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.

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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.

Embracing My Whiteness

I have always wanted to be Black. I have tried to tan as much as is naturally possible, and I can get pretty dark, but I am still clearly a white person. I have contemplated the texture of my hair, which is curly, half smooth and half kinky. When a friend told me it seemed like mixed hair, I was delighted, but I am normally the one to point out its potential blackness, not others. I have hoped against hope that I have some Black relative a few generations back so that I might be Black. Only recently did I realize that even if this was so, I do not look Black, I am not perceived as Black, and I am not culturally Black. I am White, and I cannot escape it.

The blacker I have tried to appear, the more I realize I am White. For example, I have braids right now. My dear friend Layla spent six hours braiding my head, in fact, and it looks good, but it does not look Black. Although my hair is partly kinky, it is not curly enough to have the braids stay without ponytails, rubber bands, moños, whatever you would like to call them. I am White, and even my poofy, curly hair is White.

This past year, I had gotten it into my head that being White is bad. Structural racism is caused by the white supremacy underlying Western society, and I do not want to be a part of that injustice. However, this line of thought led me to subconsciously generalize that being White is bad. This is not logical because people do not choose what color they are born, but it is still how I thought for many months.

Everyone knows the phrase “Black is beautiful,” right? But I had forgotten that Whites are beautiful, too. I had forgotten that White does not equal evil. Everyone has something unique to offer, everyone can walk hand in hand with God if they follow Jesus, and everyone was made by the Creator God. God does not distinguish between races.

God’s love extends equally to Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, et cetera. This does not mean that He loves minorities more than Whites in order to achieve justice on earth. No, God loves Whites just as much as He loves minorities. I do not know that many people have the same problem I do where their head is reversed to see Blacks as more valuable. Most people have the opposite problem, although it may be well hidden, and that is why the United States is still segregated and full of racism. But my attitude has been wrong. I have mentally degraded Whites and myself in an attempt to elevate Blacks from their lower position in society.

At All School Communion on Wednesday, I was contemplating my race. I did not see myself as beautiful, but God had been working in me for a long while to show me His view of humanity. As usual, He spoke through the music at All School. “Beautiful Things” by Gungor played just after I realized that I am indeed beautiful as a White person.

I am not beautiful even though I am White or despite being White, and I am not beautiful simply because I am White. I am beautiful regardless of my Whiteness. As the chapel band played the opening chords of “Beautiful Things,” I smiled broadly, having just realized that my whiteness is beautiful. Although I love dark skin, my pale skin is beautiful. But as I began to sing along, I realized that the song is not at all about physical beauty; “Beautiful Things” speaks of the inner beauty God creates.

God does not care what race or ethnicity you and I are. Yes, it certainly shapes us, but race truly is socially constructed. It does not have to define us. Race and ethnicity do not actually matter to God, for He has allowed everyone who trusts Jesus to be brought to Him.

In the Bible days, the big social divide was between the Jews and the Gentiles, who were otherwise known as Greeks. As their name implies, the Jews had grown up in Jewish religion, and they read the Scriptures about the coming Messiah, the Christ; the Greeks were the non-Jews. Many Jews were arrogant about “their” Savior, the Christ, after they became Christians. They wanted to impose their Jewish traditions upon the Greeks, and they basically thought they were more deserving than the Greeks. But when Jesus Christ came to earth about two thousand years ago, He actually did something shocking that the new Messianic Jews did not realize at first: He made both the Jews and the Gentiles become one through His sacrifice.

Just as these two social groups were unified in Jesus Christ and stood equal before God, so minorities and Whites stand equal before God. We all disobey Him. This sin is what separates us from God, not our color. But Jesus died for us all, should we believe in Him, and this is what bridges the gap between God and us. We can come to the Father God because of Jesus Christ alone.

The Ethiopian with whom the Biblical character Phillip shared the Gospel and baptized–this Black man will be in Heaven someday with Jesus, who was born as an Arab. White supremacy is not found anywhere in the Bible, but equal standing before God is found throughout the entire book.

I, too, stand before the God who cares about what is inside people and not about their outward appearances. I am White. I am beautiful. I have value. You may not be White, yet you are beautiful and valuable. We are valuable because God loves our souls and had Jesus Christ, His Son, give up everything to redeem them.

The first day I met Layla, the friend who braided my hair and one of my future roomies, I told her I wanted to be Black. She was quite surprised and encouraged me that God made me White for a reason.

Over half a year later, I now realize that I can use my whiteness for God’s glory. If I was born Black, would I have had the same desire to unify races and ethnicities? Maybe, but I likely would not have had the same ability to do so. Let’s face it: in the States, we live in a racist society. But because I am White, I have more voice, and I can use it to speak up for those whose voices go unheard.

This year has included the long process of becoming more racially aware, overcoming prejudices by God’s grace, desiring to be something God did not create me to be, learning to accept my whiteness, and finally embracing it. If I merely accept that I am White, I will not rejoice in who I am; I will still desire to be Black but merely realize its impossibility. Thus, I am still on that last step of embracing my race, for then I can use that socially constructed identity to fulfill God’s Biblical command of justice.

I must allow God to continually remind me of who I am in Him. Remember, it is our insides that matter! Yet because I am White, and I can reach out both to minorities and to other Whites to listen, understand, and bring greater unity among God’s “very good” creation. I am White, and I am White for a reason.picture026