Tears rolled down my cheeks as I washed his dark skinned feet and wiped them with the scarf wrapped around my neck. Albert, an African American pastor struggled to contain all that was at work in that moment. I apologized. Representing white America, I apologized for all we had done to harm people of color.
“I’m sorry for the enslavement, for taking lands that were not ours, for burning churches and building walls…in our hearts, and I’m sorry for the many systems and structures that set people in power over minorities. I’m so very sorry you have not experienced inclusion, grace and love from the American church. I promise, as much as I am able, to treat people of color the way Jesus would and to walk humbly, love mercy, and act justly.”
I turned to Esther, a strong Christian Indian woman and put her feet in the wash basin as the audience continued to watch. Representing the colonial west church, I apologized for the superior ways in which we have treated Indian Christians.
“I’m sorry for the centuries of imported Christianity. I’m sorry that we have treated you as if OUR culture knows best how YOUR culture should worship OUR father. I’m sorry that we have domineered over you and in many ways continued the caste system with our own attitude. I promise, as much as I am able, to PARTNER with you in building an indigenous church that is culturally relevant to local Indians and to treat you with the dignity and respect you deserve”
She washed my feet and apologized for building a wall between us and treating me as if I was someone better than her. Albert held the water and the mic and as we all hugged it was apparent we were standing on the precipice of something Jesus wanted for us, but we had never walked that close to the edge.
3 days of the reconciliation conference and we spoke of identity, and storyline, and understanding we cannot lead anyone to a place where we have not gone ourselves. We looked at who we were in our stories and gave all the harm to Jesus. We received our identity from Our Father and let Jesus show us how to forgive. As we studied Jesus washing the feet of the very people who would betray him, we knew it was the next step in the process.
People from various castes washed the feet of someone else. All 500 participated. South Indian Christian leaders washed the feet of North Indian Christian leaders and apologized for all the years of discrimination. White Americans washed the feet of our Indian leader that has served us faithfully during our trip.
The vulnerability of people and the presence of the power of God were palpable.
In some churches in India communion is served separately to the separate castes, we ended with a group communion. The family of God as one around the Lord’s Table. Albert spoke of God blessing us, breaking us, giving us away, and pouring us out to serve the world.
Then worship broke out as everyone danced before God with the freedom that can only be found in HIM. Studying his word, receiving our new identities, forgiving and being forgiven, baptism, deep times of prayer, feet washing, communion, all lead to a new sense of God and our mission in the world. Jumping and spinning and signing, it was delightful to send everyone out released from the years of discrimination.