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DrJasonBlog

Daily Blog for the CBFMS FC.

In the Beginning...as CBFMS Field Coordinator July 17, 2016

Ric Stewart

 

 

 

            “In the beginning….” These three iconic words bring to mind at least two of the most popular passages in the Bible. Genesis ignites sacred Scripture with these three words and the Gospel of John does for the New Testament what Genesis did for the Hebrew Bible. “In the beginning God created…” and “in the beginning was the word.” What rings true behind these words is that you only get to start something new once. Everything after that is a restart! While I imagine that there will be multiple 2.0s and 2.1 reboots in the future of my tenure here with CBFMS, this is the only time I’ll start with the weight of “in the beginning.” In the beginning, what? That has been burning in my mind and heart for months now—actually, ever since I was approached about this possibility. What would I do if this actually happened and I became the Coordinator of CBFMS?

            If I’m reading Genesis and John closely, they are both about relationship. Why would the eternal and transcendent God of the universe create? Of all the things that this God could do, why create what was created? Our whole universe came from the mind and heart of God (to anthropomorphize just a little). The story that follows in our Bible is about how God relates to all that was created, with priority given to humanity—God’s relationship with humanity. The Gospel of John retells that story with a little more intimacy and describes how that same God became manifest as a human for humanity. In both these origin stories we have profound and even impassioned stories of relationship. I want relationship to be the foundation of everything we do here in CBFMS—and that’s not new at all. You already function that way! Most of Mississippi functions that way. Sitting at this “in the beginning” moment, I will make relationships a priority for my own life and ministry. I want to be present with you—I want to be in your churches and around your dinner tables. I want all of us to know each other so that we can care for each other.

            Simultaneously, I want CBFMS to forge new relationships with other denominational bodies in Mississippi in order to find a common ground for the common good. Specifically, we can model for the state how denominational and congregational relationships can build bridges over the “tracks” that still exist in the state of Mississippi. I want us to be an overpass! We will intentionally build an overpass so that we can begin conversations around racial reconciliation. Racial reconciliation is no small task and one too large to begin without relationships. There is already good work happening in Mississippi in this arena, so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but we do have to participate.

Delta Hands for Hope is a great example of some of that good work. Lane Riley has done an incredible job building a ministry in Shaw, Mississippi, that has already created an overpass. This week she has taken a group of teenagers from Shaw to Dallas, Texas, to help a local church partner there do missions in their backyard. The relationships that have been built through Delta Hands for Hope has made it possible for us to boldly and humbly seek a deeper conversation about race in Mississippi. So many of you have already been to Shaw and seen what is happening there. I want to us to work with Delta Hands for Hope and use it as a model in other towns throughout the Delta and the rest of Mississippi so that we can build more overpasses.

I can’t wait to hear about what you and your churches are already doing. I have so much respect for so many of you and your congregations. I am humbled and inspired by your resilience and hard work. Please feel free to contact me because I want to know you and know how to work for you. My new e-mail address is jason@cbfms.org and I’ll have a new phone number soon—one with a Mississippi area code! Until then, thank you for this beginning.

Personal Story of Vision and Formation of Delta Hands for Hope (DHH)

Ric Stewart

 Storefront in Shaw, MS

Storefront in Shaw, MS

How did you (Jason Coker) Get Here?

It was me (a pastor in Connecticut but originally from Shaw, MS), a retired math teacher from Connecticut, a president of the largest exposition company in the world, a graduate student in social work, and the youth minister from a sister church in Connecticut. We were in Shaw to meet with local leaders about developing a partnership in Shaw, Mississippi, that would benefit school-aged children. It was my hometown, so I was personally invested, but we didn’t know what to expect. We had already developed a good relationship with a church in town and the mayor was very open, but no one knew what might happen.

We were driving around town before our meeting with the mayor when I saw something unusual in Shaw—a little lady, who was a little older, opening the front door to the old drug store on Main Street in Shaw. What made this unusual was the fact that the drug store had been closed for decades AND I didn’t recognize the woman opening the door! In a town the size of Shaw, everybody knows everybody, and I didn’t know who this was. Beyond that, Shaw, like most of the smaller towns in the Mississippi Delta, had experienced a mass exodus of white people over the past thirty years. According to the 2000 Census, only 7.3% of the population of Shaw was Caucasian. So, the most striking mystery to me was: Who was this little white lady and what was she doing in the old drug store?

I parked the car on Main Street and went into the old drug store to investigate. When I entered, there were actually three women—white, senior citizens—who were organizing papers in what looked like a classroom—the old drug store was not a drug store anymore! I introduced myself as a former resident of Shaw and then simply (but awkwardly) asked, who are you and what are you doing? One woman kindly responded, “We are running a tutoring center for the children of Shaw.” AND, she said this with a thick Irish brogue! After confirming that all three of the women were from Ireland, I asked with amazement, “How did you get here?” Sister Una responded, “The Holy Spirit brought us here!”

That’s how we met the Presentation Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are our ministry partners in Shaw now. When we met, they had only been open for seven months and had seven students. They said that had been praying for over a year for others who would like to partner with them. We told them we were in town to find partners who may be interested in working with school-aged children! I told the Sisters that I had been praying for them all my life… Today, the Sisters own their own building in Shaw and have 32 children in their tutoring program. How they came to Shaw is nothing short of a miracle of God and I am deeply inspired by their commitment to the town. If God can call three Irish Catholic nuns to Shaw, Mississippi, then God must have a big plan. God is at work in Shaw and we are so thankful and humbled to be a part of it.