From Victim to Victor – A Painful Journey of Faith

Post a Comment » Written on March 11th, 2007     
Filed under: News
By Don Meyer

CHICAGO, IL (March 11, 2007) – Editor’s note: Debbie Blue shared her faith journey with members of the Executive Board of the Evangelical Covenant Church during its meeting Sunday in Chicago.

Debbie Blue began life in the public housing projects on the west side of Chicago, a journey that would take her through wrenching experiences of racial prejudice and discrimination, confrontation with her own spiritual perspective, healing, and a redirection in life that ultimately would lead her to a position as the candidate to direct the newly formed Department of Compassion, Mercy and Justice for the Covenant.

It was a number of years ago, while she was a student at North Park Theological Seminary, participating in a spiritual retreat writing assignment, that she revisited her painful past and discovered something interesting about the ways in which her early life experiences had helped shape her to become the person she is today.

She recalled completing kindergarten while living in the projects, but the family moved just as she was entering the first grade. In writing of that experience, Debbie penned these words: “We moved from a black community to a white neighborhood.”

“Why did I differentiate between community and neighborhood?” she found herself asking. She recalled moving into the new neighborhood and hearing for the first time the term “block buster,” a derogatory term referring to African American families who would move into a white neighborhood, often sparking “white flight” as residents would quickly begin leaving the neighborhood.

“I loved that part of my life in the projects,” she says. “It was a place where I was accepted for who I am. Then, I began the journey to a place where I was made to feel I didn’t belong. Thus began my painful journey as an African American in a white world.”

The family found a Baptist church on the south side and began attending regularly. She was baptized at age eight – “I loved it (the church) – I could affiliate and participate.” It was in her teen years she began to see the hypocrisy – “they told me how to live as a Christian, but I didn’t see it lived out.” At age 18 she figured she was an adult and could leave the church – and she did.

“I found myself always trying to fit in – I didn’t want to be noticed,” she says. “I thought if I’m quiet – if I color within the lines – maybe no one will notice me.”

“Remember the Dick and Jane readers?” she asked, recalling the reading booklets that were then popular with young elementary school children who were just learning to read. “There was nothing in there I could identify with – and other students could not identify with me in those stories. Then, the teacher moved into the Sambo and Tar Baby stories – and the other students could see me in those stories.”

She began to realize that society’s standard – good education, a degree – “was something I was not supposed to achieve. But, I wanted to succeed. I began to learn that who I am wasn’t accepted in the world in which I was living.”

Moving into her adult years, she married and had a family. “I felt a responsibility as a parent to help my kids know who God was – but, I wasn’t sure that I knew who God is. I tried to discover that on my own, but without success.”

She returned to the old church of her youth, but realized that her needs and that of the family were not being met. Following the breakup of her marriage, she moved to a new community, living life as a single parent. She and her mother bought a house together – in a white community. “We moved in, and overnight everyone left,” she recalls. “I wondered why no one wanted to live near us . . . we have a wonderful family.”

The family began the search for a church in the new community, visiting several before deciding to try one almost out of desperation. It was late on a Sunday morning, and as they drove into the parking lot, Debbie noticed the pastor’s name on the church sign – it didn’t look very African American – and she thought they were once again wasting their time.

When they walked in, there were a dozen people sitting in the front of the church, all on one side. “We arrived late, so we sat in the back pew,” she recalls. The pastor nodded to acknowledge them. “But when the people turned and saw us, they stood, came back, and embraced us and welcomed us – they showed the love of God.”

That was in 1980 at Community Covenant Church in Calumet Park, which remains her home church today. “We had never heard of it (the Covenant) before. They not only welcomed us, they helped get the kids to Sunday school and youth activities. I knew something must be different.”

She attended 12 years before having the opportunity to participate in her first Covenant Annual Meeting, where she says, “I saw the bigger picture and how God was at work.”

She worked in a hospital in the Gold Coast section of North Chicago, which was situated in the midst of an area of both great wealth and poverty. She was pursuing a degree in engineering at the time. She remembers being very aware that all of the professional people didn’t look like her, while people working in lower service sector jobs did.

When her superiors learned she was pursuing an engineering degree and career, she says she was devastated to learn they were quietly wagering among themselves, betting that she wouldn’t succeed. She did succeed, but noted that not one of those people acknowledged her success.

The disappointment continued. With degree in hand, she had achieved what society seemed to demand for a life of success. Instead, she was denied opportunity to advance in her work. She finally obtained a position in bioengineering, but after 10 minutes in her new position, she says she felt once again mistreated and miserable.

For a year and a half she cried and prayed, asking God why he would bring her all this way, only to allow her to face continued rejection and disappointment. Instead of consoling her, God challenged her spirit, pointing out that as a Christian, she was not responding well to her circumstances. “I always saw myself as the victim – it was ‘woe is me’ – and I began to realize that I needed to do some work with myself. I saw my treatment by others as unfair. God asked, ‘Where is your love? You are not responsible for how they are treating you, but you are responsible for how you are treating them.’ It was then that I began to move from victim to victor.”

Her birthday falls on May 22, so she decided to begin reading every portion of the Bible that had a chapter five and a verse 22. It was when she got to Galatians 5:22 that she says, “God got me.” That is the passage that talks about the fruit of the spirit – love, joy, and patience, among others.

“Tell me about your fruit?” God asked her. “I had to take a long look at the negatives that I saw in me and realize that the fruit had not begun to ripen,” she says of that experience.

“It’s hard to look at yourself this way. It was then that I began a different journey, one that would allow the fruit of the spirit to be in me what it needed to be.”

God began sending people her way, people who would challenge her in various areas of her spiritual fruit development. “God brought people to help me see things in me that God wanted me to see. I can see that God is not finished with me. I look back and see how he has prepared me for what I do today. He sends people to challenge me.”

She referenced a new scripture passage God has given her, Isaiah 43:1-3, where God tells the people of Israel not to fear, “for I have redeemed you . . .  you are mine. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” It is this encouragement that she says has sustained her as she completed the process of candidating for the position as executive minister of the newly formed Department of Compassion, Mercy and Justice.

“God woke me at 4 a.m. and reminded me that ‘my thoughts are not your thoughts’ – don’t try and figure this out.

“God has given me the gift of community to work alongside me,” she observes. “I now look back at the painful experiences and thank God for using them to craft me into the person he wants me to become.

“As I think of moving into a new area of call, I understand it is not my call – it is a communal call to this different area of justice, to be servants of the Lord. We have a mission, and it’s not complete until we include it all.

“We have a tough journey. I don’t know if you’re prepared – I’m scared to death! But, I know God is in control and leading. We’ve got to be willing to go to the hard places. I don’t know if you’re ready, but I say, let’s go!”

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