United Methodist Women Members Take to the Road for Justice Work
by YVETTE MOORE*
Nashville, Aug. 13, 2007 - More than 200 United Methodist Women members from around the country and friends boarded buses, and took to local communities to see what it means to be homeless, an immigrant, without health care and more. The community visits were another step in engaging the focus social issues of the organization's National Seminar: "For Christ's Sake, Turn the World Upside Down," at Nashville's Scarritt-Bennett Center, Aug. 11-16.
"The whole idea of community visits is to broaden our knowledge, to go beyond ourselves to gain insights and listen to the voices of those on the margins in the Nashville context," said elmira Nazombe, executive of the Women's Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, the national administrative body of United Methodist Women. "This will help give us the landscape view we need to look for patterns and discern what the issues are telling us about our faith imperatives."
Nashville community groups served as guides for the women in visits to a mosque, a landfill, community clinics, a farmers' market, a community garden, local homeless shelters, a public high school, and a Civil War monument. Each visit included one-on-one conversations, and more formal panel discussions and presentations on the related issue. The visits were an extension of workshops the women have been taking throughout the event that focus on one of seven issues: economic justice, health care, public education, immigration, community food security, environmental justice, and militarism, peace and national security.
"It rocked my world," said participant Donna Moore, United Methodist Women Memphis Conference and secretary of program resources of Brownsville District, after a day of visits with immigrants and refugees. Ms. Moore met with Kurdish women at a mosque who came to the United States as refugees and spoke with Hispanic women at a local immigrant advocacy program. Ms. Moore said she had passed immigrant workers in her local community, but didn't know much about them.
"The Hispanic women had an awesome fear of being separated from their families," Ms. Moore said. "The thing that struck me was their patience, their stories and how they need advocates. The things I take for granted in my life are not afforded to everybody. How could we not know? I didn't know. As a United Methodist and a United Methodist Women member, as a Christian, we need to know. It's our responsibility to know. Maybe it's been out there all along. Maybe this was my time to listen."
Susan Sanders of United Methodist Women Kansas West Conference helped sort and salvage food for low-income families during her visit to the farmers' market and introduction to Good Food For Good People, a community-based organization committed to decreasing food waste, and increasing accessibility of fresh and healthy foods in low-income areas.
"The man for Good Food for Good People just takes the salvaged fruits and vegetables, puts it on his truck, and takes it to the low-income housing development," Ms. Sanders said. "Then they knock on the doors and say, 'The food's here!' People come out and get the produce. And they don't just take for themselves. They take to give to neighbors too."
The visit was part of the workshop on community food security, which examines the need for every community to have access to a safe, affordable nutritious food supply. Many low-income areas do not have large grocery stores that carry fresh fruits and vegetables.
A visit to Fort Negley, a local Civil War memorial, kicked off a day of exploring reasons for war and the far-reaching impact of war for women taking the militarism, peace and national security workshops. The group heard presentations from two U.S. Army public affairs specialists about today's all-volunteer soldiers, saw a documentary about the munitions-making military industrial complex, and listened to testimonies from a panel representing organizations and ministries working for peace and helping military personnel and families.
The Revs. John and Janie Dandridge, Nashville, shared how their soldier son's loss of a leg in Iraq changed their lives.
"It's a traumatic experience to look at all the wounded men and women," Ms. Dandridge said of visiting her son at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C.
"There's a real war going on, no matter what you think about it," said Mr. Dandridge, a retired military officer. "There are nearly 4,000 U.S. deaths and 60,000 wounded. Many have traumatic brain injuries. Like Vietnam, they're going to be coming home and unable to care for themselves. Peace is necessary."
The Dandridges' work for peace and counsel stressed military families.
"God has given us a whole new ministry," Ms. Dandridge said.