Last time I wrote here, I shared a recent and very awkward conversation I’d had with a Native American gentleman, a man who’s previous encounters with missionaries had convinced him that there was no such thing as a good one, an encounter made all the more awkward because my children were standing right there listening.
I was a bit surprised by how many of you responded and I truly appreciated your kind comments, wise observations, and the wealth of your own personal experiences shared.
One dear mentor friend, however, graciously and ever so gently challenged me and my response to this man.
While she agreed with me that what happened to him was not my responsibility, she also pointed out that he is a casualty of “white privilege” or a system that has granted me and others who look like and behave like me lots of opportunity while oppressing and almost militantly hindering any escape from that oppression so many others who are different… or foreign… or immigrant. While I did not “build that house,” I have grown up and lived my life taking for granted at best and sometimes assuming entitlement at worst to all the freedoms, licenses, prospects and hopes as though they result from something I’ve worked hard to achieve. I have grown up and lived my life under the shelter of that edifice, benefiting from a system that I find abhorrent.
It is all the more repugnant as I discover I’m unwittingly a part of it, and possibly unknowingly propagating it in said ignorance.
Quite frankly, when I responded to the gentleman that day at the Crazy Horse Monument, I sincerely wanted to kindly, gently, compassionately, and graciously address him. But my priority truly was, “What in the world are my kids thinking.” So in hindsight, I was far more concerned with what I perceived to be their needs and their shocked, questioning faces than owning what my people had done to his people many years ago. As BFGuy noted in the comments section:
“Sometimes the people of God do things in the name of God that brings shame to the heart of God.”
I wanted to protect my kids; I did not want them to see that side of Christianity. I felt defensive and definitely “put on the spot.”
God does that sometimes. Sometimes He gifts us with a chance to be tested. Just ask Job. And sometimes, we fail… and need to seek forgiveness… but then move on and learn from our mistakes. It is humbling that God risks trusting us, already knowing what we will do, already knowing He will have to redeem our mistakes.
My friend so kindly acknowledged my predicament, but also pointed out how I missed the opportunity for such a teachable moment, to model for my children how to set aside my story for the moment and to care about someone else and their story above my own. He’d just shared with me a litany of horrible and heartbreaking experiences, a childhood full of pain, confusion, anger and sorrow. Yet in trying to answer the question he posed, I forgot that Jesus does not need me to defend Him. Instead, He wants me to be His voice, His hands, His heart broken for the lost and hurting in a world that needs Him. My words shifted the focus from the man’s story and his pain to my story and my justification for what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Was it any wonder that his response was an angry, resistant one?
Then my friend continued, “…notice his change of heart when you threw him a bone, that you would share his story with missionary friends.” It was that moment that the conversation shifted back to his story and not my own. It was also at that moment that his angry tone and accusing gaze began to dissipate.
At first, despite the gentle rebuke of my friend, I really wanted to believe my answer had been a good one. It might have been… at a different time and in a different place. But as I think back through my years of parenting, when one of my children deeply hurts and I can’t fix it, a quiet, broken-hearted willingness to let my child see my own tears – tears for his pain – that speaks most to hurting hearts. Listening and saying nothing other than asking for permission to cry with him because I can see the results of wounds…? That has been my best response.
In a sense, I had that opportunity with that gentleman then and there, but I did not take it… or at least, did not do so as well as I could have – and I’m learning again the same lesson Job’s friends needed to learn.
I really hadn’t planned on writing about this topic again, but my thoughts continued returning to this encounter and the responses I received. That is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful possibilities of this forum. We can not only encourage and build up one another, but we can also share what we are learning and lovingly exhort each other when we see red flags.
I probably still would have moved on to another topic... until I read the blog post referenced in the title.
This is not a thing of the past at all.
It is, in fact, one of those “Really? Still?” tragedies of the church today: well-meaning we may be, but that doesn’t keep Christians… missionaries… from hurting those we strive to serve, those we think we are helping and saving.
We must learn to accept responsibility for (as both individuals and a group) and own those mistakes, to truly learn to weep with those we have hurt regardless of how innocently, and to then seek forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration through time and those tears.
“We do not, after all, simply have experience; we are entrusted with it. We must do something–make something–with it…”
Can you think of a time when you did more harm than good? Are you willing to share your experience and how you learned from it?
What is your experience with “white privilege?” How can we best combat this problem as international workers?
Richelle Wright, missionary on home assignment from Niger, W. Africa