Raj and his wife, Lindsey, were living in an affluent, White suburb of Omaha, NE when they started to really consider issues of race and how they had played out in their lives. Raj and his wife both identify as mixed-race with Raj being southeast Indian and White and Lindsey being White Hispanic. They wanted to start a Be the Bridge small group, but outside of Raj’s family and some childhood friends, their circles were exclusively White. Attempts to find people of color with which to connect and gauge interest fell flat. While this was discouraging, it put them on a trajectory that would eventually lead to forming a group two years later. Thankfully, at the beginning of this journey, they put their name on the Be the Bridge website as a potential group contact.
“Fast forward a couple of years and lots of prayer, our name was still listed as the local contact for Be the Bridge. As God was working in two women here, Katie and Ivy, they reached out to Lindsey on Facebook. As it turned out, I had started doing business with Ivy’s husband Will a few months earlier and loved working with him. Will and I hadn’t really had discussions about race because of our professional contact, and I was over the moon to learn that God was working in his family the same way He was working in ours.”
The group that came out of this was almost all mixed-race couples, as well as a few other White members. Their members came from all over the world as many were immigrants or had immigrant parents.
As their group began meeting, their eyes were all opened to many things, particularly in regards to their predominately White church. “No one who ever spoke from the stage at our church ever understood/expressed empathy for those of us in the congregation whose heartbeats quickened a little more when getting pulled over. Especially combined with what I had been reading in Dr. Anthony Bradley’s book Aliens in the Promised Land, we were starting to see how white culture and evangelical culture were basically synonymous in our context. There were never sermons or songs led by people of color, not even quotes or songs written by people of color. This isn’t to speak ill of that church – there are dozens like it in town. They simply don’t know what they don’t know. It’s easy to become disenchanted with our churches which are moving glacially slow on these issues by comparison. Omaha is a very segregated city, so most of us are either faced with driving across town to a diverse church or trying to make change where we’re already planted.”
Having a group where the people of color are immigrants or first generation Americans has presented its own interesting dynamic. “[The newly immigrated experience] is different from descending from slaves or even just from families that were more rooted in the US. There have been a lot of great conversations about internalized racism/superiority toward other people of color based on our particular circumstances.”
And beyond what is happening just in the group space, their group is having broad impact for their families, marriages, and communities. “We can see our kids not just tolerating or ignoring but fully embracing differences – picking diverse dolls/books, complimenting people on their skin, hair, etc., making friends with kids of color. The mixed-race marriages in our group explore new depth and closeness because of the conversations that are brought up. Our group is full of influencers. The men in our group all have positions of influence at work. Will, the firefighter, has started helping guys at the firehouse be more aware of these issues, which will impact the care people of color get in life’s scariest moments. Two pastors and a non-profit leader have tremendous voice in our community. I advise a portfolio of churches/businesses/non-profits in their communications, and we’ve started having racially-aware conversations. The moms are among the chief influencers in our group; they’re molding the upcoming generation.”
The group has also led to change in Raj’s feelings about his own Indian identity. “I love my heritage, and no one else will represent it for me if I don’t. It’s eased the pressure of years and years of trying to act more White, but never feeling like it.”
Raj says you’d be hard pressed to find bigger fans of Be the Bridge than their group. “We have a team now, a support network. The task at hand is still large and overwhelming, but at least we’re not all alone in it anymore. Our Be the Bridge group became a holy place for us. I spent the first 10 years of my career working in evangelical churches/para church organizations, and there was a lot of woundedness for us to unpack. Our group has been a place for that. Watching our white brothers and sisters do the work of reconciliation inspires so much hope for me.”