Waetie Sanaa Kumahia was a Relational Evangelist in 2009 -2010 and now lives and works in Randolph, MA, where she is a freelance writer and a Home Visitor, coaching new parents with children under the age of three through the federally funded program, Early Head Start.
Before becoming a part of the Life Together community, I won a Mellon Mays fellowship as an undergraduate at Wellesley College. This fellowship was earmarked for students of color who were encouraged to pursue doctoral work and to make a difference in the academy, but, at 21, I knew I needed a chance to explore and grow before delving into more books and research. Having lived in the Boston area for my entire life, aside from a year I took to study abroad in Jamaica, I decided to look at an atlas to see which place in the US had the most warm days and I concentrated my job search in that area. I saw that there was a private school called the Cate school there so I vigorously pursued a job there and when I was offered a position teaching English, being a dorm parent to 30 teenage girls, coaching basketball, and supporting the school’s diversity efforts, I planned my move without any hesitation. Now, my initial reason for moving to this location was a very superficial, of course, but thank goodness God always finds a way to work miracles out of whatever we offer her to work with. In my case, I was thrown into my first experience with an intentional community—although no one there would have used that phrasing. While I was also trying to get a more in depth experience of what my life might be like as a professor in an elite school, I found that what was my most powerful experience during this time was my work as a dorm parent and the efforts I made to support my students to plan school assemblies that addressed social justice issues. These activities should have given me an inkling into my future call, but I simply saw myself as doing the things that came most naturally to me and supporting my students of color to have more of a voice in this predominantly white and wealthy community.
Several years later, by the time I entered theology school, I was still trying to decide if I should pursue the doctoral studies track or pursue ordination and chaplaincy. I was so unsure of my decision at the time that despite having won another scholarship to support my graduate studies, it took me only one week of living in the dorm for me to decide that I wasn’t ready to begin the program. This was one of the most difficult, but healthy, decisions I have ever made, because it meant being okay with not deciding. It meant being okay with telling people I didn’t know instead of just going through the motions and committing to something that I was not sure was in the will of God for me.
A year later, I did return to Andover Newton School of Theology, but I chose to live off campus with my husband and to get a Masters in Theological Research in order to study women’s health and spiritual practice. This choice left my career decision open and allowed me to create a plan of study that did not immediately identify me with a track. I made the decision to focus on this area of study because I had come to see that my ability to give to others, love others, and care for others, was intrinsically related to my ability to care for myself. I still wasn’t sure about my exact calling, but while living in a Quaker intentional community in Beacon Hill, I had come to see that there was great value in the silent sermon. And more than attaining a certain degree or position, I was able to discern that what I wanted most in my life was to solidify my faith so that I was truly living out the values I professed. I decided to trust that despite my brokenness, despite my many challenges, that God would be able to use me if I could stop long enough to stop planning my own life and let her lead.
After graduation, it turned out that one of the places that God led me to was back to the arms of the Episcopal Church, the institution that had been the foundation of my developing a conception of God that was loving, kind, ever-present, and able to embrace everyone regardless. I will be honest and say that I cried a lot the year that I was a fellow and relational evangelist in Life Together. I cried because I was happy, because I was confused, because I was unsure of something I said or did and how it was playing out… But mostly I cried for two reasons: because my heart was in an open enough place to let my emotions spill forward in ways that we sometimes try very hard to tamp down and because I still had no clue what I was doing with my life. I could identify a myriad of disparate gifts that I possessed, but I still had not matured enough to communicate definitively exactly where my call was leading me.
Interestingly, this all changed the year after Life Together. While I had worked in private educational institutions for several years, primarily as a teacher, dorm parent, and occasional dance and basketball coach, my work as a recruiter for Life Together led directly into a recruitment role that allowed me to bring all of my skills to bear. As the Assistant Director of Admissions at The Cambridge School of Weston, I was able to speak with families on a daily basis about the value of an education where creativity, invention, mistakes, thoughtfulness, and not competition or test scores, were the ultimate guide to assessing the progress of our children. I was able to affirm the educational and philosophical values that were so formative for me in both school and the church and the results were that an extremely large number of the families I met with—whether poor, whether skeptical, whether white or people of color— chose to enroll at the school. Suddenly, I came to see with absolute clarity that my call was to be an advocate and a catalyst, but that the venue of my work would be broader than the academy or the church. Just as these ideas were becoming clear for me, opportunities to develop those very same skills began to slowly appear. At that same time, I was invited to lead a discernment group for women at my church, and, then, during the morning service the visiting preacher, the Reverend Ceceila Bryant, who had served extensively in my family’s country of Liberia, publicly called me forward from a crowd of parishioners to let me know that I was called to be a leader. I immediately burst into tears because in that past year alone I had suffered five miscarriages and I was in total panic that I would never be a mother. I didn’t ask for any confirmation about my call, which is what I wish I had done in hindsight. Instead, I asked her, “But will I ever have children?” She looked at me quite perplexed and said, “Yes, you will, but that is not what I am talking about”. Frankly, the rest of the time after that service is a blur, but her confirmation about my call and my future children led to me to enter into a state of peace as I now knew that it would now be a matter of simply waiting for God to manifest the miracles that had been publicly declared.
At this very moment, while I still have a ways to go, I feel that I am living out my call to be a leader, a mother, a community member, and a worker more than I ever have in my life time. Three years ago my husband and I sold our home in Newton and built a home in Randolph, Ma, a place that is listed as the most diverse suburb in MA. I knew it would be a place where my son and daughter would grow up being connected to friends and neighbors who more closely represent the world in all of its complexity. As a middle class woman who was raised in predominantly white environments, I see the diversity and relative poverty in our community as the most relevant and salient teachers that I will ever have. My life now is all about building community and supporting people to come to voice in so many ways. In my work as a home visitor and parent coach at Early Head Start, I advocate for poor residents in my community so that they can access resources that can support their children’s development and support the flourishing of their families. Much of my work involves helping families actualize their goals which often include getting out of poverty while assisting them to better understand their children’s developmental needs. At home, despite a recent separation from my husband, I am supported by an intentional community of my own making: a white Catholic woman on disability who rents my basement for a reduced fee and barters her time assisting me with caring for and picking up my son daily, a Pentecostal Haitian woman with a child in college who cares for my daughter while I work, and a college student who was homeless but now rents a room from us while she works at Target.
My life is messy but whole. My life is far from anything I ever could have planned. But it is mine and I can stand with both feet and claim my journey with all of its twists and turns. I can tell that it is the beginning of the silent sermon that I prayed I would someday speak, and I am excited to see where God will lead me next.