Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Tabitha's of Today

Acts 9:36-43
April 17, 2016
Chatfield UMC
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

One of my favorite verses of the scripture is a strange one: whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might. Of course a verse like that is from Ecclesiastes. But isn’t this a great philosophy.  As Eugene Peterson puts it: “Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily!”
Tabitha must have been one of those people who live by this scripture. Even in her death she was surrounded by friends who were displaying her acts of kindness and godliness. Look, look at this garment Tabitha made for me.
Look, at her fine work on this tunic. Tabitha didn’t just make us clothes she designed us beautiful clothes.

The women surrounding Tabitha’s sick bed were women whom society had overlooked. Widows, women without men for means of support and status. Women whom Tabitha gave not only clothing, but also dignity and meaning.

The blue fabric is a school uniform dress
Denise brought a sample of a school uniform for us to contemplate sewing. These uniforms will be sent by OC Ministries to girls in Sierra Leon and Liberia. These are girls whose families have survived long years of civil war and terrible, terrible violence. These are girls who probably haven’t been told that their desire for education isn’t the most important thing they should be focusing on right now. They are, after all, only girls.
They are also told that if they don’t have a school uniform they can’t come to school and most families don’t have the money to provide the uniform.
So imagine what it must be like to be called into the school office and given, given, a blue uniform dress, sewn by someone you don’t even know but who obviously wants you to go to school. Imagine how life changing that must be for these little girls.

This is what it was like for the women Tabitha reached out to. No status, no worth in society, living in rags. Invited into Tabitha’s home to try on a new tunic, a new robe, a new undergarment.
Worth! Dignity! Purpose!

All from a simple but carefully crafted garment.

God’s work, our hands. The healing of the world.

It doesn’t take much. For others to be healed, for others to know that they are children of God. It doesn’t take much for us to use our hands for the work of God.

Someone once said that where our passions and the world’s needs meet, there is the will of God. Where our passions, skills, imaginations, abilities, meet the needs of the world, lack of food, clothing, shelter, family, love...there is the will of God.

Do you wonder what it is you are to do with your life for the glory of God, ask yourself, what is your passion? What is it that God has put in your hands and heart and mind and soul that gives you great joy and fulfillment?
What is your passion?
God’s work; our hands.

Where are the needs of the community? What it is lacking in your part of the world? What does your neighbor need most?

How do these two things come together to create a place of ministry? How do these two things come together to fulfill the great commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and your neighbor as yourself?

God’s work; our hands.

OUR hands. Our gifts, our talents, our passions. God doesn’t ask us to do something we can’t do or don’t want to do or would hate doing. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t stretch us. Or even inconvenience us.
I doubt Tabitha always enjoyed working on tunics and clothes for the widows. I bet there were some late nights when she wondered why she was staying up making clothing for other people. And I’m sure there were a few widows who were fussy and not as thankful as they should have been for all the work Tabitha did for them.
God’s work; our hands,
is not without its difficulties, but it should and does bring us satisfaction and most of the time, joy.

I was so impressed by the Tabitha’s I met in Mexico. They reminded me of our Tabitha’s here at the church, our women who sew and quilt and do other hand craft on behalf of the community and this church.

In Teotitlan village in Oaxaca a group of women have been weaving these beautiful rugs for generations. Like Tabitha the group was formed to help women who had lost their husbands and sons to death or immigration. The women were starving and needed a way to support their families. They started marketing their beautiful Zapotec weaving. And a weaving cooperative was born which has supported families like the one I am going to show you photos of right now.

Some of the weavers of Teotitlan
I want you to see the entrance of the cooperative. It is locked and sheltered for the safety of the women and their craft. Inside are huge, beautiful and fragile looms, fiber and spinning wheels as well as family living quarters.
Now I want you to see the family I lived with while at the cooperative. The family had electricity and plenty of space. But it was all very, very basic.
Our food was cooked in the cooking shed over wood fire or on a two burner gas plate.  
I had to put this slide in for the benefit of our dish washing crews. This is the three sink method that we used.

There were three children in the family. This is the youngest. She is around 4 years old and a sweet, shy child. She was willing to have her photo taken with me. She loved exploring my luggage and brushing her teeth with me every evening in the outdoor toilet shed. We spit into the floor drain and it was tricky making sure the children didn’t spit on my feet.
This is the photo of the matriarch of the family. The one who was the weaver. Unfortunately, because of untreated diabetes Zanida is losing her eyesight. Her family has had to take down the loom so that she wouldn’t attempt to weave and damage her eyes even more.
She still does the shopping, some of the cooking and the washing up.
Our family was fairly well off compared to another family. Here is the kitchen of that family.
It was hard for our delegation who lived with this family to see and experience this level of poverty.

This is a part of the group of weavers some have been with the group since the beginning.  Remember I told you they were widows or working to support widows when they began the cooperative.
Remember the houses and kitchens I just showed you.

These women have been weaving and selling rugs for years. But instead of building bigger houses they have shared their earnings. They have been content with their lot in life and have used some of what they earn to feed people who are poorer than they are. To promote recycling and environmental projects in their community. To provide bundles of love type of bags for the young women who give birth in their village.

They have used their talents and passions to feed their families, send their children to school AND reach out to others they think are more unfortunate than them. AND they are mentoring young women in the art of weaving so that women like this young woman can earn money to attend college.
All of the original weavers had to drop out of school. They all had to learn to read and do numbers while they formed the cooperative. They all had to stretch themselves so that their passion met the needs of their community.

God’s work our hands.

The world in all parts need Tabatha’s whose live overflow with good works and compassionate acts on behalf of those in need. I am thankful that we are called to be Tabatha’s in our corner of the world. Let us not be weary in our well doing for this is the WAY of being Christ in the world.

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