Olanrewaju Ajibola and Elizabeth Givens
DescriptionOne Small Step conversation partners Olanrewaju "Lanre" Ajibola (35) and Elizabeth "Beth" Givens (50) discuss religion, immigration and empathy.
Subject Log / Time Code
- Olanrewaju Ajibola
- Elizabeth Givens
Recording LocationVirtual Recording
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00:01 Becker recording go ahead name is Beth Gibbons. I am 50 years old. Today's date is Friday, February 26th, 2021. I am recording for my home in Mechanicsville, Virginia. And the name of my conversation partner is laundry and he is my one small step my OSS conversation partner.
00:35 I am 35 years old today is Friday the 26th of February 20-21. I am in Richmond, Virginia on my one small step conversation partner. Today is Beth Gillis agenda divorced single. Mom of two daughters 20 and 17 years old. I was born in Southwest Virginia and I've been in the Greater Richmond area since 1974 except for college in Charlottesville and graduate school in Atlanta. I have been a United Methodist Pastor for 25 years and I'm very invested in working to make the church more inclusive of all and offering a counter-narrative to the predominant politically ever Jellico voice of the church in America.
01:36 Thank you. And Ray said my name is Andre ajibola. I was born and raised in Nigeria and moved to the us about 16 years. I've always been intrigued with American politics, but it's gotten a little jaded over the last couple of years. I used to be mostly conservative because I had a perspective that Christianity is equivalent to republicanism. But I now have a more nuanced view that include some liberal perspective is especially when it comes to the economy. I would still consider myself conservative around social issues on social issues.
02:14 Write good job. Thank you both for that best. Since you went last year first with the first question. I got your going to have 5 minutes to tell laundry your life story.
02:26 Bristol Tennessee, because we're schools in the southwest corner of the state and it sits on state line to the hospital was in Tennessee, but both my parents grew up in that Appalachian area in pretty middle-class homes for Appalachia. I moved here to Richmond when I was about four and a half and my parents still live in the same neighborhood that they move to a different house. But but same neighborhood and I have a younger sister who was born when I was so just just the four of us and went to public school and
03:22 Used to be a swimmer when I was a kid not a good one, but a persistent one still love the water the beach all that kind of stuff graduated from high school in Chesterfield County and then went to University of Virginia. And while I was there I majored in religious studies and women's studies. I'd always been born. I was in the United Methodist Church. I was baptized when I was in infants and you know kind of grew up in the church, but I really difficult situation in my home church when about the time I was going to college so I began to figure out that God and church aren't always the same thing and that that sometimes the church doesn't
04:17 Acting very Godly ways. So I'm kind of really began my personal relationship with God during that season of my life and eventually felt a call to Ministry which kind of surprised me. I went into school thinking I was going to be a weirdo a lawyer or Professor or a thousand things, but but clergy was not on the list when I was when I was young and I was just reflecting yesterday.
04:55 1991 in the middle of college. I spent a summer in Southwestern Kansas, which I worked in a county where the population of the county was smaller than my high school. So it was a very different cultural experience for me as a young adult farming community and lots of big open Skies and I think that was one of the places where I really began to learn that people are people matter. What and was a really formative time for me. And so after my senior year of college, I applied to go to Seminary and went to Atlanta and that was a great space for me to be shaped by a much more Multicultural community.
05:55 Adult life here. I would never have believed you. So Atlanta was a great a great place for me to be in a much more Multicultural and then I came back and started serving as pastor of churches around Richmond, which is what I've been doing for 25 years. Now. I married my high-school sweetheart in 1994 couple years after graduate school and then about eight years later. We started having our 2 kids and we divorce divorced in 2013. So I've been doing the the single mom professional life.
06:43 Since that are about to be an empty nester in September, so that's my big life adjustment. But I'm looking forward to it is doing things on my own a little bit more. I think I'll stop there in 5 minutes. Tell Beth your life story.
07:05 Okay, perfect. Thank you so much. So I was born and raised in Nigeria. My so I'm Nigerian by birth American by naturalization. I became a US citizen in 2010 my Lagos Nigeria to my my parents raised an older brother who is 4 years older than I am and we were pretty good childhood or doing that. My my dad spent a lot of time because my dad started here in the state. You spend a lot of time coming back to the US for a good. Of us Karina because where is mostly by my mom and in 95 my father moved back to the States and it came back home for the first time in five years in 2000, which was just touch the wall.
08:05 Memory. I like to think about then in 2002 my brother moved to the US I moved in 2004 onto my mom will be joining us in 2010 originally, finally to the states in 2016 almost exactly 5 years ago now so when I was growing up, I really really like join and I was I contemplated becoming like a cartoon is going artist of some sort. I eventually started architecture because my dad had the books in the house, I would like that logo and plants and I just found was very fascinating. So I thought he'd architecture. I was in school in Nigeria for two years before I moved to the states and just went back for a year and graduated from Hampton University Hampton, Virginia in 2009. Interesting me that was during the heart of the recession.
09:05 Architectural one fact about being in that field for the last 11 going on 12 years now, I
09:19 So my family is pretty clothes pretty clothes are all my older brother usually gives 5 minutes down the road from me. He has a daughter and my mom lives with him. I thought Mary about 2 years ago and my wife and I will be celebrating our second anniversary in Just A month's time. That's about two months time. So, yeah, so that's that is my life story in a sentence.
09:50 Thank you both as well. Since you went last year going to go first with this question. What is your earliest memory of politics? That's a really good question one was definitely the election of Bill Clinton and Evelyn. In Nigeria because I remember hearing that the person was running against was the last thing was good. I just bought my six-year-old mine just turned out very amusing but I remember seeing one on both his sense of it. I could feel like a small biting Audi my first in terms of international Politics as a big one, but in terms of politics in Nigeria, it was a couple
10:50 I'll Ninjago always had a very interesting experience with democracy. We've had minute rule for most of the Nigerian history 1993 election between mko abiola and I want to see them by the other candidates named but
11:10 I'll be allowed one, but for some reason because I think it was from the southern part of the country on the Northerners didn't necessarily want to relinquish our they held on for some reason and I never became president. So it was a very very interesting.
11:44 Night bass in Europe is your earliest memory apologize Jimmy Carter ran against Gerald Ford. I was in the first grade and my best friend's name was Christy Ford. And so I voted for 4 in the elementary school election because you know got to be loyal to your friends, you know, too so new nothing really watercade all the stuff they did, you know just preceded that just did not was just not important, I guess to me but Fast Forward Thinking about when did I become politically
12:39 I know in high school. I always felt like I was a little bit of a minority in in my in my viewpoints because I tended to be moderate left and was raised in a pretty moderate right Community, but I remember really clearly
13:00 Yeah, and I guess it would have been 89 or 90 when the Persian Gulf War again to grow cat break out. I remember joining many other students on my college campus and protesting that and that was probably so so for me a lot of politics is grounded in freedom of speech and and you know, freedom to protest and speak our minds and all that kind of stuff. That's that's a very early memory for me.
13:41 Great. Thank you.
13:43 All right Beth, you went last going to go first. This question is who has been the kindest to you and your life.
14:08 So what immediately popped into my mind when I think about who has been the kindest to me?
14:18 Are the people who have shown me mercy?
14:22 Despite my failures.
14:30 X win
14:33 You know, I've made a wrong decision and really let people down.
14:38 Just not
14:45 Not been the kind of
14:50 I guess when when when life hasn't turned out the way that I thought it was going to and I feel like I've let people down or ashamed it's it's the family members and friends and the professional colleagues who have shown me mercy and said, you know
15:11 We all
15:13 Fall short we all mess up.
15:19 I guess when I when I think about kindness.
15:23 Those are the Bears are the moments that really can't really stand out to me. So no one person but
15:35 But people who just really showed me mercy when I needed that compassion and forgiveness.
15:40 Thank you, but I think you did really well with that question. Thanks. You have a little bit of his time to think about your answer for it. So you and your life to to follow up on one best. Yes. I definitely Mediacom my immediate family, but prominently I would say.
16:02 My brother because he's always been a presence in my life. As long as I can remember and he's just extremely thoughtful and kind and selfless and generous and as always been there as someone I know I can count on and someone was going out of his way to to do things for me because I like or like I remember when I was moving to the States from Nigeria.
16:35 School and where to go to school and all of that stuff by the time I arrived my brother done a lot of groundwork on my behalf. Yeah. I like you seem to all these different opportunities and different options different things that could pursue on the schools around so he's definitely being generous present in my life. I would also add my parents who got list both of them cuz both of them have always been there and helped to raise my brother and I are us an example every way to do things and be more recent years. I will definitely miss cut my wife because she's always so thoughtful and kind and generous and always going out of our way to make sure our family is well taken care of. I'm going out of our way to do think that is not just for me because I've seen that reflected in how she will
17:35 Nice with members of her family as well. So I would say that I've just been I've been privileged to be surrounded by extreme kind extremely cranky Boulevard.
17:48 Great job is to the last question that I posed to you all and then after that you all have the space the kind of Explorer with each other, but always always tag me in if necessary bonray your first and she went last can you explain why did you want to do this interview today?
18:19 About the last few years since I moved and again, I blame this on my brother. I've always really happy. I'm just absorbing information and wanted to know things that are happening here and stay put across the world and I just discovered that over the last few years be abused my background as an example. So I was born and raised in Nigeria has looked at the us as like this exemplary place. So
18:57 When when things happen especially within the last movie scenes President Obama's presidency last year that I just noticed that seems just seen it all nasty and mean spirited away and the last four years and seen that one of the ways to get past all this political burdens is Embassy and seen people are people who may have different perspectives and opinions as opposed to you are put into enemies that you have to defeat or win an argument and there's also and I presume with that being a minister will probably get into the religious and knowing that we are all God's children and nobody is
19:51 Should be taken for granted or treated with a reference. So
20:00 First time I heard about and I meant of mentioning this. I've always loved listening storycorps because I remember on Friday on Friday. I'll be driving to work and I still remember like getting in the parking lot to the tail end of the story Corps story. I don't want the ball in like I think I'll check it out. I just did so you like what you need you to be able to speak with someone that I may not get a chance to say my getting her actions are now in the world of coded was to be for me to pass on.
20:40 Very much the same or similar motivations. I've been really active politically in the last 4 years. I've been in my job. I'm really careful about that but
21:03 There was a mean-spiritedness about our life in America that I just couldn't tolerate in my soul. I mean, it just got it got really deep for me at at the same time. I don't have a lot of opportunities to have conversations with people who are from a very different Walk of Life as a peer, you know, and I believe that the path to healing for not just our nation before our world is the relationships that we can have and the stories that we can tell each other and and the conversations that we can have out of our common humanity and
21:56 I have also had so many of those experiences of of I think NPR call some driveway moments, but you know listening to a story Corps or laughing ripping and when I heard they were once while stuff was coming to Richmond, I was like, oh this is got to do this. I just got to do it. It was it was very much a compulsion on my part sew-in and I you know, I texted my my best friend group and I was like, this is happening. I'm going to do this.
22:31 You go. This is your thing. Yeah, I mean I just
22:39 Healing is built on conversation in relationships. And anything that I can do to be a part of that. I'm all in.
22:48 Especially in covid-19. Don't get to talk to new people whole lot.
22:55 Great, great job you to have at it. Like I said. Me and if you need anything.
23:04 Tell Beth I'll I'll let you go first. If you had any specific questions you have for me. I wrote a note.
23:11 Oh, where was it? So?
23:14 How did you?
23:20 What was it that that intrigues you about us politics when you were a kid in Nigeria is that when I guess so might I think my political consumption really started in full when I moved here to the states and all because I have this funny story about my brother. A lot of things go back to my brother would come home because we live together with my dad then I better living with him and he would come home. I want to watch Hardball with Chris Matthews story and a big part of it, but I think on that and watching things like Keith Olbermann on Hardball on MSNBC as well and
24:19 I need an interesting where this is and talk radio actually played the role as well inform with my view on your phone how I think about politics but it ain't over the years how I thought about politics as really bald and changed and I'll definitely be back going so same for you mention that you've always viewed politics in terms of like
24:52 Freedom of expression on freedom tell me more about that. When did that come from a minister? How do you balance that that that pretended potential conflict? But first my Dad collects campaign buttons and there's this
25:25 Bulletin board in their den. That's probably
25:30 4 feet by 4 feet I guess 3-peat by 3ft. It's it's bigger in my head. Then it probably is in real life, you know, like things are going back to the FDR mostly us elections, but also,
25:50 Some local stuff. And so, you know when I was little I would ask questions about what was the campaign button and you know, what did what did all of that mean and and the buttons were from candidates of of all different walks of life. So so it was a real it wasn't a you know, this is a republican political life and my parents have both always been
26:23 Open about talking about politics and all of that good stuff and and always really made a connection with their face and issues of justice and mercy and all of that and I think that being that kind of the only what we left leading person in my high school, or I wasn't the only one but it felt like it a lot. I was often the sort of alone voice out there and you know that I went into this profession that uses my voice and
26:58 I think
27:00 When I look at our political landscape in America today, I feel like a lot of people that are the angriest are the angriest when they feel like their voices are silenced and I know as a woman what makes me really angry politically and what will get me to a March is if I feel like my voice is being silenced to buy more by my people's voice if you will how a balance that as a pastor and I feel like he's pretty clear about bringing in people from the margins and loving everyone no matter what and all of that and so I work really really really hard to not preach politics. There are times when that is really
28:00 Difficult the day after the 2016 election and that Sunday after that was really hard the Sunday after January 6th. I was probably one of the hardest sermons I've ever given to be able to name something that I clearly believed was wrong and to be able to name that in a biblical sense. Not in a
28:35 Political sense that is just that as a really fine line that I that I walk.
28:43 And it's it's exhausting sometimes honestly, what was your message that Sunday after January 2nd in the United Methodist Church. Our baptismal vows that we resist evil Injustice and oppression in whatever forms they presented themselves. So I talked about what happened on January 6th as evil not that people were evil, but that when we do things that are counter to love
29:30 That we give the opportunity for evil to
29:37 Blossom and end and take up more space than it needs to in the world. And so
29:45 That we all needed to to step into our baptismal vows to to resist that evil and
29:56 The Injustice in the oppression and then respond with the way of love that we found in Christ.
30:05 Yeah, it was hard.
30:09 So you said
30:14 Your political views have evolved.
30:17 What what do you came to the US in 09?
30:23 04 so you were here through. Yeah, and that's why I was trying to think so. Yeah, so almost 20 years. Now what's happening this 20 years that's changed your
30:34 So I think it was honestly being again have any more nuanced view of what politician he and the role of faith in politics role of what it means to be store hours that has that has line that I like from this podcast. I listen to about to fall upon your initial point about preaching on all about is that the church should be the gospel is Jesus is Lord means these are isn't Lord. The king doesn't like so how did the question then becomes how do you take that into the world and practical ways without giving
31:28 Submitting to either political party is the elephant and reflecting that. I would say definitely.
31:45 I would consider myself. I used to consider myself more like a condor Age of Innocence of a republican because I think it was just wrong, but I always had the Republican Party represented Christian values more.
32:12 But over the years I've come to see that the gospel cannot be put in a box and I'll be put in a liberal or Progressive. But I know that that one of the biggest changes we can do scuse me, please to try to look at the gospel through an American Progressive or conservative because you discover that the Barbie Costco count as those two Notions in different ways. So the gospel is about last was it like a couple of years ago when I was like reading through the Bible and read it through like Jeremiah the prophet and seen the emphasis God put on Justice for the venerable that really struck me on that one area where
33:04 The Republican has been as bad. I had unintentionally Vibes fail show.
33:10 On up there. There's also some point in kind of like moral order and Morality In the traditional sense that progressivism straight from as well. So I had to really like terminal pub and grill portobello. What does it mean for me to be a Christian first and Americano a citizen of America 2nd and looking out for the interests of the global kingdom of God as opposed to just America. So that's that's definitely what happened. I do before you be illin ization of immigrants for me because I might even got myself.
33:59 The January when the Muslim ban went to affect my dad was actually coming in from Nigeria.
34:07 Zach. Weekend and if Nigeria was on that list, even though Nigeria to Nigeria is the only country that have a half. Could have been on the list and I think that was the right Eurasian of that when I draft really close to me not thinking that because of that and that really made me think deeper Beyond just my immediate family I think about the family of tons of other immigrant immigrants the EXO. Do I do the things like that and seen how God cares about these people who are in a different place some cases of your choosing in some cases out of slavery. I coming to terms with that and I'm sure that was the idea of race.
35:05 Can you take a picture because coming from Nigeria which is where everybody all black I didn't really understand the history of race in America. And I remember in 2016. I think it was around spring or fall. Yeah, there was a series by I think it was a church called race on to church and put a series of conversations about race and the church on one of the most send me no one's there was from history of the name is jemar. Tisby. I was about understanding that I cry a blacklight. I need to talk about the historical perspective about how does the poem b b l e elements of the police force and effect on race and all those other things and that was also a big turning point for me to see that. Okay. I need to have a clearer picture of all these things that I need to move away from
36:00 Whichever like Politico place that may have pitched my tent and explore a full story of what the gospel is asked you is don't ask you a simple question along the same lines do so, you mentioned that one of your goals is to show the expansiveness of Christ beyond the typical weight. Can you tell me more about that and along those lines? Can you tell me how that mindset as influence how you raised your your daughter's so
36:40 I feel like the go back to your what you said a little while ago. The gospel is political not partisan. I feel like a segment of the Evangelical Church in the United States has made the gospel partisan and I feel like that voice is the primary Christian voice that we here in mainstream media, and that makes me really angry because most of the people and churches that I know of all different denominations and NSAIDs not just Christian are not
37:28 That's not their boys. And then again, I think I said earlier before when when I get silenced. It makes me really angry or when I feel like my people are being silenced and I feel like The Voice.
37:44 About Christianity that is a more moderate voice that is in my mind the voice that is more consistent with the political Gospel of Jesus has really been silenced in our nation. I think that. Has a lot to do with money and how money flows to partisan politics and how partisan political money flows into the church, but
38:16 I want to be able to offer a different perspective in my own Community about what it means to be a Christian and what it means to to love as a Christian and to the community that I served is actually home to a lot of immigrants XR but it looks very much like me but Syrian Egyptian Napoles Sudanese, so I'm all kinds of folks live around us and and that was on the Forefront of my mind in 2016 and and there were people who only served we feed our community through a food pantry who scared, you know to come get food from us and
39:12 That's not the gospel.
39:19 There's those pieces of how do we reclaim who Jesus is from from Aaliyah and I feel like I feel like the voice of Christianity has been hijacked in some ways in America. How have I raised? My daughter's it's really great question. I hope I've already committed co-parents and and and both feel that way.
39:48 I'm erasing the claim their voice even when it is different from mine and to be able to
40:00 To try to learn
40:04 That Christ and the Christ of the Gospels
40:10 Are the more important Bedrock of our faith than any particular church or denomination or?
40:20 At anything like that, all of those are human-made institutions and and we need to find anything. Yeah, but it's also hard. There's there's another piece for this of this for me. Is that as a divorced woman leading in the church mean that's got its own Lopez points, right Weymouth. Haven't you ever read Mark 10 and
41:04 Enter trying to put things into context and into the context of the Gospel. Love is always.
41:11 A challenge I think.
41:20 Do you feel you said that the the villainization of immigrants and I saw that real fear in you when you were talking about your dad's at home?
41:34 Coming back in January 27th to fear
41:47 Now or what's chain, what do you feel like you changed?
41:53 I would definitely say in new Administration. That doesn't seem hostile campgrounds. That's definitely not a huge one in just for that because there is a portal Dimension. My mom moved here. So very soon applying for my mom to become a citizen and honestly, we didn't know how that would play out in the previous administration.
42:27 You don't know what it would do. I know when I say that I know it kind of sounds I don't say selfish, but I'm not going to pick it up on my own but I also want to think about that in the context of what the Bible says about treating the car now, and I think that's also part of it. Like if we think of BB be ideal and the idea of America as always been one of openness to people from other places and even if you think about it from a historical perspective that one way or the other everybody was in the US Now with an immigrant exactly when you think about that we we we need to have it in Clara picture.
43:27 Just the importance of empathy empathy in the sense of I don't need to feel something. So I don't need to deal with something before I can feel what that person is feeling any car is very hard because we are very privileged in the US and many things just filed bypass because we don't forget it. We don't understand it. So just that I'm like okay this person in this situation, what could they be dealing with or what would they be season? And how can I going back to the central idea of being a Christian being a faithful Christian first an American second you something that I that I am very passionate about
44:14 I had a flashback to college when I was involved with women's issues groups and it had to be really clear. I'm a Christian first anything else. I believe is closed out of that all of my politics all of my passions all anything that I have about in life flows out of my relationship with Christ and
44:46 I'm continually surprised by by how that kind of makes people go.
44:54 Stop and think what from that flows that empathy first identity is not with the country where born in or anything like that but isn't my Lord and Savior Jesus and reflecting and my being ambassadors for the kingdom here on Earth no matter where we are one question. So we're both here and Richmond Richmond is a
45:37 How is Richmond ship did?
45:45 That sounds like a really good question to again. I would say that my perspective is framed by the few years that I've been hearing in the state and the Richmond. So what he does seem like Richmond has really
45:58 Changed a lot, especially if you think about it as the capital of the country and you have a picture of the monument, but I do hope that we will continue to move forward and take a Richard keep a place that back slowly.
46:30 Is a blessing to be polite and I want one thing I do wrestle with that was actually used to be a blessing to people like which really hard. Thank you. Okay. I have one question for you the artwork behind you behind you.
47:05 So that that's a really good question. It is it's stuff that I did when I was in grad school. I went to a grant for a graduate program Avicii. I did that some of them so my wife is really digging on art as well. Actually at first it was at 2 p.m. So so are you God I think this is something I did myself. This is something my wife and I did together one evening pretty much the entire world is full of artwork that either mine or something that we did together love that. I think I think it's also Arts of language that that crosses all kinds of cultures. So what question for you what were you expecting to be expecting going into this conversation today?
48:04 How the hell did I had a whole lot of expectations except to build Bridges and end to make a new friend. So what about you was I what you were expecting or episode that you're having a conversation with someone I probably didn't know and I had no idea how it goes. So I really like the idea of you made about everything should slow out of the car and it reminds me of this of a quote from him. He said he doesn't tell us exactly how some cases so that's where the wisdom and the oldest tree. God has given us.
49:03 With with the resources are available. How that should drive us to find new Solutions IT solutions might not be conservative or liberal by a convenience conventional census. What we should be open to eat depending on what that's that's definitely. Thank you.
49:26 Thank you very much. And it has been an absolute pleasure. I'm so glad I go to this was a pleasure to hear more about your story on to chat with you. And I definitely wish you all the very best and all the best with some to be. Yeah. Yeah. Thank you and is just been great to learn about your story and two years celebrate. Well this covid-19 versuri. Thank you. Thank you. I really appreciate it. Thank you so much.