I love my church in Atlanta. I’ve written about it in the past in What I Love About Atlanta. The thing that most attracted me to my church was the diversity. The members reflected the city of Atlanta. The leaders were reflective of the membership. It was Martin Luther King Jr. who said that Sunday is the most segregated day in America. For my church that just isn’t true. It’s a beautiful thing for the local Body to represent the diversity that is found within Christianity. It is a microcosm of the global Church and demonstrates to the world that despite differences in race, age, marital status, ethnicity, socio-economic level or education, we are still united by one God and the shed blood of his Son on the cross.
Over the past eight months I have served on a team of 10 adults. We have a passion for Africa. We felt God’s call to devote at least two and half years of our lives to serving the people of Clove Island. We are all white. But that’s no problem, I thought. We are a small team. We are not representative of our organization or of African outreach, in general.
Two days ago I arrived at a training in Kenya where we have the opportunity to meet and interact with other workers from our company. They have come from all corners of Africa and following training, we will return to those areas. There are 46 of us. We come from 12 different countries. Eight languages are spoken as a mother tongue. Forty-one of us are white, four are Asian, and one is black.
Race is such a touchy topic. White people, especially of my generation, tip toe around this subject. Growing up listening to Counting Crows I learned that we should all be colorblind. But the reality is that God created each of us to look a certain way. He selected the color of our skin and we can choose to be resentful, or to feel superior or to give Him glory based on that.
The fact is that having white skin in Africa means something. In many ways I am hindered. I stick out wherever I go and no wardrobe selection will ever change that. My skin color has stereotypes attached to it. Depending on the country or region it can mean different things, positive or negative, but it will always mean something. Skin color is never neutral in Africa. I have many unique opportunities simply because I am white living and working in Africa.
But when I look at a room full of white people learning about working and living among Africans, I am saddened. How many opportunities are being missed because of the lack of black or African-American workers? Especially in the Muslim world. Black Africans are often treated as second-class citizens in their religion. The Quran teaches about faces being blackened or whitened on Judgment Day, which is taught to be metaphorical. It is harder to dismiss reports in the hadiths as being metaphorical when they link original skin color to eternal destiny: “Abu Darda’ reported God’s messenger as saying, “God created Adam when He created him and struck his right shoulder and brought forth his offspring white like small ants. And he struck his left shoulder and brought forth his offspring BLACK as though they were charcoal. Then He said to the party on his right said, ‘To paradise, and I do not care’, and He said to the party in his left shoulder ‘To hell, and I do not care’.” Ahmad transmitted it. (Mishkat Al Masabih, English translation with explanatory notes by Dr. James Robson [Sh. Muhammad Ahsraf Publishers, Booksellers & Exporters, Lahore-Pakistan, Reprint 1990], Volume I, Chapter IV, Book I.- Faith, pp. 31-32)”
I have listened to the conversations of many island friends bemoaning the racism they feel directed at them when Arab Muslims visit the islands.
But they look at me for something different and they still see a white man’s religion. How can I show them the equality that is found in Christianity? There is no hierarchy in the kingdom of God. We are adopted into God’s family based on the sacrifice of Jesus- who was NOT a white man with blue eyes.
I am speaking to black Americans in particular, because as a fellow American, I can. There is a need at home. I do not want to dismiss that truth. People are still lost in America. There is violence and crime, poverty and drugs, homelessness and orphans all in our own country. Many inner-city neighbors are much more dangerous than Clove Island. So why should you go somewhere else when there is so much need at home?
Why? Because Jesus called you to do so. Two thousand years ago, Jesus gave his followers a directive. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19-20 (italics added). Two thousand years later, we have not completed this task that was given to us. Of the world’s 16,000 people groups, approximately 7,000 are considered unreached by the gospel. Eighty-six percent of Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus do not even know a Christian! How can this be? How can we be content to live in our comfortable Christian bubble when people are dying without ever having been given the choice to follow a different path?
This burden to go can no longer be only the white man’s burden. The world needs to see the diversity of the Church at work in the world. Africans needs to see black Americans at work among them. Clove Islanders need to recognize and see demonstrated that all are equal in the sight of God.
John Piper once wrote, “There are only three kinds of Christians […]: zealous goers, zealous senders, and disobedient. May God deliver us from disobedience!”
I am blessed to have the support of many African-American “zealous senders”. I would not be here without them. Where are the “zealous goers”? Come. We are waiting.