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What does it mean that God is global? How can we long for and pursue justice in a beautiful way?

Sandra Maria Van Opstal is a second-generation Latina and the executive director of Chasing Justice. She is an amazing author, pastor, leader, and activist joining Latasha Morrison on the Be the Bridge Podcast to answer these questions and more.

She powerfully reminds us that we are all connected to one another and that we need one another. They discuss the rich gift that immigrants and refugees are to the church. They talk about the importance of mutuality. And they dive into how to develop leaders across cultures. Join Sandra and Latasha as they lament and hope together, and may we journey collectively into The Next Worship.

Links:

Resources Mentioned:

A Rhythm of Prayer
The Next Worship
Voices of Lament
Forty Days on Being an Eight
Enneagram Daily Reflections book set
The Next Worship Bible Study

Connect with Sandra Maria Van Opstal:

Her Website
Instagram

Connect with Chasing Justice:

Their Website
Facebook
Instagram
Podcast Network

Connect with Be the Bridge:

Our Website
Facebook
Instagram
Twitter

Connect with Latasha Morrison:

Facebook
Instagram
Twitter

Host & Executive Producer – Latasha Morrison

Senior Producer – Lauren C. Brown

Producer, Editor, & Music – Travon Potts

Transcriber – Sarah Connatser

Not all views expressed in this interview reflect the values and beliefs of Latasha Morrison or the Be the Bridge organization.

Narrator  0:01  

You are listening to the Be the Bridge Podcast with Latasha Morrison.

Latasha Morrison  0:06  

[intro] How are you guys doing today? It’s exciting!

Narrator  0:09  

Each week, Be the Bridge Podcast tackles subjects related to race and culture with the goal of bringing understanding.

Latasha Morrison  0:17  

[intro] …but I’m gonna do it in the spirit of love.

Narrator  0:19  

We believe understanding can move us toward racial healing, racial equity, and racial unity. Latasha Morrison is the founder of Be the Bridge, which is an organization responding to racial brokenness and systemic injustice in our world. This podcast is an extension of our vision to make sure people are no longer conditioned by a racialized society but grounded in truth. If you have not hit the subscribe button, please do so now. Without further ado, let’s begin today’s podcast. Oh, and stick around for some important information at the end.

Latasha Morrison  0:51  

Be the Bridge community, I have a special treat for you today. And you’re gonna be really excited! I want to read a little bit about who she is, what she does. And you’re gonna love her just like I do. We have Sandra Maria Van Opstal. She is a second generation Latina, and the executive director of Chasing Justice. She is an author and a pastor and an activist reimagining the intersection of faith and justice. Sandra has given leadership in global movements such as the Lausanne, the Justice Conference, Urbana Missions Conference. She has also had a strong domestic presence as an executive director and pastor of Grace and Peace Church. So she was the executive pastor of Grace and Peace Church, and an activist on the West Side of Chicago. She is a contributor to the New York Times best selling book, A Rhythm of Prayer. And she’s also the author of Next Worship. And we’re going to talk about her book and some of her Enneagram work, Sandra is doing so many things. But I want her…it’s been a, it’s been a rough two years. And I know you’re not on church staff anymore, but I really wanted to lead into just what you’ve been up to. And I want you to talk about some of the things that your church did in Chicago, on the West Side of Chicago. Because you know what? I hear so many stories about, you know, Chicago, Atlanta, Philly, and especially sometimes from the white community where people will say, like, we’re not doing anything in our communities to fight poverty or injustice or gun violence, all those things. And I’m like, “How do you know? You don’t live there.” Like. (laughter) I know so many organizations, churches, and pastors that are doing amazing work in all of those areas. So what makes you make that assumption that no work is being done when you don’t even live there? And you don’t even connect with, you’re not even in proximity with the people who are on the ground doing the work? But I wanted you just to talk about some of the things that your church did just during the pandemic.

Sandra Van Opstal  3:31  

Well, it’s great to be here with you guys. I obviously have listened to pretty much all the episodes of Be the Bridge. Because I love you, Tasha. But also all of our friends are on there. So I’m catching up with friends, because we don’t have time to talk. I listen to their podcasts and figure out what they’re up to.

Latasha Morrison  3:48  

Okay. I love it.

Sandra Van Opstal  3:49  

So that’s because all of us as leaders of color, we’re busy, we’re doing the work, we’re in our communities. And one of the things that I love about the guests that you have on this podcast and also about, you know, kind of our personal philosophies as friends and sisters is that you speak nationally to the work that you do and about the work that you do locally. That the things that we know in concept and theory are practiced in a space and place that we live. So you in Atlanta, me on the West Side of Chicago here. And from that, that’s where we consult from, where we write from, and we speak from those places. So I do live on the West Side of Chicago. I live in and pastor in the area that is Humboldt Park, Hermosa, and North Austin. I was a pastor at Grace and Peace for eight years and left the pastoral work to do this adventure that is Chasing Justice that’s primarily trying to mobilize and kind of be a guide to people in their adulting years. You know? They’re becoming adults and they’re figuring this thing out. And what does it look like to live a lifestyle of justice beyond a hashtag and beyond a protest, but into a lifestyle of compassion and justice? So I started that adventure during COVID, during the lockdown. And one of the reasons – getting to your question – one of the reasons was that the church that I had been a part of had always had a community center, had always had… cause we’re part, we practice Christian Community Development, basically asset based development…

Latasha Morrison  5:18  

Yes.

Sandra Van Opstal  5:18  

…that is led through and from the church. And so we had a community center that had had after school programs and tutoring and health drives and, you know, all the kinds of things that are primarily relief, but some development work as well. And we realized that our food co-op was one of the places that we most kind of connected with our community. And when COVID hit and when the lockdown hit, day laborers and folks that work for their daily bread were most impacted. So a community like ours where south of our church is 99% African American. North of our church, literally one block over, is like 90 plus percent recent immigrants from Central America, from Mexico, from South America. And those two populations were so devastated by the pandemic, and particularly as it relates to jobs, access to jobs, and just our daily bread. And so our church began a food bank. And because we were already in connection with our local councilmen, with our local schools, with our local businesses, what was a food co-op that was feeding dozens of families, you know, then became a community that had fed 1000s of families within a week. And I don’t know how many millions of pounds of foods and truckloads and semis of stuff began to come from all the surrounding areas and different organizations because we have the relationships. So there were people during this time that were like, “We want to help, we want to help, but we don’t know who to help, we have no connection or proximity.” And then there are those of us that connection and proximity, we’re like, “We need partnership. But we are ready to lead because we have been leading.” So aside from the food bank, we have a full on like kind of vaccine initiative, which is very needed.

Latasha Morrison  5:31  

Yes.

Sandra Van Opstal  5:32  

And very…needed to be very nuanced within Black and Brown communities because of our relationship with health care in our country. So we have a vaccine clinic, basically vaccine initiatives partnering with local clinics and hospitals. So many things that are happening right now with teenagers. And so our church had a very gifted staff, our community center had a very gifted staff of people who had been food insecure, who had been housing insecure, who had been immigrants, who had come who had been women and men transitioning out of domestic violence and survivors of domestic violence, who had been incarcerated, who had been day laborers, who had lived on the street, and within the own church community we found leaders that could give voice to – what are the what are the needs of our community and how do we best develop an actual ministry to and with that community? So that’s what’s been happening. It’s, you know, like, a lot of churches kind of pivoted to, “How do we use our resources for a Sunday service online?”

Latasha Morrison  8:20  

I know. That’s what I was just about to say. (laughter)

Sandra Van Opstal  8:23  

We had a Sunday service online, but that’s just not where all of our energy went to.

Latasha Morrison  8:26  

Yes. I love that.

Sandra Van Opstal  8:27  

But because of that, my son has asthma. And because of that, I actually could not be around for much of what pastors were doing during the week. Because I couldn’t be exposed. And so that was kind of a natural transitioning time for me to move out of my formal role at the church as a pastor there and into my role as the executive director of Chasing Justice. So, yeah! 

Latasha Morrison  8:50  

I love it. Love it. Love it.

Sandra Van Opstal  8:51  

Lots of great work happening here.

Latasha Morrison  8:52  

I love it. And I wanted you to highlight that, you know, because I want people to hear and to see, like, a lot of times when you hear other narratives, you have no idea. Unless you’ve been there, you’ve walked or partnered with, you don’t know what’s happening in those communities, because you don’t live there. And so, but people are doing amazing work. And I know you’ve been really busy. Now, tell me a little bit…I do know, I read some of the Rhythm of Prayer that you were involved in. Tell me a little bit about that project and why you said yes to that particular project.

Sandra Van Opstal  9:32  

Oh, my goodness. Tasha, I did so much writing in 2019.

Latasha Morrison  9:39  

I know!

Sandra Van Opstal  9:39  

2019, 2020, 22. I don’t even know. The Rhythm of Prayer was an invitation by Sarah Bessey.

Latasha Morrison  9:43  

Okay.

Sandra Van Opstal  9:44  

So she was reminded of when things were difficult in life, the women at her church got together and prayed. And they had a prayer circle. And when she began to describe this to me, I think we were in person at a conference, I immediately thought of all the ladies in the church on Saturday morning, in our kitchen at church eating Puerto Rican bread with butter and drinking coffee, cafe con leche. I immediately thought of them, because they are the women that pray for me when I’m on the road. They are the women that pray for me when I’m doing the hard work. They are the people I call when my family’s distraught or my kids are sick. Like I know who has, I know who is going to actually pray for you and not just say they’re going to. And I thought of the women in our very small kitchen at our church, gathered around the table, having their bread, and talking to God, and connecting with one another. And I was like, I want to be in a book that does that. Like, of course I want to be in it. So she began to describe to me her vision for that. Similar to the book that Natasha Sistrunk Robinson just published recently called Voices of Lament, it’s a very similar kind of idea.

Latasha Morrison  10:52  

Yes.

Sandra Van Opstal  10:53  

Except with with Natasha’s, with Voices of Lament it was focused on Psalm 37…

Latasha Morrison  10:58  

Yes.

Sandra Van Opstal  10:59  

…a Psalm of Lament, and it was strictly women of color. It wasn’t a mixture of women of color and white women. So both of these projects were very similar. And they were projects that were done by friends that were serious about scripture, that were serious about prayer, that were maybe in two different kinds of spheres within the Christian, you know, kind of tradition and space, but that were committed to a diversity of voices, of people that were calling out to God for something to be different about our worlds. You know?

Latasha Morrison  11:31  

Yes. I love that.

Sandra Van Opstal  11:32  

Obviously, the Rhythm of Prayer was written before and published right at the beginning of the COVID lockdown, the quarantine, and Voices of Lament came after. And so that actually is a very interesting experience for me. Because both of those collective works written by 20 plus women, prayers written by 20 plus women, in each of those projects. One before we knew…

Latasha Morrison  11:57  

Right.

Sandra Van Opstal  11:59  

…that America was going to expose itself for what was actually there. And one after we knew.

Latasha Morrison  12:06  

Yeah, that America was gonna expose itself, and then ignore itself, and then double down on itself.

Sandra Van Opstal  12:12  

Yeah, go ahead and say that, yes.

Latasha Morrison  12:13  

Let’s say that. (laughter)

Sandra Van Opstal  12:14  

And maybe, so maybe it’s even like more pain. It’s like the first one was written during, for many of us, after our fight and struggle against child separation at the border. Many of us in that project were involved with that, in racial injustice and educational inequity within our own communities and the amount of micro aggressions and inequity that we experienced in the workplace, in the marketplace. And so, the second one was like, “Wow, this happened and, yeah, you dug your heels in.”

Latasha Morrison  12:49  

Yeah, I was just, Natasha, I was actually just on her podcast. And she was, I just interviewed her on the podcast. And then I was at her book tour that she had here and got to hear her read some of the lament from that book and the stories from that book. And I got to meet the artist, the illustrator, that’s there that’s in the book. And that work is beautiful work. And I think it’s going to be timeless work. Both of these things that you’ve worked on are going to be timeless work that people are going to go to over and over again. And I love how you made that connection of, you know, one was before things, before we even knew what was gonna happen. I always reflect back to when I see people again, and we’re like, “Oh my goodness, I hadn’t seen you since before the pandemic. Oh, yeah, yeah. You remember when we saw each other and we were had no idea what was coming around the corner?” And I really feel like the Rhythm of Prayers is like definitely a book of preparation. And then, you know, Voices of Lament is like a book of like liberation in that sense. And so beautiful pieces. You’ve been busy young lady. You have been really busy like you say you’ve contributed a lot. But then also in the midst of that you republished, I think rewrote, updated your book, The Next Worship. Because it originally came out in…what year did The Next Worship come out?

Sandra Van Opstal  14:33  

It came out at the end of 2015. And I wrote it, I guess in 2013, when you think back. (laughter)

Latasha Morrison  14:41  

I know, right. Right? People don’t realize that you have to write the book so far in advance. Yeah. And then, so you did an update that I think that just came out in 2022. Right?

Sandra Van Opstal  14:52  

Yeah, so InterVarsity… you know, I will tell you. Friends of Be the Bridge. You know?

Latasha Morrison  14:57  

Uh huh. (lauhgter)

Sandra Van Opstal  14:59  

When I wrote his book, The Next Worship, the idea of the book was to really give people an understanding of why our worship shaped our imagination…

Latasha Morrison  15:10  

Yes.

Sandra Van Opstal  15:10  

…and our understanding that we are a global church. So I wrote it, not to like convince churches to do diverse worship, I wrote it as a kind of philosophy about what worship is. It’s a practice that we do to connect with our Creator.

Latasha Morrison  15:29  

Yes.

Sandra Van Opstal  15:29  

To develop spaces and places where we imagine what actually is instead of, or what what could be, instead of what we see today. And so, The Next Worship, you know, glorifying God in a diverse world, I think is what it’s called. Glorifying God in a Diverse World is the subtitle. And its idea is that we are a diverse body…

Latasha Morrison  15:55  

Yes.

Sandra Van Opstal  15:56  

…of believers. And therefore, the practices of the whole body enrich us and form us and transform us.

Latasha Morrison  16:03  

Yes.

Sandra Van Opstal  16:03  

I wrote that, again 2013 is probably when I started writing it. The church did not have questions about this in 2013. So when it published in 2015, it did well. Like it did pretty well. But it has actually been around now for, you know, eight years. And so it has lasted. They use it in seminaries, and art and kind of Christian institutions that teach worship arts, and churches use it. And it’s used all over the world actually. And as a kind of manual slash imagining, you know, kind of spark for your imagination on what worship could look like.

Latasha Morrison  16:39  

Right.

Sandra Van Opstal  16:39  

I had no idea that in this last couple of years post racial uprising, churches were going to be asking the question, “How do we grow in our hospitality? And in our solidarity? And in our mutuality? How do we grow as a church? How do we grow as Christian communities? How do I grow as an individual in my ability to stand in solidarity with people that live different lives and experience different things?” And how do we do that? Well, we do that in our practices, in our spiritual disciplines and practices. And so The Next Worship has done an amazing, it’s just done really well in the last couple of years, because people were asking the question five years after I wrote it, eight years after I wrote it.

Latasha Morrison  17:23  

Yes.

Sandra Van Opstal  17:23  

And so I was talking about that with my friend the other day. I was like, “I’m working on a book right now.” And I was like, “I know no one’s going to be asking this question right now, but I’m building something that I know the church will need in five to 10 years.”

Latasha Morrison  17:37  

Yes.

Sandra Van Opstal  17:37  

So for example, the work that we’re doing with Chasing Justice, it really is a work that is led by people of color that is asking questions about our collective liberation, our collective flourishing, as peoples of color and our allies, looking at what it looks like not to just fight for one cause or one group, but to come together and to make space for all of us. And that’s just not the question that’s being asked right now. And so sometimes I feel like I’m living in an experience where – and I guess maybe that’s the role of the prophet. You’re painting a picture and asking the question that nobody else is asking, and then you’re trying to get them to ask that question with you. (laughter)

Latasha Morrison  18:16  

Yeah. I mean, I mean, you’re really foretelling in a sense where it’s like, you’re being proactive and not reactive. Because, you know, I think God does that. God chooses people to be prophets and priests. You know? And to speak into various types of things. And when I think about your book, I think about the work that you’re doing, I think about even Be the Bridge. Like at the time, there has been preparation in our lives for this work all of our life. You know what I’m saying? And we can look back and see the threads of that in some way. But when God was putting this on your heart, sometimes we have to realize it’s not necessarily for the now but it’s for the later. Some things are for the now, some things are for the later. And I think, when I was saying, like, some of the work is going to be timeless is because…and even someone told me that about my work, like, people may not get it now, but they’ll get it later. And just think about like, you know, your book been used as seminaries and in churches, like the impact that it’s having. And then when you talk about global worship – what happens when a diverse church glorifies the global God? That’s something that is not really being said in a lot of predominantly white churches. That’s not the vision that the white church has. And I want to be specific in that because when I think about, you know, predominately Black church we do think of Jesus, the God of the nations. I remember that was just a song when growing up in Black church. You know? The church that I was on staff at, we would say that, one who knows every dimension. And so, we see God as global, we see ourselves connected to that Christian in Brazil, or that Christian in Africa, that Christian in Korea, or that Christian in Iraq. We see ourselves connected, because we’re very communal and collective. But it’s not really something that you see in, just having been in several and served in several white church staff that it’s not something where it’s looking beyond to the uttermost parts. It’s more so looking right there. So what do you mean when you say global God? Because you’re painting a vision of something when you’re talking about worship. Teach the people, Sandra. Teach the people. (laughter)

Sandra Van Opstal  20:54  

Well, let me start with one of the things that one of the guys in class said yesterday. So I teach a class at Stateville Correctional Center on preaching and leadership. And we were talking yesterday about context in preaching. And we were talking about how Jesus was a Palestinian man. Okay, Jesus was a Palestinian Jew. He grew up in a particular space and place. And like, I just want you to imagine, in your mind’s eye, close your eyes, unless you’re driving, in your mind’s eye, the feet of Jesus, His Brown feet and a pair of sandals touching Palestinian soil. Okay? This is the God we serve. A God who was in space and place. And the gospel was so potent and so amazing and so liberative and such good news, that it traveled from that space and place over the Egypt Nile, over the seas and the rivers and went to Rome, and it went to North Africa, and it went to all these places. But it was a gospel in a good news that was proclaimed about God’s love for a people that were located in space and place. So first of all, God is a global God, because literally, He’s not American. Okay? Secondly, the Scripture is about a displaced, oppressed, marginalized, wandering group of refugees and people of longing that were looking for a day of rest, a day of flourishing, a place to lay their heads. And that describes what most of our friends and siblings are going through globally right now. We are in the one of the, our times, most massive displacement experience with refugees and immigrants all over the world, displaced everywhere. I mean, think about even in the Ukraine and Poland and Italy, and all that’s happening there. And then we have Syria and Lebanon. I mean, every region has massive displacement, not just here in North America and South America. Our Venezuelan brothers and sisters, our Ecuadorian brothers and sisters that are coming up. And so now more than ever, we are experiencing how small our world is. And as our brothers and sisters move, so for example, I can speak to our space. Every Sunday I come to church, and, you know, maybe we’re 200 people, maybe 100, you know, depending on the Sunday. But every other Sunday, I come and the church is full and I can’t find a seat. And the reason is because we’re receiving these beautiful gifts from the state of Texas on buses. And those immigrants sent to us by the state of Texas are coming to our church as a first stop. And there…

Latasha Morrison  21:17  

Many of which are, who are Christians.

Sandra Van Opstal  22:13  

That’s what I was gonna say. So they come. And they’re not necessarily coming to hear the gospel, because they are already in Christ.

Latasha Morrison  23:40  

Yes, yes.

Sandra Van Opstal  23:41  

They are coming to get a shower. Because the bus driver never stopped in those 28 hours. And they came without having gone to the bathroom. And so they’re soiled, they’re tired, they want food. So they’re just, “Oh my gosh, respite, rest.” And then they’re with us, maybe for a week, maybe for a month, depending on how long it takes to get them resettled somewhere. And those siblings are coming. Young, I mean most of them much younger than me, are coming, young parents with their children as bearers of the good news. They are the feet that are bringing the good news to a church that is exhausted, to a city that is tired, to an American Church of every color, race, and ethnicity that really is wondering if God is listening at all. And they’re coming after this long track of this experience and saying, “God is worthy to be praised.” So when I, we have to actually pass through their church service to get to ours, because they’re meeting in, well we’re separate, they’re meeting in the dock. So it’s called the dock but it’s actually another sanctuary because it used to be a dock. So I pass through there like 100 plus people and they’re worshiping in Spanish. And then I get to ours which is bilingual. Because there’s not enough seats in either church to hold everyone. And every time I walk through, I’m just going to tell you, Tasha, I’m just gonna tell you, every time I walk through that worship service, I can feel God’s presence in a way that is so potent that I’m crying by the time I finish walking those, you know, 50 steps. Because I know from personal experience with my friends that have been here at least a year, the stories and the suffering they have gone through.

Latasha Morrison  25:32  

Yes.

Sandra Van Opstal  25:34  

And I know that it directly connects us with the God of Scripture who was with God’s people when they went through their displacement, wandering, longing, and suffering.

Latasha Morrison  25:49  

Yeah, yeah.

Sandra Van Opstal  25:49  

And so there’s something about being in that space and place. And if you can have it in proximity. Like, again, we’re a church that has African American folks. I live in a community that’s Black, that’s Puerto Rican, that’s Mexican and Central American. And so my proximity either in my community, kind of, you know, the community of moms at school, my kids are in the neighborhood experiences or meetings at the park district. I’m constantly in proximity with people who have utterly different life experiences than I do, even as a Latina, even as someone who is from the quote unquote community ethnically. And those things enrich our lives. So that’s what I mean by global God.

Latasha Morrison  26:33  

Yes.

Sandra Van Opstal  26:33  

I mean our God is a…our Messiah came in flesh as a Jewish Palestinian refugee. And the gospel was brought to the earth, by people on the margins, wandering. And the revival of the church today is primarily in places that we would walk around or fly over or pass by in our cities. Like, Google Maps actually takes you around our neighborhood. Never takes you through it. So you would never see, you would never know.

Latasha Morrison  26:33  

Say it again. Say it again. Google Maps takes you around your neighborhood, but not through your neighborhood.

Sandra Van Opstal  27:26  

Yeah. Even Google’s racist, just so you know. (laughter)

Latasha Morrison  27:31  

You know, like in Scripture, it talks about Jesus going through Samaria when nobody went through, like, everybody walked around. You know? And so, I mean, one of the scriptures that come to mind when you were talking, Sandra, is when you’re talking about the gift that’s been given, and like you said, the presence of God. Having gone to Venezuela and worked with churches in Venezuela, you know, knowing that they’re godly…I had never experienced worship, let me tell you, I couldn’t understand a word that was that they were singing, but it connected at heart. And so that’s understanding that God is global. And the scripture that comes to mind when you were saying that, about the refugees that are coming, that have been displaced, but are coming in longing and they have not even been given dignity in they’re coming – which I think is a gift from God, because I think it’s an exposure to God in another way that can really be a gift to the church, but we’re rejecting that gift. But I was just thinking about Matthew 25. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne, all the nations, all the nations will be gathered before Him. And He will separate the people, one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on the right and the goats on the left. And then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Take up your inheritance, the kingdom prepare for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat.'” And you go through that Scripture. And I’m like, if that’s not convicting, you know. You know, having gone to the border and having met with migrants and majority of the ones I met with were Christians. You know? Hearing their stories. I mean, I think that’s just just some beautiful work that’s happening in your church.

Sandra Van Opstal  30:01  

Yeah, I usually tell people I’m like, if you want to know…I wrote this in the book Still Evangelical? which was a book that we wrote in 2017, right after the inauguration of that administration. And it was like, do we call ourselves evangelicals still after the 81% said they were for kind of anti-immigrant and anti-Black? And we said, I said, like, I’m remaining to reform that was my chapter. I’m remaining to reform. Like, I consider myself an evangélica. I consider myself a Latina evangelical, which is a completely different category. And I don’t consider myself, if I don’t consider myself an evangelical, it’s because evangelicals don’t consider me. Evangelicals don’t consider my community. Our communities, Tasha, Black communities, Brown communities, Native communities, Asian communities, we are always the recipient of being the needy; we are always the project; we are always the ones to be fixed. But in my book, I argue that mutuality communicates to one another – not just I’m with you. Can I help you? I see your sadness. I see your poverty. Can I do something about it? Mutuality says, you are an equal. And I need you. Not only I stand with you in solidarity, but I need you in mutuality. And so I think this is the time for, and I said this in 2017, so I’m gonna say it again in 2022. I think this is the time where we as a church in the U.S. and in Canada need to think very clearly, and in Europe, need to think very clearly about the gifts that God has given us in the people that God is sending to us from the places that God is most present – among the poor. And so.

Latasha Morrison  30:55  

Repeat that again so that the people that’s doing some work can pause while they’re listening to this podcast and just meditate on that. Repeat that again, please.

Sandra Van Opstal  32:01  

Okay, I’ll try.

Latasha Morrison  32:02  

I know. (laughter)

Sandra Van Opstal  32:04  

So that we can think about the people God is sending to us, from the places God is sending to us, where God is Most present – among the poor. This is what I truly believe. When we receive a bus that comes from the state of Texas, I mourn for Florida and Texas, because you just lost evangelists that we’re bringing the good news in your context.

Latasha Morrison  32:33  

Whew.

Sandra Van Opstal  32:34  

And what I want to say is.

Latasha Morrison  32:35  

C’est la. C’est la. Oh my gosh.

Sandra Van Opstal  32:39  

These are people like…and also they make amazing arepas. I was in the kitchen the other day, I was like, “Is that an arepa I see? Like, can I have one? You know I’m a pastora. Can I have one? You got to give me one.” (laughter) But the gift that the depth of theology and worship and sustainable faith that comes from places of persecution and marginalization is the faith that we read about in Scripture. And our anemic faith is what causes us to run away from one another when we don’t agree, and from God when things don’t go the way they should be. So I’m going to tell you I wrestle with God all the time. “Are you present? How long Lord? Why is this happening?” But I’m not like abandoning. I mean, I totally understand the church is foul sometimes. But it’s the faith that came from my grandmothers, that allows me to stay in places that are hard. And so my commitment to continue to congregate in church when church isn’t always the most exciting place to be. You know? Because no church is perfect.

Latasha Morrison  33:45  

Right.

Sandra Van Opstal  33:45  

My commitment to continue to give generously to spaces and places that are caring, even though like I’d rather spend it on myself. You know? Those are commitments that come from the faith that my abuela, that my grandmother passed on to me. Our ancestral faith. For African Americans who have come from the spirituals and the traditions and the theology that is a sustaining faith. That’s the faith that’s coming to our country from Afghanistan, from Syria, from Ukraine. You know? And from our young people who are developing their faith in the context of suffering and persecution in different ways and injustice. And so, what I’m trying to say in The Next Worship, I know, there is stuff in here about music, I promise. If you’re a musician or an actual worship leader, I promise there are chapters on that. But that’s not actually what the book was written for. It was an invitation for us to consider that everything we do is located in culture – our leadership, our preaching, our theology, our worship. And therefore we ought to be students of our own culture. We ought to be students of other cultures. And that in order to practice reconciliation and worship, we need to practice hospitality which says, “We welcome you.” We need to practice solidarity which says, “We stand by you.” And we need to practice mutuality which says, “We need you. You are not just the needy, you are the needed.”

Latasha Morrison  0:01  

Everybody need to get this book. And I think some people are so…they’re more concerned about being diverse as far as a way that it looks on stage or having this voice represented rather than it being a lifestyle or a…it’s more of a head change that I see rather than a heart change. You know? Because when you do the heart change, all the other things happen with it. But I see people really doing a lot of diverse things, because they don’t want to get the heat when they don’t. But they’re not really, really doing multi-ethnic, multicultural work. So you’re having, you know, I see where you have a diverse group of people up there singing, but they’re singing in a very Western way. I know your book even talks about that. Or either we’ll have people sing a couple of verses in Spanish of one of these, you know, Maverick City songs. You know, “I’m gonna have you sing, Sandra, in a couple of verses of Spanish.” And that is multi-ethnic, multicultural worship. And that’s not correct. And I know you speak to that.

Sandra Van Opstal  1:26  

I think the first step that people move to is like representation. And I know you guys talk about this a lot. Like representation and diversity is not the same thing as equity; and it’s not the same thing as inclusion and voice. It’s just not. But I think people kind of stop there, like, “Oh, we have a diverse group of musicians. Now, this is diverse worship.” And we have many, many examples of that. But it’s funded by and funded for and produced by a white church in California. You know? And the people that benefit from that are actually not people that are on the margins, but people that are at the center of power and are shaping all of our theology. And so, I think the most important thing, obviously, you have to start at representation. You need to have a diverse group.

Latasha Morrison  2:14  

Right.

Sandra Van Opstal  2:15  

But the question is, when you get all those people together, like when you have that staff team, that perfect church staff team, or that nonprofit staff team, or even I do a lot of consulting in the for profit in the marketplace, like when you have that perfectly diverse team – how do you create an environment in which people can actually give voice to that due to their perspectives? And that requires cultural intelligence, that requires competencies, that requires emotional intelligence, that requires tools that you may not have. And it’s hard to do, if you’re not always kind of leaning in and asking questions, like, “Teach me more.” I’ll give you a great example. Today, we put up a graphic. I had a designer, one of our designers who’s Black, but not African American. So a Black Caribbean designer, who’s making a designer for our podcast that is featuring a Native voice.

Latasha Morrison  2:15  

Okay.

Sandra Van Opstal  2:15  

And so he put something together, and I was like, “I just kind of feel like, it’s not going to be right. Like, it’s like representative but not authentic. And so what about something like this? Could this be closer?” Because I took it off their web page, their Instagram. And then sure enough, we designed a couple of things. We showed it. And it was like, it was very cross cultural conversation. Because it wasn’t like, “Nope, that’s not it. I feel tokenized.” It was like, “Well, that’s a great picture for this. Like, if you were trying to do this.” You know, so it was it was a great interaction. And I said, “No, just tell me the truth.” She’s a friend. I was like, “Just tell me the truth.” And I said, “What about this, this, or this?” And we went back and forth. We finally got something, you’ll see in the next couple days, that we think worked. And then I said to the Black Caribbean designer, “This is called cross cultural design. Where our instincts, because we don’t know, as people of color from other BIPOC spaces, we don’t know what is something that is truly kind of pan Native in the sense of across native cultures, or if it’s something that is distinctly for a Powwow culture or is it strictly for a Pueblo culture or is distinctly for Cherokee culture. We would know within black spaces or Latino spaces, but we don’t we don’t know that within that space.” So I think churches have to go through that of leaning in. It’s like, you don’t just learn and you stop learning.

Latasha Morrison  4:44  

Yes.

Sandra Van Opstal  4:44  

You keep, these are, my entire team is young leaders of color under the age of 30. They’re all amazing designers and thinkers and theologians, but they have experience within their own communities and maybe one other community so we’re still learning. And I think we as communities and organizations need to ask ourselves, and as individuals, like, is there a question I should be asking? When I sense there’s a disconnect what can I ask? And putting a bunch of people up there from different cultures or different races is not going to actually create diverse worship unless you create a space in which they can voice their theology, their perspective, their experience of God. In the same way that having diverse teams organizationally, the data shows that having diverse teams, if they don’t have CQ, if they don’t have cultural intelligence, actually makes them less productive and less effective than a homogeneous team. So better to have people that are the same. If you’re going to put a bunch of people from diverse settings, and they don’t have cultural intelligence, they don’t know the questions to be asking.

Latasha Morrison  5:57  

Yeah. That’s good.

Sandra Van Opstal  5:57  

So I think that is what some of the book also does, is it asks the question like, how do you develop leaders across cultures? How do you discern your own culture? How do different cultures make decisions? And how do you put together a worship experience from the entrance, kind of from the gathering of, you know, the church time when people come in to their time of leaving including rituals, preaching, the Lord’s table. You know, like, how do we create and design experiences that are more than representational?

Latasha Morrison  6:30  

That’s so good.

Sandra Van Opstal  6:31  

And how do we keep away from tokenism? So those are like, I think chapters four, five, and six.

Latasha Morrison  6:36  

Yeah, so good, so good. And one of the last projects I wanted to talk about that you have been working on, before I ask you some fun questions, is that you wrote…you know, everybody, when we have them on one of the things that everyone’s talking about is the Enneagram. And I just interviewed Milton, who did some training for our team, he does Do it for the Gram Enneagram coach and instructor. You are, what is your Enneagram number?

Sandra Van Opstal  7:13  

Well, since I put it on the top of a book, I will tell you, I’m an Enneagram eight.

Latasha Morrison  7:17  

(laughter) Okay, that’s what I was getting to.

Sandra Van Opstal  7:19  

Before IVPress had me write that book I never told anyone, although I’m sure it’s clear. (laughter)

Latasha Morrison  7:26  

Wow, I’m so surprised. Nah. (laughter)

Sandra Van Opstal  7:29  

I know, and Enneagram eight you know. Because they’re always like, “This is not right! Change it!” We’re coming in like knocking things down, like, “Justice for all!” (laughter)

Latasha Morrison  7:37  

Yeah, yeah, yeah. And so I would love like, you’re an Enneagram eight, and what was the book that you just wrote?

Sandra Van Opstal  7:48  

So InterVarsity Press did a series of devotionals that was edited by Suzanne Stabile, and it’s called Forty Days on Being. So, Forty Days on Being an Eight is the one that I wrote.

Latasha Morrison  7:59  

Okay. Yeah, yeah. And I had the book, and I was looking for it. And I was like, what did I do? I have so many books.

Sandra Van Opstal  8:05  

I know, I hear you. I’m like, “My friends need to stop writing.” No, I’m just kidding. (laughter)

Latasha Morrison  8:10  

I’m like, okay, this is another book. I probably get like three or four books in the mail each week. At least like, okay, I would say at least two at a minimum. You know? And so I’m like trying to keep up with all the books and put them in places and making sure I take pictures of them. And, you know, sometimes it’s like, it’s so much.

Sandra Van Opstal  8:36  

Somebody’s releasing something every day.

Latasha Morrison  8:38  

Yes, yes.

Sandra Van Opstal  8:38  

Which is amazing! Because I was telling someone the other day, when I was 30 years old, no one was asking women of color to write at all. Nobody was asking us. We couldn’t get in a door anywhere. Now I feel like I know, at least a dozen women of color under 30 that have written books. And I’m like that, I just never thought I’d see the day. 

Latasha Morrison  8:56  

So good.

Sandra Van Opstal  8:56  

Yes, InterVarsity Press contacted me and said, “Hey, we’d like you to write a book, a devotional on being an Enneagram eight, because you have been utilizing this tool for two decades now in your work in the work of justice. And we think that you’d be a really helpful voice in helping folks who are activists and connecting their activism to their faith in their journey as Enneagram eights.” So I said, “No.” Of course, I was like, “I don’t have time to write a book. I’m trying to write my own book, literally. I’m three years, like, my publisher has been waiting for three years for this book.” And I was like, “No, I don’t I can’t do it.” And, you know, then the quarantine came, and I got a call from them again. And they said, “Hey, would you please be willing to write this book?” And I was like, “Here’s three people that I think could write that book. You can ask them. I’m sure they’ll be great voices.” So then I got a call again. And it was like, “Okay, well, we did ask the people that you suggested. They’re amazing. And one of them was going to write it and then they couldn’t do it. So we just felt like maybe it was like, maybe it was like a sign from the Lord to ask again.” So they asked again. And I was like, “Fine, you wore me down.” You know? No. So I said, yes, because we were all at home. And I realized through the work that we’re doing with Chasing Justice, that it is hard to be an activist that has nothing to actually do. Like, it’s hard to be an activist that’s not acting. And the Forty Days on Being an Enneagram Eight is a devotional for activists. It’s a devotional for people of faith that want to see the world change, that know something’s not right and they have a sneaking suspicion that the only thing that could change and turn evil to good would be the power of the Spirit of God. And so they’re like, “How can I tap into that? How can I tap into that and be grounded in my connection with God?” So I wrote the Enneagram eight devotional as an Enneagram eight, but I wrote it for anybody that’s in that space. Like, “I am trying to change the world, get rid of racism, sexism, evil, poverty, injustice and oppression. I think God has something to do with this. I’m tired of doing it on my own strength. And I would love to connect with God on this.” That’s why I wrote it. I never thought in my whole life, I would be writing as personally as I did in that devotional. So much so that Suzanne Stabile was like, “I didn’t expect this book at all. Like you wrote something I did not expect.” And I think she says it in her podcast that I did with her for her podcast. “I never have seen an eight write like this.” And I asked her, I said, “Have you ever met a Latina eight?” Because I think that Latina eights are very, very vulnerable. I think that we are not afraid of our weakness or emotion. We are not as afraid of our weaknesses or emotions.

Latasha Morrison  12:19  

Whew. So many layers in that. Milton was bringing some of that out in my podcast with him about some of the blind spots, you know, as it relates to the Enneagram. And then also get into where the Enneagram started, and how it’s been whitewashed a lot. So anyway.

Sandra Van Opstal  12:37  

Yeah, #EnneagramSoWhite. Hashtag Enneagram So White. And I also wanted to write it because it was a project that was primarily writers of color. So Morgan Harper Nichols, Marlena Graves, lots of folks, Juanita Rasmus, a lot of folks of color were writing for the series. I think it’s one white male and one white woman that are in the nine types. But the rest of us are writers of color. I’ve never seen a devotional or a book on the Enneagram, Shawn Palmers in it. So I was excited.

Latasha Morrison  13:06  

That’s good.

Sandra Van Opstal  13:06  

Again, and call me Latina, I don’t know, call me Latina, but I love collaboration. You know?

Latasha Morrison  13:11  

Yes!

Sandra Van Opstal  13:11  

A collective, communal project. That’s why I get sucked into them. That’s why I don’t write any of my own books.

Latasha Morrison  13:19  

That’s so good.

Sandra Van Opstal  13:20  

But it was a devotional that was written, obviously, by one person. But it was in a collection of devotionals that was written by leaders of color, and all of us reflecting on our own social and ethnic and racial experience and space as Enneagram types. And so, it reflects and shows in each of the devotionals that it’s a different kind of experience. So I always tell people, if you’ve never read a devotional written by a Latina, like just a spiritual devotional, you should pick it up.

Latasha Morrison  13:52  

Yeah.

Sandra Van Opstal  13:53  

If you’ve never written, if you’ve ever read a devotional written, or if you want to read a devotional as an activist, then pick it up. If you happen to be an Enneagram eight, obviously, you probably relate to it most. But let me tell you this, Tasha, most devotionals that are out there don’t say, “This is a devotional written by a suburban white soccer mom who’s an Enneagram three.” They don’t say that. They don’t say, “This is a devotional of a book written by a CEO, pastor, Enneagram one from the state of California.” They don’t say that. They just say this is like your best life, you know, getting over the hump, you know, whatever they’re called. So this just happens to be a devotional written by, that states who it’s written by on the front. And I think that is part of the work that you’re trying to do with Be the Bridge is like, part of the work that I’m trying to do with The Next Worship is to say, all of us have a cultural and social location. We just don’t lead with that.

Latasha Morrison  14:54  

Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Sandra Van Opstal  14:56  

Every single book on leadership, a podcast on worship, organization, kind of spiritual formation or whatever you’re doing, every single thing is led from a space and place that has cultural values and racialized experiences. All of us do.

Latasha Morrison  15:18  

Yeah. Everyone is doing that. Yeah.

Sandra Van Opstal  15:21  

So for me, this was an opportunity to give voice to the Enneagram from the perspective of a Latina activist who happens to be an Enneagram eight.

Latasha Morrison  15:32  

Yeah, I love it. There’s so much I mean, you’ve given…those of you who are listening, she’s giving you so many resources that you can pick up. We are in the the, as we’re recording this, this is before some of the holidays. So she’s given us just a lot of resources. I think one of the things I’d like to ask you, there’s so much work you’re doing through your writing. I know you’re in school also. You’re leading, you’re the executive director of Chasing Justice. And you guys are doing great work there. Like what is something right now, I want to know something that you’re lamenting right now. Something that’s causing you sorrow right now.

Sandra Van Opstal  16:19  

Whew. I’m an Enneagram eight so I can I can lament a lot. We’re not well, Tasha.

Latasha Morrison  16:32  

Amen. I say that all the time. We are not well.

Sandra Van Opstal  16:35  

We are now well.

Latasha Morrison  16:36  

We are not well.

Sandra Van Opstal  16:37  

It makes me so sad. Like as someone who loves scripture. So I mean, I just love scripture, I love it. And the Bible study companion that I wrote for The Next Worship, it was a brand new book was a bigger joy than actually writing the book because I got to spend time in Scripture. I meet Jesus in Scripture, I see God in Scripture, I see myself in Scripture. And the fact that I talk to so many Christians that are triggered by Scripture right now. They are not just out there, they’re in my own community. They’re my friends. They’re related to me. They’re people that I love. People that have been so harmed…

Latasha Morrison  17:25  

Yeah.

Sandra Van Opstal  17:26  

…by churches, you know, local churches. They’re so harmed by Christians. They’re so harmed by some of the rhetoric of the white church in our country. They’ve been so harmed, they don’t feel belonging or safety, trust or that just the reading of Scripture causes anxiety for them. Like that is a lot for me.

Latasha Morrison  17:52  

Yes.

Sandra Van Opstal  17:55  

Again, because that’s where I go when I feel anxiety, like that’s where I run to. That’s how I was shaped. And so I think particular younger, like folks under 30, their relationship with scripture that makes me lament, because I don’t know how to hang on.

Latasha Morrison  18:16  

Yeah.

Sandra Van Opstal  18:17  

Like, I don’t know how to hope or hang on without a deeply rooted faith that is found in the reality that God has always been with God’s people, no matter what they have gone through. And so alongside of that lament, I think, is the way that people have perverted scripture in the name of Christ. The way that they have weaponized scripture to oppress people, groups, communities, the way that pastors have abused power and weaponized scripture to get what they want, to get people to comply, because they were not well, because they were not in therapy to talk about how their trauma was impacting them, because their egos weren’t in check. So I think the lament is really the impact of the abuse.

Latasha Morrison  19:13  

Yeah, yeah.

Sandra Van Opstal  19:15  

And the lament is the fact that there was abuse. And the data that’s coming out right now, which you all we’re probably be seeing in the next six months or so. The data that we’ve been looking at as a team as Chasing Justice is to say like, how do we hold this space where we want our justice work and our activism to be firmly rooted and integrated with our Christian faith?

Latasha Morrison  19:44  

Yeah.

Sandra Van Opstal  19:45  

And we can’t find spaces that do that. There’s either the work of justice and the work of community transformation and asset based development and advocacy or there’s quote unquote revival, church, you know, kind of church practices. But the space where those two come together is a space that is feels very foreign to people. And that’s true globally, because I’ve spoken to sisters in South Africa who have done their work, their study, actually, as scholars, what’s happening within the South African and East African spaces with young activists who do their activism apart from their faith. So I think that’s the lament for me. And I think that’s what causes me to try to do the work where I’m doing it. It’s like, can we lament that it’s happened? Name it for what it is? And then find a new way forward?

Latasha Morrison  20:45  

Yeah, that’s good. I think, you know, I lament that also. That is something that has definitely been on my heart. I’ve been saying that like, we are not well. And you know, and one of the things is, you know, I will say when you hear because you hear people how they abuse scripture, and it’s like, it’s like lamenting that bad exegesis, that bad hermeneutic. And you see it, I’m like how could you read that scripture and get that out of it, you know, or not see this in it? So I am with you in that. And the other thing is, what what is something that is bringing you hope and joy right now? What is something that’s bringing you hope and joy?

Sandra Van Opstal  21:43  

Well, that’s an important question to ask an Enneagram eight also. (laughter) No, I mean that’s very easy for me. First of all Tuesdays, as I told you earlier, Tuesdays I teach at our state correctional facility. And apparently, I’m glowing when I get home. Because my spouse is like, “You look like you just like had the best day in the whole wide world.” And I think what it is is I’m getting to hear a biblical hermeneutic, I’m getting to hear a theology that is coming from men who are incarcerated about the epistles, because that’s what we’re studying right now, that were written by Paul while he was inprisoned. So I feel like I am learning so much. And I’m like being, I don’t know, like, invested into by them. I don’t know if that makes sense. I feel like you’re just they’re investing in me.

Latasha Morrison  22:35  

Right.

Sandra Van Opstal  22:35  

And we’re creating community where we’re having honest conversations about that very topic – how scripture has been abused and how do we speak to a world full of injustice. So that, I mean, it’s exhausting. I get up at like 4:30 and I don’t get home till 3:00, but apparently I glow when I come home.

Latasha Morrison  22:51  

Oh wow.

Sandra Van Opstal  22:52  

So that’s going to be it. According to those around me, that’s my joy. I think the other thing that brings me joy is watching young, gifted leaders of color, like just what’s coming out of folks that are, you know, 18 to 30 right now is like, very exciting to me. So, the creativity, the sass, you know, like the…I just like it. You know?

Latasha Morrison  23:24  

Yeah, yeah.

Sandra Van Opstal  23:24  

It’s almost like they say all the things I wanted to say, but knew I would get in trouble for when I was growing up. And they do it with beauty. So I was having this conversation with someone on my team the other day, about like, how do you long for justice and pursue justice in a way that is beautiful. And the fact that they’re asking those questions to me brings so much hope and joy.

Latasha Morrison  23:49  

Yes, I love that. I love that. That’s beautiful. Thank you so much. Thank you for all that you’re doing. Thank you for living this work out as a lifestyle. You kno? And not being disconnected from the work but in the trenches of the work. And so we are so grateful for you. We’re grateful for your voice. Every time we have you on doing something through Be the Bridge it’s like it really, really resonates with people. And I know that this podcast is going to resonate with people. So, you know we’re gonna put in the show notes how people can connect with you. What is one thing that you would want people to do after hearing this podcast? Like give someone a marching order. They listened to this, give a marching order.

Sandra Van Opstal  24:52  

For you personally, for us personally, I would say think of one way that you can be in proximity to those that you are advocating for or that you are wanting to partner with. So I think that’s one thing I think proximity is. The other thing is, if you are in proximity to or know Christians that are or people that are curious about justice or faith that are between the ages of 18 and 30, I would love for you to send them our way to Chasing Justice. Not that I don’t love all y’all that are over 30. I do. (laugher) But our particular passion is to catch people when they’re forming habits and practices and ask them what does Jesus have to do with justice? And what do those things have to do with the way that we live in the world? So if you know if it’s you know, your, your child, your niece, your friend, someone at church, like, just pass them on our way so that they can be asking that question about the intersection of faith and justice.

Latasha Morrison  26:00  

Love it, love it. So you heard that. So those are two practical things that you can do after hearing this podcast. Like I say, you know, Be the Bridge is not a movement, but this is a lifestyle that we live. And so, we want to continue to live that lifestyle where we take this knowledge and this understanding that we’re getting from our head to our heart, and we activate that and leverage that in our lifestyle. So thank you so much, Sandra. Thank you, too, for listening. And we hope to hear from you. We want to hear how this podcast is impacting your life. How did Sandra just impact your life? Make sure you find us at BeTheBridge.com. You can write a letter. You can follow us on Instagram and tell us when we post this episode. And you can find me at Latasha Morrison on social media. And you can also find Sandra on social media as at chasing justice. And also, it is your hashtag, we’ll put it in the show notes, Sandra Van Opstal, right? on social. So, we make it so easy for people to connect. Right? (laughter) You know, all you gotta do is just Google it. Find it on Instagram. I wouldn’t say Twitter, but you know Twitter’s having a time.

Sandra Van Opstal  27:27  

I’m not on Twitter just so ya’ll know.

Latasha Morrison  27:29  

Pray strength in Twitter. And I think we’re on YouTube, but I’m not on YouTube. But hey, and all the things. So thank you so much, Sandra. Thank you for your time. And you guys continue to go out there and build bridges of hope and justice.

Narrator  27:51  

Go to the donors table if you’d like to hear the unedited version of this podcast. Thanks for listening to the Be the Bridge Podcast. To find out more about the Be the Bridge organization and or to become a bridge builder in your community, go to BeTheBridge.com Again, that’s BeTheBridge.com. If you enjoyed this podcast, remember to rate and review it on this platform and share it with as many people as you possibly can. You can also connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Today’s show was edited, recorded, and produced by Travon Potts at Integrated Entertainment Studios in Metro Atlanta, Georgia. The host and executive producer is Latasha Morrison. Lauren C. Brown is the Senior Producer. And transcribed by Sarah Connatser. Please join us next time. This has been a Be the Bridge production.