Irma Williams' incredible journey: "Blessed is she who Believed"

April 22, 2022 01:03:55
 Irma Williams' incredible journey: "Blessed is she who Believed"
Lavish Hope
Irma Williams' incredible journey: "Blessed is she who Believed"

Apr 22 2022 | 01:03:55


Hosted By

Rev. Liz Testa

Show Notes

Irma Williams went from being a high school dropout who was navigating addiction, a challenging health diagnosis, homelessness, and despair, to embracing God's love and plan for her life. Today she is the director of social services at Barrier Free Living, an organization that supports survivors of domestic violence and veterans who have disabilities. She is a proud Afro-Latina originally from Guatemala, a mother of four, a leader in her church, and a beloved child of God. She shares her story with Rev. Liz Testa in the latest episode of Lavish Hope.

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Episode Transcript

Speaker 0 00:00:00 Welcome to lavish hope season three, I'm your host Liz test. In this episode, I'm joined by elder Irma Williams director of social services at barrier free living a New York city organization that supports survivors of domestic violence with disabilities and veterans with disabilities. She's also a, a proud Afro Latina originally from Guam, a mother of four leader in her church and a beloved child of God. Irma has a powerful story of how she moved from being a high school dropout, navigating addiction, a challenging health diagnosis, homelessness, and despair, her to embracing God's love and plans for her life and slowly but surely going through the needed steps of detox, setting up structures of support and accountability to step into a new season full of possibilities, rooted in faith and the care of community pay saved by educational opportunities and resulting in a life of abundance and giving back to others. Irma's journey has much for us to learn from both personally and societally. So let's jump in. I'm so blessed and delighted to be here with my dear sister in Christ, elder Irma Williams from New York city. Welcome sister Irma. So glad you're here on the podcast today. Speaker 2 00:01:33 Yeah. Thank you for having me to God be the glory. Speaker 0 00:01:37 Yeah. Cindy, Speaker 2 00:01:38 Bold to be here. Speaker 0 00:01:40 It's wonderful. I'm so excited for our listeners to hear your stories of lavish hope, resilience and overcoming. And so, um, Irma, can you just give us, just tell us a little bit about yourself, just so our listeners can get a feel for who you are? Speaker 2 00:01:56 Well, I am El elder Irma Williams. I am the vice president of the, at the w form church, um, where my pastor, Reverend Dr. Michael Edwards, who is the executive minister of the regional Senate. Um, I am the youngest of eight. I was born in Guatemala, Gus Guatemala. I migrated to the United States, New York, 1974. I am a mom. I'm a mother of four children. Uh, my oldest son Terrell he's 37 and, uh, Elaine she's 26. Uh, Christopher who is 25? No, Christopher's 25. And, uh, Bianca as well, who is 20 for, I, I am never married. Uh, I live on the lower east side, um, at magic towers on the lower east. I right across the street from my beloved church, the Whitton form church. Um, I serve, uh, in many capacities at, uh, the wet reform church. I was the president of the women's Guild. I am a, I am a, a champion for women and children. Speaker 2 00:03:12 Um, I am a professional life. I am the director of social services at burial fee living. That's located in the south Bronx and that's where primarily I grew professionally as a social worker. And that is the community in which I served, um, is a supportive housing, uh, for, uh, men and women, single men and women, and all also families who have a history of domestic violence and some disabilities, uh, that had a hearing or, uh, physical disabilities. And these individuals survive the shelter system. And now we have supportive housing for them where they get to, to begin their lives again, after such a chaotic, uh, uh, time in their lives and traumatic time in their lives. So now they have an opportunity to live independently with their children and move out of poverty. And out of the, the violence that they've had, we still have some challenges, but for the most part are their supportive services for them. Speaker 2 00:04:22 And we have, uh, the family building has 50 units and the single building has 70 units. I supervise, um, a multidisciplinary team, uh, which includes, uh, social workers, occupational therapy, and the learning center. I believe in that healthcare nutrition, legal education is right, not a privilege amen. And something that, um, I am a champion about, uh, people who are living in poverty and don't have the resources that we take so much for granted. Um, so just a love of bread for milk safe for their children apart to play clean water, uh, housing free of mouse, mice, and rodents and rats, and, you know, is, is just an ongoing issue with the people in the south Bronx, but, or any neighborhood. Um, and, and that is something that I am. So, um, my heart is for the people. Speaker 0 00:05:30 That's so beautiful. Irma, thank you for giving that us a little snapshot of that. And so it's going to be a beautiful conversation talking about like how you've got there to be the director of social services for this really important nonprofit in the city of New York. And, um, and to just be so active in your church as well. So let's, um, let's shift a little bit to that first question. I always ask my guests, what does resilience mean to you? How has it, um, shaped your past and been shaped by your past and, um, maybe changed, been changed or deepened by your own experiences? So what does resilience mean to you? Speaker 2 00:06:13 Well, you know, resilience is, and I just demonstrated to you the, the rubber band, um, scenario where you stretch a rubber band and it bounce back quickly. And that's one of the definitions for resilience, right? That ability to bounce back quickly from difficulty, right? Trauma, tragedy, threats, stress, any kind of difficulties you, the resilience is in that is that you are able to recover. And the word quickly is not, is sometimes taken out of context because there are times where people are not able to recover that quickly. Right? Mm-hmm <affirmative> um, so, so there, there has to be some kind of community. There has to be some kind of support. There has to be some kind of resource because for me in my life, it, it, God always has the infinite wisdom to know the end from the beginning. He knows he is the author and finisher of our faith. There's nothing that happens to us in life, happens by accident it's day by God, no matter, no matter what it is. Right. So for me, resilience is just being in God, right? The, we try to see an opportunity for God and for us to see God, right. It, it, it, and there is meaning in that there's meaning in life there's purpose in that there's there, there, there there's life in that God is in that Speaker 0 00:07:50 Mm-hmm Speaker 2 00:07:51 <affirmative>, that is, God is the one who holds the rubber band together. God is the one, this is you and your ability to be able to bounce back quickly and bounce back at all from the Abys is because of God. Speaker 0 00:08:09 So beautiful. Yeah. So Irma, can you, can you illuminate a little bit, like share a brief story of resilience and overcoming that could help our listeners on understand what that means, that re that reliance on God? Um, I, I also wanna say, I really appreciate how you talk about the bouncing back, um, from difficulty stress recovery. And I, I really appreciate, and I, I just wanna make sure our listeners heard it, that you, when you say quickly, you're talking about God's time, not human time, right. That we wanna get, you know, we're new Yorkers, right. You're gonna do it in a New York minute. That's not how it works. Right. I, I, I really love that you encourage people with that. Um, the importance of that, Speaker 2 00:08:54 There's a, there is a MIS, there is a misconception about how quickly, and that's something that I've learned in my journey, um, that, that I had to sit, learn how to sit and wait on God. Right? You have to learn how to do that because after moving around and, and the question I'm gonna lead into that with the question that you asked, you know, to, to tell a time in my life where, and there's so many different instances, um, where resiliency and God is revealed, right. Resiliency in God revealed. Um, I was lost in the world, you know, um, like the prodigal daughter, my mother welcomed me back, uh, for many, many, many, many years, especially in the eighties when the crack epidemic began, I got caught up in that crack epidemic and I lost custody of my children during that time. Um, I do have four children. Speaker 2 00:09:59 I remember I attended ay, uh, <laugh> in February. And, uh, uh, Reverend Dr. Fr Reverend friend, um, I was having a discussion and I was sharing about my kids and I said, wait a minute, elder IBA, I thought you only had one child. I always hear about Bianca, Bianca, Bianca. And then, you know, she, she, and then I, I shared my story that I have other children as well. And, and during that time, I did lose custody of my children. And thankfully my, my family was able to gather around me and, and, and reached out, you know, to my children. I was able to provide the support and guidance that they needed, that I couldn't get. And during that time of, uh, incarceration and homelessness and promised new system, I recognized, I recognized God in that because it was a dark time in my life. Speaker 2 00:11:03 Um, I was arrested in 1989 for drug possession, and I was sent to Rikers island. And during that time in the eighties, I remember HIV and aids was at the, at this highest. Uh, and people were dying every day by the thousands. I think we have some kind of a repetition with COVID where people were dying by the hundreds, and we didn't know too much about it. And I remember during that time where I was hospitalized several times, and I were the nurses and doctors not coming into my room because I was, they knew that I was HIV positive and they wouldn't come to bring me a plate of food. So I had to get up out of my bed to get my plate, my food at the hallway, because people were not coming in our rooms. And I thought I was gonna die. During that time. I really thought I was going to die. And what happened to me, it was nothing miraculous because it is the glory of God, the glory of God, throughout those thought moments. It's those darkness that darkness, that God's light shines in someone like me, Right? Someone who's lost. Speaker 2 00:12:25 I remember Proverbs 22, train up a child in the way they should go. And when they get old, they will not depart my to train me In God. And even though in that mess and that loss in that 20 years of all of that, my mother instilled in me to that God would never leave me or forsake me. And even though I was not a turn to God at that time, I was law. God was still there in the midst, molding me and protecting me and guiding me. So when my children were born, I remember my last two children were born after I was diagnosed with HIV. And both my children are tested negative for HIV. Praise Speaker 3 00:13:12 God, Speaker 2 00:13:12 That's the glory of God. You cannot tell me that God is not real For God to show up in someone's life. In the midst of turn. I still, you know, when God, when, when we say God did not leave me or forsake me, we take it for granted. Because even in the midst of all of that, in the midst of all of that, God was still protecting me, Protecting my children, because that was not supposed to be their testimony. God protected them, even in the midst of that. So for me, for me, after I came out of that and I asked for help, and I remember, I remember being in an abandoned building September 7th, 18th, 1997, I was in an abandoned building. And I asked God to save me. And that, that was a genuine prayer. I've prayed before, but that one, Speaker 2 00:14:20 God transported me to detox rehab. And here I am today, I was a high school dropout. And I learned, I, I addressed my drug use. I went to treatment and I went to AA and NA and sought people who had the same similar experiences as I had. I went and worked. I sought where people where HIV go to learn about, you know, living with it. Cuz I had to change my language. I'm no longer dying with HIV. I'm living with HIV, not dying because God is not a God of death. God is a God of life and gave God gave me life. God gave me a second and a third chance and a fourth chance and the fifth chance. And that's the kind of God we serve a merciful guy who do not see our faults. God wants us to just, okay, here we are. <laugh> girl, what you going? Do what you gonna do? My mom. Speaker 2 00:15:44 Yes, Lord. I trust you. I trust you. I have nowhere to go. I've been to the bottom. I've been in the valley. I know how to look to the Hills, which comes my help. That's where my help comes from. Right. And my mother told me about Jesus. She didn't lie to me. I know for myself, me about Jesus. He told me about Jesus. So I just, I blessed the Lord with all my heart because not only that, he brought me out of darkness, into his marvelous life, died for my sins so that I can live. Mm-hmm <affirmative> this me up out of that play out of that darkness and placed me on solid rock. And God said, now I'm gonna put you back what you came from. <laugh> like, what? You put me around. People who use drugs, are you right now? I Don how to do that? You know what I'm saying? So that's gonna be a trigger for me. No, I really delivered you. That's not your issue anymore. Wow. It's all right. Speaker 0 00:17:03 I'm that's incredible Speaker 2 00:17:05 Because I want you to go and do, okay. Speaker 0 00:17:16 So you came up out of shale, right out of the pit. You got yourself, the help that you needed. Speaker 2 00:17:22 Mm-hmm <affirmative> Speaker 0 00:17:23 Through all of that. You were getting stronger, strengthening yourself spiritually, right? That was the thing you really did cry. You cried out to the Lord, like this is the prayer. That is the transformational prayer. Right? And then you went about doing what you needed to do. Yes. To get yourself healthy again, right? Yes. Mind, body, spirit and get yourself short up. Yes. And then, and, and so I love this, right? We always say nothing is lost in God's Gono so right. God is gonna take all of our stuff and is gonna work it out and help us to work it out and then use it for good. And so just tell us a little bit about your journey then, cuz you said you were a high school dropout and now you're an MSW and you're in seminary studying even more. So just tell us quickly like that. How did you overcome that aspect? Like the education aspect? Speaker 2 00:18:13 Well, I, I, I, I started going to a drug treatment program, um, in, uh, Manhattan and they offered comprehensive care. Meaning that you address your drug use and then they, um, I I'll remember. I'll never forget him, Mr. Tony. Asensio he was the academic counselor and he believed that. Okay. Okay. Now you clean and sober. You're sober. Okay. Now what <laugh> I'm like, what do you mean now? What? Okay. Do, uh, you have a high, you have your GED. I said, nah, I don't have my GED. I said, okay, so now what, what do you wanna do? It's like, okay, I will get, I'll go get the G eed. So he, we had the G eed training courses. I took the GED and I passed. So then I started going to citywide harm reduction and I volunteered as a peer and uh, to address my HIV and talked to other people that HIV and you know, learn how to, how to live with it. And the counselor, she, since then passed away, she, I completed the program and she asked me, okay, now what Speaker 0 00:19:23 <laugh> Speaker 2 00:19:24 Now what? Uh, it was a nine month program and I did it and, and she, and I said, well, I always wanted to go to college. I was 36 years old at the time. I always wanted to go to college. And she said, well, why don't you? And she, I said, well, I'm living with HIV. I'm gonna die and says, we're not gonna start that. I said, okay, listen, stop at host's college, get the application for college. I'll bring it. I'll help you fill it out. Get the financial aid that you need. And in two years, if you don't die, you'll have an associate's degree. <laugh> I said, okay. So I did that. I went, I, uh, transferred from hosts to Bronx community college. And that's when my whole world opened up academically. I could not, could not believe I was on fire. You hear me? Speaker 2 00:20:21 <laugh> the first semester I was, I, I said, I remember, I remember taking the GED test, the, taking the GED courses and I opened the booklet and I put my name on it and posed it. Cause I didn't know anything on it. I forgot everything. So for me to be in a class in the first semester, taking four classes, remedial math, and I had college entry English, I might say, okay, <laugh> four classes. I'm here in the front. I didn't wanna sit in the back. As some high school students made me nervous. I'm like, they're not gonna show me out. So I'm in, I'm in the front of the class. And my first semester I had all this. I couldn't believe it. I, I ran home and I, I, I showed everybody on the bus every Fuck, all a, so the second semester I took five courses. The third semester I was taking 18 credits cuz I was, I lived on campus. I, I gravitated to all the older people who were on my age formed study groups and I was on fire. So after that, the academic was bit, I transferred to hunter college to get my bachelor's my last semester, my senior semester, I got involved in welfare rice initiative, which is an activist program. That's when I discovered that I wanted to go into social services. Speaker 0 00:21:42 Okay. Speaker 2 00:21:42 And, and social issues were, was what I wanted to do address social issues. So that last semester welfare rice initiative is an activist. Um, uh, group, uh, hunter college, uh, is in the 27th cohort, Delana Lewis and Maureen lane. Uh, the co-directors and is, uh, primarily to address, um, uh, welfare, uh, people who are on public assistance, who are told that they cannot go to school. So we did a study that and showed that 88% of in people who are had of household, um, living in poverty have, uh, 88% chance of, of moving out of with higher education. Speaker 0 00:22:30 Wow, that's a tremendous statistic, 88%, Speaker 2 00:22:34 88%. And it's more now. So we, we rallied around getting, um, the Republicans who always thought that people on public assistance have Gucci bags. And we, we have all this money that we can go on trips and all that. I don't know where this came from, but for our experience, people who are on public assistance work harder than anyone else. And then they will be told that they have to go work and sweep the streets instead of getting a high, uh, a college education. And we show that that is not, that's not effective. True raise a woman. And most often is the woman. Who's the head of household. Who's on public assistance, raise her up, support her so she could get higher education and chances are, she will never return to public assistant. I am, I am the testimony to them. Amen. Amen. Cause now I have a ma I have not had to go back and get public assistance, which is nothing wrong with that. Speaker 2 00:23:33 Mm-hmm <affirmative> right. But help me get a higher education. Don't put me to sweep the streets for me to collect $67 when I can just go. You could use that time for me to go. So we came up with the work study and internship law that was signed into law. Wow. Where we can use our work work, uh, work, our work study and internship as ours, towards web work experience program. So that we don't have to come out of class to go to public assistance and sit three hours and four hours, right. Because of what's happening. Right. So that was the primary premise. And we still, today, I still go back and, uh, speak to the students, uh, at hunter college that's coming in. And uh, also we will go to speaking to high schools because counselors are no longer able to tell a high school student that they cannot go to college because they have to take on the responsibility, um, and stop the generational, uh, public assistance being on public assistance. Speaker 2 00:24:40 That's right. So we go into high school and tell the high school students that yes, you can get higher education. You don't have to be on public assistant. You don't have to have your own case. No, you are not gonna come out of school to go to do a recertification work around that. Right. So that's, we were able to maintain and to, to yesterday as, as actually looking, uh, is an, I was cohort nine <laugh> Maureen lane was cohort one. I was cohort nine. I was cohort 27. So that's, that's my journey. And then after that, uh, bachelor's degree, I, I, I gained employment with citywide harm reduction and from there stayed there for about two years and I went back, I applied to get, uh, my master's degree. So I worked towards my master's, the OYR program, uh, while I was working full-time at citywide harm reduction. Speaker 0 00:25:40 Okay. And so then you got your master in social work Speaker 2 00:25:43 And social work. Speaker 0 00:25:45 Yes. Speaker 2 00:25:45 Yeah. Speaker 0 00:25:46 Beautiful. So then that, like you had this lived experience, you then got this spark on fire for education. And I mean, that is, I, I have to say like that has gotta be so inspiring for people to just hear, I mean, the particularity of it, and I love how then that catalyzed you to wanna be part of equity for educat, right. For people like yourself. Absolutely. And I think that is, it's so beautiful to see a story of that. I mean, that is true overcoming. Right. And, and, and that is, you know, I just think about, you know, you came from Guatemala, you were raised up, um, you know, by a mother who had dreams for you. Right. And, and, and you had challenges, but then God brought you through and you overcame that and you were able to live fully into what God had for you. It's such a beautiful, inspiring story. Irma, thank you so much for sharing that. Now what I'm, I'm just I'm interested in is, um, when you don't, when you don't have that sense of resilience, when you're feeling weak or tired, or just where, where do you find that sense of resilience when you don't, when you don't have it, like those times when it was a overwhelming for you Speaker 2 00:27:04 In the people I serve. I see that all around me. Um, And, and, and I think it's safe to say Roman is that it's not very often. I feel that anymore. Uh, because my hope is in God, Speaker 0 00:27:27 Mm-hmm Speaker 2 00:27:28 <affirmative> and God brought me out, BR God brought me out. This I can get tired sometimes. Yes I do. But I guess to answer that question is more, mainly more to speak to someone who, who may not be feeling resilient at the moment. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. But for me, I, I, I find it in the people that I serve. They face the horrific circumstances every day mm-hmm Speaker 0 00:27:57 <affirmative>. Speaker 2 00:27:57 And when I'm feeling that way, I tend to sit and I look at my, at the tenants and the people I serve, and I say, my God, my God, How do they make it? Right? Sometimes I ask those questions, but I do know, I already know how they make it it's because of God Speaker 0 00:28:17 Mm-hmm <affirmative> Speaker 2 00:28:18 They may not know it at the time. Sometimes there are people who don't feel that God is near them, that they don't feel worthy of. God's love. I know, I felt that I came, uh, I came back to church and my mom was still alive at that time. And I came back and Reverend Dr. Holloway was the pastor at that time. And that God spoke through that woman, to me, every Sundays, like a layers, some layers, some layers, just coming off of it. I never felt worthy of God's love because of so much I've done. Speaker 2 00:28:55 Yeah. And what I kept hearing is that God loves you. That's what I kept hearing. God loves you. God cares for you. God don't want you, God already forgot about what you did. God, you to grow. God wants you to come. God wants you to just live, live life abundantly. God does not want you to suffer. That's what I kept hearing. God. That's what I, so that's what happens to me when I, when I see the people of God who are still lost and who are still hurting and who are still traumatizing and who are feel in the dumps and still feel that that no one loves them. I look at them and I say, and I try to be that, that light, that hope. So I, I guess I, I guess to answer the question is I go with them to find that resiliency, and then it comes out, Right. I go with Finn and that's, that's what, that's what God is within me. Yeah. Right. Speaker 0 00:29:54 Well, and you, Speaker 2 00:29:55 And then I, I don't know. Speaker 0 00:29:57 Well, you cultivated that sense of worthiness that God, a sense of worthiness. That's what I'm hearing that back when, right. When you were struggling, when you were just coming back into the fold, coming back into the church and you were, you, you know, cuz that so many people have this in all different places and for all different reasons, that sense of unworthiness or, uh, being unlovable, um, cause of something. Right. Some shame. Yeah. And what it sounds like to me is you're able to like you stockpile that. Yes. When, and so now if you feel like you're lacking some kind of resilience, you immediately can go within and tap into that that's accessible to you. Yeah. And I think that is such a beautiful thing for our listeners to think about and to embrace is that we all can have that. Right. That's that beauty of that personal relationship with God is that got it. That that is, you know, that's within us, um, to access and to use, um, in any circumstance. Right. That, and then, and then to share that with others. Yes. Yes. And then to see it reflected in others, I think that's also, we call that the Imago day, right? It's like, that's the image of God we're made in the image of God. And so you're seeing that in other people as well, you're seeing that beautiful, um, beloved child of God in the other, even when they can't see it themselves. Right. Speaker 2 00:31:20 Because that was me once upon a time, I saw God in me and I didn't see it. I remember a mother came, approached me years ago when I first came and she's like, I think you could be a deacon. I'm like what? I would have to be a Asha. I would, y'all all I wanted to do beha right. Stand at the door. And she came up to me and saying, I could be a, a deacon. I think God guy spoke to me and called calling you to be a deacon. I'm nah, nah, nah, not me <laugh> but you know, that's how people, that's how we are. You know, we see the beauty in people that, that they don't see themselves. And it's so befit, you know, for us to really think about that. I remember a Romans 15 and five says, may the God who gives you endurance and encouragement, give you the same attitude of mind toward each other. Speaker 2 00:32:23 That Christ Jesus hat. Right. For us to encourage one another for us to, to develop one another too, to tell one another that you can enjoy this. You can make it, you can make this. You, you are okay. Okay. You don't, you can't get up right now and dust it off. I'm gonna get down here with you. I'm gonna sit down here with you until we ready to, to get up together. Okay. Oh, you wanna lay down? Okay. Sometimes you just lay down. I'm gonna lay down here with you. Let's pray. Okay. I won't say at work quiet. You want quiet. We gonna lay here together and quietness. I have to say a word help people to endure. It's so hard to go through things by yourself. Speaker 0 00:33:07 Yeah. Speaker 2 00:33:08 There's a reason that a, a cold, a lit cold cannot stay lit by itself. You have to have, have lit colds around for it to Kindle. You're kindling that fire. Even if that fire is quiet and it's slow, you don't see it. You just see the smoldering, but you still together. You're both all everybody together. So boy, my fire, my, my light is a little bit lower. Di not at all. It's just a little, I just like, okay, I ain't got, you know, your fire can Kindle mine and keep mine going until I ready to roar again. Right? Speaker 0 00:33:48 Oh, I love that image. Irma. That is beautiful. You're onto something there. And that speaks to your comment at the beginning about community, Speaker 2 00:33:57 A community ex Speaker 0 00:33:58 Exactly. That when you needed that support, it was community. That was the first thing that was the word you said was community. And so I see that reflected here in this image of those coals, all gathered together, creating that warmth. Right. And bringing life. Right. And then, and then, and then kind of covering for each other Speaker 2 00:34:18 For each other. Absolutely. That's how, who God is. God is within us. That's why, that's why. When, when the church building closed down for COVID yeah. Church is closed. Church is no church is not closed. We are the church. We are the church. That's why Jesus was able to preach and teach the word everywhere. He went, he didn't have our house to go into or building or FGO. Every time he went to the synagogue, they kicked him out. Anyway, they wanna kill him. <laugh> you know, so he's like, I'm gonna be with the people. I'm gonna go through the well and talk to this lady. I'm gonna go through the lepers. Yeah. I'm go to the blind I'm oh, this guy has been sitting at this gate forever. Let me go by and see. Right. God was with the people. Yeah. You know, God was with Mary Magdalene. God was with, with his mom. God was with LARAs. God was every Jesus walked everywhere. He went with the sin under beggar and he went to skin row. He didn't wanna hang out with the righteous. He there's too many of y'all. Okay. Speaker 0 00:35:23 That's it's so important for us to remind ourselves of that. Right. Speaker 2 00:35:27 I will be around the righteous. Okay. Y'all too fake. Y'all fake. Right? God wants to be with the people. Yeah, we, it is real, right. We're the church, its real, we have real feelings. We have real challenges. And with the glory of God always shining in us, through us, around us, under us, above us. There's no way we can not, we can. Speaker 0 00:35:57 Well, my next question is where is a place where you find hope, so you're already telling us all about it, but what I, what I'm wondering if you can just tell us a little bit more about your story, about your journey. Because one thing that I wanna bridge us, I wanna just, I think our listeners would find interesting is that, that journey that you made, you got your MSW and then you, you, you alluded to it before then when you ended up with people who are struggling, serving people who are struggling with the same thing that you had. Can you just tell us a little bit about that? And then also this newer calling that you have now with barrier free living. Can you just quickly just narrate that for us? I think, I think it's, it's it completes the picture of God at work in you. Speaker 2 00:36:40 So, you know, I really didn't think about it regardless when I was in the process. Uh, I know that I lost custody of my children. Right. I regained custody of Bianca when she was five years old. Um, and, and that, that particular experience with her, I was so scared that I was going to mess her up because of all the issues that I had and I was dealing with. So I had to hold onto God and on changing hands and I had to rely on the, my, the prayers of my mom. I talked to my mom all the time because I was, I was of afraid, sure, to this, this little girl I gave birth to her. Right. And my sister in California came and got her and took her to California. And then she passed. So that's how I regained custody of her and brought her to New York. Speaker 2 00:37:34 So she grew up in, in California, she came to New York. So for her, for me, with her, I was so worried about her. And I, and I laid her, I, I brought her to do it. I brought her to church and everybody rallied around us. Um, and to help me navigate motherhood, something strange to me, even though I had four children, but I was still mm-hmm <affirmative> you navigating my academic, uh, journey. And, and, and, and, and, and, and God, you know, on how that fits into this. So I had to really hone. And I, and, and I keep doing this because I, I had to put on blinders, you know, so I wanna look to the, to the right or behind me or head so that I could stay in the moment and work to whatever came that day. So whatever came that day, I stayed in the moment and I stayed in the journey. I stayed in that moment to be able to, To, to, to cope better. Yeah. With everything that was coming at me, because I was so unsure of everything. Mm-hmm, <affirmative>, I wasn't sure of myself. I didn't have self confidence. I didn't have self work. I was still struggling with those demon, you know, and those voices in my head, that's telling me that I'm not, I'm less than that. You're nothing but a drug addict or you gonna die. And, and you, you, you, you are a worst mom ever. And how could you leave your kids? Yeah. And all of this, Speaker 0 00:39:08 Those saboteurs. Right. They can be so powerful Speaker 2 00:39:11 And it's in my own. It's Speaker 0 00:39:12 So real. Mm-hmm <affirmative> Speaker 2 00:39:14 Right. So it's all in my ear, that committee that gathers in your head. Yeah. You gotta kick them out sometimes. Speaker 0 00:39:20 <laugh> yes. Speaker 2 00:39:22 So, so, so that journey from that to where, uh, I am, it, it it's all, God God's hands is all in it. It wasn't that it has nothing to do with me. Very, yeah. I don't even know how to answer that question because I know that early on, I have to be obedient. Speaker 0 00:39:43 Yes. Speaker 2 00:39:46 And to trust in God. Speaker 0 00:39:48 Yes. Speaker 2 00:39:49 No one else can tell you about God, but you, Speaker 0 00:39:51 Right. Speaker 2 00:39:52 You can tell me all you want, God loves God, this God, you know, but if I don't believe it for myself, it's not gonna work. So I had to learn how to believe in God, to know that God knows best. And for me to be able to just sit still. Speaker 0 00:40:16 So you sat still Uhhuh <affirmative> and, and you started to cultivate that sense of believing. Right. And then, so you told us about, then you, you know, got your youngest child and then you were able to start raising her. Right. And doing that well, and she's a beautiful human being <laugh> well, I know her well through our church circles and she's just a beautiful human being. So you did write mama. You did. Right. But then at this, I'm interested in this piece of where you came from, you got through the schooling, right. You got your MSW. And then you said that you were working with the, the welfare rights and then you moved forward and you said you were working with people who had been like you that's the piece, because I think that's, what's so beautiful when we're talking about, you know, where do we cultivate hope? Where do we find hope? It's like, God reveals to us. And due time, you know, what happened to you back then? Oh, don't worry. I've got a plan for you to be able to, that it's gonna be worked out for good. That is going to be worked out for good. And you're gonna be able to use those experiences to bless others. Amen. So, so just, how did you get to that? Speaker 2 00:41:29 Okay. Speaker 0 00:41:29 Working with those HIV drug addicts, Speaker 2 00:41:34 Drug users, Speaker 0 00:41:35 Drug users, thank you. Drug users. Speaker 2 00:41:38 So, so, um, I went to a meeting, uh, at NA meeting and I raised my hand. I said, my name is I'm an addict, and I'm also HIV positive. And then a gentleman in as still friends with him today, he saw, he talked to me and he said, you know, I got a place that we can go to. They have a, a workshop that they starting it's in this, uh, first, uh, cohort. And we can go and you can learn a bit about your, you know, your compromise immune system. And you can learn more and they have a, uh, a valid tier program. They give you $40 stipend. And he gave me the whole overview. So I went to city, one harm reduction, and I met, I began to, uh, participate in blunt reality, which, which is a peer program where they give you is a six month long peer program. Speaker 2 00:42:31 And they, every week they, we have a, um, different topics such as HIV, 1 0 1, Hep C 1 0 1 and all of that. So I began to work with people who are, have a compromising immune system together. And, and just like that call that one call. I was the one call over here by myself, thought I was by myself. I got together with other people. Hmm <affirmative> with like minds and like, uh, uh, circumstances. And I was able to connect and learn and know that I'm not gonna die. I'm gonna live. So from there, that's when I met the counselor who encouraged me to go and get my, uh, uh, application for houseless college. And I started school and I graduated. And from there, when I got my bachelor's degree, I said, okay, it's time for me to go to work. <laugh>. So I went back to the same program that had the blunt reality program that I went to. I participated in, uh, with the participants, which I was a participant as well. And I was, uh, I, I went back and I asked if I the openings and they hired me as a peer program, uh, coordinator Speaker 0 00:43:42 Uhhuh, Speaker 2 00:43:42 The same program I graduated from. Speaker 0 00:43:45 They saw leadership in you didn't, they that's amazing Uhhuh. That's great. So, Speaker 2 00:43:49 So they hired me to be the, uh, reality peer program. And I started to work. The individuals are saying where I came in, I started working with them and I started coming in and recruiting and people and having these facilitating and doing the workshops myself and hiring the peers will work also in their internship. And I, I overseed all that. And then I was, uh, promoted to case manager, uh, for the peers. And then after that, I was promoted to the director of the peer program. Speaker 0 00:44:20 Right. Incredible. That is incredible. Speaker 2 00:44:23 The coordinator for that same peer program. So I, and then we developed a horizon program, H E R horizon, instead of falling horizon, mm-hmm, <affirmative>, it's just for the women to develop women and, and, and, and teach them about the women issues and, and how to live with HIV and, and, you know, all the things. And then we, I started training the women to do little work around an agency, uh, clerical work, just like I did. I remember my first Dahlia hella, she was the CEO. I, I, she, everybody was going into a, a, a, a, a meeting. And then she gonna put a whole bunch of a hundred tokens in my hand, many person who used to be a drug user and, and, and stealing and all of that. She left a hundred tokens in my lap and went to a meeting. And I had to take care of the people at the desk. I was so scared rev. I said, this lady trust me. Oh my, I, I kept looking around. I said, somebody watching me. Speaker 0 00:45:26 And when you say tokens, are you talking about subway? Tokens? Speaker 2 00:45:29 Yeah. Subway tokens. Speaker 0 00:45:30 That's subway tokens. We have to translate for people that don't know. Don't remember back in the day in New York city. Right. <laugh> Speaker 2 00:45:36 I was like, she trusts me, you know what that did for me? Yeah. That's you know what that did for me, Reverend Liz, that's incredible. Oh, my, the lady trusted me with, and I, I felt, so I would go your, I was like, wow, I professional. It was just the tokens. It was just something, just a, I was, I was a good steward. She came back fine. Make sure everybody signed. So from there I went and I got that job. And then I became a coordinator and then I was encouraged to go to school. Right. Okay. So I start, I, I applied for my master's in social work. Amazing. Right. And I grew there, I stayed there for 13 years. And from there, uh, it was, it was a time for me to move. I was scared to leave. I wanted to retire there, but it was time for me to grow. Speaker 2 00:46:36 So another opportunity came up a barrier free living. And I applied for the senior behavioral health coordinator position. And I went to work with barrier free living in 2018. And within a year I was promoted to director of social services. And that's where I correct. Amazing. And right now I'm thinking about not thinking, I, I am God already revealed it to me that I'm gonna enroll in the new Brunswick theological school for, to, um, to work towards my MIV. I think it's time thinking. Um, I think that, um, I have a lot of, lot to offer God for his people before I leave this earth. Yeah. And the only way to do it, I think that, you know, I think, I believe in training, I believe in that we ought to be knowledgeable of the things of God, you know? Um, we're not gonna know everything, but I think that is our responsibility to, yeah. To be in positioned, to be, to be, to, to work towards preparing ourselves, always be prepared. So when God positions you and puts you to, to where he, he wants you, you go, he already, you already equipped, you're equipped. You're, you're, you're ready. You're positioning yourself. Speaker 0 00:47:58 It's so good. And you know, you're saying the MIV, that's the master of divinity, which is the degree that is required in our, in reform church tradition, that we are part of that in many tradition, as many Christian, uh, Protestant traditions that is required in order to become a minister of word in sacrament. So that is part of our training. Just like you became an MSW to be a social worker, you get your MIV is part of the credentialing to become a rev. And so, um, I am so excited for you because it's like, you know, one, one mass just wasn't enough. Huh <laugh> so, so I think that's so beautiful because I think for, for our listeners who are just getting to know you today, Irma, they cannot help, but be so inspired by where you came from. All you went through, how you just hung on, you know, to God, through all of that. Speaker 0 00:48:49 And all the ways that you articulated right through community, through remembering your mother's teaching through rally, you know, taking your child to the church and just saying like, you know, I'm here. And just for them to rally around you and then all that beautiful, um, trajectory of going through all those educational steps. And I love how you named you named that am the mentors, the encouragers, the facilitators, the supervisors, the people in your life who helped you to know what next step you needed. And I think that that for me, is such a blessing for our listeners to hear that because, you know, it's the United States. We like to be independent here. And we know though that if you're gonna really follow the Christian tradition, the Bible teaches all the time about the apprenticeship model, about people getting the wisdom of the elders, you know, just what you were saying, train the child up. We need to, we need to see who's around us that and help move us forward and who can, who can support us in that. So does that all resonate? Am I, am I capturing that? Yes, Speaker 2 00:49:59 Absolutely. Speaker 0 00:50:00 Yeah. Cause that's what I'm taking away today. Um, I just wanna, before we close out, I'm just wondering, you've named several scripture already. Do you have any other scripture versus you wanna share? Speaker 2 00:50:10 Uh, uh, early on when I went to detox, I was in such a bad shape. Um, I, I stayed in detox for 11 days. Usually the time for detox is either four to five days and I could not sleep. I could not stay awake. I could not stand. I, I was in such bad shape when I finally made it to detox or my mom and my brother Selvin. I used to smoke cigarettes at that time. And my brother, my mom would not buy cigarettes. Well, my, my brother did my, she said, mom, she me said, she, she, she really needs it. So, so I'm saying that because I've forgotten everything, Everything, and what pay me the most that I forgot how to say the Lord's prayer, Our father, which art in heaven and the 23rd, the Lord is my shepherd. And as you know, in our culture, that is the two prayers that they teach us. <laugh> our parents, especially our mother, then two, listen, if you don't know that something going on, it's just like ABCs and your one, two threes. So, so I, I, you know, during that time in detox and rehab, I, I committed to memory those two scriptures, right? Those two scripture, Matthew six, nine through 13, which is the lost prayer and Psalms 23. Speaker 2 00:51:43 And I committed to my memory, those two prayers. And those are the two prayers that, that I have a lot of scriptures that I love. But those particular two are specifically meaningful to me because not only those are the prayers, my mother taught me when she introduced me to Jesus, cuz she knew one day that I had to hold on to Jesus on changing hands That she cannot save me. My children cannot save me. My siblings cannot save me, My church, my pastor, my job, none of that only Jesus And which she gave me the tools to withstand the darkness of this world. Cuz that's the gift. Not only the gift of life, my mom gave me right. She gave birth to me, but she also gave me Jesus. She gave me Jesus. Those two scriptures are, are, are the cornerstone. Cuz I know that the Lord is my shepherd. I want for nothing. I want for nothing. Everything that I have, God has provided for me. Speaker 3 00:53:11 Hallelujah. Speaker 2 00:53:12 Uh, he is, he keeps me away from temptation. He strengthens me. Speaker 3 00:53:19 Yes. Speaker 2 00:53:20 You know? And, and, and, and, and He allows me be to be at peace. Speaker 0 00:53:25 Yeah. Speaker 2 00:53:28 He allows me. He gives me rest. Speaker 3 00:53:30 Yes. Speaker 2 00:53:31 He leaves me in the path of his righteousness that even though I'm among people Where the trauma is so thick, that, that the evil is so is, is present. That God protects us all in, even in the midst of that. And you could able to speak to that thing that keep our people in bondage, you know, and that's what prayer, prayer is so important. Mm-hmm Speaker 3 00:54:03 <affirmative> Speaker 2 00:54:04 I often, you know, we often seen that my mother pray for me, but I really, it is really, it is not a joke to me. It's really not those, those prayers. I'm still, I'm still on the FMS of those prayers, you know? So yeah. 23rd song, Matthew six ninth, 13, Jerry Mayer, 29 and 11. Who I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, right? That he will not, he will not cause any harm to come to you. You know? I know the plans. He will not harm me and he will give you hope. Speaker 0 00:54:43 Yeah. So good. So good. So I think you you've already really said it, but how are you cultivating hope today? Speaker 2 00:54:54 Mm, By showing up, Showing up whenever, wherever God wants me to go, Speaker 3 00:55:06 <affirmative>, mm-hmm, <affirmative> Speaker 2 00:55:09 Continue to stay in prayer and ask God to give me a humble heart. I'm not perfect. I fall short every day, you know? Um, I have my issues, you know, <laugh>, Speaker 0 00:55:21 Don't we all, Speaker 2 00:55:23 I listen, catch me on a bad day. Listen, you know, but I just, I just, I just think about, it's a quote, but that's Tutu hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness And that that's in a nutshell right there. Speaker 0 00:55:46 Yeah. Yeah. So good. Speaker 2 00:55:49 Despite all the darkness that's Tutu said that. Yeah. Speaker 0 00:55:52 Got, Speaker 2 00:55:53 And I love that song. I, I think about my mom because my mom used to in Guam, in Guatemala and in Jamaica, she loved education. That's why I'm such a proponent education. She, she barely, she, she never had a high school. She, she tried to get her GED, but she never accomplished it. She wanted to go back to school. She wrote poem. She loved to read. She loved her, mind, her mind. She just always used to lay out in Guatemala in the fields and just look up at the planes and the sky I'm going to travel. I'm gonna do this. I'm gonna do that. She was always the one, one that inspired learning and, and, and, and, and growing and traveling and you know, all the things, good conversation politics. She loved it. You know? And I think about the song by John Len. And you may say that I'm a dreamer, but I am not the only one. Speaker 2 00:56:45 I hope that you'll join us. And the world would live as one, you know? And she was always a dreamer. Yeah. My, and she dreamed of, of, of travel of education of people of, she used to get on her bike back home, and we didn't have much to eat, but she would gather everything at the end of the day. And, and whenever we had leftover, she would pack it up. You know, remember things I used to used to put separated. It, it like a, it, I don't know, anyway, she would pack up the food, the rest of it, whatever it was left than take it and get, give it to somebody that had less than us. Speaker 0 00:57:25 Wow. Speaker 2 00:57:26 Social services. She was the first social work I ever seen. And she was sit in the home. I could eat mangoes. That's, that's what she would eat. She would take a couple of mangoes. And at the end of the day, after she delivered the last bit of mores, it was, she much the, a little bit of beans, some grandma, whatever it was. Right. And she would take it. And then she would come back and take a couple of Mongos off the tree. And she would sit in the ack and eat that that was her dinner, But she knew we were fed. We were fed and her neighbors were fed. Speaker 0 00:58:01 That's so beautiful. Well, you are her legacy. She lives on in you a hundred percent. That is for sure. So thank you, Irma so much for being on the podcast today. Is there any final thing, anything that you want our listeners to know, any projects that you're working on, any, anything that, that you wanna share with them? Speaker 2 00:58:24 Well, I'm glad you asked. I remember listening to, um, Reverend Dr. Greer, um, on the, the Samantha racism a few months ago, and she was talking about revelations. I forgot where, where she got that from. And this is revelations when you see the sea of people dressed in all different colors and different languages. And when we all get together, oh, hallelujah. What a time that will be. And that's what I see, hallelujah, that we are all listening to the word of God in our own language. And that we are able to worship God, hallelujah. Oh yeah. In our own language. And that's what I see. And, and, and in the Spanish ministry at the, where, you know, and, and bringing that in diversity and a multicultural, uh, you know, Easter Sunday, we are gonna have a, a early morning service where, uh, I am gonna preach in English. And, uh, El Jose, we have a new elder. His name is elder Jose ne that he, uh, we, he was came from get, and he's gonna preach in Spanish and we gonna have other clergy. Uh, but so that's my, that's my, that's what I ask God to give me, employ me and to grow in me, to be able to bring the people together. Speaker 0 00:59:52 Yeah. So beautiful. Speaker 2 00:59:54 And, and talk about God in our own language, Speaker 0 00:59:58 That's revelation seven and nine, that all the tribes and tongues are together. Right. So beautiful. So people can find you Dewitt reform church on the lower east side, the lower east side <laugh> of New York city and, um, there's English worship. But then you're also have your Spanish ministry that you are cultivating the Speaker 2 01:00:22 Cultivating. Yes. We're cultivating it. Speaker 0 01:00:24 <laugh> beautiful. Beautiful Speaker 2 01:00:26 As multilanguage ministry. That's my, that's what I would like to see happen. But we are starting with just Spanish right now. Yeah. Worshiping together, fellowshiping together, praying together, expressing our culture together. Speaker 0 01:00:41 I, I love it. You know, I love that. <laugh> Speaker 2 01:00:45 I think that it speaks to, and that's my last, that's the last I'm gonna say, uh, it speaks to the, to exclusion. God is a God of inclusion. And if we are, if we take on that attitude that we want everyone to be included, <affirmative> people who are homeless will not have a problem coming into our churches. People who are drug users are not gonna have a problem coming into our churches. People who are hurting are not gonna have problems coming into our churches and worshiping with us, or just meeting us where we are at. You don't have to, you don't have to come into the building, just come and you are welcome. Speaker 6 01:01:26 Yeah. Speaker 0 01:01:30 That's beautiful. God has got you on assignment, sister. God bless you. Thank you so much for all you've shared today on the lavish hope podcast, what a blessing it's been to be together and, um, all the best to you and your family and your continued living into your amazing calling. God bless you. Speaker 2 01:01:50 Thank you. Speaker 0 01:01:50 Thank you so much for being here today. Speaker 0 01:01:59 Thanks so much for listening. I hope this episode has offered insights and sparked a ideas for what lavish hope, resilience and overcoming mean for your own life and calling as well as those around you. If you'd like to connect with Irma, she'd love to hear from you, especially if you need support of any kind. You can email her at God. [email protected]. That's G O D S O S w E E T. to learn more about barrier free living, where she's director of social services go to to check out her church, lower Manhattan, go to www dot Dewitt, They'd welcome you there with open arms, whether you live locally or are in New York city for a visit. If you enjoy this lavish hope podcast, please subscribe, leave a review and reshare any place you're on social. You can also connect with me directly L Testa Speaker 0 01:03:02 This episode is brought to you by faith, an online learning community where you'll find ideas for living out your faith reflections on scripture and church stories about how other Christians are following God's call and resources to bring your own church or organization along for the ride. The lavish hope podcast is produced by Anna Radcliffe with assistant production by Lorraine Parker sound designed by Garrett tyer and web support by grace writer hosted by yours. Truly Liz Tesa. I want to give a special shout out to Barb Ellis who has moved on to a new calling in another organization. Thanks Barb. Your faithful port of this podcast has helped us succeed. Thank you, and God bless you on your journey and now friends until next time, may you find ways to cultivate lavish hope and build resilience each and every day. God bless you.

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