Shanae M. Elem is feeling positive these days about Topeka JUMP, an organization founded in 2012 that remains committed to its mission of pressing the city’s power-brokers on matters of social justice.
Elem, who grew up in Kansas City, Mo., and went to college in Florida, serves as the lead organizer for JUMP — an acronym for Justice Unity and Ministry Project. She has been with the Topeka-based organization since 2013.
Yet she quickly points out that members of the 20 local churches that make up Topeka JUMP are the real leaders, and that she is simply the one who focuses on organizing.
For Elem, it isn’t as much about being an organizer as it is about serving in ministry.
“This is my way of fulfilling my calling to bring the prophetic voice of the church back to the forefront of our community,” Elem said. “We spend a lot of our time working to meet the immediate needs of individuals, and that’s important, and that will never go away.
“But I am hoping to build this vehicle for churches to redeem the systems in our community that have maybe forgotten or lost touch with their responsibility to take care of the widow, the orphan and the poor.”
Elem and associate organizer Elisabet Barrios help coordinate Topeka JUMP. Both say they were drawn to the organization because it offered them a chance to express their faith in a tangible way.
“Topeka JUMP is a community organization,” Elem said, “but as an individual, this is a ministry — and ministry has valleys and mountaintops, but that’s what we’re here for. We’re here for the long haul. I think where we’ve been is representative of where we’re going — which is, we’re not going away.”
Elem said a great part about JUMP is that it works both in the community and in people’s lives.
“This organization not only transforms the community,” she said, “it also transforms the people who are doing the work. It works from the inside out.”
Pam Ensley, a JUMP board member from First Baptist Church, said her involvement with the justice ministry has allowed her to “sit across the table” from folks she most likely wouldn’t have encountered otherwise.
In the process of becoming more aware of the needs in the Topeka community, she said, she and others in JUMP have found that they can make a difference in Topeka.
Much of that stems from having leaders like Elem and Barrios, who help provide focus and direction.
“I’ll speak for myself and my team members here in this church,” Ensley said, referring to First Baptist. “We stay encouraged because of our leaders working so well behind the scenes and giving us that information that’s right on track.
“So, we’re not out there proposing something if we don’t have the background. These two women do a phenomenal job doing that research and doing a lot of groundwork to get us out into the research field, too.”
Doug Penner, a member of Southern Hills Mennonite Church and JUMP board member, credited the “strong pastoral leadership” from clergy in member congregations in keeping the energy-level high.
Carol Babcock, another JUMP board member who attends Lowman United Methodist Church, said not everyone gave Topeka JUMP much of a chance when it started.
Much of the credit, she said, goes to Elem and Barrios in holding everyone together.
“It’s an amazing thing to gather that diversity and be even-handed with everybody, to respect everybody’s situation and bring that out,” she said. “In the early days, there were a lot of people from local congregations saying, ‘This will never work — you’ll never be able to get this kind of group going, where you have Catholics and evangelicals and people all over the place. Your differences will split you.’
“But I think the leadership speaks to that, making everyone feel worthwhile and important.”
Phil Anderson can be reached at (785) 295-1195 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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