Event challenged clergy and laity to live faith by working for social justice
By LINDA M. LINONIS
Jim Wallis, founder and editor of Sojourner magazine, addressed a crowd of about 400 who attended a justice revival Thursday night at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, corner of Cherry and Buckeye streets.
Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative sponsored the evening revival and clergy workshops during the afternoon. MVOC described Wallis as a writer, speaker and activist who “challenges people of all faiths to grapple with issues of injustice and social disparity across denominational borders.”
Before the revival, Wallis said his message would focus on the idea that “a budget is a moral document.” He said “choices are on the table” and are at the “heart of values of the American people.”
Wallis said that “the poor suffer the budget cutbacks and corporations benefit from tax write-offs.” He said the poor often become invisible and have no voice. Wallis said it is the responsibility of social activists of faith to be their voice.
The MVOC’s mission, spelled out on its website, is “to develop leaders, to organize neighborhoods, and to build capacity to achieve healthy communities.”
The grassroots movement is headed by Kirk Noden, executive director, who been involved in organizing for a dozen years.
Noden said he was inspired to get into organizing as a student at Kent State University and the motivation came from a source of church ladies, especially Bea Mitchell. She succeeded in turning a neglected ghetto in Ravenna Township into recreational ballfields. “She had faith, vision and imagination,” he said, and those are qualities shared by organizers.
Noden said Mitchell told him “with faith all things are possible,” and the experience propelled him into community organization with a faith-based component. “Our ambition is to strengthen the faith-based movement in Trumbull County and Ohio,” he said.
The Rev. David MacDonald, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Niles, is co-chairman with Jean Waris of the MVOC human trafficking committee. “The church has been involved in social justice issues ... slavery, women’s right to vote, civil rights ... that voice has to be used in the issue of human trafficking,” he said. That topic was one presented in clergy workshops. About 40 area clergy from Trumbull and Mahoning counties attended.
He admitted the problem is a gritty one, but the faith community must be involved. “The fullest expression of faith is doing something,” he said.
The Rev. Dr. Dan Schomer, general presbyter of Eastminster Presbytery, is among ministers involved in MVOC. He said workshops dealt with Jesus and his ministry and how it related to justice and community involvement. “Jesus was active in the lives of the most vulnerable people of his day ... that’s our prime motivation,” he said. “Love in action is about advocating justice for all but especially the marginalized.”
The Rev. Mr. Schomer said, “Churches are called to love our neighbors. You can’t ignore people in need.”
Dr. Jeffery Barrows of Columbus spoke on domestic sex trafficking of minors. He is the founder and executive director of Gracehaven, which provides shelter and rehabilitation to girls younger than 18 who have been victims of commercial sexual exploitation and works to raise awareness among young women about the issue of minor sex trafficking so that they can avoid becoming victims themselves.
Barrows said Gracehaven is in the process of renovating a shelter for girls and needs church partners. Visit www.gracehavenhouse.org for details.
Adam Keck, a senior organizer in Trumbull County, also offered an overview of human trafficking in Ohio. He noted that Toledo is the fourth-largest area for human trafficking in the U.S.
MVOC and Ohio Organizing Collaborative are trying to work with local governments and law enforcement and the attorney general’s office on the topic of human trafficking.