Pursuing a Deeper Dialogue on Race | Mike's Story

Read Part I.

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In the wake of the recent events in Charlottesville, I thought our pastors and friends might take heart with this story of an unlikely and growing cross-cultural friendship. Thanks for sharing, Mike!

— Brandon Shields, Lead Pastor of Soma Church & Sojourn Network Board Member

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After the two police shootings of unarmed black men happened in July, and soon after the police shootings Dallas, I was very burdened and grieved the days following. As a black man living in this country, not only was I saddened by the shootings that took place, but also by the divide that I was beginning to notice within the body of Christ between whites and blacks (and other minorities). After processing these events for a few days, I decided to send an email to everyone in my Missional Community (MC). My goal in sending this email was to share my heart surrounding those recent events, my experiences as a black man in this country, and how those events affected me personally. My goal was to open up dialogue within our group, and to let them know that I was willing to dialogue further within anyone who was interested in stepping into the conversation.

After sending the email, I quickly received a lot of positive feedback from members of my MC, thanking me for opening up and sharing my heart. One of those emails was from Ryan Lambert. He told me that he very much appreciated me opening up to the group and for sharing my personal experiences. He said that he would love to get together for coffee or a meal and have a time where we could dialogue more and share our experiences surrounding race. About a week later we did just that. We met up for dinner and had a chance to have a deeper dialogue, ask questions, and share our stories regarding race.

Leading up to meeting Ryan for dinner, I was excited but also a little nervous. This would be the first time that I was having an intentional conversation pressing into the topic of race with someone from within the church (outside of a few conversations here and there). God would quickly show that he would bear much fruit from this time together. Overall, it was a great time of learning from one another. Ryan asked lots of intentional questions wanting to know my experiences as a black man, both in society and in the church. He also shared with me his experiences growing up in his hometown, and how these experiences shaped much of his views on race. I made a point to let Ryan know that he could be open to ask any questions that were on his mind, and that he shouldn’t hold back from fear of offending me. My hope is that this freed him up to ask questions and learn new things that he might not have had the opportunity to know in prior experiences. Looking back on that time, one of the biggest blessings from the meeting was simply having a brother from a completely different racial context pressing into this issue, and showing care and concern. Ending that meeting, we made a commitment to not let the talks end that night, and to continue the dialogue.

In the weeks and months following that initial meeting with Ryan, God continued working in our own lives and in the lives of others in the church. As we set out to do, we continued our dialogue on racial reconciliation. We began to ask the question of what it would look like for our church to truly begin pursuing racial reconciliation with one another. This dialogue has also sparked conversations with others in the church, and it has been encouraging to see what God is starting to do in within our body.

I have also been able to meet up consistently with two other brothers in the church in Max Goldenberg (who initiated these meetings) and Jingo de la Rosa. These meetings have focused on talking about our experiences surrounding race, and ways that we can press into this topic as well as encourage others to do the same. These ‘meetups’ (as we like to call them) with those brothers have sparked conversations with others that have joined in. Others who have been able to join these meetings have been Pastor Phil Edwards, James Pascascio, and James Armstrong, who have all offered their wisdom and encouragements on how we can continue to press into this tough topic as a church. It is clear that God is moving within our body, and I am looking forward to seeing all that he does in the months and years to come.

I would like to leave those reading this with two encouragements.

  1. The first would be to not let fear or discouragement prevent you from entering into this conversation with others. I believe that God desires his church to pursue deeper relationship within a community, and entering into this conversation is a major, if not vital, part of this.
  2. My second encouragement would be to stay committed to this for the long haul. Having one or two conversations and then moving on from it will not do. Instead, what is needed is lasting commitment from those of all ethnic backgrounds to continue to press in and seek true unity.

As we continue to be intentional in pursuing racial reconciliation as a church, I am confident that God will use our church to impact our city in helping to bring restoration and unity amongst all people groups.

Mike

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