A Series on the Eight Principles of Christian Community Development
I am excited to share this blog written by Jackie, a current intern, on the principle of “reconciliation.” Ultimately, our sin has resulted in the brokenness of our relationship with God, self, others, and creation. As an outpouring of this reality, the call to reconcile with God and others is a gospel call. Jackie is a dynamic woman of God, who also happens to be a person of color, living and working alongside us to seek His shalom in the South Side community. –Eric Basye
One of the best jokes I ever told my friends was, “I’m moving to Montana.” For a 24-year-old Colombian-Italian who grew up in the rich diversity of the Metro DC Area, Montana was practically a foreign, undiscovered planet. The truth is that I had never been so aware of my skin color until I moved here.
My mom moved to the US from Colombia when she was 16 and eventually met and married my White dad. Relatives immediately disapproved of their relationship, referring to my mom as a “spick,” and refusing to hold my sister and me as babies because we weren’t white. But my mom’s culture (and strong brown genes) still dominated my upbringing.
I have faced my share of racist encounters throughout my life, often from believers at church or the evangelical university I attended. This led me to question my identity, sense of belonging, and faith. At 27, I now reside at 316, a townhouse owned by CLDI located in the South Side, one of Montana’s most culturally diverse areas. This neighborhood, where many feel uncomfortable, is where I have felt the most welcomed and accepted. I won’t deny that my skin color broke down many barriers upon entering this community, as looking familiar to people of color made me a safe, approachable person. God has blessed me with 316 as a vantage point to observe the root of racism – a lack of shalom resulting from broken relationships with God and humankind.
One Wholistic Gospel For All
A proper model for reconciliation starts with confession, which requires acknowledging sin. In my own experience, I have witnessed racism in Montana merely defined or excused as ignorance or misunderstanding. But in failing to name racism for the abhorrent sin that it is, we have misled generations of believers toward unconsciously accepting racism. Even in the form of jokes, racial discrimination has no place in the one wholistic gospel that God intended for all nations and peoples to receive. In my own racial sin, I have operated out of a shattered version of the Good News, with fear and misunderstanding being the driving force.
From the beginning of the Bible, we see that our Creator delights in color and expresses the uniqueness of His glory in ethnicity and culture. Genesis 1:27 presents the concept of Imago Dei, stating that man and woman were created equally in the image and likeness of God. These God-given qualities became a point of division due to our broken human flesh. God sent His Son to redeem and glorify His name among all the nations – including all races, genders, ethnicities, and people groups. When we read this truth on paper but refuse to show it in our actions towards one another, it is much deeper than ignorance. We are openly insulting our Creator.
It Starts With Us
By “us,” I mean the Church. When the pandemic hit in 2020, our society faced great pain, chaos, and loss. In May of that year, another shocking event occurred, resulting in widespread outrage in America and beyond. A police officer held a 46-year-old black man down as he gasped, “I can’t breathe,” for 8 minutes until he died. A nationwide response to systemic racism ensued as hundreds gathered in cities to protest. To many, this seemed like an unnecessary, overdramatic reaction to a single incident. But what I witnessed in the following weeks were vulnerable people crying out for an end to the hundreds of years of oppression, segregation, and violence brought upon them because of the color of their skin. As I gathered with friends at a memorial on the South Side to mourn the loss felt by all minorities that week, I asked myself and have continued to ask myself, “Where is the Church right now?”
Brothers and Sisters, this is not a political issue. As disciples of the one true God, it is not enough to merely know that racism or any form of social injustice is wrong. We are called to a much higher standard; to demonstrate an active faith. Scripture directly addresses inequality, injustice, and oppression. I am convicted by James 1:22, “but be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” If we genuinely believe that God is the only lasting antidote to the poison of racism, we are responsible for living out His truth. His instructions are clear: “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17). Our call and obligation is to love our neighbors as ourselves regardless of race, place, or class.
Judea and Samaria and The South Side
When I hear about these racially motivated incidents and ponder the reality of the South Side, the intrusive thoughts come flowing in. As a Hispanic woman, I realize the violence could have been directed at me, one of my students, another friend, a neighbor, or even my future children. In those moments of fear and pain, my only hope is Jesus.
Injustice exists wherever people are because no human is wholly innocent of prejudice. In Montana, the division is palpable between Whites and Natives. The South Side is often characterized as the undesirable, crime-ridden, and impoverished side of town when compared to the West End. Yet, the hate comes from both sides, and if I’m honest, I have been guilty of feeding into the cycle. When my little activist heart isn’t in check, my desire to protect the weak and vulnerable turns into me bullying the other side into repentance. But God tells us to fight for every life. Therefore, it has been crucial for me to learn that while increasing awareness through reconciliation groups and training is helpful, awareness alone cannot fully restore this division. Jesus is the answer, and we all have access to Him. Take hope in Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” The sooner we realize that our beef is not with one another but with Satan, the sooner we see the glory and fullness of God known by all humankind.
A Call to Action
When I was asked to write this blog, I consulted two great mentors, Mike Yakawich and Michele Terry. As lifelong residents and leaders of the South Side, they are passionate about building bridges through God’s love. We believe that when we are not reconciled to each other, we are not reconciled to God. So together, we compiled these action steps to equip neighbors for the work of racial reconciliation in Billings:
- Repent and Forgive: We are called to lay down our lives as a daily act of obedience to God. Surrendering to the idea of being “on mission” means that we can’t compartmentalize or place limits on the areas of our lives where God is at work. Maybe this area is prejudice, bias, and hate. Pray, “Jesus, change me today.” Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” assures us that there is enough grace to cover a multitude of sins.
- Understand and Celebrate Culture: Take the Perspectives On The World Christian Movement Meet with the Billings Black Heritage Foundation. Celebrate Juneteenth at South Park. Join the Billings Cross Community Reconciliation Group. Meet with the One Heart Warriors. Visit and observe a different church. A variety of cultures are present in Billings, but it is our job to seek them out if we wish to understand.
- Know Your Neighbor: If we believe we are all made with Imago Dei, we must also believe that we are more alike than we are different. Build trust with your neighbors, break stereotypes, be vulnerable, listen, learn, and care for each other. Let this be your ministry. Through the work of love, God’s name will be known in your surrounding areas.
- Pray: Go on prayer petition walks. Talk about and pray over social justice issues at Church. Pray for our world leaders. Pray for God’s peace and love to be known in every corner of your community.
Micah 6:8: “And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God?”
Thank you for your time and consideration in reading this blog. I recognize that this topic often feels controversial, but in forging a pathway for gospel restoration, I believe it is paramount we discuss such matters. I would love the opportunity to discuss this more fully over a cup of coffee.
Jackie – firstname.lastname@example.org