Roberts comes to CBB after serving for 22 years as Associate Administrator with Adventist Retirement, a similar 403(b)(9) church retirement plan.

Adventist Retirement serves over 46,000 active and retired participants, with defined contribution assets under management of $1.9 billion and $1 billion of assets in their frozen defined benefit plan. CBB also announced the receipt of a multi-year grant to launch the Financial Wellness Initiative in October 2021. The Financial Wellness Initiative will build on the success and learnings of CBF’s Ministerial Excellence Initiative by offering individual ministers the opportunity to receive financial relief grants, financial education experiences, financial planning incentives and financial wellness packages.




CBF announced March 23 the addition of two staff members to new strategic positions. Javier Perez began a new strategic role in CBF Global Missions as Director of Global Missions Programs and Impact. Perez most recently served with Buckner Children and Family Services as the regional director of strategic initiatives and program design for Latin America and the Caribbean. In this role, he provides strategic direction for Global Missions programs and strengthens organizational impact in accordance with CBF’s Mission Distinctives. Christopher Aho, former pastor of Oxford Baptist Church in Oxford, N.C., joined the CBF staff in May as Director of Thriving Congregations. CBF announced

in October 2020 that it had received a $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to help establish a Thriving Congregations Initiative across the Fellowship. The aim of the national initiative is to strengthen Christian congregations so they can help people deepen their relationships with God, build strong relationships with each other and contribute to the flourishing of local communities and the world. In this position, Aho will oversee the Thriving Congregations grant and work to adapt learnings from the grant for use in CBF churches. As a part of the grant and his work, he will seek to integrate techniques and skillsets from innovators across many emerging fields of study into congregational life.




Two Cooperative Baptists were honored March 1 during ChurchWorks, CBF’s annual conference for CBF clergy and CBF networks, which was held virtually in 2021. It focused on the Design Thinking process and dreaming creative solutions for congregational or personal thriving. During the event, Amy Stertz, Minister with Children and Families at First Baptist Church in Asheville, N.C., was honored with the 2021 Jack Naish Distinguished Educator Award for outstanding leadership and achievement in Christian education. Stertz is a creative and passionate educator with a passion for holistic faith formation, approaching programming with stages of

faith, age-appropriate developmental needs and current context in mind. Courtney Stamey, Senior Pastor at Northside Baptist Church in Clinton, Miss., was also honored with the 2021 CBF Young Baptist Leadership Award for demonstrated ministry to peers and colleagues across generations. Stamey leads her congregation to be engaged in their community, state and beyond. Northside partners with Delta Hands for Hope and is soon to become an Encourager Church to Mike and Lynn Hutchinson, CBF field personnel in Togo, West Africa. She is a former CBF Fellow and currently serves on the CBF Nominating Committee. SUMMER 2021

| 5


Angel CBF’s Angel Pittman shifts focus to advocacy for equal access to education By Jennifer Colosimo


Pittman’s passion has always been steeped in education. She spent many years as an elementary school teacher before joining CBF as field personnel to lead out-of-school programming at Touching Miami with Love (TML). Now 25 years into her career, she has discovered a new way to live out her calling.

Florida International University to provide a summertime kindergarten readiness program. “Our thinking was that if we could intervene and help kids stay up-to-pace with their peers until they hit third grade, they would have a much more successful future,” school because his middle school didn’t even Pittman said, citing that 25 percent of the As an educational advocate with the offer the required courses, Pittman took news prison population have ADHD and 41 percent Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Pittman of this inequity to the superintendent and has realized the power of her veteran voice, are suspected of having a learning disability. pushed for changes to the school’s course and uses it loudly, boldly and often to help “I have seen myself that kids who have offerings. But she didn’t stop there. Pittman families gain access to the education they untreated or undiagnosed ADHD make joined forces with the district’s magnet deserve. poor decisions which not only impact them “After a few years at TML, we were seeing school director and created parent seminars for the rest of their lives, but also impact to share about the educational options kids who had needs that weren’t being the community at large. There is a direct available for their children and how to access link to a pathway to crime when children addressed by the school district. Sometimes them. the parents didn’t understand what their are not served well for their special needs. “It wasn’t enough for me to just say child’s educational needs were,” Pittman said. I have seen kids who had potential; but there was an inequity,” Pittman explained. “I realized this gap most profoundly when “I wanted to know how we could work I encouraged a parent to talk to the child’s teacher and doctor about ADHD. The mom’s together to make things different—not only response was, ‘Where do you think he caught for this child, but for others like him.” For more than 15 years at TML, it?’ It focused a light on how much education Pittman and her husband, Jason, have we needed to do concerning learning worked to expand the services provided to differences.” children. While still providing out-of-school The next decade saw Pittman transition programming, they increased TML’s from program director to vice president of impact to include educational intervention TML, investing her time in the development of parent-education programs about learning services, including in-school support for CBF field personnel Angel Pittman serves as exceptional learners who were falling differences. Then, sparked by a young man an educational advocate in Miami, Fla., offering named Zayquan who couldn’t attend magnet through the cracks as well as partnering with guidance and resources for parents struggling to get adequate support for their children in school.

6 |


Angel Pittman has been an advocate for children and parents in the Overtown community of Miami for more than 15 years through Touching Miami with Love.

Pittman speaks often about advocacy and the benefit of long-term presence.

without support or a parent who understood that there was something going on, their lives were ruined, and not only are families impacted, but the community is hugely impacted as well.” The intervention services gave her a front-row seat to many things happening in the classroom that she knew in her gut were simply not okay. But she knew only enough about special education law to just say that. Putting a fine point on it, Pittman knew she needed to know more. “I knew God was stirring something in me,” Pittman said. “I knew that I needed to be doing something more.” In October 2020, Pittman began a new avenue for her calling to serve children through a new service assignment with CBF as an educational advocate. She spent the fall studying special education advocacy methods, individuals with disabilities law, and learning what’s happening in education on a national and state level. She also pursued board certification in educational advocacy. In her new role, Pittman tells the story of working with a low-income family struggling to get the transcripts from a private school they were forced out of because of their inability to pay outstanding transportation bills. As a result, the children hadn’t been in any school for the entire fall semester.

Pittman was not only able to get the students’ transcripts free of charge and get them enrolled in the public school but also helped educate the mother about the differences of support available in public versus private school. The result? Two very excited kids ready to board the bus to a new school on Monday. Another story saw her coaching a mom through how to advocate for her son. “I developed tools I use as I work with parents that aided the mom in discussions with her son about his learning needs,” Pittman explained. “Weeks later during the Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting, the mom was able to share these with the school staff, noting her son’s unique strengths as well as his educational and vocational goals. As a result of our many sessions together, he was given the support he truly needed and the teachers, seeing his strengths for the first time, got creative with ideas to help him thrive.” The mother had not known that she could influence her son’s educational journey so greatly. Now she has more confidence, and her son has made a dramatic change for the positive with the support he needs to be successful. “I want to support children, but parents too,” Pittman said. “That’s what I want—to

teach parents how to advocate for their children. I want them to know what to ask and to know that when they leave those meetings that their child’s needs are being met.” There are no two days that look alike for Pittman. Her schedule consists of meeting with parents, students and school officials across Miami and occasionally traveling to Tallahassee for various legislative work. Through CBF, she is able to serve in three ways: working locally with low-income families with children with special needs; partnering with other organizations for statewide advocacy around low-income children with special needs; and in supporting other CBF field personnel and partner organizations all over the country on educational programming. “I want to know that what I’m doing can help give children what they need to be successful early on and, as a result, avoid that prison pipeline. I want every child to know they are capable of claiming a future and a hope and the abundant life that God wants for all of us, and I pray that I can point them to the author of that hope, Jesus.” To many, she’s more than a support system—she’s an angel.


| 7

Samaritan Ministry joins hands with Together for Hope Appalachia

By Grayson Hester


tell this story about a ministry in the Knoxville, Tenn., area in 2021, we have to travel back in time to rural Indiana in 2015.

Its findings forever changed the way advocates view the disease. The CDC assigned to 220 counties a ranking of “most vulnerable” to HIV and Hepatitis C spread. Of those 220, 42 were in Tennessee, another 42 were in Kentucky, and a significant number were scattered throughout Ohio, West Virginia, Western Scott County, Indiana, a majority-white, North Carolina and North Georgia. rural, working-class area, only notable, as In short, Appalachia, where much many such counties are, for not being very coverage has centered solely around notable, suddenly found itself the epicenter the opioid crisis, to the exclusion of its of both an HIV outbreak and a media “syndemic” issue, bloodborne HIV and firestorm. Hepatitis C. While under former Vice President And that’s where Central Baptist Church Mike Pence’s governorship, this county Bearden’s Samaritan Ministry enters the experienced one of the worst and most concentrated HIV outbreaks in recent United picture. “What can we do to advocate for direction States history. An area that usually saw three and information to help save lives?” asked to four new HIV cases per year began to Wayne Smith, director of Samaritan Ministry. buckle under the weight of 230 new cases in “What can we do as a small HIV organization just a few months. to push into those other two areas?” By now, the logic of spreading disease is Founded in 1996, Samaritan Ministry second nature to most Americans, wearied is an official ministry of Central Baptist as we are by over a year of COVID-19 Church Bearden in Knoxville, Tenn., and a news coverage. But, five years prior, this long-time partner of Tennessee CBF, that phenomenon baffled scientists and the ministers to and serves people living with nation alike. HIV/AIDS. And while this ministry remains its Eventually, epidemiologists traced the cases back to one person living with HIV, who primary focus, the shifting nature of injection drug use—centered primarily around had moved to Scott County and shared a opioids—has guided its arms into more syringe with a small group of people. expansive outreach. This prompted the Centers for Disease “Our goal is to teach people about it and Control to launch a full-scale investigation let them know about the connection,” Smith into the spread of HIV in areas previously said. “HIV can be spread by sharing needles. seen as low-risk to an infection typically We’ve been talking so much, and so long, associated with urban areas.

8 |


Keep them safe.

Dispose of unused opioid pain medicines.

Your family and community are counting on you.


Central Baptist Church Bearden held a five-week-long series on the syndemic of opiod use, Hepatitis C and HIV called “Remove the Risk,” and included education on the removal of opioids from the home.

about sex, that sometimes I wonder if we need to be sure we’re telling the whole story.” While Smith noted that sexual contact is still the primary means by which HIV is spread­—85 percent of cases are transmitted this way—he emphasized that injection drug use is still a major issue. So major, in fact, that he convinced the pastor of Central Baptist, the Rev. Dr. Wade Bibb, to greenlight a five-week-long, churchwide series on the syndemic of opioid use, Hepatitis C and HIV. “Syndemic” is a term used to describe epidemics that are so interconnected as to not only occur simultaneously, but to influence and worsen the other. The church titled the series “Remove the Risk” and spent a large amount of time educating its members about the connections among the spread of HIV, Hepatitis C and the opioid crisis. “It gave me an opportunity to talk about Samaritan Ministry at our church and educate people that there’s a connection,” Smith said. “I hoped to push into people’s hearts a little bit that the opioid crisis is real and that it affects our families. We’ve been touched by it at Central Bearden.” In addition to education, Smith led the church in a removal effort. It’s difficult to dispose of opioids without risking damage to the environment and/or other people, which is why it’s common for people to leave, for months on end, powerful painkillers in their homes, potentially fueling addiction. A recent technology aims to fix this. “We distributed Deterra, a drug de-activation pouch,” Smith said. “It’s an aluminum pouch you can put medications in. You put a little water in there, zip it up, and the charcoal preparation deactivates the medication.” The church’s “Remove the Risk” series demonstrated, in microcosm, what Samaritan Ministry seeks to achieve in the Knoxville area broadly—education and meaningful action. And that is likely why Together for Hope, CBF’s rural development coalition, emerged as a natural partner for its efforts. In the past year or so, Together for Hope Appalachia, spearheaded by Keith Stillwell and headquartered in nearby Danville, Ky.,

has become fast friends with Samaritan Ministry. In recent weeks, by signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU), the partnership became official. “It says we affirm each other, that we’ll list them as a partner, names us as a partner, and that we’ll work together where we can,” Stillwell said. “It’s mostly just to say, ‘We’re on the same team.’” Since nothing about the MOU is legally binding, its thrust lies primarily in its symbolism and the trust shared by the two parties who signed it. What it symbolizes is a more holistic view of the two issues each institution seeks to address—HIV/AIDS and, in Together for Hope’s case, intergenerational poverty. “We serve 57 counties who were named by the USDA as experiencing ‘persistent poverty,’” Stillwell said. “We’re about poverty alleviation through asset-based community development. We work on building a coalition by consistently finding partners who share that approach to poverty alleviation.” When people think of rural poverty, it’s doubtful that HIV, Hepatitis C or even opioid use are the first images that pop into their minds. It certainly wasn’t the case for Central Baptist Bearden’s congregation, or for the Fellowship. But, if this partnership signals anything, it’s that one issue cannot be tackled without also tackling the other. “To the degree that HIV/AIDS contributes to poverty, all of that is related to access to healthcare, jobs, education, adequate housing,” Stillwell said. “It’s all a piece of what is abundant life, a safe, secure life.” Smith put a finer point on the interconnectedness of rural poverty and the HIV-Hep C-opioid syndemic. “If you take the counties in Appalachia that are classified as experiencing ‘persistent poverty’ that Together for Hope focuses on and overlay that with the counties that the CDC has identified as most vulnerable to HIV/Hep C—it’s incredibly similar,” he said. As to why this kind of partnership is so notable, and why Samaritan Ministry’s work is (and always has been) unique among churches, Smith had one word: stigma. Those living with HIV/AIDS not only have to navigate chronic illness and an unfeeling

healthcare system; they also have to endure crushing stigma that often leaves them marginalized, ostracized and alone. In this way, the AIDS crisis of the 1980s never ended and, indeed, is just as strong now. This is to say nothing of its impact on Black and Brown communities, which is disproportionate and often ignored. “The fact that the South has higher rates of HIV than the rest of the country can be laid at the foot of religious conservatism,” Smith said. “Religion has gotten its nose in the way of public health practices.” It is no accident that these areas, experiencing an outbreak of this syndemic, are both majority white and overwhelmingly conservative. And churches not only contribute to this spread, but are rarely, if ever, at the tables established to help address it. This newfound partnership seeks to buck this trend. “The message of God’s love is for all people, especially for a group that’s been so ostracized, abused, marginalized,” Stillwell said. “And I’m just so impressed that Central Baptist Bearden has that ministry. And Wayne’s leadership in that—he’s just an awesome guy.” Stillwell and Smith agreed that sharing God’s love was the primary impetus for their partnership and their respective ministries. And, in this way, they agreed too, that, together, there is hope aplenty. “Keith and I both recognized this is an opportunity to re-energize this conversation in CBF life,” Smith said. “That’s what I hope for—that Together for Hope will give HIV/AIDS a little more of a voice in the conversation with CBF and then, of course, with the Appalachian network and Together for Hope globally, for all those folks, to see how poverty, Hepatitis C and HIV fit together.”

Learn more about the work of Samaritan Ministry at www.samaritancentral.org


| 9

CBF Book Club www.cbf.net/books Featuring new subjects, great authors, more comprehensive reading guides and Fellowship-wide virtual events.

MISSI NS EDUCATION RESOURCES www.cbf.net/missions-education

Faith, Friendship & Perseverance CBF field personnel Eddie and Macarena Aldape minister to immigrants and refugees in Albacete, Spain By Caleb Mynatt

Above: CBF field personnel Eddie and Macarena Aldape. Right: Isabel Garcia discovered a secret talent as a hairdresser, and with the help of the Aldapes, built up clientele throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

12 |




nearly two decades, CBF field personnel Eddie and Macarena Aldape have made a career of showing hospitality and love to the people who need it most. Just ask Isabel Garcia. As a refugee from Latin America, Garcia and her children fled to Spain in search of a better life. Between political unrest and violence in Venezuela and the trauma caused by an abusive husband, Garcia was hoping Spain could become a fresh start for her and her family, at least for a while. But, like so many other refugees, Garcia found that starting over is hard. Given Spain’s unemployment rate of more than 15 percent, the second-highest unemployment rate in Europe, finding a job for most anyone can be very difficult. For refugees, it’s nearly impossible. Still, Garcia had no other option. With her children and a small suitcase in tow, as well as an acquaintance with whom to stay, Garcia tried to make the most of a bad situation. Then, one cold day in March, she found her way to the church which the Aldapes attend. That event turned into a shared meal, where the relationship between Garcia and the Aldapes began. “She is very calm and very quiet,” Macarena said. “She is never in a rush or a hurry and her kids are the same way.” As Garcia was forming a close friendship with the Aldapes, they became aware of her worsening living situation. Eventually, after a mix of discomfort and fear with the person she was staying with, Garcia moved her family to a small hotel designated for refugee families. Although she felt safer, she still needed a means to live. Luckily, after becoming more comfortable with the Aldapes, they discovered she had a secret gift.

Now, in Albacete, Spain, the Aldapes focus on serving immigrants and refugees. By volunteering with organizations like their church and the Red Cross and with the support of CBF, the Aldapes are able to meet people who most need their help. Whether it’s people who are refugees fleeing for their lives, like Garcia, or a qualified worker from “It turns out she is a gifted hairdresser,” another country looking to relocate to Spain, Macarena said. “We had no idea she could the Aldapes help them all find housing and, do this. She cut Eddie’s hair and did a great to the best of their ability, places to work. job; so we paid her and started spreading the “That’s definitely the hardest part for word.” immigrants coming to Spain,” Macarena With the pandemic in full force, it was said. “Especially the ones who are very nearly impossible to find an open barbershop well-educated, they come expecting to or salon. That made Garcia’s gift even more be embraced and find work quickly; but valuable. She was able, thanks to the help of there are really no jobs available. Housing her church community and the Aldapes, to is expensive and, without work, all of them get enough clientele to make some money. could use help.” Then, one day, Macarena found some spare Along with helping these newcomers manicure and pedicure kits that had been meet their basic needs, the Aldapes also help left behind by a group of volunteers that had them learn Spanish and English, knowing come to visit them. that that will not only help refugees and “I asked her if she had ever considered immigrants adjust to life in Spain but also doing manicures and pedicures, and she said help them get jobs. Although that has she hadn’t really considered it,” Macarena become more difficult because of COVID-19, noted. “So, I gave her the kits and told her to they are still finding ways to continue their give it a try.” teaching ministry by computer and phone. Fast forward over a year, and Isabel has All-in-all, the Aldapes pride themselves a full-service spa business that she can on being there for the people who need conduct in the comfort of people’s homes. help. While they don’t have one very specific Along with that, she has been able to move ministry, they offer to people whatever help temporarily into a new house provided by the they can, no matter the form. It can make for Red Cross as she waits for her asylum status a stressful life. But, according to Eddie, the to be approved. Once she does, thanks to ambiguity isn’t just rewarding. It’s also fun. Eddie, she’ll have more than enough furniture “People always ask me what my typical to furnish her new apartment and officially day is like, and I tell them there is no typical begin her permanent new life in Spain. day,” Eddie said. “Sometimes I’m a plumber, “We have a table, a bed and a brand-new sometimes a mover. Sometimes I deliver sofa for her,” Eddie said. “Our neighbors may furniture, and sometimes I fix bikes so people think we’re hoarders because we have so can start delivering food. Sometimes I pay much stored furniture; but it’s worth it.” people for a day to help me help others. Garcia’s story is just one of many about There’s no telling what will happen each day, faith, friendship and perseverance that the but it’s all worthwhile.” Aldapes have to tell. From the United States, to India, to Spain, the Aldapes have served people from all over the world. SUMMER 2021

| 13

Wellness Check Wednesdays


Young pastor in Flint, Michigan, focuses on mental health amid pandemic and By Andrew Nash ongoing water crisis

It is always

hard to take on a new role as a senior pastor in your 20s, but there is an added degree of difficulty when doing so during a global pandemic. There’s even more of a challenge doing so in Flint, Mich., site of a water crisis that has had lasting effects. And that’s exactly what the Rev. DeVontae Powell has had to do in the last year at Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church. “Coming in during the pandemic was challenging. I officially began on May 16, 2020, but I started coming to the church as pulpit supply in March,” Powell said. “I’ve worshiped with the congregation fully in person only two times. It was difficult navigating how to reach the members who have not been to church to even meet me, but who were also in need of pastoral care. At first, it was a struggle figuring out how to do outreach; but there’s been real-time strategy-building. We’ve had to be strategic about the challenge.” One way Rising Star reached out in a time when people have largely stayed in was through a program throughout the summer of 2020 called Wellness Check Wednesdays. The program involved bringing in speakers, therapists and other mental health professionals to help with some of the challenges of isolation, education at home, mindfulness and more. “I was preaching on Sundays that there was a real need for the care of mental health to take priority at our church,” Powell said. “We decided to take our normal gathering time on Wednesdays for Bible Study and invest in parishioners’ and community members’ mental health. While the church does a good job with spiritual health, as Christians, it’s also important that we consider mental health—especially in trying times like these.”

IN FLINT In late March 2021, Powell was formally installed as the fourth pastor at Rising Star. At just 26 years old, he is the youngest pastor in the church’s history, and also the youngest senior pastor in Flint, Mich. He spent most of his youth in Kankakee, Ill., before moving to Flint while in high school. His parents were born and raised in Flint, where Powell eventually was connected to the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church of Flint. His grandparents and other family members also live or have lived in Flint.

14 |


Along with Wellness Check Wednesdays to check in on the mental health of Rising Star members, the Rev. DeVontae Powell (left) made sure to check in on some of the most vulnerable congregation members during COVID-19 in person and show them some extra love from the church.

Powell began preaching at age 16 and later attended Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. “I knew it was my call to serve. God continued to confirm it,” Powell said. “When you have a push from God to be a senior pastor, God shows you the need. God will give your heart the undeniable and unshakable desire to pastor. When you see the need, it feels like God put something inside you to serve as the solution, and you can’t run away from that. That is called ‘purpose.’” On a national scale, Flint is well-known as the epicenter of a water crisis involving lead contamination that first came to light in 2014. Powell said his grandfather passed away in the midst of the water crisis, leading some in the family to question whether the contaminated water played a role in his death. So many people, Powell noted, used the water for so long before the problems were discovered that a whole generation of children were exposed to lead poisoning. The community had to develop its own resources to deal with that crisis. “Some debate whether the situation is now good or whether it is barely getting better. You can definitely see the effects of lead poisoning on the community. It affects education, mental health and functionality. The north side of Flint was hit really hard. A lot of people think everything is okay and Flint is back and moving and that is not so. Flint will always survive, but it’s a daily struggle.” And then came the COVID-19 pandemic.

WELLNESS CHECK WEDNESDAYS As needs mounted in the community during quarantine, Powell opted to provide mental health resources through Rising Star. Therapists, educators, counselors and more were invited into the conversation about mental health. “I felt a need as a church to make mental health a priority that we addressed realistically,” Powell said. “As pastor, I’ve even had to maintain my own mental health with counseling and self-care. If we

Flint, Mich., is known as the epicenter of a water crisis involving lead contamination that came to light in 2014.

can raise awareness of these issues, we can really change the stigma associated with mental health in urban communities. It’s okay to seek therapy and group sessions. It’s okay to need help. You don’t have to do it alone. God created us as relational beings, so we aren’t meant to bear life’s struggles alone.” Each week can tackle a different topic or a different resource. In several sessions, the church worked on furthering children’s education, including healthy eating and supporting parents as teachers. Other sessions included therapists talking about self-calming techniques. “Often as a church we can spend so much time being inwardly focused,” Powell said. “We must take after the church in Acts to be the community. The Church was never supposed to be segregated from the communities’ pain. It was supposed to be a way of life, support and fellowship. We want to offer things that don’t just meet the needs of the membership, but that also meet the needs of the community.” After a season of rest during the winter, Wellness Check Wednesdays are ramping up again for 2021. The launching of Wellness Check Wednesdays last year was boosted by a social media push that drew eyes from outside Flint. “We had people tuning in from Illinois, Georgia, Ohio, Nevada, New York and more. It’s amazing to see it grow beyond our little community at Rising Star,” Powell said. As the quarantine and pandemic restrictions begin to lift, Powell sees further opportunity for Rising Star. He recently unveiled plans for a capital campaign to renovate the church’s administrative offices in community partnership space and also to turn the basement into a calming transitional community meeting space. “We want to have house therapists there for individuals to come in and meet,” Powell said. “I’m happy we have a church willing to follow its new, young pastor. There is an excitement to changing the use of our assets from simply being a meeting house on Sundays to becoming a seven-days-a-week facility for our community.”


SUMMER 2021 |


Q & A with

Robert P. Jones Author of best-selling book White Too Long By Stephen Reeves

You might

resonate with Robert Jones’ story. He grew up a good Southern Baptist boy in Mississippi with family roots in Georgia and went to Southwestern Seminary in Texas. His life was similar to so many white Baptists in the South feeling called to Christian service. Somewhere along the way, maybe just like you, his convictions led him away from the SBC. In White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity, his personal story is intertwined with the history of white Baptists in the South. He takes a critical look at a belief system that has too often blinded good white Christians to the reality of systemic racism and their role in perpetuating it. Jones then turns to disturbing findings of current social science research discovered by the Public Religion Research Institute, which he founded and serves as CEO. The last year has opened wide the festering wound of racism in our country. If the truth can set us free, we first must face it. White Too Long takes an unflinching look at painful truths so often buried. CBF has chosen the book as our June monthly book club selection, and we’re proud to recommend it as powerful resource for pastors and churches ready to join the work of facing the truth and leading the way to a better future. I’m grateful that Dr. Jones was willing to sit down for an interview.

16 |


STEPHEN REEVES: I’ve often heard white folks who have come to a new understanding on race describe that realization as a journey. You tell some of your story in the book, but for those who’ve not read it yet, what are a few of the key markers on your journey? What events, relationships, books or insights set you on your way?

ROBERT JONES: White Too Long was an emotionally challenging book to write, but one I felt driven to complete as a way of opening the aperture, of coming to terms with my own faith and the role white Christianity is playing at this time of racial reckoning in the country. To put this in religious terms, it is my attempt to bear witness to the truth. The best way to understand this journey is that it is one from naïveté to maturity, from innocence to critical understanding, from mythology to truth-telling. Ultimately it’s about arriving at a place that allows a different light to fall on what’s familiar. The first serious step on this journey for me was learning the shocking truth about the origins of my home denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, which was literally born of the conviction that white ownership of Black people was part of the God-ordained social order, that slavery was compatible with the gospel. Despite attending SBC churches my entire childhood—and I was that kid who was literally at church five days a week growing up—I was never taught this genesis story until I was in my early 20s in seminary. I also was fortunate to have had teachers— one who was subsequently fired from Southwestern Seminary and several in my graduate program at Emory University—who opened me up to a new world of non-white theologians and public intellectuals whose Christian faith demanded addressing social and racial injustice. But it was also the more recent events of the past five years that pushed me to put pen to paper: These include Dylann Roof’s white Jesus whom he saw as compatible with murdering nine Black parishioners in Charleston, the violent tiki torch white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, and a former president of our country

who refused on multiple occasions to unequivocally condemn white supremacists while stoking the fires of white Christian nationalism. Having been formed in a cultural world that so easily mixed white supremacy and Christianity, I’m aware that I certainly haven’t arrived at any final destination. White Too Long is my attempt to map my journey to this point.

REEVES: I’ve heard you say that CBF pastors and church members are exactly whom you had in mind when writing this book. What do you mean by that?

JONES: My own experience of attending CBF churches from the early days of its founding is that CBF clergy and churches also understand themselves as being on a journey of questioning traditional teachings, particularly those flowing from the SBC world. I know that the CBF of today has grown beyond the origins of that SBC breakup; but I’ve found the spirit of questioning and wrestling within CBF to be a healthy part of the culture. There have been serious theological conversations about women in ministry and LGBTQ equality and inclusion over the years. And the issue of race and personal racism has certainly been in the mix. But there’s never been a full acknowledgment of and conversation about the ways white supremacy and systemic racism have so deeply structured white Christian worldviews, culture and theology. These are very hard conversations to have. At this moment of racial reckoning, the seeds of possible change are once again falling to the ground. When I think about CBF’s history and its willingness to question, I believe there is enough fertile soil here for it to take root. I’m hopeful that CBF might be a place for white Christians—many of whom trace their lineage back to enslavers—to finally face this history and live into a more truthful and just future.

JONES: Simply put, we white Christians, both Protestant and Catholic, have never really seriously wrestled with the implications of the legacy of white supremacy. We’ve not fully grasped the damage we’ve done to our Black and Brown brothers and sisters, and we’ve been in deep denial about the damage we’ve done to our own psychological and spiritual health. The defense of slavery, the dismantling of Reconstruction (which our ancestors disturbingly called “Redemption”), the erection of Jim Crow laws, the enforcement of racial segregation, the construction of segregation academies, the support of all sorts of voter suppression techniques, the institution of policing practices and criminal justice systems that disproportionately kill Black bodies—all have been supported and legitimized by white Christians and white Christianity. For nearly all of American history, white Christianity has been the dominant religious and moral force in the land, and none of these practices would have been implemented or perpetuated had there been a white Christian witness against them. If we don’t know our own history, we don’t know who we are. If the core of our worldview is a sanitized mythology of the glorious role that white Christians have played in the history of our communities and our nation, we belong less to a church worshiping a living God and more to a cult venerating our own innocence. Ultimately, we have to realize that this defensive impulse— which we see everywhere today among white Christians—is a trap. It blocks our ability to see the truth about ourselves and robs us of the opportunity for real repentance and healing.

REEVES: In addition to a reevaluation of our history, your book digs deep into the particular white Christian theology that often fails to question and, in fact, reinforces systemic racism. What are a few tenets of traditional white Christian belief that need to be reexamined?

REEVES: Americans are good at being bad at history. Your book forces folks to confront some uncomfortable truths of our history. What is the danger in ignoring our history?

JONES: Our selective historical amnesia is no accident. The theology we have inherited in white churches was bound up


| 17

CBF Book Discussion Guide by Harrison A. Litzell


White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity By Robert P. Jones

White Too Long by Dr. Robert P. Jones is a work that seeks to tell the truth about racism. With an opening quote from James Baldwin, Jones begins his task of describing the entanglement of white Christianity and white supremacy through history, social scientific data and personal stories. The book demonstrates the way in which white Christianity—many times the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) specifically— was not just a complacent bystander in the atrocities of racism in the United States, but rather a dominant cultural power in its formation and perpetuity. Jones is the CEO and founder of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) in Washington D.C., which researches the roles of policy, religion and culture. He holds degrees from Mississippi College, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Emory University. In this book, he speaks at length of his own upbringing in the American South and his relationship with the SBC as the church of his childhood and adolescence, as well as part of his higher education. Jones intertwines history, data and his own memories to present a full history and analysis of the relationship between white supremacy and white Christianity. His historical work details the time building up to and around the Civil War as white Protestant denominations in the United States split along similar lines as the nation, and how white ministers preached on the virtues of owning slaves even as church members participated in lynchings in the community immediately preceding or following a church service. This historical record serves as a correction to the narrative that the Christian Church was at worst a bystander to the sins of slavery and at best was leader in the abolitionist movement.

Jones also discusses the social-scientific data collected by PRRI and shows the relationship between white supremacist ideas and white Christian identity. Using a “Racism Index,” a collection of questions and analytic tools seeking to provide a single rating for a person’s opinions and beliefs regarding race, Jones’ work shows that the entanglement exists not only in the history of the Church, but in the present as well. His results lead to a conclusion that a white person sitting in a church pew on a Sunday morning is more likely to hold racist attitudes than a person similar in all other metrics, but who does not attend church. Jones intersperses his story into the data and historical work. He uses his own life in the white evangelical world to illustrate some of his findings as well as to show the realities of these datapoints in an individual’s life. Furthermore, he celebrates churches, such as the two First Baptist Churches of Macon, Ga., where white and Black congregations come together to heal the wounds of racism. White Too Long is a text which points to the truth. Jones bears witness to the historical and present sins of white Christianity and provides a correction to the narratives long told. The work serves as a strike to the “reality” carefully constructed by white evangelicals of their own innocence. The book displays this truth as Jones calls upon the reader to believe and act in ways that more fully celebrate the image of God in all people.

White Too Long by Dr. Robert P. Jones is a work that seeks to tell the truth. With an opening quote from James Baldwin, Jones begins his task of describing the entanglement of white Christianity and white supremacy through history, social scientific data and personal stories. The

with a pre-commitment to white supremacy, the lie that people of European descent were intended by God to be at the top of a hierarchical society, that white lives were inherently more valuable than non-white lives. American history and Christianity’s role in it are incomprehensible without that basic insight. This means that Christian doctrines, as they developed in white Christian spaces, necessarily accommodated the basic tenets of that worldview. Understanding this history exposes some deep fault lines that go to the core of white Christian theology, including our conceptions of Jesus. Despite the fact that the Bible is clear that the historical Jesus was a Middle Eastern Jew, many of our churches still have portrayals of a white Jesus on our walls, in our stained-glass windows, and in the manger at Christmas. These depictions are not incidental, but do ongoing theological work, connecting an ahistorical whiteness to divinity. And as I describe in White Too Long, the assertion that the beginning and end of Christian faith is about a personal relationship with Jesus is itself a form of hyper-individualism that has, by design, powerfully numbed white consciences to the injustices all around us.

REEVES: In the South, race is often seen as a Black and white issue. While that history is distinct and particularly tragic, we know that others are impacted by racism as well, including the Native American, Asian and Latina/o communities. In your current research, how does white supremacy impact other racial and ethnic groups in America?

18 |


book demonstrates the way in which white Christianity —many times the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) specifically— was not just a complacent bystander in the atrocities of racism in the United States, but rather a dominant cultural power in its formation and perpetuity.

JONES: It’s important to connect these dots. The version of European Christianity that landed on these shores was animated by the idea, declared by the European church, that non-Christian peoples should be forcibly conquered by Europeans for the propagation of the gospel. This sentiment was formally codified by Pope Alexander VI in a 1493 edict called the “Doctrine of Discovery,” which was designed explicitly to shore up Spain’s claims to lands visited by Christopher Columbus the prior year. This official Christian doctrine stated that any land not inhabited by Christians was available to be claimed by Christian rulers so that “the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.” It was also integrated into U.S. case law in the 1823 case Johnson v. McIntosh, which applied this doctrine specifically to deny that Native Americans had any rights to their lands. Virtually every American of European origin who can trace his or her family tree back to the early 1800s or earlier has a connection to this history. My ancestors, some of whom were slaveowners, arrived in middle Georgia in the early 1800s, and remained on land in Twiggs and Bibb Counties for the next 200 years. When I dug a bit deeper, I realized there was another story I hadn’t been told. This land had become “available” to be distributed in 200-acre plots to white settlers after the killing and forced removal of Native Americans by the newly-established

United States federal government in the late 1700s. My alma mater, the SBC-related Mississippi College, founded in the early 1800s, had a similar story of establishment and land acquisition. Our football team name? The Choctaws. Each week during football season we had a cartoonish Native American chief mascot on the field and cheers in the air (“Scalp ‘em, Choctaws, scalp ‘em!”) but never any Christian reflection on this tragic and shameful history. And you can see the legacy of these attitudes extending beyond this history with Native Americans. White Christians today, for example, hold significantly more anti-immigrant views than whites who are religiously unaffiliated and other Americans.

REEVES: Your book includes data derived from surveys of white Christians to assess their attitudes about race. Those were conducted before the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor which sparked the movement for racial justice last summer. What has the data shown since that time? I’ve seen more openness on the part of white churches to address race. Does the data show that to be the case?

JONES: Although I have experienced many more churches beginning to take up this work, including more than 50 speaking invitations from churches over the last year, we have not seen a lot of movement in the public opinion data. In 2018, seven in 10 white evangelical Protestants and six in 10 white mainline Protestants and white Catholics said they believed the killing of African Americans

by police were isolated incidents rather than part of a pattern of how police treat African Americans. Among white Americans who are religiously unaffiliated, only one-third share this view. In late 2020, following the nationwide protests for racial justice, those numbers are essentially unchanged. But we’re just at the beginning of the work and, for most churches, these conversations are very new. We’re not going to untangle 400 years of white supremacy’s hold on white Christianity overnight. The important thing is to begin to have these difficult conversations.

REEVES: At the end of the book, you give examples of things that give you hope, including the partnership in Macon, Ga., between a CBF congregation, First Baptist Church of Christ and First Baptist Church, a predominantly African-American congregation. In fact, the book is dedicated to those churches. Beyond those types of partnerships, and once folks have read your book, what are some actions steps you suggest for majority white churches?

JONES: I’ve heard many white Christian congregations say they feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin this journey.

But the important part is just to begin the At the end of the day, I’m convinced this work; there’s no perfect starting place and no journey is less complicated than it might 10-step program. Here are just a few concrete seem. Finding the path comes down to two suggestions: things: our willingness to tell the truth and our commitment to love all of our neighbors. • One simple place to start is to ask why Holding those convictions at the center of the church building is located where our consciousness provides a reliable true it is. Was it part of white flight to the North bearing. Neither of those things will suburbs following the desegregation come without difficult conversations and of public schools? On what Native significant costs, both social and economic. American lands does it sit? But we too often forget that the prize for us white Christians is not only building • What is the church’s history on civil right relationships with our non-white rights in your community? Did it bless brothers and sisters, but healing from and harbor segregationist community the disfigurement caused by centuries of leaders as members, lay leaders or allowing white supremacy to flourish within clergy? Did it have a “whites only” our midst. congregational policy? I’m hopeful that if we shed enough light • What relationships, if any, does the on this troubling past, it might cast out the congregation have with predominately demons of willful amnesia in our present. If African American, Latino or other we can muster the humility and courage and non-white congregations? Building love to tell the truth, we just might, as James substantive relationships moves the Baldwin so eloquently put it nearly 50 years work away from abstract intellectual ago, “end the racial nightmare, and achieve efforts. The issue of reparations, for our country, and change the history of the example, is more difficult for white world.” Americans as a detached issue than as a question of being in right relationship with people you love.




CBF Book Club JUNE BOOK RESOURCES INCLUDE: • CBF Podcast interview


• Enhanced discussion guide


• JUNE 24 - White Too Long online discussion group


• JUNE 1 - CBF Gathering, featuring a conversation with author Robert P. Jones




that Create Roots SANELA’S STORY


doesn’t read or write English. So, without the help of CBF field personnel Sasha Zivanov, she would not have been able to pass the computer test that landed her the job at Walmart that feeds her family.

a new home but also support from the Bosnian community and the Zivanovs. “I never hid anything; whenever I needed something, I could talk to them,” Sanela said. “I tell everything to Sasha as if he were my father, and to Mira as if she were my mother. I consider them to be my second mom and dad.”

“When I was starting out, I had to take pictures of the questions and go to the restroom and send pictures to Sasha to see what’s needed for the test,” Sanela said. “If it wasn’t for Sasha, I couldn’t have stayed there.” “If she had not gotten help from Sasha, she wouldn’t have passed orientation,” said CBF field personnel Mira Zivanov. Sanela has been in America for nearly 20 years since fleeing the Bosnian Civil War via Germany. In St. Louis, she has found not only


20 |


When she was eight years old, Sanela fled Bosnia with her parents, heading first to Germany before following her sister to the United States. Her first exposure to America was in Idaho. “When we got up in the morning and looked out of the window, there were hills all around, everywhere,” she said. “I was wondering where we had come. There were hills all around us, and we were in the middle. I hadn’t seen that in Germany when I was little.”

(Below) CBF field personnel Mira Zivanov (left) and Sanela (right) in St. Louis, Mo., where there is a large Bosnian community, (Right) While Sanela cannot read or write in English, she stays in America for her children, to give them the best chance at education and bright futures.

Eventually, Sanela and her family made it to St. Louis, but Sanela was still behind educationally. She hadn’t had any schooling in Bosnia and only a bit of education in Germany. In America, she started school, but eventually dropped out to get a job as a housekeeper. Her father had his own struggles, eventually buying a car, passing the driving test and getting a job himself. Luckily, St. Louis is the home of the largest Bosnian population outside Europe, with an estimated 70,000 people. “No one bothers you here, and they are our people,” Sanela said. “This is like Little Bosnia. Everything is here: Bosnian doctors, shops, everything.”

FINDING COMMUNITY Sanela’s oldest son was not yet walking when she first met the Zivanovs. Now that son is 12 years old and she has three more children. Those children are beneficiaries of the tutoring program set up by Mira and Sasha Zivanov. “They helped us a lot with that, by setting it up and helping the kids with their homework,” Sasha said. “They don’t need help from me or their grandma, and it means a lot to them.”

When she or her kids need a ride or a translation, Sanela knows whom to call. The Zivanovs even helped with the paperwork to help Sanela get a house. “Usually when she gives my phone number to someone, she will say, ‘That’s my sister,’” Mira said. “Then they will say to me, ‘Your sister gave us your phone number,’ and I say, ‘What?’” Any time the Zivanovs organize a celebration for events like Christmas or International Women’s Day, Sanela makes sure to bring her family to the International Fellowship Center. But all of this does not mean it’s easy to live in a country where you don’t know the language. Sanela is afraid to take the citizenship test because she knows she doesn’t know English well enough to pass. At one time, she even contemplated moving back to Bosnia. But she said she has stayed in America for her children, to give them the best chance at not only the education she never had but also the opportunity for a bright future. “Where I am now, they couldn’t live like I am,” Sanela said. “I want my kids to graduate, get good jobs, to stay here and be good. I want them to have it better than I did; I didn’t have it good anywhere. Not in Bosnia, not in Germany. Here now, as they say, you have a family and kids. It’s the best it’s been.” SUMMER 2021

| 21

HOPE HOSPITALITY that feel like FAMILY By Andrew Nash



parents had a plan to escape from the Bosnian Civil War. The first step was getting to Germany. The second step was getting arrested intentionally. “When we came to Germany, we had to actually go to the bus station and act like we didn’t have money to pay for tickets so that they would arrest us,” Mirsada said. “So that way, when they arrest us in Germany, we tell them we don’t have any papers, that we don’t have anything. That’s the way they could fix it for us to stay over there as immigrants.”

Mirsada was nine years old when her parents took her and her three younger sisters from their home country to seek refuge before the fighting broke out. In Germany, she met her husband and had the couple’s first daughter. With a six-month-old in tow, Mirsada, her husband, her parents and her sisters moved from Germany to Utah to live near an aunt. This aunt turned out not to be the support structure the family needed. “We were crying. We really wanted to go back because we could not find jobs,” she explained. “My husband and my dad were looking for jobs, but they could not find anything. We didn’t even know where the store was. Actually, the store was close to the corner from our house; you just walk a little bit, turn right and there was the store. But we didn’t know.”

CBF field personnel Mira Zivanov (right) sits with Mirsada (left) in St. Louis, Mo., where they met through the Zivanovs’ food pantry ministry and became fast friends.

22 |


The lack of support forced another move in 2002, this time to move closer to an uncle and her husband’s family in St. Louis. The couple also had a second daughter by this time. “St. Louis is good for us and for my kids,” she said. “There are a lot of Bosnians and we have Bosnian stores. We have a lot of Bosnian people that are helping us, you know, in case you go to the doctor and we don’t understand; there is always somebody who can translate for us.” One of the resources they found in St. Louis was a food pantry. It was there that Mirsada met CBF field personnel Mira and Sasha Zivanov, sparking a relationship between Mirsada’s family and the couple serving in St. Louis. It is a bond that has gone far beyond friendship. “Whatever I need, pretty much I can depend on them,” she said. “Even if I just need to talk to somebody, I can call Mira and ask her if I can come over. She says ‘sure,’ and I go over and talk to her. If I have stress at home or something going on, I can go over there, and I can talk to her.” Mirsada’s children often visit the Zivanovs to get help with homework. That prompted the creation of a tutoring program. “Mirsada’s daughter Melanie was the one who was always coming with her homework to us and asking for help,” Mira said. “We started the tutoring program just because of Mirsada’s family, and that grew to include 19 kids. We have seven families included in our tutoring program. Mirsada’s family was the largest group of kids, and that’s how we decided to start something that can help those kids and help parents, too.”

(Top) Mirsada has eight children, who often visit the Zivanovs to get help with homework, which prompted the creation of a tutoring program at the International Fellowship Center. (Bottom) Mirsada (right) sees CBF field personnel Mira Zivanov (left) as more family than friend and knows she can call her up to talk about anything.


When Mirsada’s oldest daughter was looking at applying to colleges, the Zivanovs were there to help guide her through the system, helping her fill out the financial aid forms to enable her be able to afford college. If a kid needs a ride to school, the Zivanovs are there. If Mirsada needs a ride to her job, the Zivanovs are there. The help can be as big as filling out paperwork or as small as help with a bill. “A few months ago, our electricity was turned off for four or five days,” Mirsada said. “I called Mira and Sasha, and I told them my electricity got turned off, and I have to pay this much to get it turned back on. So, they found a way to help us with that.” The International Fellowship Center opened by Mira and Sasha has been a tremendous resource to immigrants like Mirsada. They have helped Mirsada and others with translation, finding jobs, applying for citizenship and more. They even helped Mirsada get her job at Walmart, despite her difficulties with reading and writing English. “Mira and Sasha show us a lot of respect and care for my family, pretty much more than even my own family,” Mirsada said. “They help us with anything we need. Every question we don’t know, we call and ask them. Any help we need, we call them. We ask them if they are able, and they always help us with anything we need.”


SUMMER 2021 |


Venezuela is engulfed in a political crisis with two rival politicians claiming to be the country’s legitimate leader. The economy has collapsed after years of hyperinflation, violence, food and medicine shortages, and about five million Venezuelan people have left the country seeking a better life.

Amid multiple crises in Venezuela, FAMILIA provides support to local pastors in need


citizens of most of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has been the crisis that has encompassed our lives over the past year. But for citizens of Venezuela, the pandemic is just one crisis of many that Venezuelans have had to navigate and survive.

24 |


One group hit particularly hard in Venezuela are faith leaders, especially Baptist pastors and their families. In partnership with the National Baptist Convention of Venezuela (NBCV), the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has worked to get pastors and their families needed relief. “We have been able to get the Baptist pastors and their families around $40 each for the crises they face,” said Rubén Ortiz, the Latino field ministries coordinator for CBF. “That may not seem like a lot, but because of the currency crisis in Venezuela, that money can actually go a long way.” Through FAMILIA, CBF’s Latino Network, the Fellowship has been able to cultivate deep relationships with various pastors and

By Caleb Mynatt faith leaders in Valencia, Venezuela. Because of those relationships, Ortiz and CBF have been able to become aware of more specific relief needed for pastors and their families. In the case of these cash payments, that money, according to Ortiz, will primarily be used to pay for the cost of healthcare. “We’ve heard many stories of pastors in Venezuela who have died because they did not have the money to get healthcare in emergencies,” Ortiz said. “They are dying of illness and heart attacks because they cannot afford to go to the emergency room. This is what this money is intended to prevent.” Along with funds to pay for healthcare, the pastors were also provided with food and supplies. From canned goods and rice to

razors and diapers, the pastors’ families were able to receive enough provisions to last a few weeks, if not longer. These donations also include new clothing for the families, as well as personal first-aid supplies. Again, this is where relationships with the pastors and the NBCV allow Ortiz and FAMILIA to send supplies that will directly meet the needs of these families. “We know these families and their needs; so, these gifts are more love offerings than charity,” said Ortiz. “We are trying to reach out and serve them in this crisis, not only to show them that we can send resources but also that we want to know their needs; we want to know them personally so we can support them in the best way possible.” Assisting pastors in Venezuela isn’t only the right thing to do; it’s a way to continue to strengthen relationships within the

Latin American community abroad and in the United States, according to Ortiz. By doing this kind of outreach, it’s likely that Latin American churches in the United States that have ties to those countries will want to join in the relief effort. This allows FAMILIA to grow as a network and, in turn, it enables them to continue to help the people struggling in the best way possible. “We found that many Latino pastors in America are moved when we work with their countries of origin,” Ortiz said. “It’s a way to link to and help people here as well. They are committed to missions in their home countries. We can form a relationship out of that common goal.” Before the pandemic, Venezuela already faced unbelievably hard circumstances. From extreme poverty, to a refugee crisis, to ongoing political turmoil and violence, all


of which occurred in 2019 and earlier, the citizens of Venezuela are enduring one of the worst humanitarian crises since the turn of the century. With two governments locked in a power struggle, the only relief that most of the people in Venezuela can hope for comes from missions and humanitarian outreach. Thanks to Ortiz and FAMILIA, CBF is able to make some positive impact for people struggling in Venezuela.

For information about how you and your congregation can support the efforts of FAMILIA serving pastors in Venezuela, contact Rubén Ortiz at rortiz@cbf.net.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Venezuela was already facing hard circumstances of extreme poverty, a refugee crisis and ongoing political turmoil. With governments locked in a power struggle, almost all relief for the people in Venezuela comes from missions and humanitarian outreach.


| 25

FREEDOM FOR ALL By Jennifer Colosimo

How CBF field personnel in Slovakia empower students from the U.S. to advocate for human rights issues all over the world

For the past

17 years, CBF field personnel Shane McNary and his wife, Dianne, have lived more than 5,000 miles away from home ministering to the Roma people in Slovakia and Czechia. From teaching English and serving children to spearheading missions teams to helping the poor and starting churches, they’ve worked to encourage local believers and make a difference for this large minority facing multi-faceted forms of discrimination; but their impact also includes an effort that reaches beyond those borders.

26 |


Amid his work with the Roma population, McNary began serving in 2013 as an advocate for freedom of religion and belief for people of all faiths. In this role, he represents the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) at the United Nations in Geneva and serves as chair of the European Baptist Federation’s (EBF) Freedom & Justice Commission. Under these titles, McNary’s work includes gathering research on cultures, religions and ways of life in the surrounding countries (and continents) where he lives and works. He submits that research to the United Nations via partnerships with the EBF, BWA and in conjunction with 21 Wilberforce, an initiative named for 19th-century British parliamentarian William Wilberforce who led the movement to end slave trade. 21 Wilberforce aims to empower people of faith to expand the freedom of religion, belief and conscience. Their shared goal is to effect change in the decisions being made about refugees

CBF field personnel Shane McNary (left) began serving in 2013 as an advocate for religious freedom for people of all faiths, representing the Baptist World Alliance at the United Nations in Geneva and serving as the chair of the European Baptist Federation’s Freedom & Justice Commission.


seeking asylum, on the rights of minority religious groups, advocating for education for women and girls who are part of religious minorities, and more. He’s a leader in those efforts across Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Central Asia; but McNary is most proud of the way he’s been able to share what he does with the next generation. A year ago, CBF’s student missions program, Student.Go, sent the latest group of interns to work with the McNarys in Slovakia. The McNarys have worked with interns for years, but, of course, this time, by “sent” it meant students in the United States would work virtually with Shane from behind their computer screens. Anyone with Covid-conversation fatigue might let out a subconscious sigh about that, but McNary will stop you short. “I can’t say enough about the way Taisha Seabolt runs the Student.Go program, and the way she is able to fulfill my requests,” McNary said of CBF’s Global Missions Personnel and Training Manager. “With what I was looking for this time, I thought that maybe

she would be able to find someone who, in some way, was interested in these subject matters. I had written a request looking for one person to study Nigeria and another African country, and wanted them to have contextual knowledge of the area. “Whether that meant they had lived there for a period of time, or had done African Studies in school, something—I just was hoping for someone with an understanding of the area,” he added. “But then we got Sylvester, who is amazing and is actually from Kenya.” Sylvester Ngonga is a native Kenyan studying for his Master of Divinity at Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity, and gave what McNary called a unique, empathetic, and first-hand perspective for the research he was doing. “I have gained a lot of knowledge pertaining to religious literacy and human rights through this internship,” Ngonga said. “I hope that my research findings about the state of freedom of religion and belief in Nigeria and Kenya will contribute to human rights advocacy and the realization of freedom of religion or beliefs in these countries.”

In fact, Ngonga’s research on Nigeria and their freedom of religion or belief (referred to as FORB) will be shared with 21 Wilberforce to provide the initiative with background information and outreach advocacy efforts related to religious freedom on behalf of BWA. “I intend to incorporate the experience, knowledge and skills gathered in this internship into my future professional development goals. As a budding missiologist, I am focused on global missions, and this position offered me the chance to research matters related to [that].” Cayden Norman was another pleasant surprise for McNary. An International Studies student at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, she was looking for opportunities to further develop her research and writing skills. This internship would help fine-tune her experience on the political and legal aspects of her major—not to mention it was in a field she was eager to learn more about. “I really hope that my research can be used as a tool for policymakers, activists and organizations involved in protecting religious freedom,” said Norman, who worked on research surrounding Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as Syria. “I think I was able to obtain enough information to provide a helpful suggestion for what I believe the governments of these countries need to do moving forward.” The information she gathered on Syria will update information for the BWA and, if approved by the people of Syria, will be used in EBF’s formal report to the United Nations. Both interns’ research will contribute to the growing library that allows 21 Wilberforce to disseminate clear, fresh information about what the FORB situations

are in each of the countries they studied. It’s also used as background info for additional research, including where it intersects with the UN’s sustainable development goals for each country. “One of the things with my work that I’m often involved in is teaching others,” McNary said. “I am helping others find out what in the world God wants them to do when they ‘grow up.’ I’ve been able to help these interns discern if this type of work—research and human rights work—is what God is calling them to do. I get to see them grow, to see them experience something and move forward with it.” With exceptional student help, he’s also able to cover more ground, gather more research and leverage a new, fresh perspective that often comes with younger eyes, minds and hearts. “They’re life-giving to me,” McNary said. “It’s about their interest and their questions—it brought me joy to be able to teach and interact with these young spirits and to see them interact with something new and apply it right away in research. “As Baptists, freedom of religion or belief for all goes back to our beginning,” McNary added. “That’s the deepest root of our Baptist story. It’s an understanding of who we have been; and to be able to see a new generation take that historical mantle and move it forward is wonderful. For me, my greatest joy is connecting these young folks with CBF and seeing it as a place where they might be able to live out their missional calling one day—whether it’s in freedom of religion and belief and human rights advocacy, or not at all. At least they know what they’re capable of as a part of it.” And that’s something that’s life-giving on a much bigger scale.

For more than 17 years, CBF field personnel Dianne and Shane McNary have served among Roma people in Slovakia and Czechia—teaching English, hosting mission teams, serving children, helping the poor, starting churches and building community. They have worked to encourage local believers and make a difference with this minority community while also engaging in efforts to advocate for minorities around the world through religious freedom work.

Opportunities to

JUNE 2021

Education Advocacy

CBF field personnel Angel Pittman serves as an educational advocate in Miami, Fla., helping parents struggling to get adequate support for their children in school.

In Worship: Children’s Moment MISSIONS EDUCATION RESOURCE: The following resource is designed for use with a group of children in a worship setting. Photocopy permission granted.

Prepare by reading “In-Town Angel” about the ministry of CBF field personnel Angel Pittman on pp. 6-7 of this issue of fellowship! Obtain or print a copy of the magazine to share photos from the article with the group. Say: I’m going to list 3 jobs, and I want to see if you can guess what they have in common. Here are the jobs: teacher, librarian, school principal. Can you guess what all of those jobs have in common?

school. Her name is Angel Pittman. Angel works in Miami, Fla., with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as an educational advocate. Share pictures of Angel Pittman from fellowship! magazine. Ask: Does anyone want to guess what an educational advocate does? Encourage children to take a guess even if they are not certain of the right answer.

Allow the children to share their ideas Say: Raise your hand if you know a teacher, a librarian or a school principal. Encourage children to point to someone in the congregation who is an educator or works at a school. Say: Teachers, librarians and principals all work to help kids learn. Today I want to tell you about another person who helps children succeed at

Learn more at www.cbf.net/pittman

Say: Being an educational advocate sounds like a big and important job, doesn’t it? One way we can help Angel and other educators like teachers and principals is to pray for them. So let’s pray for them together. Pray: God, thank you for these children and the bright futures you have given them. Thank you for teachers, librarians and principals and everyone else who help us to learn. Thank you for Angel Pittman and her work helping kids succeed in school. Help her ministry to grow and stay strong. Amen.

Say: Those are good guesses. Being an educational advocate means that Angel helps children and parents know how to get assistance and resources they need to do their best at school. Some days, that means helping low-income families with special needs. Other days, she talks to lawmakers about how they can help children and schools. And sometimes she even helps churches and other field personnel learn how to be good educational partners.







Opportunities to

JULY 2021

Religious Freedom

CBF field personnel Dianne and Shane McNary serve among Roma people in Slovakia and Czechia and engage in advocacy for religious freedom around the world.

In Small Groups MISSIONS EDUCATION RESOURCE: The following outline is designed for small groups or Bible studies to engage Scripture and missional action. Photocopy permission granted.

Prepare by reading the article about the ministry of CBF field personnel Dianne and Shane McNary on pp. 26-28 of this issue of fellowship! Obtain or print copies of the magazine for the group. Say: The article deals with Shane McNary’s work on issues of religious freedom, serving alongside organizations and students. Shane notes that passion for freedom of religion or belief (FORB) is deeply rooted in our Baptist history. Ask: What are some ways our church talks about or addresses religious freedom? Do you think the value of religious freedom is growing or fading in our community? Say: Shane McNary works with 21 Wilberforce to advocate for refugees seeking asylum, the rights of minority religious groups and education for women and girls who are part of religious minorities. Ask: Can you recall any recent news stories that touch on the oppression of asylum seekers, religious minorities or women? What are some ways Christians could bring hope and light to these situations?

Learn more at www.cbf.net/mcnary

Say: Another important aspect of Shane’s ministry highlighted in the article is his work with college and seminary students who serve as interns through CBF’s Student.Go program. Shane describes this work as “life-giving.”

The article noted that both interns’ research will contribute to a growing library that allows 21 Wilberforce to disseminate clear, fresh information about what the FORB situations are in various countries.

Ask: What are some ways our faith community intersects with Baptist college students and seminarians? Why do you think working with young Baptists is particularly energizing for churches and ministers?

Ask: Why is it important for Christians to have accurate information about religious freedom around the world? How knowledgeable do you feel about global religious freedom?

Say: Contextual knowledge of Africa was an important quality Shane sought for one particular internship. Sylvester Ngonga, a native Kenyan studying for his master of divinity at GardnerWebb University School of Divinity, applied for and received the internship. Ask: Why is local knowledge of an area so important? How can paying attention to local traditions or history help us share the love of Christ more effectively? Say: Providing tools for policymakers and advocates is a key aspect of Shane’s ministry.

Say: Shane notes that he enjoys helping students discern where God is leading them. He says: “For me, my greatest joy is connecting these young folks with CBF and seeing it as a place where they might be able to live out their missional calling one day.” Ask: Who are some people who have helped you discern God’s calling in your life? What are some ways we can do this for others? Close the session in prayer, thanking God for the ministry of CBF field personnel Dianne and Shane McNary, Student.Go interns like Sylvester Ngonga and Cayden Norman and the work of 21 Wilberforce.







Opportunities to


Offering Hope & Hospitality

CBF field personnel Mira and Sasha Zivanov offer hospitality and hope to refugees and immigrants in St. Louis, where they minister through a food pantry, translation services and tutoring.

In Worship: A Litany

Learn more at www.cbf.net/ogm

MISSIONS EDUCATION RESOURCE: The following resource is designed for use in a worship setting. Photocopy permission granted. One: God of Creation, you have filled the Earth with wonder and beauty. You have filled it with people made in Your image. Help us to be good stewards of all You have created. As your children, help us to create the justice and peace You desire. Many: Touch our minds. Help us to be partners in renewing your world. One: Lord Jesus, You showed us how to cross borders. The dividing lines between religions, races, classes and genders were not dividing lines for You. Instead, You broke down every barrier we have constructed to discriminate and exclude. Many: Touch our eyes. Help us see your reflection in the face of every person. One: Spirit of God, You enliven our souls. You share the gifts and wisdom that help us to reflect the love of Jesus. Like rain falling on a thirsty land, You shower Your gifts in abundance. Many: Touch our hands. Help us share with others in a spirit of generosity. One: Holy God, You have adopted us as Your own. You have loved us beyond all boundaries and welcomed us into Your family. Many: Touch our hearts. Help us to welcome others the way You have welcomed us. Amen.







160 Clairemont Avenue, Suite 500 Decatur, GA 30030 www.cbf.net (800) 352-8741