For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others
– Nelson Mandela
Social Entrepreneur & Diversity Advocate
I was born in the 80’s in the heart of the Bible Belt and raised in the Southern Baptist Church that taught me to love and honor Scripture. This starting point gave me a beautiful, yet admittedly one-sided, view of God and the people of God. As I grew older and started meeting people from other perspectives, I quickly realized that my view of God was incredible small. There was a whole other side to this big magnificient God that I hadn’t seen yet, a part of His image that had yet to be illuminated to me through the eyes of the “other”.
When I was 9 years old I vividly remember walking across my living room and seeing my Dad watch the news as Nelson Mandela became the first truly democratically-elected President of South Africa. I remember being both confused by Apartheid and inspired by this man’s relentless pursuit of justice and healing for his people. I remember thinking how wonderful it must be to be there to witness such a moment. And then I imagine I ran back outside to play as any privileged 9 year old American kid would, but the seed had been planted.
As the years went by, while I was clumsily figuring my way through the teenage years and desperately trying to figure out what my “purpose” and “calling” were, all while still trying to just figure out what it is to be human, I never wavered in knowing that my life was going to be lived beyond the walls of the bubble of my comfortable Southern life.
My Dad is a school teacher in an “alternative learning” high school that helps kids graduate High School who otherwise likely would’ve dropped out for a host of reasons I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. My older brother has been in the US Army for almost 20 years and has been on numerous deployments. My Mom was a computer programmer who shattered glass ceilings and always spoke up in church, even when it wasn’t “her place” to do so. She got sick when I was 15 and died of breast cancer when I was 18, leaving the world far too soon and leaving a gaping hole in the family she left behind. I graduated High School early and started studying at Dallas Baptist University at 17. Somehow in my short residence there I had gone from believing I was called to be a Pastor to believing that I must’ve heard God wrong- it must’ve been that I am called to be a Pastor’s wife.
I left the next summer to work with Youth Works in a small coal mining town of West Virginia. The next semester I took a break from studies and headed to Uganda for 6 months to work with high schoolers at an orphanage planted among the sugarcane fields. Upon my return to the US, I transferred to Bethel University in St Paul, MN to study Reconciliation and Socio-Cultural studies (mainly because they focused on post-Apartheid South Africa) where my best friend was a Sudanese refugee who never failed to put me in my place, and I met my first openly-gay friend (many more were to come out in the years to come). It wasn’t long before I found myself on a plane to South Africa on a study abroad program to study the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and to see how the country had fared in it’s reconciliation efforts 10 years after the fall of Apartheid. The moment the plane landed on South African soil, I knew I had finally found my place. I didn’t know a single person on the other side of those plane doors, but I knew I was home.
So I spent my College years learning to see other people’s perspectives of the same Scripture that my Southern Baptist Church had raised me on. A good portion of that was also spent recovering from some of the more damaging theologies I had absorbed and, if I am honest, I am still working through some of that today. The pain those teachings have caused not only to myself, but to my brothers & sisters in Christ that fall outside of the White, Western male-dominated Conservative Christian world-view, has been a force that has both held me back more times than I care to admit and also strangely propelled me forward in my own journey of the relentless pursuit of justice and reconciliation of all of us back to God, and to each other.
That semester abroad in South Africa has (all too quickly) turned into 13 years. I am married to a South African and we have 2 beautiful children: one biological, the other adopted, and both (for better or worse) just as stubborn as their Mother and as emotive as their Father. My husband is the Africa Outreach Director for an large American outreach organization and gets to travel all over this beautiful continent to build water wells, feed and educate children and spread the love of Christ through strategic local partnerships. We have served at our local church, Hillsong South Africa, for over 10 years in various capacities: Children’s leaders, Pastoral Care and Service Pastors.
I started studying again at the University of South Africa and had the privilege of learning Theology from a South African perspective. My professors were all from different cultures and different denominations. In addition to some of the most eye-opening theological training, I was also taken on a theological journey through gender justice, sexual ethics, inter-religious communication and social justice. I am forever indebted to these Scholars for leading me on a path to a fuller, more open and inclusive understanding of Scripture, and how our own inter-connectedness as the Body of Christ is vital to displaying the full image of God.
I have since developed a passion for absorbing and learning from authors and teachers with a different starting point than my own and have fused this into my own understanding and teachings. For your reference and interest, I have compiled a list of some of these influences here should you be interested in going on your own journey.
In 2013 I started Sparrow Society, a Non Profit Company that works to establish a more equal and unified society through Skills Development and Job Creation (and now Enterprise Development). The aim with this Social Enterprise is 1) To stimulate the South African manufacturing sphere with the hopes of reviving this industry for South African economic growth on a systemic level and 2) to create desperately needed jobs for individual people who are eager and ready to work and develop themselves and lift their families out of poverty.
This led to a partner program: YES Girl Project in Zambia where we have partnered with Reaching a Generation (based in Zambia) to create an after school Entrepreneur Training Program using simple jewelry making as an incubator micro-business to teach valuable business skills that can be used in any industry as the girls progress in their education. By giving these girls economic opportunity through “Skills & Scholarship”, they are given a choice in their future and a voice in their community. To learn more about this program and to purchase products to support the girls’ scholarships, visit yesgirlproject.com
Along my journey I have spoken on a number of topics including:
- Identity & Theology
- Race & Gender Identity Development
- Trans-racial Adoption
- Diversity Training for churches and organizations
- Business as Mission
- Economic Empowerment
- Cultural Perspectives in Mission
- and of course, Jesus.
And I think, after all this, I have finally realized my calling and purpose, and it was there all along:
Love God & Love People.