In the midst of what has easily been the most emotionally difficult season of my professional and personal life as a Christian Black man in America, I find myself reflecting on my experiences this past week at InterVarsity’s Multi-Ethnic Staff Conference 2015, in Orlando, Florida.
The humility of two national leaders to begin the conference with apologizing for wounds inflicted unintentionally by their actions set the course for the week. The Urbana 15 Worship Team maintained an atmosphere that invited the presence of God every time they took the stage.
The Speakers were prophetic! All of them.
Vice President Paula Fuller challenged us to press into the difficulty of the moment and re-dig wells of prayer, multi-ethnicity and racial-reconciliation that had been filled (Genesis 26).
National Asian-American Ministries Director Joe Ho led an ethnic inductive bible study of Ephesians 2, and opened the door for our Christian Native American brothers and sisters to touch the hearts of everyone in the room.
Abner Ramos (@abnerramos139) reminded me I have dignity regardless of my funding level, while addressing systemic issues around funding and challenging misconceptions about immigration by sharing his own story.
Moani Sitch opened her heart and guided us in a lament of the brokenness in our world and our organization.
Dora Yiu (@yiu_can_tweet) told us all: DON’T MISS THIS MOMENT. It is a unique time. We have all missed moments. Don’t miss this one. (Preach Dora!)
Chris Nichols, in his usual prophetic nature, announced multi-ethnicity and racial-reconciliation weren’t side seminars, but seminal values that we pursue not because it’s the flavor of the month, but because it is what the gospel declares and Christ demands…until we are dead and see Him face to face.
The one and only National Black Campus Ministries Director Rev. Phil Bowling-Dyer (@PhilBowlingDyer) summarized the week by saying, “God has given us seeds…and good seed is a terrible thing to waste.” Then he opened his heart and invited us into his neighborhood, showing how he is working with his community to make sure what happened in Ferguson doesn’t happen where he lives. He declared and demonstrated fear should never trump our faith.
As powerful as the conference was, perhaps what will stay with me most are moments I shared with my friend and brother, Jason Philipose. JP and I have been friends for years, since we were classmates in college. We support and challenge each other. We debriefed the conference midway, discussed our own progress and shortcomings with racial-reconciliation, and were both in awe of the words of Dr. Sam Barkat, its first VP of Multi-Ethnic Ministries, who was honored during the conference. Full of wisdom, faith, and humility, Dr. Barkat paved the way for everything that happened that week long before most of us were in the room.
JP and I got the chance to sit down and have breakfast with Dr. Barkat the final morning of the conference. He told us his experience in joining InterVarsity. He told us about the first South Asian Staff to join the movement, looked at both of us in our thirties, and imparted generational wisdom that JP and I will be unpacking for years to come. He said in a few sentences what all the speakers had been saying all week.
I hope all of us, not just within InterVarsity but Christians around the world, do what Dr. Barkat challenged JP and I to do: listen to each other. Advocate for each other across cultures. Multi-ethnicity and racial reconciliation cannot be a black/white issue any longer. Are there issues there still? Yes. Have we resolved the past in the present to set the course for the future? No, but we are making progress.
We will, however, never get there if our focus is only Black/White relations. I grieved as I listened to Courtland, a Native American IV staff, share the realities facing his people and how they are often and sadly forgotten. I questioned who was the first South Asian IV Staff and what is their story? (Dr. Barkat gave us homework.) What is my voice and role in helping heal relations in Asian contexts where there is discord? How can I reach the street and affirm my white friends who want to work to change systemic issues but feel stuck themselves? How do I make sure my bi-racial friends never feel left out of the conversation? How do I leverage my voice, influence, and resources to advocate for the Latino community at the level I do my own?
These are the questions I am wrestling with. More than wrestling with the questions, I am looking to make progress on these issues to create a better community, not just pontificate on the situation or give surface answers that never result in systemic, real change.
Oil and water do not go together. You can stir them, blend them, or boil them together. It doesn’t matter. They will not stay together very long. In order to get the two together, you need an emulsifier. Oil and water with an egg as an emulsifier gives you mayonnaise. Many of ethnic groups cannot seem to get along. Whether it’s conflicts in Asia, Africa, or within the U.S., peace seems to always avoid us. We need each other, but we also need an emulsifier.
The Gospel of Jesus is just that. It crosses ethnic lines and socio-economic statuses. The gospel in the hands a Black man can help heal Asian wounds across countries and generations. A Latino mom may give a ride to a black kid walking home in the rain because she sees “a son” not “a suspect.” A Asian-American woman can affirm and speak to white identity in ways I may not be able to. A South Asian man can work with a group of black college students, depositing seeds of reconciliation that will produce fruit for years to come. White Christians who want to see race relations and systemic injustice change may be welcomed with open arms rather than suspicion when they are joined by Asian and Latino advocates. Christian Native Americans can humble us all, and remind us there is far more to lose than we imagine. The Latino voice may be what brings the different ethnic groups to the table to finally have an adult conversation on race and ethnicity in the United States. The list goes on and on and on…
Either way, we need each other. We need to listen to each other, for the sake of our immortal souls.
Dr. King was right. “We must end racism in all of its evil forms. We will either have peaceful coexistence or mutual co-annihilation.”