Ministry of Reconciliation
John 17:23….”complete unity….”
It was a historic moment. Over 200 local leaders, two-thirds clergy, one-third business leaders, had gathered at Primos Northgate, Jackson. They were there for one reason: they had accepted an invitation by two local businessmen, Lee Paris and Victor Smith, to hear a vision for a city-wide crusade involving national evangelist Tom Skinner and author Pat Morley. But God had even greater plans for this gathering on this November day in 1992.
The genesis of this meeting had occurred just a few months earlier. Mr. Morley had communicated with the Christian Businessmen’s Committee (CMBC) a burden he had for Jackson, Mississippi. There was a discussion concerning the possibility of bringing Pat and Tom into Jackson through CMBC for the crusade. The CMBC felt it was outside their mission statement to sponsor such an event. However, the vision had already been irrevocably birthed in these four men. The luncheon hosted by Lee and Victor provided the best opportunity to share this burgeoning vision for the city with influencers who had also demonstrably shown a similar vision.
As Pat and Tom shared their hearts with this racially diverse crowd, something else began to occur, like a Divine stirring. When the floor was opened for response, there seemed to be a growing sense of excitement that Pat, a Caucasian, and Tom, an African American, were demonstrating in their friendship one of the great social needs in Jackson: racial reconciliation. In fact, one leader noted that if John17:23 (“ May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved me. ”) was true, then there would be no effective evangelistic outreach if the church was not in unity, even racially reconciled. As Tom and Pat stood before these spiritual leaders, their love, friendship and camaraderie proved to be a prophetic picture in exposing the racial division in the city. Inspiringly, the local leaders present that day saw both the possibility of and responsibility for tangible racial healing.
So the decision was made that, in fact, an evangelistic crusade should be organized, but with an overt commitment to broach the social and ecclesiastical segregation that had kept the church so racially divided on Sunday mornings. The sponsoring ministry would be called Mission Mississippi. Over the next several months, this structure formed into a dynamic board, committees, subcommittees, sponsors and prayer teams. But then something else began to evolve. More and more leaders began pointing out that this commitment to reconciliation was going to demand more than an event and longer than a few months. This revelation, sometime between March 1993 and that summer, led that first leadership team to develop a 20-year vision for Mission Mississippi. It was in that context that the vision of Mission Mississippi to be the leading resource and catalyst for Christian reconciliation and racial healing for Mississippi and the world. As well as its mission to encourage and demonstrate unity in the body of Christ across racial and denominational lines so that communities throughout Mississippi can better understand the message of Christ, found their genesis.
As the movement began to take root, there emerged another incredible realization. There were many believers, of both races, from various denominations, representing every socio-economic stratum of the community, who had been praying and believing God to do this very work in the city. As Mission Mississippi took shape, individuals began emerging from their prayer closets, out of the shadows of inner-city ministry, from the confines of a few close relationships, and coagulated around the Mission Mississippi movement. It became obvious that Mission Mississippi was not only a God-ordained event for the moment, but that, in fact, it was the consummation of the prayer and labor of many intercessors over decades seeking to see the evil of segregation defeated, not just socially, but spiritually.
So Mission Mississippi became the gathering point of these believers. When the prayer teams began, they were easily staffed because so many had already been praying to this end and rejoiced in finding like-minded believers. Pastors found the joy of connecting with other pastors who carried this same burden. Business leaders discovered a place to share their insights and concerns. It was as if Mission Mississippi had become a clearinghouse for those who were committed to doing something, anything, to confront racism and segregation.
WHAT IS MISSION MISSISSIPPI?
The movement has three distinctions to its overall identity.
First , within the context of our Kingdom Mandate, Mission Mississippi is committed to facilitating reconciliation, primarily between the predominant races in Mississippi. Inherent within this call is a desire for reconciliation across all lines that divide the Body of Christ, e.g. denominations, economics, politics, gender, etc. We are committed to facing the multiple layers of issues that stem from this racial divide.
Second , Mission Mississippi is a Christian-valued movement. That is, our reconciliation is attained within the context of relationship with Christ. While we seek peace with all men, we are not looking to bring about a generic reconciliation, but one rooted in and expressive of Jesus Christ. We believe that true reconciliation begins in being reconciled to God first (2 Corinthians 5:18-21), then to one another (Ephesians 2:14-16; if He can reconcile Jew and Gentile, then certainly He can reconcile Black and White). The deepest levels of unity must spring from a common ground. For believers, that common ground is relationship with and obedience to Christ.
Third , Mission Mississippi believes that healing occurs within genuine, heart to heart relationships. “Changing Mississippi one relationship at a time” is more than a motto: it is the core essence of Mission Mississippi. Further, we believe relationships can only be formed face to face, heart to heart, life to life. In a phrase, Mission Mississippi is facilitating Christ-based racial healing one relationship at a time.
The DNA of Mission Mississippi
Just as it has an identity, Mission Mississippi also has core values that helped shape it. There are 5 major chromosomes that collectively define the DNA of Mission Mississippi. These qualities were evident in the forming of the movement and must be present for it to succeed in its mission. Those 5 chromosomes are:
Evangelistic – the revelation that racism hindered evangelism was the original stimulus
Again, to reiterate, Mission Mississippi is deliberate in stating the need for all persons to come into a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. Whether overt or implicit, every Mission Mississippi gathering has, at its center, a commitment to presenting the Person and message of Jesus Christ.
Unapologetic – we don’t apologize for people being uncomfortable with the message
The message and mission of Mission Mississippi can be very uncomfortable. Confronting both personal and social prejudice is imperative if racism in both cultures is to be destroyed. We do not apologize for creating a discomforting atmosphere where minds are challenged and hearts are exposed. Of course, we seek to do so with the humility and grace of Christ. But ensuring someone is not uncomfortable is one of the great distractions preventing honest discussion and open personal evaluation.
Issues-based – we address issues directly
Creating this unapologetic atmosphere is accompanied by a commitment to address underlying challenges, long ignored origins of pain, and backroom dialogues of both races. How does each race see the other? What are the topics we talk about within our races but not with the other? What do we wish the other knew about us? What have we failed to address that feels too sensitive to discuss but eats away at mutual confidence? Mission Mississippi is committed to addressing the veiled obvious . Southern culture lends itself to corporate niceties and private gossip. If prejudice is to be destroyed, the elephants in the room must be acknowledged and discussed among believers that have the King’s principles and purposes at heart.
Relationship-driven – these issues are addressed through intentional relationships
For these issues to be truly discussed, the dialogue must occur among persons committed to talking all the way through the arguments and counter-arguments. We call it “staying at the table” . The human “fight or flight” response aborts too many tough conversations once the heart is exposed. The disciple stays at the table because of a commitment to both the King’s principles and His purposes. We fight through the emotion and rhetoric to take hold of truth and grace. This can only occur when believers who agree to “go the distance” in the tough conversations.
Local leadership-owned – the movement belongs to those whose lives/professions are touching the issues on a daily basis
The strength of Mission Mississippi is that those who live within the culture take responsibility to change that culture. Over time, an organized structure grew up around the early success of Mission Mississippi. But in its inception, the ministry flowed from the hearts and offices of those committed to the vision with no paid staff. The Board activity was accomplished in a real estate development office; the Prayer Committee was organized out of a local church office; the Picnic was put together in another business office. The nuts and bolts of the organization were accomplished by those who brought their skills, resources and availability to the vision. The result was “skin in the game” for many churches and businesses. And while the tangible result of this “lay ownership” was the accomplishment of many projects and goals, this investment resulted in a spiritual and emotional value to the movement as well.
INTENTIONAL RACIAL BALANCE
One important aspect of Mission Mississippi that has proven imperative to its impact is the intentional development of co-led teams comprised of one African American and one Caucasian. This Strategic Racial Balance accomplishes three things:
It creates the opportunity for at least one strategic interracial relationship to form . Many co-chairs find authentic friendships with one another. Working together for a common
goal often results in shared emotions, shared perspectives and shared respect. After the goal is achieved, these co-chairs discover they have developed a deeper bond than the task completed. One of our main goals at Mission Mississippi is therefore achieved: authentic, developing relationship between persons of different races.
It allows diverse racial perspectives to be incorporated in the formation and implementation of the ministry. When both races have voice in the decision-making process, then those perspectives create a more comprehensive strategy or solution.
It models structurally what we are seeking to do socially and relationally. When others look at the Mission Mississippi structure, they see more than a mission statement on paper; they see intentional modeling and experiential reality to our “one relationship at a time “motif. Some might argue this is artificial. We simply call it intentional.
The Mission Mississippi movement is mobilized through specific core values we call DNA. Our intentionality defines most of our events and structures.
“Changing Mississippi…One Relationship at a Time.”