I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama during the turmoil of the late sixties and early seventies. As a young white girl I cared about injustice and racism but I didn’t know how to respond. I grew to hate anything that felt like discrimination, including organizations that kept others out with rules and fees. Sometimes I wanted to pretend that what I saw on the news did not really exist. My exposure to people of color was limited to distant star athletes, kind church custodians, and a couple of history teachers who did not live in my neighborhood.

In high school, I became friends with an African-American classmate. She and I shared common interests and were a lot alike. We both had strong families who taught us that following Jesus meant loving others. We both avoided science courses and thrived in English and drama. We were creative and comfortable speaking in front of large groups of people. On one occasion, our teacher paired us as co-narrators for a school program. We worked together to choose our attire (we thought our coordinated outfits were awesome) and to practice our lines. But each afternoon our relationship ended when school was over. We attended different churches. We never went to the movies together. We never met at the mall or spent the night at each other’s home.

As an adult I have had more opportunity to interact with people of color. Even so, my connections have been professional. In spite of my good intentions, most of my friends have looked like me.

Four years ago when Jim and I moved to Albany, Georgia, we became a members of a racially diverse church. The experience proved to be more significant than I imagined.

walls fall downI am different because Miss Flo and Mr. Ernest, Michael, Jessica, and other people of color opened their hearts and shared their lives with me.

Mr. Ernest is a deep thinker who filters his personal experiences through the lens of Scripture. I have grown as we studied the Bible together.

Miss Flo’s life-giving embrace and words of encouragement reminded me of God’s presence and love.

Michael walked through tremendous adversity with courage that comes from a profound faith in God. His personal integrity makes me want to be a better person.

My friend Jessica humbly serves her faith community in quiet ways. She capably juggles multiple responsibilities, never requiring appreciation or recognition.

 

Now when I think about justice and opportunity, the issues seem more complex. I have a new perspective because I see current events through the eyes of my friends.  They in turn, have watched my life and listened to me.

In the past, the tragic events of last week would have caused me to grieve and then channel my childhood. I would have looked away, choosing to fill my time and thoughts with other things because the news was just too painful to consider. I might have jumped on a political bandwagon because a leader seemed to have a plan.

But today, I reflect in a new way, not minimizing the pain and the problems, but offering a proclamation of hope.

I have seen a glimmer of light, a place of healing and reconciliation. I have seen the church—imperfect and messy, but open and forgiving and filled with love.

My experience worshipping, serving, and breaking bread with a racially diverse congregation tells me the church is a place where trust can be built. Believers from all backgrounds can learn to love and to listen. We can put aside our agendas for the sake of community. We can forgive. We can grieve the past and work for the future. We can serve one other.

Because of what Christ accomplished on the cross, we can bring the barriers down.

I don’t mean to suggest that the church is the only place where people of different races can become friends, but I do believe that when we worship, fellowship, and serve our communities together, Jesus will be in our midst.

 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  1 Corinthians 3:17

The Spirit of God will free us to pursue what is in another’s best interest, to sacrifice on their behalf, to give up keeping score, to forgive, and to love without thought of return. No longer an idea, these things become our experiences — the building blocks of rich relationships.

I don’t know what it would look like for you to spiritually engage with a racially diverse group of people. Maybe it’s as simple as meeting with a prayer partner on a regular basis. Maybe there’s a Bible study in your community where people of different races gather. Maybe you and your colleagues could meet before work to share and pray for one another. Maybe you should lead your church forward to connect with believers of another color on frequent occasions in meaningful ways. Perhaps you should seek out a community of believers who reflects the racial makeup of your city and connect with them.

Although I can’t tell you the steps you should take, I can assure you that if you begin to seek opportunity, God will open all kinds of doors. Jesus wants us to be united — it’s the prayer he prayed on our behalf. That unity means much more than avoiding church fights about the music or time of services. The unity that Jesus wants and died to provide, will occur when believers thoughtfully and purposefully love one another in the pursuit of God’s agenda as opposed to their own.

Today I am praying for direction and opportunity. Perhaps you should too.

May God’s peace and his healing occur in me and through me as I seek small ways and large opportunities to cross the racial divide and bring the barriers down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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