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The Spirit Moving in Our Midst

Central Baptist Church in Wayne, PA (CBC)

We asked Betsy Morgan, member of CBC’s Immigration Justice Mission Group, to tell the story of our faith community’s connection to  Ellen Chademana, a courageous woman from Zimbabwe, who identifies as a sexual minority and who recently sought political asylum in the US. Over the last several months Ellen has become the human face of the intersection of CBC’s concern for LGBT rights and immigration justice. With her permission, we celebrate this narrative of hope and the work of the Spirit in our midst! A word for those unfamiliar with the rhythms of CBC: On several Sundays during the summer, it is our tradition to ask a number of CBC participants to fill the pulpit. This deepens our communal life, is one way we live out the Baptist principle of  the priesthood of believers, and gives pastors the opportunity to be nurtured as well! Nancy Hopkins, long-time member of CBC, was one of those persons chosen this past summer. ~Laurie and Tom, pastoral partners of Central Baptist Church


From CBC member Betsy Morgan:

It all started with Nancy Hopkins. This summer when Nancy preached on the working of the Holy Spirit, she asked us to confer in small groups about significant promptings or visitations of the Spirit. Several days before, I had received a message from personnel at the New Sanctuary Movement (NSM) to ask if CBC could help with a political refugee from Zimbabwe – Ellen Chandemana, a young activist for GALZ (Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe) who had been arrested and tortured in the spring of 2010. Her “crime” - believing that gay persons like herself deserved fair treatment. But Mugabe, the tyrannical president of Zimbabwe and a known homophobe, was not finished with her yet. Ellen received word while at a conference on non-violent resistance in Boston this last summer that she ought not to attempt to return home. She would be arrested at the airport, charged with “demeaning the president,” and most likely be given a life sentence.

So Ellen Chademana became a stranger in our land – without friends, without sufficient clothing, without papers, and unable to work. When Nancy asked her sermon question, I knew I was being prompted to respond to the message from NSM and to activate the Immigration Justice Accompaniment Group on Ellen's behalf, even though I knew this would stretch us in new ways.

It has stretched us, and we are the recipients of deep grace as a result. CBCers Joe Leonard, Roxanne Wright and I met with Ellen at her attorney's office to hear her full story. We realized what a strong presence she has been in Zimbabwe and in the world (try Googling her name) at only 35 years of age. We also realized the risks involved in applying for political asylum, but there seemed no other workable solution.

Nationalities Services Center supplied her with legal representation; Central Baptist Church and CBC’s Rainbow Alliance (the LGBT and allies mission group) supplied her with friendship and support. She loves worshipping with us when she can get here, confessing that although she was a Baptist in Zimbabwe, she never found a church that would accept her. Her son, Tony, who lives with his dad in Wilmington, DE (both now citizens through the asylum process), has come to youth group several times and also found friendship at CBC.

Luckily, the waiting time for the asylum interview was relatively short, and it occurred in mid-December. On December 29, Joe Leonard and I had the distinct honor of driving Ellen to Lyndhurst, NJ, to receive the results. She got quieter and quieter as we drove north – her whole fate was about to be determined with a single word. We entered the asylum building, went though security, and were ushered into a large room where we sat in stiff chairs and waited.  Finally an officer called her forward and boomed, “Congratulations!” Our next task was to purchase a calling card so she could phone her family in Zimbabwe.

Now she begins the task of applying for a social security card, seeking employment, and working toward procuring a living space where her son can have his own room. Because of Ellen's experience in counseling persons with HIV/AIDS, CBCer Deb Dunbar is helping with the job search. Members of CBC continue to accompany her with e-mail messages, calls, and invitations for dinner. She never misses an opportunity to express her gratitude and concern for us. Zimbabwe's loss may well be the gain of suffering sexual minorities here and around the globe!

An update: The Cabinet of CBC has approved Ellen living at the church’s Mission House (next door) temporarily until she gets on her feet financially and finds a place of her own. She has already been hired by The Attic Youth Center which serves LGBTQ kids in Philadelphia, and by Melmark, a social service agency.

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