time to speak
The Witness

A Time to Speak

Nana Dolce

My husband and I live east of the Anacostia River in Washington D.C. The area, roughly 20 square miles in size, is over 90 percent black. A single IHOP and a Denny’s serve as its major full-service restaurants. There are no high-end department stores, but discount clothing and dollar stores can be found. There are no movie theaters, few parks, and a dusting of grocery stores. There are no colleges, but plenty of liquor stores.

“Greater Anacostia,” as some refer to it, is not the community I was supposed to live in. I grew up in Montgomery County, Maryland (Forbes’s 10th richest in 2012) in a diverse residential neighborhood. I attended a nationally-recognized high school and the only gunshots I heard were on episodes of “Law and Order.”

Tales From the Safe Zone

From this “safe zone,” I heard stories of Southeast Washington D.C.—another world 40 minutes from mine: a terrible place where drug dealers stood on corners, surveying cars and pedestrians with direct and determined stares. It was a place where sirens called back to gunshots at night while people wondered what news the morning would bring; a place where cops were as familiar to sidewalks as fire hydrants. It was a place where I never dreamt I would belong.

And in truth, I never chose to live in Southeast D.C. Like Jeremiah who insisted, “O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived” (Jeremiah 20:7), it was like I was taken for a ride one day and dropped off on the corner of Pennsylvania and Southern Avenue and then, five years later, on the corner of Massachusetts and Alabama Avenue, Southeast.

Along For the Ride

You see, I was called to my husband Eric; and it was he who seemed called to Southeast D.C. I simply rode along to keep him company. And so for some years, I stayed relatively quiet and unseen while he worked.

He used the house next door—a place rented by several men—for his weekly Bible study group. He befriended a grandmother in the neighborhood as she raised two young boys. Eric listened as she shared her struggles until she became a regular at our door on holidays, always bearing gifts. He intentionally took the bus or walked on Saturday mornings so as to engage Jehovah’s Witnesses in conversation. One encounter with a man led to an 18-month study of Scripture.

A Change of Heart

In time, the heat of my husband’s passion for God’s glory in Southeast D.C. melted my heart and summoned me to say, “Here I am. Send me” (Isaiah 6:8). Let me love God and neighbor well—east of Washington’s Anacostia River!

So here I stand. And from the view of a poor black community, I watch the current events of our nation—namely the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, the homicide of Eric Garner in Staten Island, the non-indictment of the officers in connection with the deaths, and the extemporaneous and staged protests across the country.

A Time to Speak

It’s been equally interesting to observe the evangelical discussion of these matters. While there are diverging perspectives, many Christians across racial lines have agreed that black lives matter.  Whether directly stated or implied, I heard this message resonate from Kainos’ “#ATimetoSpeak,” a livestream panel discussion on race and the church that took place this December. Comments made there by leading evangelical leaders emphasized the importance of all lives—including black lives.

And if this is true, then may our certainty of that fact outlive the current social media buzz. What do I mean? If we are indeed persuaded from Scripture that all lives matter—including poor black lives (see Genesis 1:27)—then let our expression of that truth echo long after the nation has moved on to the next hot topic. Let Christian conversations continue beyond the trending hashtags.  And more importantly, let the truth of the statement convict us to love God and neighbor as though they matter.

A Self Examination

Often we can take a message like “#BlackLivesMatter” and treat it like a truth “other people” need to know. But what if my Twitter feed displays a righteousness my life doesn’t show?  If indeed all lives matter, am I troubled by the fact that I don’t know my neighbor? Am I bothered by the casual and surface connections I share with others, even at church? Am I willing to risk my comfort and convenience for the sake of knowing and loving a life that matters?

Pastor Bryan Loritts, speaking at “#ATimetoSpeak,” stated that there’s no empathy without proximity. Author Trillia Newbell said something profound that I wish to add as a paraphrase: Tweets are one thing, a knock on your neighbor’s door is another. My exhortation to myself and others is to live on mission right where we are.

And whether in a Southeast D.C. like myself or in a Montgomery County, Maryland, may we seek to love others like they matter: young men and women who have never known the security of an intact family and are hungry for the humble example of a strong husband and father or a nurturing wife and mother; single mothers and grandmothers longing for the ear of a truly caring person; disheartened men and women who need to hear that salvation is of the Lord.

I’m grateful for my husband who models for me that lives matter—including poor black lives on the outskirts of America. Above all, I’m grateful to the sinless One who condescended to come as a poor Jew—ridiculed, scorned, beaten, and crucified on a cross as the sinner’s substitute in judgment and in righteousness. All around me in Southeast Washington D.C., #BlackLivesMatter because of his work on their behalf. May I be found proclaiming and demonstrating that truth long after the Twitter trends are gone.

2 thoughts on “A Time to Speak

  1. Wendy

    More than food for thought. Great post, Nana.

  2. Kara

    Powerful and beautiful. Thank you for sharing so vulnerably about your own journey, and challenging us to follow Jesus with you.

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