Fifth Grade Lessons in Being Different

WHEN WAS THE first time you realized that you were truly different? Different enough that it made a difference? This happened for me when I was still rather young.

I wasn’t different enough for it to matter in Monrovia, Liberia, though my tribe included one of the few super-elitist families that controlled all aspects of the country for over two centuries. I wasn’t different enough for it to make a difference in Freetown, though I was a refugee on the run from civil war. I wasn’t different enough for it to make

a difference in Abidjan, where I was an immigrant lost in another new culture, but now with the wrinkle of a new language mixed in. I wasn’t different enough for it to make a difference until I stepped o the plane at JFK International Airport in the United States.

People still often ask me about the biggest difference coming from Africa to the U.S. My answer is almost always the same: white people. Remember when the red M&M and Santa both faint when they realized, “Wow, they do exist,” when they saw

each other? That was my early experience every time I would see a white person. I had only known white people on the television screen. But now I could see that they really did exist in real life.

When I came to the U.S., I knew I was different, and it made a difference in how people saw me and talked to me. It made a difference in who people expected me to be. And it made a difference in how I was supposed to interact with my new world.

Never was this more true than when I enrolled in school. I arrived in September, so school was already in session. In our little North Jersey town, it took time to get me enrolled into the fifth grade. And honestly, I didn’t mind the time of at all – it was like two to three weeks of sick days without being sick. That’s a win!

When the day came to enroll, I was excited. I was also a little nervous because I hadn’t picked up a book or had any homework to do. I feared that everyone else was already learning new things. Still, none of my worries matched the reality I walked into. Sitting in a meeting with all the grown-ups, I couldn’t escape this funny feeling and something wasn’t right. Before long, I learned that the school thought the best fit for me would be a class for kids with developmental disabilities. The decision was made without any testing – other than the eye (or skin color) test that this refugee and immigrant from Africa obviously failed.

I remember family members trying to plead my case, to no avail. And I remember my fifth grade teacher trying to plead my case; this too, was to no avail. (It took her all of five minutes to know I was wrongly placed.) I was young but not clueless. I knew this was not the class I belonged in. I proved this every day by doing all my work for the day within the first 5-10 minutes. Then I would spend the rest of my days tutoring classmates and running errands for Mrs. P. who rewarded me with stories about baseball history and her beloved New York Mets (who I naturally came to love as well). This went on for my entire fifth grade year. I knew something was terribly wrong but it wasn’t wrong enough for my family, my teacher, and certainly not me to be heard.

Nevertheless, God is faithful, good, and true. In this class and with these my first real friends, I learned patience. I learned the importance of love and genuine friendship in all of our lives. I learned how to be a leader. I learned how selfish and privileged I was – and how being a servant and serving well matters. I also learned that all of us who can must work hard for all people who society leaves behind.

Towards the end of fifth grade, there was a general student standardized test. Even though I didn’t do all the classwork that most fifth graders were doing all year long, I did very well on the test. In fact, I scored so high that I was transferred from the developmentally disabled class into the gifted class for sixth grade. Years later, I am still waiting for any kind of apology and mea culpa from the school!

While I wait, I am thankful to God. The fruit of patience that I started to cultivate in Mrs. P.’s class has made me a better husband, father, son, brother, pastor, and friend. The fruit of love and genuine relationships led me to value those I hold dear; it has also chal- lenged my witness and spurred in me a willingness to try to find common ground with those I encounter every day. Much of my current ministry is loving and knowing the many our society, our church, and even we ourselves consistently leave behind. I learned this from Jesus, but I think He started teaching it in Mrs. P.’s class.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Shalom! journal.





I believe with the entirety of my being that we as American Christians need a full embrace of Anabaptism if we are to discover and maintain our prophetic witness today. These saints of old were 16th Century reformers who were persecuted by Roman Catholics and other Protestants because they valued believer’s baptism over infant baptism. They were jailed, beaten, and killed because their separation of church and state was founded on choosing Christ’s kingdom over the earthly empires that housed them. Chance the Rapper makes a wonderful Anabaptist confession when he proclaims: “Don’t believe in Kings. Believe in the Kingdom.”

The Anabaptists have always valued Scripture and lived to implement God’s teachings in every part of life. They are the red letter Christians whose foundational theology says Jesus is God and the full revelation of God – so if He said it and lived it, we aim to do the same. So much so, that the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is often called the Anabaptist canon within the canon.

The Anabaptist goal has always been to live and love like our Christ. Their work, with the Spirit’s help, is to model Christ’s kingdom in our world. To do so, they recognize that God created the world in His image; Christ came because God so loved the world, the Spirit is alive and well the world over, genuine Christian community can be made, and living as peacemakers is a calling.


Any persecution Christians face for their political views is remotely akin to what the Anabaptists faced centuries ago, or what God’s people have faced throughout history, and even today the world over. The first lesson in our embrace of Anabaptism is that persecution is the price of being prophetic. Yes our persecution today is in every way lighter, but it comes in a context where our current political positions are seemingly (more than ever before) in tension with our faith and with our kin in and out of the Body of Christ.

Our persecution comes in the form of ridicule, frustration, anger, online trolls, having our faith questioned, questioning the faith of others, bruising or destroying relationship(s), etc. Our persecution is also a product of prophesy not just being forecasting, but also truth telling. And herein lies the rub: political parties, media outlets, and Christians collectively or individually do not own truth.

The longer we continue to posit truth as wholly subjective, the further we actually remain from the truth. Believing my truth is the truth, only ultimately leads to further polarization. The persecution birthed from subjective truth can be avoided by centering our faith and beliefs, words and actions, spirit and fight on Jesus who is the Truth. When it comes to maintaining a prophetic witness three ways to stay grounded in Jesus who is the Truth is to choose Christ’s kingdom over the empire (United States), Scripture over Constitution, and community and kinship as members of one another.


If we desire to follow Jesus, we must make and keep making Christ Lord over the entirety of our being. That is Christ is Lord of: our gifts, skills, and abilities; mind, body, and soul; hopes and dreams; intellect, desires, and appetites. And yes, Christ must be Lord over our politics, which means we pledge our primary allegiance to Christ.

Kingdom over empire reminds that Christ is our present and also our ultimate hope. In Christ, we hope not in nations or political parties, but in the King of all Kings. Our hope is not in elections, but in the fact that we are the elect – the Beloved of God who His Spirit calls to choose salvation in Christ the Lord. Our hope is not simply in what we see with our eyes, or what we simply feel in our hearts. No. Our hope is found rested in that humble prayer of our brother Jehoshaphat: Lord we do not what to do, but our eyes are upon you.

Kingdom people die for the faith, not for their country. They are the children of God because they live to be peacemakers in the mold of Christ our Lord. Kingdom people go and make disciples, and not disciples in our own image – but disciples only, in the image of Jesus our Christ.

We must make and keep making Jesus as Lord over the entirety of our being. We must choose the kingdom over the empire we live in – always. To do so means to ask: is this vote or decision for the kingdom or for the empire, for my kin or for me, for President or for Christ?


It is the job of the empire to protect itself and its interests as best as it sees fit. This is the milieu in which charters and constitutions are drafted. Charters and constitutions are not our ultimate authority as Christians. And while Scripture may not be the fourth member of the Holy Trinity (although some Christians live this alternative fact as their reality), we give it a higher authority than any charter or constitution drafted by men.

Therefore, when government policies are passed down, we must maintain allegiance to Christ over our allegiance to the empire’s constitution. We have not been good at this as American Christians (i.e. Manifest Destiny and our Treatment of the Natives and their land; slavery and centuries of institutionalized racism, violence and oppression of African Americans; our forever active presence in warfare, etc.). Nevertheless, Christ has left His Spirit and His Church – the Spirit is fervently at work – we the Church must pledge daily to do the same.


It is time we start living the truth of John 3:16. The Spirit convicts. Jesus came, lived and loved, died, was raised from the dead, and ascended to glory. Our Father is the architect of our salvation. But the work of God in saving the world is for the world. When God moves, it is more often about we than me. We need to stop forgetting that.

Many, who say, well that’s just politics, must open their eyes to see that is a very privileged stance. My own faith tradition completely abstained from voting up until the latter end of the 20thcentury. This means that the abolition of slavery, voter’s rights for African-Americans and Women, the Civil Rights Act – were all just politics to us. Yet to the many whose lives were affected by these policies – just politics was often a matter of life or death – oppression of marginalized and achievable prosperity for those in power.

In our politics, if Jesus is Lord, and we value God’s law even above the laws of the land, than we have to always act in a way that lives out this proverb: Christ’s blood spilled on Calvary’s tree matters more than even the blood flowing in my veins. We are not God’s only children, for all have been created in God’s image. We are not only the Body of Christ, but also members of one another.

Therefore, we must be more about we, than simply about me. The Old Testament hesed love we learn as agape in the New Testament always does what’s best for our kin. Paul reminded the Philippians, find joy by putting Jesus first, then others, and then yourself. Jesus said love God with the entirety of your being, and love the other as you love yourself.

This post first appeared on Amy R. Buckley’s blog:

Martin, Hank, and the Brethren in Christ

“I think it is one of the tragedies of our nation, one of the shameful tragedies, that 11 o’clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours, if not the most segregated hour in Christian America. I definitely think the Christian church shall be integrated. And any church that stands against integration, and that has a segregated body, is standing against the Spirit and the teachings of Jesus Christ. And it fails to be a true witness.”

These were the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during an interview on Meet The Press on April 17, 1960. In many American churches at this time, segregation was the intended and worked-for reality. Instead of standing on the forefront of integration, the Church too often blended into the everyday scenes of a segregated America.

I share this quote and observation because I’m burdened as I look around today and see how our brother Martin’s words still ring true. According to a study published last year in Christianity Today, more than eight in ten congregations are made up of one ethnic group. Yes, the historic social, economic, and political short-comings in America are partially to blame. Yet we, the Church in America, must also examine honestly the ways we’re culpable as well. In many ways, the Church has justified its racial homogeneity, whether consciously or not, on personal preference, comfort, and numbers-based strategies*.

So we the Church, and specifically BIC, must ask ourselves: should our congregations continue to look and feel homogenous?

At Harrisburg BIC, we believe that answer is unequivocally “no.” We see racial and ethnic homogeneity as opponents of the New Testament Church established by Christ and maintained by the Spirit. We are a multicultural congregation not because we’re urban. No. It is because God has always called His people to be inclusive, to reach across worldly barriers built to divide us.

Last month, I had the opportunity to join my BIC family at General Conference. And I was overjoyed to spend time with such an incredible group of people. Yet as a black pastor in the BIC, I was equally heartbroken to see a room where so few people looked like me. I don’t believe this is an intentional reality in the BIC U.S. But I want to challenge us to think about how we might become an increasingly diverse body. And that for Christ’s kingdom—by the power of the Holy Spirit, and for the glory of God our Father—I pray we will be a body who makes space for, learns from, invests in, laughs with, cries with, and journeys alongside brothers and sisters who look different than us.

This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of Connect magazine.

The Wonder of God Revealed: Our Call to be Witnesses Requires not only our Actions but our Very Lives

“After his suffering, [Jesus] presented Himself to [His apostles] and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive. He appeared to them over a period of 40 days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

Then they gathered around Him and asked Him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight.

—Acts 1:3, 6–9

In Acts 1:8, before the Lord Jesus returns to the house of God to prepare heaven for you and me, He leaves His disciples with a simple message: You will receive power through the Holy Spirit and you will be my witnesses.

This message echoes back to the Garden of Eden, in Genesis. In the beginning, God created men and women in His likeness, so that we could be His witnesses to all of creation. Even when humans were in perfect communion with the Lord, He formed us to reveal Himself; this is who we are.

In Acts 1, Jesus calls His first followers as well as present-day disciples to return to our essential identity as image-bearers—to show our world and the people of our everyday scenes what the love of God looks like, feels like, and is like.

Jesus calls us back to the garden to remind us that our family is not yet complete. The work is not yet done, and the kingdom of God has not yet fully come on earth as it is in heaven. Therefore, we—both individually and as the family of God—long to make our family complete; we must do the work of loving our world like God loved the world. And we must live in a way that makes our Father’s kingdom come and His will be done by us, as His witnesses, right here, right now.

The trouble with witnessing

We Christians often make witness a verb, something we do, rather than a noun, who we are.

If we approach witnessing as something we do, then it becomes only part of our faith, a part-time duty, or maybe just the work of a gifted few. It becomes easy to view it as an action we take, a message we deliver, a strategy we implement. We may be tempted to relegate our “witnessing” to those moments when we make the intentional effort to tell others about Christ. And yet, our lives keep witnessing long after our words and actions have stopped.

An incomplete view of our witness also widens the gap between those in the Kingdom and the many people who yet may come to know and love our God.

In their book unChristian, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons study this disconnect among young adults outside the Church. The authors note that as these young people shared their perceptions of Christians, recurring descriptions of believers as “hypocritical,” “insensitive,” and “judgmental” emerged.

This message is hard to hear. But it highlights that our outreach has been rendered increasingly ineffective because our witness—the entirety of our words, our deeds, our lives—often does not point to the Christ we say we love.

Christ’s corrective vision

We contemporary Christians are not alone in the way we often misunderstand or misrepresent Christ’s message. Even after Jesus lived with, died for, and resurrected before them, the early disciples often missed His message. For instance, just look at the final question they had for Jesus before He ascended: “Lord are you at this time going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?”

In His response, we see Jesus correcting His disciples—then and now—whose dreams are too limited, who only want to see a single nation restored. Jesus reveals the incredible reality that God’s kingdom is the kingdom of every nation, tribe, and tongue. And God’s citizens are all of his children who believe in His name and long to make His kingdom come.

In response to the Good News of God’s borderless love, we must realize that our God saves and then He sends. God so loved the world that He sent Jesus. Then, God so loved the world, that He sent the Holy Spirit. And before returning to heaven, the Lord Jesus calls all of His disciples and followers and says, Now I’m sending you. Every believer is called to be a witness as God sustains His redemption plan for the world.


Christ calls us to be His witnesses so that in our everyday lives who we are and how we love testifies, invites, proclaims, and welcomes all of our Father’s lost children back home again.

When people encounter us, they should not have to wonder about who God is, where God is, or whether or not God loves them. Through our witness, our world should see the wonder of God and the beauty and peace of knowing our God loves them. Through our witness, our world should know the miracle of God’s salvation and the power of a transformed life. Through our witness, our world should get a glimpse of the kingdom of Heaven that lasts eternally.

And our testimony to that Kingdom begins right where we stand. In Acts 1, Jesus calls His disciples to be witnesses, first in Jerusalem, then in all of Judea and Samaria, and finally to the ends of the earth. As heirs to that call, we must be witnesses locally, nationally, and globally.

The practice of love

The first step in relying on God to be a witness right here, and right now, is to pray. We all know people who are outside our Father’s kingdom—our parents and siblings, our friends and co-workers, our acquaintances and even people we might only see once in our lives. Choose one person, and pray. Pray for them and for your interactions with them. Then listen to what the Spirit may be saying.

Secondly, identify your mission field. We used to view missions as traveling to distant lands to interact with people who do not believe. Now, all we have to do is look across the cubicle or down the street, open our eyes at the grocery store or the restaurant. We must be witnesses in the places we frequent and to the people we regularly interact with.

Finally, we must live circumspectly, keeping our eyes, hearts, homes, and lives open to the Spirit and to others. Because, if you pray and if you are a witness in your mission field, the Lord will send a harvest. Live with sensitivity so you will recognize it.

Our God desires redemption, reconciliation, and then generative response. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection make redemption possible. As the Spirit leads us back to God, the Father’s love and forgiveness of our sins make reconciliation possible. But sisters and brothers, we have the privilege of being partners in the life-giving response—working alongside our God and one another as the family of God—to help expand our Father’s kingdom. It is through who we are as witnesses that the Lord’s image is revealed, and it is through the sharing of our lives that those around us can experience our Father’s great love.

This article originally appeared in the winter 2013 issue of In Part magazine.