I was kicked out from the restaurant department because my zeal to witness ‘would contaminate’ the other business members. Happily, I could then focus 100 % on minister outreach. Brooklyn is very densely packed with people; if it were a city (and not a borough) it would be the third most populated in the US, after Los Angeles and Chicago. It is divided into 77 neighborhoods or districts. I was responsible for two: Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick, both in the north-eastern section; Bushwick borders Queens. Because New York is a ‘gateway’ for global immigrants, there is a broad cultural diversity in Brooklyn.
My two districts had been predominantly Jewish in the early to mid-1900s (when two million Russian Jews emigrated to avoid intense government-sanctioned persecution). By the 1950s most Jews had relocated to suburbs and the population shifted to primarily African American, West Indian and African. Brooklyn has more West Indians than the West Indies. Just north of my districts were neighborhoods of Polish, Russian, Ukrainian and the large Hasidic Jewish community in Williamsburg. To serve the various ethnic groups, churches, synagogues and mosques naturally spring up. One article states that there are 914 religious organizations in Brooklyn.
In addition to my own minister outreach, I was also responsible to organize church visitation for business members who usually had only one day free. Some of these business members worked in the restaurants. One day I showed up in the restaurant department office downtown NY to drop off related information; members gasped to see me as if they had seen a ghost. What had they been told happened to me? I have never been interested in gossip, but I venture to say that rumors most likely benefit someone other than who the rumor is about. It’s best to not even get involved.
Another role I fulfilled was as the secretary for the ICUSA meetings. A handful of ministers and concerned community leaders would gather at Maestro and Ruby Jone’s home and strategize ways to best serve the populace. It was decided to have a musical program and an awards presentation for the community; it would be held at a local public school. An orchestra was hired to play a few classical pieces; Maestro Jones was the conductor. After the performance, we presented plaques and recognized numerous men and women who had been diligently serving the community: ministers, teachers, a firefighter, volunteers, etc. One of the awards was to be given to the local fish business which donated fresh fish to ministers on a regular basis; the ministers had to cut up the fish, wrap it, then distribute it to their congregants. This business happened to be owned by our church. I researched who was in charge. To my surprise -and delight- it was Mr I who had kicked me out of the restaurant department. Less than a year after my ignoble departure, my community and ministers were presenting him with an award of gratitude. I call this ‘heavenly revenge’- the kind of ‘revenge’ Heavenly Father approves of.
Because I had a very thorough inventory of churches in my two districts, I was able to easily accommodate members volunteering on Sundays, even describing the denominations and asking them which they preferred. Mainline churches tend to have a regular, well-rehearsed choir and an educated minister who gives an organized, intellectual (usually political) and time-conscious sermon; Baptist sermons are much more emotional, usually longer with lots of singing and music. Pentecostal and Holiness churches have a wide variety of services which may last for hours with prayer and worship before or after or both. Some churches have spirit-filled dancing and speaking in tongues. A few have uniformed ‘nurses’ on duty to minister to members who fall on the ground during the service.
I also researched where public telephones were located near each church (ones that had not been vandalized) for emergencies. I wanted to alleviate any fears the visiting members might have. One Sunday I dropped a black sister, newly arrived from England, at a Pentecostal Holiness church. In this particular faith community all the women wore white robes and walked barefoot throughout the year. After the sermon, the pastor walked down into the congregation and placed his hand upon the heads of a few men and women in the audience; they immediately begin speaking in tongues and some began dancing in the aisles. As the pastor came close to this sister she ran terrified out of the church. She had wanted to experience an ethnic church ,but didn’t realize what that meant. I could fully empathize with her.
A new group home/center was rented just south of my area off King’s Highway and a new center leader, LL. I was invited to move in and I did. After having been on MFT for so long I had a skill set that I unfairly expected other members to have. One was fearlessness. On MFT we were constantly challenging ourselves. There is a saying in some MFT centers: “Whatever you don’t want to do, that’s what you should do.” Another skill set was hard work and focus. Members in the Brooklyn center were in varying states of shock, fear and confusion after True Father was incarcerated; I was oblivious to their needs. The center leader wanted to serve and encourage members so one evening he had a movie night. I was outraged. I thought we should all be working 24 hours- or as close to that as possible. Although I had spent the major part of my MFT mission loving others, I was loving people who did not know Divine Principle. I considered all members front line soldiers whose mission was to risk their life in building God’s Kingdom. I never told them to do that; I thought everyone already knew it- didn’t they get the memo? Why was I so ruthless?
One Sunday we had a great turn out of business members and associate members who wanted to visit churches. I was organizing at least twenty people for my area. (I usually worked alone in my area except on Sundays or when I had a Japanese brother to drive me around.). I assessed the vehicle situation and assigned drivers for different areas. One brother objected; he wanted to use his car for himself and his wife. I ignored his request as nonsensical and continued on with my plan. (I think the center leader calmed him down afterwards and perhaps made adjustments). My modus operandi was war mode. I must have made so many members negative. In the Heavenly Kingdom, it is a crime to hurt a person’s heart. God in His infinite wisdom never put me in a leadership position over other people, so hopefully those short periods of time when I was in charge of small ‘battles’ were limited enough not to leave irreparable damage.
One incident comes to mind that was insightful regarding cultural differences. We were cleaning the Brooklyn center. A new member was there originally from Haiti. The center leader was a black American brother, likeable, easy-going and college educated. He assigned members responsibilities and we carried them out. The Haitian brother became irate. He was sure the leader had given him trash duty because his skin was darker than the leader’s. Other members assured the new brother that we all took turns, but he was convinced he had been targeted for humiliation. Later he was tasked with cleaning out a storage area. He balked at that as well, but when I went in to organize it, he calmed down. If a white woman can do it, he decided he could too.
I am glad that he expressed his feelings openly because then we could address them. Some problems are never expressed and fester for years without ever being resolved.
There are so many different cultures in the world- not just ethnicities. I had inadvertently carried my MFT culture with me, mistaking it for UC culture. But if life isn’t about learning, what is it about? I want to figure out what the Kingdom of Heaven culture is. I know the core is unselfish love and service. What does that look like every day?
A Care Package from Poland
One summer the center leader informed us that we were going to be fundraising for a few months to pay the bills. I suggested a possible alternative to this new direction: ‘Let’s eat less, use less utilities and witness more.’ The leader did not consider that a viable option. In order to continue my minister outreach, some brothers from the fish business decided to pay for a small apartment for me! I gratefully accepted. I had no income and very little to eat; for a few months I survived on peanut butter, crackers and water. I was inviting ministers to various programs and sometimes I had a video to share with them. One day I invited a minster to my apartment to show him the video. I tidied up the place but shortly before he was to come, I realized I didn’t even have tea to serve him. I had no money. How should I make him feel comfortable and welcomed, I wondered. A knock came at the door. An older church brother, L, had just received a package from his family back home in Poland; he wanted to share it with me! . It was filled with all kinds of wonderful chocolates, biscuits, Polish delicacies, coffees and teas. As always, God was working behind the scenes, using who He could- He found a precious brother with a loving and generous heart-and at the perfect moment!
Dignity of God’s children
One particular church that I found exemplary in serving the community was The United House of Prayer for All People. It was started by ‘Sweet’ Bishop Daddy Grace in 1919 in Massachusetts. Originally from Brava Cape Verde (a Portuguese possession off the western coast of Africa), he travelled throughout America encouraging people from all races and denominations to worship together. He believed in racial harmony in the early 1900s when churches were segregated. To emphasize this, he married a white woman though they lived celibately as brother and sister. (Interracial marriages were illegal in many states until 1970). From its inception, the church had nightly services and members were made to feel the dignity of being God’s children despite the discrimination they were subjected to during the day.
Eventually the church offered classes in education for GEDs; musical education including training in playing musical instruments; and training in various employment skills (especially driving a bus and bus repair since they owned a fleet of buses).The church owned and operated soul food kitchens, built daycares, nursing homes and low-income and affordable living apartments. After encountering many cases of duplicity, this church was a breath of fresh air.
The church believes that their founder was a messianic figure and that the succeeding leaders were/are also singular figures through whom God is working and revealing His plans. Sweet Daddy Grace passed away in 1960 and the leadership passed to Bishop Walter McCollough (also called Sweet Daddy); he served for thirty-one years. I heard he was coming to the UHOPFAP in Bed-Sty, then on the corner of Fulton Street and Nordstrom Ave. The pastor informed me that it was a great occasion and it would be a long service. I think I came around 9 PM; the service lasted until 3 AM. Most of the time was filled with members parading to the front of the church to deposit envelopes into dark-colored velvet covered boxes with much pomp and circumstance and loud trumpet music. On his way out after the service ended, I was able to briefly meet Sweet Daddy McCollough and present him with True Father’s book, ‘God’s Warning to the World’. His predecessors were Bishop Samuel Madison and currently Bishop Clarence Bailey. May God use this church in mighty ways to advance His Kingdom!
Another church that I found had a sweet and sincere spirit was the Seventh Day Adventists (established formally in 1863). They believe that Saturday should be regarded as the Sabbath and therefore hold their church services then. They also believe in treating their body with respect as it is a gift from God and the mind, spirit and body are interconnected. Healthy eating- even vegetarianism-is encouraged; as a result SDA community is 30 % healthier than average US citizens. They also abstain from alcohol, tobacco and recreational drugs.
I felt a dichotomy between what I saw inside the church and what I saw outside. Within the walls, people glorified and praised God; outside there was crime, drugs, cursing, loose behavior, gossiping, unkempt living situations, etc. I am sure this dichotomy exists everywhere in the world but it did seem glaring to me at times. When I did meet someone striving to walk in Jesus’ footsteps it was beautiful and hopeful. One older pastor from COGIC, although poor, tutored youth after school. Whenever I met him there were students close by. He didn’t even have his own church. I deeply appreciated his efforts; I know God sees every effort we make to help others, especially the most vulnerable.
Along the border of the Bushwick neighborhood, there is a higher concentration of Latino residents. One young pastor who spoke English and Spanish I found very impressive with his daily investment and commitment to the neighborhood. Although young, he had a handful of buses and dedicated volunteers who would pick up youth around the neighborhood and bring them to the church programs. If I am not mistaken, I think he started the church himself, but he was so busy he never had time to attend any events I invited him to. More precisely he did not agree with UC so he did not respond warmly. I wonder if he is still a pastor somewhere. I wonder if he has warmed up to us forty years later?
Proposals and propositions
One of the minefields of witnessing is the attraction between men and women. True Father said that we will appear more beautiful to people when we are witnessing because God is working through us to save a person’s life. I was proposed to by a number of ministers; a few quite seriously declaring their intention of marriage. Luckily, I was already engaged/promised; having my fiance/husband was a very welcome and necessary shield, even though I rarely saw him for five years. In spite of this, some men would continue to profess their interest. Sadly, I had to stop visiting a few good churches because of the ministers’ continued advances and because I was traveling solo. In addition to proposals there were also indecent propositions which at first shocked me. Quickly I learned to act as though I hadn’t heard anything while keeping a safe distance. If I had acted offended and stormed off I would have too few churches left to work with.
One afternoon, I was visiting a minister during the week between Christmas and New Years. On my way there, the subway train stopped because of an issue on the tracks. True Father said that we should be attentive to signs like this; it could be a message from spiritual world. I looked around in the train car; perhaps I was supposed to witness to one of the passengers. But no one looked up from their newspaper or their napping. A second announcement informed us that there was a fire that had to be dealt with and the train would be further delayed. I began to pray and ask for God’s guidance. A fire definitely seemed like a serious warning. Finally the train was on its way, but I continued to pray; I wanted to be hypervigilant to recognize what God was warning me about. When I arrived at the minister’s home, he greeted me warmly. His wife was gone for a few days visiting relatives. I had visited their home many times before. We sat in the living room talking about plans for the new year. Then, inexplicably, he walked over and locked the door to the living room. Alarms were blaring in my head. He nonchalantly returned, gently took my hand and began caressing it as we talked. I tried to maintain my composure while searching the room and planning my escape. A young guest in the house knocked on the door and asked if he should order lunch. When the minister opened the door. I quickly made an excuse and ran out, leaving my hat and scarf behind. There was no way I was returning to retrieve them even though the weather was bitterly cold. He and his wife were two of my core ministers; we had spent more than a hundred hours together. It was a heavy and unexpected blow. It would have been so easy for me to naively think it was all in my imagination, but God’s prior warning had steeled my brain to act quickly. I’ve never been more grateful for a delayed train.
In the process of witnessing there is always a danger that a ‘spiritual parent’ might feel attracted to their ‘spiritual child’; inevitably a lot of time, energy and prayer is invested when witnessing. I prayed a lot about this matter: how to avoid it from happening, how to recognize it happening, and what to do when/if it does happen. First, I decided that if I ever felt there existed a strong attraction (on either side), I would hand over the care of my male contact to a brother, if at all possible. Or work together with a brother or another sister so that we were not alone together. Next, I reasoned that if I EVER wanted to receive love or affection from this person this was a clear indication that I was no longer an instrument of God in this witnessing relationship. If I truly loved this person, I would never want to jeopardize his eternal relationship with God.His eternal life was far more important than my momentary happiness. These feelings may be inevitable. We are all in a position to restore the Fall again and again and again. Lucifer was in a position to serve to guide and yet he chose to deceive Eve for his own benefit. Love is the strongest power in the world. When we stand at the crossroads, we have to ask ourself, ‘Do I love God more or myself?’ ‘Do I love the other more or myself?’ Then move forward. We will have to ask this each time, up until we pass from this world.
Bypassing cognitive biases
I will admit that one time I was sorely tempted. My life has been somewhat unusual in that I was rarely interested in dating or developing relationships with people in general. My first twenty years, I was preoccupied with depression and intensely seeking truth. I did have a boyfriend for a few years (when I was 18 - 20 years old). He spoke Spanish and I tried to communicate with him in Spanish also. Research shows that speaking another language bypasses “cognitive biases [that] are rooted in emotional reactions...thinking in a foreign language helps us disconnect from these emotions.” Although he had asked me to marry him, I flatly refused. My parents and my oldest sister were divorced, both harboring deep bitterness, anger and hatred. From what I observed, love did not last. I do believe now that God led us to meet; he was/is the kindest person I know. I was surrounded by so many evil people before I met the church; he was a shield that protected me. We both joined the Unification Movement. Now he has a beautiful marriage, a loving wife and five wonderful children.
Ilya Ususkin, the story teller
My temptation happened while I was steeped in minister outreach and working every day out in the field. One afternoon, I was on a subway. With a clipboard in hand, I was sketching the passengers. An elderly man was also scribbling away in a notebook. We exchanged glances, then smiled, recognizing with camaraderie our resonance. He shared briefly: he was a writer, taking notes from his subway observations. He assumed I was a writer too. Since he had to depart, he suggested we meet again on the ferry (East River Ferry?) a few days later at noon. I agreed.
I was usually the one chasing after people to invite them to conferences, deliver video tapes or books, or urge them to cooperate with a social action project. Now, here was someone initiating a meeting with me. How different!. How exciting! When we finally met, he shared profusely about his life: an adventurous childhood in Alaska (pre-statehood), his adoring mother searching for him in the snow; early years as a virtuoso violinist; mandatory military service in the Navy; a war accident that ended his music career forever; his decision to write spy novels under a pseudonym. Enraptured, I listened to him for hours. Whether his stories were true or not I do not know; I had no reason to disbelieve him. I did know that I wanted to connect him to God somehow. He was brilliant, creative and successful. He asked me about my life. How could I share personally without sounding crazy? Whatever I said, he looked at me thoughtfully and remarked, “I love the way your mind works.” Luckily I was sitting down, because at that moment I lost all sense of equilibrium. The solid ground fell away beneath me. His words pierced my soul so precisely that I found myself suddenly shocked standing on the edge of a precipice; only God could have known my most vulnerable place- God or Satan.
I had denied my mind so often in my church life and work, it was easy to forget I had one. On MFT I abandoned my intellect and repeated a sales pitch thousands of times a day (x 363 days x 7.5). Now in Brooklyn, I daily encountered men whose eyes devoured me licentiously. Surely none of them cared that I had a mind. I was twenty-nine years old; I do not remember anyone ever saying, “I love your mind”.
It may surprise the reader to know that this man I was meeting was eighty years old; it made no difference to me. I could have melted into his hands at that very moment. (If the reader thinks that an eighty year old man no longer desires intimacy, just revisit this point when you are older.) Surely angels were with me; I love God with my whole heart and soul and mind and body. I stepped away from that cliff and determined to find out- was this from God or Satan?
We met a few times after that. EAch time when I would initially meet him, I would always be surprised that he was so old, but then when I spoke with him his age became irrelevant. He invited me to a classical concert. He knew many people there from the upper echelon of society; many of them looked at me as though I were a ‘gold digger’ (taking advantage of this old man) or a prostitute. I invited him to CAUSA and asked him to invite his son who held a high position in the military- but he would never commit. . Finally the conversation came to that ultimate line drawn in the sand; he did not believe in God or an afterlife. He wanted to freeze his body until future scientists could reawaken him. Although he had said he appreciated my mind, I could not convince him of a loving Heavenly Parent or an inevitable eternal life after this one. His total lack of humility before God allowed me to step back, way back onto solid ground. My fiance/husband was often coarse and insensitive, had little or no interest in art; he was not as refined, educated, creative, or eloquent as Ilya Ususkin- but he was humble before God. My neglected mind, which had almost become that hook to drag me down, would have to wait to be appreciated (perhaps after I died). Freed from my temptor, I moved on resolutely to witness to my ministers. IPeter 5:8: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”
Our only enemy
One day, at the home of a core minister, MJ, I decided to straighten up the large room we used for ICUSA meetings, just stack the scattered books, pamphlets and papers in related piles for a neater appearance and ease in accessibility. I had just given a back rub to his wife who suffered from an accident and she was resting. When she got up and saw what I had proudly accomplished she told me nervously that I had better mess it all up again; her husband would not like it. I told her it would look even more suspicious if I randomly messed it up again, but she was visibly frightened and called him on the phone. MJ was at a UC- sponsored conference out-of-state and he immediately left the conference to return home. When he arrived he was so outraged that he began cursing and accusing me. He called the church headquarters and demanded to speak to the highest leader. Vehemently, he pledged that I would never be a leader in the church; he would make sure of that. (I never wanted to be a leader in the church anyway so that was a useless threat.) The entire scene was ludicrous, outlandish and bizarre. I had served this couple for more than a year; they called me their angel and had a small room set aside for me in their home. Now, I was suddenly their hated enemy. MJ told me to leave and never come back. I left- confused, angry, hurt, and then righteously indignant that they did not trust me. They obviously had something serious to hide to be so fearful of my organizing their papers.
The next day, a leader called me and asked me to apologize to MJ, but I refused. I said my actions had zero ill intentions; MJ’s extreme displeasure was indicative of a guilty conscience. Something that was hidden was in danger of being revealed, but this was way above my ’pay-grade’. God Himself was bringing something into the light. “Whatever is hidden away will be brought out into the open, and whatever is covered up will be found and brought to light Luke 8:17 For weeks I continued my mission while mulling over their cruel behavior, but at the same time I also missed them- the many occasions we had shared a pot of British-style tea and Guyanese rice and beans and talked into the night, strategizing how to save Brooklyn. True Father said that we have no enemies on the earth- Satan is our only enemy. Even if this couple did something wrong, I was not here to judge them. And if God was loving people through me, the ministers now as He had loved the potential customers when I was fundraising, did I have the right to just cut this couple off and never speak to them again? After a month or so, I gingerly showed up at their door. They welcomed me in as though nothing had happened.
Obvious or oblivious
While I worked in Bed/Sty- Bushwick, I never saw another white person except priests and nuns at the Catholic churches. My presence was glaringly obvious to everyone around me, but I was, for the most part, oblivious. Would my counterpart in a white neighborhood fared as well?
One late night I entered a subway to return home. Two youth saw me from a distance and kept staring at me uncomfortably. They finally approached me and asked if I was a plain clothes police woman. When I said no, they immediately jumped the turnstyle (instead of paying) and ran to catch a train.
“Broken Windows” theory
Years later, I read that NY’s mayor and police chief decided to tackle the city’s rampant crime by starting with small infractions (such as turnstyle jumping). They created movable police stations (in vehicles) which made it faster and easier to process paperwork. Their theory was called ‘Broken Windows’ which “held that ignoring small violations of the law, or quality of life offenses, led to larger crimes and to increasing disorder.”. Additionally, digitized crime data led to smarter policing. The four goals implemented were: accurate, timely intelligence; rapid deployment; effective tactics; relentless follow-up and assessment. Each precinct was responsible to create detailed crime maps and held to strict accountability. The crime rate (murder, rape, robbery, etc.) fell remarkably- in some cases to a seventy year- low. Along with these new strategies, credit has been given to increased private security and a proliferation of non-profits that sought to strengthen the neighborhoods and confront violence.
When I returned to Bed/Sty forty years later, I was amazed how much it had changed.