Adventures in Justice – Merilie Robertson

Adventures in Justice – Merilie Robertson

Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, and please the widow’s cause.

Isaiah 1:17

I have known Merilie Robertson since the early 1990’s when our paths crossed as my husband and I were gearing up for PC(USA) mission service. Little did I know that our paths would continue to cross for the next 3 decades, but I’m sure glad they have! I have been blessed to know her and be inspired by her. She moved into Monte Vista Grove Homes in Pasadena in Feb. 2019 after spending many years (when she was in the U.S.A) living in Canoga Park, CA. If you don’t know Merilie already, I hope this article gives you a glimpse into why I feel so blessed to have worked alongside her in both San Fernando and San Gabriel Presbyteries for a number of years now by giving you a brief look into just a few of the adventures in justice she has lived.

Merilie was born in Simi, CA, in 1928 and grew up on a ranch that grew mainly oranges, walnuts, and grapes. She characterizes her family as adventurous, and she remembers many a summer camping trip in Baja California. She has many happy memories of growing up.

It was while earning her teaching credential that Merilie first considered that her calling might be to the mission field. She got her teaching credential; taught science, math, home economics, and P.E. for two years in a small town; earned a Masters in Religious Education at seminary; and then applied to the PC(USA) Board of Foreign Missions. In 1957 after missionary orientation in New York, she boarded the USS Flying Independence (a freighter) for a two-month trip around the tip of Africa to Karachi. She lived in Lahore, Pakistan, for 11 years teaching at the Forman High School for girls. Forman High School was a Christian school for Muslim girls. Merilie started the science department and taught mainly physics and chemistry in the Urdu language. Her next assignment which started in 1969 was teaching school at the Community School in Tehran, Iran. It was a very diverse school both religiously and ethnically. Merilie came to love Iran – the beauty of the country, the cultural treasures, and her students. In 1979 the U.S. Embassy was taken over, and then the Community School was taken over by the revolutionary guard.

Merilie and some other teachers stayed one final school year teaching at a new site in northern Tehran before the government closed all foreign schools and she came back to the U.S. in 1980.

That year, at General Assembly, a 5-year study that produced a document called “Peacemaking: The Believers’ Calling” was received. This little booklet had a profound impact on Merilie, and she says “it was a life-changer for me.” It helped her put many things together and cemented her call to be a peacemaker.

Merilie states that her love for justice started in Iran and grew from there. In the 1980’s Merilie really became an activist. She went on Witness for Peace delegation trips to Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Colombia. She learned about issues affecting Latin America and worked to raise the awareness of U.S. citizens and elected officials so as to effect change in U.S. policy toward Central America. She participated in acts of civil disobedience. It was an important time for her.

As I mentioned, I met Merilie in the early 1990’s before my husband and I went to Nicaragua as PC(USA) mission workers. In Spring 1994 we landed in Managua to begin our assignment. Then in the fall of 1994 Merilie arrived in Nicaragua with the Presbyterian Reconciliation and Mission Program. Merilie was 66 years old (the next oldest participant was 35 years old), and she was sent to the Atlantic Coast to the town of Puerto Cabezas. She was assigned to work with the Moravian Church’s Women’s Association and it was through that group she met many amazingly strong women who inspired her.

One such inspiration was a Miskito woman named Edrina. Edrina was extremely poor, but she was passionate about starting women’s associations at Moravian churches in the region. Edrina’s passion led to Merilie accompanying her to some very remote communities, and Merilie told me of one such trip.

Edrina had set up visits to several remote communities north of Puerto Cabezas, so one late afternoon Merilie walked to the port and boarded a 20 foot or so long sailboat along with Edrina. The boat carried quite a lot of people and freight, and they sailed on the ocean all night up the coast. When they got off the sailboat the next day they walked to a Moravian pastor’s house where they stayed for 2 or 3 days. Each day they walked to different communities and met with church women to talk about starting women’s associations. The return trip was via inland water passages and ended with them wading from waist deep to shore. This was just one of many interesting and adventurous experiences Merilie had while in Nicaragua.

Not one for twiddling her thumbs, Merilie felt called to travel back to Central America shortly after returning to the U.S. from Nicaragua. She went to Guatemala in the fall of 1995 where for two months she accompanied Pastor Lucio Martinez who was receiving death threats. Her time in Guatemala was very significant for her. Accompanying Lucio every day whether he went on a pastoral call in a community or to a meeting in Guatemala City or to work in his corn field gave Merilie a glimpse into and a better understanding of the lives of indigenous people. On community visits she would hear discussions about relevant issues. During Bible studies Lucio would read a passage and those in attendance would bring their experiences to the Scriptures in ways Merilie had not heard before.

Accompanying people like Edrina and Lucio gave her insight into how important it is to listen and especially listen to indigenous people.

Since leaving Central America she has continued to tirelessly do what she can for oppressed peoples. She spent parts of 3 summers along the U.S./Mexico border with “No More Deaths,” sleeping on the ground and carrying heavy water bottles around in order to assist migrants in the desert. At 78 years old she decided she had to stop that activity. But she realized that she could still work in aiding immigrants without traveling into the desert. She’s done a lot of advocacy work and about 7 years ago she started learning about detention centers and realized that people from countries she had visited or volunteered in were in some of these facilities. She started visiting detainees and listening to them, so she could then share their stories and struggles and better advocate for them. Then in time she began to train others on organizing and making visits. One local group she helped train is now way beyond just visiting detainees, and that makes her happy. During this pandemic she is still writing to a few detainees or released immigrants and she is reading to continue learning.

“See life as an experience that educates you,” said Merilie. Well, with all she’s experienced I’d say Merilie is a very wise woman.

In peace,

Wendy Gist

 

 

Reflection

Reflection

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

John 13:34

God calls us to love one another, and while sometimes this commandment leads us to do good things for others, at other times it leads us to do good things in partnership with others.  This is a constant issue we struggle with in the broad area of mission – doing for or doing with.  While I believe that there is a place and actually a need for both, I tend to gravitate toward opportunities that would fall under the “doing with” heading as that can lead to empowerment and self-sufficiency of the individuals or groups we are working alongside.

The Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People (SDOP) is a perfect example of an empowerment model.  SDOP makes it possible for us to financially support the programs or projects of disadvantaged communities through grants.  This may sound very familiar – grants for programs or projects in disadvantaged communities.  But, SDOP grants come with criteria unlike most other grant programs we may be familiar with.  First, the project must be presented, owned, and controlled by the group of disadvantaged people who will benefit from it.  This first criteria makes it impossible for the project to be one where some group is “doing for” others.  Second, the project needs to address a long-term correction of conditions that keep people bound by poverty and oppression.  This second criteria leads directly toward empowerment and self-sufficiency of oppressed people.  There are other criteria that include being sensitive to the environment; not advocating violence; and describing, in detail, goals, objectives, the roles of direct beneficiaries, and the methods used to achieve goals and objectives.  However, the first two criteria are what set SDOP apart and make it harder to find grant recipients sometimes.

The churches in our Presbytery have lots of good programs and connections to organizations with good programs that help poor, oppressed, and marginalized people in our communities in a myriad of ways.  We are very good at “doing for” others and know of lots of organizations that run on that model.  However, are you aware of groups in your community that are working to lift themselves out of poverty and oppression and make their own lives better?  I would encourage all of us to open our eyes and ears and search out the groups of disadvantaged people in our area that are working to empower themselves.  They are both exciting and inspiring!

As a reminder, our Presbytery is part of a joint SDOP Committee with the Presbytery of San Fernando.  This committee has grant money available every year to support the work of groups that meet the SDOP criteria.  If you know of a community group that meets the SDOP criteria and has a project or program that could use some financial assistance, please contact Wendy Gist at gist.wendy@gmail.com and visit https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/sdop/ for more information.

 

 

Monday Morning Update

Monday Morning Update

You see, then, that it is by our actions that we are put right with God, and not by our faith alone.

James 2:24

A friend of mine who teaches at Yale Divinity School said, “Joy is a work of resistance against despair. This work involves more than feeling an emotion.”  Within San Gabriel Presbytery I see lots of places and ways we are involved in this type of work.  I want to highlight just a few joyful opportunities that are coming up.

If you are concerned about or feel despair about the health and well-being of people near and far, we have a few connections for you to plug into coming right up. 

Our Living Waters for the World team is bringing clean water to various communities in Peru, which equates to better health and less worry for families.  This is an extremely joy-filled ministry of our presbytery and you are welcome to join the team!  To learn more about the current reality and work in Peru we are blessed to have coming to our presbytery mission co-workers Sara Armstrong and Rusty Edmondson from Nov. 9-13.  They will share with us at the Presbytery Meeting on Nov. 10, but they will also be speaking at a number of churches within the presbytery.  For more information or to schedule time with Sara and Rusty contact Rev. Cyndie Crowell at cwcrowell1001@gmail.com.

Connecting with organizations working to better the health and well-being of people nearer to home is something many of our churches are doing pretty well.  We have the opportunity to support one such organization at the Nov. Presbytery Meeting.  Inland Valley Hope Partners (IVHP) will be the recipient of the special offering collected at that meeting.  IVHP is addressing homelessness and hunger issues by offering food security programs, housing programs, and healthy living programs to those in need in conjunction with local faith communities, businesses, individuals, and groups.  Joyfully I am able to report that we have a few churches directly involved with the work of IVHP.  More church partners are always welcome.

If you are concerned about or feel despair about the treatment and/or situation of immigrants, here are some ways that might help you work your way out of that place.

At the November Presbytery Meeting everyone will have the opportunity to write a message of support to unaccompanied minors seeking asylum.  We will have postcards available on a table so you can express to kids who are waiting for their day in court that they are in your thoughts and prayers.  The cards will be distributed at various locations around Los Angeles through organizations working with unaccompanied minors.

On Nov. 17 Puente de Esperanza Presbyterian Church is holding an immigration workshop.  In conjunction with Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) and other organizations they will offer free consultations with immigration lawyers and a Know Your Rights informational session.  CLUE is always looking for churches who can host immigration workshops for immigrants in our neighborhoods.  Might your church be willing to provide this service in the future to our immigrant brothers and sisters?  If so, let me know at gist.wendy@gmail.com.

If you are concerned about or feel despair about the lack of peace in our world, there’s a conference coming up in a few months that you should attend.

“Peace-ing It Together” will be held on Feb. 23, 2019 at Knox Presbyterian Church in Pasadena.  This one-day conference will explore various topics of violence and peace and offer specific ideas for peacemaking activities for churches and communities.  Featured speakers will include Sara Lisherness and Rev. Denise Anderson from the Presbyterian Mission Agency and Rev. Emily Brewer from Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.  For more information contact me at gist.wendy@gmail.com.

There are a number of situations that I despair over in the world today, but taking steps to counter those things which bring me down helps not only me, but the situation itself.  I pray that we all find work that brings us joy and also makes this world more like the kingdom of God on Earth.

Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual Gifts

We all have been graced with spiritual gifts. We may not know what they are, but they are part of us and come through whether identified or not. The fact that there are a “great variety of spiritual gifts” is evident when working with groups going to Peru. I am always thankful for the variety of gifts and gift combinations amongst us because it means that everyone on a trip contributes in a unique way to the group and that is what makes us truly a team. My gifts of Administration, Leadership, and Pastor/Shepherd help me to plan, coordinate, and lead the trips in conjunction with others, which is one of my roles on these adventures. All of us drawn to these trips have to some degree the gift of Service. We feel called to serve in love to help bring about the improvement of communities near and far.

Back in 2009 when San Gabriel Presbytery (SGP) sent its first group of people to get trained for the Living Waters for the World (LWW) ministry work we had no idea where that training would take us. Since 2010 when we first traveled to Peru we’ve had a good number of people beyond that initial group participate in trips to build relationships with Peruvian brothers and sisters, to help install water purification systems, and to lead health and spiritual education. It’s been a rich and enriching experience for everyone.

In the eight years we’ve been traveling to Peru we have become covenant relationship partners with seven different communities in Peru. Six water systems have been installed to date in churches, community centers, and a school. A seventh system is going to be installed at a school in Lima this May.

Do you feel called to serve in love to help improve communities near and far? Might you want to use your gift of Service and the others you have been given on a trip to Peru with the SGP LWW team? We can use people with all kinds of spiritual gift combinations and would love to have you join us this May when we install a water purification system at the school in Lima.

The trip dates are May 24 – June 2, 2018. If you want more information contact Rev. Cyndie Crowell or Wendy Gist as soon as possible.

Overcoming Adversity

Overcoming Adversity

Overcoming Adversity

Guest Author: Wendy Gist.

If I had been asked to write this column a week ago, the Bible verses I selected for this week’s column would not have been my chosen verses. I was far from a “Praise the Lord!” place. I was not thanking God. Instead I was stressed out and frustrated and not thinking happy thoughts.

There had been a fairly major setback on one of the projects I was working on and I wasn’t getting information from others that I needed to make my way forward clear. So, the setback lingered and the feeling of frustration festered. After days of waiting and stress building, my shoulders and neck were tight with tension. It was only then at this very low point that I finally remembered to take my burden to God in prayer and not try to get through this on my own. So, pray I did. It was after praying that I received an idea of one possible way to resolve this issue that actually excited me.

As we’ve all heard before, God sometimes works in mysterious ways. Let’s move back in time about a month. I’m sure you all remember our June 17th Presbytery meeting and Day of Service. I signed up to serve at Door of Hope in Pasadena along with a number of others, including a group of Tapestry kids and their leaders. We met there, took a tour while hearing about what Door of Hope does, and then started work on the available tasks. I knew a couple of the people who signed up to work alongside me, but mostly these were new folks for me. During lunch I made a point of sitting with a group I didn’t know and chatting awhile with one person in particular. Overall, it was a very good service day experience, enhanced by those I worked and talked with.

Now let’s fast forward back to a few days ago after praying to God to bring resolution to this problem I was experiencing. It was after that that I remembered the person I chatted with during lunch on our Presbytery Day of Service and the very positive impression she left on me. I reached out to her via email with a subject line that said “An urgent, but crazy question.” She responded that same day in a way that gave me immediate hope and relieved much of the stress I was feeling. One day later, a happy and exciting resolution emerged, and my problem and stress faded away.

Do I think God was in this? Absolutely! Was God just waiting for me to settle down enough and humble myself enough to reach out in prayer? Absolutely! Am I now praising the Lord and thanking God with all my heart? Absolutely! Will I remember to reach out to God sooner next time? I sure hope so.

God always remembers us – is always there for us and with us. We are the ones who have to remember to include God instead of trying to go it alone.

Wendy Gist
Mission Advocate