Carry Each Other’s Burdens

by Esther Baruja

Tonight I would like to share a text with you from the book of Galatians , chapter 6, verse 2. And it says:

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

My graduation here at Chicago Theological Seminary is in less than two weeks. I am very excited for this milestone in my life journey.  How unlikely is it that a lesbian from Paraguay without financial resources, without contacts and without family in the United States can have gotten to this place?  Let me tell you… very unlikely.

I came out of the closet in 2006 after being a campus pastor for 6 years in a evangelical campus ministry in my home country of Paraguay. All the friends that I had, almost all the people that I thought were as close as my family, rejected me overnight because of my coming out. From being a beloved sister I became a wicked, lost sinner in their eyes. Kati, my partner, came from the states to live with me in my country while I was finishing my thesis for grad school. Because of the fear and anxiety I had about running into any of my old christian “friends,” I almost didn’t go out of the house for 6 months and I avoided all the most risky places.

Many of them felt pity for me, others showed some anger, but very few tried to reach me to talk to me about the “biggest mistake” of my life. My ex ministry sent emails to all the evangelical churches to warn them about my dangerous presence near their youth.

The only people that remained close to me were my immediate family (my mother and sister) and 3 friends that weren’t part of the evangelical church.

When Kati and I moved together to Argentina to start a new life we didn’t know anybody there, but we found a gay community of christians that received us and made us feel at home.
When I started seminary in Buenos Aires in 2007, I was so happy to be part of the church again, at least in an academic way.
Then one day the Dean, Mercedes, called me to talk privately.  She said: “we received an email from an organization in Paraguay, they have some students with scholarships studying here and they complained because you are a student here too, they asked us to expel your from this seminary”.

I was shocked and I said: why?

The Dean answered: “because you have an open homosexual lifestyle that is against their beliefs”.

Right away a very fatalistic thought came to me: “well, it is what it is. It is the price that I have to pay for being a lesbian and wanting to be a christian too. It was fun while it lasted…”, so I asked her: “what are you going to do?”
And she smiled and said: “nothing, you fulfill all the requirements to study here.”  Then she said “Esther, you are going to be always criticized but that shouldn’t stop you, you have to keep going on, just keep going.”

In 2010 I had the opportunity to come to live in the states.  With no money, no FAFSA, and no job I applied to CTS. I came here because I met Ted Jennings in Buenos Aires a couple of years earlier and he encouraged me to come. I didn’t know what it meant to study in another country and in another educational system. Argentina was just too similar to Paraguay in that way so I hadn’t faced those particular challenges there.

But I came and I survived! I found friends here, I found family here, I found a loving church where I feel I belong, where I am respected and where my relationship with Kati is celebrated.

I must say that I just didn’t survive all these years, I didn’t just make it through the 8 moves in 3 countries in the last 8 years. I have to be honest and say that I was carried all the way, from the beginning, to the end; from the tears of desperation and solitude, to the tears of joy and gratitude for each one of the people that I met in my path; the path that symbolically will end in my graduation on May 17th.

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

When Paul wrote this letter to the people of Galatia, he knew what was going on in their communities because he had visited them twice before.
Paul spends the first 4 chapters warning them about the dangerous ideas that developed after his departure, and about the fact that some of them were teaching another “gospel” different from the gospel of Jesus Christ. The letter mentions that the controversies were related to certain jewish practices of the law of Moses.
Then in chapter 5 Paul talks about the freedom from the law that is experienced by those who follow the way of Jesus; the fulfillment of the law in loving the neighbor as ourselves; and gives them a list of the fruit of the spirit incarnated in their lives.

What I see in this Epistle to the Galatians is that Paul is not criticizing the Mosaic Covenant per se, because obviously Jesus followed and honored it.  No, rather what Paul criticizes is living under those laws and becoming submissive to them to the point of forgetting what the gospel is really about.
He says that the liberating message of Jesus is about expressing the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives though love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, not just following rules that actually could potentially become obstacles against expressing or living out those divine characteristics.

Then in Chapter 6 Paul concludes, saying that if you really say that you love your neighbor, if you really value the life of your brother or sister, then you will carry their burdens.  And, your brothers and sisters will carry yours.  Thus is the law of Christ fulfilled.

In my case, the people that hurt me were those who sincerely believed and believe that they are following God’s law; but that law itself has become god for them and their desire to be “righteous” causes them to be separated from the people around them.

But more importantly and powerfully, I have experienced the presence of God in all the people who have touched me and helped me carry my burdens all these years.  They have shown me that the fruits of the Spirit are lived out day to day–in an unexpected greeting, in doors opened for a conversation or a meal, in a text message, and in a listening with empathy and affection.

I also believe that I’ve helped carry others’ burdens, especially after having been able to see things with a new perspective, after having survived so much homophobia.

I truly believe that the community of God is a collective project where each one of us has a specific role but we also all have one in common—to hold our neighbor’s hand and say: just keep going.