My city is in pain. On September 27th, El Cajon police shot and killed Alfred Olango, a 38 year-old immigrant from Uganda. Cries from our streets have risen to the ears of the masses. Amidst protest, our elected leaders must navigate the complexities of unanswered questions with justice and integrity. But the mothers, sisters, brothers and fathers of our community are left to lament the loss of a neighbor and loved one who was crying for help, not death.
What can we who follow Jesus do to be an an instrument of peace in times like this? We cannot run into isolation or cast judgement from afar. Neither should we shout a party line. No, we must lean in. We must listen. We must lament. We must leverage our influence for the flourishing of others. The Church of El Cajon, San Diego and this nation must be present to sit in the pain alongside our sisters and brothers on the receiving end of this bullet.
Our history and culture have taught us to see certain people and not to see others. White Christians have often chosen not to see our sisters and brothers of color–to be more white than Christian.
But Jesus, a dark skinned, 1st-century Jewish Rabbi from Palestine, came to heal our site. From under the yoke of Rome – a global military superpower – he came to introduce a reality that crosses every kind of cultural, historic and religious border and boundary. He taught us to see the humanity, dignity and image of God in everyone.
We see Alfred Olango. We see our humanity in his. And we see Jesus more clearly as we see Alfred Olango the way his mother sees him.
Though it doesn’t make the headlines, the church is leading and loving in remarkable ways here in El Cajon. I’ve had the honor to not only be on the streets but also to participate in clergy meetings led by the local, embedded pastors and leaders who have called El Cajon home their whole lives. The vast majority are people of color whose communities have experienced so much pain, yet they generously opened their arms and hearts to white leaders, like myself. I have so much to learn in my journey toward the Jesus way of peace from these local hero’s.
This past Saturday, faith leaders from around the city and country held a city-wide vigil for Alfred Olango. Though “violent protest” has drawn the attention of cameras, it’s not the main story on the ground here. The Church is being the Church and it is indeed good news. Some quotes I heard from local leaders at the vigil:
“We state right now that we stand with and for peace.”
“We are called to be the restorers and rebuilders. We don’t see angry protesters, we see hurting individuals. They are on the streets because they have been hurting for too long.”
“We are committed to nonviolent, peaceful, prayerful protest.”
I have to imagine that if the Apostle Paul were to write a letter today, it wouldn’t be to assigned to any denomination. It would be written to the Church of San Diego. It is only in our diversity that we will find our unity, vision and collective presence as the healing hands of a God who made all things right, not through violent overthrow, but through suffering and selfless sacrifice.
May we, together, stand in front of every bulldozer that is flattening people. Whether it’s mental illness, systemic injustice, racism, political power plays, or religious
For Alfred, for this community and for our world, may we unite as the faith community and live into our common call to be an instrument of peace in a world desperately in need of restoration.