In John Eldredge’s novel, Waking the Dead, he wrote, “God loves you; you matter to him. That is a fact, stated as a proposition. I imagine most of you have heard it any number of times. Why, then, aren’t we the happiest people on earth? It hasn’t reached our hearts. Facts stay lodged in the mind, for the most part. They don’t speak at the level we need to hear. Proposition speaks to the mind, but when you tell a story, you speak to the heart.”
This is one of my favorite paragraphs from the novel because it purposefully describes what happens when we just live off facts: we don’t speak to our hearts. He explains that when we learn about historical events, like war for example, we don’t realize the significance of it until we start hearing peoples’ real stories.
Without stories of pain and joy, without depth of knowledge, without convictions stirring in our souls… will our hearts ever be awakened?
I have known many simple facts about our country, like; division exists, racial segregation exists, unequal opportunities exist, and tensions are continuing to rise. I will admit that I never felt the reality of those facts because I allowed myself to be overwhelmed and chose to live through a lens of ignorance. I never read books and I refused to watch news channels discussing these topics. I never talked to my friends of color about their struggles, and the worst… I never asked my parents, who are Vietnamese, why and how they moved to America when they were children.
So, back in March, I decided I would do something uncomfortable: engage in conversation through Be the Bridge:Wilmington. These groups are a local expression of a national movement called Be the Bridge to Racial Unity. What began as a small, organic movement of God has turned into hundreds of racial reconciliation groups across the country. Diverse groups of men and women meet together to build authentic relationships and engage in transformative conversations. The mission of Be the Bridge to Racial Unity is simply for the church to be a credible witness of racial unity and healing for the glory of God.
As I sat with my group, I opened my book and the very first thing I read in bold red letters was, “ The reconciliation journey is not an easy process.” It was a moment of surrender. I had to swallow my fear and let Christ tender my heart to be receptive to the stories and thoughts of the women in my group.
Over the course of many months, groups in Wilmington have gathered to discuss the topics of awareness, acknowledgement, shame and guilt, confession, forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation. Vulnerability and humility fill the rooms of all conversations.
Jasmine Gross, who attends Port City’s Leland campus, says of her Be the Bridge group experience, “I have learned that it is okay to discuss the things that make people uncomfortable. I have learned to be open about how I feel when it comes to racial discrimination and racial issues in my life and in today’s society.”
Summer Ryan, also a Be the Bridge group member, shared that until joining her group, “I would probably have labeled myself ‘colorblind,’ which I have learned isn’t necessarily a good thing that many think it is.
Just like many others among the groups, these women devoted their time to lean in, share their hearts, really listen, soak in the realities of the world we live in, and absorb every detail.
Summer also shares, and I wholeheartedly agree, “I feel that God calls us out of our comfort zones and that is where true growth can occur.”
About a month ago, I decided to pick up my phone and call my mom. I nervously asked her, “So, why and how did dad and you come to America?” She explained that her family left when she was about five years old at the beginning of the Vietnam War. They were able to make it over with more ease because of her parents’ status. However, my dad was eighteen by the time he came to America. After four attempts of escape and four times of being jailed with his family, my grandma was finally able to get my dad and his brother started on their journey. My heart grew heavy and my eyes became glossy as I listened to my mom describe the condition of the ships they traveled on and the times it was raided. My heart sobbed.
Because of the story of my parents, I have encountered new realities of my family history. I also have a new perspective on refugee camps and how churches, like the ones who sponsored my parents, help to build a foundation under the feet of families. It has encouraged me to lean into Asian-American history and to learn more about our church’s involvement with organizations like Interfaith Refugee Ministry.
This is the reward of conversation: empowerment.
Seeing how God has empowered Summer as she has been on this journey is awesome. “I started diversifying my circles and listening. I started intentionally seeking relationships with people who did not look like me. I read more. I started to ‘diversify my newsfeed’ on social media and started following many more non-white news outlets, authors, bloggers, pastors, etc. I began to really empathize with others on a level that I never had. I started to see things through their eyes and then viewed them through the eyes of Jesus.” She goes on to explain the beauty of what this perspective did for her, “My eyes have been opened, my heart has been changed. I’m a different person. It’s very similar to how I felt after I started walking with Jesus. I just viewed things through a different lens. I am very aware now. I am intentional in how I spend my time, who I spend my time with and what I spend my time doing. I’m not just doing what is most convenient and in my comfort zone.”
Similar to Summer, Jasmine has experienced a life takeaway that can be easily overlooked; the importance of community. Being surrounded by people who have a heart to make a difference locally, regionally, and nationally is a rich place to be. Jasmine explains, “I look forward to the group and have formed many friendships through the group. The group has helped me learn that there are many ways to forgive others and to be forgiven. The group has been a true blessing for me. I feel like I am more open to meeting new people and learning from their experiences.”
I wholeheartedly resonate with Summer’s final thoughts, “There are times where I feel discouraged, tired, and frustrated in actively pursuing racial reconciliation. I have lost friendships because of it. I have had to have difficult and uncomfortable conversations with people.” Just like our Be the Bridge book she reiterated, “This isn’t easy work.” Nothing that is ever life-transforming is easy. Every little step is a huge step and, in the end, it is all worth it.
Story Written By: Casey Pham