Grace is at work on earth! Regardless of opposition, if one perseveres in pursuit of the dream, he can expect grace victories.
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree. (Matthew 13:31–33)
Grace is at work on earth! Regardless of opposition, if one perseveres in pursuit of the dream, he can expect grace victories (Acts 10–11). Just ask Raleigh Washington and Glen Kehrein. They had experienced the shattering of a dream of reconciliation, especially between “blacks” and “whites.” But they refused defeat. Like mustard seeds in the vast garden of racism, they planted something new — something that reflected the kingdom of heaven on earth — and then that something began to grow:
Two wounded men, one white, one black, unknown to each other, lived only a few miles apart in Chicago in 1983. Glen Kehrein, white, lived in a black community on Chicago’s west side; Raleigh Washington, black, was attending a white seminary in the northern suburbs. One was emotionally bloodied from cross-cultural relationships that had blown up in his face, shattering his dream of true racial reconciliation in the church. The other had been unjustly stripped of his career by jealous whites who couldn’t stand to see an “uppity nigger” climbing the ladder of success ahead of them. Each had a need to reconcile to his God and to a seemingly hostile race.1
After personal defeat in different ministries, God brought them together to forge a positive personal and ministry relationship. Their model, recorded in their groundbreaking book Breaking Down Walls, became a source of inspiration and direction for many. Charles Colson commented on their book that chronicles their journey:
Since the ’92 L.A. riots, America has seen racial division and hatred in a stark new way. In this excellent and readable book, Raleigh Washington and Glen Kehrein demonstrate the reality of another way: the reconciliation truly available through Jesus Christ. Glen and Raleigh challenge Christians to our biblical responsibility to live in unity, even as we celebrate our diversity. Their relationship and committed work in the inner city show how difficult — and how excellent — that really can be.2
Fulfilling the D.R.E.A.M. of grace relations requires more than just talk, more than just counting the cost. In order for there to be any change on any scale, the love of Christ must be unleashed in our actions through applications within a local context and measurable subsequent steps.
Glen and Raleigh developed a template of principles for building cross-cultural relationships. The principles of reconciliation were derived from their personal lives and the proving ground of two cross-cultural, inner-city ministries. Circle Urban Ministries and Rock of Our Salvation Church are partners in a holistic ministry that unites faith and works:3
Grace relations need biblical dreamers who are willing to face reality and who know what to expect. Yet progress in relationships will be no more than a dream without personal, practical application. Applications are as diverse as the people and cultural contexts that one ministers within. Contextual differences can range from peaceful indifference to open hostility, from segregated communities to integrated communities, and from faith-based relationships to feelings-based relationships.
Grace relations need biblical dreamers who are willing to face reality and who know what to expect.
In 2004, I was privileged to be one of 48 individuals from around the world to gather in Thailand for a symposium with the goal of “Pursuing God’s Reconciling Mission in a World of Destructive Conflicts: Particularly Racial, Tribal, Ethnic, Caste/Class, and Regional.” Within our group were Hutu and Tutsi, Palestinian and Israeli, African, European from both the United States and South Africa, privileged and marginalized, male and female. The more we interacted and discussed issues of division and the power of the gospel to reconcile, the more I repented over the trivial issues that divide believers in the United States. As a group, we concluded that the alienation of divided peoples cries out today from our world’s destructive histories and divisions — including racial, tribal, ethnic, caste, and regional conflicts. Because of Christians’ roles causing and intensifying many of these conditions (and the resulting damage to witness to the gospel), it is urgent that the Christian community examine itself in prayer and discernment.
When the boundaries that divide range from “I simply do not know a Christian of another racial background” to “They murdered my family,” it is absurd to think that a single application will serve all, though Scripture applies in all cases. Although applications may differ according to our gifts and communities, God expects each of us to advance grace relations. It is time to join the movement of workers that are preparing, planting, and harvesting in a garden of grace rather than in a garden of racism.
God knows how gardens are formed, and He wants each of us to be a part of the coming harvest. Throughout Scripture, He paints pictures of life using agricultural examples. We are told, “God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7). Not only will we harvest what we plant, but Scripture tells us that we will harvest more than what we plant (Hosea 8:7). And not only that, but we are also told to have patience because the fruits of our labor come in a different season. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people” (Galatians 6:9–10 NIV, italics mine).
“Colour: When Racism Divides” was the title of the conference where I was honored to be among the plenary speakers on August 9–13, 2017. You could sense the tension among the believers as we heard personal testimonies of rejection, injustice, and abuse due to the color of one’s skin. The need for transformation of lives through correct biblical teaching was the dominant message.
Then I heard the disturbing breaking news from Charlottesville, Virginia — the August 12 violent interaction between the “Unite the Right” protestors and the counter-protesters. According to news reports, both white supremacists and white nationalists, described by some as numbering several hundred, were at the Charlottesville event that ended violently after they were met by a large number of anti-hate and anti-fascist groups. Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old woman, was struck and killed by a car during the protest!4 The irony was that I was not in the United States but in South Africa when I heard the report!
While many in the United States were reacting to white supremacists, South Africans were concerned by the growing political influence of Black Nationalism! “‘Bury them alive!’ White South Africans fear for their future as horrific farm attacks escalate,” is the title of a March 25, 2017, News.com.au article written by Frank Chung.5
Yes, racism is a global challenge. In my mind, I reflected on the question — if I were pastoring a multiethnic church in South Africa, how would I assure my white members that they were loved and secure within the church? Likewise, I wrestle with how I can encourage and work together with fellow believers whose skin color is lighter than mine to create communities of light — communities where biblical love is not merely words to be heard but lives that can be seen!
The task before us cannot be underestimated! God is calling us to be involved in part of the most meaningful type of harvest that has ever existed. We are being called to uproot the garden of Darwinian evolution — along with all the hatred, persecution, and prejudice it has yielded. With plows in hand, we have the opportunity to till the soil again, preparing for a future of multicultural unity, both in heaven and on earth.
By planting seeds of grace and nurturing and caring for them according to biblical principles, we will be able to see the emerging fruit of multicultural Christian communities growing firsthand. But this won’t happen by accident — and the task is too important to leave to happenstance. We need a personal plan; we need a team plan.
All who desire to be a part of the grace relations movement would profit from a SWOT analysis. SWOT is a common business term for a type of analysis that helps teams identify their Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Knowing oneself, the culture, and the demographics of the ministry and community, as well as the adversaries, will assist in contextualizing a local application.
We need grace to honestly access where we are personally. (Ken addressed many of these issues in an earlier chapter, as he challenged us to apply theology and scientific evidence on a heart level.) In challenging students to prepare themselves for cross-cultural ministry, I prepared a list of questions for them to prayerfully consider (see appendix C). The purpose of the self-inspection is to identify personal strengths and weaknesses and then develop a personal growth plan. Often our failure to progress has more to do with ourselves than those we need to reconcile with!
Personal preparation is as fundamental to grace relations as soil preparation is to planting a garden. The wise garden owner knows the current condition of his fields. Likewise, we should know the demographics, values, experiences, governance, worship styles, and history of the communities we seek to bring together by the grace of God. It is helpful to determine what truths are non-negotiable and what cultural preferences can be negotiated before engaging relationships. Many plans fail to take into account that certain organizations and communities may have racial bias embedded in their systems and processes. Long after personal racism has been forsaken, organizations constructed on racist ideology may still resist grace relations — even if individuals are unconscious of it. One example is segregated neighborhoods, especially when the segregation is being promoted by gentrification (the political and/ or economic displacement of poor people from a neighborhood to be repopulated with those more financially well-off).
Along the way, we will face opposition from those who have learned to reap their own rewards from Darwin’s garden. Wise applications will be made in full recognition of those influences that profit from segregation. Churches, denominations, educational groups, neighborhoods, and political parties have all been segregated by skin tone, and many people gain power, prestige, and profit from the divisions. Is it any wonder that leaders and vendors of these segregated communities find it difficult to see the profit of grace relations? An open assessment of opposition waiting in the fields is necessary as we plan for a successful harvest through applications within local context.
A grace relations strategy includes a dream, a realistic perspective, an expectation of opposition, and contextualized applications. Finally, a good plan should have measurable points of progress. Years ago I pondered this question: What did a “white” person have to do for me to accept him? It dawned on me that if there were not a measurable goal, there would never be an end to racism — at least for me. Must it always be “them” and “us,” or could it ever really become just “us”?
Each of us needs a clear picture of a garden built on biblical truth. Each of us needs measurable points of progress on our way to the harvest. Marty, one of our students at Crossroads Bible College, is an excellent example of this. After taking the course “Culture, Race, and the Church,” our students are asked to prepare a personal action plan. Marty, a Child Evangelism Fellowship worker, developed several workshops to help fellow Child Evangelism Fellowship workers with grace relations issues. She requested that the course be offered during a week-long module and was successful in getting some Child Evangelism Fellowship leaders to attend. Marty developed a training course for Child Evangelism Fellowship that is an adaptation of the Crossroads course but with contextual application to urban children. I had the privilege of meeting with Marty as she progressed through measurable steps in a plan to help the ministry she served to progress in grace relations.
Each of us needs a clear picture of a garden built on biblical truth.
Every harvest begins long before the fruit is picked. A vibrant garden growing in grace relations is no exception. It’s the result of strategic work through different seasons, maturing through the years, to yield the desired result. In the next few pages, I’ve included a list of possible steps that you might want to consider as you measure your progress. While it might take much time for the harvest to mature, there are blessings every moment of the journey: a new friend, a new insight from God’s Word, the sense of fullness that comes from knowing you’re living out His plan for you. Much of the blessing comes from experiencing God’s grace in your own personal life, even as you desire to see the fruit of grace expressed on a community level. Notice what the Bible says about the personal process that ensures that we are useful and fruitful in our work:
And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5–8 KJV)
This passage provides a goal and process for cultivating a flourishing environment of grace in your own life. The goal is to continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, through a process that builds personal character as it provides a wonderful template for building intimate grace relationships between saints of different racial/ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Based on this passage, I use the following eight-step template in my Grace Relations workshops and consulting:
As one considers the progression of the 2 Peter growth cycle, he should be able to identify where he is and devise a plan for taking the next step. Often, individuals and/or organizations fail to make progress because they lack clear direction. This diagnostic tool can help pinpoint both the problem and prescription for continued growth. (Appendix D contains a questionnaire you can use to this end.)
Christ is the ultimate model we seek to imitate. He clearly states and demonstrates that God’s commandments may be summed up as loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37–39). We will never attain complete conformity to Christ-like love in this life; therefore, we should continually be growing through application of the growth cycle.
The Christian family is united by one blood — the blood of Christ!
The abounding sin of the first Adam is evident all around us in broken “race” relations. There needs to be more evidence of the abounding love and acceptance of the last Adam (Jesus) through His grace relations. The Christian family is united by one blood — the blood of Christ! Will the Church demonstrate that God’s reconciliation at Christ’s expense creates a community of love that captures the attention of a fractured and dysfunctional society?
God is calling grace dreamers who know the reality of tense cultural and ethnic relations. He warns them to expect opposition, but He challenges them to be wise enough to establish contextualized applications with a view toward advancing grace relations around the globe to the glory of God.
Ken and I pray that you have listened carefully to the words of Scripture and the resonating evidence of science throughout this book. We pray now that the Holy Spirit of God will take this information and bring it alive in your soul. He and I refuse to let the darkness of the past shut out the light of a brighter tomorrow. We dream of being a brush in the hand of God as He paints a beautiful, colorful picture of multiple cultures living in harmony within the Church. Our hearts pound with anticipation of grace relations. Does yours?
Perhaps you have ideas and dreams of your own. In your heart you see an image of a different world. You see the potential and the need of a cross-cultural friendship waiting to be born. You sense a new element of purpose for your existence as an ambassador for Jesus Christ on this planet.
Perhaps God is giving you an idea, a specific idea, like a mustard seed from His kingdom planted in your heart. If so, listen well to Him. Allow the grace and love of Christ to begin to flow through you in obedience to His call. And never, ever forget: Ideas are like seeds. They might seem small; they might seem insignificant; they might even go unnoticed by all except those who hold them in the moment. But let there be no doubt, both ideas and seeds are incredibly powerful. From seeds dropped in fertile ground grow the mighty oaks which anchor the land, altering the course of the rivers and wind. And from ideas planted in the fertile soil of the human mind grow the thoughts and convictions of mankind, altering the course of history for the world and the individual.
Are you one who will join us in daring to dream this biblical dream? What are the measurable next steps for you? Let us commit to simply pursuing the heavenly dream until we awake in heaven in full realization of the Father’s will.
One measurable step you can take is to become a member of the Grace Relations Network today! The Grace Relations Network seeks to provide biblical encouragement and promote loving relationships across cultural and ethnic boundaries that result in unified efforts for evangelization and discipleship. Together we will create communities of light that glorify God.
The GRN provides speakers, consulting, mentoring, conferences, and resources. Engage with us by becoming an annual member of the Grace Relations Network (gracerelations.net).