For the past several years I have worked toward writing my memoirs. I have shared many of them here. Today I would like to share another such memory. When I am done I will invite you to a much-needed conversation.
I was writing of the summer in 1958. My family arrived from Baton Rouge at our annual Church of God Camp Meeting in Anderson, Indiana. My two brothers and me were playing in an open field across the street from all the church activities. Mom sat on a bench and read while we played. A short time had passed when we noticed a black boy and his little sister were watching. They eased a little closer. We needed a fourth player so one of us asked if he would like to play. The boy, we’ll call him Ben, hopped up off the ground and joined in. We had a great time. His sister sat by herself until Mom invited her to sit with her on the bench.
A short time later we began to notice a black woman hiding and watching from between some cars. When Ben noticed her, he stopped playing and ran to her. Yes, it was his mother. He took her hand, walked her to my Mom and introduced her. The two mothers talked, while we continued to play. Ben’s mother was uncomfortable sitting on the bench with a white woman so she and Mom stood to talk.
Having a lot of fun, time flew, and lunchtime arrived. My parents were forever packing a picnic lunch, usually fried chicken and pimento cheese sandwiches (I miss those). Mom invited Ben’s entire family to stay and eat lunch with us. His mother was reluctant at first but, after my mom assured her we had plenty, she gave in and joined us. We enjoyed our picnic but could only wonder why Ben’s mother was constantly looking around while we ate. She seemed nervous and to be watching for someone.
After lunch, Ben and his family left and we never saw them again. We looked for them so we could play during the week, but never found them. We assumed they went home. Whenever I go to Anderson University, my Alma mater, I think of this moment.
I tell you this story because, at the age of eight, I believe this was my first encounter with how different we are. I did not understand what black families went through back in the 1950’s. The racial divide kept me away from black Children. The animosity of whites towards black could even be felt at a camp meeting where our whole purpose was to worship a loving God. I am sure the family left and went home simply because of the overwhelming impression of being unwelcome. I look back at how unusual it was for this playful event to have happened in this era. How uneasy the mother of these two children must have felt. How easy it was for my mom to invite them, because her white world was protected, is compared with the protection Ben’s mother wanted to give, and yet gave in to an invitation. She knew it was the right thing to do as a Christian. But the responsibility of protecting herself and her children was foremost in her mind. No wonder she was looking around. Society had taught her to fear the repercussions of white people. She worried about the wrong person seeing them playing, talking and even eating with a white family. Worried about danger stirring among those who may have despised her simply because of who she was, who her children were. When I see this anger and frustration vented today, I remember this meeting so long ago. I see a young Ben playing with us. I see his mother watching and yet alert in protecting and still allowing things to happen between us.
When I consider this occasion I am struck by what I see today. No wonder Black people are angry. No wonder there is a growing hatred. No wonder we see a widening of divisiveness that is hurting our society. No wonder satan is excited. Two people with different pigmentation cannot get along because the hatred they have been taught separates them. You and I are different from the rest of the world. We have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We can sit and talk, and respect each other, because of the One we love and follow provides the grace for us to do so. But, we have to want to. The world around us doesn’t know Him. Their lives cannot change because there is no one who will help them recognize that this hostility between our races will destroy us. Satan has destroyed the bridge of unity and separated us from each other. We need to rebuild it.
As believers in the One True God we cannot sit idly by and do nothing. I did not understand what black families went through in 1958. I can’t pretend that I know In 2017. I realize that most children are colorblind. But I ask you, where and when did this stop? How can we get back to being colorblind of race and live for the purpose of unity in Christ body and the sharing of His message of salvation? Isn’t that why we celebrate his birth this time of year? We look at this memoir and say, “Well, this was an encounter of children. They don’t understand.” I ask, understand what? That we can’t get along the way children seem to? You are right, children have not developed a racially charged worldview at this point, and therefore are willing to play together because they have the same purpose.
Why would Jesus tell his disciples who were trying to push children away from him, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God?” (Luke 18:16) Jesus saw division coming. “He took the irresistible opportunity of lowering their (the disciples) pride of reason by informing them that, in order to enter the Kingdom, . . . instead of the children first becoming like them, they must themselves become like the children” [Richter in Stier]. This does not mean we are to be childish. This simply means we need to consider our pride and our humility in accepting others for who they are. Christ said, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Mark 10:15)
Do you not realize we are God’s gift too each other? “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 12:24-25)
I wonder if our world today can heal? Are we capable, as children, of sharing the same purpose? In Christ, I believe it can happen. Like this young Black family of the 1950’s they were willing to join my family for an unforgettable day. I have often wondered if the impression left on me, after all these years, lingers with Ben, now a grown man. We both learned that we are capable of living together in unity, sharing a glorious life in Christ.
I would like to extend an invitation you. So many have talked about starting conversation that will begin healing. Susan Irene Fox, Lilka Raphael and myself have started a new category dedicated to understanding and healing between races. This new category will be called Bridges.
I would like to invite you to the Bridge. Let’s rebuild what satan has destroyed. Ben met me at the bridge in 1958. We met there as children, with open minds and hearts, wanting to share. We reached out to each other and found unity, if only for the day. Can we do that today? Can we become as children and overcome color? We are called by God to love one another. I believe through Bridges we can find this same child-like unity today. God is telling us unity in the Body of Christ will not only make our world better, but our lives.
Lilka met me at the Bridge in 2016. Beginning in January, will you come help us build?
I wish each of you,and your family a wonderful Christmas. Put Christ first and He will continue to bless you.