Kiiroi Hana, Manhattan to Brooklyn (Bedford/Styvesant-Bushwick)
1984- Heung Jin Nim passed away early 1984, holding on as a truly filial child until his parents returned from Korea. A new Holy Day, Victory of Love, was declared and from that day onward our funerals were now called seong hwas- ascension ceremonies; a beautiful celebration declaring love’s victory over death.
True Father was in the midst of a court case, trumped up charges of tax evasion with conspiracy to defraud the US government. It was over a small amount of money ($7,000). He offered to pay it but his offer was refused. This charge was an excuse to get rid of a person who was ‘rocking the boat’. IRS employees had set up an office in our headquarters and searched for SEVEN years for any evidence of wrongdoing in our books; this issue was all they could find. Many ministers in the US kept church funds in an account with their name. The IRS staff did not think it was enough to build a case. However, powerful people behind the scenes knew they only needed an excuse to force their agenda. .
If True Father had stayed in Korea, where he was when he was originally charged, he could have avoided a trial, but he knew his work was worldwide and America was essential. He returned to face the charges, saying he had absolute faith in America’s legal system. He hired the best constitutional lawyer.
Show us your God
If American people with power were trying to intimidate Rev. Moon, they picked on the wrong person. Has True Father EVER avoided a fight? As a child, he wrestled with a tree for six months so that he could beat a bully three times his size. As an adult, when he was beaten to death- or so his North Korean torturers thought- they threw his broken, bloody, lifeless body out into the snow. His followers brought him home to bury him; some disciples applied medicines and he miraculously recovered. As soon as he was able to walk, he returned to preaching which is what landed him in prison earlier. Again he was arrested. This time, the authorities wanted to show how pitiful religious leaders are. They invited a large audience with many students to attend the trial, expecting to impress them with their clever questioning. “Show us this God you are preaching about”, they demanded. “You have no proof for your foolish lies.” True Father had studied electrical engineering in school. He used electricity as an analogy; invisible to the naked eye yet so incredibly powerful. The communists were furious and quickly ended the trial with a death sentence- five years in a notorious work camp. Even that fight True Father won. If the Americans in question had known, they might have decided to follow Gamaliel’s advice in the New Testament: “38So in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone. Let them go! For if their purpose or endeavor is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God.” Acts: 38,39
But they did not.
Home Church Lottery
A few days after Heung Jin Nim’s seong hwa, True Father called members to the New Yorker for a meeting. He emphasized how important Home Church activity was even if members had another mission; we should do both. Anyone who did not have a Home Church area was going to get one today. True Father was up on stage with a number of leaders putting together the lottery. During this brief interlude, members were sitting on the floor, waiting. I was close to the edge of the stage, staring at True Father; wondering, wanting to know how his mind/heart worked. Then True Father told us to stand up. We were going to shout Monsei for victory! He walked over to me and hit me on the head. That may sound like a punishment to someone not familiar with our church, but it was actually a big blessing. Then he said, “You like monsei, don’t you?”
Maybe he knew I was going to pick the most dangerous city in the US at that time; I was blissfully unaware.
Go where you are hated
True Father told us, “I want black members to go where they are hated and white members to go where they are hated and serve the people there.” The Home Church area I chose was Bedford Stuyvesant/Bushwick area in Brooklyn. I was very excited to FINALLY receive a Home Church area! When this new providence had been announced (1978), I was on MFT and during those almost eight years I had only a few months in Las Vegas to witness and serve in the community. I left immediately to see what my beloved area looked like.
I got off the subway and came out of the underground to what looked like a war zone. I had never seen anything like it and didn’t even know such an area existed in America. It seemed to me like a third-world country- brick buildings gutted; windows broken; storefronts burned and abandoned; trash littered the streets, people loitering apparently with nothing else to do or camped out beside a derelict building with a bottle in a paper bag. I must have looked shocked; a young man asked me if I was lost. I asked him what had happened. Why did it look like this? It was so normal for him, he didn’t know what I was talking about. I questioned him further. Finally he explained: about 10 years ago there was a black-out; looting ensued, then fires destroyed a few blocks. Business owners never came back to rebuild their stores. They abandoned the neighborhood.
Part of my area was used in two famous movies made after I left: Spike Lee’s ‘Do the Right Thing’ and ‘Ghost’ (where the criminal lived and where Whoopi Goldberg’s character lived and told fortunes).
When I returned to the Japanese restaurant, I asked the manager for my one free day a week to be reinstated; this was granted. Then I began planning how to move into my assigned area. Brooklyn had a center, a group house in Park Slope. It was a much nicer neighborhood than my area- cosmopolitan and yuppie, but the center was full. I asked to be notified if a space opened up. I also returned to my area to search for a potential room to rent. I asked a young woman if she knew of any. She didn’t but she warned me about the streets under the El (elevated trains) being dangerous. I asked, “Do people get mugged there?” She responded, “People get mugged everywhere. They get killed over there.”
At the New Yorker meeting, True Father had asked all of us to move out of the New Yorker into our Home Church area. “If you really love brothers and sisters, you will tell them to move out of the New Yorker also”, he said, referring to anyone not at that meeting. I take everything True Father says literally and decided to do exactly what he said, knocking on every door in the New Yorker and notifying members of True Father’s direction. My husband/fiance was working with MAI, Minority Alliance International, in Harlem. I mentioned my plan of action to him. Diplomatically, he advised me not to bother members. “You’ll only make them negative”, he warned me. What a silly reason, I thought, we can never lose by following True Father even if it is initially uncomfortable. This attitude of challenging oneself at every possible opportunity was something I had honed on MFT. I was TOTALLY insensitive to the fact that not everyone had had the same training opportunity I had. This tunnel vision would lead me to aggravate and alienate MANY members as I moved forward. On MFT I worked alone 99.9 % of the time; I was even oblivious to the struggles of other MFT members. But I chose to listen to my husband and focus on my own goal of moving out.
Home Church, during this emergency time of True Father’s trial, had shifted from serving 360 homes to outreach to Christian ministers. Initially we invited them to Religious Freedom Rallies held in NY and DC. I used my day off to call and invite ministers. The Brooklyn Center director called with an opening at their center; I immediately packed my few things and moved in. The Japanese sisters with whom I shared a room in the New Yorker quickly informed our manager that I had left the church. He calmly replied, “Rhonda has not left the church. She is either at 43rd street praying or she is in her Home Church area”. It’s truly wonderful to have a leader who understands you. I now lived in Brooklyn and took the subway into Manhattan six days a week to work at Kiiroi Hana.
One day, Mr I the head of all the Japanese restaurants, called me to his office. “You have to stop your witnessing activities”, he said. I was stunned. “True Father said that we have to do both”, I replied. “You will die if you do both! You have to decide which is most important to you,” he demanded. I responded, “You can hire anyone off the street to be a waitress, but who can you find to save America? Even if I work 23 hours a day in the restaurant and one hour a day for witnessing, witnessing is more important to me.” He was irate! “You will poison the entire department with this terrible attitude! I kick you out!”
I would never have had the confidence to state my case so boldly except that True Father had recently re-iterated, “This is no longer a leader-centered movement. It is a member-centered movement.” He had added, “If I tell you to do something and your leader tells you to do something else, who are you going to listen to?” This gave me absolute confidence to stand my ground.
Mr. I called Rev. S, my beloved teacher from Barrytown. He spoke in Japanese, but the conversation probably went something like: ‘Do you want this trash member; I don’t want her.’ Rev. S was very happy to get me; and I was equally thrilled to be able to work underneath him.
I reported to Rev. S.once a week in person and daily by phone with results. He trusted me implicitly and I responded to that trust with absolute loyalty and hard work. We were tasked with distributing sets of Divine Principle lectures on video cassettes, taught by our champion, Tom M. We also had a loaner program of video players for those ministers who did not have one of their own. In addition to local Freedom Rallies, we also began inviting ministers to ICC (Interdenominational Conferences for Clergy) held in Japan and Korea.
True Father was found guilty. He did not show one iota of disappointment or anger. He shook hands with the lawyers, pro and con, causing most extreme discomfort. Then, he was totally focused on comforting and encouraging the people around him, members and family, who were in a state of shock, disbelief and dismay.
I remember a few different meetings True Father had before he left for Danbury. In one he said, “It is going to be difficult. Some of you may want to go home and come back when the whole ordeal is over.” (!) In other meetings, we held hands with one another and redetermined ourselves to the task at hand. The night he was leaving, many people were crying. He asked us not to do anything unnecessary and life-threatening; one brother had pledged to throw himself in front of the car taking True Father to prison. We all felt helpless, but True Father was adamant as ever, declaring that even in prison he can advance God’s Providence.
Danbury Prison was a low security facility in Connecticut. We were concerned for True Father’s safety. We began prayer conditions from midnight to 4 AM every 40 days. Sometimes I was so anxious in prayer that my body became temporarily paralyzed. One day after pledge service, I collapsed with severe abdominal pain; it felt as though I had eaten glass. I was taken to the hospital where the doctor said,” You have a condition that is usually found in elderly people. Are you under stress?” How could I tell him that America was making a terrible mistake?! It was imprisoning the Messiah! That True Father’s life was in danger?!
The best way I could help True Father was to give 100% effort in my mission. We handed out a small red book to all the ministers: a collection of True Father’s speeches, called “God’s Warning to the World’.
Interdenominational Clergy United for Social Action (ICUSA) was founded, which replaced a variety of former service-oriented efforts nation-wide. ICUSA was focused on using trucks True Father had donated to each center to facilitate the service projects. In each area, we held weekly meetings with a gathering of local ministers who decided how best to use the trucks. Some were refrigerator trucks and ideal for free food distribution. Others could be used for moving jobs to earn money to support computer programs, educational activities, etc.
CAUSA was another conference we invited ministers to. Initially leaders used expensive hotels with luxurious banquets; ministers heard lengthy lectures with powerpoints on the ideology of Karl/Marx’s dialectical-materialism (point by point), why democracy and capitalism were inadequate to stop it, and why Godism was the best counter-proposal to communism. Liberation Theology was sweeping through South and Central America, a synthesis of religion and social action. Whether it was initially a Marxist movement or later infiltrated by communists, it became extremely successful in promoting communist ideals, uplifting Che Guevara as a Christ-like figure for the poor. Liberation Theology began in the Catholic churches but was attractive to intellectuals, liberal churches and poor as well.
Wild dogs vs wolves
We were fighting a wave of indifference and apathy. Many ministers could not understand what was so bad about Liberation Theology. Regarding anti-communism, one black minister told me, “What’s the difference? White capitalists are like wild dogs biting us (black people) from one side; communists are like wolves biting us from the other. It's all the same.” But many came for the free food and the speakers who often spoke on topics totally unrelated or even contradictory to our goals. After a series of these fancy conferences, ever-more elaborate with famous ministers as luncheon speakers promoting their own agendas, we were then asked to teach CAUSA ourselves. “Even if you have to teach it in the basement of a church, with guests sitting on the floor, do it!” True Father said. “Even if no guests come keep teaching it.” I have been serious about the communist threat from the moment I joined the movement, but many other brothers and sisters were less aware. By lecturing CAUSA material, they began to have ‘AHA’ moments of realization- the true threat of dialectical materialism made real. Seeing members understanding grow was extremely hopeful and exciting to me- even if we didn’t always have guests. Oddly, a direction came to stop giving lectures in our areas; instead invite ministers to weekend workshops at special get-away locations. Special lecturers would take care of everything. We had become ‘gophers again”, considered incompetent to convey the message ourselves.
I was not happy about this new direction and went to my beloved leader, Mr. S.; I stated my case emphatically, explaining the tremendous impact teaching CAUSA locally was having on the members as well as guests we brought. Mr. S was sympathetic and apologized; he explained that he was just trying to unite with the Korean leader who was in a supervisory position over him. My heart was softened; I respected and loved Mr. S very much. Thus I united with the new direction and invited my best and most positive contacts to attend the special weekend workshop. When they returned from their excursion they were no longer interested in working with me! Something negative had happened, I think possibly contact with other ministers who were negative; I do not know. I was devastated. After a few more weeks of these weekend trips, Rev. S called a meeting and apologized to everyone. He said that he had made a mistake in supporting these programs. I was dumbfounded. Why had I let myself be swayed from my original intention? Because of my horizontal affection for Rev. S. This was one of the reasons I decided to leave to go to Boston to join my husband.
After three years in Brooklyn, this proved to be the last straw that led me to feel it was untenable to continue working there. I compromised my own integrity. My absolute trust in my leader was shaken. Now I felt unprotected and vulnerable in a landscape that was a veritable minefield of dangers.
I was striving to develop my Home Church area for my husband to join me. He had been ordained as an Ethiopian Coptic priest while working in Brooklyn and loved preaching and lecturing. I had more than 300 churches in my district. He could have preached at a different church every day of the year. But he refused to move to Brooklyn or even to NY. He insisted he had a stronger foundation in Boston. (I found out years later that NY leaders tried to entice him with a car, a stipend, even an apartment, but he refused.)
Usually I worked in the neighborhood by myself. I lived with one female minister for a month after her operation. I tended to her bandages and used her home as my base. Another couple from Guyana -both ministers set aside a small bedroom in their home for me; I was welcome any time. Sometimes I would do my midnight to 4 AM prayer condition in churches that had all-night prayer vigils. Afterwards I would go to the couple’s home and sleep there.
For a while I had a Japanese brother drive me around; his English was limited and we got lost a lot. After visiting ministers at their home during the day, then attending one or two church services at night, I would then have the brother drive me around street by street so that I could make a thorough inventory in my notebook. Eventually I knew every church by location and denomination, which had services and when (days and time), pastors, phone numbers, etc. I knew many pastors’ home addresses too if they lived in my area.
True Father said that when we witness often people are attracted to us because of the spirit world shining through us. Of course, I have to be friendly, but many people took my friendliness the wrong way; I had numerous marriage proposals and immoral propositions from the ministers. After a while, the Japanese brother was needed elsewhere. There were some ministers I did not want to visit alone, but I could not convince the members working in the next district to help me out. It was discouraging.
After one of my top ministers locked me in his room, with questionable intentions, I managed to escape, then decided I would only work with female ministers and evangelists after that.
I didn’t mention a very important point. During the time I was working in Bedford/Stuyvesant- Bushwick area (1984 -1987), it was suffering the worst drug infestation it had ever had. Crack, a derivative of cocaine, had hit the streets with a vengeance. It was highly addictive (even after only one episode) and, because it was so inexpensive- $5.00 a ‘hit’, everyone was a potential customer -even children. Actually drug dealers sometimes targeted children with temporary tattoos or stickers of cartoon characters that were laced with LSD or some other drug. Children were useful to drug lords, but I think they were more effective without drugs. For a bit of food or a dollar or even just some attention, they could be runners, delivering messages or drugs, lookouts- reporting any cars wanting to buy or unusual cars-potential plain clothes police or NARCS.
Crack is smoked and is more potent than regular cocaine, but the highs are shorter. Afterwards the user becomes crazy to get another fix. Women turned to prostitution and even ‘sold’ their children. There were so many murders and so much crime in Brooklyn that it was not reported in the news for fear of creating hysteria. In one news article, 5.8 million people admitted to using crack on a regular basis in 1985. Crack vials littered the streets.
I once had an interesting chat with a local police officer. He was curious why I was in the area so late and we started to talk. I asked his opinion about the problems that existed in Brooklyn. He said too many people crammed into high rise apartment buildings with little or no services provided for the residents, such as playgrounds, community centers with sports, arts, etc. I asked him what that was so. He said that a decade or so ago, a politician had recruited people from Puerto Rico to move here; they were promised to receive welfare (government support and food stamps) if they voted for him. The more votes the politician had the better his chances were of winning a seat. More apartment buildings meant more people, thus votes. The actual living situation was of no concern to him. When one seeks to understand problems there are many layers.
I wondered- could there be a law mandating services per a certain number of people? I also imagined a large building with free art and music for the community- classes and also entertainers and lecturers- all donated freely. The more we invest to alleviate the suffering and isolation of those in poverty and difficult situations, the more the entire society will benefit. Youth, the most vulnerable, should especially be afforded every possible opportunity available. They are the most precious resource of any society, country.
One of my evangelists, EJ, had a small clothing shop on Nordstrand right on the border of my area. I visited her and was surprised that she kept the door to her store locked. How do you do business? I asked her. “People will order by phone or call and say they were coming”. was her reply. While I was there a number of people knocked on the door. One was selling a fire hydrant he had stolen from the nearby public school. Another broke the side mirror off a car parked outside and was selling it for $5.00 (the cost of a hit). It might have cost $60.00 or more to replace in a car repair shop; Perhaps he was trying to find the owner of the car who might be happy to save some money. One young man had a box of various items. After assessing him, she let him in and looked through the box. I do not remember if she gave him any money but she did find a name and number on something in the box. She called the woman to inform her that someone had stolen items from her home. It turned out to be her grandson who was addicted.
EJ told me that there was a drug house just a block or so from her store (Green Ave?). Behind the drug house was a another building used for prostitution. Around the corner from that house was a warehouse. When people did not have the money for a fix, they brought all kinds of items. These were stored in this warehouse. Anything that had a serial number was shipped to the islands (Jamaica, Caribbean) where the police could not trace them. It was an entire business.
March Against Crack
EJ and I talked about what we could do. We decided to have a community March Against Crack. Our plan was to gather churches from the neighborhood and residents and walk by the places with signs, letting them know we knew they were there and we wanted them to leave. EJ had friends in the radio business and asked them to announce the march. We went to many churches but most of them were locked up during the day. Pastors lived outside the area and only came in on Sundays. Only the storefront churches where the pastor lived in the same building as the church were available. We also visited a few mosques. The men were surprisingly supportive. Not only would they attend with their members, they would bring bull horns and request a police presence as well. Thus our march was quite successful for the community to unite and express its discontent; I don’t know if it stopped any illegal activity.
Nation of Islam
I came to notice that whereas many churches were complacent about living surrounded by drugs and squalor, focusing on the next life with Jesus (or perhaps making money from the poor parishioners), the Muslims were very proactive in cleaning up the community. They bought whole blocks, rebuilt the damaged buildings, created schools and set security guards outside to protect their children. It was quite impressive. I am referring to the Nation of Islam. I am not sure if the more traditional Muslims worked with them; they were from other countries and suspicious of me when I visited.
Murder in the Afternoon
One night I called another evangelist, MDJ, to invite her for the hundredth time to an event. She was always noncommittal but I continued to call her anyway. This night she started crying. Her teenage son had been found dead that same day. He had gotten involved with drugs, started selling them to support his habit, became indebted to the drug dealers and then they killed him in broad daylight and left his body in a gutted building. (We will probably never fully know the details until we get to the Spiritual realm). I went over to her house immediately and stayed with her; I did not want her alone after such trauma. She never forgot that. We started a drug awareness program in the neighborhood, posting flyers in all of the store windows. We held a weekly prayer meeting in her home. Later she attended an ICC program in Korea and became an associate member; we stayed connected until her passing.
Another time, I heard a woman sobbing loudly down the block. I could not pretend I didn’t hear her, but I was unsure how to comfort her. I was the only white person for miles and I was not always welcomed or immediately trusted. But I had to go to her and try my best. Her brother’s body had been found in the river. I was at a loss how to comfort her except to listen. Ultimately, I connected her to our ICUSA free food program and suggested a few local pastors who I hoped would be better at counseling than I was.
One dollar and a knife
While I lived there a young man, a senior and top football player in his school, was stabbed and killed over $1.00. It was lying on the ground when he went to buy some juice for his grandma at a corner store (very late at night).He and another person saw the dollar, both claimed it; a scuffle- then a precious life snuffed out.
My husband’s visit
Once, my husband came to visit me in the evangelist’s home where I was staying. He said that he was scared of the area. People walked the streets high; I thought they were drunk but he recognized addiction and knew first-hand how crazy addicted people can be. Long before I met him, he had been addicted to heroin for ten years.
Car-jackings - youth gangs-robberies
Car-jackings became a ‘thing’. A person stopped at a red light - if his car door was unlocked- could be forced into the passenger seat and driven off by a car jacker. The car owner would be dropped off a few blocks later, usually unharmed, and the car stolen.
Along Fulton Street a major subway ran. One day, after exiting the train, I noticed a group of about eight youth- middle school age, quite young. It was busy so it was probably rush hour. The kids whisked by the passengers, and dashed up the stairs into the streets outside. In their wake a person had been knocked down. I heard later that youth gangs were formed as training for future, more dangerous gangs. Each child had a target: the wristwatch; wallet; earrings; necklace; purse or wallet. They were so fast- gone before anyone realized what happened. The person knocked down initially looked like an accident.
Again along Fulton, a man went into a chicken shop to buy dinner for his family; he was robbed of their dinner when he exited the shop. There were times when I felt that half of Brooklyn was preying on the other half.
Bargaining like Moses
I knew when I began working in Bed/Sty that I might be killed. I thought someone might be so angry at white people or someone may be on drugs or need money. I prayed that if my life was taken that God would claim all of the black people in America. OR, if I wasn’t worth that much, at least all of the black people in Brooklyn….or at least Bed/Sty. I felt somewhat like Moses bargaining with God before Sodom and Gomorrah were decimated.
Deadened by a deathful ideology
However, my perspective changed dramatically after I attended a CAUSA conference in DC. A guest speaker, the author of “Hijack”, shared his experiences after joining the Black Panthers and hijacking a US plane to Cuba. He had expected to be heralded a hero upon arriving in Cuba, but in the FBI process of investigating every passenger on the plane, they discovered an important spy. Instead of this idealistic Marxist being warmly received by Castro, he was angrily thrown into prison and remained there for 11 years. The story that sent shock waves through my system was about a prison break. The escapees were caught and made to stand trial in front of the neighborhood residents. The people were asked, what shall we do with these criminals? A pregnant woman in the crowd shouted, “Shoot them in the face.” The author commented that the people had become deadened by the years of indoctrination that human beings are nothing more than material with no spiritual content. I was deeply disturbed that a woman who was carrying a new life within her could have become so lifeless, numb in her heart and mind. It shook me to the core. I also realized for the first time that there are other people who have no awareness of the spirituality of human beings- their own or others- therefore to take a life would mean nothing to them. When I returned to Brooklyn, I felt a fear that I had not before. I came to realize how cheap life was to many others.
I do not want to leave this telling without mentioning two special people. Pearl Bolden was a soft-spoken woman, slight and elderly. When I visited her home, I walked in and my first sensation was that the walls had been washed with prayer. It was the most beautiful angelic dwelling I think I have ever been in. She must have spent hours in prayer every day.
Another precious person was Dr. Samuel Akkeson, from Ghana. He was a good friend to me and all church members. A cultural anthropologist; he previously gave talks to our foreign missionaries on cultural sensitivity. Although he was highly educated with a delightful sense of humor, he was forced by prevailing racism to live in this ghetto-like neighborhood.
Because of him I feel warmly toward all Ghanaians I meet; I even called Accra after he moved back home, wanting to hear his voice again. Here is one of his memorable stories:
Dr. SA’s story
Samuel came to America shortly after the end of WWII to attend a Christian University. His friend had come the year before. Everything about America fascinated Samuel; he was enthralled that the US was a nation built on Christian principles. He expected the streets were gold- like Heaven. He arrived at the campus and signed up for his classes, then went to find his dorm room. Everything was exciting. Once he got settled he was finally ready to go out and meet his fellow college students. He walked out of his dorm room and there was a young man coming down the hall towards him. His first encounter with an American! The young man insulted him and kept on walking. Samuel was devastated. He went back into his dorm room and stayed there, disappointed, hurt and unwilling to venture out again. After a few hours his friend called him. As is the custom in Ghana, they greeted one another and asked politely about the health and well- being of the grandparents, parents, mutual friends etc before discussing their own situation. Finally, Samuel’s friend asked how he was doing; was the flight over pleasant; did he sign up for classes; did he like his dorm room; did he have the opportunity to meet any other students. Samuel eventually told him what happened. His friend was incredulous; “I’ve been here a year and no one has ever said an unkind word to me”, he told Samuel. “I am so sorry.” then, “Do you mind if I ask what they said?”, his friend asked. Samuel replied, “He said, HI- just like we do to the cattle to get them out of the road” (It is customary in Ghana to shoo animals in one’s path to move away by saying “Hi. Hi.”) Samuel’s friend asked , “What else did he say?” Samuel retorted, “That’s all. Just Hi.” “Samuel, that isn’t an insult. That’s how Americans say ‘Hello. How are you.” his friend gently explained. “What happened to Hello. How are you? How is your family? ’Samuel wanted to know. “Americans are very busy. They shortened it to Hi. was his friend’s response. This singular incident decided Samuel’s future occupation as a cultural anthropologist to research how ‘Hello, how are you?’ became ‘Hi’ in America.
Many people I visited and ate with told me that I was the first white person who had ever come into their home. Others wanted me to understand their pain and resentment from mistreatment by whites. It was impossible to apologize; words would have been meaningless. I could only listen- a mute witness to crimes that spanned generations. One very elderly man quietly shared that he had been denied education to read and write as a youth which contributed to his lifelong abject poverty. I wish I could write it just as he said- his body shrunk with age and hard labor; few teeth remaining; his language indicative of no formal education; yet with full presence of mind that he was a human being who had certain unalienable rights in the presence of God that had been denied to him by people blinded greed, ignorance or stupidity. I can still feel with a shudder the emotion behind his few words: anger; sadness; helplessness in the face of sanctioned injustice; profound frustration; seething rage. If he had been younger (thus stronger) I would have been tempted to run from the building to avoid being murdered.
I might have been the first white person they ever expressed themselves honestly and openly to. I’m sure I did not realize then how significant and necessary my presence was for healing. Only now as I write my memoirs I catch a glimpse, but with grief that i did so little...and that so little has been done.
Guyana and British tea
One couple, Maestro Jones and his wife Ruby, embraced me like family. They were from Guyana (formerly British Guiana, a colony from 1814 until its independence in 1966) We would have proper British tea with milk and sugar, government cheese and crackers and spend hours talking about how to help the community. Maestro thought Rev. Moon was brilliant- marry all the bad guys to good women. I didn’t appreciate his simplified assessment of our sacred marriage. Neither did I want to lump my husband into a generic group of bad guys, but we did cover many topics. One day he took me to a local store, near Halsey and Patchem. The shelves were nearly bare. How can they run a business with so few products. When we left, I asked him. He said it was a numbers joint under the pretext of a grocery store; people went there to make bets (presumably on horses.) This world I had entered into was full of surprises and intrigue- almost like an alternative/parallel universe to the one I had been accustomed to.
Growing up I was raised Jewish though with little formal religious education. In Judaism, if the mother is Jewish the children are considered Jewish and we did inherit much from celebrating the numerous annual holy days: Yom Kipper, Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah, Passover, Succoth, Purim and more. On my father’s side we had two cousins who were Catholic nuns. We visited them only a few times; my mother fiercely forbade them from witnessing to us about Jesus. She was very bitter about the role the church had played in supporting the German Holocaust. For decades after WWII evidence of this complicity would become known and exposed- printed worldwide; the pain ever raw.
The only time I remember entering a church while a youth was in high school when my school choir sang Handel’s Messiah and we toured a few large mainline churches during Christmas. The lyrics we sang-words straight from the Bible- were a profound introduction to Jesus and moved my heart toward this person I knew little about. (I would hear much more four years later in a Divine Principle lecture and realize he was the messiah for whom the Jews had been waiting but failed to protect.) Here in Brooklyn, I was tasked with visiting ministers and churches every day. It was another mind-bending experience.
My lack of experience with churches was compounded by my total ignorance of black culture- and little experience with black people in general. The first church I visited in Brooklyn was in a small storefront church, most likely Baptist or Pentecostal- or a loose combination of the two. I came to invite the minister to a program and arrived near the end of the service. The minister was breathing heavily and speaking in an extremely emotional, powerful and at times even ‘sing-songy’ manner. I had never seen or heard anything like it and mistook it for a normal way of talking between black people. When the service ended I approached the pastor and addressed him in a similar manner- overly emotional and sing-songy (as best as I could since I was just learning this unfamiliar colloquialism.) When he responded, speaking normal calm English as an average person, I wanted to sink into the floor and disappear. Only my steeled sense of duty kept me rooted there instead of running out the door as far away as possible due to my mortifying embarrassment.
Probably not many people know the staggering amount of Christian denominations that exist. Many Brooklyners originally moved from the south where Baptist churches abound. Baptist congregations focus on baptism; they elect their pastors. (Worldwide there are 241 denominations.) Pentecostal churches focus on the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. They often grow centering around a charismatic leader, pastor or evangelist. These can spring up like mushrooms and are mostly de-centralized. Some Pentecostal Churches have become well organized and expansive - Church of God in Christ. Church of God. Pentecostal Holiness Church, Assemblies of God (700 Pentecostal denominations and many independent churches). There are unique immigrant churches serving the African community (Cherubim and Seraphim) and the Caribbean community, specifically Trinidad/Tobago (a syncretic faith combining elements of African, Hindu and Christian religious practices.) Mainline Protestant Churches are solidly established having arrived with the early colonists or shortly after; Methodists, Disciples of Christ, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians. Leaders of congregations must be strenuously educated and appointed by the central organizing body. Unique churches had developed specifically to serve black Americans such as The House of Prayer for All People, which was founded by Daddy Grace who many believed was a messianic figure. The church provides general academic and musical education, job training and housing for elderly as part of their core ministry. Outside of Protestant denominations, there are the Catholic churches and even some divergent branches exist among these.. Orthodox and Coptic congregations which are prevalent in Eastern Europe and serving immigrants who escaped USSR and communism and ancient churches from the Middle East were mostly situated north of my district close to the Hasidic Jewish community which flourished in Northern Brooklyn. The Jewish community had once been large in Bed/Sty but eventually left for the suburbs; synagogues were purchased by churches. There also are numerous Mosques- traditional ones with Arabic-speaking congregants from numerous countries and Nation of Islam which was almost exclusively black Americans and scattered throughout Brooklyn. They have established schools and community centers offering numerous services. In my area alone there were over 300 religious organizations; I visited every one, attending countless services - even until the wee hours of the morning.
Sometimes the people living in the storefront churches were very suspicious of me when I came by with invitations and literature. Was it just my whiteness? My evangelist friend suggested that they may have decided to establish a church in order to avoid taxes on their building and expenses. Other churches, though tiny and abjectly poor, seemed genuine and were faithfully consistent with their services.
Too many times the person in the pulpit would scream at the people in the pews, accusing them, demanding more participation whether in singing or tithing. I wondered why anyone would keep coming back to those churches. A Caribbean man who I often met in different churches befriended me; he was a popular repairman, a jack-of-all trades. I asked him many questions. He said the people in those churches were used to their mothers or grandmothers yelling at them, scolding and belittling them. It was familiar and comfortable; that is why they kept attending- it felt like home. Slavery ended about 100 years ago- that’s three generations and many people were raised by their grandparents.
My friend also shared some horror stories about the neighborhood: Ministers who ran off with the church funds and the secretary. One minister, well-educated- returned to serve his home community. He was an astute preacher and, after a trial period, was finally hired by the board; his position included a house attached to the church. The congregation was very proud of their eloquent preacher and overjoyed when they paid off their mortgage after twenty-odd years. The pastor secretly took out a second mortgage and used the money for himself. When the board later found out, they tried to fire him; their lawyer discovered the clever pastor had altered the contract to include “life-long pastor”. After decades of investing in their church building, the congregation had to find another place to worship and start from scratch. Many poor people see the success of their pastor and their church as their own victory- substantial evidence of their unselfishness and service. They often do not have the expectation to own their own home. Losing their church is far more significant and heart-breaking than it would be to a well-to-do suburban congregation, although I am sure it would be painful to anyone. I still wonder how this man could look himself in the mirror every day, how could he live amongst the very people he had robbed, betrayed, and deceived. It was especially painful that he had lived there growing up. When and where did he lose his sense of humanity? And was it before or after he went into the ministry?
Another story, perhaps too common to call a horror story, was that many church staff asked for two sets of receipts for my friend’s repair- one with fake, inflated charges so that the pastor or staff could keep the difference.
“I’m going to die”
One Wednesday evening, I was preparing to leave the center to attend a few mid-week church services. Clear as a bell, I heard the words, “I’m going to die.” There was no one in the room with me. It was stated calmly and matter-of factly; I had no reason to doubt it. It must be a prophetic statement of fact, I decided. Was this a fate I could alter? Should I stay home tonight? Then I imagined nervously, fearfully pacing my room and finally a robber breaks in and stabs me. I’d rather die doing my mission, I resolved and headed out. It was a nerve-wracking night. I wondered HOW I would die: a knife? Being pushed off the subway under the tracks? The first church I attended had a prayer service that was entirely the repetition of Jesus’s name: “Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.” I walked to the nex church down the block, wondering if I would be attacked on the way. I made it home and miraculously awoke the next day. A member told me that headquarters wanted me to call. My father had left the message that my paternal grandmother had died last night.
Then I understood that the words I heard last night were not about me; my grandmother had informed me of her passing. Years before, while on MFT, I found myself missing her. I asked God to let me know when she passed away and I determined to treat the elderly people I met kindly as though I was caring for her. Thank you, Nana. xoxox
As a result of the experience, I also realized that messages from the spirit world can be misunderstood. I thought those words were from my own mind about me, but they were not. Evil spirits take advantage of our ignorance in spiritual matters and whisper negative words that we think are our own thoughts. .
My husband and I fulfilled the requirements of three spiritual children each and asked for permission to start our family. We had waited seven years. After repeated refusals from my leaders, and after the afore- mentioned event with Rev. S, I allowed Bruce to ‘kidnap’ me and take me to Boston. This was after three years of working in Brooklyn.
The mind initiates change
When I first arrived in Bedford Stuyvesant/ Bushwick area I was determined to make a difference. I was going to clean-up the neighborhood. But as I was leaving three years later, I saw that it was as dirty as it had been when I came. I could see no difference. It was humbling. I also realized that the mindset had to change before the neighborhood itself changed.
30 years later
Almost exactly 30 years later, I returned to Bedford Stuyvesant/Bushwick to do outreach for True Mother’s ‘Peace Starts with Me’ Rally. It was remarkable how much the area had changed. Universities had opened in the area; people of all ethnicities were walking around and living there. It was an amazing transformation.
Did my Brooklyn people change their mind and thus their environment or were they forced to move elsewhere when people with money decided to salvage the area?