(RNS) — C.J. Rhodes, pastor of Mt. Helm Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi, was grabbing lunch from one of his regular spots when the restaurant manager made an announcement to all the patrons.
“Guys, we have to shut down. We have no water pressure.”
On Aug. 29, flooding from the nearby Pearl River caused complications at the O.B. Curtis Water Plant, resulting in a loss of pressure and running water for the entire city.
At more than 160,000 people, Jackson is Mississippi’s largest city and the state capital. Schools, which had only just commenced classes, had to be shut down, and the city lacked water for even emergency services such as firefighting.
The crisis quickly made national news, and people from around the country turned their attention to Jackson seeking explanations and ways to help.
Within the city, residents quickly organized to help their neighbors and communities. At the center of these efforts stood faith leaders.
“Churches throughout the city of Jackson across denomination, class and race have engaged in water distributions at their churches or by giving water away in other ways,” said Rhodes.
His church became a water distribution site. As provisions flooded into the city from around the country, churches like his became hubs for supplying residents. Sometimes churches filled in where municipal distribution efforts were limited. They could stay open after hours to serve people who couldn’t make it to the city’s distribution sites before closing.
Jennifer Biard, lead pastor of Jackson Revival Center Church, lost water several days before the city-wide announcement. She came home and found the faucets simply didn’t work.
While dealing with her own water troubles, she led her church in providing for others in the southern part of the city where they have a campus. Throughout the crisis many water distribution sites were set up at various locations, but Biard and her volunteers went even further. They loaded up cases of water and hand-delivered them to individuals and businesses.
“One thing people don’t understand is that when you have people who are disabled, people who are without transportation, they may not be able to go out to the distribution sites,” she explained.
Individual churches were not the only bodies that got involved.
Reginald M. Buckley is the pastor of Cade Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. He is also the president of the General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi (GMBSC), an association of churches providing mutual aid to member congregations.
“There’s only so much any local church can do … (the convention) acts as a connector,” Buckley said.
His goal was to mobilize people and supplies from across the state and nation to help people in Jackson. The state convention has its own 18-wheel truck as well as an extensive network of churches and personnel they contacted to help.
“Though this is a trying time, one of the things that I am most grateful for is the unity that people are able to observe, how they are seeing pastors and churches come together regardless of race, regardless of denomination, regardless of anything that would divide. They are seeing the body of Christ come together like never before,” Buckley said.
Despite the efforts of churches and faith communities to provide relief, the water problems in Jackson are much deeper than a breakdown at the water plant.
The city had already been under a boil water notice for a month before the entire water system failed. Even after the city’s water pressure was restored nearly a week later, the boil water notice has remained in effect.
Although the water plant has come back online, the infrastructure issues remain.
“Now that the plant is up and running, water is flowing again, now we have to live with pipes bursting … We still have lead leaching from the pipes into the water. We still have the EPA saying the city has failed to do a number of things and if they don’t remedy those things, there may be federal seizure of the water system,” Rhodes said.
Given the continued failure to bring Jackson’s water infrastructure system up to date, Buckley said he is preparing for the next crisis.
“What we’re absolutely convinced of is that we’re going to be faced with this again, and not in the distant future but in the near future,” he said.
Buckley is working to build a stockpile of supplies to have on hand the next time the city loses water. “We are inundated with water right now. We are partnering with the Church of Christ Holiness to create a reserve and supplies center to house water, buckets and all kinds of supplies,” he said.
The constant lack of clean water and water pressure has worn on Jackson’s residents, 80% of whom are Black.
“We should have water,” Biard, who is white, said. “We should have water whether it’s cold or hot or snowing or raining.”
Jackson exists alongside wealthier suburbs including Madison, a community north of the city that is also the wealthiest in the state.
After years of experiencing a crumbling infrastructure alongside the comparative wealth of nearby towns, a freshman college student who is Black asked Buckley, “What’s wrong with me?”
“We assured her there was nothing wrong with her. There is something wrong with the world,” said Buckley, who tried to help his young parishioner understand that the fault did not rest with who she was but with external factors and decisions made by others.
Anticipating the need not only for material supplies but spiritual relief, award-winning gospel artist John P. Kee volunteered to perform a benefit concert in Jackson.
A friend of Kee’s in Jackson connected him to Biard, and he immediately knew she was someone who could help him set up the concert but also become an ongoing partner.
“I wanted to come in and partner with such a ministry where we could actually connect, and when I’m gone I’ll stay in touch, and I’ll be family,” Kee said.
Fixing Jackson’s pipes, water plant and other infrastructure needs requires resources that exceed what local churches can provide. Yet the lightning-quick response of faith leaders and their communities when the hour of need emerged provides evidence that help will be there in a crisis.
The show of unity by churches in Jackson may even be a sign of greater changes to come.
According to Biard, “I believe that this may be not just the initiation of a fresh start for Jackson, I believe it’s going to be a comprehensive fresh start … I believe that the Lord is getting ready to do something for Mississippi as a whole.”
To support local efforts to address the water crisis in Jackson, donate below.
Jemar Tisby. Photo courtesy Acorn Studio
General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi
Corporation of Global Community, a ministry of Jackson Revival Center Church.
(Jemar Tisby, PhD, is a historian, author and speaker. He wrote “The Color of Compromise” and “How to Fight Racism,” and he frequently writes about race, religion and politics in his newsletter, “Footnotes.” The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)
In our current cultural and historical moment, it is common to have blended families. Single parents form new households, people wait later in life to get married or have children, and people who have been through divorce find the courage to marry again. But blended families have been present throughout human history, and we see them prominently in Scripture and in African American history.
We think of the patriarchs like Abraham and Jacob. Abraham with children from different women, and Jacob who had a large family with multiple wives and children with each of them. We can think of Moses who was adopted, Esther who was raised by her uncle, and Ruth, whose story revolves around her second marriage to Boaz. David who had children from different relationships and caused strife, and of course we remember Joseph, the stepfather of the Savior Jesus Christ.
In many African cultures, grandparents live with their adult children, children who are orphaned are raised by the closest of kin or the closest neighbor, and fathers have children from multiple relationships. During our history as Africans in America, the extended and blended family systems were how we survived slavery, Jim Crow, and the ongoing attacks on Black family life.
Growing up, I knew uncles who raised their wives’ children from previous relationships, I had aunts who raised their nieces, nephews, and grandchildren. We had cousins who had a different mother or father than their siblings, and cousins on their second and third marriages. My story is not unique in the Black community. But interestingly, these realities of complex blended families are almost treated as taboo in our conversation and daily lives.
I grew up with both of my biological parents married and in the same house. When I started dating the woman who became my wife, some people around us were surprised and concerned because she already had two daughters from a previous relationship. I was single with no children, a couple of prestigious degrees, and a good job, so for many people the thought of dating—let alone marrying—a woman who had children was a letdown or an offense. But it has been an incredible joy and an experience of God’s love to raise two daughters who are mine through chosen relationships and one who is mine biologically.
Don’t get me wrong, raising children is one of the greatest challenges you can ever have, most of the parents out there will agree with me. But it is also one of the most rewarding journeys a person can undertake. Raising children who do not share your blood takes a special person. But if I’m honest, I feel similar about my call to parenting all of my children as I do to being a husband. Let me break the myths: marriage is not for everyone. Raising children is not for everyone, either. But both are callings for many of us. And as Christians, we know both take the grace and power of God to do well.
Being able to raise and care for children who are mine not by blood and obligation, but by relationship and choice gives me a different perspective on how God loves us as His adopted children by the Spirit. Apostle Paul says in Romans 8:14–15 (NLT), “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father.’”
When you raise children who are adopted into your family, you are able to share your spirit and more importantly God’s Spirit with them—even if you may not share blood. Having adopted children is different than having biological children for me. But it does not make the relationship any less important, loving, or powerful, just as when God adopted us by His Spirit. God’s love toward us as His adopted children is the same as His love toward Jesus, His only begotten Son. That is a powerful revelation and goal for our love as people in blended families: to love every member the way God loves Jesus, the way Jesus loves us, the way we are called to love one another. Although our relationships in blended families may be different, the love should not be different.
Having a blended family is not for everyone. But with intentionality, grace, and patience it can be an amazing experience of God’s love. Scripture and history show that blended families have always been part of God’s people. It is not a moral failure to bring children into a new family or marry someone with children. It should not be taboo to have a blended family. Our response as believers to blended families is clear: love them as Jesus loves us.
(RNS) — The earliest known depiction of biblical heroines Jael and Deborah was discovered at an ancient synagogue in Israel, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced last week. A rendering of one figure driving a stake through the head of a military general was the initial clue that led the team to identify the figures, according to project director Jodi Magness.
“This is extremely rare,” Magness, an archaeologist and religion professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, told Religion News Service. “I don’t know of any other ancient depictions of these heroines.”
The nearly 1,600-year-old mosaics were uncovered by a team of students and specialists as part of The Huqoq Excavation Project, which resumed its 10th season of excavations this summer at a synagogue in the ancient Jewish village of Huqoq in Lower Galilee. Mosaics were first discovered at the site in 2012, and Magness said the synagogue, which dates to the late fourth or early fifth century, is “unusually large and richly decorated.” In addition to its extensive, relatively well-preserved mosaics, the site is adorned with wall paintings and carved architecture.
The fourth chapter of the Book of Judges tells the story of Deborah, a judge and prophet who conquered the Canaanite army alongside Israelite general Barak. After the victory, the passage says, the Canaanite commander Sisera fled to the tent of Jael, where she drove a tent peg into his temple and killed him.
The newly discovered mosaic panels depicting the heroines are made of local cut stone from Galilee and were found on the floor on the south end of the synagogue’s west aisle. The mosaic is divided into three sections, one with Deborah seated under a palm tree looking at Barak, a second with what appears to be Sisera seated and a third with Jael hammering a peg into a bleeding Sisera.
Magness said it’s impossible to know why this rare image was included but noted that additional mosaics depicting events from the Book of Judges, including renderings of Sampson, are on the south end of the synagogue’s east aisle. According to the UNC-Chapel Hill press release, the events surrounding Jael and Deborah might have taken place in the same geographical region as Huqoq, providing at least one possible reason for the mosaic.
“The value of our discoveries, the value of archaeology, is that it helps fill in the gaps in our information about, in this case, Jews and Judaism in this particular period,” explained Magness. “It shows that there was a very rich and diverse range of views among Jews.”
Magness said rabbinic literature doesn’t include descriptions about figure decoration in synagogues — so the world would never know about these visual embellishments without archaeology.
“Judaism was dynamic through late antiquity. Never was Judaism monolithic,” said Magness. “There’s always been a wide range of Jewish practices, and I think that’s partly what we see.”
These groundbreaking mosaics have been removed from the synagogue for conservation, but Magness hopes to return soon to make additional discoveries. The Huqoq Excavation Project, sponsored by UNC-Chapel Hill, Austin College, Baylor University, Brigham Young University and the University of Toronto, paused in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic and is scheduled to resume next summer.
Sex is a good thing. For all human history, human beings have had sex and been aware of their sexuality. It is a fundamental function of creation to reproduce that God instituted from the beginning. But sexuality is not simply about reproduction. It is about the awareness and expression of our bodies. We are spiritual beings, but we are also natural beings. God created us that way on purpose. If we were meant to be all spiritual, we would have been created like angels, but God made us from the earth on purpose. Jesus Christ came to us IN THE FLESH, not as a spiritual principle, a vision, or a disembodied being. Jesus was circumcised on the 8th day according to Jewish law, as all Jews were. This was a sexual act with spiritual meaning that is literally at the heart of the Old Covenant. Unfortunately, as New Covenant Christians we often overfocus on the spirit and miss the fact that the New Covenant is literally made because of Jesus’ BODY broken for us and blood shed for us. It is Jesus’ humanity, not spirit that is the sacrifice that reunites us with God. The conversation is different depending on your stage of life. Believers who are married with kids need to have different conversations than single believers in early adulthood, or teenagers, or those who are divorced, or single after the death of a spouse. But regardless of our age or station in life we need to do a better job having these conversations as Christians. Here are 3 major reasons why Christians need to talk about sex.
God created us to be sexual beings
Every person was designed to be sexual, and that goes far beyond having sex. When God created Adam and Eve, they were meant to relate to one another sexually and their relationship to be closer than parent to child in future generations. They were naked and unashamed of their bodies (Genesis 2:24-35). There are any number of reasons why believers are ashamed of their sexuality today, many of them unfortunately from bad teaching in churches. But that is not the design of God. We were created to relate to one another sexually BEFORE sin entered the world.
Christian sexuality is meant to be different
A lot of our confusion, angst, shame, sorrow, and frustration with reconciling our sexuality with our faith is because of a Biblical principle that Christian sex is meant to be different than sexuality for those who don’t follow Christ. The covenant between God and Abraham made Israelite men sexually different from their neighbors in other nations (Genesis 17). The Law of Moses set up sexual limitations and regulations that were meant to distinguish Israel from other nations. The principle always pushed toward relationship with God reflected in our sexual relationships with others. The word used in scripture is holy, but to translate that our modern culture we might say intentional, purposeful difference that honors God. Paul picks up this Jewish principle in the New Testament by articulating a vision of sexual relationships that is monogamous, mutual, caring, and loving that reflect Christ’s love. We have often been caught up on the restrictions and missed the vision in the church. We have to be responsible with our sexuality because we are accountable to God in a different way as followers of Christ. We are called to be vulnerable, loving, and intentional with our sexuality in a way that is different than the world around us.
We should love and not fear our sexuality
1 John 4:18 reminds us that perfect love casts out all fear. The world has set false standards that promote fear, violence, and mistrust in sexual relationships. We have no need to rehearse the many ways popular culture, corporate interests, and sociopolitical forces use and abuse sexuality. Often their goals are to use sex to make money and create false intimacy. But for many believers we have been taught to fear sexuality to maintain holiness. It has caused believers to have arrested development, face shame and ridicule, leave churches, and seek unhealthy sources to define their sexuality. We rarely speak of the difficulties many newly married Christian couples face around sexual expectations, communication, and formation because of ignorance, self-rejection, and fear. We do not talk about the struggles teenagers face with loving their bodies instead of hating and fearing them. We do not deal with the choice to not have sex as young adults instead of treating sex as an uncontrollable inevitable impulse. We are afraid of the word intimate because we have been taught it is dirty. Our bodies are not beasts to be tamed. They are part of us to be loved. Paul Himself would agree with this, treating our bodies as a Temple of God means loving and tending to them with the utmost care (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Not fearing and avoiding them as we abuse them and let them be abused by others. But Jesus loves us. He loves our bodies. He wants us to love God with our bodies just as we do with our minds and hearts. And we make sexual choices that build intimacy and protection with our romantic partner. We do not discuss the why of a holistic view of Christian sexuality which sets us up for pain before and during marriage. But we should talk about sex. We should love our bodies and our sexuality. We should define what sexual holiness means as believers in terms of what we choose to do instead of what we feel we can’t do. We should honor God’s design for sexuality by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves, sexuality included.