What will it take to bring peace?

Yesterday I attended a peace gathering, intended to be the the last for the summer after a July full of them. They were times of prayer and marching in solidarity and love around the neighborhood, particularly by the locations of recent shootings, which are all too common in that neighborhood.

The peace gathering began at 6:30 p.m.

Just a half hour before it began, a couple blocks away from empty lot where we met, a 20 year old named Devon was shot and killed. He had just gotten off work.

We gather for people like Devon.

A couple of his relatives attended the gathering: a teenager who appeared calm and quiet in the moment and an older woman who couldn’t believe what happened, not to Devon!

Under clear skies and cool summer air, we spent time praying for the relatives in the empty lot where we’d collected and walked past the site where Devon’s life was stolen as we marched.

The pastor who organized the event called out, “I love you!” to neighbors relaxing on their front steps.

We invited some young men to join us as we walked, and one responded, “No, I don’t wanna get shot.” Despite our numbers and police entourage, our nonviolent walk through the neighborhood held the potential for harm to certain people, and we respected that. The gathering was ultimately for them, after all, so that their neighborhood could someday be safe and free from gun violence.

The weekly gatherings were also a time of music and food, collaborated and put on by an energetic local church and the local police force. On July 31, the Original Warrior Gladiators, the church’s young dance troupe, performed for everyone and ushered Holy Spirit into the gathering (see cover photo).

The Peace Warriors, a group of young men and women, taught us some claps and went over principles of peace including nonviolence and ones targeting the spiritual root instead of the person enacting injustice.

We hurt for young men like Devon.

It was an evening of mixed emotions. There was hype as the Peace Warriors jazzed up the crowd and educated us (see video here). There were smiles as friends conversed and ate hot dogs and Fruit by the Foot.

But there was also solemnity as we prayed for Devon’s relatives. After all, deaths like his are why these gatherings took place. There was passion as we prayed for the neighborhood.

Overall, it was inspiring to witness the community meet together in this capacity, to be led by youth, and to see the police, whom I’d distrusted, participate in and help facilitate this nonviolent peace event.

What’s the main takeaway, then? Maybe it’s that although the neighborhood is friendly, it’s caught in seemingly endless cycle of violence and trauma. Efforts like these summer peace gatherings and the ongoing work of local churches and groups like the Peace Warriors make a difference in changing that.

Maybe it’s an encouragement to connect with your local peace activists to create change, show solidarity, provide resources, and add value to your community. Whether you are feeling broken and need the support of others in this kind of space or you’re coming with education in conflict-diffusion, counseling resources, or as a prayer minister, you are needed and wanted.

Maybe there is no one point, but sharing about the gathering was also a way to process Devon’s death.

However you’re feeling right now, feel free to comment below and reach out if you need resources. Comment if you have any to offer, as well. Peace.

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
The Lord gives strength to his people;
    the Lord blesses his people with peace.
-Psalm 29: 10, 11 (NIV)
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PC: https://www.treesforcities.org/stories/intreeducing-the-beech

Letter from a Holey Tree

“Comfort, comfort my people,”
    says your God.
“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.
Tell her that her sad days are gone
    and her sins are pardoned.
Yes, the Lord has punished her twice over
    for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1-2, NLT)

I will bring comfort to your children. They frolic on the land about me and rest in my cavern. I will hold them tenderly as they nap out of reach from the summer sun, now forgiven by your mercy.

A voice said, “Shout!”
    I asked, “What should I shout?”

“Shout that people are like the grass.
    Their beauty fades as quickly
    as the flowers in a field.
The grass withers and the flowers fade
    beneath the breath of the Lord.
    And so it is with people.
The grass withers and the flowers fade,
    but the word of our God stands forever.” (6-8)

I witness the grass fading at my feet, and I know this personally as well, for I am a beech tree with a hole. I am fading, even as I witness some elderly members no longer able enter the white walls across the meadow. Even still, the Word of the Lord continues to be spoken within the building, in the yard, and in the neighborhood all around me. It will stand forever.

Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power.
    He will rule with a powerful arm.
    See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
    He will carry the lambs in his arms,
holding them close to his heart.
    He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. (10-11)

I will hold the lambs in my cavern as we wait for you, O Great Shepherd. I am not a pastor, but I can nurture and hold these children close to my heart, speaking your love over them as we wait for your reward. I can feed them with my leaves and cradle them in my hollowed cave. 

To whom can you compare God?
    What image can you find to resemble him?
Can he be compared to an idol formed in a mold,
    overlaid with gold, and decorated with silver chains?
Or if people are too poor for that,
    they might at least choose wood that won’t decay
and a skilled craftsman
    to carve an image that won’t fall down! (18-20)

As the Psalmist declares, none can compare to you, O God. As one made of wood, I know that even this material decays. It is no creator to be worshipped but merely a vessel to share your glory with the rest of creation.

Look up into the heavens.
    Who created all the stars?
He brings them out like an army, one after another,
    calling each by its name.
Because of his great power and incomparable strength,
    not a single one is missing.
O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
    O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
Have you never heard?
    Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
    No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint. (26-31)

I see your stars every night, glorious and reliable, prophetic and majestic. They are merely my fellow vessels in your service, yet they are dear and known by you. If you know them, the many I can see and the countless I can’t, surely you know your people too. You made them in your own Image!

I am fond of them, so when your people are weak, I will become a sanctuary like the building next door. Use me to restore them in body and spirit.

A truly tiny "little white church" -- not mine, but a sanctuary for a small congregation across the country. PC: https://visitrainier.com/elbe-little-white-church/

A truly tiny “little white church” — not mine, but a sanctuary for a small congregation across the country. PC: https://visitrainier.com/elbe-little-white-church/

Cover photo from https://www.treesforcities.org/stories/intreeducing-the-beech.

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.

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.

Laughing with my friend Dina after church a few weeks ago. Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Five funny moments from church this week

Two months ago, I began attending a Swahili-speaking church. I am growing in my understanding of the language but am not yet fluent enough to understand without aid, so a couple friends help me out. For context, the church is also a charismatic evangelical African church, unlike my previous evangelical white American churches. This means we actively believe in both the power of the Holy Spirit and the importance of God’s written word, and we like to dance.

Both translation and the extra energy found at a charismatic church can lead to a lot of laughter and smiles. This Sunday was no different. A cheerful friend translated for me, and we had to hold back laughter at multiple points throughout the three and a half hour long service.

Can you relate to any of these moments?

When your translator translates English into English.

At the start of the service, my friend kept forgetting to translate. I would catch her eye, and she would apologize and catch me up on what had just been spoken. At one point, the choirmaster was giving a testimony to praise God since he had recently turned 40. We both were listening to his Swahili when one of the mamas in the choir turned to us and said in English, “When he’s done, let’s all sing ‘Happy Birthday.’ One, two, three, ‘Happy Birthday.’” Those of us in choir agreed. My friend proceeded to translate the choirmaster’s Swahili testimony and then translated the mama’s already-English words to English.

“That was English,” I said. “She told us in English.”

“Oh,” she replied.

When your translator translates the Biblical Joshua to “Josh.” Repeatedly.

I grew up in the Church and have never heard the Biblical character’s name or his book translated this way. Apparently my friend had not either, for she caught mistake each time yet could not help repeating it. The pastor would say something like, “Na Musu alisema ku Yoshua,” and she would translate, “And Moses said to Josh.”

Technically, it’s accurate—it’s a nickname—but it cracked us up. I had to hold back both tears and laughter at several points throughout the sermon. Good ol’ Josh.

When a two year old steps into his mom’s livestream of the sermon.

Our church posts its services on YouTube each week, praise and worship and all (see here), but one of the pastors’ wives also livestreams it on Facebook, at least when her husband is preaching. She sat in the wooden pew in front of me this week.

Her young son stepped in front of her camera as if to say, “Hello Facebook world, I’m here and I’m cute and I know it.” (Sorry I don’t have a link for this one.) We knew it too, but that’s not why the viewers were online. I motioned him aside, but he shook his head at me in refusal.

After a few moments, the mama next to the pastor’s wife pulled him away. Ultimately, we and the viewers were there for God, not for the child, however cute he may be.

When the pastor is so animated that his mic falls off.

The Swahili-speaking pastors’ charisma always humors me compared to the French translator’s calm demeanor. All the preachers I have interacted with this summer are gentle in person but jump around and shout when up front. It’s their preaching style. It’s a charismatic church. But even when the preacher grabs his arm to demonstrate an action, the translator is best described as “chill.” He copies their motions but is more reserved.

This week, the pastor was so energetic that his clip-on microphone fell off in the middle of the message. He didn’t miss a beat, didn’t seem to notice, but continued preaching as the choirmaster jumped up to clip it back on for him.

When the pastors repeat the Scripture they ask others to read.

Often, in the beginning or middle of the service, the pastors will ask somebody to read a passage of Scripture in Swahili—or another language like Kirundi or Kinyarwanda, if needing clarification. When the person reads it in Swahili, the pastors will shout out the passage after them, line by line.

“And Jesus said—”

“AND JESUS SAID!”

“Be holy—”

“HOLY!”

“As I am holy.”

“AS I AM HOLY!”

(This is not a specific example, but I chose it because my church has a strong focus on holiness.)

I do not understand why this repetition is necessary since the person already read it, but it makes me smile.

 

I am grateful for my church and the countless ways my friends there have helped me and loved me. I am glad God is a God of humor, too; it makes life enjoyable.

Do you have any similar experiences to these five, either from translation error or from having an animated pastor? Comment below if so!

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.

 

 

 

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. ❤