Letter from Brenda Gatlin (Midwest North Regional Leader)

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Letter from Brenda

“What is the church going to do? We don’t know if you see us, or if you will help us?” 

These are the questions a person of color, in our church community, wrote on our Facebook page during the days following the death of George Floyd. Immediately, I found a number in our database and reached out by phone. The words that were repeated several times were, “We feel isolated and alone.” 

I am aware that we cannot fix the pain of hundreds of years of inequality and White privilege…but what can we do? Desperately, I searched my heart and began asking the Holy Spirit what to say. I heard God say, “Be present…be with…and be humble.” I asked if I could meet with this person and their Black friends because something deep inside of me longed to walk through this time in our lives, with them. Not separately, but with them. For years, we have asked God to help us lead the Duluth Vineyard Church into true solidarity with People of Color. The events of the last month have inspired us to say more rather than less. God is showing us where to press in and how to lead our community to obey God as we are learning how to love and value others well.

How can we understand what it means to ‘Be Present—Be With—Be Humble’?

There are 3 things that every one of us can start doing immediately: Listen, Learn, and Value.

Listening is one of the easiest ways to love well.
Listening can be a very holy way of thinking of others more highly than ourselves (Roman 12:3) We can be someone who listens, not only with our ears, but with our hearts. We can stop slipping into right or wrong thinking, believing that one of us is right and one of us is wrong. We can choose to accept that every single one of us is on our own journey and it’s not about who is right and who is wrong. We can choose to not debate or take up sides. 

Listening breeds compassion in us as we hear the story of someone we know very little about. What if we just started asking, “How has the racial protesting affected you personally?” And then we just listened. And after we listen, the next thing that comes out of our mouth is, “Tell me more.” Being present with People of Color means that we will choose listening more than talking about ourselves. If our goal is to love well, it all starts by choosing to listen. 

Learning means that we don’t already have it all figured out. 
When our posture is bent toward the fact that we have things to learn, we become humble and teachable. We are so unaware of what we don’t know. It doesn’t matter how many books we’ve read, we can be confident that we still have so much more to learn. Learning means I’m more concerned about the person of color’s perspective and their life experiences. Learning says, your life experience can help me grow and understand you better. The better I understand you the more I will be able to love you well. I love this question: “What do you think I could benefit from knowing about you? What can I learn from you, that would help me understand who you are and what you face daily? And then after they share with me, the first thing that comes out of my mouth is, “What else? Tell me more.”

Learning means I will mirror back to the person I am listening to and say, “I hear you saying this…” A common thought around racism from People of Color is a sense that it is not their job to have to fix White people or teach them how to behave. There is a careful approach to learning that doesn’t assume People of Color will do the work for us that we need to be doing ourselves. Learning and admitting our lifetime of white privilege, must be saturated with humility, authenticity, and meekness. Learning means we are submitting to the act of listening and we become more patient, long-suffering, forbearing, and gentle.

Valuing others is embracing how we are all created in God’s image. 
Spending time being present with others generally leads to our valuing them. Listening and learning their story always teaches us the value of each person. We begin to see people the way God sees them. God treasures each person that he has created and places high value on each person. A primary way that we begin to see others as God sees them, comes from praying for them. Before long our prayers are filled with desires to bless and value the person we are praying for. 

Valuing others means we invite others into our lives and welcome them. We will continue to be present with them and share life experiences with them. They are invited to the table and there is room for them in our hearts and daily lives. We honor people when we give up our power or privilege and give them power and privilege instead. We honor people when our lives are oriented toward friendship with them. We value others when they know that we belong together. 

When we don’t know what to do, we can choose listening, learning, and valuing others. These are our next steps and every single one of us can do them. And we as a church community can do them together. I have so much to learn and grow in, but as I’ve chosen to listen, learn, and value People of Color, God has expanded my heart and filled it with his love, for my new and deeper friendships. As a Regional Leader and local church Pastor in the Vineyard, I am convinced that I do not want to live without my Brothers and Sisters of Color in my life. I need them in my life because I am more true to who God has created me to be, with them. We belong together and we are better together. Reach out to a Person of Color and start asking questions and listening today!

Let’s encourage each other to keep moving forward and being transformed into a movement of Jesus’ followers who love well and express God’s value to every person. And let us pray, pray, pray for more of God’s kingdom to come.

Listening and Learning,

Brenda Gatlin

Co-Senior Pastor, Duluth Vineyard, & Midwest North Regional Leader

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