A New Member of the John Perkins Center Staff
Editor's note: The John Perkins Center at Seattle Pacific University recently welcomed Anita Colombara to its staff as assistant coordinator for global and urban involvement. We asked her to talk about her background with Perkins Perspective readers.
How did you first develop a passion for the John Perkins Center values?
I was raised in a very diverse neighborhood of Washington, D.C., and I have many memories of my father taking me to protests and rallies for human rights issues. However, it was not until I moved to Boston for college that I began to developing a deeper understanding of God’s heart for social justice and reconciliation.
I joined the Inner Strength Gospel Choir at Boston University. As the one of two Asian women, I was forced to address my own struggle with racism and identity. It was a huge turning point when I confessed my sin of racism in front of the 80+ choir members, almost all people of color, and asked for their forgiveness. I was terrified that they would kick me out of the choir. Instead I was embraced with love and grace. It was an incredibly healing and liberating experience for me.
In addition, I also became involved with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and a church plant called Cambridge Community Fellowship Church. My pastor, Reverend Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, was a significant mentor who pushed me to deal with issues of racial reconciliation, privilege, and social justice. In addition, Danny Colombara (now my husband) challenged me to develop a prophetic love for the poor and oppressed.
What are some of your post-college experiences that led you to Christian community development work?
After college, I spent the next six years engaged in anti-violence work in the Boston area, mainly in human-trafficking awareness and domestic violence advocacy. Eventually I became the shelter manager at the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence. My work in domestic violence led to opportunities in community organizing regarding anti-violence, anti-oppression, and advocacy for peace. I had opportunities to speak with college groups, medical student forums, and youth programs about intimate-partner violence, with a focus on cultural sensitivity. In addition, in response to the lack of understanding about violence within the Christian community, I organized a conference on “Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault” at my church, which developed into an anti-violence task force.
Two years out of college, I was thrust into community-organizing work. As an M.Div. student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and staff member with the Cambridge Community Fellowship Church, I co-led a small group to relocate into Dorchester, a racially and economically diverse neighborhood of Boston.
There, I was involved in reconciliation work between the African-American and Vietnamese communities and helped start a nonprofit organization called VOICE (Vietnamese Organizing Initiative for Collaborative Empowerment), which works to build bridges between divided neighbors and provide culturally appropriate services for at-risk Vietnamese youth. I also joined the Boston Police Department’s Youth Violence Strike Force by making weekly home visitations with police officers. Our purpose was to support these at-risk and gang-involved youth with encouragement, support, and referrals to appropriate services.
Would you share with us how your overseas experience continued to shape you?
In 2004, I joined InnerChange and moved to Cambodia with my husband -- and newborn baby in tow. There I lived among the poor in an urban squatter community in Phnom Penh for the first two years and then in a rural village of Kampong Cham for another two years. In Phnom Penh, I taught “Wholistic Ministry” and “Poverty and Our Response” at the Phnom Penh Bible College. Although I felt completely inadequate to teach Cambodian church leaders and pastors, I nonetheless had a blast and the students were hungry to learn principles in Christian community development. Honestly, I think I probably learned more from the students then they did from me! [Editor's note: Read Anita Colombara's Perkins Perspective feature about her time with those students.]
In Kampong Cham, my family lived in our ministry’s AIDS and TB hospice and had the task of transitioning the national staff to take over ministry programs and community organizing work in that area. It was such a privilege to see the Khmer staff empowered to mobilize and train over 100 volunteers from local churches to teach their community regarding home-based care (instead of sending sick family members away), teach nearly 80 prisoners and more than 4,000 school children concerning domestic violence and peace building, and teach literacy skills to more than 85 prisoners and nearly 20 orphans in just one year. We were expecting to stay in Cambodia much longer, but after four years felt like we worked ourselves out of job and God was leading us back to the States.
Now that you are back Stateside, what are you up to?
We came to Seattle in 2008 because my husband started a Ph.D. program in global epidemiology at the University of Washington. I got a job working with the Lutheran Community Services’ Refugee and Immigrant Children’s Program as a social worker for unaccompanied refugee minors. Working with refugee youth who had lost their parents was both extremely challenging and rewarding. It was an honor to be a vital part of the lives of these amazing people from around the world.
However, my bigger dream was to be “missions pastor” of sorts — a catalyst and mentor for young people to look beyond themselves, take steps of faith, and experience what would happen if we relinquish all to our Master. When I saw the job posting at SPU for the assistant coordinator for global and urban involvement, the first thought that came to my mind was, This is the job I’m looking for!
How has working at the John Perkins Center helped you realize your dream?
So far, it has been amazing! I cannot believe I get paid for doing what I love. I am convinced that I work with the coolest people at Seattle Pacific University, and the students have been just incredible. I am constantly amazed at how passionate and thoughtful the SPU students are. I am extremely impressed at the level of maturity and leadership of the student body here at Seattle Pacific. I have learned so much from them. It is a wonderful place to work, grow, and learn.
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