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Recently, I was asked to write down some thoughts concerning what the March on Atlanta meant to me. I am sure the March had a profound impact on many. As a Latino man married to a black woman with 2 “mixed” kids leading a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic church, it was powerful, hopeful, and sobering.

Both my parents are immigrants – my father is from Cuba and my mother is from Colombia. Though each came to America under very different circumstances, both had the hope of a better life. 

I was born in Atlanta and I can remember some small details of that time. They were happy memories concerning my family and home. My father worked in an aluminum factory and was unsatisfied with city life. My mother worked many different jobs until she was able to start her own business cleaning houses. 

My father’s dream was to own some land and spend his days farming after work. My parents saved enough money and purchased 13 acres of land in the country. Around the age of 5, I can remember being taken to that piece of property in the middle of nowhere. There was a sense of excitement and not to mention the fun we had exploring those 13 acres of land. 

For me the feeling of excitement and adventure quickly changed once I started attending elementary school. You see, my parents had purchased land in Forsyth County in 1985. You don’t need to do an extensive Google search to find out how racially heated this part of town was. Bottom line – Forsyth County was home to a strong white supremacy mindset. I grew up always feeling like I didn’t belong because of the color of my skin and the funny language I spoke to my parents in front of my peers.

This racially charged environment caused a lot of hurt throughout my childhood. I can remember really wanting to be white in elementary school and hating not only my brown skin but my name. Regularly, I would hear new teachers go through roll call and dreading to hear my name. I would hear Ro – Ro -land – o, what kind of name is that? 

Inevitably I would say it’s me and pray the teacher would move on for the embarrassment of having to explain that my parents are not Mexican and Rolando is a Spanish name while students giggled in the background. Stories like this and many more racially charged conflicts filled my life for so many years.

A white couple recently asked me to share some stories about my upbringing. What a strange question I thought since no one has ever asked me exactly what I encountered. I started sharing story after story concerning my experiences in Forsyth. After I finished sharing, there was an awkward silence before we continued with our conversation. 

The question came up, “How did you get past that? How are you so free to talk about this?” Today I am 40 years old and I can tell you that only after a lot of time praying, forgiving, and even confessing have I been able to find healing in my heart. It was only through a series of steps in God’s grace that I could find this place of breakthrough.

By the grace of God was our family able to function and prevail through these times. My parents signed us up for sports, Boys Scouts, and the occasional visit by a white friend. On weekends we would leave the county to attend the Spanish church, and though race was never discussed, I was able to find a voice and some security with those that look like me. 

Standing on the stage at the March on Atlanta and seeing thousands of people openly worshiping Jesus with an intentional desire to call upon both God and civil authorities for justice and change only fueled the work of God in my heart for a true multi-cultural and multi-ethnic church to stand in confidence and proclaim the gospel. 

Having hope in Christ does not neglect the much-needed work for today’s issues. Especially in the work of reconciliation. Once in middle school, we were learning about the civil war and our teacher was being very clear that slavery was at the heart of this conflict. He went on to explain how slavery is wrong and that a slave does not have any rights to make choices.

He then asked the question to the class, “Do you understand what it means to not have rights?”. One of my good friends raised his hand and was called upon. My friend with a confused look said, “Do you mean like Rolando?”. My teacher was quick to correct him publicly and then my teacher did something I was not expecting. He took me outside the class and apologized to me and he apologized for what he believed I was going through in Forsyth. He built me up and made my 7th grade mind feel better. 

It was nice to have validation like that. It was the first time anyone had ever apologized to me for anything racial. As great as I felt at that time, I still had to go back and sit in the class with everyone else. There was a sense of confidence but also embarrassment/shame that filled the space. The work of reconciliation is not easy.

At the march, my wife and I had the opportunity to pray from the stage and when I received the mic I started praying in English. Then I started praying in Spanish. 

For a second I thought what am I doing, but I sensed the Holy Spirit say in a light hearted way, “It’s ok. God speaks Spanish.” 

The first time I ever stood on a platform in front of an English speaking crowd was in my elementary talent show program. My peers were doing magic shows, dances to NKOTB, and clogging performances. My brother and I stood up there and sang a Spanish worship song. In that environment, I felt out of place but with a sense of evangelism. At the March on Atlanta, when I prayed in Spanish the sense was that God is listening and change is coming.

As I said in the beginning, the March on Atlanta was powerful, hopeful, and sobering. Powerful because our prayers were not in vain, hopeful to see so many in the church desiring change, and sobering because much more needs to be done. Let me leave you with this scripture that must come alive in the church. John 13:34-35   “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 

God’s people must truly press into this kind of love. It can be uncomfortable, it can be challenging, and it can even seem counter culture. Church, let’s learn to love enough to change our broken systems and broken ideas to become the kind of church that will stand in the day of trouble. 

I’m tired.

It’s my birthday today. I turn 51 years old. 

I’m tired.

And though this phrase fits me perfectly about 98% of the time, the words aren’t from me. 

They are from my Non-White brothers and sisters. And here’s what I know – some of my White brothers and sisters just rolled their eyes and stopped reading because they too think, “Ugh…I’m tired of this.”

While one community is begging to be heard, seen, counted as human. 

The other has “had enough” of hearing about racism and wants to just focus on something else “for once” – without the lens of race. Not all – but enough that I see it and hear it regularly.

I’m tired.

One group of people cry out in frustration and anger at being sacrificed and marginalized for centuries. 

Another demands to stop “making everything about race” because it makes no sense that things could really STILL be about race. 

We are tired. 

If I’m honest, all I’ve thought about leading up to my Pandemic Birthday is “what have I done with my life?” 

Perhaps you recall the final scene in Schindler’s List ~ if the copyright police wouldn’t come after me, I’d post it here cause it’s ahmazing. ~

Oskar Schindler is given a gift inscribed with the Hebrew words, “He who saves one life, saves the world entire.” At the reality of how much more he could have done during the Holocaust, he broke down and repeated, “I could have gotten one more person out, and I didn’t.” He was riddled with regret that he had not done MORE to help.

That scene haunts me at 51. 

It also pushes me past my exhausted state of ineptitude when it comes to the race conversation. I haven’t done, said, created, moved, pushed, demanded, fought or even prayed enough. 

I – like Schindler – can’t change “The” past. I can’t even change my past. 

But here’s what I have learned. 

No one is asking me to change the past. 

I am being asked to be a part of changing the NOW. 

Of changing the future for my children ~ my non-white children and their children’s children ~ based on what we know about about the past. A hard, complicated and sometimes cruel past.

What’s being begged of me, and those who look like me, is to push past our sighs and huffs ~ driven by not understanding ~ and to bend a knee. 

Even that very image of humility and deference now evokes rage and debate. 

But our heavenly Father says when we come to Him, and I dare say to each other, on bended knee – humbled – willing to listen – and repent when necessary – that is when things change.

The endless stories and reports of unarmed Black and Brown brothers and sisters losing their lives can become “white noise” – no pun intended. Or maybe it is. 

We loudly proclaim – “I’m not racist, and being White hasn’t given me anything,” all while silencing Black voices.

Until a few years ago, I didn’t like being called White. It’s a label that felt icky and unnecessary. “I’m not white,” I’d think to myself. Look at my skin – it’s pink and beige – and who knows what all kinds of ancestry I have running through my veins. Caucasian sounded better, until I became a student and realized that even that title was created out of racism. 

What I didn’t understand is that it doesn’t matter what label I am comfortable with. What matters is that the world sees me as White – and all that comes with that. 

I can run through streets. I can be rude to authority. I can demand my own way. I can expect not to be followed through a store. I can deliver packages in a gated community and not have to “explain myself.” And I can imagine that if I am unarmed and murdered in my bed, someone will stand up and fight for justice for my life – without debate – without suspicion – without every thought and action from my past discrediting my right to said justice.

Much like Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility, I get something special to wear everyday that affords me privileges ~ another super-charged trigger word ~ many others don’t have. My white skin assures me the ability to feel tired and to get to walk away if I so choose. I can ignore the pain that is so thick in the air that others scream, “I can’t breathe.” 

I can remove myself from sight or the conversation because it’s just too dang exhausting. I can bury my head in the sand when others raise their arms and beg, “Please don’t shoot me.”

I can even become indignant that “I” am not being heard, and that people don’t know or understand that my life has been hard. After all, I too didn’t grow up in wealth or have things handed to me on a silver platter. I can look away when I see the poverty, the violence, the discrepancy in every aspect of life, and I can drown out the voices calling for me to speak up because their lives matter – not above mine but in sync with mine. 

I turn 51 today. And I’m tired.

BUT.

I believe I can say with a modicum of certainty that I am not nearly as tired as EVERY Non-White person who is turning 51 with me today. The only thing different in our level of weariness is the amount of time they have fought this battle, understood the systematic contrast they face, and been told to be quiet and stop disrupting an otherwise civilized society. 

I’m tired.

If you are White, Caucasian, Non-minority – whatever title allows you to hear me – and find yourself feeling “tired,” ask yourself what’s draining you so? 

Like me, are you tired for and with those who are asking for our help?

OR

Are you worn out “being made to feel guilty about your race”? 

If so, I implore you to ask yourself these questions – 

– If we are so far apart in the way we feel about this, how much do I not understand? 

– Could I be deliberately shutting someone down before I grant them the opportunity to REALLY be heard – simply because it makes me uncomfortable?

– Does something rise up and demand, internally or externally, that Non-White people “prove” that “it” – whatever it is – was racially motivated? Because trust me. Their ability to see and know injustice of this type comes from generations of having to know it, see it and ENDURE it.

Perhaps dig deeper – 

Why isn’t their request to be believed enough? 

Why aren’t their tears enough? 

Why isn’t their anger allowed? 

And finally – 

Ponder – 

How many Brothers and Sisters who don’t share my level of melanin have I ACTUALLY sat down with and said – “Tell me what it is to be you.” And then LISTENED with the intent to understand and not rebuke, correct or dismiss.

Or better yet, isn’t it time we educate ourselves – and take the burden off others to have to once again explain it? 

We can read, watch, listen, seek out the information that is so readily available about what it is like to NOT be White in this country and this world. 

It isn’t hard. What’s hard is embracing the idea that it’s necessary. 

As a believer, I’ve come to a place where Jesus’ words to His disciples mean more than ever before – 

“He told them, ‘This kind (meaning an evil that enslaves) can come out only by prayer and FASTING.’” Mark 9:29 KJV

For those who look like me and actually kept reading this post and didn’t get tired and scroll on…

Let’s FAST together – 

How about until this demon of racism is eradicated – we FAST?

Let’s give up: 

  • Our need to be “right” – ALL the time.
  • Our ease of looking and walking away.
  • Our bias that we don’t even realize we have that “dark skin” is scary or less worthy of “waiting to get all the facts” before suspecting, arresting or taking life.
  • Our repetitive tapes that play things like “Justify to me that I should believe you, cause I just don’t see it.”

Giving up just those things would be a game changer, and we can still breathe, sit up, take nourishment and even have cake on this FAST. 

No one is going to kill us if we practice this particular FAST, but someone else will most likely die (again) if we don’t.

Happy Birthday to me – a tired old(er) White woman who is desperate for the King of Glory to gather His children’s hearts in unity over the suffering and pain that has been allowed to continue for far too long. The Enemy of our souls wants us all to remain tired. It means we haven’t the strength to fight him as long as we are fighting each other.

“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28-30 NIV

On Tuesday, May 5th, a graphic video of Ahmaud Arbery’s death filled headlines and social media sites. By Sunday, May 10th, I had received more inquiries and messages from white people (particularly Christians) than I could emotionally or relationally manage. On top of the multitude of messages, I read social media post after social media post of Christians (particularly white Christians) expressing lament and/or expressing sentiment of not knowing what to do.

Every inquiry I received contained one of these three questions. “What do you think about the situation in Brunswick?” “How are you?” “What can I/we do?” 

In Response to “What do you think about the situation in Brunswick?” and “How are you?”

Contrary to my relational reputation, I held (and continue to hold) my answers to these questions very close. Here’s why…

 

After years of navigating questions like this from my white brothers and sisters, I have become aware of a recurring trend. I reflect on conversations between me and (most) white Christians related to the nationally-recognized shootings, and I see an unnerving dynamic. On Saturday, May 9th, I expressed that dynamic to one of my favorite white sisters, Audrey (I changed her name for anonymity sake). Here is a copy of that text transcript…

“I haven’t shared my feelings and perspective of Ahmaud Arbery with white people because if I go there, most of the white people in my life will get more consumed with my perspective and feelings about the situation than personally doing the hard work of getting out of racism, racial ignorance, classism, etc. Instead of consuming decades of research and content, asking hard questions, and comparing the heart’s response to Jesus, I feel like (when it comes to race or classism), white Christians make camp in figuring out if my particular feelings are justified or not…

 

I don’t think there should be an either / or; however, time and time again these circumstances feel like an either/or… Either I share my thoughts and feelings and everyone gets focused on the validity of them OR people choose to focus on their personal responsibility and how they can do the hard work of the Gospel.

At the end of the day, I do not want how I feel and what I think to keep being a distraction to white Christians not doing hard work.”

In Response to “What can I/we do?”

I wrote this blog specifically for Christ-followers. In it, I promised another blog for leaders. Whether you are a white brother or sister leading a Church, a small group, your family, a team of people in the market-place, or a para-Church ministry, I hope this is helpful.

Because you are a human who wears multiple hats, your personal responsibility is multi-faceted. (Yes, I said “responsibility”.) Here are ways you can steward your responsibility in the varying areas of your life.

  • In Your 1-on-1, Cross-Cultural Relationships (If you do not have 1-on-1, cross-cultural relationships, please take time to fast, pray, and ask Jesus why)
    • Are you learning about how your ethnicity affects the relational dynamics in your cross-cultural relationships (friends, colleagues, followers, neighbors, etc.)?
    • Consider asking your friends of color, “In regard to racial division, how can white people be agents of healing?” and “In regard to racial division, how are white people contributing today to the pain?”
    • If you want your friends of color to see you as an agent of racial healing, and you desire a strong understanding of their authentic experience and perspective, ask them for someone in their life who is white, who you can connect with and learn from. That white person will likely be an INVALUABLE asset to you as you navigate the magnitude of emotions and challenges that arise from growing aware of your personal biases, complicity, and/or sinful beliefs… I’m no guru, but I imagine they will point you toward resources like White Fragility, How to be an Antiracist, etc.
    • Set a Godly goal. (Depending on where you are in your journey, the goal below will feel insurmountable; however, the right tools and the grace of Jesus will TRULY get you there.) A good measure of whether you’re making headway in this area would be whether you and your Christian friends of color can dialogue about race, exchange information from resources and personal experience, and both of you can say and hear challenging perspective like, “That paradigm seems incomplete or ignorant, and here’s why” or “That way of thinking upholds injustice, here’s why” or “That way of thinking or being lines up with racism, and here’s how”. If instead of responding to these phrases with defensiveness and distance, both of your hearts stay open and you’re actually able to hear, understand, and pursue a fuller picture of Jesus – together, then you have done the hard work and will be well-positioned to help others do the same. 
      • If you feel this is too harsh or ungodly, please re-read Mark 8:27-33. In this passage, we see a disciple of Jesus get it SO right in one area of his discipleship then only moments later, Jesus calls him Satan. In Heaven, the Father saw Satan in Peter’s behavior. The strength of Peter’s humility and the trust within his relationship with Jesus is evident because amidst really firm rebuke, Peter took Jesus’ words to heart (assumed by the change in behavior) and they remained connected (assumed by content of the very next chapter).
  • As a Leader in Your Space 
    • How are you allocating resources (both time and money) to learn to see and stand against the reality of racial ignorance and racism in your ministry, Church, business, small group, or family? 
    • How are you including your white followers in your personal, learning journey and inviting them to join you?
  • As the Catalyst for Your Space’s Connection to the Community at Large
    • Do you believe you and your followers are called to love well cross-culturally? If so, how are you building relationships, consuming resources, and pursuing environments to avoid the “diversity disaster”? The diversity disaster arises when one group attempts to lead, help, serve, save, or transform another group without first submitting to the life experience, cultural reality, and leadership of that other group. In missiology, the concept is discussed as “becoming a learner first.” 
      • We see it in Jesus’ example as He unrobes Himself of His heavenly privileges and comforts, and enters Earth as a newborn within an oppressed, people group. He honored the Jewish experience by coming as a baby and experiencing many aspects of Jewish life prior to taking His God-given role as a minister to Jews (of course our Savior was a lot more than just a minister to the Jews… He was undoubtedly multifaceted in his role and identity – just like you.)
    • How does your space (Church, ministry, business, small group, or family) share the burden of staying abreast of the realities (both good and bad) present in your local community, in your state, and in your country? 
      • If you feel ill-equipped or unsure of how to stay abreast of realities facing different people in your community, state, and country, how are you getting help?
    • How does your space (Church, ministry, business, family, small group) use its voice, platform, and many talents to advocate for the community and stand against trends and incidents of injustice in your community, in your state, and in your country?

As you reflect on these questions and your answers, I hope these words of our brother Paul are of encouragement to you. 

There is now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus… but if through the power of the Spirit, you are habitually putting to death (making extinct and deadening) the evil deeds prompted by the body, you shall (really and genuinely) live forever. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For the Spirit which you have now received is not a spirit of slavery to put you once more in bondage to fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption (the Spirit producing son-ship)… Romans 8:1, 13-15 AMP.  

This process is deeply sanctifying and will expose more junk in our hearts than we can imagine; but as Paul said, where junk abounds, grace abounds all the more. Our Lord’s grace doesn’t exist that we might continue in immaturity, sin, or a mix of both. His grace exists because He is gracious and wants to empower us to be people known for how well we love in both action and Truth.

The past week has been a gut-wrenching experience in America. …for our black brothers and sisters who are experiencing the trauma of a racially motivated killing once again. …for Georgians who are experiencing a national tragedy so close to home. And for every person of color who has suffered hardship and wondered “how long, oh Lord?!” 

I am thankful for this community of One Race who has gathered together to pray and cry out to God for justice in this situation, and for mercy on the suffering. I am thankful for the work of reconciliation and healing that this community is committed to. It is unique in our time and in our country.

The past few weeks my colleagues and I have been deep in the trenches of analyzing and writing for a new research study on racial justice and the Church. The project is a follow-up to Michael Emerson’s seminal research published in Divided by Faith 20 years ago, looking at how far we’ve come since then. Except, it seems, we haven’t come that far. Our findings are revealing that our country, and the Church, is still sick with the sin of racism. This week, we hardly needed data to show us that; nevertheless, here are the facts:

Only about 4 out of 10 white practicing Christians (who say their faith is very important to them and who go to church at least monthly – when it’s not closed for a pandemic) “definitely” agrees that our country has a race problem. Not surprisingly, 8 out of 10 black practicing Christians answers “definitely” (if we asked last week, perhaps it would have been 10 out of 10?). Similar proportions agree that historically, the United States has been oppressive to minorities.

At this moment in time in our country, it is nearly impossible not to Know The Story. This unfathomable denial of racism is a refusal to Own The Story. It reminds me of a verse in Jeremiah (get ready; nothing easy comes out of Jeremiah…)

Jeremiah 17:9-11 New International Version (NIV)

9 The heart is deceitful above all things 

and beyond cure.

    Who can understand it?

10 “I, the Lord, search the heart and examine the mind,

to reward each person according to their conduct,

    according to what their deeds deserve.”

11 Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay

    are those who gain riches by unjust means.

When their lives are half gone, their riches will desert them,

    and in the end they will prove to be fools.

On the one hand, we can take some solace in the fact that God sees injustice, and He is not indifferent to it. He promises justice will come to those who gain at the detriment of others, who wield power over others – they will be rewarded according to what their deeds deserve, Jeremiah says. He also promises to restore the broken and wipe away every tear from our eyes. On the other hand, there is little that can comfort from such loss of life.

Few people start out on a path to become racist. Often it entrenches in our hearts as we cling to a very subtle excuses or explanations; preferences or biases. At the root of racism is a heart that is deceitful. A heart that says my comfort or my property is more essential than your life. My values are more honorable than yours. My way is better than yours. The heart of every human is deceitful above all things. Many would never say these, but there are times we’ve thought them.

Not one of us is immune to the self-deceit of pride or wanting control. Our mind plays tricks on us to justify our thoughts, if not our actions. Jesus’ work on the cross was costly, because the depth of our sin is great. I must constantly examine my own heart for signs of self-deceit. It is not a once and done event. Being a Christian does not insure me immunity from self-deceit. Being a member of One Race does not give me a pass. The work of reconciliation is a work of constant examination and repentance. Of putting off and putting on. Of Owning the Story and Changing the Story. Only through the power of Jesus is this kind of change possible. Lord, heal our world and start with me. 

 

Brooke Hempell

Member, City Church Eastside, VaHi

SVP of Research, Barna Group

We’re in the midst of a crisis with COVID-19. It’s revealing many of the deficiencies in our country and one is food insecurity among the most vulnerable. 

It’s a beautiful thing that the church is responding to meet the needs of the vulnerable facing food insecurity and to live out what Matthew 25 says about feeding our neighbors in marginalized places. But it also reveals a deeper issue: why are their food deserts in the first place, where did they come from and how did they take shape? 

The discipleship path that OneRace invites people on is to Know the Story, Own the Story, and Change the Story. In order to know why we’re in a food crisis situation, particularly for people of color, we have to know the structures that helped create food deserts in the first place.

From a Biblical perspective, it is important to deal with food insecurity, as Matthew 25 commands. But, it is equally as important to deal with the structures that led to food insecurity in the first place. From a theological perspective, it is very important to also have a proper balance of Old Testament theology, which speaks to structural issues. 

In an interview for this blog with Donell Woodson, lead trainer for the Lupton Center with FCS, which does community development work in Atlanta, he said, “The church needs go back to the Old Testament for a theological framework on community development.” Matthew 25 is important, but so is Isaiah 65 as God lays out a vision for the new heavens and the new earth and this becomes a place where, “They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit; no longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people, my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands.”

The legend and forefather of the Christian Community Development movement, Dr. John Perkins says in Beyond Charity, “America’s best intentions, most sincere thoughts, noblest efforts—all of these are useless to the urban poor if they do not connect with our personally defined, deepest felt needs. In fact, acts of charity can be dangerous because givers can feel good about actions that actually accomplish very little, or even create dependency. The result is that their sense of satisfaction takes away any motivation to seek more creative long-range development strategies. Overcoming an attitude of charity is a difficult task because it requires givers to demand more of themselves than good will. Christian charity should never be discouraged, and there will always be a place for acts of sharing and kindness, but charity is only a beginning point, not the final strategy or solution.”

Nine years ago, my family and I moved to Historic South Atlanta to live out the ministry of Christ’s reconciliation. We had been schooled in Dr. John Perkins’ Christian Community Development’s three, “Rs” of relocation, reconciliation and redistribution since my years in seminary. We were ready to live out a holistic gospel of Jesus in word and deed. Little did we know that we had just moved into what is called a food desert, just two miles south of the city. 

The community non-profit in our neighborhood, FCS Ministries, kept hearing from our neighbors about the need for a grocery store in the middle of this food desert. They soon started what is now Carver Market in our neighborhood. 

After being trained in Dignity Serves  and being introduced to asset-based community development, we were trained to listen first. I remember listening to neighbors and hearing their struggle of having to ride the bus 1 1/2 hours to the local grocery story and then 1 1/2 hours back to the neighborhood. After all is said and done, that’s a four-hour run to the grocery store, and the majority of the day is gone. 

But what kind of a city creates food deserts? Why do they even exist in a developed country like America? We see over and over that what happened in the past is always playing out in the present. A country that was founded upon unjust laws that systemically displaced and segregated people of color, particularly African-Americans, is how we ended up with food deserts. This is why it’s so important to Know the Story of what got us here. 

Grocery stores won’t open up a store in low-income neighborhoods because, put simply, the economics are not there. Why are the economics not there? Because distressed communities like a South-Atlanta were shaped by racist structures like red-lining, racial steering and white flight that happened between 1940 to 1980, and it is still happening today. 

Ruth Evans, the City Director with Unite, a OneRace partner, said this, “In many communities that are home to people who live in financial poverty – there is a web of systems that are wrecked and broken.  We are seeing the fragility of those systems as many families are feeling the staggering impact of the Covid-19 virus. As the immediate crisis starts to dissipate, there is an opportunity for that heartbeat and our engagement to move beyond providing temporary relief – which will have the effect of creating cycles of dependency and further poverty. There are opportunities to engage in ways that bring restoration and resurrection.  I would love for churches to have a sense of the powerful difference it could make if we start knowing our history and the underlying roots of our current reality, own the ways that it has created an environment of vulnerability, and participate as agents of change in creation of a new story…a story of restoration and resurrection.” 

As we as the body of Christ respond to the immediate needs of our neighbors with food insecurity, I pray we use this time to also educate ourselves about the structures that have created a class system in our country and the Biblical call to restore structures plagued by systemic racism. This is one of the steps of Knowing the Story, in order to Own the Story, and ultimately through the power of Jesus, Change the Story. 

How does a white farm boy from Bumpville, PA (yes, a real place), come to live in the black Mecca of the US and give his life to Christ’s work of racial reconciliation with a group called OneRace Movement?

Hello, OneRace family! My name is Dan Crain and I am the new Director of Groups and Mobilization. Josh and I met two years ago and he shared the vision of OneRace, OneRace Stone Mountain and the heart to address racism within the church. From that moment on, I felt a kindred spirit with Josh. This has been a deep passion of mine since I was exposed to the racial underbelly of our country and church back in seminary.

It all started back in 2006 when my wife and I were a part of a white mega-church outside of Grand Rapids, MI. The church was trying to align themselves with the “God of the oppressed” theology, as it is clear from the Scriptures that God holds a special place for those who have been marginalized. I heard a pastor from an inner-city church in Grand Rapids who was black speaking from Isaiah 58 about God’s heart for a certain kind of fasting that, “looses the chains of injustice and unties the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke.”

He shared about his experience in that decade of being called, “boy” at a restaurant by a white man in Grand Rapids, MI and what it was like as a black man living in a majority white culture in America. “Boy” is a racial slur going back to the Jim Crow era. It was in that moment that I felt a deep sense of conviction from the Holy Spirit that this is what I was to give my life to: God’s heart for racial unity.

I had breakfast with that pastor and he was gracious enough to answer all of the questions I had for him as a white man who was clueless to his reality. I changed my degree in seminary to a Masters of Intercultural Ministries because my wife and I knew God was calling us into this work. Dr. Reggie Smith began to mentor me in this work as he was pastoring a church in inner-city Grand Rapids and was the adjunct professor at the seminary.

Dr. Reggie pointed me to Divided by Faith, the work of Dr. John Perkins, Christianity Development Association, and many other resources. I did a research paper on how Christ broke down the dividing wall of hostility between the Jews and the Gentiles from Ephesians 2, and as I did, I fell deeply in love with a God that longs to reconcile all things in his son, Jesus Christ.

In 2008, we spent a month living in an African-American community in historic South Atlanta, interning with a non-profit that was doing community development. My wife and I fell in love with being the minorities in this context. After the month was over, we were invited to move back into that community, but at the time we weren’t ready to raise funds and fully move into a community experiencing distress, plus we felt like we had more to learn. So we moved back to Orlando.

In Orlando, we were exposed to Polis Institute’s “Dignity Serves” and the need to live out a dignified interdependent relationship with those different from us. It was through this training that Christ made it very clear as a white man coming from majority culture that I was to be a learner more than a teacher, particular in the world of racial reconciliation. The words of author Donald Miller resonated with what God was doing in my heart, “Be careful of a white guy with a masters degree, because he thinks he knows it all.”

I was so deeply impacted by the Dignity Serves training that I began to raise funds under Polis and we moved to Atlanta in May 2011, to live in historic South Atlanta, work at a small church in the neighborhood under leaders of color, and begin to connect with and share with churches the message of Dignity Serves. It was the Dignity Serves training that opened up a lot of doors for me to talk about race within majority white churches, as one of the organization’s lessons presses deeply into racial and cultural differences and how the Gospel breaks down these barriers. It was also the experience of sharing life with young black men in the neighborhood that deeply shaped the way I saw how little culture cared for their lives and how they were constantly harassed, profiled and accused simply for the color of their skin. There are too many painful stories to share now.

In 2015, I burned out from ministry and realized that was as a result of a lot of unhealed wounds in my soul, which Christ was inviting me to look into. The reality was that I was living a divided life and wasn’t facing the deep wounds of my past. The reality was that Christ was inviting me to reconcile the divided life inside of me. The result of this healing is the discipleship training, Loving Freely, which I have put together. I firmly believe that in order for us to be honest about reconciliation, we must allow this to happen in ourselves first and be honest about the ways in which culture has shaped us.

In 2018, a group of men journeyed deeply into the racial history of our country and its impact upon ourselves through Latasha Morrison’s curriculum at Be the Bridge. This training took the reality of the problem of race in our country and church from an intellectual level into my heart and soul. The journey with these men climaxed when we visited Bryan Stevenson’s work with the Equal Justice Initiative at the Memorial for Peace and Justice to honor the over 4,400 men and women lynched in our country because of white supremacy in Montgomery, AL.

Throughout all of this, I have always shared a deep passion that the church may be one in Christ and so when I had the privilege of meeting Josh in November of 2017, and he shared the vision of what OneRace was trying to call churches to, I was in. Since then, Pastor Arthur Breland of United Church and I have the honor of being the co-leaders of the OneRace network in the Southeast part of Atlanta. Last year, Arthur put together a march to commemorate the street name change from Confederate Ave. to United Ave. and we walked together with over three hundred fellow believers in a spirt of unity that was amazing. The Holy Spirit’s presence among us was palpable.

I am deeply honored to join the OneRace Movement and to work under Josh as the Director of Groups and Mobilization, as my heart and passion has always been to do this work on the street level. Conferences and marches are beautiful and good, but if we’re not pursing the new humanity in the norm of life, the structures will still be there.

It’s my heart to equip people to read the Scriptures through the lens of racial reconciliation, pray deeply about the demonic forces of racism in our city, read books written by leaders of color that dive deep into the history of our country and church, and make small, spirit-led, intentionally organic steps towards being the church God intends it to be.

Finally, people often ask me the why of this. Why do we do this? For me the answer is layered.

First, it’s God heart. It’s his heart that his body here on earth be one and we are not, as Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise documents well. This is modeled in Jesus’ prayer in John 17 and manifested in the book of Acts, where we see what happened as a result of the Gospel changing people’s hearts.

Second, God has hard wired me for diversity. I have loved seeing things from a different perspective. I have close friends of color who I have given them permission to point out my cultural blindspots of whiteness. I really value what other people teach me from the way they’ve walked with Jesus and read the Scriptures. God’s redeeming all of creation to what’s revealed in Revelation 7 as, “and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before eat throne and in from of the Lamb.” Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” God wants us to live his future reality here and now.

Third, I firmly believe I am the one laying half-dead in the middle of the ditch in Luke 10, in need of Jesus. This was the point of Jesus sharing the story of the good Samaritan, pointing out the rich young ruler’s need for a savior. Being shaped by the majority culture to have all of the answers has made me aware that the more I learn, the more I don’t know, particularly around race. It’s not that I don’t have certain knowledge of the Scriptures and theology, it’s just that I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface on the deep knowledge of God when it comes to race and culture. This is why I love to consult the majority white church on these issues and help them to see their blindspots when it comes to race, culture and class.

Fourth, I am a more complete and better follow of Jesus because I’ve been mentored and impacted by people who look nothing like me. I am a firm believer that in order to live out the fullness of God’s kingdom and live the vision of Revelation 7 here and now, we must be willing to be influenced by people of other races, cultures and classes. Reading Howard Thurman’s “Jesus and the Disinherited” in Seminary shaped me in deeply profound ways.

Fifth, after being exposed to the racial history of our country and church back in 2006, as documented in the seminal book, Divided by Faith, I felt the Spirit lead me to move against the stream of racism that the church and culture swims in. This has been something we’ve committed our lives to by the grace of God.

It’s an honor to join what God is doing through OneRace Movement in order to be the fullness of all that God intends the church to be here. We hope God allows us to journey together as we seek to Own the Story, Know the Story and through the power of the gospel, Change the Story!