BY KAREN HATTEN
Just friendly — or friends?
Let me take you back a spell. I wasn’t even born during the Freedom Summer of 1964 and too young to remember the later years of the civil rights movement. I’d always gone to school with black students, so I didn’t experience segregation either.
Sure, I saw brief periods of racial tension at the schools I attended in Petal, Mississippi, and Mobile, Alabama, but we got along for the most part. We were friendly to each other… but we weren’t friends. At the end of the school day, I went home to my white neighborhood and my white friends. So all this talk about the struggles of the past was in the past and didn’t apply to me. Right?
As a young Christian, I’d heard that God is colorblind. While I understood what the saying meant, it just felt empty and out of character for God. A few years ago I heard it said that God is NOT colorblind. He knows the color of each one of us because He created each one of us.
Whether we’re the lightest of ivory or the darkest of ebony, God sees us as His beautiful creation. That made sense to me and gave me greater love and compassion for those who don’t look like me. God had apparently starting prepping me for life change at this point.
Now fast forward with me to 2016. I was in a season of life where I’d grown a lot spiritually. It was in growing my relationship with Jesus that I became involved with our middle-school ministry at church. This is where I met my dear, precious friend and sister in Christ, Heather Montgomery.
And yes, Heather is not white. It was in serving our students together that I learned what a loving, caring, precious child of God she is. I’d developed close relationships with coworkers of different races, but my relationship with Heather was different and special.
Some doors started opening for Heather and me to serve God together, like speaking at a women’s conference at a church in Edwards. One particular morning in September 2017, I was praying and rejoicing in how God was using us for His glory. And as clear as day, He spoke two words to me: racial reconciliation.
I shared this with Heather and she asked if I knew Neddie Winters with Mission Mississippi. I told her I didn’t know him personally, but I was familiar with the organization. She set up a meeting between the three of us for what I thought was about opportunities to volunteer.
I then attended the Annual Racial Reconciliation Conference, where I participated in meaningful conversations. Next thing I knew, I was working at Mission Mississippi.
Two things we encourage at Mission Mississippi, as we call Christians to live out the grace of Jesus toward each other, are prayer and open dialogue with people of other races. We also encourage Christians to form meaningful relationships across racial lines.
God has used my involvement in Mission Mississippi to develop relationships with people of different races, including coworkers. That means no more tuning out the issues that affect my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. That means no more sheltered white world. That means inviting friends of different races into my home and life. My husband, Scott, and I have been blessed to have Heather and her husband, Craig, join us the past two Christmases. This is evidence of life change in me.
Recently at our Governor’s Leadership Prayer Luncheon, Dan Hall said that the opposite of love is not hate, but rather apathy. Wow!Was that really me at one time?
Mission Mississippi, with the help of a prayer committee, also holds prayer breakfasts hosted by different churches and businesses in the Jackson area. I am so humbled by the love I’ve received from those who attend. Many of them did live through the civil rights movement and still welcomed me with open arms.
It is our shared love for Christ and the rights we all have as heirs to the throne that allow us to embrace each other with love and understanding. Revelation 7:9–10 reveals that every race, tribe, nation and language will stand before the throne and worship our God together. Shouldn’t we also be doing that now?
In closing, I have to ask myself who has benefited more from my relationship with Mission Mississippi — the organization or me? I would definitely go with the latter.
Karen Hatten is executive assistant to the president of Mission Mississippi. She lives in Brandon with her husband, Scott, and their three fur babies Gypsy, Brucie, and Gus.