We sat quietly looking at our Sr. pastor, sitting across from us in our living room. On the coffee table sat a stack of brand new Bibles and a neat stack of papers with a short list written on them. It was late and he had just arrived at the church’s home that we were living as a young newlywed couple.
We had move from Ohio south to Louisiana shortly after we were married. It had been 6 months of a new adventure with a wonderful group of students in a new area. God was doing amazing things. I was a 7th-12th grade youth pastor at the growing church and my wife had found a job she loved teaching 3rd grade teacher in poor, predominately African-American school in the next town.
We sat together on the couch listening to what was being said, still not quite sure what we were hearing was actually real. The pastor and the deacons had met that evening to talk about the growth of the youth ministry over that last couple months since we had arrived. Students had been invite friends, lots of friends. There was excitement and as the largest church in the small town it was becoming the place for students to come.
In his usual warm, southern drawl our pastor explained that the deacons had voted and it was decided that “we were a white church…” The church had always been white and it would remain white. He pointed at the Bibles and the papers sitting on the table in front of us and explained, “These Bibles are for ‘those kids’ that aren’t white and there is a list of appropriate church in the area for them to attend.”
We sat dumbfounded, as he continued, “We want you to go to each child or their family given them a Bible, the list, and tell them they are not welcome to come to our church any more”. They will understand. They know how things are around here and should have known better.”
Finally finding my voice, I asked “and if we refuse?”
The reply was simple, “Well to be honest we can’t guarantee those kids safety if they come on church property this week again”. He continued, “I really can’t even guarantee both of your physical safety in our town anymore either.
He stood to leave and as he stood at the door, he turned. “One last thing, she needs to quit her job. We will help her find a new one. We just can’t have her keep teaching at that school with all ‘those… kind of kids” his voice trailing off, seeming to realize something. He walked to his car, leaving us reeling.
The story continued for another year, as we stayed on but refused to follow the instructions we had been given. It was a time of prayer, struggle, but renewed calling in our lives to students. Now, as we look back 17 years on that time, while now living in the middle of the present tension of over race and equality in our world, we realize there is a need, more than ever for voices who are willing to stand up beside the next generation offering them grace and a place, no matter their race.
GRACE: How are you offering and extending grace to your own students, families, but also those who are not part of your church…yet?
The Bible uses the word “grace” over 120 times. Students as they come to our ministries need God’s saving grace, but also need ours as well. It comes in all form of loving and forgiving correction, while revealing God’s directions.
Grace sees the heart and the potential of a students, beyond the SURFACE, the SOCIETY, and STRUGGLES.
PLACE: Can a student find a place to belong before they learn to behave? Is more than your building open to students seeking somewhere to fit?
One of the most powerful words is the word “home”. A place to belong, feel safe, and know your are accepted. The personal and private world of students are always changing; your ministry can be a place for them to consistently come to feel safe and just be themselves.
Students need a PLACE and a SPACE to know they can find an EMBRACE.
RACE: Is every student seen as God sees them? Is every student treated as equally loved, valued, and honored no matter what they look like?
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus…”- Gal. 3:28
Even after all these years, it remains as something that defines us and how we define others. Based on upbringing, region, or even personal experiences, we allow the outward to stand in the way of the inward. Even though we know…deep down we know we shouldn’t…we battle “us” and “them” mindset.
The way this conversation is going to change, is by allow the new generation to SPEAK and making the older generation LISTEN
Even all those years ago, it was the new generation coming up that invited their friends to a place that they saw was full of grace. It was the older generation still clinging to the beliefs of generations before them that stood in the way. May we be humbly prepared to step out of the way and never stand in the way.