Having lived in Michigan for the past six years, we’re grateful that that most of our network of sending and support as new mission co-workers is focused around the state of Michigan. Our most recent travels brought us to Eskridge, Kansas, the hometown of a good friend Sherri Jacobson. Back in 2002, Sherri and I served together as the first group of PCUSA Young Adult Volunteers in Cairo, Egypt. Two weddings and four children later, Sherri and I have stayed in touch mostly through Christmas cards and Facebook posts. (In a moment of simple wonder, it was fun to experience the realization for Sherri’s middle daughter that Sherri and I really were in Egypt together, when she discovered that her mom and I both share tattoos of Jerusalem crosses on both of our right wrists). Thanks to Sherri’s invitation to Kansas, we shared about God’s mission in the Philippines and throughout Asia with a local church, college students at Kansas State University, an ecumenical women’s group, and three Agriculture classes at a local high school. During his presentations with high school students, Juan opened up discussions of agriculture and modern-day slavery with a recent documentary called “Food Chains.”
This Kansas visit enabled us to vision together a future as partners in God’s mission, but also it was a chance to reconnect with the past and to bring together the past, present and future. In the late 1960s, my father arrived on the campus of Kansas State University, on a bitter, cold winter day to start his graduate studies. According to my father, he rolled up $100 in various bills, in the pockets of his well-worn pants, that his mother pieced together for him before leaving home in South Korea. During my sermon with the Wakarusa Presbyterian Church, when I shared that K-State connection through my father’s studies, the congregation burst into applause. At most I expected smiles and nods of polite acknowledgment, so this applause surprised me. The previous night’s football win and upcoming Bowl game, I suspect, might have been another reason for that applause. After that Sunday worship service, we also enjoyed a potluck luncheon with church members, followed up with our formal presentation about human trafficking. After that presentation, a church member approached me and handed us two folded dollar bills, almost similar in amount to my dad’s student beginnings, yet this time it was to support God’s mission in the Philippines and throughout Asia.
In between our visits to various places, we learned bits of Kansas history from Sherri’s father-in-law: from pre-Civil War to the Civil Rights movement, he provided, both literally and figuratively, a “drive-thru” version of history. Positioned between free state and slave state, Kansas chose its own destiny in the 19th century, but not without violence. Realizing it’s not a perfect comparison, I connect that part of Kansas history to our current calling to mission, and wonder what it means for us to stand with countries and peoples who are choosing between freedom and modern-day slavery. On our drive to Kansas State University, we zoomed past a sign that read “Beecher Bibles and Rifles Church.” Here a Henry Ward Beecher sermon and financial support allowed settlers to smuggle rifles and Bibles in crates labeled “Beecher’s Bibles,” in order to defend themselves and more importantly, to support their abolitionist agenda. While these tactics are not what I advocate for the abolition of modern-day slavery, maybe I could preach like Henry Ward Beecher (one can hope, right?).
Days later we also visited the Monroe Elementary School of Topeka which now houses the National Historic Site of Brown v. Board of Education. While the museum highlights the momentum towards that famous Supreme Court ruling, it also highlighted many men and women and other events from the Civil Rights movement. I also noticed a panel displaying the start of slavery in the American colonies, and of course, that’s when my camera phone ran out of batteries. While history is most prominently displayed in this museum, several rooms were also dedicated to the legacy of desegregation of public schools. While it is true that photos of prominent figures like Nelson Mandela and images of integrated classrooms can take up space in a museum, it still remains to be seen whether we as a nation and a world, for that matter, are still talking and acting as though we prefer segregation over integration. Many will choose fear over love, hostility over welcome, anxiety over peace, but I pray instead that we make room for one another and for the Christ-child who alone is the source of all hope, peace, joy and love. Advent and Christmas blessings from our family to yours!
Update: instead of moving in late January, as we had originally hoped, we are now looking to a moving date in early March.