By Hannah Hawkinson
CHICAGO, IL (July 29, 2015) – When a busload of people leaves from Chicago on Thursday for a three-day Sankofa journey through the south to locations connected to the Civil Rights struggle, the riders will include members of First Covenant Church in Ashtabula, Ohio, and two primarily African-American Pentecostal congregations with whom the church has developed an ongoing relationship dating to their first trip together in August 2013.
Since that trip ended, participants from First Covenant, Grace Christian Assembly and New Hope Pentecostal Church have met for monthly potlucks to strengthen their relationships and discuss how they can promote equality and justice. These gatherings have also been offered as whole-church events on several occasions.
“Sankofa has encouraged our churches to appreciate each other,” said Sharone Sing, pastor of Grace Christian Assembly. “It’s cultivated a desire in us to get to know one another and to try to understand each other’s experiences and points of view.”
In addition, First Covenant, a primarily white congregation, and Grace Christian Assembly have partnered to create and supervise two vacation Bible school programs. The churches also connected with Hubbard House, a historic Underground Railroad museum in Ashtabula, and recruited a member of the museum’s board to take part in this week’s Sankofa journey.
The three churches also are beginning to plan a wider community event to address race issues.
Sankofa is an intentional racial reconciliation journey organized by the Evangelical Covenant Church that “seeks to assist disciples of Christ on their move toward a righteous response to the social ills related to racism.”
Participants visit historical sites of racial oppression and violence over the course of the three-day experience, including many locations from the Civil Rights movement. Along the way, they learn more about ongoing racism in the United States and are encouraged seek change in their communities.
Warren Dillaway, a newspaper photographer and member of First Covenant, was hired to take pictures on an earlier Sankofa trip. Debbie Blue, executive minister of the Covenant’s Department of Compassion, Mercy, and Justice, encouraged Dillaway to some day take the trip as a participant.
Dillaway immediately began talking with his pastor, Bruce Wyand. The two dreamed about organizing a diverse group of participants from area churches and then extended an invitation to Grace Christian and New Hope.
“I heard Warren talk about Sankofa, and it immediately captured my interest,” said Sing. “We began meeting together and talked about what it would look like to go as a group.”
In August 2013, a group of seven participants – three from First Covenant, two from Grace Christian, and two from New Hope – embarked on the Sankofa journey.
Over the course of the journey, the group prayed together, mourned racially-motivated oppression, cruelty, and violence, and united in their hope for the future. As they did this, a sense of deep community arose among participants.
“It’s cultivated a desire in us to get to know one another and to try to understand each other’s experiences and points of view.” – Sharone Sing, Pastor of Grace Christian Assembly
“The importance of history and the importance of experiencing a connectedness between folks from different races, ethnic backgrounds, and traditions is what brought us together,” said Dillaway.
Sing added, “Having the Sankofa experience in common became something that we could always connect to. Even as we finished, we promised not to let this experience die. We promised to keep our fellowship going and to bring the ideas and the essence of Sankofa to Ashtabula.”
Nine people will travel on the trip this week. Dillaway said, “We’re hoping that having more members of our congregations and our community experience Sankofa will help raise awareness of American racism, strengthen our community, and motivate us to rally and push for more change.”
A wider community event organized by this group of churches is in the early stages of planning; they hope that it will address issues of race in the Ashtabula area and will bring the essence of Sankofa to the community.