“What group is that?” was a common reaction to our ethnically diverse collection of people who participated in the initial journey of InterVarsity’s Pilgrimage for Reconciliation. We gathered this past summer—twenty-five staff and our families—from around the United States to become pioneers on an extraordinary pilgrimage. As we traveled together, we agreed that our personal journeys and our society’s pilgrimage for a more mature understanding of ethnic reconciliation would probably last our lifetimes.
The maiden voyage of the Pilgrimage for Reconciliation began on June 29, 2003 in Atlanta, Georgia, with five days of orientation about the theology of Shalom, Spiritual Formation, and overviews of Native and African American history. During July, we traveled throughout the southeastern United States, retracing the route of the Trail of Tears, where thousands of Native Americans died during a forced migration from their eastern homelands to Oklahoma. We visited landmarks important to slavery, Reconstruction and the Civil Rights movement. At places like the Trail of Tears Park in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, where hundreds of Native Americans died from disease and exposure, or in the dark basement of the Burkle house in Memphis, where slaves escaping on the Underground Railroad hid in terror, we were overwhelmed by the incomprehensible horror of our shared history.
Beginning in Dahlonega, Georgia, site of the nation’s first major gold rush, we learned to listen both to the narrative of history as told by tour guides and museum curators, and also to the story behind the story, which was not as obvious. Again and again, we were struck by how often our guides celebrated the pioneering, freedom-loving spirit of our forebears, but ignored the ways in which they broke their own laws in order to acquire land and secure cheap labor. Frequently, we were awed by the ways that God continued to work out his redemptive purposes in, through, and in spite of people’s failures and sin. We grieved over the church’s participation in injustice, as when Methodist minister Col. Chivington massacred the women and children of the Cheyenne at the Sand Creek reservation in Colorado. We rejoiced at the courage of God’s people who stood up for biblical justice, righteousness, and peace, like Cheyenne Peace Chief Lawrence Hart who extended grace to the descendants of the cavalrymen who murdered his relatives.
White, Black, Asian, Latino, Native—all of us returned home wounded by the suffering we witnessed, but resolved to gain greater understanding from God about how we may be agents of Shalom in our society and on our campuses.