Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Confession: I am a PK

The same twangy tune plays at the end of every Midwestern Mu Kappa Snow Camp, a man’s voice singing, “I’m an MK (missionary kid); I wouldn’t trade it. If there’s any better life, I couldn’t name it. Yes I’m an MK; I’m glad it’s true, and you can tell your folks you wanna be an MK too.” My friends and I have a lot of different thoughts on the song overall, but hearing it has made me realize something: I’m a PK (pastor’s kid), and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My History

I grew up as a pastor’s kid in a church of thirty. Yes, thirty people. My dad did practically everything: setting up chairs, preaching, organizing the kids’ club on Wednesdays—everything except singing, that is. Mr. Jeff and I took over that for the sake of the congregations’ ears. When I wasn’t at school, music lessons, or friends’ houses, I was at church.

My Sundays began with a 9:15 a.m. Sunday school class through sixth grade, which later switched to a 9:00 worship practice and 10:30 church service. I helped lead worship; listened to my dad’s half hour message; chatted with the church family before, during, and after the service; and sometimes joined them at Wendy’s for lunch around 12:00. Mondays were my dad’s Sabbath from ministry, though he still had coaching and sometimes teaching or landscaping.

Wednesdays we went to Family Night at church, 5:45 p.m. on pizza nights and 6:30 on regular nights. There I first participated in and then led children in AWANA, an inclusive Bible club where kids memorize Scripture and play energetic, competitive games. The adult Bible study took place at the same time, making it easy for families to come and go together. For a few years we had youth group at that time, too.

Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

We did everything in the church. My dad even held his tonsil removal/birthday party there! Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

On Friday nights I attended a youth group at my friend’s church, where I would sometimes go for weekend conferences if I wasn’t leading worship. The church week never ended, and I was fine with that.

I never quite left the church grounds either. For several years, we lived in the parsonage, or what I called the “church house.” This meant I was seconds away from the actual church building, and Bible studies, Sunday school and youth group were in the living room or basement of the house itself.

If I haven’t made myself clear, I spent a lot of time at church as a PK.

Fighting Stereotypes

Toby Keith captures one of the stereotypes of being a pastor’s kid in his song, “God Love Her.” The young woman in the song is called “a rebel child and a preacher’s daughter.” The opposing stereotype is that PKs are goody two-shoes.

I suppose I have always hated stereotypes, because before I was passionate about racial conciliation or even aware of racial injustice, I fought against the PK stereotype. I didn’t face much flak for being a PK—perhaps because I was around so many Christians all the time, and my family was in good standing—but I overreacted when I did.

When the boy at church youth group said, “Oh you’re a PK” in a negative tone, I immediately countered him by saying, “And a coach’s kid and a teacher’s kid and a landscaper’s kid.” My point: don’t assume I fit the selected categories of (A) Goody-goody or (B) bad girl because of my dad’s job.

Reaching Understanding

Many people also thought that I loved Jesus more because my dad was a pastor. For about nineteen years of my life, I denied it: If my dad wasn’t a pastor or youth pastor, he would still love Jesus just as much. I would still have grown up in a Christian home. But both my parents are so involved in ministry that I cannot separate who they are from what they do. Others minister Christ’s love and grace in just law practice, honest accounting, cheerful mail delivery, compassionate medicine practice, truthful journalism, joyful car cleaning, patient retail work or tireless social work, and my parents do it through faithful church ministry.

When I turned twenty last year, I recognized that this has shaped me. I do not love Jesus more because I am a PK, but being in a Christian family devoted to church ministry certainly helped me to know God and see Him at work.

Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

My best friend, cousin, and I began a garden outside the church. Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

As a PK, I had to make sacrifices that were not my choice. We did not have much money, and we did not enjoy the privileges many middle class Americans have. However, God always provided what we needed. We were never without food or housing, and we always had sufficient clothes for each striking New England season. God blessed us with loving friends and relatives, although Connecticut did grow lonely for my family, due in part to their status at church. In all the trials we faced, God taught us how to trust Him and how to pray. He gifted us with “daily bread”: exactly what we needed at any time, usually not more, but certainly never less.

Achieving Growth

At just the right time, God moved my family to a new place where they could thrive. They are still so involved in ministry that the church directory had to cut out the allotted “hobbies” section to fit all the ways they invest in the church. They enjoy friends, good jobs, and warmer weather. Life is not easy for them—my dad works three jobs including his youth pastor position, my mom has one, and my high school sister has a couple—but God provides for all their needs.

My children, if I am blessed to have any, will likely face similar challenges, though with a cross-cultural component since I plan to do ministry in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I doubt they will have much materially, at least by American standards, but I believe they will have all they need in order to rely on God and know his goodness.

I cannot predict how they might respond to the MK song, but as long as they love the Lord, I will be pleased.

 

 

 

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Photo belongs to KSB and the others therein.

Three Truths OMD Tells Me

I can’t hide it. I can’t stop my affections, and in fact, it might be fatal to do so. Friends, I love the Office of Multicultural Development.

More accurately, I am loved by the OMD. Every time I enter the space, I am reminded of three truths. With time I am growing to believe these fundamental reminders, and I can better reflect these truths upon others. As a white chocolate womyn, the OMD reminds me daily who I am in God:

1. I am made in God’s image.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. -1 John 3:1-2, NIV

In person and via email, Associate Director Eva Ortiz always calls us students lovely. I can picture her in her swivel chair now, looking up from her lists and asking, “How are you today, lovely Skye?” Her mentorship, care, attentiveness, prayers and practical yet abundant provision of food reinforce the truth that I am made in God’s image. In addition, Rodney Sisco, Director of the OMD, always asks me if I am taking care of myself. He responds thoughtfully and in a way that always validates me. Though most of our conversations are brief, his gentle and genuine care is evident in each one. He affirms my beauty as well. God is good to provide these constant reminders!

For those who do not know, the Office of Multicultural Development is more than a business office; it is a community. As such, those in its space provide general affirmation of my body and increase my appreciation of other people’s bodies, all made in God’s image. This carries into the broader Wheaton community when my OMD friends and I see each other.

God made us in all shapes and sizes, curvy and petite, musically talented  and physically strong, and I love seeing the diverse beauty in these men and women’s bodies. The extensive range of skin colors is a given in OMD. I also love the refreshing laughter and familiar voices, both physical gifts God bestowed on us. Finally, it is fun to view the different colors of hair: blue weaves, bleached blonde tresses, naturally raven locks — we’ve got it all.

We are beautiful humans. We suffer pain, but we are also full of life. We exemplify God’s image on earth.

2. I am loved by the Church.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. -1 John 5:1-5, NIV

The institutional church gets a lot of flack from Christians at my school (and those elsewhere in the United States), and a lot of that is for good reason: the evangelical church in this country is not known for its inclusivity of sexual minorities, is often racially segregated and may demean women through its rhetoric and practice. Not every local church will sin in these ways, however, and even those that do so may glorify God in other ways such as passionately spreading the good news of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross or reaching out to refugees the State may be neglecting.

Moreover, what Wheaton students often fail to realize is that they are the Church themselves, as the Body of Christ. And you know what? They’re actually doing a pretty decent job of loving each other well! Yes, Wheaton College has many institutional sins, and the individuals who attend the college also fall short of God’s glory, but most love their specific Wheaton communities well. Yesu redeemed and empowered us, so let’s recognize his victory more loudly! 🙂

Wheaton, OMD, friends: thank you for loving me. Thank you for sharing Christ’s love with me. In case you are curious or doubt this truth, I shall tell you how you in OMD love me well, though I cannot fully accomplish this feat in one paragraph.

The OMD is a safe space to weep or be in pain as well as to laugh and share stories. Hee-Jung welcomes me with her smile, nodding head and perceptive comments. Eva provides snacks daily for all of us. Alisha is sweet, kind, genuine and hospitable. When my back pain became unbearable last week, Tramaine and Juma took care of me. The next afternoon in OMD again, Karis massaged my neck and held my hand as I began to nap to escape the agony. She and I have multiple memories of laughing and literally chasing each other around to take back some object stolen in jest. Last year when I went through a heartbreak, Bria loved on me by spending hours with me in the back corner of OMD and buying me snacks upon food upon chocolate. Iliana and Samuel and I have shared many a story time there as well. It is clear that the members of the Church, as demonstrated in OMD, love me, their sister.

3. I am loved by God.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. -1 John 3:16-18, NIV

This point is short and sweet. Because the Church loves me, I can understand God’s love better. I can tangibly feel it, and occasionally my Christian brothers and sisters will remind me of his love in words. Whether they wrap me in a hug, speak encouraging words or pray for me, they share God’s love yet again. I am privileged to show God’s faithful love in return.

 

Ideally, you will be reminded of these three truths in any good Christian community. I am especially grateful for the Office of Multicultural Development, however, as it impacts my life on a daily basis, reminding me of who I am in God and allowing me to see his image in other students and staff.

Wheaton students, you are always welcome in OMD. ❤

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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.

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The bloody beauty of Communion

“The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’” While singing a hymn about Jesus, I take a cracker piece from a silver platter and pass it to the Believer next to me. Everyone in the room eats the bread as one, partaking in the first “course” in the Lord’s Supper, otherwise known as Communion or the Eucharist.

Crunch, crunch, mangled flesh. The image revolts me, yet I am chewing this flesh. Raw. It is Jesus’ body, which he sacrificed for me.

“In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.’” All around me, heads tip backwards as together we sip grape juice from tiny plastic cups. We are proclaiming Christ Jesus’ death. We celebrate the victory of grace Jesus demonstrated when he took our eternal punishment on the Gethsemane cross.

Swallow, gulp, fragrant blood. I shudder; perhaps the woman next to me notices, but she is silent. I detect an aftertaste from the juice. I picture Jesus’ blood on the cross, in my mouth, in my body now, shed for the forgiveness of my sins. For the redemption of the world.

I was raised to view Communion symbolically. I still lean that way. But my Christian Thought class from last spring opened up faith conversations with which I was not always familiar. For example, Roman Catholicism claims we are eating Christ’s actual flesh and drinking his actual blood when we take Communion. This phenomenon known as transubstantiation is derived from Gospel passages like the ones I quoted. Ever since I learned about this, Communion has become a more vivid and powerful reminder of Jesus’ saving sacrifice.

That is the point. At his Last Supper, the Jewish Passover, Jesus began the Christian tradition of Communion, but he never meant for it to be a thoughtless ritual. I do not want to forget his sacrifice despite its physical repulsiveness.

At the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ, the crowds did not see a handsome, naked man with a perfectly combed beard on some smooth planked pedestal. Nay, they witnessed a bloody, gnarled, practically dismembered body essentially lynched on couple tree branches shaped like a T.

They came to view the humiliation of the two convicts alongside my perfect King, but I don’t know why they were drawn to the inhuman spectacle.

Yet I too am drawn to it, only in a different way. Jesus uses the Communion Table to draw me to himself, for I am part of his body now. His Spirit is in me, and I am his. I do not desire to view his formerly grotesque body in any bloodthirsty manner. Rather, I am grateful, so grateful, that he sacrificed his body for the world and thus for me, so I can spend eternity with God, whole and redeemed and new.

Jesus is full of grace and truth. I must remember him and proclaim his deep love, as demonstrated in his body and blood.

For this reason, I eat his flesh and drink his blood until he returns. And Jesus is coming soon! When he gathers his Church to him and makes all things new, we shall drink wine again in his heavenly kingdom, this time in celebration. The members of his Church, his Body and Bride, will have new bodies. We will be complete and whole, for he is making all things new.

Until then, I remember him. I proclaim his death until his coming. And through his death, I live.

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?

 

 

Becoming countercultural: clapping at College Church

God is moving. He is moving and shaking in physical ways. He is knocking at the hearts of Christians in Wheaton, willing them to a joyful life in His presence.

I attend College Church, a Biblically-grounded church ten minutes walk from my dorm. The congregation is large, to say the least, and it is unfortunately stiff in its traditionalism.

The congregation literally does not move. We stand still during the worship and sit still during the message. The preaching content is solid, powerful and applicable, and the music is beautiful as well as rather doctrinal, but the congregation does not physically react. It is stiff, serious and seemingly intellectual, as is my college next door.

For instance, on Sunday mornings I always want to clap after a worship song or performance, but the congregation around me is silent, and I have been too intimidated to defy this social norm. However, my friends and I were discussing clapping today as the service began: We want to clap. We feel the urge to do so. Why don’t we?

A few minutes later, Pastor Josh Moody mentioned the exact topic, saying he wondered why nobody ever clapped. Who told us we couldn’t? As long as we are clapping for God and not applauding a human, we should do so! Why do we not clap?

Upon hearing that, the people in my pew of college students decided we would indeed clap, and when we brought our hands together, multiple others throughout the large main room joined. I smiled broadly, delighted at the sound and its implications.

Pastor Moody continued to talk about joy, preaching from Romans 5:11. “You should take God seriously, but if you’re only serious, you’re missing something,” he said.

Wheaton College and College Church, a church named for its street addrss rather than the academic institution I attend, are both extremely evangelical, which I appreciate because of its Biblical foundation, but they are both intellectual to the point that people feel pressured to be perfect rather than authentic. I know this is true at Wheaton College, and I sense this in the overall atmosphere at my church as well.

But let’s be real: we were made to praise God. We should seek God seriously, as Pastor Moody said, but we should also have joy. Why would we contain the joy God has given us through His Son Jesus Christ?

Jesus died to save us sinners from eternal damnation, and he rose again three days later to defeat death! He gave us life, abundant life to be filled with faith, hope and love, peace and joy, and He is shaping His followers to become more like Him. We were saved to glorify the God who redeemed us from the pit! Why do we not clap when the pastor reminds us of that?!

During the final worship song at the end of the service, approximately five people stood out of hundreds in attendance. I sat and watched them, admiring their boldness. I am not sure if the lady singing gestured for us to stand, but since nobody else did, I appreciated their simple act of worship.

Perhaps clapping and standing seem trite. Why would anyone be afraid to do that? But in a room full of silent Christians, making a little noise is countercultural. I am elated at what God began in church today, however, and I cannot wait until next Sunday to see how my church will grow in its praise for our Heavenly Father!

To God be the glory! Can I get an Amen?