While driving up Highway 395 to Lake Tahoe last week, just outside the town of Independence, our family stopped at Manzanar. Manzanar was the site of one of ten American concentration camps where more than 120,000 Japanese Americans (two-thirds of whom were US citizens) were unjustly rounded up and incarcerated during World War II. The site is now a National Historic Site where parts of the camp have been preserved or restored to commemorate what life was like for approximately 11,000 people confined there between 1942 and 1945, and to not forget the racial injustice that took place during that time. While the visitor center and block buildings were closed because of COVID, we walked the grounds, read the exhibit signs, and drove the road through the camp which was surprisingly large. I guess it had to be to house that many people.
While it was hard to explain to our 10 year-old why we were there (especially given the dry, dusty 100 degree weather typical of the area at this time of the year), I think the rest of us including our other two children understand a little bit better the significance of what took place at that time. We have a better appreciation for some of the hardships experienced by our families, ancestors, and some of our own church members and their families, the devastation of racism and discrimination on our country, and some of the long-term effects these things have on lives and communities. In the pamphlet we picked up at Manzanar, it describes how the camp was closed after three and a half years on November 21, 1945, three months after the war ended but many of the Japanese Americans "found life equally difficult" and "spent decades rebuilding their lives." I know that even though these atrocities took place generations ago, some of the shame, painful memories, and losses are still felt today. While we hope time would heal some of those things, we as Christians are to be sensitive to these long-term effects on others and the fact that injustice still exists in our country today.
Sensitivity and empathy are tricky things because we do not all share the same experiences. So unless we've walked in the other person's shoes, we cannot presume to know how they may have been affected by events that happened to them or their ancestors a long time ago. But I believe God can give us sensitivity that we don't naturally have as we grow in our love and faith in Him. In fact, our love for God, which breeds Christlike sensitivity, is the basis for loving and showing compassion to others, especially those different from ourselves. When asked in Matthew 22:37-39 what is the greatest commandment, Jesus tied the two together and said "‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.’" As we grow in our love and sensitivity to God, we should grow in our love and sensitivity to our neighbor and his or her life experiences.
Of course, stopping at Manzanar and walking around for a few minutes does not mean I could truly understand or relate to what these particular generations of Japanese Americans had to endure and the effects on them and their lives afterwards. I know there's so much more than that. But hopefully as believers, we would grow in our Christlike sensitivity and become more aware of the suffering of others -- in order that we might be instruments of God's love. In I Peter 3:8, the apostle Peter says to believers, "Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble." Then in verse 15, he says "in your hearts, revere Christ as Lord."