Pastoring & Leadership

Planting in the Fields of Racial Reconciliation

Kim Ransleban

One Tuesday morning, I woke with all too familiar stories on social media. Two young, black men were dead. One of them, David Joseph, died just about an hour south of where I sat. A high school kid, so much like those I love here — except he was naked, unarmed, and shot dead just a few seconds after being confronted by Austin police.

The other death was just as tragic. Far north of me in Ohio, 23-year-old Marshawn McCarrel was also dead from a gunshot wound, but this one by his own hand. The activist’s Twitter and Facebook feeds reveal a passionate young man who fought hard for the voices of Ferguson to be heard in the days following Michael Brown’s death, and apparently fought hard against inner demons as well.

Weary Taelor
That weariness is understandable. The stories are all too common. Every week, if not every day, another name is made into a hashtag with calls to remember their lives, and to see the Imago Dei in every face. But as the names just keep coming, it’s growing increasingly hard to stay hopeful that church leaders will trumpet the call for racial reconciliation in their communities. It’s a weariness I couldn’t help, but hear from a young brother right here on RAAN the very same day.

I know very little about Taelor Gray. He certainly knows nothing about me. But I wept for him that day as I recognized the news of Marshawn’s death from his own town of Columbus would have affected him deeply, even as his own work of weariness was published.

Taelor accurately identified that though the right words are being spoken publicly and the right sermons are preached, too few leaders seem committed to take the steps necessary to bring racial reconciliation to their own homes, to their fellow African American, Christian pastors who have been preaching the same messages unheard. He calls us out for disobeying James 2 in holding right theology without right actions, a life full of fear and hypocrisy which Paul adds in Galatians 2 is a conduct not in step with the truth of the gospel.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that article, and the unknown voices who cry out the same weary echo. And as a woman who has much more in common (at least in age) with the mothers of most of the young men and women who are crying out in exhaustion, I’m longing to be one of the great cloud of witnesses and remind those who are working so hard for racial reconciliation not to grow weary and lose heart. Though my fields have not been nearly so public, as a mom of 25 years and as a woman disciplining women, I know how difficult it is to stay encouraged along the way. To that end, I want to offer those of you who feel this burden what I hope will be much needed encouragement to cross that gulf once more.

Confident Expectation in the Father, Not the Field
Year after year, I’ve said the same things to my kids: “Be kind to your sister. Does she feel your love? Watch what you say…how you say it…when you say it. Christ is kind to His people. Repent and BE KIND.” Time after time, I’ve said it, only to watch half-hearted “sorrys” tumble from their mouths and see the gleam in their eyes when they go their own way. It’s hard to stay in fields where there are more weeds than produce, and some whose roots it seems you’ll never dig up.

But then, there’s the hope that it’s the Father who is the Lord of the Harvest, and our hope is in Him. He made seeds that sometimes linger in the west Texas fields for 50 years before taking root. And He often does the same in our hearts. Knowing that can sometimes lead to great discouragement in us though it’s not meant to do so. Instead, it should cause us to watch every day for those small encouraging signs of growth in those around us. Where He says, “Live”, life will happen. No one can stay His hand. No one can turn Him back.

God’s people have always been taken to places where what is in front of us should lead to nothing but despair, and have been asked instead to believe in a God who is far more present, more powerful, more passionate, and more willing than we are to change what is unjust, unrighteous, and unlovable.

He has proved it by opening our own blind eyes, because of His overcoming grace. We need look no further for confidence to go out again to speak strong words of rebuke, correction, encouragement, exhortation, or the very words of life…however they fit the situation. He who called us is faithful to bring forth a harvest from the very seed He supplies and the energy He gives to sow them all.

We Will Reap A Harvest
He will reap that harvest, and so will we. Sometimes, it doesn’t come like we planned or like we want. I remember the first time my oldest daughter came home to tell me about this great teaching she had just heard, and all of the truths God had opened her eyes to. I was smiling so sweetly with her until she said, “I just wish I had heard this before, you know?” Yeah, I do know…because I had said those words to her a few hundred times before. It was a humbling reminder of God’s sovereignty over which seeds grow.

Isaiah 65:17-25 tells us of a day to come when no more will a young man be shot down, or shot by his own hand. And it also tells us that one day our hands will labor, and we will eat the produce of that work. No more will one labor and another get the reward. No more will houses be built only to have another inhabit. The hands that work will be the hands that gain, and their children will live to see it all done.

Without such dreams, our backs grow tired, our mouths too dusty, our feet too swollen to take another step. We have to see that the labors we put our hands to today will reap that very harvest…if, Paul says, we don’t give up (Gal. 6:9).

That’s my longing for you who are laboring so hard in rocky fields, passing by other workers seemingly more content to stand on the sidelines talking about the work to do than to get their hands cracked and dirty by the clay. I don’t want you to grow weary and lose heart. The harvest is certain, because the Lord of the Harvest is faithful. He Himself will surely do it.

I will admit to a selfish motive in my exhortation. It’s my African-American granddaughter’s future in God’s church you’re working toward. It’s her place and her story that has linked you so personally to mine. And yes, I say that as a confession of my deep blindness for far too long. Though the barbershop men recognize my face as that woman who brings young, black men to and from their shop each week, far too few of my black brothers and sisters in my own town have seen me sit in their pews.

But I’m here. I’m listening. I’m working in places and in ways I haven’t before from eating of the plants you’ve been so faithfully sowing along my path. There are others out there who are looking for the same. They may not be famous today. But there will be a day when the Lord changes all of that as He always has…by using His men and women to speak words of truth.

So, dear brothers and sisters, rise today to put hand to work in your fields of opportunity: whether it is a sharp rebuke of a brother too little on works and too much on rhetoric; an encouragement of a brother who is being as misunderstood; a correction of a sister who is gone too far toward social and with not nearly enough Gospel; or training up the masses who are in real need of your teaching, experience and perspective.

Do so knowing that your labor is not in vain. He can be trusted to continue to take barrenness and days of famine and restore it all to you. He will right the balance of all injustice. And He will use your work to do so. Don’t give up. Keep on doing good to all people, especially those of His household of faith (Gal. 6:10).

1 Comment

  1. beth

    your article is written so beautifully. Thank you for sharing.

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