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by Kate Kooyman
Theresa Latini is taking a short break from her rotation on The Twelve. While she’s away, we welcome Kate Kooyman. Kate is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who serves in the Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Witness in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Thank you, Kate.
Right after graduating from college, my new husband and I moved to Honduras to teach at a private English-immersion school in the capital city. We were not education majors. While there, my college’s alumni magazine ran a story about the group of us recent grads (there were lots of us) who had taken our hard-earned diplomas and well-ingrained worldview to the second poorest country in Central America.
In that article, I’m quoted as saying I was compelled by my Christian college education to “be the change I want to see in the world.” When I said that, I was planning a spring break trip to a Caribbean beach house where I could snorkel outside my front door.
I believe that God can, and wants to, use even the least qualified among us for building the kingdom. Even us English majors.
And I believe that young white Christians today are not aware how very unqualified they are to make change.
When I was a college chaplain, I had an epiphany that many others had already discovered: for many white Christian young adults, the only experience they have had with people of color has been in the context of “mission” and “outreach.” I should know; I was one of them. When I thought of interacting with a person of color, I thought of helping that person. I thought of disparity, of need, and often of sinful behavior. My experiences with “the other” (when it came to racial diversity) was locked in a framework of “being the change I want to see in the world.”
This is a huge problem. Among those college students, I wondered how it impacted their friendships — whether they would be able to unlearn the unspoken hierarchy, these unnamed roles of “needed” and “needy.” I wondered how it would impacted their politics — whether their passion for immigration reform was solely on behalf of the immigrant, but never a sense of how just immigration policy would benefit their own campus, their own community, their whole nation’s GDP. And I really wondered how it impacted their faith — what sort of God they were imagining who would cast them in the role of white savior into a broken and simple and largely dark-complected world. I wonder still.
It has taken me some hard work to recognize the ways that I fancy myself to be the solution to other people’s problems. I’m still learning to recognize the innumerable ways that my privilege is built on the backs of those I’ve been conditioned to believe I am called to serve.
In the gospel of Mark, Jesus seems adamant on pushing his disciples to “cross over” — to pass through the social boundaries of their day. I have long assumed that this meant I (a disciple) was bringing the good news to “the other.” But I’ve been seeing more and more another theme in the gospels: it’s usually the one on the “other side” of that sea of division who recognizes Jesus. It’s the demon-possessed man. It’s the woman with the chronic illness. It’s the Gentile. And the disciples are the ones with the hard hearts, the blinded eyes, the lack of understanding. And I’m not sure which one of those I am most days: the woman, the blind one, the Gentile, the disciple.
In the gospel, it becomes less and less clear who is “us” and who is “them.” And maybe that’s the beginning of the recovery from this warped call to “be the change.” The more I learn about the Jesus I am called to follow, the more I’m convinced that the change the world most needs starts with me.