I have a good heart. I really do. I run a mentoring organization where mentors serve kids who live in a home with no father figure present. It also happens to be an organization where most of the mentors are white and most of our kids are black.
As a white person who has given his life to this mission, I have a confession to make. I’ve messed up. I’m confessing this to you because I believe that the Lord wants to work through us to mend what is broken. I believe reconciliation and restoration starts with people like you, and my hope is that you learn from my mistake.
Here’s the mistake. I am guilty of trying to be the savior of the kids in our program. There’s a term for this and it’s called “white savior.” And if I humbly think about my actions and thoughts, the term applies to me. It’s not like I messed up on purpose or did it with malice in my heart, but nonetheless… I’ve made a mistake. More than anything, this mistake happened because of pride, ignorance, and fear.
In my pride, I think to myself, “These kids sure are lucky to have me as their mentor. I can teach them so much. They’ll be fulfilling their potential in no time.” I make disciples. Disciples of myself.
In my arrogance, I assume what the people that I serve need. I assume what works for me works for them, and that I know what their life is like because, well, I’ve lived life too. I’ve been a parent, and I know how to raise successful kids. Obviously, I have the cure for your issues because I have a title next to my name, a nice house to live in, and a college diploma. Success is your life looking like mine.
In my fear, I take full responsibility for your future. If you fail, I fail. I am so scared that you won’t become what I want you to become that I put pressures on you that can be overwhelming. Just do what I say, and it’ll all be ok. Please do what I say or else it’ll make me look like a failure. And that terrifies me.
To put it simply–I believe it is up to me to save these kids. To fix these kids.
Like I said, it’s not like I did this on purpose. I actually thought I was doing a good thing, but I was wrong.
In my pride, I acted without asking first. I assumed when I should have listened. I took control instead of trusting God.
The hero of my story was me instead of Jesus. The focus was on my actions instead of the heart of my neighbors.
If you have the heart to serve people who don’t look like you, here are 6 tips to serving from a place of humility:
- It is your job to show up and be like Jesus. You love, and let God do the rest. Don’t be like me. Be like Jesus, who cares about the heart more than anything.
- Start with the focus on relationship instead of fixing. People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. It takes time to build trust. It takes time to earn the right to be heard.
- Ask questions, hear their story, and do more listening than talking. This is not the time for advice, solutions, or ideas. This is the time for relationships. It’s not about you.
- If you really want to help be part of the solution, it’s going to take effort, intentionality, and embracing discomfort.
- Put in effort to become familiar with the issues of our neighbors. Reading books, watching documentaries, and listening to podcasts is a start. Actually believing what they say is key here.
- Be intentional about putting yourself in situations that force you to stare this issue in the face. Put yourself in rooms where you can meet people of color. Create room in your schedule to get to know people who are different than you. Asking questions over coffee or lunch is a great way to learn.
This will be uncomfortable. Embrace it. Going against the grain is hard, but it is worth it. Growing pains happen. Don’t quit. Keep at it. Stay at the table and continue to fight for unity.
Does this sound daunting? Probably. Could it come across as unattainable? Perhaps. But God has a track record of changing the world with ordinary people who were filled with faith to do the will of God. If he can use David the shepherd boy and 12 uneducated fishermen to rewrite history, he can use people like us. God wants peace, unity, and reconciliation. He’s just looking for people to say “yes” to his call. The question is do we want it? Are we willing to do what it takes to get there? We can take comfort in knowing that God rarely calls the equipped, but always equips the called. If God is for us, who can be against us?
As we start this new journey, remember that God loves these people more than you do and he has a plan for their life. I can guarantee that you are not the solution to your neighbors problems, but you can emulate and point them to the one who is the solution. To represent Christ means to “re-present” him to our neighbors. The Son of Man came to serve, so let’s be like him by growing in wisdom, being quick to listen, and trusting that the Lord will show up if walk in humility and strive for peace and unity. We’re not the savior, but we have the incredible opportunity to partner with the one who is the Savior to love our neighbors who don’t look like us. Not my will, but yours be done.