Some say refugees. I say friends.

I spend nearly every day of the week hanging out at the houses of refugees or having them over my place. On weekends many of us attend church together, all weekend long. On weekdays others of us eat lunch together; I always look forward to 12:30. Several of us practice music together, all of us converse together and call out the ways we appreciate each other, and some of my acquaintances who are refugees open up their houses till midnight to share ugali and rice and greens and fish.

Just this Sunday, I visited a Congolese pastor’s house as a stranger and left with an invitation to return anytime. As I left, he made sure to point out his apartment number and floor so I could find it next time. Thank you, Pastor David.

I recently realized that I talk about my friends who are refugees differently than I talk about my native-born American friends, particularly those who are white or monocultural. Sometimes this lends context, but it can also be problematic if lending to an othering effect.

“Reaching out to” or “serving” our refugee neighbors or any marginalized population in order to feel good about ourselves hinders us from fully engaging with the group being “served.” When we do this, we are looking through a lens of power versus powerless. Although we may be doing good deeds and growing in our understanding of particular refugee populations, subconsciously thinking in terms of power dynamics blocks our hearts from receiving love.

We native-born Americans are not the saviors. But we can be good friends.

Here’s an idea: let’s develop deeper friendships so refugees become fully human in our eyes, fully capable of giving while still fully needy, like us native-born American humans. Let’s open our hearts to receive love from the strangers and soon-to-be-friends we seek to welcome.

While the humanity of refugees is not a question, it is important to note that the human experiences of refugees have been shaped by horrors like war and statelessness. Refugees have experienced things most native-born Americans have not. Their experiences will vary by age and country and contingency. The histories of the countries they have fled and lived in have shaped them in significant ways. The color of their skin will also impact their life chances once in the United States. We must consider the systems in place that affect their daily lives.

Refugees in the United States have overcome a lot: less than one percent of refugees worldwide are resettled, and it is common to spend almost two decades in camps or foreign cities before coming to the US, if granted status here.

Yet once they receive this status and move yet again, they come to a land that often treats them poorly.

Several of my Congolese-American friends have told me that Africans do not believe them when they say the United States is not heaven. (I witnessed this over
-admiring attitude firsthand in DRC myself.) But the truth is that when they come to the United States, they can barely make rent. Their living conditions are not necessarily significantly different. They start at the bottom of the workforce. Academic degrees do not always carry over to the American system. In short, life is still quite difficult.

Take pause today to consider these injustices. Do a little research. Sleep on what you discover. Wake up woke.

Now take pause to consider the ways refugees give to your community and the United States, the ways you have seen them serve. Thank them for their contributions. Be creative about it.

Today I stand with countless global citizens to celebrate world refugee day. It has been a truly splendid day full of energy and smiles and even a bit of dancing (see the InTandem – a Flashmob of Empathy video below from Denver’s World Refugee Day rally.) I particularly think of the ways my friends are bettering my life through their hospitality and friendship and food. The main ingredients I have noted are time, love, and ugali, given in generous portions. I am grateful for my friends who are refugees and am incredibly glad to be a part of their lives as they are in mine.

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How to be a peacemaker in a war-torn world, Part 1

To be a peacemaker is to fight.

When multiple races, tribes or countries have conflict or war with each other, peace may seem unattainable. (Re)conciliation requires faithful, patient effort and continual hope. After all, people and groups disagree with each other and are often engrained in their opinions. One side has hurt the other in a significant way that needs to be repented from before any true change can be made. In return, that hurt side may be retaliating to this injustice. Even when two parties come to the table to reconcile, it’s not easy to rebuild trust.

The battle for peace is hard-won, but it’s worth the effort. It’s worth the energy. It’s worth the pain.

Here are some tips to bring two or more parties together for peace:

Listen.

Don’t assume. Speak respectfully and demonstrate humility. Even if you disagree (and have history and statistics to prove why), when you show you care about one party’s opinion, they are more likely to engage in conversation with you. So, be respectful as you listen to another human or mediate between two parties. Given some time, this can lead to positive social change.

Be faithful.

Change probably won’t be immediate, and you may be persecuted for your efforts – even by those you thought you agreed with, since you are trying to bring them into harmony with an opposing group that they think could harm them! Recognize the fear there and don’t take it personally; keep fighting.

The fight for peace may be mundane at times. It may seem hopeless. It may exhaust you, but remember why you are fighting. Look to the peace heroes who have fought the battle before you. Their examples offer great wisdom and inspiration as you press onward.

Keep hope!

We are not fighting flesh and blood but are battling spiritual powers. These spiritual powers work through the corrupt societal structures we see, and we need to remember that prayer is effective. Yes, stand with the oppressed; in fact, God commands this. Yes, work in tangible ways for harmony and unity, shalom and reconciliation. But also pray.

Without God’s strength and his promise to make all things new, we have no hope or power to bring peace.

Gain encouragement by look at the small examples of success. Record and retell the inspiring testimonies demonstrating the fruit of your labor. Keep hope, my friends; keep hope.

 

As you labor for (re)conciliation, ask yourself why you are fighting for peace. How much are you willing to sacrifice for this battle?

It’s not easily won, but it’s worth the fight.

http://ricktylerforcongress.com/2016/06/07/the-billboard-strategy/

Are white Americans under attack?

“Make America White Again.” Thus said the Trump-inspired billboard in the link my friend posted. I follow my friend LBJ on Facebook since he constantly shares stimulating posts about race in the United States, and this week he posted a news link that I thought must be a satire.

However, snopes.com confirmed the existence of the since-removed billboard and shared a wealth of information about the man who put it up. Rick Tyler is from Tennessee and is running for Congress on a blatantly white supremacist platform. I will address a few of his points below. For more information on Tyler’s consistently racist beliefs, see his campaign website, which is more of a hub for mini audio clips on white supremacy than an explanation of his political plan. I suggest you skim these sources now so you can read this response in context.

According to the Associated Press’s article on ABC7 Chicago, “(Tyler) told WRCB-TV that he doesn’t hate ‘people of color,’ but wants to return to an earlier time ‘when there were no break-ins; no violent crime; no mass immigration.’”

Americans, we can do better than to vote in a man who believes black people are animals and that intermarriage between races is wrong. We can do better than to buy into these things ourselves.

Tyler romanticizes the past and portrays the past sixty years as the decline of this nation due to immigration laws that allow more people of color to enter. That vision of the United States is simply not true. The way the United States addresses crime and incarcerates people of color has shifted over the years as policies are created or adjusted, but crime has been here all along, and not as a function of skin color.

As for the immigration comment, going back to a time before mass immigration would mean a non-white nation since Europeans were the first mass immigrants to a land of Native Americans. Somehow the majority of people forget that.

Tyler uses Christian lingo to bulk up his points, but taking Scripture out of context or using it to divide people on the basis of skin color is never what God wants. Snopes quotes Tyler saying, “The Caucasian race has been inordinately blessed and favored by the God of scripture. It was among this people that the new covenant gospel of Jesus Christ took root, blossomed, and flourished. Western Christian civilization evolved in the ensuing centuries leading to the eventual rise of our beloved America of yesteryear.”

Actually, Jesus Christ established his new covenant in the Middle East, in Israel-Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, and then his followers spread his good news west into Asia, north into Europe and south into Africa. Missionaries continued to spread his Gospel of redemption and reconciliation, mercy and grace, love and truth and justice throughout the world. Clearly, Christianity is not a white religion; it is for everyone who would believe in Jesus.

Continuing with Tyler’s religious comment, the white race has not been favored more highly by God than any other race or ethnicity. Since the concept of race was developed by errant humans, those considered to be white have been privileged by other humans, by fellow white people, but this is not a sign of God’s blessing. Human power has nothing on God’s, and one would be wise not to confuse the two. Another word of caution for people who want to be like Jesus: avoid conflating Christianity with patriotism, white supremacy or nationalism.

Tyler exemplifies white supremacy at its prime. Initially I was surprised by his radicalism since it is 2016, but when I look at the history of this nation, I see that nothing has really improved; racism has only changed forms over time. To say Tyler could be from the Jim Crow era glorifies the present, which evidently is not accurate. While Tyler is only one man who, according to Snopes, accrued only a small following when he ran for Congress in 2014, the fact that he is making such racist, Islamophobic and homophobic public statements is frightening and, honestly, maddening.

For the sake of length, I cannot address everything Tyler has said, but many of his statements are so outrageous that they seem not to need a response. How could anyone believe that there is a white genocide in this nation, for example, and that black Africans are destroying the “once pristine and orderly white-ruled” South Africa? Read and research history to discover the truth.

PC: KSB

The Bus Fight

Denver,
Summer 2014.

White man on a bus.
Black youth—my age—as well.

Fight.
Words, words of hate.
“N*****,” they both called each other.

I’d never seen anything like it;
I’d never seen such hate.

The white man wouldn’t listen,
Wouldn’t heed a word.
I wanted to tell the black man that he wouldn’t make any progress,
But I held back
>out of fear of the fight
>and because I didn’t want the man to have to be submitted to a white voice
>again.

Help doesn’t always mean stepping in for others.

They wanted to take it on to the street.
“Colfax and—” what crossroad?
Broadway was my stop.

They wanted to fight out of rage
(the white man had started it over literally nothing),
But they were both scared.
I think one got off a stop before me, one after.

I hurried away for fear that I’d be caught in a brawl.

Denver,
Summer 2014.

I witnessed the results
Of a racist history, alive today.

I hadn’t known the divide was so real, still real,
And while I never saw another bus fight, I saw
>discriminatory housing laws causing segregation
>gentrification of the remaining black neighborhoods
>homelessness in men now out of the (broken) criminal justice system
>fear of poor, minority males
>poverty mere yards from wealth.

White man on a bus.
Black youth—my age—as well.
Hate and fear.

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-g_ZyGPDIEvU/Tx94hpZODdI/AAAAAAAABLI/818wiiN90I0/s1600/2+whites+only.tif

Why salvation is not exclusive

Two years ago this weekend, God changed my heart and set me on the course toward racial reconciliation.

At a summer ministries retreat, in a room full of students lamenting over the ways they had been hurt, God’s Spirit convicted me to confess my racial prejudice in public and to repent. Although God rescued me from slavery to sin and brought me into his Kingdom when I was a young girl, and although he led me through various seasons of focused growth (e.g. prayer in third grade, evangelism in my senior year of high school), that weekend in 2014 marked a significant turning point in my life.

On the same weekend in 2015, God called me to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where I hope to work with refugees. This connects to my work while I’m in the States because the refugees may move here, and I want them to be safe.

While in the States, I fight for #blacklivesmatter because God’s work is holistic—he cares about both body and soul. White evangelical sermons often focus on the soul, and since eternity is unfathomably long, I’m glad these pastors are thinking ultimate. We want people to know Jesus. Yet these same pastors and churches may also be afraid to talk directly about race. About bodies. They leave out half of how Jesus interacted with people and spoke to them.

You see, Jesus raised the dead, healed the blind, and hung out with women and men from the underprivileged ethnic groups, the Gentiles and mixed-race Samaritans. The Jews of his time weren’t too fond of these folk, to put it lightly. In fact, the Jewish leaders’ speech dripped with prejudice toward them. But Jesus wanted his ethnic group, the Jews, to come alive and see that God’s Kingdom welcomes women and men of all ethnicities.

(As a crucial aside, Jesus didn’t call everyone to be the same—the Gentiles did not have to conform to Jewish practices such as circumcision, for example. But he created all people in his image and desires for them to be reconciled to each other just as they can be reconciled to God through his sacrifice on the cross.)

The apostle Paul proclaims, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16, NIV). God does not discriminate based on race, ethnicity, social class or gender. Everyone who “believe(s) in the Lord Jesus … will be saved” (Acts 16:31, NIV). God doesn’t qualify “everyone.” He says everyone, black and white, Native American and Indian immigrant, Puerto Rican and Vietnamese.

Although many black Americans are restricted to zip codes with poor housing and poor education today, if they trust Jesus, they will dance on the golden streets of Heaven. (And since black churches in the United States tend to incorporate more movement than white ones, the Lord knows these brothers and sisters will make a prettier sight than most people from my white church! 😉 )

Part of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples—which applies to all Christians today—begs for God’s Kingdom to come and will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. So why aren’t more white evangelicals engaging in social issues regarding race and public policy? Why do they hesitate to believe the real life testimonies of black brothers and sisters?

It would be horrible for a newly arrived black refugee walking out of a convenience store and down the streets of his own neighborhood to be shot by a police officer who has been socialized to fear black men. It would be atrocious for a Congolese woman, scarred from warfare in her home country, to see her young son killed in this new land of “opportunity and freedom” or to be beaten herself on the roadside. (If you weren’t following the news last year, I’m referencing Mike Brown, Tamir Rice and Marlene Pinnock.) I pray these borrowed examples will never happen to new black refugees.

In my experience, the Church has compassion for refugees. It follows that it should also act justly and lovingly toward black Americans who have lived in this country for centuries, building it from the ground up. I pray the borrowed stories will never again happen to black Americans.

Toward that end I strive.

I encourage my Christian readers to seek the Lord as you also strive for his Kingdom. All human beings have dignity, being made in God’s image. Why then do we remain complacent about the structures that keep many of our black brothers and sisters in both visible and invisible chains? I especially call Christians to open their eyes and hearts to the reality of racial injustice and inequality in this country.

Let us not grow weary in doing good.

Never forget that #blacklivesmatter.

Are Syrian refugees safe?

(published in the Wheaton Record on 03 December 2015; edited and updated here on 06 December 2015)

I’m not surprised that well over half of the United States is essentially barring Syrian refugees, despite the illegality of officially doing so and the human rights violations any de facto or de jure laws induce. This country has a history of creating contradictory laws to allow “desirable” immigrants and keep out the “undesirable.”

Perhaps you’ve noticed that we welcome Mexican workers to our underpaid fields when times are good but blame the seasonal immigrants when the economy is bad. This occurs with other ethnic groups today, and the United States has been enforcing similar, seemingly subtle practices for centuries.

Take the Chinese for example. During the Gold Rush, we welcomed this group. But when the gold wasn’t shining from the mines anymore, we essentially stopped Chinese immigration via the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. The U.S. picked and chose who was most desirable to immigrate, and the Chinese were no longer “it.” Ironically, we created the Chinese Exclusion Act the same year as the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, allowing goods to enter Korea from the West. Around the same time, Japanese inflows increased, only to be stifled 15 years later with the so-called “gentleman’s agreement.” Discriminatory laws later restricted land ownership as well.

To demonstrate more contradictory and unjust immigration laws, the United States upheld the Bracero Program from 1942 to 1964, allowing Mexican citizens to work here, while simultaneously enforcing Operation Wetback from 1953-58, deporting them on the spot if they didn’t have legal documents on their persons when stopped. Does anyone smell racial profiling? Or are you thinking of South African Apartheid?

The contingent manner with which this country creates and enforces certain immigration laws seems ridiculous to me. Now our issue is with Syrian people who are running for safety. We’re afraid because ISIS originated from the same country, but aren’t many Syrians fleeing their homes for the same reason?

Moreover, when we fear that the refugees are terrorists set on destroying this land of “freedom,” we demonstrate our ignorance at the processes refugees go through to leave the camps. My friend from Burundi spent about fourteen years in refugee camps in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo before coming to the States, where he received his green card in the first year and waited five years for citizenship. His wife and children had to wait eleven years before they were allowed to enter the States as refugees. And that hassle was for East African refugees, people not from a place of alleged terrorism.

For all refugees, the paperwork required of refugees entering another country is consuming, and the screenings are intense. Whether immigration is rushed or prolonged, we can be sure that Syrian refugees are not out to harm America. They’re fleeing the terror, after all. Whether they wish they could return to their old home or long for a new one, the camps are not homes. They are meant to provide temporary refuge only. Some of these refugees are well educated, and some are not, but all are displaced and hurting.

As Christians, God commands us to show hospitality to the stranger. He commanded Israel to welcome the stranger, since Israel had once dwelt in a land not their own. Israel had fled terror. Israel was a refugee state.

Are we Egypt, fearing and terrorizing meek refugees, trying to keep their numbers down and mistreating those already here through “protection” laws, unhospitable interpersonal interactions and Facebook posts? Or are we Israel at its best, when they welcomed the stranger because they knew what it meant to need a home?

As Americans, we are a nation of immigrants. As Christians, we are told to love and not fear, to serve and not be anxious. How will we interact with Syrian and Iraqi refugees and with our state and national governments as a result?

 

 

Dear Mizzou, thanks for striking

Dear University of Missouri—dear black students and football players, thank you.

Thank you for giving the rest of us hope for a change in racial relations. Thank you for striking the football games this weekend. You put it all on the line. Thank you, Jonathan Butler, for striking even your personal nourishment for the sake of your kinfolk.

The slurs and taunts jabbed you, repeatedly, and you could not take it any longer. You have been fighting. I know you did not only start to fight with the strikes this weekend. You have been fighting for justice, and now, in the ultimate battle centered at the American field of glory, you have won.

Friends, I was impressed when I read that you were striking until your former president, Tim Wolfe, resigned. The battle was set against you, yet you were bold. You were brave.

And you were not brave in vain. This morning, on Monday, November 9, 2015, Wolfe resigned.

I admit I was surprised. I can’t say I have ever seen such swift, radical change. But I rejoice with you! I just found out the news on a Facebook page for the black student union at my college, and I could not keep it in. I hastened to tell my friends in the Office of Multicultural Development and in the Office of International Student Programs, and now I am writing this note so that many more people can hear of your victory. Congratulations!

Dear black students at Mizzou, your past attempts for justice are being rewarded. I respect you, and I thank you. Thank you for giving us hope for victory.

Sincerely,

Katelyn Skye Bennett

A Christian, a white ally and an activist for racial reconciliation