In June of 2001, less than a week after my high school graduation, I went on a mission’s trip to Argentina. I was ecstatic and had waited the majority of my senior year for this experience. This was not my first mission’s trip; just the summer before I went to El Salvador. It was during my trip in El Salvador that I sensed God confirming my call into ministry, specifically missions and pastoring. In just a few short months after my trip to Argentina, I would be starting my freshman year at North Central University, a small Bible College in the Twin Cities to pursue a degree in missions, rather Cross Cultural Studies (the formal name of the missions program at that time). Surrounded by these two realities, going to Argentina was very significant to me and I was ready to be challenged.
But the challenge that I received was not what I was expecting. A friend and I were the only two black people on that trip that consisted of nearly 40 youth and three adults. There was one other person of color, who was Latina. But I was aware of this fact some two or so months before as our team gathered in Waupaca, WI for mandatory training and they all seemed nice enough, so cool, right? Wrong. I had never felt so ostracized in my entire life than during those two weeks on that trip. Many times after a day of ministry, I would come back to the place that we were staying at the Bible College in Buenos Aires and weep my eyes out because I just couldn’t put my finger on why I was treated the way I was. All throughout I kept questioning whether it was me; was I saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing?
There was a pastor who was there with his youth group, and they made up the majority of our missions team. Together they would take pictures, hang out and do other activities, but my friend and I were never invited to participate. Seldom did that pastor interact with us; in fact I can’t recall one instance where he actually did during that trip. I internalized his treatment towards me, wondering what the basis of his actions were. He didn’t even know me.
Tonight as I was praying, grieving over a different issue that I am facing in the present, this trip and all of its accompanying feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, worry and fear came to my remembrance. It has been 12 years and never have I once thought of what happened on that trip until today; I left and buried those memories in Buenos Aires, Argentina back then and walked away. But God resurfaced it, and all of a sudden I felt all of these emotions that I didn’t know what to do with. I wept for that girl who experienced this so long ago, because no one should ever be in a place where they feel discounted as a result of the color of their skin. I weep for that same girl, now a woman, today because it is unfortunate that I still encounter the same hatred, the same resistance, the same despondency which makes me second guess myself and ask: was it me, was is something I said? Am I not qualified enough? Not beautiful enough? Not spiritual enough? Not networked enough? Not bold enough? Not proud enough? Not humble enough? Not brave enough?
But no, its just racism waving its ugly head in the most insidious ways. So often it’s so subtle and covert that you wouldn’t even know it’s there. But it’s there, and it has a nasty bite that has a tendency to cripple its victims and disarm its opponents. And the most terrible thing about it to me is that it is often perpetrated the most by people who claim to be God’s own. It’s time for a change.