Thoughts from Sara Pottschmidt Lisherness on Merilie Robertson, 2019 Barstow Driver

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From Sara Pottschmidt Lisherness, Director of Compassion, Peace, and Justice of the Presbyterian Mission Agency

August 2019

Barstow-Driver award recipient Merilie Robertson during a visit to Adelanto Detention Center.

Merilie Robertson has had a profound influence on me, my family and the course of our life.

I discerned a call to ministry through my friendship with Merilie Robertson. I first met Merilie when visiting Woodland Hills Presbyterian Church in southern California in the mid 1980s. I grew up in the Presbyterian Church but moved a great deal just after college. Merilie was leading a class about the United States’ role in perpetuating the violence in Central America. It was so refreshing to learn that the church of my childhood was grappling with important issues of the day. I overwhelmed by the courage of the Christian community in Central America and excited that the church of my childhood was standing in solidarity, accompanying and supporting our partners in the region.

I mention this class, because it and Merilie’s leadership was a turning point for me. I knew that this was the church that could walk with me as I sought to live out my faith. Merilie continued to open my eyes, connecting me to the presbytery and to the national offices. She handed me a copy of Peacemaking: The Believers’ Calling, which still rings true today. She expanded my theological understanding in new ways, giving me articles and recorded presentations by Gustavo Gutiérrez, Alan Boesak, Elsa Tamez, Ross and Gloria Kinsler, and many more. Because of Merilie, our whole family got involved in the anti-apartheid movement – we boycotted products, wrote letters, and our children made signs for protests at the Consulate of South Africa in Los Angeles. Merilie was a sounding board as I pondered next steps in living out my sense of call. I remember taking hikes on the trails near her home and discussing theology, and my call to service in the church. Merilie models what it means to be a global citizen. Her witness profoundly changed the course of my life and I know I am not alone.  Her sphere of influence has been profound.

It is very fitting that Merilie receive this award. Like Ann Barstow and Tom Driver, Merilie has been relentless in her advocacy and witness for justice and peace. One of the most remarkable things about Merilie is that she has an uncanny ability be present to others in a spirit of love and peace, even when engaging with people who disagree with her. Her commitment to justice and peace is deeply tied to the many ways she expresses her faith, in interpersonal relationships, in people she works with and communities she serves – with dignity and respect for all.