By: Jenni Walker
“There are different kinds of service but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work…Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:5–6, 27
* * *
On January 20, 2009, I stood in the special education office of the public middle school where I taught resource classes for at-risk students with varied learning challenges. As a first year teacher fresh out of college, this was the office I had been in many times to consult with the special education department chair who, despite differences in age and teaching experience, became my dear friend, as well as a deeply respected mentor and advisor.
Mrs. Hill is incredibly experienced in the world of special education, knows the compliance requirements for individual education plans backward and forward, and is not a person some of the more behaviorally-challenged students wanted to tango with. Her Christian faith is known by many to be the bedrock of her life, and her wealth of wisdom was sought out not only by me but many other colleagues as well.
You see, our age and years of teaching experience were not the only differences between Mrs. Hill and myself. The colors of our skin are also very different, hers a deep chocolate and mine a pale vanilla. Over time, she shared with me some of her experiences as a woman of color, born around the time of the civil rights movement, and having still experienced injustices after the fact despite the many advances fought for, suffered for, and ultimately gained as a result of it. She also shared about her family life and walk with the Lord. I sought her perspective and wisdom about situations in my own life as well. Through this mutual respect and care, we learned about one another, the community around us, and grew close as sisters in Christ.
The student body population was majority black at this northwest Tulsa school, as was the school administration, most of whom were around Mrs. Hill’s age. They were also her dear friends, respected one another professionally, conversed easily, and even brought the occasional sweet potato pie to her office.
I had been in Mrs. Hill’s office many times before amongst her administrative colleagues. I recognized and honored that they were my elders both in education and in life. A few of them seemed taken aback by my friendly respect, but not Mrs. Hill. She both expected and gave respect regardless of age, race, or socioeconomic status. She truly exuded the love of Christ and walked in divine wisdom, in reliance on God’s Word, and on the Holy Spirit’s leading in both her personal and professional life.
But the topic this day was not students, best practices in special education, or even friendly conversation. In fact, there was not much chatter at all. It was close to my lunch break as I entered Mrs. Hill’s office across the hall from my own classroom. We were soon joined by the vice principal, dean of students, school counselor, and one of the special education paraprofessionals. Without realizing it, though I soon would, I was about to witness a poignant historical moment in each of their lives.
You see, it was the inaugural ceremony for President Barack Obama, the first black American president in our country’s history. Regardless of political beliefs, many Americans before this could only dream of such a reality. Mrs. Hill had the TV turned on in her office, and everyone sat or stood quietly eating, watching, and listening to history being made. I observed the emotion of each person’s eyes and body language, each having been born around the same time as Mrs. Hill and witness to, or victim of, many of the same injustices. No one shared who they actually voted for, but the historical magnitude was felt by all.
Why do I bring this memory up today? Because race relations in our country and in the body of Christ is something that has been on my heart a lot lately. This is a topic swirling throughout nearly every aspect of our culture right now, and it is one we as believers must navigate in a Christ-centered way with God’s truth, wisdom, and mighty love. It is only with these that we are able to respond with gospel-centered humility and discernment.
I know some Wholehearted Women reading this may be feeling apprehensive about this topic of race relations, while others long to hash things out and to go deeper about it. There are so many cultural buzzwords swirling around this topic that can become divisive when people talk about them because they get heated, defensive, or refuse to listen to another’s perspective. That is not what we are going to do here. Some of those buzzwords represent important topics, while others can lead to unbiblical paradigm shifts in thinking. As I experienced in my relationship with Mrs. Hill, our goal is to listen and learn from the experiences that some of our sisters in Christ share with us over these next few weeks about this topic, to draw closer to one another, and to let the Lord speak to our hearts.
Over the next several weeks, we will consider together just how does a Wholehearted Woman, regardless of race or skin color, yet also in consideration of her racial or ethnic background, navigate such things in a God-honoring way that is biblical, Christ-centered, and Spirit-led? We will learn from the experiences and godly examples of some of our sisters in Christ who have experienced realities both good and bad, hard yet hopeful, as a result of skin color. The stories shared may challenge you, affirm beliefs you already hold, or offer fresh and godly insights on this topic of race relations and racial reconciliation from a godly perspective. It is our prayer that they will point you to truth, be used to stir your heart, demonstrate to you where more work may need to be done as the body of Christ, and show you where God is already working – and where He may be asking you to join Him. We’ll see you next week!
“There are different kinds of service but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work…If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:5–6, 26–27)