By Craig Nash
I’ve spent my life in church. In fact, I’ve been in church so much that the first sentence of this paragraph could ALMOST be read literally. One thing I’ve learned from this lifetime in church is that when we are doing things right, the way Jesus told us to do them, and taking care of “the least of these,” feeding the poor, clothing the naked and visiting the prisoners, we take great pride in this. And you know what? We should. The history of Christianity is filled with stories of hospitals on the battlefields of war and food distribution in the midst of famine. People of faith work with those on the margins of our communities in building houses and in putting checks on predatory lending agencies. Most organized efforts I’m aware of to end human trafficking or to place parentless children with families were started by someone sitting in a pew, hearing ancient words of redemption and hope.
Though there are many areas in my denominational tradition that I have come to have serious disagreements with, I always hold up the work of the Texas Baptist Men as a shining example of faith in action. When a natural disaster hits, they are almost always the first people on the ground. Their trucks are ready at a moment’s notice. These men and women, many of them retirees, and most without any formal theological education, take seriously the call of God to be light in the midst of despair. They use their gifts to walk alongside those who have lost everything and help them maintain a sense of dignity. Just about everyone in the disaster-management space holds them in high regard for the amazing work they do.
Last week I spoke with my colleague, John Puder, who is the Regional Manager for Child Hunger Outreach in the Southeast Texas region of the Texas Hunger Initiative, about the challenges with regards to food security in the midst of the devastation brought by Hurricane Harvey. In Harris County alone, the families of over 1.2 million children rely on local school districts to supplement the meals they provide to their kids. When schools shut down this gap was no longer able to be filled, which left a number of agencies scrambling to find ways to continue meal service. Another challenge was in staffing of child nutrition programs. Because of displacement, lost cell reception and other factors associated with the storm, many who work in child nutrition remained unaccounted for when schools and other meal providers were able to resume services.
It the midst of all of this, John told me that the faith community, including organizations like Texas Baptist Men, really stepped up to the plate where they could to meet the needs of those who had lost everything. It was inspiring and a model for how we are called to live in the world.
Yet there is a belief among many in my churchy world, whether because of politics, theology, or just a sense that we do it so well, that faith communities are the only institutions that should be doing relief work and addressing the needs of the poor and marginalized. This well-intentioned sentiment doesn’t take into consideration an important historical fact, which is that the history of Christianity (and, I assume, other faith groups,) is one of partnering with other entities when it is helpful, even if we live in tension with those same entities when it isn’t.
In fact, the early spread of Christianity was made possible by an “accident” of history that allowed the Church to make strategic use of the systems created by the Roman Empire. Roads built by Rome allowed missionaries to carry the message of Jesus across the known world. The “Pax Romana,” a time of peace enacted by a strong military gave these early believers a modicum of freedom that enabled them to flourish. A common language, currency and system of government brought the world together. A close reading of early Christian texts will show that people of faith often found the values of Rome to be antithetical to the values of their God, and they spoke to this truth when necessary. But they often worked in tandem with the prominent systems of governance as well. It was an early example, if you will, of a “Public/Private Partnership.”
Collaboration is difficult to pull off, even when it looks good on paper and works extremely well when done right. But it is worth it. Neither faith communities, non-profit organizations, federal and state governments nor individuals are able to feed 1.2 million children in Harris County after a hurricane hits. No matter how well intentioned churches are, they can’t possibly operate on that scale without taking advantage of the “Pax Americana.” And no matter how massive government and non-governmental organizations are, there will always be gaps in what they are capable of pulling off, and an incomplete knowledge of what is happening on the ground level of natural disasters and the every-day caring for our neighbors without the wisdom gained from faith communities. It is possible, as we have seen on the Texas Gulf Coast, for shared goals to bring about positive action among organizations and institutions that otherwise may have reason to distrust the other.
Craig Nash has lived in Waco since 2000. Since then he has worked at Baylor, been a seminary student, managed a hotel restaurant, been the “Barnes and Noble guy,” pastored a church and once again works for Baylor through the Texas Hunger Initiative. He lives with his dog Jane, religiously re-watches the same 4 series on Netflix over and over again, and considers himself an amateur country music historian.
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
By DeShauna Hollie
I have a soap box that I’ve been silently standing on for a few years now. I stepped up on to it timidly and shyly, afraid of what would happen if I said these words out loud:
“My skin is not a crisis or a trauma that needs to be fixed or saved. Please stop trying to save me. I am not on trajectory of self-destruction simply because I was born black. Neither are any of the black children in our schools and in our community. Please stop trying to save them. Please stop treating them as if they are on a trajectory of self-destruction just by being born with black skin.”
I’ve gotten louder and bolder with my words, but the implications of what could happen to me and those in my community by me saying these words out loud still scares me. The crisis and trauma doesn’t lie within my skin color. I repeat that my skin color does not need saving. A broken system that allows systemic racism to prevail is the crisis and trauma that needs saving.
So, I say a little louder, a little bolder “All the effort focused on saving my skin color and others like me (born with black or brown skin), all of the effort focused on fixing our skin color should be refocused on the systems of racism and injustices that prevail in our society.” I say this after a white supremacist march in Charlottesville. I say this after SB4 (“Sanctuary City” Bill) was almost implemented. I say this after the announcement of the phasing out of DACA: “our skin color, does not need saving or fixing. We are not broken; the system is broken.”
Recently I took a trip to visit friends in Portland, Oregon. On that trip, I was reminded of another soap box that I like to stand on. On this soap box, I am bolder and less hesitant as I describe all the things that I have been able to be a part of in Waco. My friends were transfixed as I described my life here in Waco.
On this soap box, I like to talk about how easy it is to eat local in Waco, especially when farms like the World Hunger Relief Farm offer a whole farm CSA (it includes vegetables, meat and eggs and fun products like goat’s milk soap and lip balm). I like to talk about how I can commute to work and other places on my bike or by using our public transit system (an all-day pass is $3). On this soap box, I also talk about how accessible our city council is, how accessible our school board is and how easy it is to be a part of the growth and change happening in the many diverse communities that make up our city.
On this soap box, I am reminded that even though there is a broken system that allows racism and injustice to prevail there is also an alternative to that system that we are working towards in Waco.
While in Portland I saw a great yard sign that said:
I was so enamored with the version of America portrayed on the sign, that I bought one for my own yard. It is a message that I have seen modeled time and time again in our city of Waco. As Waco changes and grows I hope that “In Our Waco” we will continue to work on fixing a broken system. I hope that we will continue to work to model what it means to be a welcoming city, an inclusive city, a city were racism and injustice does not prevail. I’ll step down from my soap boxes now. Thank you for listening.
DeShauna Hollie is a native Wacoan who love discovering new things about Waco on her bike. She is an an educator, social justice advocate, and a poet.
By Angel Jackson
I moved to Waco in 2010 and I spent my time there working towards moving away. That sounds horrible, but it had nothing to do with Waco itself. My husband was there to get his PhD at Baylor and the point of that program is to finish it! Waco, it turns out, was also very far from our Midwest family and friends.
The first few months were really hard, as I stayed home with our young daughter, but eventually I started my internship in ministry at St. Matthew Lutheran Church. There I found amazing folks who began to show me the best of what Waco had to offer. I made friends at Baylor who are still very dear.
Still, the goal of an internship is a job. The goal of school is to graduate. I did a long-distance interview with a congregation in Ohio and eventually got the job. Eagerly, I packed our kids (we added a son in the meantime) and our stuff and headed “home.” When people around here ask me what it was like to live in Waco I usually say, “it’s a fine place, just hot and very far from here.”
About a month ago I heard through Facebook that there was going to be a conference of women preachers in Waco. I had been searching for continuing education. It’s late in the year and I still had some budget left. Good friends confirmed that they would be going, so without overthinking it, I bought a ticket and arranged for travel.
Two lines into the beautiful welcoming statement at the opening worship of the “Unauthorized: Nevertheless She Preached” conference, I had tears in my eyes. I didn’t know how desperately I needed just this place and these people until I was standing there. The line-up was full of inspired, strong, dynamic women. I was delighted with the chance to hear from so many people with different experiences, different backgrounds, different challenges and different gifts. When they shared their hard and beautiful stories I saw Jesus, and the crowd was full of both men and women who practice spotting Jesus in places our society overlooks. I would not have missed a minute of this gathering and it was well worth the 1,221 miles I traveled to get here (by plane of course!)
Fed by my time at the conference, I also got to explore Waco again! Coming into town from Dallas down I-35, I was surprised by the bold statement that the Baylor stadium makes, all of that was different last time I was in town! I met up with a dear friend for dinner at Rudy’s, which as far as I can tell, hasn’t changed a bit. I made my husband salivate from afar with a photo at Taco Zs with their new (at least since our late night burrito days) stand.
I visited the little house on Huaco Lane where we made family memories. I found magnets that had fallen under the fridge during our time there. The various graduate students and young professionals that have rented it from us since we moved have taken great care of it! (It will be up for sale soon if you are looking for a good starter house!)
Dinner at Buzzard Billy’s, as usual, did not disappoint. I had my favorites, including the bread pudding, which of course I took home for later. The view was the same, except for the sidewalk that heads right out into the river to skirt the deck. It’s a very cool thing to walk all along the river and right to the stadium. I also experienced the Hippodrome for the first time for a Jennifer Knapp concert as part of the conference and was impressed with the space.
As I sat in front of Common Grounds realizing that a Cowboy Coffee was much better suited as fuel for the time in my life when I was a sleep deprived new mom of a toddler and infant also trying to do campus ministry, than it is for a day of driving/sitting in an airport and airplane/driving again, I was so very, very grateful for Waco. Grateful for the people and places that were an important part of my life. Grateful for the new people I had met and the changes taking place. Grateful for Natalie Webb and Kyndall Rothaus and all of the women who did so much to put this conference together. Very, very grateful that they have announced that Unauthorized: Nevertheless She Preached will take place again next year! See you then, Waco!
Angel Jackson is the pastor of St. John Lutheran Church, McZena, Ohio. She was a pastoral intern at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Waco and the interim Missioner at Canterbury House, the Episcopal Student Center near Baylor. She loves parenting (most of the time) and reading and is passionate about women’s voices and radical hospitality.