Perkins Scholar Ministers on the Front Lines during Pandemic
by Lucinda ArmasWhile her city and nation are convulsing from recent protests and encountering renewed activism—the cause for this outcry is nothing new to Tash Steverson. Being black means you are at risk. Having grown up in Chicago’s predominately African American Lawndale neighborhood, the insidious effects of blatant and systemic racism surrounded her. What is new: COVID-19. As a registered nurse (BSN, RN) at Lawndale Christian Health Center (LCHC), she and her colleagues treat an already under-resourced population now disproportionately hit by the pandemic. Tash brings these experiences and insights to every one of her Northern Seminary classes as a student in our Master of Divinity (MDiv-2021) program. She is also a recipient of the Perkins Fellowship, named in honor of Northern professor and founder of the Christian Community Development Association Dr. John M. Perkins . This fellowship provides scholarships to students in seminary who are committed to serving under-resourced communities after graduation.
For Tash. The last few tumultuous months have given her ample opportunity to minister and build upon what she learns in Northern’s MDiv program. Amidst the pandemic at LCHC, Tash’s role changes every day, sometimes every hour. Prior to the COVID outbreak, her patient load included general practice, maternity, elderly, addictions, and more. Now, she also triages potential COVID patients via phone ascertaining those most at risk.
Tash explains that with every call, in addition to getting the pertinent health information related to COVID, “I want to make sure people feel heard and help manage their anxiety. I’m using pastoral skills to speak to those with anxiety and really hear people out … One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is that life happens and God sees you, loves you, and knows your pain.” Having grown up in Lawndale, “I’ve personally experienced that heartache and pain,” she recounts.
For her peers and professors. Tash offers our academic community an opportunity to listen to, learn from, and understand her journey as a black woman ministering in an underserved and underrepresented black community. Another seminarian, Megan Westra, described her as the “quiet before the storm”—someone who studies, watches, learns then blows everyone away with her observations. Thinking of recent headlines, she shared some of her thoughts with us. Reflecting on the pandemic and its impact on African Americans: “COVID is real. People are suffering. I want to put in context of who we are in relation to each other. We are the same substance. If one group in the body of Christ suffers, you don’t say that issue is not mine … I’m ready to go back outside.”
As public outcry and protests grow from the killing of George Floyd, Tash fields questions from white people such as “Why can’t there be peace? Why does it have to be that way?” She asks, “that people examine their own narratives because stereotypical narratives contribute to how we see and respond to the pain of the black community. I invite them to become proximate because, in distance, you can see my pain and be unaffected. You can see black pain and rationalize it with no understanding of the history that creates the present.” For Tash, too, “Sometimes, it’s not the questions, it’s the silence.”
Though tremendously challenging, these times offer all of us at Northern Seminary an opportunity to actively listen and engage in difficult but essential conversations as we faithfully serve Jesus Christ.
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