I remember sitting on the balcony of our housing unit in Mexico on the final day of my first short-term missions experience. I was barely 19 at the time, and we had just spent a week in Juarez serving and working. Throughout the week, I had noticed an increasing inner pull and desire to serve at a greater capacity, so was spending time in prayer. Feeling called to continue in mission work, I remember praying to God, “God, if you want me to, I will spend my summer here in Juarez!” Almost instantly I heard a still, small voice say “Pine Ridge.” I remember responding “No Lord, I will spend my summer in MEXICO if you want me to serve you.” And again I heard, “Pine Ridge.” Leaving Juarez it was clear to me my call was to mission work, but if I were going to follow and surrender to the Lord, the path was not to Mexico, but Pine Ridge.
Choosing to spend two summers in Pine Ridge changed and transformed my life. Growing up I was taught about the battle of Wounded Knee and Custer’s Last Stand as great United States victories (I think each incident had a paragraph max in our history textbook). However, standing at the site of Wounded Knee and hearing the true story of the massacre that took place was appalling. Unarmed men, women, and children chased for up to four or five miles and gruesomely slaughtered at the hands of US soldiers. Pregnant bellies ripped open and unborn babies placed on stakes and spears, women and children scalped and murdered—all because those in charge of the United States deemed these humans as not humans and believed it their God given right to conquer the land and the people. There are legal documents in United State’s history that call for the extermination of indigenous peoples. The list of atrocities our white, United States ancestors committed horrendously goes on and on. To our shame and disgrace, the same mindset that allowed this and numerous other massacres to occur lives on today.
One of the theological concepts I was introduced to as a result of my summers on the rez was “corporate sin”—the idea that we are held accountable for the actions of our community as well as ourselves (Many of the OT prophets address cities as a whole, as does the book of Revelations when addressing the churches, etc). Living in Pine Ridge and learning the whole story of my people in this land changed my life, and became the place where I said “yes” to becoming an anti-racist (that is, someone who confronts racism wherever they find it…in themselves, in their communities, in systems, etc).
That yes has cost me a lot of things over the years—jobs, mentors, family/friends, dates, money, opportunities….and yet that yes has also given me my family, my balance, my call. That yes has defined who I am, and has transformed me into a kinder, gentler, more caring and compassionate human. That yes has killed me and continues to kill me and the things in me that need to die. And in those places of death, I have found new life, renewed life, redeemed and restored life.
Fast forward to our present times, and I am more committed to that yes than I have ever been (the yes to being an anti-racist is intertwined with my yes to Jesus and following the road set before me no matter the cost). I will be honest. There are days I am scared. I am aware of what happens to prophets and those who stand up for the marginalized and oppressed. I know how ugly and mean people can get in times of war, fear, trauma, and stress and I am so afraid that those I love but stand opposite of will seek my destruction and harm. I’m sad that divisions will arise and love will be lost—that we will forget that relationships and people matter more than anything and lose sight of Jesus and love. I’m scared of the ugliness in my own heart and the mistakes I will make along the way.
But these fears reveal two things to me. 1) I have more work to do/still have areas where I am still compliant with white supremist ways (this will always be true FYI...being an anti-racist is a lifetime journey) and 2) my own privilege in all of this…that at the end of the day, the truth is this is a choice for me. It’s not people that look like me that are being hurt by the system, killed by authorities, lynched in broad daylight. I am not the person the system is designed to oppress.
But my friends are. My community is. My brothers and sisters are. And it has to stop.
I believe we as the white church have a divine invitation and choice to make during the upcoming days and years. Will we step into the fullness of our history as white Christian Americans and seek to undo the oppression our ancestors have done? Or will be turn away because its not our fault? Will we recognize the systems of oppression that exist today and leverage our power to change them? Will we choose to stand with the oppressed and marginalized, no matter the cost?
I don’t know what your yes will cost you—that’s between you and God. I know at a minimum it will cost you your comfort, your control, your defensiveness and need to be right. But if you want to say yes to being an anti-racist; if you want to commit to doing the work, know that I am here for you and more than willing to walk this journey with you—my hope is as a community we can walk this together.
I had no idea that my “yes” to Pine Ridge would take me on the road it has. And as disappointed and frustrated as I was early in my missionary days for not being in more Spanish speaking countries (afterall, I do have a degree in Spanish), today I look back and rejoice over the path God took me on in life. As heart-wrenching and hard as the work is to do, it is an honor to get to be part of the liberation from and restoration of what has gone so terribly wrong in this country since its inception.
I love you all. I’m rooting for you. And I’m praying the grace and love of God over each of your homes today.