For Those Who Can’t Speak

I can’t stop crying.

There’s so much grief in this world right now.  I am praying for friends who have lost fathers and mothers and siblings during this time and cannot even be there with them in their last moments or attend a funeral to honor their lives.  My heart breaks for a family I don’t even know who has two teenage sons in the hospital with COVID.  All I can picture each time I pray is my own two boys.  How does a mom deal with that much uncertainty and sorrow at once? But one of the biggest things my heart has been hurting over is the brutal murder of Ahmaud Arbery.  Jogging, unarmed and unthreatening, but taken from this world simply because of the color of his skin.  I was agonizing at how far we still have to go when it comes to seeing everyone as an equal.  Then came Breonna Walker – shot eight times in her own house when police officers entered the wrong house.   And now another victim, George Floyd, has lost his life and we are mourning again the brokenness of a world where people can simply ignore a man saying, “I can’t breath.”

I hesitate to write this because I am a white woman – how can I speak to this?  I KNOW I have so much to learn.  I am thankful for my friends who have experienced this kind of racism first hand and are willing to listen to my ignorant questions and answer me in truthful ways.  I will never understand it by experience, but I can learn and empathize,  and speak the truth of it.  It is my responsibility to educate myself and learn these things – it is not the job of the black community to do this for me.

I will say this –  I didn’t understand white privilege was real until I moved to a place where I was the minority. Even then I experienced a tiny little glimpse of being singled out for my skin color, but often it opened doors and gave opportunities that the people I loved and served alongside didn’t have. I remember one situation in Malawi where a local family we worked with was in the public hospital.  My friend had gone in to have a baby.  The pregnancy had been complicated, but the baby was full term.  While she was in surgery because she was bleeding the baby was left in the nursery in care of the nurses.  He died because he choked on his own spit up.  He was healthy and doing well – but the lack of attention caused him to die before his mama even got to know him. The nurses denied it many times and then finally admitted to it but still said it wasn’t their fault because the mom should be watching the baby – even though she was in surgery.  Childless with no hope for a future child is a bleak place to be in that culture.   She went into severe depression.  Still the hospital refused to discharge her and kept charging money.  They wouldn’t get her the records so she could have them.  In despair her husband called and asked us to help.  I marched into the room, packed her things, went to the finance office to pay the bill but demanded the records first.  With a wad of cash in sight and an angry white American in front of them they handed the records over. I took her out of there and home where I tucked her into bed and wept with her.  She had missed the funeral of her son because they wouldn’t let her leave.  She didn’t even have a picture.

I did so many things that day I swore I would never do.  I played the “white card” to the full extent I knew how because I knew that my skin color and the money I carried meant power.  Though I “paid the bill” we all knew it was a bribe, so much more than the actual bill and especially under the circumstances.  Paying bribes was something I was fundamentally against, but I didn’t think twice about it in that situation.  I verbally ripped apart the people in charge and railed against the system in ways no missionary is supposed to do.  I demanded, yelled, threatened, and got my way. And I knew I would – I had the confidence to do it because I had the right skin color to get away with it.

Honestly, in that situation, I would do it again.

The truth is sometimes my skin color played against me in Africa, especially when it came to police corruption.  But in the current climate here I realize that even that was minimal.  I might have had to pay more for a bogus fine, but I was not worried about being physically harmed by the police.  Overall I started to really understand what the term “white privilege” meant.  I can’t tell you how many times I watched Kenyan friends get patted down and have to empty their bags while going through security at a mall, but I could give them a quick glance as I flashed open my bag and get a wave through. These things seem like little things – but it’s the compilation of these “little things” that chips away at a person’s dignity and honor.

As a woman I have experienced the feeling of being looked down upon – especially within the church around the world.  I’ve been told that the gifts and passions God has instilled in me should be toned down or somehow worked out through my husband. Isn’t is good enough to be the Pastor’s wife?  There have also been times in this world I felt powerless or threatened because of my gender.  When a catcall crosses lines or a man thinks he can comment on or touch your body without permission.  Every woman alive knows what it feels like to be made into an object somehow.   Again – very real and very wrong.  However, even this idea is changing in most developed countries.  Especially in America and in church, the thought has drastically changed from the idea that being a woman makes my life less valuable.  But what of the life of Breonna?  Does being a black woman mean you still need to fear for your safety no matter where you are or what time we are in?  Even in your own home?  How can we be so evolved in one sense, yet we still can’t see past color.

I’ve talked with a close friend about what it means to raise a young black male in this day and age, and I was so appalled to learn the things she understood she needed to teach her son – things I would not think twice about.  She lovingly yet firmly rebuked my initial, “That can’t be true” remark, and as I remembered she was a person who always spoke hard truth, I apologized and tried to reset my thought process.   As we talked more I asked, “How can I teach my children when it comes to this issue of race?  How can I raise them to be a part of the solution rather than feed into it more?”  The biggest answers were awareness, education, acknowledgment, and action.  Aware that their skin color brings them a privilege that others do not have.  Being educated in the things happening around them and speaking into that rather than putting their head in the sand because they don’t fully understand it or are nervous to speak to it. Acknowledgement that it is not fair, but that it is real.  Action to use their own voices and resources to stand with their friends who cannot do this without fear of retribution.  I’m proud of the kids I have raised as I watch them navigate this in a way of passion and boldness I never even understood needed to be there when I was their age.  I hear them stand up for friends and speak against the comments and actions of people that are suppose to be “harmless” because they understand that words are powerful and actions sometimes speak louder than words when it comes to shaping the way a person thinks and acts.

But we all still have a long, long way to go.

Church – what are we doing?  We should be leading the forefront of this battle – we have had the ultimate reconciliation with God! We should be truth-bearers of reconciliation with each other! But I fear that out of ignorance, unbelief, or our own selfish hearts that lean towards racism we are just fueling the flame.  I don’t have the answers.  But we need to start pleading for wisdom to the One who does.  We cannot bury our heads and ignore it because it “didn’t happen here” or “what can I do” or “who would listen to me?”  We can’t be afraid of finding those friends who HAVE experienced this and who are willing to let us ask them the hard questions.   We cannot shy away from the rebuke we may need as we start to have our eyes opened to the realities for so many.  As a church, and as brothers and sisters who love Jesus, we should be a safe place for all people – race, gender, age, sex, culture, economic status, immigration status.  We need to understand that when we see #blacklivesmatter it doesn’t go without saying and we downplay this message by adding anything else to that hashtag.  If we really think all lives matter, we should ask ourselves why the phrase “black lives matter” is such a trigger for us.  Pro-life is just as important after a person is born.

I don’t know the answers.  I am sure that even in these few paragraphs I have gotten something wrong.  I’ll be honest – I started this blog right after the news of Ahmaud broke, but then let it sit.  After a couple weeks I kept thinking, “I will say the wrong thing, there’s no point in bringing it up again.”  Then Breonna was killed.  Then George.  I can’t keep silent for fear of of saying it wrong or backlash. Well, I COULD – that’s my privilege within the skin I was born, as unfair as that is.  It is also a big part of the problem.  You’ve probably seen the quote by Benjamin Franklin that says, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are just as outraged as those who are.”   Though I’ve been sad, angry, even appalled, I’ve stayed quiet.  But I will not any longer, because my heart, my conscience, my soul will not allow it. Because I love many people who do not look like me.  Because it is my calling as a follower of Jesus.  It’s time.

“A scared world needs a fearless church.”  AW Tozer.  It’s time to be fearless.

 

 

Beast of Burden

2016

“Bullet is just eating everything, leaves, trees, ground, person. Eating them. Just making person to bleed everywhere. We are just like wild animals now, with no place to be going. Sun, why are you shining at this world? I am wanting to catch you in my hands, to squeeze you until you can not shine no more. That way, everything is always dark and nobody’s ever having to see all the terrible things that are happening here.”     -Agu, Beasts of No Nation

(Warning, if you haven’t watched Beasts of No Nation and want to without knowing the story, don’t read any further.  There will be spoilers.)

Tonight I watched a movie that just about ripped my heart out.  I had to stop it several times and compose myself.  Beasts of No Nation was filmed in Ghana and is about an unnamed country in Africa.  But honestly, I felt like I was watching a documentary of South Sudan.  It has taken criticism from some, talking about how it makes it seem like all of Africa is one in the same.  To me, it just reminds me that all of the world – all of humanity – is the same.  We are broken.  We are evil at heart.  We are hurting and surviving living a world of people who are hurting and surviving.  There are things out of our control, out of our reach that we feel we cannot do anything about, and so we turn a blind eye and deaf ear.

Until we know the Truth.

I watched in horror as  Agu’s family was killed by rogue, power-hungry government soldiers and he ran.  I watched, sobbing, as he was captured by rebel soldiers and initiated into “manhood.” I covered my face and felt sick to my stomach as he killed his first man – an engineer there to build new roads and not involved in the war at all – with a machete, and then I couldn’t stop looking in shocked horror as he hacked and hacked after that first blow because his little, abused, boy body and mind were so filled with anger and  sorrow and confusion.  I almost gagged as the Commandant, a charismatic sociopath made Agu feel like he was his father, yet brought him into his bed and did unspeakable things to him.

This movie is not for the faint of heart, but I believe you should watch it.  (Not children!  This is not a family movie!)  It will make you react in ways that you should question and process – especially if you have children or if you know anyone who lives in places like this.  It will remind you what so many people are facing and dealing with.  It will be a call to prayer and battle.

My thoughts and heart were giving me whiplash as I went back and forth between remembering the boys in Mundri who could very well be facing these situations in their lives, and my own boys – particularly RJ, who is about the age that Agu is in the movie.

I thought of the boys who made signs for our house when we first moved to Mundri.  We played Uno together to learn Arabic numbers and colors.  My kids baked delicious pumpkin bread with them.  They helped do work around town to earn Futball jerseys, and would work full days to get these precious gifts.  The loved wrestling and John Cena and Futball  (Soccer) and Fanta.  They went to school when it was open and studied hard to pass exams, which were their only hope out.  They climbed mango trees and ate until their bellies were extended during mango season.  They played with my boys – slingshots, fishing, ball, running around and exploring.  These are the kids that the monsters are targeting.  These are the same types of boys that are picking up machine guns and killing whole villages, that are slaughtering with machetes, raping women who could be their mom’s age, and traveling with some of the most dangerous men you could ever meet.  But here’s the kicker for me – these are not just boys on a movie or in a book or the news cast.  I now KNOW these boys.  The have real names, faces, families, dreams.

And RJ…my RJ.  What would he do if I was taken from him, or John, Andrew, and Shawn were killed in front of him.  What if Anna was given, kicking and screaming, to a soldier for his payment that month because there was no more money and the soldiers on both sides were demanding some sort of compensation.  What if he were forced through an initiation like that, where it was kill or be killed?  Is it possible that his extremely sensitive heart and emotions could be hardened and perverted because of pain and trauma?  Of course it is…he is human.

And I can’t get my mind around it all.

Each day I hear news from South Sudan that makes me weep.  I read news about Syria and Brussles and other places and I just want to to turn my head and thank God that it’s not me.  Because he can’t really expect me to carry that pain with me all the time, can he?  What kind of burden can I bear?

“I saw terrible things… and I did terrible things. So if I’m talking to you, it will make me sad and it will make you too sad. In this life… I just want to be happy in this life. If I’m telling this to you… you will think that… I am some sort of beast… or devil. I am all of these things… but I also having mother… father… brother and sister once. They loved me.”  (Agu)

I plead, “Oh God of justice, please act.  Lord of mercy, intervene.  Father of Love, pour down your Spirit on this broken world.”  And he says, “I am here.  I am in you and my church – my bride.  I am present and I will overcome this evil.  But for now I want you to fight.”

Friends, it’s time to wake up and fight.  We cannot turn a blind eye anymore.  We need to remind this world that they do have a Father that loves them.

“Home” Warsan Shire

This poem has been all over the internet lately, but my sister sent it to me this morning and I find it so tragic and wrenching.  Even as I feel like I am settling into my home, I am aware that so many others are being forced to leave theirs in extreme ways.  My heart breaks for all of those people needing to leave home and yet having no where new to call home.  Running from something so evil that it overtakes everything and causes them to make decisions that would make no sense in any other setting.  I am also brimming with anger at the oppressors and the unjustness  of it all.  And I am so uncomprehending how anyone anywhere could be so cold, calloused, and cruel.  HOW can you look at another human being regardless of race, color, religion, or background and blindly kill with joy?  How can you see families torn apart, women destroyed, children with hollow eyes and swollen bellies and not want to do anything?  Even if you (like myself so often) have no idea what to do and feel overwhelmed by it the vastness of it, how could you still ignore?  But my words are simple and I can’t express it with enough emotion, so I repost this poem.

I would say enjoy, but that doesn’t seem quite right.  Instead, be open to the emotions brought on by Ms. Shire’s raw and powerful words.

“no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here”