His name was Chris. We met at the bus terminal downtown; an African-American man in his 30s with nothing but a few bucks and a trash bag full of belongings. He didn’t care too much about breakfast; just wanted directions to a roustabout yard so he could figure out which bus would take him there. After looking at the map I knew the bus didn’t go anywhere near his destination.
That morning my volunteers on the food truck had cancelled for various reasons so I was alone for the first part. I enjoy that sometimes. I can listen to my music as loud as I want, go exploring, and look for new people to serve without feeling like I am not giving volunteers a good experience if I do not find anyone. I ran into my homeless buddy Trini who had the day off from work and he hopped in to help me.
After serving a few people we made our way downtown I drove by the bus terminal which I don’t do very often. There were a few people waiting so we got out to offer some breakfast. Almost immediately I could sense that Chris was a kind man and when I saw the location of his job interview, I felt the Spirit leading me to drive him out there. Trini hopped in the backseat and we made our way across town, talking along the way. Chris had come to the area from Dallas to land a job in the oilfield with not much more than a hope and a prayer. He didn’t say, but I could gather that he was mostly alone in the world with no close family to speak of and eight dollars in his pocket. This is the brink of homelessness—the critical moment—and God saw fit to put us together at just the right time, for more reasons than we knew.
As we listened, Chris told us he had previously been hired by a company working in Andrews but it didn’t go well—at all. After a long day’s work, the other men on the crew got together and said, “You’re a hard worker boy but we don’t work with blacks.” He tried to reason with them that he was just there to work and not make friends, indicating to me that he had experienced this kind of treatment before. The crew wouldn’t relent, and left him stranded in Andrews, some 45 miles from where they picked him up; real and present racism. Sin.
As we got to the roustabout yard, he expressed his gratitude. We hugged and prayed together before he went inside, hopefully to find employment, housing, and fair treatment. I was so thankful that God orchestrated the whole event, because Chris really needed to see love from a white brother in Christ, and I needed to be reminded that racism is real.
I, like many others, have often assumed that time has healed many of the wounds of racism. “It’s 2018, the civil rights movement was 50 years ago, things are way better now.” But who am I kidding? Though I did not blatantly and overtly display it, I must confess that in my past, I was racist myself. “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved me, not because of works done by me in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (Titus 3:4) The Lord first gave me a heart of flesh and has opened my eyes to see the sufferings and struggles of my African American brothers and sisters. He has been teaching me how to love my neighbors as myself. I have been humbled and shown that all people are created in the image of God. Lord forgive me. All of your creation has become beautiful to me by Your grace alone.
My good friend Clark and I just got back from a conference in Memphis put on by The Gospel Coalition called MLK50. If you have a chance, go listen to some of the conference here. I would highly recommend Russell Moore, Charlie Dates, Mika Edmonson, Matt Chandler, and of course John Piper. It was held on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. which provided an incredible context, but the purpose of the conference was not just to commemorate Dr. King, but to discuss unity and race relations in America and especially the Church. It was a call action for followers of Jesus.
I am still unpacking some of the things I learned and perhaps I will write about those later, but for now I feel that the most important things that need to be shouted from the rooftops and the pulpit are that racial unity is not a social or political issue but a Gospel issue, that racism is a sin, and that the Church should lead the way to build bridges and bear burdens. I left the sessions each day wondering what action steps I needed to take to implement this plan of racial reconciliation, but the further the conference went on, the more I realized I was looking at it the wrong way.
I began to notice a theme in the sermons, panels, and speeches—the answer is Jesus. I know what you’re thinking. DUH! But seriously, Jesus is the way –the only way. Efforts for unity in the past have failed because they have sought justice apart from righteousness. The reality is, there is no justice apart from righteousness, and there is no righteousness apart from the Author of Righteousness—the Lord. In the worship between the speakers, we sang Cornerstone, In Christ Alone, and finished up with I Surrender All.
Ralph West said, “Unity is granted by God so we must pray for it. It cannot be manufactured.” So where does that leave us? What are we to do? First, pray. Pray earnestly that God will change us first and that we will be used by Him to bring about unity and reconciliation. Trust that God’s heart is for unity and that He will bring it about. Second, surrender all. All of us have preferences, comfort zones, and traditions. In the words of Russell Moore, “If we have to change our worship styles, let’s crucify our worship styles. If God’s way upsets our political alliances, let’s crucify our political alliances”. God created all men in His image. God’s way is racial harmony, God’s way is justice.
I understand the sensitivity behind this issue, but hear my heart. I am speaking to myself as much as anyone. I have been terribly blind to these issues most of my life. I have never been around a more diverse set of people than now in this work with the homeless and God has used my calling in incredible and sanctifying ways. Friends of color, I want to be a listening ear and a co-laborer in the Gospel with you. I pray that everyone reading will join us.