For Those Wearied by Anti-Racism Work

Photo credit: Andre Hunter, Unsplash

I don’t do a lot of anti-racism work. I do a little, here and there, but my first calling is to the building up and growth of the Church. That’s why I’ve trained to become a Pastor and have dedicated my life to working in local churches. It is also why Reformed Margins exists. We have created a platform for voices from a variety of ethnic minorities for the good of the church. If anti-racism work is being done, it’s a secondary byproduct of our mission.

But there are others who have been called to anti-racism as their primary mission field. They have been tasked with the painful and difficult vocation of identifying and condemning racism both within the church and in the world. This is some of the most important work being done by Christians today and it is difficult, front line work. Days are spent among some of the most vile sin humanity has to offer. Nights are spent weeping over the damage racism causes in the lives and deaths of men, women, and children crafted in the image of God.

Truly anti-racism work is, as Ekemini Uwan puts it, a “means of grace” to a broken and sin-soaked world.

To those who have dedicated their lives or this season of their lives to this work, I want to offer a reflection on Lamentations 3 in the hope of encouraging you in your work and giving you the strength to carry on.*

I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long.

Lamentations was written by Jeremiah and this was how he felt about his ministry. He was set apart by God to speak judgment and destruction to Israel. It was a fruitless, tear-filled ministry that God used to send Israel into captivity. The job: identify sin and call it out. Raise the ire of those called to repent. Be dealt with treacherously by those who call themselves “brothers” (Jeremiah 12:6).

I can’t imagine having this kind of ministry, to be “brought into darkness without any light.” And yet this is the job of those doing anti-racism work. To those doing this work it must be said: we see you. We thank you.

He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; he has broken my bones; he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; he has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago. He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has made my chains heavy; though I call and cry out for help, he shuts out my prayer; he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; he has made my paths crooked.

Oh Jeremiah’s suffering! And oh the suffering of you whose task is anti-racism. The pain is so constant, the lonliness deep! You feel broken and alone. Every time you feel you have made progress, you find that your way is blocked and your path crooked. As news reports pile up, you are “enveloped with bitterness and tribulation.” We stand with you as you take to the streets and demand justice. We see you. We pray for you.

He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding; he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces; he has made me desolate; he bent his bow and set me as a target for his arrow. He drove into my kidneys the arrows of his quiver; I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the object of their taunts all day long. He has filled me with bitterness; he has sated me with wormwood. He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.”

Jeremiah felt like God himself was set against him. Does it feel this way for you too? Does it feel like the daily pain you feel in the world is because God has set his face against you? Do you reach a point of discouragement so deep that your relationship with God begins to break down? At times you are held up to scorn. Do you wonder if God has singled you out to be the laughingstock of the world? You’re not alone. Jeremiah felt this way too. This is the unique suffering of the one called to your unpopular work. God sees you. God knows your pain.

Remember my afflictions and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.

Jeremiah’s faith was shaken. He looked around at his current surroundings and found no hope. Yet even in those moments he prayed to the Lord. He called on the Lord to remember him and to be aware of his pain. In those moments when your faith is shaken and you wonder if you can carry on, cry out to the Lord! With honesty and heartbreak bring all of your cares before the throne of God. He has called you to this work, he will not ignore your cries as you follow him in obedience. God sees you. God hears you.

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Jeremiah’s hope was not in his surroundings. Instead, the prophet found hope in the character of God. He knew that God is faithful to his people and that his mercies never come to an end. For God has declared this to be so and he cannot lie. God has promised to ever be with his people and he does not change. So you, too, sister and brother Christian, take heart! If you look to the effectiveness of your work or signs of progress for hope, you will despair. Instead, look to the God who has called you to this work. Who is our God? He is the God with steadfast love for his people. Sister and brother Christian, God sees you. And God loves you.

The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust – there may yet be hope; let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults.

Jeremiah resolved to continue his work. He would not disobey by turning away from his calling. Even though he knew his ministry would lead to suffering, he chose to bear that suffering without complaint. He defied the weariness of his flesh and kept pressing on. So keep pressing on sister! Keep pressing on brother! Your work is a work of suffering. You will find your mouth in the dust. You will be struck even by those who call themselves your brother or sister. Yet turn your cheek and continue forward. For the Lord who called you is good. God sees you. God will save you.

For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.

Your subjective feeling: God is against me. The objective reality: God does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men. Does he allow us to feel grief? Absolutely. Does he even call us to enter spaces where grief is inevitable? Yes.

But while he may “cause grief” by calling you into hostile territory or giving you a painful calling, he does not abandon you there. And he does not cause you grief out of malice or caprice. Instead, he calls you into this work as agents of grace. You are ambassadors of Christ, lights in the darkness who God uses to expose the deeds of women and men and call them to repentance.

Sisters and brothers, do not lose heart. God is for you, not against you. Press on. And know that you serve a compassionate God who is abundant in love and will bind you up. Continue the work, even unto death, and rejoice at the words “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

*Of course, not everyone who does anti-racism work feels the same way. And the pain that accompanies the work is not constant. There is joy that comes along with the sorrow. But if you resonate with the following, I pray it ministers to you.

Marcos Ortega

Marcos Ortega (MDiv, Westminster Theological Seminary) is an Assistant Pastor at Goodwill Church (Evangelical Presbyterian Church) and lives in the Hudson River Valley in New York with his wife and two daughters.

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