Por: Erika Ríos Hasenauer
It is time we as a nation, and especially as a community of faith, reconciliation, compassion and holiness, talk about it. The recent racial incidents in the United States and now the Black Lives Matter movement are provoking this conversation whether we were ready or not.
In tears as I watched on national television, I have struggled to write as I’ve reflected on what has happened in the past few weeks. Discrimination is personal to me. As I share some of my own experience with discrimination, I hope that you are willing to listen, and at the very least find it thought-provoking. Hopefully these words will motivate us to be who we are called to be as God’s children: the inclusive, welcoming, righteous community of faith that reflects His character. He is an unbiased, always-compassionate, unconditionally loving God who made this amazing cultural tapestry we live in.
These pandemic times are already difficult and shaky times for everyone, the Church included. But these can also be times of reflection and a call to social action. If George Floyd, an African American, with blood rights to have an American passport, was not only hated and mistreated but also killed for his blackness, what should we expect for other minorities?
How much do racial division, discrimination, quick judgement and stereotypes infiltrate places where none of that is supposed to be present, i.e. our churches or homes – openly or covertly?
Let me be honest and personal.
My brown color, accent and physical appearance will not allow me to blend in enough in this country. Not now and not ever. No matter how hard I try. It does not matter how many accomplishments or degrees I have earned, dual citizenship achieved, languages spoken, missionary journeys taken, or even the fact that I am married to a good-looking American. I am Mexican. I will always be proud of my heritage, yet God has had to work in my own heart, self-esteem and identity. I also have had to deal with my own stereotypes.
I was in my twenties when God called me to a full-time ministry using my medical degree. My mom had just gone to heaven after a battle with cancer. My first big complaint was, –“No way; no, God. You must be kidding. You cannot be calling me.” I was convinced at that time that any missionary had to be white, blue-eyed, blond, and speak English. I was none of those things. I was excluded. To make matters worse I have always been the smallest. I reached full size at age 14, measuring five feet tall and weighing 110 pounds. God really has sense of humor. He would really have to show me that being a missionary was his idea. He did!
“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Sa 16:7)
He was also telling me: –“I am the One who does the choosing; you are the one who accepts and obeys.”
I will always be forever blessed to have had hardworking parents and teachers who equipped me with a great work ethic and showed me the way to heaven. My mother’s motto was, “Give your excellence to God and serve others.” That philosophy shaped who I am. To his glory I was able to obtain various degrees from different universities in four countries and in two languages; a medical degree from a private university in Monterrey, Mexico; Master’s Degrees in both medical missions and Bible in Spain and Costa Rica; and then a Doctorate in Ministry from Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City.
It was not likely that God would call me to be a pastor, but he did. I would soon learn I had more challenges ahead as a female, Hispanic clergy member. I grumbled inside. Why would God give me such a difficult assignment? Why would he ask me to invest my background and talents in this context in the U.S.A. and Canada? I was ordained as an elder with the Church of the Nazarene in 2012. We now have a multicultural ministry center and are an outreach of an Anglo church in the city.
The impact of my parents and those leaders who God placed on the road early on to encourage me was huge. They told me I was worthy, and they believed in me. With God nothing would be impossible!
Most of us in the U.S. have our own immigration stories – and perhaps our own discrimination stories as well. The U.S. has been and will continue being a country of immigrants, yet it seems we have forgotten that. Some researchers say that human beings will make up their minds about each other in the first 30 seconds of meeting someone. Experts call it implicit bias.
I would not have chosen to come to the United States if my beloved church had not asked me to support the HIV/AIDS ministry as a part of Compassionate Ministries. This ministry changed a lot of what it meant to love unconditionally. I realized that I personally had more stigma and biases than I had anticipated and found myself being less tolerant to the homosexual community, one of the HIV risk groups. Today the HIV/AIDS community is still rejected and stigmatized. They do not feel welcome even in the church, especially if they reveal their status or show advanced signs of the disease.
There are many considered “underprivileged” in the U.S. and abroad. These terms are heard everywhere: “unfit,” “third-world citizens,” “minorities,” “second-class,” “does not belong,” “unacceptable”. All those terms hurt emotionally more than any physical mistreatment. Native Americans, the poor white, homeless, drug users, alcoholics, and new immigrants (especially if undocumented) are looked down upon. And to my surprise, regardless of the abolition of slavery decades ago and very recently having had a black President, the African American population is still grouped in with those same categories.
Racism is worldwide and it is a sin. I have seen racism everywhere: from the poorest countries of Africa to my own home country of Mexico; from Barcelona, Spain, to my current historically Hispanic neighborhood in New Mexico.
Racism is a systemic problem and the Church must say and do something about it. Though we have articles in our Manual as a denomination and statements from our top leaders, there is still a big gap between what’s said and practiced at the lowest levels. Discrimination exists among us.
Nueva Esperanza Compassionate Ministries Center is the reflection of our small but highly diverse community. Low-income, poorly educated, Anglo, first- and second-generation Hispanics (mostly Mexican), and Native tribes typically won’t accept each other openly, but we are learning to be tolerant, respectful and loving.
Yesterday we had a small group of five, respecting social distancing and the 25% maximum capacity allowed by the governor. We wore masks and sat around our small sanctuary. We shared in prayer, Bible study, and shed tears – lots of tears. God’s presence was there and prompted us to pray for our nation, community, and families. An upper-class white grandmother, a low-income Apache lady, one Navajo grandma, one mixed Native teenage girl, and this Hispanic pastor. That experience alone is beautiful and reminds me why we are there. It surpasses many other negative encounters with discrimination.
Someone once told me after leading a mission trip to Mexico, “I am glad you made it back. The border is getting ugly.” I wondered how well-intentioned believers could mistakenly believe I was undocumented due to the color of my skin.
A while ago some of our teens attended a mostly white Vacation Bible School. Some Hispanic teens were highly offended they were called Mexicans in a bad tone and never offered an apology. A white, upper-class mother reprimanded her daughter in front of sweet Amika, a Native teenage girl, and her grandma, saying, “Next time choose your friends better!”. She grabbed her hand and left in disgust. Tears filled everyone’s eyes.
We need to extend our capacity to tolerate, welcome and give room to someone who is different than us! Having a cross-cultural marriage for almost 13 years has been an interesting experience in itself and is still teaching my husband and me to do just that: extend our capacity to tolerate, nurture, reconcile, learn and love each other. Yes. Love conquers! 1 Corinthians 13 is the foundation of that. But how many misunderstandings and miscommunications do we still have on a daily basis!
Love is the core of what we need as an inclusive, welcoming community. Mutual acceptance, hospitality, inclusiveness, and Christlikeness are a journey together. Yet, it starts at a personal level. Conferences on discrimination and racism, protests in the streets, and lectures and sermons that address these issues all have their place and time. Still, may I propose we take the first step by admitting our errors, asking for forgiveness, and praying that God would open our eyes? Why can’t we see the beautiful, intentionally diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-colored community He has created?
When he changes the lenses of our eyes, we will be able to:
- See the invisible ones – those we encounter every day, the homeless at the corner, the Hispanic helpers who work so hard, the Native grandmother selling tamales or fried bread.
- Open our minds – breaking down our own attitudes and walls
- Open our hearts – being sensitive to others in need
- Open our doors – letting them into our homes and churches.
- Love one another how Christ loves us.
We all need to be reminded we matter, that we are worth his blood shed on the cross, and that we are loved, no matter the color of our skin!
I disagree with the statement that racism is a systemic problem. I believe that it is always a personal problem. In every case, it is the individual of any group who must ask God to search his/her heart.