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April 2013 Issue

Somebody’s Calling My Name

Maggie Jackson, Ph.D
Maggie Jackson, Ph.D., at United Methodist Women’s board of directors meeting in March 2012. The former head of Cleveland State University’s social work department says her work is a part of her Christian calling to service.

By Yvette Moore

With this issue we kick off a series of articles featuring United Methodist Women members sharing their stories of hearing and answering God’s call.

Hush. Hush. Somebody’s calling my name! Sounds like Jesus, Jesus is calling my name! Hush. Hush. Somebody’s calling my name! O, my Lord! O, my Lord, what shall I do?

On the surface, this African American spiritual speaks of death: Soon one morning, death come a-creeping in the room. … O, my Lord! O, my Lord, what shall I do? But like many of these multilayered songs, it also carried messages of hope, perseverance and, at times, a chance for freedom on the Underground Railroad. No doubt many an enslaved African American heard the song, sang its message and pondered the opportunity for freedom, asking, “Is that you, God? Are you calling me to make this journey? If I go, will you go with me? Promise?”

Like the freedom-seeking enslaved, today we too may hear persistent calls in our lives but may not recognize God’s voice or know how to respond. How do we recognize God’s call? How do we discern our gifts? When we believe we’ve figured them out, how do we know how we should employ them?

Discerning our gifts, hearing God’s call and walking in our vocations are all about faith. Most of us will never experience God’s voice in as clear-cut a manner as, say, Moses — and that’s fine because Moses is proof that we really don’t need to. A rather long and engaged conversation with God speaking to him through a bush on fire but not burnt didn’t stop Moses from still questioning his calling: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11).

In sundry times and divers manners, God still speaks (Hebrews 1:1). We just need ears willing to hear, eyes open to divine visions and hearts ready to serve in each stage of our lives. If we seek to discover the treasures placed in us for the common good, for the kin-dom of God, we will find God is faithful to give us the vision to see them. If we knock on doors in search for ways to use our talents, God will open up new venues for us to ply our various vocations throughout our lives.

God calls and equips us for service again and again through every stage of our lives. God calls in our youth, when we are fearless and strong. God calls when we’re adults with experience and wisdom. God calls as we age and our bodies begin to falter — and we’re even more assured that God is our source (1 John 2:12-14).

There is no singular way to hear God’s call, but when we keep our ears, eyes and hearts open and hands in service, God will lead. We go forth with faith in God’s guidance.

United Methodist Women members can attest to this truth. With this issue of response we kick off a series of articles in which United Methodist Women members share their stories of hearing God’s call.

Maggie Jackson, Ph.D., and Talia McCray, Ph.D., are both United Methodist Women members in the academia. Ms. Jackson served as director of the department of social work at Cleveland State University for 18 years and is the former vice president for Christian Social Action for United Methodist Women’s national policymaking body (2004-2012). Ms. McCray teaches at the University of Texas at Austin and as a 16-year-old student served as a director of United Methodist Women’s national policymaking body (1984-1992).

Maggie Jackson:

‘Pray, then listen for God’

“When I was an undergraduate student, I worked at a community center in Denver, Colo. One day I was visiting a family assigned to me, and the social worker present was very unkind to the family. I thought, ‘That is not how God would have us treat people.’ It was an awakening for me. I went into teaching because I wanted to teach people how to be professional helpers.

“I serve at a state university. The classroom is a mission field. At a state university, religion is far removed. People know I am a Christian, not because I tell them or carry my Bible but by how I carry myself. I see it as a place where my gifts are needed. I felt it was the place where I should be. There should be Christians in places where they are least likely to be to help people learn how to use their gifts on behalf of others. It was a natural unfolding of a career based on my belief that every person is a child of God and deserves the best. So my Christian faith is not in conflict with my profession; I’m not schizophrenic in my religion.

“I believe if you are a believer, you are in ministry. It’s not always an ordained position. I’m a laywoman. I was called to be a laywoman. My ministry is teaching social work. Wherever God places you, that’s your ministry — whether it’s teaching or farming — because as you go about your work, you will encounter people and help them find what they are looking for.

“Ministry is how God would have us live out the Gospel wherever we are.

“To whom much is given, much is expected (Luke 12:48). If you are given gifts, you must use them. Do not take it lightly.

“To those in the process of discerning their gifts or trying to determine where they should serve, I would say be open to the Holy Spirit. Have faith to know that God is always present, and God is never going to leave us. Sometimes the way is not clear — and that’s the scary part — but remember that God is always right there. We pray and open our hearts so God can dwell within us. Once we invite God in, once we ask the Almighty to come and help us, we have to let go. Have the faith to let go, let God and know that you are supported; you’re protected.

“I’d also say, give God the time to work. Be patient. God will open that door, open that gate. That’s the key that I would tell people. Reach beyond the man-made world we’re in, and trust in a God who is always there. God loves us so much that God’s Son died for us. That’s a powerful love. The fact that God did that means we are forgiven. Things may not happen overnight. We’re in a microwave generation, and sometimes we have a microwave faith. But other times we have to be able to endure. We have to be patient.”

Talia McCray:

“Be bold. ... Be prayerful”

“I’m an assistant professor in the School of Architecture in the Community and Regional Planning Program at the University of Texas at Austin. I teach transportation planning, but I don’t do the typical civil engineering stuff. I teach and research social equity issues exploring who has access to transportation and who doesn’t, and how this impacts the quality of life. Transportation and land use decisions affect access to employment opportunities, health care delivery systems and healthy food environments.

“I’m primarily a researcher. I was hired at the University of Texas to publish and teach. The university is not really interested in what I do in the community. … But my attitude is, if I work in the community with kids and regular folks rather than just with data, a project takes a lot longer, but at the end of the day, I feel I’ve left something worthwhile to future generations.

“I recently won a national award for work in this area with high school students that combined community outreach and research. Most of the kids were from the Dominican Republic and were low-income. …The students lived in high-crime areas. If you asked them, they would all tell you their neighborhood was basically safe. For them, ‘my community’ is the street where their family lives. Go over a couple of streets, it’s dangerous.

“The program included about 125 students. The first semester I worked with 11th and 12th graders. The second semester I worked with ninth and 10th graders. We provided geography lessons, geographic information system (GIS) lessons, transportation policy sessions and nonviolence training sessions. We talked about latitude and longitude, east, west, and in those terms with large printed maps posed questions like, ‘Where’s your home?’ At first, they couldn’t tell me. However, after several sessions of using Google Map and other GIS software, the students learned how to map their communities. … We posed the question, ‘If you could change the transportation lines to better meet the needs of students at your school, what would it look like?’ And they mapped that. They also mapped immigration and sociodemographic patterns in the city. I wanted the kids to understand how the various pieces of a city must work together for a healthy society. I wanted them to better understand their world.

“In many ways my family and the church did that for me. I served as a director of the Women’s Division because my mother pushed me to work with the church’s National Youth Ministries Organization (NYMO). …Elizabeth Howard [a former Women’s Division director] took my resume to Theressa Hoover [chief officer of United Women’s Division 1968-1989], and I was elected as an at-large director. I served on the finance committee, which I thought was funny since I didn’t know anything about finance. Joyce Sohl [former treasurer and chief officer of Women’s Division] would lean over me and point on my papers to where I should be looking. I learned.

“I would tell anyone seeking to hear his or her calling:

  • Be bold. Be willing to step out of your comfort zone.
  • Be very prayerful. Prayer has a calming effect in the midst of chaos and confusion.
  • Take time for meditation and Bible study. God will tell you what you have to do. As Christians, God promises to answer us if we wait before the Lord. My purpose is to work with young people, but there has been and continues to be a growth process in coming to understand my calling.
  • Be willing to be alone sometimes. I’m very isolated working in a place where people don’t look like me. Sometimes the places I’ve had to go to were very hostile environments. Often for ethnic minority women, the higher you go, the more isolated you become.
  • Don’t compare yourself with others. I’m learning that what God has for me is for me. I believe God has and is preparing me for what I’m supposed to do.
  • Stay connected with a good faith community. I love the United Methodist Church.

“I’d also share two Scriptures that have helped me through the years. Psalm 46:10: ‘Be still and know that I am God’ and Jeremiah 29: 11: ‘I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope.’”


Yvette Moore is editor of response.

Last Updated: 03/15/2014
 
 

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