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Diversifi Project
Project # 99377

Diversity and Calling: Q&A with Barbara H. Wright

Missionary Barbara H. Wright recently finished raising support and left her home state of Florida to serve with MTW in Manchester, England, where she will be discipling women. Barbara D. Jones, who helps lead MTW’s efforts toward diversity, sat down with her to talk about her call and perspective as a woman of color. 

Q You are the first African American to serve with MTW in a very long time. How does that make you feel?

A Well, it humbles me and it makes me grateful that I was willing to answer God’s call. It also makes me sad because there’s so much more potential out there. So I’m trusting that the Lord will open the door and there will be a flood of people who are coming forth as the result of the call to missions.

Q What are some of the challenges that African Americans might face if they want to become a cross-cultural missionary

A The challenge is to be aware of the prejudices but live above them. Prejudice will always be around, so we need to be able to recognize it, acknowledge it, and prayerfully move beyond it. There will be people who will try to be a stumbling block in your life. Just go around them. There will be people who will be cheerleaders and encouragers, and a relationship with those people will enhance your journey. What my heritage brings to the table is as valuable as anyone else’s but I need to be willing to verbalize it. I can’t be intimidated by the fact that I look different from somebody else. …

You know, I’ve been thinking about this. And as I thought about the unique challenges for people of color, I thought of some other criteria. Like sometimes people are hesitant to step out in faith because of their age. Sometimes people are retired and feel they are no longer valuable. Sometimes gender enters in, sometimes the lack of language acquisition.  We’re often our own worst enemy to stepping out in faith. We limit ourselves, and God has given us everything for life in godliness. So, you know what, you need to trust God, walk by faith and not by sight, and you need to think outside the box. People will put up artificial barriers for themselves and if you don’t know who you are in Christ you’re probably going to be paralyzed. God didn’t give us a spirit of fear but of power and a sound mind. 

Q Can you talk about some of the specific challenges that you have faced as a woman of color, since this is the audience we’re seeking to encourage and challenge? 

A When my husband and I were growing up in Washington, D.C., it was in the midst of the civil rights struggle. Riots were going on in Washington, D.C. We were both raised in families where education was really important, so before I made a real, serous commitment to Christ, our priorities were on making money, doing well professionally, and achieving academic degrees. And so with our family’s support and our family background, we experienced prejudice but we moved beyond that. And so when Christ entered my life I feel like He realized the assets of who I was as a black person and enhanced them so I could mingle or mix with anybody. So the focus that I had as an initial believer helped to propel me through the hurdles of hatred. 

I remember as a teenager my father was almost killed by the KKK. That was a part of our life. We were survivors, and as a survivor you have to have a thick skin. You cannot allow someone else to manipulate you such that you are not hearing what God is calling you to do. God has a purpose for everybody’s life. So for African Americans, for Asians, for Hispanics—yes there will be prejudice, but we cannot cave in because of other peoples’ prejudices. We need to know who we are in Christ and move forward. 

I know that I’m a woman. I know that I’ve been born into a black family. But that’s not to say that I can’t think, that I can’t handle an economic budget, that I’m not going to be articulate. Nobody is going to take those things away from me unless I allow them. We just need to be grounded in who Christ is and in His Word.

Q The reality is that many people of color in our denomination will struggle with finding financial support. How would you challenge or encourage that audience? 

A If God is calling you, not only will He equip you, He will bring others alongside to provide for you. Perhaps you will have to go outside of your local church, but if you’ve got something that God has called you to, then you need to push forward. Just do it. Push forward, and He will provide.

Q What is your ministry in Manchester?

A I’ll be discipling the women of City Church Manchester. They have about 150 members and 47 nationalities represented. So it’s multiculturally diverse. That’s one of the reasons that God has me here. As far as I can see, there is nobody over 45 in the congregation and I am happy to be an older woman to these women as we all grow in the knowledge of the Lord.

Q Was that something you were doing when you were in the U.S.?

A Yes. When I was in Tallahassee, I taught a women’s Sunday school class and was the teaching leader of Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) for 26 years. Then I was asked to teach state legislative leaders’ spouses during the legislative sessions. Tallahassee is the capital of Florida, so these leaders would come and meet for three months and once a week I would have a Bible study with their wives. I did that [with about 70 spouses] for around seven years.

When I could see that I was surrounded by nothing but believers, I asked the Lord to give me an opportunity to engage with believers and nonbelievers, and He gave me a job at Big Bend Hospice. So I worked in the foundation office and, with time, I started doing a Bible study during lunch with a few of the staff people.

Then I said to the Lord, “You know Lord, I have been a teacher in Washington, D.C. (that was my Jerusalem), and then a teacher of women in Miami (that was my Judea), and a teacher in Tallahassee (that was my Samaria). I have been fulfilling the Great Commission. Now I want to go to the farthest parts of the world.” So I prayed about it, and one thing led to another. I knew that MTW was the sending agency for the PCA so I went down that track and the Lord opened doors and here I am.

Q What cost are you counting in going to the mission field?

A Well, living in a flat is so different from how I lived at home. But I’m not giving up the comfort of friends. I really feel like I’m multiplying my friends. I am giving up the comfort of seeing my family on a regular basis, and I am in a close-knit family. But I also feel like I am creating a spiritual legacy for the future as I invest in the lives of the girls here

Q What are your biggest fears as you enter into this new phase of life?

A My deepest fear is that I will miss opportunities to maximize what God has called me to do. So therefore I want to be sensitive to His leading, I do not want to shy away from awkward situations or challenges. When I’m finished here in two years I want to hear him say, “Well done.” I don’t want to have regrets. I don’t want to have any remorse. I just want to do a job that He’s pleased with. I’m just excited that He would entrust me to this task.

Q You are a mature woman who has lived life and gained a lot of wisdom through your experiences. But how would you encourage younger people of color if they’re sensing a call to missions?

A Seize the opportunity to serve on a short-term mission with MTW. If you feel the Lord is calling you, test it out and then make a decision based on your exposure.

We can talk all we want about having a world vision as we comfortably sit in the pew, but until you go out into the world you really are narrow-minded as to what the world is like. There’s so much diversity, so much culture. I gain so much just by meeting other people and partaking in what their cultures have to offer. I see the fabric of the world through different eyes now. I see people in different ways. I delight in the new foods that I’m eating, the new ways [I hear] people speak, the way they pronounce words. It’s God’s tapestry of people in the world. When I go out to the marketplace here, there are all sorts of people there. And I think, “These people need to know Christ, and God has placed them here, and God has placed me here. What role will I have when I intersect with these peoples’ lives?”

So I would encourage them—African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Caucasians, whatever—go for it. Explore the world so you can appreciate God even better.

Q If you were to speak with the church at large, based on your experience, how would you encourage them to get involved in sending people of color in particular?

A We tend to cluster with people who look and act like us. I would encourage white congregants to venture out to engage with and invest in those in their communities who are different. And I would encourage churches to support and encourage African Americans who want to move beyond the walls of our city, of our church. It’s an investment in the lives of people who are different.

To African Americans I would say—we need to step outside of our comfort zone and engage with people who are different as well.

We need to embrace the opportunity to know someone who thinks differently, who eats differently, who processes differently. So I would just encourage people to break out from these invisible boundaries.

Help send people of color to the mission field. Give to MTW’s Diversifi Initiative at mtw.org/diversifi.

Staff Dec 20, 2018
Diversifi Project
Project # 99377
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