They step off their ships onto the sandy shore, swords glinting in the hot Yucatán sunshine. Unit after unit of men squint down the beach to the hundreds of coconut trees swaying in the tropical breeze, like so many maidens sashaying down the main avenue of Medellín.
Peering into the dense jungle, Hernán Cortés and his men set forth, following the scent of woodsmoke. It isn´t long before a community of indigenous peoples become evident.
“There! There they are! Do you see them? What is this? Do they not have any clothes on?”
With righteous Spanish indignation, he bursts into their circle. No Virgin Mary? No proper outhouses? What kind of food IS this? Blood-everywhere! Terrible rituals, frightful habits, unintelligible tongue.
They were worthy only of conquering. Hardly people, really.
Thus Cortés marched through the south, his 500 men in line, making his determined way to the heart of Mexico and the epitome of native power: to the Aztec empire and Moctezuma himself.
An ancient Aztecan prophecy claimed their white, blue eyed god Quetzalcoatl would come back one day.
And while he was most certainly no god and although it was his first time in Aztecan territory, Cortés was received as deity, given honor and glory and power. He kindly returned the favors by taking Moctezuma hostage and ransacking their city for the Spanish cause.
And so began the conquest of the Mexican people. Subdued and blinded by white skin, by guns, horses and smallpox, they turned over their mines of gold and silver, royal treasuries and native artwork.
The Mexican people eventually did rebel but the damage was done.
As uncomfortable as it may be to consider, the damage continues on into 2019.
No, perhaps there is no overt conquering, no verbal disparaging of local customs and habits, no looting of peoples homes. Except the Mexican will tell you it still happens. Surreptitiously, cloaked in Bible verses and fancy talk, the foreigner still reigns over the Mexican, over the South African, even over their own people if they happen to have the right last name.
There is a masked encouraging of marked division: physical, financial, and spiritual, between work and worker. It is a dominant culture of foreign control and responsibility where the natives should not question nor raise concern. It is a club mentality where only a special few deserve prominence and respect.
But that is not anything my God or His Word condones.
There is only One who deserves any sort of preeminence or special place among a group of Christians, and it’s certainly not any man here on earth.
Whether you are Mexican or Jamaican, Finnish or Turkish, Japanese or Sudanese, God has given you precious mines of gold. Anything and everything we are is for His glory alone. No one but your Lord deserves control over those deposits. No church leader, no missionary, no political force.
Keep your gold for God.
Dr. Helen Roseveare was a medical missionary to Congo/Zaire from 1953 to 1973. She details a somewhat shocking anecdote in the first chapter of her book Living Sacrifice. After multiple incidents of misconception and mistreatment occured in the hospital, she felt her heart becoming colder and colder, overwhelmed by work and responsibility. The culmination would have to come, and it did, in the form of a verbal Swahili explosion in the women’s ward. Racked by excuses and shame and regret and a cold heart, Helen went to visit a couple several miles away. This is what she wrote:
“Gently he [brother Ndugu] leaned toward me, “Helen,” he said quietly and earnestly, “why can’t you forget for a moment that you are white?….”
He went on, and opened up to me hidden areas in my heart that I had hardly even suspected, particularly this one of race prejudice. I was horrified. …. The Spirit forced me to acknowledge that subconsciously I did not really believe that an African could be as good a Christian as I was, or could know the Lord Jesus or understand the Bible as I did. My caring had in it an element of condescension, of superiority and of paternalism. Not that I had ever meant that it should: I just had not recognized the insidious effect of the whole colonial system and my own acceptance of it as the necessary basis of our work.
I began to confess….”
In the early 1930’s, the Lord began to convict men and women in Rwanda. It was a large but dead work, rife with friction between workers and the African believers. Patricia St. John writes of the revival in her autobiography An Ordinary Woman’s Extraordinary Faith. As missionaries at odds with each other publicly confessed and asked forgiveness of one another and the African workers, the Africans were amazed. “Never before have we heard a white man own he was wrong,” they said wonderingly (page 211). The missionaries and believers were “products of their age, and their age was that of post-war colonialism.” The African obeyed, the whites patronized. She writes “The first hurdle to be crossed was Joe Church’s insistence on an equal brotherhood of black and white….but the germ idea caused consternation.” He was criticized for allowing the native believers to sit with him at his house and for sharing his letters from back home with them. A sister was condemned for inviting African believers to her home for a hymn sing (page 217).
Even Amy Carmichael was not exempted from this temptation. Elisabeth Elliot pens in her biography, A Chance to Die, of her preference towards whiter children.
“Amy’s partiality to certain children could not be disguised…. Indians with Aryan blood, of fair skin and silky hair, were, naturally enough, most appealing to the European in Amy…” “Because I was dark I was always put at the back,” said one. “She loved the fair ones” (page 214). Amy also was adamant no American could ever serve at the Dohnavur Fellowship as they were not prepared for the necessary sacrifices nor spoke English to her satisfaction (page 360).
At Jerusalem, 33 AD, the local assembly distributed food, daily, to the widows of their number. An ancient cosmopolitan, filled with Romans, Greeks, and Jews who had been born outside of Israel, the assembly there was a miniature reflection of the political scene. It is no wonder tensions were quick to rise. The Greeks went to the elders of the church. “The ones in charge of feeding the widows aren’t giving our countrywomen their share! They’re only feeding the Jewish sisters!” (Acts 6:1-6). Peter and Barnabas were also guilty of shunning the Gentile believers to keep face with their Jewish brethren (Galatians 2:11-14).
Ancient times, ancient problems? Current sins. Preference, actions, decisions based on nationality.
Would to God we could all be honest and judge this hidden sin from our oh, so deceptive hearts! With the help of God, may I never, ever exalt myself over my brothers and sisters in Christ simply because I am me and they are them.
He “hath made of one blood all nations of men” (Acts 17:26); we are “all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28), with equal liberty and significance before God. He gives wisdom to all men liberally (James 1:5), He gives gifts through the Spirit, “distributing to every man individually as He will” (1 Corinthians 12:11). Your nationality, your age, your skin color, the language you speak, mean nothing to God! You are of value because you are His child. You have the same opportunity to be as wise as anybody else. You have the same capabilities to grow your spiritual gift, meaning teachers or evangelists, shepherds or givers are not limited to certain countries, languages or families.
Let no one tell you differently.
The same flow of blood from that wounded side washed me and it washed you.
We are truly one, servants together of the most high God, and it’s all because of Christ.
“HE is the head of the body, the church; who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things HE might have the preeminence.” Colossians 1:18
(all photography included is the personal property of the author)