Sankofa Experience: Part 3

When I first heard about the Sankofa bus trip, I was not quite sure what to expect. It was explained to me that it is a four-day bus trip to various sites in the deep south that were commemorative of the Civil Rights era. I, like most of us these days, immediately searched for and found their website. The website stated “The Sankofa Journey is an intentional, cross-racial prayer journey that seeks to assist disciples of Christ on their move toward a righteous response to the social ills related to racism. This interactive experience explores historic sites of importance in the Civil Rights movement, places of oppression and inequality for people of color, while seeking to move participants toward healing the wounds and racial divide caused by hundreds of years of racial injustice in the United States of America.” That sounded like something that I definitely wanted to be a part of, so I readily agreed. My wife, Tiffany, and I were excited to go and we were even more excited to find out that we would be paired with Andy and Lisa Entz. We arrived in Chicago slightly behind schedule due to a flight delay, but we were still ready to go. The attendees introduced themselves to the other travelers and we prepared to embark. We travelled through the night and arrived in Birmingham, AL, the next morning.

I thoroughly enjoyed the fellowship of Andy and the other participants as we continued to put miles behind us hustling from site to site. In fact, an undeniable feeling became apparent with each passing mile. There seemed to be an intangible sense of family brimming from within our group that belied the racially divided American society that we were discussing along the way. This sense of brotherly and sisterly love that permeated the Sankofa atmosphere was in direct contrast to the racially charged documentaries and movies we watched on the bus and the memorialized events of the Civil Rights Movement that we visited at the various sites and museums. As I noticed this, what I began to realize is that we – the Church – as the embodiment of Jesus Christ on earth, have been negligent in our duty to “occupy until He comes” by being the example that society so desperately needs. We know that in Christ there is “neither Jew nor Greek” (nor African American nor Caucasian nor Hispanic nor Asian nor Indian nor Middle Eastern, etc.) “neither bond nor free and there is neither male nor female…” (Galatians 3:26-28).

The categorization and classification of people based upon race is an insidious practice that has been used by the dominant culture of every “civilized” society since man’s fall in the Garden of Eden. Man’s desire to subjugate and mistreat whom he can, accompanied with his errant belief in inherent racial superiority, did not begin in America and it will not end until the return of our Lord. Jesus, when speaking to one group stated, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father, ye will do…” (John 8:43-44). Just for the record, the “spiritual wickedness in high places” referred to in scripture is not referring to a mysterious group of people living on a mountain in Tibet. Generationally racist regimes are “of their father” and will do the evil that their father does. But it should not be so for us. This mindset and the practice of the aforementioned beliefs have no place in our personage and identity as a people reconciled back to God and to each other. The church alone has been given the true ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-19). We alone have been given the promise of the Holy Spirit. (John 14:16-17), and it is only through us actually walking in the Spirit that we will receive and exhibit the love that we have been commanded to show to each other and to our fellow man (Ephesians 5:8-16). The world, in its blindness, is incapable of doing this (2 Corinthians 4:4). So the task falls to us as the “salt and light” of this world, to “show them a more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:1, emphasis added). But can the American Church truthfully say that we have done that as a whole?

With each movie we watched and each stop we made along the way, the feeling of the American Church’s misuse and misapplication of the gift of the Holy Spirit became more and more apparent to me. The final confirmation was received when we visited The Spencer Perkins Center for Reconciliation and Community Development. There, we had the privilege of meeting and hearing from Dr. John M. Perkins. Dr. Perkins is a world-renown preacher and advocate for racial reconciliation. At the age of 29, he was arrested and mercilessly tortured by police in Brandon, MS, for organizing an economic boycott in his hometown of Mendenhall, MS. He has since worked to reverse the ill effects of racism and systemic poverty all over the world. Dr. Perkins shared a number of things with us, but one thing that he said in particular stuck with me and I will remember it for the rest of my life. To paraphrase, he said that the problem with our American society is that the church has taken the surrounding culture and wrapped Christ around it, instead of wrapping our culture around Christ. It became clear to me what I had been feeling since the trip began: everyone on the bus was (at least behaving like we were) one in Christ. This was in direct contrast to life outside of “Sankofa.” Jesus asked in John 17:20-23, when praying for the church, “…that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.”

So, my fellow American Christians, I will summarize this revelation this way: true reconciliation, whether racial or any other kind, can only be accomplished through unity in Christ. When we actually live our claim that Jesus is Lord, we will be as one. And when we esteem each other above ourselves, regardless of race, the world will see this and ask, “How are they able to love each other like that?” Then we can say, “Because Jesus was sent by God to die for our sins and it is only through belief in Him that we can be reconciled back to God.” And they can say, “There must be something to what the church is claiming because somehow they’re able to think, talk and act contradictory to the systematically implanted racial and social prejudices that are in me and in those around me.” See how that works? But if we, the Church, carry the same racial mindset as the rest of America and the world, how are we going to be the change agent we’ve been called to be? We are either in Christ or we are of the world. If we claim that he is our Lord, then we must be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2).

I am glad I was asked to go on the Sankofa journey. More importantly, I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is willing to face the truth about where they stand regarding our country’s purposely-structured system of racial prejudice. It was enlightening to hear various sides of the “race issue” from people representing other cultures. But as disciples of Christ, we must be ever mindful of the fact that we are called to come out from amongst the world, and each of us is therefore called to “examine ourselves, whether we be in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5, emphasis added). In so doing, let us decide to be what our Lord called us to be. Let’s say it together church: “I believe America and the rest of the world can be transformed for the Kingdom of God, but that transformation requires that I first put aside all racial prejudice within me.”

Keith Wilks is the Regional Director of Ministry for World Impact's East region.