By The Rev. Lisa Isenhower – Faith, Batesburg-Leesville
What does it mean to live out the theme of this year’s South Carolina Synod Assembly, “To Boldly Go . . . To Proclaim” in one’s life and work? Three South Carolina Lutherans offered their thoughts on living out this theme in daily life.
First, the Reverend Carl Taylor offered a reflection on prison ministry as one of the greatest mission fields in our synod. He noted that prisons are places that are least visited by Christians in America because of our discomfort with being behind the prison fence. Grounding his comments in Matthew 25:36b, Rev. Taylor reminded hearers that Jesus stressed the importance of visiting those in prison. But he also said that mere hospitality is not enough. Instead, Christians must go deeper than hospitality, educating themselves on the plight of victims and innocent prisoners as well as both repentant and unrepentant guilty criminals. With a high number of incarcerated people and a high recidivism rate (nearly 1/3 of those released returning to prison within 2 years), the prison system desperately needs outreach from Christians.
Rev. Taylor also noted that when an inmate serves time, that person’s family members also serve time emotionally. Outreach to the families of those in prison is critical for helping families weather and overcome the heartache and traumatic effects of having a loved one in prison. Rev. Taylor also spoke of Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep, stating that the Shepherd notices the one sheep out of a hundred that veers off and goes in a different direction. The Shepherd follows and finds that one sheep, without which the herd is not complete.
Finally, Rev. Taylor encouraged hearers not simply to visit those in prison, but to let Christ’s light shine from within as they do so. In this way, those who visit become beacons of hope to the ones they encounter.
The second reflection, by Christina Galardi Henricks, lifted up the work of the Lutheran Services Carolinas Transitional Foster Care program. As a professional in the public health field specializing in substance abuse prevention, Ms. Henricks knows that adverse childhood experiences (ACES) can negatively impact children in ways that can lead to chronic health problems. Sadly, 6 in 10 adults have experienced at least one ACE during their childhoods.
But the good news is that positive childhood experiences (PCES) enhance a child’s life and result in successful mental and physical health outcomes. Toxic stress can be replaced by resilience-building practices such as adequate sleep, good nutrition, and healthy interactions with others.
Jesus said that whoever welcomes a child welcomes Christ. Children in our communities need our welcome and our care. Lutheran Services Carolina’s Transitional Foster Care Program for unaccompanied children works with the office of refugee resettlement to serve children—usually from Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador—who have made dangerous journeys to the United States to rejoin their family, flee from violence, escape abuse and neglect, or recover from abandonment by parents. Those who foster these children are called to open themselves, their hearts, and their homes to help give these children positive childhood experiences and care for them while they work for reunification with parents or other family members.
The need for foster parents in the Transitional Foster Care program is great. As of last month, around 22,000 children were waiting for care. Since 2017, South Carolina has provided for 133 children and counting.
Ms. Henricks spoke of being a witness to God’s love in Christ despite powerful forces beyond our control. After studying scripture on the topic of refugees, she concluded that it is impossible to ignore the word of God on this topic. After all, Jesus was himself a refugee.
So far, Ms. Henricks and her husband, the Rev. James Henricks, have fostered two children through LFS. She notes that foster care is not always an experience of boldness. Not only has she been immersed in learning Spanish, she also has learned how to let go and be thankful for grace when she makes mistakes. For Ms. Henricks, fostering has been a full sensory experience, and she cannot help but speak of what she has seen and heard, telling about God’s signs and wonders through being exposed to the greatest in the kingdom: A child. She closed her reflection by encouraging hearers to check out the LSC website for more information, to take bold action, do the work, feed Jesus’ sheep and care for his little lambs.
The third reflection on what it means “To Boldly Go . . . To Proclaim” was by the Rev. Jesse Caniff-Kuhn on Campus Ministry at USC. He described campus ministry as a combination of community, formation, and service. The key to ministry is to keep these three in balance.
Rev. Caniff-Kuhn described the USC campus as a place to learn and grow and figure out how life works and how to engage the world. But it is also a place where lots of messages are being proclaimed and where lots of different campus ministries exist. Not all those ministries proclaim a message of God’s unconditional love. Rev. Caniff-Kuhn states, “We are responsible for proclaiming, ‘you are wonderfully and beautifully made in God’s image, and that means that you areenough.’” He notes that this is good news that so many are desperate to hear and have never been told.
The goal of USC Campus Ministry is to try to embody and live into the good news of God’s love. Working toward that goal begins with proclaiming, with sharing good news. This sharing happens not only in their own meeting space, but all over campus, through handing out messages of acceptance and through partnering with other organizations on campus.
Since students don’t stay on campus forever, but rather move on, campus ministry can help connect them to life in God and service. This connection helps them go out into the world to proclaim the good news of God in Christ wherever they go. In that sense, the work of campus ministry is not so different from what our congregations are called to do and to be. Both campus and congregation are called to share God’s promises and proclaim the good news of God in Christ.