Come to the Table Event Recap

I’ve made some really beautiful friendships across the table. There’s something about coming together in a common space, enjoying a meal together, and bonding through our place of need. I love what Shauna Niequist says about the table:

We don’t come to the table to fight or to defend. We don’t come to prove or to conquer, to draw lines in the sand or to stir up trouble. We come to the table because our hunger brings us there. We come with a need, with fragility, with an admission of our humanity. The table is the great equalizer, the level playing field many of us have been looking everywhere for. The table is the place where the doing stops, the trying stops, the masks are removed, and we allow ourselves to be nourished... The table is a place of safety and rest and humanity, where we are allowed to be as fragile as we feel.
— Shauna Niequist

This is why I want to bring tender and hard conversations to the table. It’s a place where our common humanity is shared, and through my work as a trainer and facilitator, one of my primary goals is to help you get in touch with your humanity (and the humanity of others).

Below are some photos from my last dinner event in Los Angeles. I plan content and a general structure for each night, but I try not to come with an agenda, knowing some of the most powerful conversations happen organically, through the context of relationships formed. Stay tuned for more events and resources coming soon.

All photos by Lindie Beth Photography.

All photos by Lindie Beth Photography.

An Invitation to Deconstruction

What comes to mind when you hear the word "deconstruction?" Does it sound intimidating, challenging, complicated, insightful, fun? It's likely a mixture of all of the above. Yet this deconstruction has been one of my very favorite parts of being in graduate school thus far. 

Last Fall I sat down with another student in my program who was about to graduate. I asked her what advice she'd give to someone just starting out, and she said with a slight smirk on her face, to "expect deconstruction." I thought it was a funny thing to say, but just a few weeks later, I experienced this firsthand. 


Deconstruction is fancy term to explain what happens when you begin questioning everything - from values to beliefs, worldview, bias, and actions. It's a bit unnerving at first, but the end goal is ownership and a lifestyle of action and reflection. In short, deconstruction helps us understand the "why" behind what we do, believe, say, and think. 

How many of you would say you're able to articulate why you do certain things, believe certain things, or say what you say? For most of us it's second-nature; however, when we take the time to examine and reflect on our actions, we open ourselves up to growing and changing. It takes courage to deconstruct and it is my goal to invite you into my deconstruction process so that it becomes a bit easier (or more accessible) for those of you reading. 

I'm in a class right now about ethnicity in the United States and we are in the process of deconstructing cultural values and worldviews. I am realizing how much my Middle-American upbringing has influenced me. It's quite amazing (and humbling). 

Like it or not, each of us is a product of our culture. We grow up being nurtured in a specific cultural context and learn to adopt the worldview of that culture. According to one of my professors at Fuller, "a worldview is a complex multifaceted fabric of beliefs, often submerged, concerning the world - what it is, how its parts interact and the places of humans." In short, worldview is how we see the world. 

There's no right or wrong kind of worldview, contrary to our Western "black and whiteness." It simply exists. I prefer things to be clear and explainable, though that's not really realistic or possible. I hope to continue examining specific cultural values, like time, progress, individualism, and invisible realities. My hope is to move toward other cultures, continue deconstructing my American worldview, and learning to set aside my differences to embrace others. 

Have you ever thought about why you believe what you believe and see what you see?

Consider this your invitation to start exploring the "why" behind what you do and why you do it. Ask friends of different backgrounds what they see and do and compare it to your own understanding. There will likely be differences, but it's important to note these differences are not black and white or right and wrong. Their just different. Self-awareness of our worldview can be a powerful tool in learning to build bridges in community!

The Wholehearted Hero: Erica Kaze

I'm so excited to introduce you to October's Wholehearted Hero. This woman has challenged me in so many ways. She let me into her world, allowed me to humbly (and at times naively) ask questions, and shared vulnerably about her experiences and reality as a minority and non-American citizen. To say I learned from her is an understatement.

Walking with Erica has marked me and I consider it an honor and privilege to be a part of her journey. She's influenced much of my own thoughts, worldview, and even future plans. I hope you are just as inspired and challenged by her openness and passion as she writes below!

1. Hi Erica! Tell us a little bit about yourself and where you came from. What drew you to Baylor
University, to Finance, and ultimately staying in Waco to work at a local bank after graduation? 

I was born in Burundi, one of the smallest countries in Africa, located in East Africa. When I was 13 years old, my family and I moved to Rwanda, also located in East Africa. I graduated from Riviera High School (RHS), a private boarding school located 30 min away from the capital city of Rwanda, Kigali , then I came to Texas for college. I recently graduated from Baylor University with a degree in Finance. Baylor is well known at RHS because of the yearly summer trips the business school takes to Rwanda. They partner with RHS to work on different entrepreneurship projects and competitions. During my freshman and sophomore years of college, I thought I wanted to be an engineer simply because so many family members are engineers. It is also a joke among Africans that African children only have three career options: doctor, engineer or lawyer. But then the summer after my sophomore year, I realized that I would probably be miserable for most of my life if I end up working as an engineer. So I switch to business and after talking to the Baylor professor who leads the summer trips to Rwanda, I realized that my passion for numbers could turn into a career that I could also use back at home. So that is how I ended up with a finance major. I chose to work in banking for multiple reasons. Some of it being that banks have the potential of changing the future of a community and that is something I am so passionate about especially since Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world.

2. Listening to your experience about job searching as an international student has been extremely eye-opening for me. What’s it like trying to get hired as a minority member? What about as a non U.S. citizen? 

It is practically impossible to get a job offer as an international student in the U.S. especially as an undergraduate student. This is because after graduation, we have about 12 months to work or intern in the U.S. then if a company wants to keep us on their payroll, they need to apply for a H-1B work visa for us and that's where it gets tricky. There is never a guarantee that a student will get a work visa even if they have a job offer which is why most companies don't hire us. But of course, there are exceptions to this. This is the biggest battle I've ever had to fight. This process became discouraging pretty quickly when amazing opportunities kept closing simply because my
citizenship is different.

3. Have you experienced bias in the work place or in the hiring process? If so, how?

Oh, absolutely! While I was interviewing most recruiters would always point out the fact that my English is "perfect". Apparently, I should sound different simply because I grew up in Africa. Also, just this week I was told by one of my supervisors that maybe I should stop reading books and news articles in French so that my English writing skills could improve. I have been speaking English and writing it for 9 years. 

4. What does unconscious bias mean to you? What biases do you face on a regular basis? 

Unconscious bias to me is simply stereotyping a person or group of people and expecting them to be/do certain things a certain way simply because they belong to a particular race or ethnicity. I will be the first one to say that I also struggle with this one. Two weekends ago, I was in NYC and my Uber driver who took me to the airport was from Uzbekistan and I found myself wondering why this Asian guy was playing rap music in the car and was jamming to it. I found myself doing the same thing that I hate when people stereotype me when I am listening to
country music since I am black. Lord, help us all.

5. What was it like being a minority in a predominately white community and university? What are some challenges you face regularly?

I struggled a lot with being a minority at Baylor but also within my church community. For my first two years in Waco, I just felt like I didn't connect with anyone and it was really hard for me to make friends. Not only was I black at a predominantly white school and white church, I was also from a different country, my culture was different, and everything about me was different compared to the typical Baylor student. I have heard that research has revealed that the lack of early and meaningful exposure to other groups of people often makes it easier for us to quickly identify and remember people of our own ethnicity or race while we often struggle to do the same for others.

I can attest that this is true. During those first two years at Baylor, white girls didn't really befriend me. I had to make effort after effort to become friends with some of the girls I knew but it just seemed like the efforts were coming from one way. I remember one Tuesday morning during my first year at Baylor going to class and noticing this girl I had seen around church. At this point it was the spring semester and I honestly still couldn’t tell you who my friends were. So I said to myself, "she seems nice and already has a black friend, maybe if I go sit next to her we
would become friends too?" Three years later, Meryn is one of my best friends. But I don't take all the credit for how our friendship started because Meryn had decided in high school that she was going to be intentional about her group of friends and specifically befriend people of other races and ethnicities. Her willingness and intentionality opened a door for us to become friends.

Pictured above is Erica and her friend Meryn. 

Pictured above is Erica and her friend Meryn. 

6. What's something you wish majority members knew about you? What's something you feel most majority members assume about you? 

I will probably never fully fit into your stereotype of a black person. I hear black people can't swim, but I was on the swimming team of my high school and I was pretty good at it. So just get to know me. Ask me questions instead of assuming. 

7. In your opinion, what does racial reconciliation look like? And what steps can I take as a
majority to bridge the gap?

When I hear those two words, racial reconciliation, I think of Revelation 7:9 - "After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands."

I dream of days when we won't have a black church, Hispanic church or Asian church but simply a church full of people from every nation, tribe and language worshipping God together.
One of my favorite things this year is that I am living with 4 amazing girls. Our house of 5 is very diverse: two white girls, one Hispanic, one Asian and me. As I spend more time with my roommates, I am learning so much about them, their families, and I finally understand why most Asian people take off their shoes before entering a room. Haha. It is amazing how much we learn when we get out of our bubble and put ourselves in situations with people who don't look like us or who were not raised like we were.

My recommendation to everyone who is reading this is to get out of your bubble. Be strategic and figure out where people are then go and do life with them. If you live in Waco, you are
probably not going to find a lot of African Americans at your favorite local coffee shop, Common Grounds, but I bet you would make at least one friend at the local YMCA while playing basketball.

8. Have you ever been treated differently because of your race or background? If so, when? When are you most aware of your race?

Oh for sure! One time, a friend pulled my ponytail as I was walking past him. It wasn’t in a mean way. I think he was fascinated by my box braids. But his actions left me wondering if he would have done the same things if I was white. By the way, just a public service announcement, please don't touch a black person's hair without their permission. Most of us hate that. It makes us feel like you are petting our heads like you pet your dog. Please don’t do it, it is disrespectful and uncomfortable. 

Recently, I have had a hard time attending social events. No one wants to be the only black person at a wedding full of white people.

9. What are some of your dreams for your life right now? Where do you see yourself in 5-10

I am currently working in the banking industry. I am really enjoying my job and I can see myself being in this industry long-term. The banking industry is dominated by white male which bothers me so much. My plan is to earn my MBA in the next 2-4 years and hopefully end up in a leadership role in a few years. It is about time more women and people of color have a seat in the C-suite.

10. One of my favorite things about you is how confident you are - there's a powerful strength
about you that impresses me every time we're together. What advice would you give to other
minorities struggling to find their own voice? And how did you find your voice and embrace your
own identity? 

Wow, thanks for that compliment. I think that I draw my confidence from my determination to not be ignorant. I spend a lot of time educating myself. I do my best at keeping myself knowledgeable by listening to the news daily, podcasts, and reading books. So when I interact with people, I have a well that I can draw knowledge from and not feel embarrassed. But I would say that my relationship with God has played the most important part. When you are told by a racist person that they don’t like black people because “black is a bad color”, you just have to figure out
what the creator says about you then decide who you are going to listen to. And according to my Bible, Psalm
139:13-14 says “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, and my soul knows it very well.” I just took this as the truth I need to believe and that God defines who I am and not this world.

11. What comes to mind when you hear the term, "wholehearted living"? 

When I hear those two words “living wholeheartedly”, my brain automatically asks me which areas of my life need improvement. I do my best to not be complacent with where I am in life. So once in a while, I evaluate my life and try to identify areas that need some improvement. I try to not overdo it so I choose 1-3 areas then work on them until I am satisfied with the results. These are not New Year’s resolutions by any means. These are things that I know for a fact that if I don’t make changes now, there will be consequences in the future.

12. Is there anyone or anything that's been inspiring you to live wholeheartedly recently? Maybe a favorite author or podcast? 

I just started a new job recently and there have been lots of changes in my life. Right now, I am learning so much about personal finance so I visit Dave Ramsey’s website pretty often, I am also
listening to podcasts: Millennial Money and The Clever Girls Know. I also listen to a podcast from the New York Times every morning called “The Daily”.

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Born in Burundi and raised in Rwanda, Erica is currently living and working in Texas. She surrendered her life to Jesus when she was 15 years old and never looked back. She discovered college football when she came to Texas for college and now absolutely loves it. She enjoys listening to rap music and sleeping in on Saturday mornings. She is passionate about politics, racial reconciliation, education and anything business related. 

If you're curious about learning more about unconscious bias and how it affects minority members, like Erica, sign up to receive my free work guide. Because of my friendship with people like Erica, I'm more committed than ever to overcoming my own bias in order to love the people in front of me. My life has become much richer because of it! 

There's No Place Like Home

Maybe it's because my team has started to feel like family, or maybe it's simply the charm or character of the city that's drawn my little heart in, but Cusco has started to feel like home. And for this Kansas girl, there's no place like home. With less than three weeks left, I want to capture my favorite things about this city and share them. Perhaps some of you will get the chance to visit some day and feel the same. 

As I'm writing this, our taxi driver who drove my friend Ben and I around to look at apartments four months ago sat down next to me, remembered my name, and asked me about our team and our time here. These people are so trusting, so generous, so family

I think that's the word I'd use to describe this culture compared to others I've interacted with before. From our landlords across the street, to the ministry partners we're working with in the city, our team has felt so included (almost to a fault), valued, and welcomed. Our landlords come over nearly every day - sometimes with good news, sometimes with bad, or sometimes just to say hello. Last week they even invited me to join their family vacation! 

After experiencing this culture (and weighing lots of options), I am so excited to start my Master's at Fuller Seminary in Intercultural Studies with a concentration in Race, Culture, and Reconciliation this Fall. I've always wanted to go back to school, and for the little explorer inside of me, this seems like the perfect fit. 

Traveling for me isn't simply about enjoying new places or adding to my bucket list; it's much more than that. It's about learning new things, challenging myself and ways of thinking, appreciating things about people I am different from, and developing a more holistic picture of our world and how we were made to function in it. 

Cusco has been no exception. I've learned to embrace people quickly (and quite literally through their familial greetings) and let my walls down. I've learned to allow more time for people and for tasks. I've learned a little Spanish and explored so many local gems. Though I will be sad to leave, I'm excited to step into what's next. 

Cusco feels like home, but soon, so will Pasadena, California. Next I'll be stepping into another culture, similar to my own, yet much different than my little Midwest hometown or my six years in the South. For me, experiencing new cultures is a way to keep learning, growing, and challenging myself as I step outside the box, explore, take new ground, and become who I was created to be. 

The Explorer: Poor But Sexy

Upon arriving in Berlin for the first time, it only took a matter of hours before I fell in love. The people, the culture, the history, the vibes - it all felt so electric, attractive and inviting to me, as if the city itself wanted me to experience everything it had to offer. I distinctly remember a barista in her mid 20's casually referring to her city as "poor, but sexy". At the time I thought it an interesting choice of words, but soon discovered what she meant. 

My favorite thing to do during my time off was to walk around and explore. Around almost every corner I'd find a new shop, restaurant or coffee shop worthy of a photo or new Instagram post (see below for my fav local spots).

I loved meeting the people inside each of these places, too. And no matter who they were, where they were from or how old they were, the city appealed to them all. 

The city wasn't poor in the way I imagined. Sure, there are parts of the city that are run down or less glamorous than others, but what I witnessed was a culture deeply impoverished by a lack of relationship. 

During a conversation with one of our connections there, I was grieved hearing her talk about the way her German friends viewed relationships. As a whole, Germans live very private lives and consider the title "friend" something to be earned, proved or fought for over a length of time. 

Contrary to Greek culture, there is little emphasis on sharing in German culture, whether that be traditions, customs or social norms. According to a survey by Pew Research Center, less than 30% of Germans believe it's important to share customs and traditions, while over 2/3 of Greeks believe sharing culture is vital to their national identity. 

My brother, Greg, and I in front of the Berlin Wall - April 2016

My brother, Greg, and I in front of the Berlin Wall - April 2016

After being in Greece for a few months, I was always a little disheartened to hear refugees refer to Germany as the "Promised Land", saying things like "If I could only get to Germany then our family will be ok" or "I just need to get to Germany and then my life can begin." 

I wanted to look at them in the eye and explain that they had more than they thought they had. But how do you say that to a mother of four who barely has enough food to feed her babies and only one pair of clothes on her back? 

You don't. 

But you can choose to be WITH

The best I could do was to celebrate the relationship in their lives - celebrate the fact that some of their family was still together, their neighbors in the tent next door were reliable and trustworthy or, for some, the beginning of a relationship with the God who extended friendship toward them without expecting anything in return. 

For refugees fleeing their war torn homes in the Middle East, there is no true Promised Land. There is only the relationships they fled with and the relationship they can choose to accept and then begin. 

Those entering Germany in search of a new life and new hope may actually do more for Germany than they expect to receive from it. If that perspective shift occurs and the recipients are open, these precious people could add so much value and beauty to a culture starved for true friendship. 

I'm willing to bet we are all richer than we think we are. And maybe the best we can do is to be with, and then celebrate, too.