Raymond Tuala has something important to say. It’s confronting. It needs to be. Raymond wants us to listen.
Raymond is a gentle, respectful young man. He’s Samoan, a quarter Scottish and a disciple of Jesus. He loves the Lord and loves his church. And that love runs deep.
Raymond’s part of an Army—one that brings life. And that’s why he’s advocating for change. Raymond wants this beautiful ideal of ‘bringing life’ to be realised—for everyone. He wants to be part of an Army where everyone has a seat around the table—or on the flax mat.
Around age four Raymond started attending Mt Albert Salvation Army in Central Auckland with his parents and sister. When his parents and sister left, Raymond stayed, thanks to relationships established in children’s and youth programmes.
Raymond encountered the Holy Spirit for the first time at age 16, and embraced life as a growing disciple of Christ. Raymond is now 22, and a Salvation Army Youth Work Apprentice.
In January 2020, at Amplify Creative Arts Camp, Raymond was part of the Spoken Word major, facilitated by Rosy Keane. The Holy Spirit worked in and through Raymond, enabling him to ‘speak his truth’ about systemic racism, and find words to express his deep love for an imperfect church.
Fuelled by Love
‘I’m quite naturally an anti-establishment kind of person. Growing up I never liked being told what to do. But loving the Sallies and staying is because I love Christ first. I want people who don’t know Christ to have a relationship with him—that’s the point of church. But that doesn’t mean that the system I exist in—the church I’m part of—isn’t flawed,’ explains Raymond.
‘I think God wants us to point out what needs to be improved so others can more easily connect with Christ. But we must be careful not to become negative and critical and lose sight of why we want change. Loving the church doesn’t mean it’s perfect. But we can’t be blind to its flaws by that love either.’
Compelled to Speak Up
Raymond writes about racism because of his life experience in New Zealand, and in the church.
‘I’d like people to understand that racism today is nothing like the racism of 100, 50 or even 20 years
ago. It’s not stopping people on the street and frisking them because they’re brown. It’s not having golly-wogs on the packaging of your marmalade—it’s not something that’s super visible anymore because it’s mostly systemic,’ he explains.
‘Most of society’s systems and practices were designed by white people and they perpetuate a white mindset—and the Sallies aren’t exempt. It’s not anybody’s fault today—no one is avidly choosing to be racist. But a lot of palangi (Pākehā) just don’t realise the place of privilege they have. They don’t understand that these systems are stacked against brown people. But we all experience forms of privilege—there’s gender privilege—I’m male. Privilege is something each of us has to consider and grapple with.’
It’s Samoan language week, and Raymond has a passionate message for other young Samoans to hear, and for all Salvationists to reflect on.
‘I can’t speak Samoan fully. I’ve started to take classes to learn. It’s been good. For a long time, there was a lot of shame around not knowing my mother-tongue. And I see this in other Pasifika communities, too. There’s shame for second- and third-generation Samoan-New Zealanders who don’t know their language, but that’s another symptom of systemic racism,’ says Raymond.
Salvationist readers will know that historically, like Māori, Pasifika children were not allowed to speak anything but English at school. We live in the shadow of that cruel reality and its toll on generations of Māori and Pasifika people. We all have a role to play in righting that injustice.
‘I want to encourage Pasifika young people who may be told they’re not brown enough, or too plastic, that there’s no need to justify your identity—no one can take your culture from you. We’re all on different stages in our journey of understanding our cultural heritage, so travel at the pace that’s right for you,’ affirms Raymond.
Wise words for all of us to heed.
Written and performed live at Amplify 2020, by Raymond Tuala
My love for my church runs deep.
16 years of watered-down Sallies juice and stale chocolates from the food bank deep.
Countless camps and sore bums from hour-long sermons kind of deep.
Timbrels, uniforms, handkerchief waving, planning meetings, volunteering at the family store, deep.
Dozens of life-long friends kinda deep.
Wearing my Amplify t-shirt to school on mufti-day because I’m so proud of my church kinda deep.
Going to camps knowing I’m working the next day and I’m going to be shattered, kinda deep. Reworking my schedule because I’ve been asked to run something the day before I have to run it.
Sticking around after people looked at me sideways because of the tattered rags I called my clothes as a kid, deep.
Going to church after my parent’s split up and the older people talked crap about me behind my back and to my face, deep.
Seeing my trans-sister turn away from faith because she was harassed and told she’d be going to hell.
Being treated like garbage, judged, and yelled at by older people in church, and still choosing to stick around, kinda deep.
Being a brown whisper in a system of white noise.
Seeing homophobia, racism, sexism, inequity, seeing all this crap and wanting change! That’s how deep my love for this church runs!
But I’m not the only one whose love runs deep for the church.
You see, there’s this older guy that I know who I really look up to, and I try to be kinda like him too.
His love ran so deep that he went from country to country doing ministry, preaching about the love of God.
He hung out with homeless dudes and fed the hungry.
His love ran so deep that he trashed a church gift-shop because it turned a place of worship into a place of commerce.
His love ran so deep he had nails driven through his palms and took on the shame and sin and ugliness of the world and left it up on the cross…
You see, my love for the church runs deep, but His love, His blood, runs deeper.