Building a Common Vision for Peace and Justice through a Community Organizing Beyond Religious Identity and Racial Diversity: My Ethnography about Faith in Indiana Saint Joseph County

By Andi O. Santoso | Faith in St. Joseph County
April 9, 2021

Read this post at its source: Walking With God 24/7

Introduction

This year, we have been experiencing such a difficult time when COVID-19 became one of the nightmares where more than 16,253,219 people were infected, and 299.168 people have died in the US. This pandemic has been widespread in all over the world and has impacted many people’s lives especially the marginalized and the least privileged people. How did the Trump’s administration respond to this pandemic has resulted in many people feeling frustrated, angry, desperate and distressed. In May 25, 2020, there was an incident of a murder of George Floyd an African American, by Derek Chauvin a white officer of Minneapolis Police Department, who pinned him for eight minutes and fifteen second that resulted Flyod cannot breath and died right away on the ground.

The video of this incident went viral and widespread across the country. It created a lot of protest, loothing, in the majority of big cities in the US. The slogan #ICANTBREATH and #BLACKLIVESMATTER has been raising up everywhere, where many people from various backgrounds started to join to show their empathy and sympathy against the brutality of the policing system all over the country. This incident has opened up to the wound and painful memory of Civil War, Civil Right Movement in the US history, where racial division, slavery of black people that lead to Jim Crow’s law as structural oppression that resulted a racial segregation toward black people.

How can we deal with the painful memory in the past, dealing with these difficulties today, and envisioning the future through a desired future where peace, love, truth, justice, healing, transformation, freedom and equality beyond religious identity and racial diversity find its place here in Saint Joseph County? Let us imagine where interfaith leaders across the denomination from different races, and political backgrounds have the same vision and mission to create change together, here and now? This short ethnographic story is about a community organizer called Faith in Indiana where I have the opportunity to work closely during my internship this semester. I believe Faith in Indiana can be a catalyst for a better future in Saint Joseph County beyond religious identity and racial diversity as Howard Thurman says, “There is a need for… materials of refreshment, challenge and renewal for those who [are] intent upon establishing islands of fellowship in a sea of racial, religious, and national tensions.”

Setting

Who is Faith in Indiana? Why do they do what they do? From my personal research, I found brief reports of Faith in Indiana on their website. There was a launching of Faith in Indiana’s St. Joseph County chapter in February 2018. It was a gathering of residents of South Bend, Granger, and Mishawaka. They have achieved several important issues:

  • They have ended the ICE detention in the county jail.
  • They have organized grassroots volunteers who are working with the county to help people suffering from mental illness or addiction receive the treatment they need instead of jail.
  • They moved the South Bend mayor and Board of Public Safety to adopt a progressive police-discipline matrix.
  • They have protected the health of tenants with a rental safety program.
  • They have won a million dollars for the county Health Department to address lead poisoning in children.
  • They helped establish two, full-day, fixed-location COVID test sites on the west side of South Bend.

Faith in Indiana Saint Joseph County’s chapter was formed with a desire to expand their territory of service especially in places where many undocummented community lives, and in places where the marginalized people, especially black community and people of color who have never had an opportunity to speak up their voices freely in the midst of their struggles especially during this pandemic and racial segregation. Faith in Indiana serves as catalyst and facilitator among the interfaith leaders as a bridge builder. Faith in Indiana as a community organizer exists to empower people to use their self-interest and to build a grassroot movement where everyone belongs to each other, live in community and feel abundance. This is Faith in Indiana’s faith narrative.

Overview of My Internship with Faith in Indiana

I started my internship with Faith in Indiana on July 14, 2020. Through my encounter with Prof. Janna Hunter-Bowman, I was introduced to Andre Stoner who was a former outreach Pastor at Kern Mennonite Church many years ago, and also a previous Missional leader in Mennonite Mission Network (MMN) before his time with Faith in Indiana. Here is my first impression of my experience,

My first impression of Faith in Indiana started when I was invited by Andre Stoner and Janna Hunter-Bowman to join the “Zoom for the Soul”, a weekly conversation around peace and justice held by Kern-Road Mennonite Church on July 14th, 2020. It was around 7.00-8.00 PM. This was my first meeting ever through ZOOM amid the unprecedented times with COVID-19 and with the racial injustices issues here in the US. Before I joined Faith in Indiana for my internship, as an international student I was also concerned about the rise of the tension between people throughout the country since the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by white police by the name Derek Chauvin in Minnesota. I was struck by this violence and brutality as well. At that time, I was not sure what to do, and how to share my concern as I haven’t seen many people who responded immediately to this issue especially here in AMBS Seminary and in Elkhart. I was sharing Mary Ann with Janet Abai about this concern. I was surprised that through my encounter with Faith in Indiana, finally, I was able to learn how to make sense of these hard issues, especially racism, racial injustice, and how to bring peace and justice amid this situation? For me, this is not a coincidence.

Since that moment I have been meeting with Andre Stoner as my supervisor, as well with several staff members of Faith in Indiana for a Personal Development program, and in our #WeMakeTheFuture campaign where I was helping as a Break Out Coach for our Faith Voters Digital Canvass for eight weeks.

One thing I have been enjoying is to sit together at the ZOOM meeting with many interfaith leaders in Saint Joseph County from various denominations and ethnicities. I am amazed how many people were excited to spend their time, money, effort in creating a better Indiana. I have learned how the power of a “grass-root” movement has a huge potential and opportunity to create a positive change especially for established peace, justice in Saint Joseph County. One of the recent success stories was when Andre Stoner organized a virtual press conference among the four NGOs in South Bend: Black Lives Matter South Bend, Justice for Michiana, the South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center, and the Michiana Chapter of the Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression to respond to the killing of Rodney Applewhite by the New Mexico officers on November 19 when he was travelling to New Mexico.

For me this is such an important part of the ministry of healing, reconciliation, transformation toward peace and justice in Saint Joseph County and beyond. This is what community organizers like Faith in Indiana have done. This is my highlight of my experience with Faith in Indiana. It is a life changing experience.

Conclusion

As a person who comes from a really different background (Indonesia), I have learned a lot during my internship this semester especially how to build relationships through one on one meetings regularly, building trust, and listening to each other’s story, concern, expectations and even their vulnerabilities, their strengths and weaknesses and also their dreams for a better Saint Joseph County or a better Indiana. I have been enjoying my relationship with a diverse group of interfaith leaders and Faith in Indiana staff members. There are Black, Latino, White, Ortodhox, Catholic, Reformed, Protestant, Mennonite, Jewish leaders, etc. Through my internship in Faith in Indiana I have learned to be a better person internally and externally. I have learned how to be a more listening reflective-practitioner in a cross-culture setting. I have learned as well to be a better ethnographer and communicator where I have to pay attention to many activities in details, events, conversations, people not only in person but through ZOOM meetings since we are living in the middle of this pandemic. Above all, I believe that every experience that I have been through, every encounter with various people in a limited time and space matter. I have learned how through the power of togetherness, we can create a positive change, now. I have seen and testified that Faith in Indiana has become one of the most effective “faith in action” in the public arena, where word and deed meet, peace and justice are created. This is the power of a grass-root movement. This is the power of a community organizer, where people from various religious backgrounds and racial diversity move forward from their past narrative into a desired future where everyone belongs to each other, living together in harmony, and in abundance. I believe as Dennis A Jacobse, in Doing Justice says, “the capacity to move forward toward a just society hinges on the willingness of thousands to suffer and to sacrifice, to pay the cost of conscience and the price of freedom.”

Bibliography

  • https://faithinindiana.org/who-we-are/chapters/stjoecounty/
  • https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/black-codes-and-jim-crow-laws/
  • Hill, Evan., Tiefenthäler, Ainara., Triebert, Christiaan., Jordan, Drew., Willis, Haley., and Stein,
  • Robin., How George Floyd Was Killed in Police Custody. Published May 31, 2020
  • Updated Nov. 5, 2020 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/31/us/george-floyd-investigation.html
  • McNeil, Brenda Salter. Roadmap to Reconciliation: Moving Communities into Unity,
  • Wholeness and Justice, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  • Jacobsen, Dennis A. Doing Justice: Congregation and Community Organizing, Minneapolis,
  • MN: Fortress Press.
  • John Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html
  • Santoso, Andi O. FIeld Note #1.
  • Santoso, Andi O. FIeld Note #30.

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