By Janjay Innis
Janjay K. Innis is a missionary with Global Ministries serving as an advocate for young adult mission service in the Missionary Services unit of the agency. She is a former US-2 missionary, and was commissioned to her present work in October 2015. You can read her original blog post here.
A little over two years ago, I was commissioned and sent by the General Board of Global Ministries as a US-2 Global Mission Fellow to Tacoma, Washington. Filling the role of Social Justice Advocate at Tacoma Community House, I was responsible for leading civic engagement activities for refugees and immigrants. In my time at Tacoma Community House, Refugees and Immigrants who became citizens registered to vote, learned to tell their stories and advocate for policies that would protect them at the state legislature. In addition to my job, I was an active community member, serving on the board of Advocates from Immigrants in Detention, Northwest organizing community information sessions on immigration, on a community team to restore a library in my neighborhood, and highly involved in community conversations about racial justice.
Janjay Innis holds up a sign during Legislative Day and advocates for LEP, Limited English Proficiency Pathway programs. Photo courtesy of Jesse Love.
As I reflect on the past two years, I want to express my thanks and appreciation to Global Ministries for the opportunity that was afforded to me to serve in mission. I am thankful to the community in Tacoma that warmly received me and adopted me as their own. I am grateful to the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Methodist Church for their generous reception of me. Thank you to all who received me into their homes and congregations. Thank you to all who gave a financial gift to further mission in the 21st century, and most importantly, thanks to the Creator for grace to face the uncertainty of the unknown.
The embodiment of justice through service came with great joy but also great with great isolation. There were times where even if my passion for a rightful cause gave me strength to speak prophetically, the message fell on closed ears and angry hearts.
In mission I was chastised for speaking about justice, because people were not prepared to hear them. This frustrated me and was painful because I believe that even if our lived realities are not the same, we, especially as people of faith, should be able to at least hear our neighbors speak about what keeps them from abundant life. This pain led me to wonder if there was room for me in ministry. I could not fathom having to convince people of faith to care about the things that break God’s heart. I was clinically diagnosed as borderline depressed, physically drained and was ready to abandon my faith.
A spiritual pilgrimage to Taize
In Taize, Janjay Innis (second from left) with New England UMC pilgrims and a Taize friend from Burkina Faso, where strangers became friends. Photo courtesy of Jesse Love.
Still hanging on by thread, I went on a spiritual pilgrimage with my home conference, the New England Conference, to the Taize Community in France. This ecumenical monastic community was founded as a place where people could live based on scripture. It became a place of refuge for persecuted Jews during and today, this community attracts thousands of young people who are seeking meaning and answers to the question of where God is in the midst of adversity, and how they are called to be a bridge builders in the midst of tension. At Taize, people from all around the world, break bread together, worship three times a day together, and discuss in small groups about where they are at the intersection of faith a justice.
In Taize, I received profound confirmation from God that if I speak the truth, I have nothing to fear. I was reminded that sometimes prophets are not accepted in their own home, that I should shake the dust off my feet when I face unhealthy oppositions, but abide in God’s rest when the people gladly receive the message and are open to transformation. My pilgrimage has helped me walk boldly knowing that God has ordered my steps and words.
I have finally been able to accept that I have done work that is pleasing in God’s sight, but, I’d be remiss if I said that my mission is completed. Mission is God’s fulfillment of the promise to us through Jesus Christ that we will never be left alone or forsaken. When poverty, injustice, inequality, and a lack of access to opportunity push people to the margins, God is there. Where the gifts of communities are recognized, celebrated and used to bring wholeness to its people, God is there. Mission is incarnational solidarity. Mission is a lifelong journey with God to unite heaven and earth though preaching and teaching and living God’s peaceful reign.
During Legislative Day, Janjay Innis (right) smiles with joy for Abdulahi (left) from Senegal who proudly advocated for himself at the statehouse. Photo courtesy of Lerato Kobe.
For the next two years, I will be continuing in mission as the mission advocate for young adult mission service with Global Ministries. It is my honor and privilege to help promote and recruit new, young leaders who will embody the passion for justice for a lifetime.
Partners in mission, do you know of young people ages 18- 30, who desperately need their faith to come alive? Do you know of young people with gifts of connecting, speaking, and writing for justice? Do you know of young people who are asking difficult questions and committed to building bridges of care and understanding in difference?
Help us spread the good news that is Generation Transformation. Contact me for more information.
I look forward to continue journeying with you.