The following are articles and programs I have written for the United Baptist Woman’s Missionary Union of the Atlantic Provinces/Atlantic Baptist Women and the Women’s Inter-Church Council of Canada.
No Substitutes! A Reflection on the Book of Hebrews
To be honest, Hebrews has never been a favourite Bible book for me. I prefer the drama of the Old Testament, the intimacy of the Psalms, and the delightful words and ways of Jesus. But Hebrews? With its constant references to the Old Testament and the sacrificial system of worship, this epistle has always seemed to be less relevant to today than other books of the Bible. I have since changed my mind. The author’s insistence that Jesus alone is sufficient for all our needs is just what we need in order to thrive in our secular and pluralistic culture that offers many substitutes to the Christ of the Bible.
Written by Rev. Shirley DeMerchant and published in Tidings (August 2016), magazine of the United Baptist Woman’s Missionary Union of the Atlantic Provinces.
This program was written for Women’s Missionary Societies that want to focus on human trafficking without having to bring in a guest speaker. Feel free to use it for your own group.
The theology behind this program is based on the belief that the response of Christians to human suffering is based on more than human compassion. It is grounded in the very nature of God. For this reason, worship that focuses on the character and acts of God should motivate us to respond to injustice with courage, conviction and in God’s power.
PREPARATION: Cut out 21 pieces of paper that will form a paper chain. You will need 3 different colors (for 1 piece, 14 pieces and 6 pieces). Use light colors and dark ink so the words will show up. On the one piece, write “Sex Trafficking”. Staple it to make a circle with the words on the outside. This is the center piece of the chain. During the program links will be added to either side of this loop. Use your second color to make 13 strips with the following words or descriptions (include the verse number) from Psalm 10 that describe the wicked: (v.2 – arrogant; v.2 – schemes; v.3 – greedy; v.4 – proud; v.5 – prosperous; v.6 – confident; v.7 – lies; v.7 – threats; v.8 – murder; v.8 – secret; v.9 – snares; v.9 – force; v.10 – strong; v.11 – no fear of God). Use your third color to make 6 strips for the chain to be attached on the opposite side of the circle that describe God and His actions from Psalm 10 (v.14 – sees all; v.14 – helper; v.15 – judge; v.16 – king; v.17 – hears; v.18 – defender).
ROOM SET UP: Place on a table at the front of the room or in the center of the room, the one loop marked “Sex Trafficking”. You will also need a pair of scissors and a stapler. Tape would also work but the sound of the stapler adds to the experience. If your table is small you may want to pin the loop down with a straight pin or safety pin to keep it in place.
MUSIC: The theme for this program came from the song “Break Every Chain”. If you can play or download this song by Tasha Cobbs – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pD2zIuiC2g (length 4:15), it would be very effective during the breaking of the chain. To end the program, you might want to use one of the following songs: Our God is an Awesome God, How Great is Our God, Victory in Jesus.
TESTIMONIES OF VICTIMS OF SEX TRAFFICKING – Choose two or three personal stories of survivors of sex trafficking. You can print them off and assign them to readers:
If you have access to the Internet, you could show the story of Brianna in this 4-minute news report from KGW Channel 8 (vimeo.com/51479269).
Before the program begins, hand out the slips of paper so each woman has at least one.
Leader: Explain that the focus of this program is sex trafficking and the call to Christian women to respond to it.
Responsive Reading and making the left side of the chain: Read Psalm 10:1-11 responsively with the leader reading the first half of each verse and the other people reading the second half. Stop at the end of each verse, except verse 1, to give time for one or more women to bring to the table the word(s) for that verse. Staple each one to the link before it on the left side of “Sex Trafficking”. It might be easier to have someone at the table to help with the stapling.
When the reading is finished have someone read the words that have been linked together.
Testimonies – Listen to or watch testimonies
Prayer for the victims of sex trafficking (silent, group or individual prayers)
Responsive Reading and making the right side of the chain:
Do the same as above with Psalm 10:12-18 but add the links to the right side of “sex trafficking”.
Leader: Read out the words that have just been added. Point out that the “wicked” side of the chain is longer than the “God” side of the chain. The wicked believe that God is powerless to stop them. Do we?
Read the following scriptures: Psalm 9:16; Psalm 103:8; Psalm 146:6-9; Luke 4:16-19
Play the song, “Break Every Chain” as the women who placed the first set of words come up one by one and with the scissors cut the link they added. (Be sure not to cut the ones on the “God side!)
Prayers of praise and faith
Closing song or hymn
Commissioning – Jesus, who came to set the captives free spiritually and in all other ways, commissioned His disciples with these words, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21) Let us, as women of faith, be willing to be sent, to do whatever God calls us to do, to respond to the injustice of sex trafficking. Amen.
NOTE: If it is difficult for your group to access the Internet resources above, you could use instead a brief discussion of Acts 16:16-26. Consider how the situation in Philippi is similar to or different from sex trafficking today. What truths still apply today? Note that before this encounter, Paul and Silas met women of prayer in Philippi (Acts 16:13). Do you think this is related to what happened next?
Written by Rev. Shirley DeMerchant for the United Baptist Woman’s Missionary Union of Atlantic Canada/Atlantic Baptist Women Convention in May 2016.
Is Marriage Safe? A Pastor’s Perspective
The phone rings in my office. An unfamiliar young female voice announces, “We want to get married. Will you perform the ceremony?”
As I reach for my calendar I wonder if this is the right time to ask, “Are you sure you want to get married?” I wonder if she is aware that the odds of a lifelong marriage are not in her favor. I wonder if she is aware that if her marriage fails it could plunge her into poverty. I wonder if she knows that a woman is nine times more likely to be killed by her partner than by a stranger1. I wonder if she realizes that marriage is … dangerous.
Then I consider the options that her peers are choosing. The option of living together unmarried continues to grow in popularity in our country. According to the 2011 census, between 2006 and 2011, the number of common-law couples rose more than four times more than the increase for married couples, making up 16.7% of all families in Canada, surpassing the number of one-parent families for the first time in this country.2
There are many reasons why couples chose cohabitation over marriage. It may be to test the relationship with the hope it will eventually lead to marriage. It may be for economic reasons, for convenience or just be part of the dating experience. For whatever reason this choice is made, for many couples the consequences of that decision achieve the opposite of what they hoped for.
Consider the following:
-Common-law couples break up more frequently than married couples.3 The average length of a common-law relationship according to one source is 1.3 years.4
-Couples that live together before marriage have a higher rate of divorce than those who do not live together before marriage.5
-Cohabiting couples are less faithful to one another than married couples. In a common-law relationship, both men and women have rates of infidelity that triple that of married spouses.6
-Cohabitating couples earn significantly lower incomes than their married counterparts.7
-Cohabitation has a greater negative impact on children than divorce. Children living with a parent and unmarried partner have twenty times the risk of sexual abuse compared to children living with their married biological parents.8 They are also more likely to get in trouble with the law. The Heritage Foundation reports that in the United States, whereas a child of divorce is twelve times more likely to be jailed than a child from an intact family home, a child of a common-law relationship is twenty-two times more likely to be incarcerated.9 There is much evidence to support the claim that cohabitation, not divorce is now the greatest threat to family stability and child well-being.10
-Cohabitation puts women at risk as well. Women are nine times more likely to be killed by a cohabiting partner than by their husband.11
The benefits of marriage over living together unmarried should not surprise us since it was God’s design that marriage would be the foundation for family life and society. God had it right in the beginning. We are just beginning to understand that truth.
As we continue our telephone conversation to set a time to meet I decide not to tell her that marriage is not safe, but it is safer than the alternative.
- Patricia Lee June. ”Cohabitation May Be Hazardous to Your Health” April 13, 2015, posted on 20 April. http://www.realwomenofcanada.ca/cohabitation-may-be-hazardous-to-your-health)
- Statistics Canada – Portrait of Families and Living Arrangements in Canada (http://www12.statcan.ca/census-recensement/2011/as-sa/98-312-x/98-312-x2011001-eng.cfm)
3.David Popenoe. “Cohabitation, Marriage and Child Wellbeing, A Cross-National Perspective,” The National Marriage Project, 2008 (http://www.smartmarriages.com/uploaded/Cohabitation.Report.Popenoe.08.pdf, p.13)
- Mike and Harriet McManus. Living Together, Myths, Risks & Answers. Howard Books: Toronto, 2008, p.47
- Patricia Lee June. ”Cohabitation May Be Hazardous to Your Health” April 13, 2015, posted on 20 April. http://www.realwomenofcanada.ca/cohabitation-may-be-hazardous-to-your-health)
- McManus, p.47
- Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D.and Robert Rector. The Effects of Divorce on America, June 5, 2000. The Heritage Foundation. Backgrounder #1373on Family and Marriage (http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2000/06/the-effects-of-divorce-on-america)
- Black Community News. “Cohabitation Worse for Children Than Divorce” (http://blackcommunitynews.com/cohabitation-worse-for-children-than-divorce). Only in one area were children of common-law parents better off than children of divorced parents and that was financially.
Violence is a constant threat to women. The Canadian Women’s Foundation reports that every six days in Canada a woman is killed by her intimate partner. (http://www.canadianwomen.org/facts-about-violence)
Thirty-three percent of women in Canada experience intimate partner violence. Aboriginal women are more than twice as likely to experience intimate partner violence. http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/sfv-avf/infographi-eng.php)
Same-Sex marriages experience the same level of violence as in heterosexual marriages, if not more. Joanna Jolly, “Is violence more common in same-sex relationships?” BBC News, Washington, 18 November 2014. (http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-29994648)
Written by Rev. Shirley DeMerchant and published in Riding the Waves (Spring 2015) , magazine of the Women’s Inter-Church Council of Canada
I interviewed Hailey Thomas, a grade 12 student in Dartmouth, NS who is active in raising the issue of human trafficking in her school and with her peers.
Hailey Thomas: Shining Light on the Darkness of Human Trafficking
Some people who live across the harbour from our city refer to Dartmouth as “the dark side”. Because of Hailey Thomas, Dartmouth is a lot less in the dark! This bright grade twelve student who is in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Prince Andrew High School in Dartmouth, has quickly become an activist and educator on human trafficking.
This issue is very personal to Hailey. It began with the disturbing discovery that a relative of hers was being trafficked. At the time Hailey did not know what human trafficking was. Her reading and research then led to shock when she discovered that trafficking was taking place even in Nova Scotia. “What can I do about this? How can this happen in Nova Scotia and no one knows about it? What can I do about it? How can I make my friends aware of this?” were her initial questions that directed her down a path where she is now impacting her peers, teachers and community about the reality of human trafficking.
To find answers to her questions Hailey decided to do a class project on the subject. As she read and learned about human trafficking and its prevalence in her own city, Hailey was convinced she had to educate the students in her school. Energized with conviction and much determination she convinced her principal and teachers to allow all the students in her school (a school with several hundred students) to attend a full day conference on human trafficking that she was organizing. On Friday, October 17, 2014, Hailey put on a conference that included presentations by the Halifax Regional Police, the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, Alice Housing which provides emergency shelter for women, and a skyped interview with a survivor of trafficking in Ontario with whom students could ask questions. When asked what she thought of the day, she responded quietly with “It exceeded my expectations”. What she did not know at that time was how that one day was going to impact so many people.
Since the conference, Hailey’s life has become busier and more focused than ever as an advocate for women and an educator on human trafficking. There has been much exposure on human trafficking through news interviews, Facebook and Twitter. Students now stop her in the hallway at school with questions. She started a Human Trafficking Awareness group that meets in her school at lunch time. Two other local high schools, Dartmouth High and Citadel High, have joined forces with her group to plan a march from Dartmouth to Halifax to mark International Women’s Day in March. She was asked to speak at an IB Conference on leadership and community involvement. She is serving as a volunteer at the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre where one of her responsibilities is to make presentations to youth. She also serves as a youth cadet and leader in the Halifax Regional Police Youth Program.
Hailey speaks with confidence, clarity and conviction. Talking with her makes you believe that it is possible to make a difference. “I’m a glass half full kind of gal” she explains. Other young people with her background might feel differently. Hailey is part African Canadian and part Micmac. She stays connected to both ethnic communities and seeks to build bridges particularly with the youth and police. “Unifying community touches me“, she says with a winning smile.
Written by Rev. Shirley DeMerchant and published in Riding the Waves (Winter 2015), magazine of the Women’s Inter-Church Council of Canada
I offered to review this book for personal reasons. I live less than a mile from a high school where a young teenage girl was bullied at school and on social media until she turned to suicide to escape the shame and the pain.
This book was inspired by the death of another Canadian teenager, Amanda Todd, a fifteen-year-old who took her own life after years of cyber-bullying. The news of her death inspired Rafi, songwriter and child advocate, to devote himself to warning others of the dangers of our popular technology on the lives of children.
The dark side of the web and social media is very real but this book is not one of despair. It is a message of hope, if action is taken now. It is not easy to convince people to change. Raffi’s foundational conviction that we should postpone the exposure of technology on infants and children is contrary to popular opinion of parents, educators and other adults who believe that such technology should be introduced earlier rather than later. Raffi is far from being a lone voice in the wilderness as he cites much research to support his belief that technology is harmful to children under a certain age – harmful to their physical, intellectual, emotional and social development. The impact of this book rests upon this conviction and he makes a convincing argument for it.
I learned a great deal from this book and was challenged in many ways. I discovered that there is a great deal that can be done to make social media safer for children. One clear action is to require social media sites like Facebook to confirm the age of users, just as banks and credit card companies do when individuals apply to use their services. An even simpler action is for parents to monitor their children’s use of technology.
The dangers of the web and social media extend further than I had considered. The danger is not just for our children but there is a global impact on the environment and on those who receive our e-trash in developing countries. Dangerous and rare metals are used to produce many of our tech gadgets and their disposal is harming the environment. The recycling and disposal of our e-trash is a desperate source of income for some countries that are paying a high price for the impact on their environment and on the health of children and adults who recycle and dispose of our out-dated gadgets.
I appreciate the scope of this book in that it starts with the impact on children to the impact globally. It is not based on the opinion of one person but on evidence from a wide variety of sources such as radio and television interviews, CNN, documentaries, surveys, scientific studies and research from the fields of medicine and child development.
There are many suggestions given for what can be done by individuals, by those creating and monitoring social media, by companies that produce technological devices and by those of us consumers who buy them, use them and then throw them away.
This is not a complicated problem to solve. There are only two obstacles that prevent adults from protecting children from the dangers of the Internet and social media – unawareness of the dangers, and apathy. Reading this book will eliminate the first obstacle.
Written by Rev. Shirley DeMerchant for Riding the Waves (Fall 2014), magazine of the Women’s Inter-Church Council of Canada
(You can find out more about the impact of the darkweb on children and follow the work of Raffi Cavoukian at http://www.childhonouring.org/lightwebdarkwebbook.html .)