Friday, January 18, 2008
An Act of Contrition
SIM-USA (used to be "Sudan Interior Mission") has been on a "diversity journey" for a number of years. Their Director was present at the Missions Seminar held at CIU for an expressed purpose.
He shared in the Friday night session that as they were exploring their own issues around exclusivity and racism as an organization, they were aware that some mission organizations had (in the past) had policies that excluded Black Americans from service and they wondered if SIM had been one of those.
Research revealed that they had, in fact, had an "unwritten" policy that excluded service with SIM in the early decades of their existences. Further research showed that it had been motivated or justified (in part, at least) by the request of some of the countries where they worked in Africa to NOT bring African Americans into their countries. In 1957 the Board of SIM-USA passed a resolution ending that practice. (I did not take notes when the Director was speaking, so this is from memory. I'm confident that I got the heart of the history, but may have a detail a bit off.)
Once they discovered this reality about their own institutional reality, they began exploring what they might do about it. They determined that they wanted to not just ignore it and "do better in the future." They decided to corporately apologize. So, an apology was written -- but how do you apologize to a community that is so large and wide-spread? They asked the leadership of this conference if they could come and voice this apology and request for forgiveness to the African American pastors and leaders gathered for the event.
The Director read the apology and then knelt and washed the feet of three gentlemen who had agreed to accept his act of contrition on behalf of the organization.
It was silent in the room as he poured the water and dried the feet of the first two men...and then, as he began to wash the feet of the third, a single voice began to sing. A woman sitting in the middle of the congregation began to sing. The song was about Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and the goodness of that symbolic act of humility. I'd never heard it before, but others there surely had and they soon joined.
What is it about washing someone's feet that can be so powerful?