This weekend I was in Nottingham at a conference promoting Farsight, the charity I have recently set up. It was a small but great event called ‘A Meeting of Minds ‘which was put together by Renewing Minds (formally Churches Mental Health Consultancy) and was designed to be a day of vision, strategy and commitment for mental health and the local church.
I was fairly nervous as it was one of the first times that I was speaking in public about Farsight, and it was to a room of people who all know a lot more about mental health than I do. There were other charity directors, ministers, psychiatrists, psychologists, doctors, community mental health nurses….. and me. The middle-class white girl from Kent, talking about working with African and African-Caribbean churches. Now those of you who know me, will know that I’m often doubting myself, my abilities, my knowledge, my experience, my authority and what I feel God is calling me to do. (Just to be clear, I’m not doubting God, I’m doubting my ability to hear what He says correctly.) Two things happened last week that made me doubt these things even more.
1. I had ordered some beautiful leaflets to bring to the conference to highlight the work that Farsight does. For various reasons (none of these being anyone’s fault) they did not arrive in time. Which meant I was sitting in the exhibition area with nothing but a pull up banner and some business cards, whilst everyone else had books, leaflets, DVD’s and freebies a-plenty.
2. Rachel Dolezal. The former NAACP President was ‘outed’ by her parents as ‘misrepresenting herself as black, when she is actually of Czech and German heritage.’ Over the last week, news-outlets, social media and anyone with access to a smart phone or a laptop has weighed in on the debate ad accusations of lying, racism and white privilege have been abundant.
Mikhail Lyubansky, PhD, a member of the teaching faculty in the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign who specializes in the psychology of race has a lot to say on the subject. As reported on Yahoo “By claiming a black identity, Dolezal bypassed all of the hard work required of white allies to earn the trust and goodwill of people of color, says Lyubansky. “She created conditions where someone without the lived history of being black could speak for and on behalf of black people, effectively silencing their voice.”
Cue panic and minor meltdown.
Is that what I’m doing? Am I trying to speak on behalf of a group to which I do not belong? Am I silencing somebody’s voice?
This has been an ongoing battle for me which started long before the Rachel Dolezal story emerged. I swing between feelings of complete doubt and moments of confidence that these feeling are not true. Although Farsight works with African and African-Caribbean churches, I do not want to build myself a platform in these churches. I want our organisation to encourage and empower those within the churches to make a significant impact within their local community.
I’ve talked to people about it. I’ve talked to a lot of people. Of all of the people within the African and African-Caribbean churches that I’ve spoken to, every single one has been encouraging and supportive, telling me to go for it and ignore the negative thoughts. One person said to me, that if people only worked with groups were exactly like them, nothing would get done. Does every person who works for Cancer Research have a personal experience of cancer? Does everyone at NSPCC have experience of abuse? Can we truly only advocate for and support people who are the same as us?
I don’t know, but it certainly gave me something to think about.
I’m still nervous. I still panic. I still get those feelings of imposter syndrome.
Maybe I’ve got it wrong and maybe I’m not doing the right thing. But I genuinely, sincerely and wholeheartedly want to be obedient to what God is calling me to do. I’m hoping and praying that right now, that’s enough.
This blog post is not a ‘Please tell me I’m doing a great job’ kind of blog post. I’m asking genuine questions and would love genuine answers. Please get in touch, tell me I’m wrong or that I’m not going about this the right way. I would love to hear your wisdom, experiences and advice on discerning God’s will and following it with integrity.