For Susan Sanders, a journey all over the world essentially began in a place called Womelsdorf, Pa.
She went there in 1976 to work as a full-time volunteer at Bethany Children’s Home, a CHHSM ministry dedicated to providing residential services for children and youth. During the year she spent there, the Toledo, Ohio, native was exposed for the first time to life outside her local church. Sanders, who’d previously worked as a secretary, also discovered she had a vocation. The job she had held “wasn’t where God was calling me to be in life.”
Today, Susan, who is a laywoman, serves as Minister for the Global Sharing of Resources out of the United Church of Christ’s national office in Cleveland, and she seems never to be in one place for long. She recently returned from Japan, where she observed ongoing earthquake and tsunami recovery efforts. The next trip: Geneva, Switzerland, for a World Council of Churches meeting. Also on her 2012 itinerary are visits to Sudan, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
If there’s a thread connecting the pins on her map, it’s CHHSM. Sanders, 56, credits CHHSM with preparing her for the work she does today.
“Certainly, my experience with CHHSM has exposed me to people of all different ethnic backgrounds, economic and social categories, so it’s really helped broaden my sense of what it means to be an inclusive community,” she says.
Recently, Sanders joined CHHSM’s board of directors. She talked about her work and how the organization has influenced her.
Q: What do you remember about that first experience at Bethany Children’s Home?
A: All kinds of things. Being grateful for the family that I had grown up in, an intact family, [and] being grateful that the church played a role in helping kids who were in families that had troubled situations, that they could be provided with a safe place to live and work on the issues that they faced.
Q: What do you do on all these trips abroad as administrator of the One Great Hour of Sharing program?
A: I go when work that One Great Hour of Sharing has funded is well under way so that I can visit with partners and see how lives are being transformed. Say, there's a well going into a community so young girls no longer have to spend their whole days gathering water, but can get clean water from the well and then go to school. Sierra Leone and Liberia are still recovering from civil wars, and our work there is with agricultural extension, so people can grow their own food and feed their families and also have a source of income to sell food in the market.
Q: Why does CHHSM matter?
A: CHHSM matters because it raises up leaders for the United Church of Christ and the wider church to help us live out our call to be part of the healing ministry of Jesus Christ.
Q: Where is CHHSM headed from here?
A: It’s really evolved into a leadership development organization for folks to be in a good position to be able to lead and to understand the place of the church in the health and human service ministries. It used to be that leaders of [these] institutions often went to seminary first and were ordained, and then were called out to lead a health and human service agency. Well, now, because the hospitals and health-care facilities and retirement facilities need skills that are very much in tune with the times, they’ve kind of gone the other way in getting folks with those kinds of skills and then helping imbue them with an understanding of what it means to serve from a church perspective. CHHSM is really on the cutting edge there.