Tag Archives: witness

Love that never ends

There are people whose words carry deep weight and profound meaning. They matter.

JHerbert and motherJohnalee Barnes Nelson was such a person. A woman of deep faith and profound courage, she personally witnessed for justice and peace. She supported her husband and their community in their shared witness. And together with her husband, and on her own, she raised her son to be an advocate, a witness.

I am humbled and proud to call her son, J. Herbert Nelson II my colleague, my friend, my brother. I know he is who he is, he lives as he lives, he serves as he serves, in large part because of his mother.

Each of us is shaped by, among other factors, the people in our lives. When we meet someone, we meet, to some extent, the people who have shaped them. Family. Friends. Neighbors. Teachers. Co-workers. And more. In J. Herbert, I met Johnalee Barnes Nelson.

But I also had the privilege of meeting Johnalee herself on several occasions. The most recent occurred at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Compassion, Peace, and Justice Training Day on March 21 of this year.

With my friends and colleagues and sisters Christine Hong and Esther Lee, I led a workshop on how different faith communities can work together to prevent violence. Johnalee attended. Because I was helping with the closing worship, I had to leave early.

As the worship ended, Johnalee made her way across the sanctuary of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. She sought me out. And when she found me, she thanked me for the workshop and said it had been the best one she attended that day. Because of who Johnalee was, I have treasured her words. I can think of no better feedback I have ever received.

Johnalee faced health challenges. She moved to live with J. Herbert because of those challenges. At the end of September, she was hospitalized.

Today, along with my colleagues in the Compassion, Peace, and Justice Ministry, I received an email with a brief message:

I am emailing to inform you that on yesterday my mother, Johnalee Barnes Nelson transitioned to be with The Lord. The members of my family are grateful for the love and support that you offered during her lifetime.
We are planning a memorial celebration of her life in Jesus Christ. Your prayers are solicited.
In the faith we share,
J. Herbert

I grieve with J. Herbert and his family and all who loved Johnalee Barnes Nelson. I pray they may find comfort and strength in this tender time.

I give thanks for the faith and witness and love and witness of Johnalee Barnes Nelson. Faith that gives us hope through Jesus Christ. Witness in Christ’s name that has inspired others, including me. Love that never ends.

Thanks be to God.

See you along the Trail.


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Justice: 10 May 2014

Justice 07 03 11 Advocacy Workshop Big Tent

3 July 2011
Advocacy Workshop, Big Tent
Indianapolis, IN

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Faithful – 9 May 2014

Faithful 9 6 13

9 September 2013
Church Center for the United Nations
Manhattan, New York

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Advent 10: Holy

IMG_3472 (800x512)


2 August 2008
Los Alamos, New Mexico

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Standing and sitting in the rain for justice

My friend Tim Luttermoser wrote this. He granted permission to post his words and photo.

TimHey Francis,

The past few days on campus, a conservative preacher (Tom the Preacher, you can google him) has been on campus doing… well, the typical conservative preacher things. But with larger displays and more professionally, unfortunately. Over the last two days I designed a poster (you can see it, sort of, in my profile picture) of welcoming congregations in the area, including Episcopals, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians (I’m happy to say), UUs, and a Reform Judaism temple, and today I stood across the way from their display for several hours, providing people with an alternative perspective and reminding them that this wasn’t the only face of Christianity or religion in general. I’m happy to say that, for the most part, Tom and Grace Campus Ministry (which invited him to campus) left me alone when I made it clear I was not interested in engaging.

I’m telling you all this because, if you have a minute on Sunday, I’d like you to pass along my thanks to Noble Road Presbyterian Church for me. I can say with confidence that being raised in that particular community has shaped me into who I am today, and I am grateful for the influence. Even as I’ve personally moved on to other religious and spiritual traditions, I always remember the loving and welcoming community of Noble Road, and when faced with hatred and bigotry, I can always draw on my history there and be reminded that there are wonderful religious communities with better approaches. Noble Road did a fantastic job modeling not only acceptance of LGBTQ people, but actively fighting for them, particularly within the religious community, a fight I still consider absolutely essential. While I’m fairly confident I would be supportive of LGBTQ people regardless of where I grew up, I know that growing up in NRPC specifically was what gave me the energy and the passion to contact these congregations, create this display, and stand through the two brief rainstorms to keep making my point all afternoon.

Thank you for all you have done and continue to do, both you in particular and NRPC as a whole.

Mark Koenig and Tricia Dykers Koenig – this thanks LARGELY goes to you as well, don’t forget.

Francis Miller, to whom Tim wrote, is currently the pastor at Noble Road Presbyterian Church. Tim lived in South Euclid and attended the church before he went to school. Tricia and I were co-pastors there at the time.

See you along the Trail.

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A call to act on Syria

Photos by Paul Jeffrey, ACT

Dr. Mary Mikhael of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon reflects on the crisis in Syria.

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Find ideas for action.

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May insight into Syria lead to action

1236420_590326721006111_1853073050_nConcerned about the crisis in Syria? Want to learn more? Want to respond?

In a series of video clips, Dr. Mary Mikhael of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon helps provide insight and understanding of the situation in Syria.

There are several ways to help the people of Syria. Here are some responses through the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Additional resources from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) related to Syria are also available. 

Since the outbreak of armed conflict in Syria, Dr. Mary Mikhael has been interpreting the consequences of this tragedy for the Syrian and Lebanese people, particularly the Christian communities, on behalf of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon. From 1994­ to 2011, Dr. Mikhael was president of the Near East School of Theology (NEST), Beirut, Lebanon, the first woman seminary president in the Middle East. She served on the NEST faculty from 1984 until her retirement. She received her Masters degree from the Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Virginia, and her EdD from Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary. A Presbyterian born in Syria to Greek Orthodox parents, Dr. Mikhael is active in ecumenical and interfaith initiatives. She is a noted authority on the church in the Middle East and the role of women in the church.

On September 10, 2013 the Office of Public Witness arranged a day of visits for Dr. Mikhael on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. On September 12 and 13, 2013 the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations arranged visits for her in the UN community. Public events for Dr. Mikhael to speak to Presbyterians were held in both Washington and New York.

The videos are excerpts from a conversation Mary and I had at the office of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations on September 11, 2013 with David Barnhart (who took the photo of the interview) and Scott Lansing doing the video work.

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See you along the Trail.

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At times, we participate in profound moments unaware. Only in retrospect do we realize the significance of what we are a part.

Other times, we know – at least partly. We may not know all the details and nuances, but we recognize that matters of deep import surround us and we play our tiny part.

IMG_0247 (800x600)This past week, I had the privilege to accompany Dr. Mary Mikhael as she made an amazing witness for peace and justice in Syria. Mary is from the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon.  Until 2011, she served as the president of the Near East School of Theology in Beirut. After her retirement,the church has named her their interpreter and communicator in this time of tragedy and crisis for the people of Syria.

In that role, she traveled to the United States for the month of September. She spent last week in New York where I had the privilege to accompany her as she told the story of her church and her people, as she witnessed to her faith, as she advocated for peace and justice.

Mary went to Washington, DC on Tuesday. The Presbyterian Office of Public Witness arranged for her to speak at their Second Tuesday Briefing and to meet with aides of five elected officials and a State Department official.

Wednesday saw her in New York with the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations. We did extensive video work with my friend and colleague David Barnhart and my new friend Scott Lansing. The video links will be shared when they are posted. That afternoon, Mary spoke to a public event attended by church members, UN agency staff members, and representatives of nongovernmental organizations.

On Thursday, Mary met with staff members of two Permanent Missions to the UN – missions that sit on the Security Council. She also met with representatives of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Syrian Crisis Core Group made up of UN agencies working in Syria.

As we rode uptown toward the place where Mary was staying, her relief was obvious. She had witnessed well and she was tired.

Then the phone of my colleague Ryan Smith buzzed. An offer arrived for Mary to meet with a representative of the  Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict on Friday.

“Would you do one more meeting?” Ryan asked.

No hesitation. Mary replied, “How can I say no?”

Ryan and I looked at each other. “You can say no because you are tired and this is one extra meeting and you had other plans.”

“How can I say no?” Mary repeated.

We conceded. “You can’t.”

“But can it be early in the day?” Mary asked.

Ryan confirmed the meeting and on Friday morning, it took place.

Mary and I then went uptown and for a moment said farewell. We will meet again, I am sure.

I give thanks for the time we shared.

And I gave thanks for Dr. Mary Mikhael.

And I gave thanks for her witness, her courage, her grace, and her faith as she told stories of horror and proclaimed hope.

And I give thanks for the small role I played in these profound moments.

See you along the Trail.

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Lent 17: Prophet

M01 Prophet


Hiroshima Day Peace Vigil
Los Alamos, New Mexico
2 August 2008

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Silent witness

Faced with horror
beyond my reckoning,
yet possible within
the imagination and execution
of others, I stand

Easy words and quick answers
do not pass my lips;
no facile explanations offered;
yet never do I turn

With battered heart and tear-filled eyes,
with bruised soul and deep sighs,
I watch and listen
as I grieve and ache – I bear

22 July 2012
DL 1776


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