At heart of the conversation was a concern about misperception. Many don't want to be perceived as college party kids or the snooty 1st worlders who came to make themselves feel good about, well, themselves. Our group hopes to live life with the people of St. Croix because we know these people don't need a group of twelve saviors with white guilt, chiefly because the people of the Virgin Islands, like all of us, have one Savior (and by the by, he was neither white, nor guilty).
But to do this - to learn to undertake a mission that witnesses in the image of God - we must do the hard work of introspection. We all carry aspects of latent racism, sexism, economic prejudice, or cultural superiority, and all of these get in the way of living and loving like Christ. Self awareness is a powerful tool in the process of reconciliation, because it should lead to confession.
So tonight, I heard a few confessions. Of fears and assumptions, of hopes and concerns, all built toward helping us embrace this week as a God-given gift to learn from our sisters and brothers in St. Croix, most of whom are black. Some of whom live with disabilities. Many of whom live in poverty. But our goal is not to fix St. Croix. Our goal is to live, for a week, alongside these Virgin Islanders as Jesus might have done.
Yes, to work alongside them, but only in ways that uplift their dignity and foster mutual growth. But even more, to be with them. Today we spent two hours at church with many native Lutherans, and let me tell you, it felt like the shortest service I have ever attended. Not because it was, but because the joy they brought in worship ushered us all into God's presence in a way that nobody wanted to leave. Tomorrow we will begin working alongside the maintenance crew of Lutheran Social Services of the Virgin Islands, not taking away work, but rather working under their tutelage in tasks that will help them achieve the mission they set as God's emissaries here in St. Croix. We will eat together daily.
We know that the complex reality of Christian mission as it relates to race, economics, and culture cannot be fixed overnight. Christ is continuing to work and reconcile all things to Himself, which include reconciling us all beyond our prejudices and sins that prevent us from faithfully living together in common mission. But for us, this week, these tasks provide us with an invaluable opportunity: to witness from a place of submission rather than a place of power. Rather than directing, we are taking directions. Rather than dictating, we are listening.
We will also fail, but that too is a process in the process of reconciliation. The reality is that, reconciliation is a messy process. But we must try, and we must have friends who don't look like us, who don't think like us, from different places in life who will correct us when we step out of line. We need others to act as authorities in our lives. We need witnesses just as much as we need to witness. And we need to work together, in submission to Christ and to one another, toward that kingdom where all are welcomed, all are loved, and all have an equal dignity because all live in the righteousness of Christ.
Of course, our mission trip can't do all that in a few days of work. But it can help these few days look a little more like the Kingdom. And, I hope, that is progress well worth the trip.