So much to do

Linda Bales Todd retired from the General Board of Church & Society at the end of July after more than a decade advocating on behalf of women and children, the most vulnerable in society. The following is her reflection on what it's been like engaging in what she described as "spirit-filled work."

Linda Bales Todd

Bales Todd

On Sept. 11, 2001, my mom and I were packing boxes in preparation for my move from Yellow Springs, Ohio, to Washington, D.C., where I had taken a job at the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society (GBCS). That tragic day in the United States prompted my close friends to ask me, "Are you sure you want to move to Washington, D.C., to take this job?"

That was a reasonable question given all the horror of the events on 9/11 with innumerable aftershocks around the country, the world and, most definitely in the District of Columbia.

My response to those dear ones was, "Oh my, I have never felt more called to a job than this one. Of course, I'm going."

Plus, my two sons were grown and on their own, so a move seemed "right."

Trepidation yet excitement

I can truthfully say there hasn't been one day … that I have not wanted to come to work.

So, I drove east to begin a new phase of my life. I felt some trepidation, but mostly excitement fueled with opportunities to "make a difference in the world!"

Upon arriving at GBCS, I discovered colleagues recovering from shell shock, trying to make sense of the tragedy they and the country had experienced. In spite of their emotional upheaval, they warmly welcomed me with abundant hospitality into their family, one I have come to love dearly.

I can truthfully say there hasn't been one day since arriving at100 Maryland Ave., NE, that I have not wanted to come to work.

Women and children

I began as Director of the Louise & Hugh Moore Population Project, which focuses on the needs of the most vulnerable in the world: women and children. They comprise 70% of the world's poor. I've had the privilege of addressing issues such as HIV & AIDS, domestic violence, maternal and reproductive health, human trafficking, human sexuality, child marriage, obstetric fistula, bioethics and women as peace makers.

Political will for life-saving changes is in short supply, even in the Church.

The truth about this work: Despite a lot of hard effort and some successes, I never felt as if I was doing enough. The demands are great and political will for life-saving changes is in short supply, even in the Church. Funding is scarcer.

Cynicism works against progress. Compartmentalism of issues within the government, Church and the society at large hampers any holistic approach to the world's problems.

New ways of being

In spite of these systemic and societal realities, however, millions of people around the globe are eager to learn and work for social change. Some are also willing to look at their own beliefs and behaviors that may be harmful to others and adopt new ways of being and living.

Through holy conferencing, barriers can be reduced, if not eliminated. I've seen this happen with GBCS board members as well as General Conference delegates.

I give thanks for all those I've encountered who were willing to take a risk, to be introspective, to embrace diversity, to provide helpful feedback without demonizing, to love deeply and live authentically. Bravo!

Certainly highlights exist during my time of service with GBCS. I helped organize four highly successful "Lighten the Burden" AIDS conferences. They were sponsored by The United Methodist Church Global Aids Fund, which was formed in 2004.

And, we celebrated the passage of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) that President George W. Bush supported and signed into law in 2003.

Through GBCS's Social Principles seminars, I've met United Methodists from many countries in Africa, Eastern Europe, the Philippines and the annual conferences within the United States.

Profound conversations with women

I had the opportunity to engage in profound conversations with groups of women in Africa about domestic violence and maternal health. I learned from them of the enormous cultural, economic and societal barriers many face.

Witnessing women as peacemakers came through two trips to Israel, Jordan and the West Bank. I traveled with ecumenical groups of women and with women bishops. These trips brought greater clarity on the hardships and oppression faced by Palestinians and Israelis and their desire to live without violence.

After meeting women attempting to build bridges of understanding, I'm more convinced than ever that peace can come through their efforts of standing in solidarity boldly stating, "We aren't going to study war no more." They give me hope as they march forward to create a peaceable kingdom on earth. Let's hang onto hope!

Most difficult issue

The most difficult issue in my portfolio has been abortion. This issue has become so polarized and politicized that creating opportunities for rational discussions is quite challenging.

Throughout these past years, I attempted to stand strong for women's reproductive rights, including the right to safe, legal abortion. At the same time, I've emphasized the need to prevent circumstances that result in women and girls facing decisions about unplanned pregnancies.

I'm thankful for the support of the U.N. Foundation for our "Healthy Families, Healthy Planet" project. The project is striving to secure family-planning funding for information and services that will result in women's lives being saved and fewer abortions. That's where we need to place our emphasis.

Working with the U.S. Congress has been a mixed bag. Finding legislators willing to put aside partisan politics is an ongoing challenge. This reality underscores for me the importance of people at the local level to grasp their responsibility as citizens to hold their elected officials' feet to the fire. Please take seriously your responsibility to speak truth to power. Together, we can create a more just world.

During these 11 years, I've had many personal experiences that my GBCS family has shared. I remarried three years ago to Dick Todd, my Roy Rogers, "The King of the Cowboys" who was my childhood hero because he always seemed to do the right thing for the common good. I've celebrated the marriages of both my sons, Pete and Josh, resulting in four grandchildren: Noah, Jack, Scarlet and Cara.

My heart overflows with gratitude for the privilege of having worked at the General Board of Church & Society. I shall miss it, and I shall miss my colleagues both those at GBCS and those in the many organizations with whom I worked.

God is calling me to yet another adventure that is undefined. Life is good. And let's all remember to do good, do no harm and stay in love with God. Thank you, Jesus.

Editor's note: Linda Bales Todd was recognized this year with a United Methodist Global AIDS Fund Leadership Award. The awards are presented to persons and churches that have provided outstanding leadership in providing education, prevention, care and treatment in the struggle to eliminate HIV and AIDS in the world.

Before joining GBCS, Bales Todd served as director of the Shared Mission Focus on Young People, a United Methodist General Conference initiative formerly based at the General Council on Ministries. A life-long United Methodist, she served at local and national levels of the United Methodist Women, and from 1992-1996 served as a director of the Women's Division of the General Board of Global Ministries. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Socio-Economics and a Masters degree in Public Administration.

Part of her "undefined adventure" has been defined for Bales Todd. She has been elected to co-chair the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund Committee during 2013 to 2016 with Donald Messer. Both are well-known advocates of challenging the denomination to address the stigma and discrimination often faced by the 33.4 million people infected with HIV in the world.

Letter to the Editor