Lets face it. People come in different colors. Saying "I dont see black and
white; I see people!" is a lot like saying "I dont smell the difference between
ground beef and cinnamon; I only smell scents." Like it or not, North America
has race issues. They go deep and thick like day-old grits and can be just as
hard to scrape away.
Sometimes the honesty of saying "I dont understand what its like for you" is
a good place to start breaking down barriers. A few years ago I struck up a
friendship with an African-American co-worker. We started out on this foot: "Im
just going to be blunt. Im going to ask you things that may sound offensive,
but I want to know why that is, what it is about these questions that bothers
"Okay," she responded, "but sometimes you may not like my answers."
My willingness to admit that I had no idea what her world was like, what her
childhood had been like, helped us forge a friendship. Through that friendship,
I found an open door to move past race issues and talk about spiritual ones. I
didnt have the opportunity to lead her to ChristI learned that she was already
an active member of a churchso together we were able to share our common faith
in Jesus Christ with our co-workers.
While society and culture chant the mantra of reconciliation in hopes of
making our world a more accepting and tolerant place, on mission Christians
know there is a step beyond reconciliation. We have a responsibility to take
that stepnot just seeking to get along in this life but offering direction for
sharing the next one together too.
Freedom for all peopleThe gospel is
explicitly interracial. While scripture tells us that it was for the
Jew first (Romans 1:16), it never says it is for the Jew onlyor for any other
ethnic group. The Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 3:28 that becoming who we
are in Christ as new creations obliterates racial distinctions, as far as they
pertain to our unity as one body of beliversthere is neither Jew nor Greek.
And, one could add, neither white nor black.
On Mission interviewed several people who have effectively broken
through racial barriers, from laypeople to campus ministers. They agreed that
sharing the gospel across cultures isnt always easy, but it is worth
the effort to build bridges.
From those interviews, we gleaned key principles that can help on mission
Christians cross racial lines.
Focus on the sameness, not the differences.
If you get to know someone of another race, youll generally find that you have
more in common than not. After all, surely people of all races struggle with
bills, how to care for their children, how to juggle careers and leisure
Leroy Gainey (professor of multicultural ministries,
Golden Gate Theological Seminary): When sharing your faith with a
person of a different race, there are more cultural differences than
similarities. Thus, communication has to cross cultural barriers with great
difficulty, possibly resulting in miscommunication.
Terri Copeland (member, West Baptist, Six Mile, South
Carolina): We try to go on our mission trips with the attitude that
there isnt a barrier, that were all brothers and sisters. I was working in the
kitchen on one trip, and when I went shopping for more food, an
African-American woman approached me, and we started talking about raising
After awhile, I shifted the conversation to Jesus. She said, "Oh yes, I know
my Jesus. If I didnt know my Jesus, I couldnt survive." That exchange hit home
with me, and confirmed again that it doesnt matter what color our skin is, weve
all got the same Father, and were all supposed to work together for His
David Buschman (campus minister, West Chester University,
Pennsylvania): Any time you assume that theres a wallthat "theyre
different" or "it wont work"before you start, youre making a mistake. Seek what
you have in common. But its valid to recognize that anytime you cross a
supposed boundary line, its unpredictable. You may be in unfamiliar territory,
and you may be misunderstoodeven by your own race.
Consider the struggle the Jews had when God clearly led them to reach out to
Gentiles. There are lots of lines we simply must cross as Christians.
Learn about the other persons life and
worldview. Survey data from pollsters such as Gallup and Barna
suggests that, in general, whites tend to think race relations are better
today, and that blacks and whites disagree sharply about the effect and degree
of unfair treatment based on race. Its important not to let our assumptions
about "the way things are" get in the way of effective communication.
Robert Wilson (Church Planting, African-American
specialist, NAMB): Miscommunication often comes from failing to step
into other peoples shoes and address whats important to them before sharing
your faith. What may be important to you may not be as important to someone of
A white person may think of race and equality as social justice issues, but
to African Americans these are issues of survival. For me, "race" is my life.
This is not a categorythis is what I deal with every day. I may be
discriminated against in some way, and not because of my gender because of my
Leroy Gainey: Culture is like software to a computer. When
our software is different, communication becomes difficult. The great news is
software can be changed and updated. All you have to do is put new information
in, and thats as easy as learning about another persons world.
Dont talk to a race. Talk to a person. When
you commit to share your faith with someone of another race, you are talking to
an individual with individual needs and concerns.
Jeanetta Nawrot (member, Bridgeway Baptist, Alpharetta,
Georgia): While traveling in Chicago recently, I met a woman who was
going through a divorce. Before she left, I told her Id pray for her. I wasnt
concerned about her being white. I was concerned about her being in pain.
I try not to get hung up about race. God didnt die for me because I was
mistreated as a black person. He also died for any person who may have
mistreated me. And I can tell that person about my experience and what God has
done for me.
David Buschman: How can you learn about someone elses
world? Ask questions and read books [see the resource list below for a good
start]. Accept that you are going to do some things right and some things
wrong. Its a stimulating yet often vexing reality.
How do you meet people of another race? Put yourself in situations where you
are the minority. Cross the bridge yourself. Dont just ask people to come to
Seek a reconciling relationship, not just a
conversion. Building relationships is always important when sharing
your faith, but it is imperative when sharing across racial lines.
Evangelism and reconciliation go hand in hand. Often the best place to start is
with a single healing relationship.
Robert Wilson: Invest yourself in the other person. Ask:
"Where are you hurting?" I believe were healers because weve got the Great
Physician living in us, and weve got a world thats sick, thats in need of
Terri Copeland: One gentleman we met was confined to a
wheelchair and hadnt been off his porch in months. While some of us were
visiting with him, we promised to come back if at all possible and build a ramp
so he could get off the porch. He became a Christian the day some of us went to
build that ramp. Although he only lived about a year after that, he went around
telling people of his Jesus, thanks to some people who looked beyond the color
of his skin and took the time to meet one of his needs.
David Buschman: I believe that people can tell if you
really care. Are you doing this because you have to or because you want to?
Would you help them? Can you hug them? People can tellI can. The act of loving
people who are different from us doesnt have to be as hard as we make it. We
need to be more concerned about having a wrong attitude or doing nothing than
concerned that we might use an improper word or make an unintentional mistake.
Im learning that the greater mistake is not to try.
Overcome attitudes of fear. Its
often easier to remain quiet, not risk rocking the racial boat. But as
Christiansand as peoplewe stand on equal footing, no matter what society or
culture may try to tell us.
Robert Wilson: In my experience, it has been "taught"
through society that the African American has not provided something to the
Anglo culture. So sitting on a plane next to an Anglo, the average African
American is going to be hesitant to speak. It has nothing to do with
being equal before Christ. It has to do with feeling equal
before Christ. Those feelings of inadequacy must be broken down through Christ, helping people recognize
that they have value, they have worth.
Terri Copeland: Somebodys got to take the first step, but
we often seem afraid. I saw that demonstrated by one of our youth. Members of
one church where we held day camps told us that they didnt allow black children
in the neighborhood to attend. As the week progressed, our youth would see the
children from the neighborhood watching. One of our teens finally threw a ball
over the fence and asked one of the children to bring it back to him. So they
came over, and they started playing. That broke down the wall. They didnt even
have to think about dealing with fear and misunderstandings. They just played
together. After a couple of days, the pastor even invited them to come in and
have refreshments. He finally had to confront the church and say, "Look, we
have to reach out to everybody."
A Time Like No OtherBy showing the world that Christ
dismantles the barriers of race, and by learning to share Christ with everyone,
we offer living proof that what we say we believe means more than just words in
a creed or doctrinal statement. Or, as Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice put it in
the book More Than Equals: "Every Sunday morning, millions of us sit
in church and sing that Jesus is the answer for the world today The tattered
relationship between whites and blacks in this country offers Christians a
historic opportunity. For centuries we have announced loudly and intensely that
we alone have the answers to the worlds problems. If that claim is true, its
time for us to move through this open gate of opportunityor stop our
Sean Taylor is associate editor of On Mission.
Beyond Charity: The Call to Christian Community Development, by
John Perkins, Baker Book House, 1993
The Black Church in the African American Experience, by C. Eric
Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya, Duke University Press, 1990
Defending Black Faith: Answers to Tough Questions About African-American
Christianity, by Craig S. Keener and Glenn Usry, InterVarsity Press,
Faces at the Bottom of the Well, by Derrick Bell, Basic Books,
The Gospel in Black & White, Dennis L. Okholm, ed.,
InterVarsity Press, 1997
More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel, by
Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice, InterVarsity Press, 1993
Race Matters, by Cornel West, Vintage Books, 1993
What Color Is Your God?, by James and Lillian Breckenridge,
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC