Continued from here…
This next story is not as dramatic-sounding as the first. Yet I think the two of them belong together. Fast forward now to April of 2009. My wife (Julissa), my son (Santiago), and I are visiting her family in Lima, Peru, like we try to do every year. We were especially excited to meet my sister-in-law’s new fiancé (from the US). Right from the beginning, he and I got along great, talking about all the unexpected ways our lives had changed since meeting this family of beautiful Peruvians and falling in love. I was trying to play the bridge-builder between him—since he does not speak Spanish—and the non-English speaking family members, especially Julissa’s oldest brother.
The fiancé had just begun a full-ride medical school scholarship through the Air Force. After general conversations between he and I about Christianity and following Jesus, he brought up some of his internal conflicts and reservations about entering a profession known for its wealth and privilege. Perhaps being in Lima put an interesting twist to our talks, since we both felt pretty comfortable right away to discuss a traditionally touchy subject. Peru’s capital city is one of the easy places in the world to see how unjust and violent it is for those with money to live within walking distance from the poor and, seemingly, to ignore their plight or simply succumb to the cynicism of it all.
As our conversations were wrapping up—in which I had done my best to represent myself as a “radical” follower of Jesus—he mentioned that he was inviting me to an impromptu, low-key bachelor party put on by his friends from Lima. He had met these guys while volunteering in their medical ministry during his missionary stint the previous year. They were apparently going to be providing an enticing party menu—poker, cigars, scotch whiskey, etc. So I said yes. I had wanted the momentum from that morning to keep going.
Almost immediately, I recognized an interior desire to be liked by my future brother-in-law and his successful missionary friends. But I tried to tell myself that I was only nervous because of my calling to be a prophetic challenge against colonial forms of Christianity. As we were getting ready to leave, Mark discreetly told me that he had forgotten something important. The party would be for English-speakers only, he said. What he didn’t know was that I had already invited Julissa’s oldest brother to come with us, thinking it would be a good way for us all to connect. I told him at that point that we should invite this brother along anyway, but he said no. He explained that his friends would be worried about rumors if someone from their church came since they would be drinking alcohol (a big taboo in Peruvian evangelical churches). Plus, he felt it would be frustrating to have to go back-and-forth in translation.
Sadly, in spite of my radical-sounding talk, I was startled by this new info and suddenly began to feel inadequate. If they could so quickly exclude my brother-in-law, would they find some reason to dismiss me? Earlier, I had thought it was a good move to meet the very people I had criticized from a distance all these years (having attended their wealthy megachurch many times), but now my feelings of opportunity and excitement were all gone. What came to me then was a simple mixture of anger, fear, and guilt because now I only wanted out of this situation without having to admit to my questions.
I went back and forth about it with my wife. She told me that her brother would understand; I tried to convince myself that I could be a radical “instigator” if I went. Well, her brother did understand why he was being “uninvited” and it wasn’t difficult to explain the reasons either. It was like he had known what was coming and was not even surprised enough to ask me why. His look of disappointment rang inside me the same way that Alex’s did more than ten years prior. Even after I left I couldn’t get him out of my head, especially as I road with them into their gated community and listened to one of them insult and laugh at the Peruvian security guard before being let in.
At the party I did my best to throw out sarcastic jabs about unsophisticated Americans, while, at the same time, hoping I didn’t draw too much attention onto my own false identity. Eventually I just felt awkward because of my own complicity and realized that sitting in silence felt almost worse than being rejected. Yes, I was given a place at their table, but it felt like a denial of my brothers and sisters in Peru. I could’ve done something about it, but in the end, I grit my teeth, smiled, and got dropped off after the party.
Back at the family’s apartment, after a few stark moments alone with my thoughts in the bathroom, I caught up with Julissa’s brother. I wanted to look him in the eye when I said it. So I squeezed his shoulder and blurted out an apology: “Perdoname, nunca lo haré mas.” His facial expression seemed a little confused and embarrassed. He may not have even interpreted the offense as seriously as I did, though his hesitancy to respond made me doubt that.
Why had I suddenly conformed to this white privilege in the first place? Hypocrisy was easier than I thought it would be, I’ll tell you that. In the end, my brother-in-law didn’t thank me for apologizing to him or tell me to think about what I had done. In fact, he just looked at me. And then he said: “No te preocupes, J” (Forget about it, J). And, without waiting for another answer, he took my shoulder in his hand, gently squeezed it and brought up another subject, as if nothing had ever happened.
I woke up early one morning thinking about these two particular events. God spoke to me in my restless mind about his forgiveness and their integration. Prior to that morning, I had not thought of these stories as being related at all. In fact, I had tried to forget about them. Now they seemed to form one whole memory, urging me to ask an age-old question: “Can I still be forgiven?” Even though I was wrong two times and, in both instances, my promises to never do it again came out somewhat unplanned and clumsily, the answer for me was (is) still a complete yes. And on most days I believe it.
I wish all of us who identify with being followers of Jesus (especially the radical kind) would examine our false-images and then confess them. Not that I can claim to have done that willingly myself. In fact, in all honesty, I resisted. Still, I’m learning to yield more quickly now and I want to continue on that path.