I am a black man, foreign-born in Ethiopia, and married to a white woman from Kansas. To talk about racism for me can be more complicated than I thought. After a lot of thought and many attempts to write, I decided to share my experience as a black man and leaving the rest to my American brothers and sisters to share from their perspective. I have been observing USA racial relationships for over 20 years as a foreign-born pastor and want to tell my story on forgiveness.
I have been a victim of many betrayals and hurts. Some of them are because of bias or racism others just because of the pure sinfulness of people and the presence of evil. My mom was poisoned by her brothers because of a fight on inheritance. My dad disowned me because I was not a “good kid”. I was in a country in Asia visiting with a friend and got sick so I went to Hospital where no black man had ever been, I was shocked when the nurses were checking my skin to see if the color will come off. Then I walked into the office of a very rich Asian man whose son was living in my country of Ethiopia at the time, he did not know I understand many words in their language; and heard him describing me to his wife in a demeaning term which I responded with a giggly smile which made him to apologize repeatedly.
Here in the USA people who are respected in their settings, who do not know me when they first met me, label me and say things that demean me without knowing me or asking me questions. There are people whom I worked with who always talked to me “you Africans…” I was in a church meeting one time where an African missionary who later became a dear friend of mine saying “the Church in Africa is shallow…” He did not think how that will be hurtful to me at all. I can share many hurts. Oh, I was driving to Atlanta and drove through Kentucky when a policeman was following me. As soon as he was going to pass me our eyes met and he slowed down and pulled me over. He told me: “we heard a report that you were driving 25 miles on a 75 MPH” (in other words, too slow!) which is not true at all for the car was on a cruise since I entered Illinois line for more than an hour. He asked me to get out of the car and asked me if I had a drug, I said: “no.” He checked every piece in my messy car. After more than 45 minutes he asked me for my license and he checked me and found out I am a pastor and a student at Covenant Seminary, I still see his red face with embarrassment and I got a 30-minute lecture why the police are trying to give safety to people and I should not be upset. I left with a smile and a relief and thanked Him for his work went on my way. I can tell you many more. To the people who know me, I am thankful and joyful in spite of being treated as a second class American citizen.
I forgave the killers of my mom as I confront them and met with them after I came to the Lord. I forgave each of the people who hurt me intentionally and unintentionally in these stories both inside and outside of the Church. Why? and How?
One Core value that guides my life is I have received forgiveness in Jesus Christ and I have to remember whether people accept it or not Jesus died for all their sins so I have to walk in the light of that forgiving truth. We forgive people not because they deserve to be forgiven but because we are called to obey and forgive as we were forgiven. I believe we the followers of Christ have the solution to heal the nation of racism. The power of forgiveness and mutual responsibility for our sin will transform lives among those who are hurting and hurtful. I am not saying we can do it by ourselves it has to be God doing it. If we know the depth of our sin and the deeper power of the forgiving love of God yes we can heal our neighborhood. I will leave my white friends to reflect on what they want to say but we blacks cannot heal our neighborhoods with a grudge. We must forgive or our bitter grudge will not set us free. When I forgave my mother’s killers I was set free and blessed the next generation with freedom.
Philip Yancey talked about Martin Luther King Jr. “The human heart, not the courtroom, was his supreme battleground. As one of those changed hearts, I would have to agree.” We can not change peoples’ hearts with a grudge. Only forgiveness changes people’s hearts and that is what Changed my heart. I share this story to encourage us to obey Jesus’s call to forgive.
One reason for my joy is that when My father disowned me God accepted me as my true Father using John 1:12 he became my Father. So I always remember when someone hurts me that Jesus died for their sin and I am not the one to carry a grudge. Therefore, black pastors and leaders need to teach their congregation the power of forgiveness regardless of their hurt because that is where the transformation begins.
Nelson Mandela said, “resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Grudge or resentment will never transform you it will hurt you and eventually kill you. As black church leaders push for policy and political change, they need to push for understanding the power of forgiveness in their family, church, and neighborhood. It is better to fail to try to obey Jesus’s command on forgiveness than that we succeed without the issue of changing the heart.
As I learned from another quote from Mandela: “do not judge me by my success, Judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” We black Christians have a bigger call in society to teach forgiveness and risk falling than succeeding without it.
Forgiveness should be our lifestyle.
Sr Pastor Rise Together EFCA and Africa Diaspora Ministry Director for EFCA Central