Are We There Yet?
Summer resurrects bittersweet memories for me. Hazy sunlight streaming through dusty windshields. Spats with my sibling in the back seat. Taking turns imploring my dad, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”
My dad would reply, “Almost there.” Unlike long drives with my dad, our country is not almost there. Somewhere along the pathway to racial equality we as a society have lost our way. It is time to find our way back home.
We awoke several times this past week, yet again, to black men killed by law enforcement. This tragedy has repeated itself 114 times already this year. Both, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were shot without a trial. Although they are not the first to be downed by police officers, their deaths have caused an eruption of rage and shouts of injustice, the likes of which we haven’t seen in America for quite some time. The incidents of the last week could, in fact, be our tipping point.
The names Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Lorne Ahrens, and many other faces we have come to know only through their senseless deaths, will reside foremost in the minds of your students and adult volunteers in the coming weeks. As leaders, our focus will be to emotionally support and equip our lay leaders and students with resources on how to handle cases like Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, the 5 Dallas Officers, and the ones to come, through a lens of truth. While these recent tragedies may have pushed our culture to a tipping point, it will not bring lasting change until we face some of the reasons we ended up here in the first place. We must admit that we, as the church are responsible for setting a tone of reconciliation in our culture, especially in how we treat one another. Are we there yet?
In dealing with any issue, we must first acknowledge the reality of the situation. Of the 114 cases, many prominently feature black men. This undisputed fact may make us feel uncomfortable, but if we’re going to deal with the issue of race, in both spirit and truth, then we must acknowledge the truth: 40% of all people killed by law enforcement in our country are black males. Many of us become fearful dealing with the issue of prejudice because we dread what we will discover if we look too closely at our own hearts. Wes Moore, author of the book “The Other Wes Moore” presents the argument that, although we are apprehensive, we must run towards and not away from the issue of racism if we’re going to make lasting peace in America.
Second, we must address the issue that many of the men involved in these incidents come from marginalized and poverty-stricken environments. Many of us minster in middle-to-wealthy socio-class churches, which makes it extremely difficult for us to identify with someone like Alton Sterling. Even if we grew up in the poor neighborhood, we may not truly comprehend these cases unless we begin to understand what it means to be both poor and an African American male.
The answer to increasing awareness is building bridges with churches in marginalized and impoverished communities. They don’t need our charity. They are already surviving battles that we have never witnessed and are ill-equipped to fight. Instead, we should suffer alongside them. When we see ourselves reflected in the eyes of another, joining in their suffering, we begin to see God in them. Often our ministry programs jump at mission opportunities in another country, which is what the gospel calls us to do. However, we must value people in our community just as much. Attitudes and values begin to change when we deeply connect with people through suffering.
Last, like every generation before us, the people of God are struggling with how to embrace the marginalized in society. Sometimes we shout at the top of our lungs that we see no oppression, so it must not be there. We must humble ourselves and lean in, to move alongside those ignored by culture and hold up their arms as they fight the oppression. Then we will see the oppression by experiencing the suffering it causes. In the Old Testament, God repeatedly implored his people from the book of Exodus throughout Ezekiel to look beyond their own reality and see the pain and suffering around them—a command that was repeatedly ignored to the detriment of the people and their relationship with God.
The book of Exodus provides a beautiful picture of how we should empower one another. After an arduous journey out of Egypt and many long years of wandering, the people of God, led by Moses, were fighting for survival. Moses held up his hands and the staff of God as his people were victorious. If his hands grew fatigued the battle could be lost. It came time for Moses to no longer stand alone. He was battle weary and his arms were beginning to weaken. For the battle to be fought and won, Moses needed a partner on his left and a partner on his right to help hold us his hands. Only together could the battle be won.
To destroy racism, we must all unify as one body, standing together, empowering each other with the power that is within us. Let’s explore some practical ways we can guide our students into destroying racial boundaries.
Youth imitate what they see. Whenever possible, intentionally model relationships with someone different from you. Exposure to beautiful art cultivates appreciation and respect for art of all types. The same occurs when you view God’s beautiful creativity. We can’t help but honor his creation.
Recently, YS held a Google Hangout with youth workers from all across the U.S. to discuss how we can shepherd students in the wake of last week’s tragedies. Along with the Google Hangout, YS released all the seminars and Big Room sessions on multiculturalism in the Church from last year’s National Youth Workers Convention for FREE. Watch the Hangout and check out all those resources HERE.
Educate your students
Create unique experiences for your students to learn about racial injustices in your own communities. Replace one of your upcoming youth group nights with a field trip to go and hangout with another youth group that is made up of people of a different race and socio-economic backgrounds. You could also reach out to your local law enforcement and invite a police officer who is a Christian to come and share about how they are processing the recent tragedies. These types of experiences could help trigger some powerful discussion opportunities with your students.
United with one singular purpose—to end these tragedies—we cannot fail. Are we there yet? No, we still have some ways to go before we rest. But I will not go quietly into the good night. I am ready to run towards the fight, to grab hold of my brothers and sisters’ arms and empower them to keep raising the banner of peace high. Are you?
Maina Mwaura loves to provoke thought to student leaders minds. He is the husband of one wife and the has a two year old daughter name Zyan. Maina, lives in Huntsville, Al. He can be reached at MAINASPEAKS.COM
Sabrena Klausman is the author of Zombie Christian, the sacred undead, and has served more than sixteen years as a pastor’s wife, church planter, and curriculum-writer.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.