Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Shepastor: “Ministering to the Least of These,” A Testimony and Challenge From Rev. Monica Harmon, Chaplain.”

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,” Luke 4:18 NIV

This week, Shepastor is reposting this important interview given by Rev. Monica Harmon...

A few weeks ago, I had an intriguing conversation with Rev. Monica Harmon, an Associate Minister at Antioch Baptist Church, Cleveland, Ohio and a community chaplain. She shared with me her experience of visiting a women’s prison in Topeka, Kansas during the American Baptist Biennial. Particularly striking was her story involving a young woman whose mother, sister and two brothers were all incarcerated. The woman, her mother and sister were all located at the same prison. This tragedy compelled me to ask Rev. Monica about her thoughts as she reflected upon this jarring experience. Below is her response…

The Five C’s

Tasha Cobbs, has the hottest new single “Break Every Chain.” This war cry is really an intercession for captives to be set free. Today we must continue to intercede for the least of these. Some of us may never go behind prison walls. You need to ask yourself why or why not? We have distanced ourselves from this reality for the least of these who find themselves serving time for one reason or another. My experience at the Topeka Correctional Institute is related to the Five C’s; challenge, call, communication, compassion and commitment. Recently, The American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministries invited ABC Chaplains for a two day training. Included in the training was an invitation to participate in a trip to Topeka Correctional Institute. While I was not excited about the idea, I decided to participate with the plan. As a result I was changed forever.

The U.S. criminal justice system challenges us to deal with the millions who are incarcerated. We are challenged to deal with the millions of children who are affected by their parent(s) being incarcerated. We are challenged, as Dr. Michelle Alexander states in her book, The New Jim Crow,” by legalized discrimination, demonization and criminalization of black men and women. We are challenged by those who believe justice is blind and everyone gets a fair trial. We are challenged by those who say social justice is no longer an issue.

We are called in Isaiah 61:1 and Luke 4:18 to set those who are captives free. We are called to give them the good news. We are called to visit them according to Matthew 25:35-46. You and I have a responsibility to be our brothers’ keeper. You may say, “He is not my brother.” He may not be your brother, but he or she is somebody’s brother or sister. Where is your brother? Cain responded to the Lord, “Am I my brothers’ keeper?” If not you, then who? We can no longer look for others to do for us, what we must do for ourselves.

We must begin to dialogue with those behind bars. When I heard those women’s stories I was amazed as to how they make it from day to day. Many are serving life sentences. We have to become active listeners. We need to hear their stories. We need to find out who is looking after their children. The most important part of any relationship is communication. Without communication there is no relation.

We need compassion in order to reach those behind bars who society has forgotten. I admit it, I had forgotten about women in prison until I was able to put a name with a face on them. Compassion was the key that kept me that day. It was not my love for them, but God’s divine love that enabled me to listen- listen without judgment. God is our only judge.
In order for change to take place in our society we must be committed to the least of these. We must be willing to open ourselves in order to be committed to changing what has become an epidemic. Wake up American. Wake up. We have been asleep too long. It is time to wake up. Where are the Drum Majors for Justice? Michelle Alexander’s work, The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, is a wake-up call for us all. I strongly urge you to read it!
Rev. Monica Harmon, Chaplain

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Until Next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris

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