Being a first generation American, born to Ghanian immigrants provided Ophelia with a unique American experience with race. She was able to start a Be the Bridge group with parents from her children’s private Christian school. We know of others wanting to do likewise, so today we are bringing you her story to encourage you on that path.
What made you want to start a Be the Bridge group?
After the murders of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and Mike Brown, I was awakened to the very harsh reality of what being a Black boy in America truly is like, and how unjustly the life expectancy of my young sons is jeopardized due to racism – systemic, implicit and explicit, etc. I am a Black woman,who was born to Ghanaian immigrant parents and raised in America. I knew, through historical narratives on television and in print, of racism in this country; yet, I was somehow asleep to its pernicious and, at times, murderous effects that impacts me, my family, and loved ones. My grief after the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling was so deep that in prayer I was pleading with The Lord to show me what I could do to be part of the solution.
My focus, in prayer, was particularly for Christian’s eyes to be opened, since I believe that America cannot fix the racial issues that plague us if the church cannot. Furthermore, the deafening silence on the unjust murders of Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement, and the hostility towards the mere statement that Black lives matter (let alone the movement) by a great majority of White evangelical pastors and their churches left me both saddened and motivated to work towards racial reconciliation among professed Christians. However, I had no idea how to get started with opening up this much needed dialogue within my sphere of influence.
After finding Be the Bridge, through a Jen Hatmaker tweet, I was determined to start a group at my children’s Christian school. To put into context, our school which began in 1994, was historically predominantly White. However, the demographics have changed so much that the lower school is now 52% children of color. This presented a huge opportunity to begin the group.
What did the process look like for you to get a group going?
It began with confiding in a fellow parent and dear friend, Sarah (who is White), about the fears I have for my children. She listened, understood, and shared in my lament. I informed her of Be the Bridge and asked her to read up on it. We both then met with the Head of School about beginning, and he was supportive as well. Being working parents, it took us a year to align our schedules and put in the time necessary to prepare and get the group started right.
When we were ready to begin, we were allowed to send an email introducing Be the Bridge to the school’s families (upper and lower school) for sign ups. We began with an introductory session to get to know the participants before diving into the guide’s content.
What challenges did your group come up against?
WEATHER!!!!! We live in Massachusetts, and winters can be wonderful and brutal at the same time. We encountered a lot of snow this past winter, therefore, our school endured three consecutive weeks of snow days that would land on our scheduled meeting day. As a result we had to continually push back our start date. Eventually, the 18 people who originally signed up dwindled down to 7. Though this ended up being the perfect number for our pilot group.
There were moments when we had to wrestle with extreme lack of awareness and the idea to simply leave it to Jesus to fix the issues, which negates that more often than not, The Lord uses his people to minister healing in this broken world.
What were some of the most encouraging outcomes from the group?
Our most unaware member of this pilot group shared that she was able to engage in conversation with her daughter when her daughter brought up the concept of redlining to her one day. She attributed her knowledge of the practice to our Be the Bridge group.
I believe members of the group have formed a bond that can only deepen in the future.
We anticipate that a couple in our group will be excellent group leaders in the future.
We have the support to continue offering the group at the school.
What are your next steps now that you’ve finished the curriculum?
This group was our pilot group. We have debriefed and are now planning the next group with learnings from our pilot. We are also planning some get togethers with the group.
What encouragement or advice do you have for people thinking about starting a group?
Those of us who want to start a Be the Bridge group are typically deeply burdened by the Lord as we navigate these very trying times. The Imago Dei in Black and brown brothers and sisters is constantly being questioned, usually implicitly, but also, quite explicitly. Be the Bridge group leaders likely believe, as we should, that Christ’s bride should be at the forefront of bringing Godly solutions to racism in our society. My advice – pray, pray, pray. This work can be exhausting due to a lot of the pushback by those who don’t understand it’s necessity, the realization that some brothers and sisters in the faith are actively antagonistic to racial reconciliation in the church, as well as the American church’s complicity in this country’s racial history and current state of affairs. However, I believe that this is God’s work. Prayer keeps us motivated, even when we are discouraged. It provides a space to pour out our lament to God and to receive his encouragement and strength.
Another piece of advice is to find a few other bridge building believers who can be a source of encouragement. Our friends Keith and Sarah (who co-lead with my husband, Joseph, and me) have been incredible partners. We share in joy, comfort, lament, and hope. We long to see the church be the witness of Christ’s transforming love in this broken world, and the fellowship we receive from each other increases our resolve to continue.
Thank you so much Ophelia for sharing your story with us. If you’d like to start your own Be the Bridge small group, download the leader’s guide today! You can also join our Be the Bridge Leaders Group on Facebook to connect with other leaders for guidance and support.