Celebrating 10 Years of the Sankofa Journey

Post a Comment » Written on January 20th, 2009     
Filed under: News
CHICAGO, IL (January 20, 2009) – As the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) prepares to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Sankofa journeys, past participants say they will never look at the world—or themselves—the way they did before making the trip through the South.

Sankofa is a West African word meaning “looking backward to move forward.” During the four-day bus journey, participants are paired with someone of another race and travel through historic sites of importance to the Civil Rights movement, such as the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama; the Kelly Ingram West Park with its graphic and moving sculptures, and the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Click on the links to see additional photos of the church and park.

EbenezerMore than 600 people have participated in Sankofa trips, says Debbie Blue, executive minister of the ECC Department of Compassion, Mercy and Justice, which oversees the trips. (A reunion of past participants will be held following the Monday evening worship service during the upcoming Midwinter Pastors Conference.)

On his Sankofa journey, Jim Oberg, a member of Christ Community Covenant Church in Owatonna, Minnesota, says he came to realize that “Black history is everyone’s history. I continue to watch videos of the South in the 60’s. Now, when I see events of Birmingham and Albany, somehow they are now part of my story because I have been there.”

Caenisha Warren, a member of Quest Covenant Church in Seattle, Washington, participated in a 2006 trip and recalls the power of visiting the historic sites and having the opportunity to hear from people directly affected by violence, but who continue to pursue reconciliation. As the group finished watching a video outside the 16th Street Baptist Church, the group heard from the families of four girls killed when the building was bombed in 1963.

“Sadness and disbelief went through me as the families of Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and other church members recounted that morning,” Warren says.

16th StreetBeing paired with others helped promote honest discussion, she says. “You can read about things, but experiencing them in relationship with other people is far more life changing and life knowing than you realize.”

The trip, she says, “served as a catalyst to what God has called me to be as a reconciler, a bridge builder.

“Dealing with my personal identity is why I went on this journey and it has directed my life significantly,” Warren adds. “I have gained the important understanding of how powerful story, our story, is. I have the freedom to be who I am in Christ and not what others expect of me.”

The trip inspired dramatic changes in her life. She now works in the John Perkins Center at Seattle Pacific University, serves on the North Pacific Conference Cross Cultural Ministry and Mission Commission as well as the Justice and Compassion team at her church, Quest Covenant Church in Seattle, Washington.

Warren, who also is working toward a Masters in Christian Ministry with a focus on justice through the North Park Sem-Connect program, helped pilot the conference youth justice conference, Feet 2 Faith.

Burial“All of this was due to the Sankofa journey,” Warren says.

Warren and two others from the congregation who participated in the trip also have given presentations as part the church’s Sankofa Sunday, which was started after they returned. They have given the presentation three times in person and have shared it through a DVD recording as well. To read her reflection from the presentation, click here.

Blue says she was afraid to go on her first journey because of the emotions it may reveal. “I was afraid of the anger,” she recalls. “I didn’t want to go there.” By looking at the past, however, “it exposed the wounds for what they were,” Blue says. “They don’t hurt as much.”

Sankofa was developed by Jim Lundeen, the original director of the ECC Compassion, Mercy and Justice program when it still was under the direction of Covenant Ministries of Benevolence and Harold Spooner, the current vice president of Outreach Ministries.

BirthSince that time, Sankofa has become an integral part of the denomination’s pursuit of racial reconciliation. The trip has led the Pacific Southwest and North Pacific conferences to start their own similar experiences called Journey to Mosaic (J2M), which explores sites that have been important in the history of Civil Rights as they relate to African and Native Americans, Chinese, Japanese, and Hispanics.

Sankofa also has caught the attention of others outside the Covenant, Blue says. Bethel College in Minneapolis has done a Sankofa, Blue says, and the Reformed Church in America also is planning their own trip.

Space still is available for the next Covenant trip, which is scheduled for February 6-9, and will leave from Chicago immediately following the Midwinter Pastors Conference. The registration form is available here.

(Editor’s note: the accompanying photos show the 16th Street Baptist Church sign—one of the most famous images from the civil rights period, the Ebenezer Baptist Church where Martin Luther King Jr. was baptized as a child and in 1960 became co-pastor with his father, the childhood home of Dr. King, and his burial site, which was later modified following the death of his wife.)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Report This Post

Leave a Reply

Report This Blog