This is Women’s History Month, and I am lifting up Sandhya Rani Jha, a Disciples of Christ Minister in Oakland, California. I heard her say that she remembers in 2012 when Brandy Martell was shot not far from First Christian Church Oakland, and as no stranger to violence being Asian American, this made her realize she carries a bit of her heart outside of her body. Fear is real but because perfect love casts out fear her prayer is that we recognize fear as a motivation to stand against gender and sexual violence.
In Sandhya’s words, “I am a daughter of a Hindu father and Scottish Presbyterian mother” and that for her spirituality shapes not only who she is but also how she imagines possibilities in the world. One of her true assets is the ability to utilize the power of rooted faith. Something that resonates with me is her admission that earlier she was “far more focused on the outcome than the process” but that now she sees as important “the way in which we engage each other is part of how we redefine power.” (Because of the time constraints of a “moment” for mission and ministry I did not include my memory of Senator Andy Nichols a wonderful relationship builder) who like when Jesus is speaking with you, it seems there is only you and he—the world stops for that brief time; he sees only you. This is the type of engagement of each other I envision.—more like Jesus’ speaking with each of us individually rather than as a group.
I first learned of Sandhya’s ministry on my 2015 trip in February to the Bay area with a Disciples Women group studying human trafficking: a five-day trip, something for another moment for mission and ministry. One of the places we visited was the Oakland Peace Center where Sandhya is the Director. I have her book should anyone want to borrow it called Transforming Communities: How People Like You Are Healing Their Neighborhoods. It is a collection of stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary acts to build a community of love that casts out fear. Her Disciples of Christ idea of inclusion quotes the South African phrase ”Ubuntu” which is I am because you are (or because you are, we are). I personally like how Pastor Ailsa says that whenever you/we draw a line, to remember that Jesus is probably on the other side; there is no “other” only we.
I actually do not remember if Sandhya was there the day we visited the Peace Center, but everything we experienced had the transforming feeling of her touch because there were so many different types of people in the space all interacting. Ask me about it sometime, and my face will glow with the remembrance of the beauty of community that works together in love. Maybe it was a California thing having been an old hippie chick, but LOVE is a tangible element one can feel inside and out anywhere.
Sandhya embodies for me the answer to the question of “What would Jesus do?” There are many women in the Bible who do extraordinary things yet are not household names. This is because what they do is within the community of love leading by example not being other. So together we have the power to recognize our assets, the power to truly listen, that community conversations do make a difference, making things right through restorative justice models, actually doing the work Jesus suggests as feeding the hungry, housing those without shelter, overcoming hate with the perfect love that casts out fear, to be reconciled to God and each other by being who we have been taught to be, and to center in the power of blooming where we are planted as Grace Lee Boggs did with community gardens in her beloved Detroit, Michigan. An Asian shero of women who said, “You don’t have to move out of your neighborhood to live in a better one.”
All of this soul repair movement is summed up with these closing words of Archbishop Oscar Romero:
Peace is not the product of terror or fear.
Peace is not the silence of cemeteries.
Peace is not the silent result of violent repression.
Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all.
Peace is dynamism.
Peace is generosity.
It is right and it is duty.
Moment for Mission and Ministry Sunday, March 5, 2023 — Susan Jean Harris
Books authored by Sandhya Jha: