PC: KSB

Evangelicals embracing diversity – it’s a thing

Live in harmony with one another…If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  -Romans 12:16a, 18, ESV

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. -Psalm 119:13-15, NIV

PC: KSB

PC: KSB


Norma took the stage, her voice shaking as she shared her story.

Through pauses and tears, she told the group about growing up as a migrant worker, not fitting in with her Texan friends because of her Floridian accent, and experiencing microaggressions because of her brown skin. She joined the church in Denver, thinking it a safe place, but still did not fit in. Her stories of regularly being tailed while grocery shopping, for example, are not believed.

This she shared on stage in front of the church itself. Norma pleaded to be believed and understood, said her Latina sisters there felt the same way, and called for unity. Being in a white space can be exhausting when that means people cannot relate to you, or when they question your experiences.


Our church is actually very multicultural,

especially for an evangelical church – that’s why I love it and why I want to share about it with you today. The worship team is equal parts black and white with one or two Asian or Latinx musicians completing the group. Mixed race children zigzag around the aisles after church while their parents mingle.

Yet many people in our community still feel as if they cannot fully be themselves or be known and believed.

We are working on it. We have a diversity committee. We, an evangelical church in a predominantly white denomination, are an example in our intention to be racially inclusive. Though we are still imperfect, the attempts are showing results.

The diversity committee is about two years old, and I have heard women of color say that it has been helpful. The committee is part of the reason why we recently had an untold story event where people of color were able to share some of these microaggressions they experience, and it is why we had a service dedicated to discussing racial diversity.

The space last Sunday allowed for testimony, listening, and lots of applause. The speakers were honest. The message was about unity. You can watch all of the service here. In addition to testimonies, one of the older men who leads worship explained the history of Negro spirituals and shared one.


Unity is important, but we need to dig deeper into what that means.

Harmony, too, is necessary. We do not need to put aside our differences to get along; we need to put aside our division.

A song is made stronger by its different, cohesive sounds – the harmonies. We, as disciples of Christ, need also to embrace who we are and build each other up using our unique gifts. If we try to fit in or suppress the parts of us that have caused us trouble because they stand out, we hurt ourselves and the Body of Christ. We suppress the Spirit within our bodies by suppressing how God made us to be.

Some of those gifts from God are our identity and our very appearance. We are God’s beloved children, designed according to his specifications, just as the Tabernacle was designed with physical measurements for utmost holiness and beauty. Let me share some examples of these gifts:

  • For Sho, it means her dark skin and bald head, her understanding nature and loving spirit. All of that is intentional. She is tall for a reason. She is black for a reason. She is strong, lovely, wise, and holy.
  • For Fabian, it means his ability to speak both Spanish and English, his passion to care for his students and to fight for their best interests, his athleticism and his servant’s heart. He is American for a reason. He is Hispanic for a reason. He is in Colorado for a reason. He is considerate, kind, and intelligent.
  • For Lee, it means his Dragon Ball Z-esc hair, his endless knowledge of everything that exists, and the way he interacts with people. He is Korean for a reason. He is white for a reason. He gets caught on subjects that fascinate him for a reason. He is encouraging, dedicated, and thoughtful.
  • For Djeffrey, it means his big, welcoming eyes and bright smile, his energy, his commitment, his voice, and his body that was made for dancing. He is Haitian for a reason. He is a man for a reason. He is black for a reason. Regardless of how he does his hair or how much energy he has on a particular day, he is serious about people, crazy about Jesus, compassionate, and giving.
  • For me, it means my light skin, my ability to shift between cultures and build relationships, my short stature, and my voice. I am white for a reason. I always seem to be the one who doesn’t quite fit in the crowd, and that positioning is for a reason. I am inviting, knowledgeable, hospitable, and beloved.

David, a Korean-American man who shared his testimony last Sunday, recapped a story where a friend told him not to be “that Asian guy.” He initially agreed with his friend and then thought about it later with curiosity. A woman who shared her story told of the teen girls around her also being told not to act their race.

“Don’t act black,” or “don’t be that Asian guy” is like saying “don’t be the way God made you to be.” It is spitting in the face of God! It is also racist.

God made you in your skin and placed you with your kin for a reason. If you are black, God smiles upon you. If you are Native American, he sees you. If you are Latinx, he is proud of you. If you are Asian, he knows your innermost thoughts and desires. If you are white, he loves you too.


I am proud of my morning church for its efforts to be racially inclusive.

Some ways we can continue to improve are to incorporate Spanish songs into our worship to benefit our large Hispanic population and add some Korean, French, and Creole songs as well. We sing a little bit of Gospel and have recently learned a couple spirituals, but the majority of the worship is still CCM, aka white Christian music. As a white attender, I think we are doing pretty decently, but I know we can definitely push ourselves more for the love of our Body, who is Christ.

Although our church is multiracial and the people on stage represent that, most of the elders themselves are white, and they are all men. Adding more people of color to our leadership (and women, but I have intentionally left gender out of this because that is a different story at our church) will change the way our church is run so that we can grow more harmonious and united and reflective of Heaven.

To other Christians who may be reading this, and church leaders especially, consider taking our model as an example for how to grow your church in the glory of God, and share with me how you have harnessed the strength that comes from the diversity of God’s Kingdom!

Peace.

Advertisements
PC: Rebeka Mwenebitu

Rudi nyumbani, mpenzi

“Coka mucie, that’s what he said to me, rudi nyumbani, doesn’t matter what you did. Ningwedete, that’s what he said to me, mi nakupenda, doesn’t matter what you did.”

“Return home,” the song calls. “I love you,” it declares. “Doesn’t matter what you did.”

I’ve been singing this song by Stacy Kamatu and Dira the Band all day. It’s the story of the Prodigal Son. It’s God’s message of hope, forgiveness, redemption, endless love.

PC: KSB

God is loyal and faithful, as is his Church. Jesus gave himself for you, and the Church emulates that.

So you’ve slipped back into sin. Return home.

So you can’t see your way back to the path yet. Jesus still loves you and offers you both an advocate and companion for your journey.

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” Jesus said in John 14:6, just before promising the Holy Spirit as a helper.

Friends, advisors, and the Word itself – these too can guide you in wisdom and righteousness.

Return home. You are dearly loved.

Rudi nyumbani, mpenzi.

 

PC: KSB

Why I shaved my head

Last August, just before the solar eclipse that crossed the entire nation, I shaved my head as a sign of mourning the sins of racial and social class inequality in the United States.  I had in mind the way poor people in this country are treated on structural levels, for example.

The way black teenagers have to fear for their lives when knocking to ask for directions to school and it’s not an isolated incident or unfounded fear; the way black and white men are given vastly different court sentences; the way the KKK was allowed to riot in Charlottesville this summer, a century after the Jim Crow Era; the way low income families are ripped out of their decades-old trailer homes to make space for expensive, new developments, because the Denver owners lusted for more money; the sin of gentrification – the list goes on.

At the time, I was reading the Biblical book of Amos, which references a solar eclipse and the shaving of heads because of the nation’s sins of injustice and inequity, similar to the ones I mentioned above. God convicted me as I read this timely passage, so as a prophetic move, I went to the hairdresser and asked her to shave curly locks, which are such a part of what I perceive to be my beauty and identity.

As much as we may often be going for style, women’s hair is not merely a part of our bodies or attire; it is symbolic. From owning your afro during the Harlem Renaissance to going natural as a black woman in the American workplace today, many women can identify with this.

Today I stumbled across this article from the New York Times. It discusses the politics of hair and references gun control activist Emma Gonzalez as well as the fierce warrior women in Black Panther, both with their buzzed heads, and it’s worth a quick read. So is the book of Amos, which remains relevant to the USA.

A few passages stand out:

There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court
    and detest the one who tells the truth.

You levy a straw tax on the poor
    and impose a tax on their grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,
    you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards,
    you will not drink their wine.

For I know how many are your offenses
    and how great your sins.

There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes
    and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times,
    for the times are evil.

Seek good, not evil,
    that you may live.
Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you,
    just as you say he is.
Hate evil, love good;
    maintain justice in the courts.
Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy
    on the remnant of Joseph.”

-Amos 5:10-15, NIV

After referencing much doom and punishment, Amos 8:3-10 (NIV) continues:

 “In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “the songs in the temple will turn to wailing. Many, many bodies—flung everywhere! Silence!”

Hear this, you who trample the needy
    and do away with the poor of the land,

saying,

“When will the New Moon be over
    that we may sell grain,
and the Sabbath be ended
    that we may market wheat?”—
skimping on the measure,
    boosting the price
    and cheating with dishonest scales,
buying the poor with silver
    and the needy for a pair of sandals,
    selling even the sweepings with the wheat.

The Lord has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done.

“Will not the land tremble for this,
    and all who live in it mourn?
The whole land will rise like the Nile;
    it will be stirred up and then sink
    like the river of Egypt.

“In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord,

I will make the sun go down at noon
    and darken the earth in broad daylight.
I will turn your religious festivals into mourning
    and all your singing into weeping.
I will make all of you wear sackcloth
    and shave your heads.
I will make that time like mourning for an only son
    and the end of it like a bitter day.”

Solar Eclipse, August 2017 PC: KSB

Solar Eclipse, August 2017 PC: KSB

God does leave space for repentance; the nation can change. Then there can be hope.

But since August, things have only gotten worse here: established immigrants expelled and new ones not accepted, violating God’s welcoming way of treating foreigners throughout the Old Testament; low and even middle income families in a bind with insurance (I currently have none and my family had to move to a co-op type of plan in order to maintain any); the continuation of the urban camping ban in Denver, which prevents many homeless people from covering themselves in the night; and so forth.

My curls are growing back, a sign of beauty and life. But will America also grow in righteousness (justice) or love?

 

PC: KSB

The way of peace is a way of life

Basic principle of Anabaptist belief #10: Peace modeled by the Prince of Peace.

Anabaptists believe that the peace position is neither optional, marginal, nor related mainly to the military. On the basis of Scripture, Anabaptists renounce violence in human relationships. We see peace and reconciliation—the way of love—as being at the heart of the Christian gospel. God gave his followers this ethic not as a point to ponder, but as a command to obey. It was costly for Jesus and it may also be costly for his followers. The way of peace is a way of life.

Are you interested in practical theology, putting your faith in action, and experiencing the overflow of the Holy Spirit? Today we’re discussing radical peace from an Anabaptist Christian standpoint, which I recently discovered, resonated with, and found to be incredibly beautiful. Welcome! Let’s dive in together.

2017 Rally on WRD, PC:KSB

PC: KSB

Peace isn’t shallow or complacent. Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, suffered literal, bloody death for the sake of reconciliation, so that we sinful humans might live at peace with the one and only righteous God, here and for eternity. Our souls can rest because we don’t have to worry about our status with God anymore. Instead, we are now commanded to do as has been done unto us. This ministry of reconciliation is powerful and mandated for all Christians, or “mini-Christs.” Anabaptists believe that the peace position is not optional, not marginal, and not related mainly to the military.

This peace, a result of having God’s Spirit dwelling in us, also extends from our spiritual life into the physical world we live in each day. Peace seeks justice, harmony, the wellbeing of others, particularly those who are not physically or societally “well.” (The sick don’t need a doctor, after all.) And it does this without violence; it loves instead of hating or taking revenge. Anabaptists renounce violence in human relationships.

Isn’t that beautiful? Here we have Christians – and not only individuals but also on a structural, organized level – standing up against violence, including violence towards marginalized people. One need only look up their missions work to see that this is true.

To renounce violence in human relationships is to agree that domestic violence is a sin, and to recognize that the physical, verbal, and emotional violence breaks the King of king’s heart. Moreover, rape is a sin, it is never the survivor’s fault, and the intense violation there breaks God’s heart as well as the survivor (usually a woman)’s body and potential place in society.

Gun violence by anyone, gang violence, massacring towns with machetes and drowning the victims, the prolific abuse of power to violate marginalized and poor people – these are sins, and they go directly against the holistic peace or Shalom God intends.

My rapper friend Blackman Bausi (see “The world changers“) always says that peace is love. Amani ni upendo. This means working together towards harmony, against violence, towards lasting solutions. He’s a big proponent of that in the Democratic Republic of Congo, his home. And the Anabaptists agree: We see peace and reconciliation – the way of love – as being at the heart of the Christian gospel.

IMG-20180104-WA0003

Blackman Bausi and I in Goma, a few days after recording “Give Me Hope,” a song crying to God for hope as we work for justice and peace. Photo belongs to KSB and Blackman.

Again, this call to peace is not something we can choose to ignore. Not if we’re trying to honor God and walk in step with his Spirit. Turning the other cheek instead of retaliating, standing up for those who cannot fight for their own rights, putting others first, persevering… God gave his followers this ethic not as a point to ponder, but as a command to obey.

Jesus put his status on the line for people who needed his physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. Some responded in kind, with love and dedication, and others left him without so much as a thank you. Jesus put his bodily life on the line for people who spat in his face, tore the flesh off his back, and made him out to be the worst kind of criminal when he was actually offering chance at redemption and reconciliation with their Creator.

And some of his disciples, including contemporary Christians, undergo similar fates. But what kind of faith, hope, or love do we have if we do not live our lives in thankfulness and obedience to the Lord who went through hell to bring us to himself? And there is blessing at the end. It was costly for Jesus and it may also be costly for his followers.

I find that different Christian denominations and faith streams inform each other’s understanding of God and his Kingdom. In this case, the Anabaptists put it well. The way of peace is a way of life.

 

 

Lawson field, PC: KSB

Confessions of a formerly racist woman

A busload of college students preparing for summer ministries filed into the open room that evening, abandoning the Midwestern winter air. We were entering a space of lament that MLK weekend. Mostly we sat, stood, or bowed in silence, allowing God to heal us from ways we had been sinned against throughout our lives. We let ourselves grieve.

But as we did this, the Holy Spirit showed me something ugly within myself, a way I had sinned against others. It was disgusting and shameful.

I knew God could and had forgiven me, but that didn’t stop my heart from pounding and burning with a pressure that only comes when the Holy Spirit is compelling me to do something. That night as I kneeled on the carpet, God was telling me to publically confess my sin.

I stood up in the silence, shaking.

The roomful of students preparing to share the Gospel in cities across the US, hostels throughout Europe, and countries in the Global South listened as I confessed my sin aloud. I had failed to understand the Gospel I proclaimed, though I did not realize that yet.

I told them I was harboring racial prejudice.

Though not intentional and not directed towards people I knew personally, because I was able see my friends as full humans, I was prejudiced towards black people. I had internalized the belief that they were less intelligent than me, a white person. I was racist.

Four years ago last night, in the dim room at that retreat center, God turned my life around again. I’d been “born again” at age five, when God rescued me from a life stuck in sin and welcomed me into his Kingdom; baptized at ten, which was a marker in my life though not particularly life-changing; and now God was saving me again from a life of racism.

Instead of rejecting me, my peers listened with respect. Some thanked me. And when I returned to campus a few days later, I jumped into a life pursuing racial conciliation.

Through sociological education, relationships with gracious people of color, the love and conversations of the Office of Multicultural Development, events put on by Solidarity, I began to fight my ignorance and racism in order to love others better.

Where I had once been afraid of protests, I joined campus demonstrations combatting racial injustice. I began to use my writing and social influence to teach other white folks about racism, however subtle, unintentional, “innocent,” systemic, or blatant it may have been.

The focus of my life had shifted completely, all thanks to God. He helped me to love my black brothers and sisters. He saved me from the miry bog of ignorance, prejudice, racism and gave me a new song.

As a white person, I still benefit from the systems of racism in the United States. That means I am still racist in a sense. Moreover, I am still ignorant: I have years of racial understanding and conversation to catch up on, and there are things I may never fully understand because I do not experience them.

But that doesn’t stop me from striving to see things from other people’s perspectives, listen to and believe their experiences, research racial justice in order to share knowledge and support communities of color, and generally live my life in a way that esteems my friends and fellow Americans who are a different race or ethnicity than me – and not out of guilt but out of love and a sense of what is right or just.

I say none of this to glorify myself but to celebrate the way God transformed my life, saving me anew, in the hopes that he might open your eyes as well, if they are closed in the way mine were. I am forever grateful to God for this.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend.

Blackman Bausi in concert, photo from his Facebook and used with permission

The world changers

I scroll through the staff page of another American missions agency and notice, not surprisingly, that the leadership is almost entirely composed of white men. From talking to some of these people and organizations, I know their intentions to share Jesus’ love are good, but the undervaluing of Christians of color in American missions disappoints me.

The commonly held idea that only white Westerners know the “true Gospel” is also heartbreaking, especially since Christianity was birthed in a region of brown people and is exploding in the Global South today. In fact, let me tell you about a few Congolese men I know.

Baraka. PC: KSB

Baraka, PC: KSB

A former English student of mine, my friend Baraka, told me about his passion for missions the very first time we conversed in the yellow painted room after a class. Quiet and earnest, he shared his heart to see Muslims know Christ Jesus. “I love them. I want to show them God’s Word,” he shared.

Baraka is studying theology in his country. Like many Congolese people, he knows over a handful of languages, including a bit of Arabic that he has learned in order to share the Gospel more effectively. He’s looking for missions agencies even as you read this.

Dieum, photo used with permission.

Dieum, photo used with permission.

Then there’s my best friend Dieum, whom I met through our church choir in Goma, eastern Congo. His dream is to be a doctor, pastor, and singer who uses his skills around the world and before the throne in Heaven. He is dedicated to seeing the sick healed and is particularly interested in the nervous system. His devotion to his studies is paired with a knack for making others laugh, and the atmosphere transforms when his fingers meet a keyboard.

My mentor-friend Dedi, who began Love of God Ministries under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration and with encouragement his family, is perhaps the strongest example I have to give of a Congolese Christian with global impact. He is known in several countries for his faith and ministry, all through the Holy Spirit’s miraculous connections. Although his situation is humble, he has selflessly poured into me, teaching me about prophecy, the Holy Spirit, and faith. His life is wrapped around his ministry, the call God has placed on him.

Feed.bennett.Christ.18.01.15 Blackman1

Blackman Bausi, photo used with permission.

Of course, people do not have to leave their home country to have an impact in God’s kingdom. Blackman Bausi is another man of God working within his country of Congo. He has not gone out to do missions but is using his rap music to transform the lives of local, underprivileged youth through his foundation. He himself was born of rape, but Jesus redeemed his life and gave him a voice to speak for those without one, particularly women and the youth “heroes” he is now reaching. I am privileged to have collaborated with him and to join him in this work now as an international volunteer.

The meeting point of our five lives is Un Jour Nouveau, or Africa New Day, a Congolese organization that strives “to equip, educate, and empower each man, woman, and child in Congo to bring about cultural change, both individually and as part of a community, to enrich and provide opportunities for growth for future generations.” The goal is for change to come from within Congo, and the organization teaches Biblically-based principles of peace and leadership.

UJN also includes a Gospel-loving church. God’s work through UJN is showing incredible fruit, as the school and church have multiplied in recent years. As evidenced above, my friends from there are passionate about sharing the Gospel in their city, country, and around the globe.

And fun-fact: Although this blog post focuses on men of color, UJN was co-founded by a married couple, so one of the leaders is a woman. The principal of their primary school is a female friend of mine, and I know other incredible women in leadership there as well as men. Most of the Congolese people that I know who are interested in or able to pursue missions outside their country are these men, however.

UJN at night, PC: either Dieum or Daniel

UJN at night, summer 2016. It has expanded since I was last there. PC: either Dieum or Daniel

Some Christians go out, some stay put, and all have the opportunity to contribute to the work of God. Black men like these four gentlemen – Congolese men in their early to mid-twenties, dedicated to peace and Jesus’ Gospel though from a country that is torn apart by endless violence – are some of the leading examples of faith, ministry, and missions in my life. God is using them powerfully to impact other Africans, Asians, and North Americans.

God is using people of color, including those from the Global South, to renew the missions field.

PC: KSB

God is faithful: a year-end reminder

Every day is an opportunity to thank the Lord. For his faithfulness to stay with us and to keep his promises and guide us in our call; for his goodness to want our best and warn us of harm, to provide for us, and to bless us with sweet gifts; for family and a hospitable American and Congolese community of faith; and for his love that never leaves even when we stray, we bless the Lord.

2017 was yet another crazy year. I moved multiple times and had the opportunity to travel in and outside of the United States while undergoing significant transitions in life. One of these transitions was graduating college, a huge testament to God’s faithfulness. God saw me through all this and provided incredible old friends to stick with me from college through the distance as well as new ones to love me in my Denver home.

It was also a year of creation, as I began writing for the Denver VOICE in June and released several song collaborations, which you can listen to here:

My favorite blog posts of the year from this site fell in September.

The call God has given me to live in Congo (three years ago as of this coming MLK Day weekend!) and my deep desire to work with refugees remain the same. My goals in this direction do as well, and I hope to make significant progress in 2018. Despite discouraging, disorienting, and downright dreadful circumstances in the second half of this year, I can see God’s goodness. I remember his promises to me.

As the hymn below declares, I know God’s hand will bring me home, even to Congo, by his good grace. He has brought me to where I am now, and he will remain faithful.

 

*Updated on Jan. 02, 2018, to include “Gatherer,” which was released just before the new year.