by. Rev. Darryl Aaron
Traveling abroad really does take one out of his or her comfort zone. Early on during my recent travel abroad it was clear that I was stepping into unfamiliar territory. The mission of the trip was titled, “Going into Hard Places: Trips That Make a Difference.” Actually, I welcome the opportunity to enter hard places. However, all too often some who enter hard places enthusiastically come away from these tough territories highlighting the differences between “them and us” and thereby increasing, rather than decreasing, the chasm between God’s people. Traveling to Moldova and Bucharest took me more than a few miles away from home, but the distance covered could not erase the eternal imprint which I made upon each different person that I met. Throughout our journey I encountered experience after experience that validates this truth.
When my traveling partners and I arrived at our destination, our host and his young son met us. Later on that evening at their house both miles and mores were linked by the simple act of a father shoving his kid in the right direction. Specifically, the dad asked the son to play the piano for us but the boy wasn’t interested; he didn’t like to play the piano even though he had excellent skills. After a little coaxing (and eye-balling) from his dad, the boy eventually did what all young kids do when parents have made positive investments into their lives. The reluctant adolescent slowly meandered over to the piano and artfully displayed his gifts through song after song. His music alleviated the fatigue which resulted from our long excursion and reminded us that God’s gifts in each of us sometimes need a little push. The dad of this young boy has done what parents all over the world have always been doing: sacrificing so that the rooms for their kids will always have high ceilings. The father’s persistent insistence reminds us of the wedding at Cana where Jesus’ mother had to ignore her son’s reluctance to exercise his gifts so that the guests could discover that joy was available and burdens could be lifted. Sometimes many years and many miles separate us, yet we still find ourselves on the same plane—separate but equal.
Various experiences in Bucharest and Moldova underscored the truth that we are separate but equal. These experiences ranged from discerning that pastors everywhere want to be successful at what they do, to realizing that ministry everywhere is ebb and flow, to understanding that marriages are both rewarding and regretful, to seeing that universally people really are trying to be good witnesses, even while stumbling and falling. However, there is one incident that provided the strongest impetus for my putting these thoughts on paper.
One morning we visited a college in Moldova where we met and worshiped with a group of students. During lunch the professors were discussing the students’ curriculum and the discussion proved to be lively and stimulating. Noting that there are more than 12 nationalities represented in the college, the professors shared how specific missionary methods were given to exclusive students for “hard places. “ The professors said that because many of the diverse cultural mores and folkways of their pupils do not overlap, students are separated into groups where individual needs can best be addressed. Hearing this, I immediately thought, “Separate but equal!” In fact, as soon as I heard this concept of separating students in an academic setting voiced, history erupted from a soft spot within me and spilled out of my mouth in these words, “To me this sounds like separate but equal.” Right away, all of the Americans at the table knew the connotations of my remark. Sadly, although I had lost my luggage and my claim check somewhere along the trip, I was still carrying some “baggage.”
The College is sending young Christian missionaries back into Islamic regions with a thorough knowledge of both Christianity and Islam, and yet I was afraid that their backpacks might also be filled with the old burdens of racism and prejudice. If there is ever going to be authentic reconciliation among people, then all walls must be torn down. Dilemmas and controversies are best resolved when we all sit at the table and reason together. Differences are more readily recognized and celebrated when partitions are eliminated. Miles and mores can easily separate us but we can never be equal unless we believe that each of us must learn from one another. I can never really love my neighbor unless I sit at his table and eat his food. The professors learned of the baggage inherent in “separate but equal” because we were at the table together. There we exchanged disappointments and dreams—we touched each other’s marks of Christ.
I am grateful for the chance to have gone to another hard place and to have had God reveal himself one more time in the hard and soft spots. It is my hope that all missional efforts provide opportunities for God’s people to come to the table to simultaneously acknowledge our separation and affirm our equality in the kingdom of God. Amen!
Rev. Darryl Aaron is the pastor of First Baptist Church East Winston on Highland Avenue in Winston-Salem, NC. He wrote this reflection after a trip to visit CBF field personnel in Bucharest and Moldova, led by Rob Nash of CBF National and Pat Anderson of CBF Florida. Rev. Aaron was also a featured preacher during Dr. Charles Bugg's "Preaching the Missional Journey" workshops at the 2010 CBF General Assembly in Charlotte.