RESPONSE: NOVEMBER 2017 ISSUE

My United Methodist Women Journey

Retirement can be the beginning of a surprising adventure answering God’s new and renewed call.

My United Methodist Women Journey
Randie Clawson, a member of United Methodist Women from Traverse City, Michigan, teaches English as a second language to asylum seekers.

The sisterhood of United Methodist Women has us journeying together on a creative, cosmic quest. The experiences of the past five years of my life are beyond anything I ever thought or imagined.

We know God loves variety. How I became a United Methodist Women member is unique. I had been away from any church for 22 years. I was looking for a church where girls and women could respond to the Holy Spirit’s call and would not be limited because of biology. When I drove past a church marque near where I lived, I saw the pastor’s name: Char. I had found my church; it was a United Methodist church.

For the next 12 years God continued working in my life. I was retired from a career with the State of Michigan. My heart was saddened by divorce, and I started working a full-time job. I was 69 when I chose to answer the call to serve as an Individual Volunteer in Mission through the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries. I attended the required cross-cultural training and received an assignment overseas.

I looked for an opportunity to serve with a team for my first overseas experience. I discovered a United Methodist Women Ubuntu Journey to Sierra Leone. During a telephone conversation the team leader asked me if I was a United Methodist Women member. I replied that I was United Methodist and a woman—I didn’t know yet about the national organization of United Methodist Women (neither United Methodist church I attended had a local unit). I soon learned.

A global ubuntu connection

On the Ubuntu Journey we attended the Sierra Leone United Methodist Women’s Annual Convention. During a beautiful service at the convention, women from each district named their fears, shared their prayers and poured symbolic tears together into a large bowl. Some of their tears and prayers included victims and survivors of war and internal conflict, women who walk for miles for water, survivors of rape and trafficking, girls who lack access to education, survivors of domestic violence, poor living conditions, early marriage, climate change and injustice, addiction, neglect, and women whose stories are never told.

We read the following together: Through tears, we look at one another. In tears, we recognize one another from town to town, district to district, country to country and from continent to continent. Because of these tears, we stay together, move together and proclaim that violence against women is a sin. All violence is a sin. Spirit of care, Spirit of compassion, take our tears, touch our pain, heal our wounds and guide our anger. Spirit of care, Spirit of justice, empower us to break the chain of human sin.

The pain and joy of sisterhood in community became real. The faith, hope and love of the Sierra Leone women became a touchstone for me.

One unforgettable evening was an outside dinner and dance. United Methodist Women sisters from all over the districts came. Most walked for hours; some walked for days. We praised God in song and dance. A local pastor closed the event in prayer. In his prayer, he asked God for protection from snakes for the women who would be walking home the following day. I pondered, how many of my United Methodist Women sisters back home would walk a day to attend a United Methodist Women’s gathering? What if danger from snakes were a possibility? Would I walk?

My heart sings praises of thanks to God for the United Methodist Women of Sierra Leone. Their dedication inspires me and propels me to action. Returning from the Ubuntu Journey, I became an official member of United Methodist Women by joining a unit at Central United Methodist Church in Traverse City, Michigan.

As I prepared to go overseas on my first individual assignment with the World Council of Churches in their Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, the Mancelona United Methodist Women in Michigan were the first to invite me to talk about my pending service opportunity. Their invitation, love, gifts and prayers were great encouragement.

Upon my return, my own United Methodist Women asked me to share my experience. As I looked over the audience, many were women from my Lunch Bunch circle. Some were in tears as they listened to the stories of the suffering of the mothers and children I had met. Again United Methodist Women joined to end injustice to women and children.

Through the Global Ministries’ mission volunteer program in Palestine, Israel and Jordan, my awareness of the plight of refugees was heightened and personalized. I answered another call from God, this time to serve refugees and asylum seekers in Virginia and Texas.

Leadership Development Days

As a new social action coordinator for the West Michigan Conference, I praise God for the privilege of attending United Methodist Women Leadership Development Days. I learned a lot, and I had so much to learn! I learned about different communication styles, debate, discussion and dialogue. It became evident that I had to unlearn some of my conversational practices. I am still working on my communication skills, properly using the mute and unmute button.

My prayer life has also changed. Romans 8:26 teaches that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groans too deep for words. My prayer now is, “God show me my blind spots.” And Romans 12:2 says we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The promise is that as we fix our attention on God, we will be changed from the inside out. The Message paraphrase puts it this way: “Readily recognize what God wants from you and quickly respond to it.”

National Seminar 2015

The United Methodist Women’s National Seminar in 2015 played an important role in my personal development for my position as social action coordinator. There I learned about United Methodist Women social justice priorities: maternal and child health, mass incarceration, economic inequality and climate justice are ongoing topics of action and passion. The title of the 2015 National Seminar was “Interrupting Indifference: Jesus, Justice and Joy.” Love is the requirement. Love interrupts indifference, brings closeness to Jesus and gives us joy as we work together for justice.

Taking the theme of the National Seminar to heart, I realized I had to reflect on my past use of time and my indifference. “Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin” (James 4:17).

Holy troublemakers

Now, grateful, grasping God’s grace given to me each day inspires me to action. Our United Methodist Women’s Purpose calls us to the participation of love everywhere. Scripture sets the focus. Galatians 5:6 says, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (NIV).

After a talk I gave about standing for economic justice, one fellow United Methodist Women member said, “Let me know when and where—I will be there even with my walker!” What an inspiration and empowerment it is to be a part of a sisterhood that chooses to be “holy troublemakers”! We are walking in the footsteps of our foremothers of the past 150 years.

While serving at La Posada Providencia, a shelter for asylum seekers in San Benito, Texas, lessons learned from United Methodist Women resources proved very useful. With the help of Deaconess Cindy Johnson I served there three months, from January to March 2017. La Posada offers cultural orientation for asylum seekers. Caring for God’s earth was part of the orientation. Conserving water, composting and growing their own vegetables are all part of La Posada’s heritage to those who will be new citizens in our country. We learned about Martin Luther King Jr. together. We sang “We Shall Overcome.”

My journey has also heightened my realization of shared complicity in cultural errors that are wounding God’s creatures and God’s creation. It is easy to see the harm done to Native Americans, even by the church. In the United Methodist Women mission study Latin America: People and Faith we read of the harm done by choices of governments, including the U.S. government. Black Lives Matter is helping us realize harm still being done to people and communities of color. Do we yet have eyes to see that our excess is really being stolen from the poor of the world?

I gave a talk on social justice at a friend’s assisted living center. I told of the harm I saw to noncombatants done by U.S. bombs and bullets in foreign countries. During the question and answer period, one of the women said, “I think I have been praying wrong all these years.” The Holy Spirit was revealing to her God’s will of nonviolence for all people. As United Methodist Women, we pray, we act, we engage in the love offensive to change systems that do harm.

I have been retired from my career with the State of Michigan for 20 years. My retirement inspiration comes from Luke 17:13-15, the story of the 10 lepers who called out to Jesus. Jesus answered their call and then sent them out to show themselves to the priests, “and as they went, they were made clean.”

In John 17:18, Jesus talking to God said, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” Each of us is sent. Say yes to God’s sending and be cleansed on the way!

Therefore, my retired or soon-to-be-retired sisters, fulfillment is even yet to come. We are always going on to perfection. Reading, praying, using the United Methodist Women’s Prayer Calendar is a daily means of grace for us on our journeys. Daily we grow in understanding of God’s intention for us. We gain wisdom to make the choices that allow God’s promised fullness to fill us and bubble over into our ministry.

Pondering the written word and being filled with the living Word, our creative, supportive fellowships are organized love, creating us as growing disciples. We will use our hearts, souls, minds and bodies for creating more disciples for the transformation of the world.

Using our hearts, souls, minds and bodies through our actions, we are saying thanks to God. We each grow into taking steps to overcome indifference and remain active and faithful in all the changing circumstances of our lives. Retirement isn’t just for rocking chairs—God still needs us for action. We have new tread as we roll through our “golden years” on the energy God promised and delivers! Our United Methodist Women Purpose remains our call to action!

Randie Clawson is a member of United Methodist Women at Central United Methodist Church in Traverse City, Michigan.

Posted or updated: 11/3/2017 12:00:00 AM
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