A Life of Selflessness

Life takes us to unexpected places sometimes.  The

future is never set in stone, remember that.

Erin Morgenstern

            While observing Black History Month in the United States, I feel inspired of the many people of color pursing greatness in their own right.  We often see the familiar faces of Dr. Martin Luther King, Harriett Tubman, our favorite talented African American musicians, poets, sports leaders and the likes.  But what about those who aren’t remembered by a simple photo image or name recognition?  What about those who aren’t written in most history books or rarely given exhibit space in a museum?  The unsung Heroes and Sheroes of the past with selfless qualities are people I feel drawn to understand.   I’m sure no one who reads this writing can identify the human image below:

Betsey Stockton

Betsey Stockton was born into slavery in Princeton, New Jersey in 1798.  She belonged to Robert Stockton, a local attorney.  Presented to Stockton’s daughter and son-in-law, the Rev. Ashbel Green, then President of Princeton College, as a gift, Betsy Stockton was in a household that encouraged her ambitious and intelligent attitude.  She was given books and was allowed to attend evening classes at Princeton Theological Seminary.

When Stockton expressed her interest in becoming a Christian missionary she was granted her freedom and accepted into membership by the American Board of Commissions for Foreign Missionaries.  On November 20, 1822, Stockton and 20 other missionaries set sail from New Haven, Connecticut for the Hawaiian Islands.  Upon her arrival Stockton became the first known African American and ‘single’ woman missionary in Hawaii.

                During her time in Hawaii, Stockton started a school there for the maka’ ainana (common people) where she taught English, Latin, History and Algebra.  Stockton left Hawaii in 1825, returning to the mainland where she was assigned to teach Native American children in Canada.  She spent the final years of her life teaching African American children in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Betsy Stockton died in her hometown of Princeton, New Jersey in October 1865.

            From early on being labeled “property” to later being recognized as a “person,” Betsey Stockton gave of herself to educate others.  She ventured beyond her hometown to make a positive change in other hometowns.  She journeyed into unexpected places….yet managed and found delight in what she was determined to do. To be selfless is to discover your most hidden passion(s). Selflessness becomes a growing appetite! The well known Indian political ethicist Mahatma Ghandi said “Selfless action is a Source of Strength

            The charge for you is to become selfless and determine what to do in unexpected places. People let’s go out and do some good!


His Overflowing Passion

This month, I had the privilege of attending a religious conference in Richmond, Virginia  Well over 7,000 conference attendees swarmed the city for a 3-day course of learning and networking.  Exhibitors of the conference represented some 285 mission related world-wide organizations all vying for the attention of conference goers.

As I gazed from a glass room on the second floor above the massive exhibit hall, it looked like a typical convention.  I couldn’t help but to notice hundreds of two legged creatures moving about the exhibit corridors carrying stuffed plastic bags full of literature, books, conference tchotchkes, and plenty of unnecessary sugary treats.  Don’t forget the colorful/creative booth space designs also appealing to your attention.

But this particular conference is quite different from the hundreds I’ve attended over the past 15 years.  These 285 exhibitors primarily represented outreach ministries stationed in some 145 countries world-wide!  From US based ministries like Christian Appalachian Project of Kentucky to Bach Christian Hospital of Pakistan, all present to attract mission minded candidates for short or long term mission opportunities.

Many prospect candidates attending this conference are college bound youth looking to plunge into some kind of spiritual global trek adventure.  Adults like myself, look forward to networking and collaborating.  I believe the core of the three day recruitment tangle between mission candidates and outreach ministries is to channel our focus on Kingdom building.  God has uniquely given ‘us’ people passion – to help those who aren’t capable to help themselves.

Beyond the exchange of brochures, business cards, books, confectionary candies, and gawking at international artwork and crafts comes the real work.  It is the stories of people throughout the world who some tonight may face starvation, illness, sudden death, religious persecution, or the quickening to leave their home because of tribal warfare.

It’s not new to us that the world is besieged by strife and trials.  The question is often ask…Who shall go to help? Who will advocate and confront these terrible issues?

The notion of being surrounded by 7,000 conference goers and 250,000 US missionaries currently serving around the world, a level of confidence is obvious that ‘someone’ is doing ‘something’.

Unfortunately, the 80/20 rule may apply…after the convention, some conventioneers may go back to their busy lives, responding to Twitter, Facebook, occupying a work cubical Monday thru Friday for several hours, and playing the day care shuttle.

Others may view and pour over the free literature once they go back home and pray to ‘fit’ a mission schedule into their personal calendar for next year.

Only a few will answer the call; leaving the comforts of home for the sake of giving comfort to those who haven’t had a fair chance to live in dignity.

The “few” possess God’s overflowing passion to take that risk, defy the odds, and ignore the criticism of family members and friends.  It is that overflowing passion that keep them up in the wee hours of the night.  It is that overflowing passion that encourages them to hear successful stories of other missionaries overcoming challenges in unreachable communities.  It is that overflowing passion where God is speaking and providing the next steps for kingdom assignments.  It is that same overflowing passion that caused me to buck the trend of what people my age aren’t doing yet.

What is that God overflowing passion that possesses you – yet you decided not to have a ‘coming-out’ party?  Is it causing you to change?  Is it causing you to breakout yet?  Go for it!  Don’t be scared…do it today.

Finding Your Way through the Cultural Divide

Several weeks ago, I decided to rest my fingers for a while because I wanted to spend time figuring out an uneasy issue we encounter multiple times in our lives.  Last month, our nation witnessed the judicial verdict of another unwarranted death of a minority teen.  While the George Zimmerman trial story still simmers in the minds of people across the country, I wondered if we’ll ever get to a ‘good’ place where we could live in dignity and respect?

I went to the cinema last week to view a movie entitled Fruitvale Station.  A real-life story, directed by Ryan Coogler, was a snapshot of an often troubled twenty-two year old African-American man named Oscar Grant.  The movie depicts the last 24-hours of Oscar’s life leading up to a string of documented cell phone videos capturing his instant death by the hands of a San Francisco BART police officer on January 1, 2009. 

For more details of the file, visit: www.fruitvalefilm.com

Though it took three years to finally showcase Oscar’s story, his tragic situation never received the same attention as Travon Martin’s untimely in 2012.  And as I write this, there will be another sad situation happening right now – that unnamed person won’t get the level of national attention either.

After the ending of the Fruitvale Station movie, I left the cinema very disturbed and emotionally drained.  Just when this young man was trying to change his life and attempt to become a good son, boyfriend, and young father, his chance of growing old was snuffed out by one bullet – the same as Travon Martin.  Both unarmed and too young to leave us.

Last weekend I visited my hometown of Detroit to surprise my niece at her high-school graduation party.  Half of the party attendees were her friends – young girls and boys all grouped together and having a good time.  As an uncle I wanted to reach out to the young guys and speak to them, but I didn’t want to ‘embarrass’ Kenya so I stayed in my cool swagger spirit (smile).  What I saw from a distance was a group of kids with great potential but cautiously felt the un-welcomed scrutiny that would meet them in the future.

I can never know what is in the mind of today’s young men like Travon and Oscar, but I can relate to the pigmentation of their skin color.  Once upon a time in my youth, I shared the same feelings when going to certain places, communities, or events.  Today in my near middle age life, there are times I think I’m being watched or sense a level of intimidation in unfamiliar places.

What’s more troubling is that United States still remains widely segregated – not by law, but by who people call friends.  A new poll from Reuters shows that around 40 percent of white Americans and 25 percent of non-white Americans have friends exclusively of their own race.

Source of the Polling: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/08/us-usa-poll-race-idUSBRE97704320130808

How do we come together and begin easing our frustration to understand brothers and sisters from different cultures?

I believe we should:

  • Spend more time with workplace individuals after work hours
  • Get to know the parents of our children’s friend / get to know parents through your children’s sporting leagues
  • Attend social events in your neighborhood – take a French speaking class, become a team player of an adult basketball team, join Toastmasters, etc.
  • Attend cultural events in your neighborhood – learn how to Salsa dance, go to a German October Beer Festival, take-up an African-cuisine cooking class, etc.
  • Travel abroad – take a trip to Mexico, Europe or Africa…
  • Learn world histories of other cultures or countries
  • Get involved with our youth – attempt to understand their language
  • Volunteer at a Senior Citizen Residential facility
  • Plan to travel on a mission trip – could be local, regional, or international
  • Work at a soup kitchen station or volunteer at a homeless shelter
  • Join a social cause organization that you’re passionate about – health non-profit organization, run group, biker club, etc.

Poet, essayist and novelist, the late Audre Lorde said “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.

The more we learn and appreciate each other’s cultures and backgrounds, I believe we can start the healing process of the existing racial divide.